Rome was also enjoying its own access to power and glory in the vaunted institutions of American government and education. The phone calls of cardinals and bishops were being taken and Rome was making friends and influencing people all over the place. For a church body whose membership had once been primarily among the immigrants America accepted but did not welcome, Rome became more than a bit player on the political and educational stage.
The limelight was not without a cost. The roots of Missouri's unpleasantness were planted not simply in the exposure of our theologians to the doctrinal and hermeneutical influence of others but in our desire to be included at the table and given their respect. Eventually, Missouri would go through a conflict which was created not only by interest in the heterodox but by the distance this interest created between the teachers of the church and her people. The end result was not simply the reaffirmation of an infallible Scripture but the embrace of a diversity which insisted evangelical worship was as legitimate a face for Lutheranism than the liturgy. Our people were now free not only to sample the once forbidden wares of higher criticism but also to feast at the table of the church growth movement.
Rome's own problems were and are similar. The Cardinal McCarricks of the world are the poisoned fruit of a tree already rotten with desire to be seen as full members of the American industrial, educational, and governmental elite. Slowly but surely the moral authority of Rome would be compromised with a corrupt hierarchy and a church in love with the spotlight. It did not take long before doctrine would become fuzzy and virtue would give way to expediency. The elitism of experts would take the modest reforms of Vatican II and turn it into a wholesale change of piety and belief. The rupture between the past and the new post-council church would come back to haunt a church body whose leadership were sure that the change or die was their future.
In the end, it is the same thing -- the temptation of power. We want a church that is feared more than one that is loved and we want access to the powerful even if we do not have that kind of power. It will be our undoing more than anything else. Perhaps the grave threat to label the orthodox faith hate speech and the intimidation of a government at ease enforcing its point of view will finally expose our fornication with power and force us to be see the real choices before us. The world has attacked the sanctity of life since before 1973 and many churches have drunk the kool-aid of progressivism. The world has challenged the distinctives of Christian morality especially in the area of sexual ethics for some time. Only now do we see the great divide between those who have silenced the Scripture and ignored Christian tradition and those who are willing to suffer for the sake of the truth. The world has attacked the historical base of the Scriptures until so many Christian theologians have agreed with the critics that the Bible is myth and legend that we preach a Christ who did not have to die and one who certainly did not rise but none of that makes any difference to the preaching.
There is a part of all orthodox Christianity that ought to welcome the persecution the world seems ready and willing to give. It may just force us to find the backbone we had and forgot. It may teach us the wisdom of the Psalmist who warned us against trusting in earthly kingdoms and rulers and flesh and blood and its ways. I fear that day when churches may well have to live on the fringes of our society but I do not fear that this will be our end. Our end will come from our own willingness to trade faithfulness to God for respectability in the world. Who wants to bother with a faith and a church that fears what man can do more than what God can do? That is more concerned with the passing treasures of the moment than the eternal treasure of Christ's body in suffering and His blood shed to forgive sinners and grant them everlasting life? That plays with truth to get power instead of speaking truth to power? Nothing good will come from or to a church embarrassed by the Scriptures or ashamed of its own history, theology, and doctrine.