There is, however, another kind of malpractice for which no insurance is offered. I am speaking of the malpractice of pastors who come to a solidly Lutheran parish and lead them to institute evangelical style worship in place of the Divine Service. Or of the pastoral malpractice of those who replace the sturdy hymns of old for the current beat of contemporary Christian music. Or of the pastoral malpractice of those who put in place another book besides the catechism to teach the children and those new to Lutheranism. Or of the pastoral malpractice of those who hand out hermetically sealed bits of juice and cracker and have the folks place them in front of their screens at home to take communion. Or of the pastoral malpractice of those who no longer preach sin and forgiveness, law and Gospel, but instead preach self-fulfillment, paths to happiness, and ways to success.
They offer plenty of coverage for those who abuse children and adults in other ways but none for those who abuse the Church and her people with every latest fad or whim in place of the truth that endures forever. But isn't that why we have bishops (or district presidents)? Are they not supposed to be our providers of pastoral malpractice insurance? After all, they are the ones charged with the supervision of doctrine and practice, are they not? Funny how we talk of electing episcopoi who are good administrators or good leaders but we do not think how they will do to make sure that the Gospel is preserved in an age of decay or hold the pastors accountable to their ordination vows and promises.
The weakness of congregationalists is that they are islands unto themselves. Some among us seem to delight in telling that nobody can tell them what to do or not to do. They flaunt the boundaries of faithful preaching, teaching, and pastoral practice -- preferring to live on the fringes of the church's life. They refuse everything from hymnals to vestments, liturgy to catechism, in order to re-invent a faith. They are pathfinders and pointes who have shed not merely the name Lutheran but the confession. They work at leadership and snicker at the faithful pastors of smaller parishes who still use the liturgy and sing the faithful hymns of old. They are the first to embrace technology and they conference with like-minded folks who have put their trust in change more than the changeless Christ. They disdain religion and glory in relationship and prefer to pack people in rather than teach them a Gospel which will surely offend their modern sensibilities.
But let me call it what it is. It is malpractice. The people of God and the parishes of the Church suffer under the weight of those who would rather be leaders than pastors. They would rather cast visions and invent new paradigms while looking askance at those who keep their ordination vows. We need real leaders who will serve as malpractice insurers for the Synod for this oversight of doctrine and practice is the only thing keeping the church from becoming a sect or a cult of personality. I appeal to those so elected and charged with this supervision responsibility -- tend the flock and the shepherds and hold them accountable. You are either the strength of the anchor to or the weakest link in the chain of succession from the apostles and prophets. Hire someone to be a manger but you alone are responsible to the wider church and to the individual congregations and pastors to hold us accountable to the faith once confessed. We need you even more desperately now than ever.