Wednesday, November 10, 2021

For whose good?

There are reports in Rome of bishops who use the guise of medical necessity or personality disorder to remove a priest from a parish and, after months of therapy, find reason why the priest can never return to a parish.  According to many accounts, the typical offenders are conservative fellows who are true believers in their church's doctrine and who try to hold others accountable.  They also seem to favor the Latin Mass or, at least, a reverent, traditional celebration of Novus Ordo without the hullabaloo of band, music with a beat, and, well, dancing.  

Again, I do not have any stake in this but it is a familiar story among Lutherans as well.  Though those in places of authority do not have the resources to shuttle off a pastor from his family and flock, the scene of asking a pastor to resign for his own good or for the good of the parish is not uncommon.  Again, the typical pastor in this scenario is conservative, a true blue believer, and one who holds his parish accountable to the doctrinal standard of the church.  The pastor just does not get along with people or has a people problem or has offended the wrong people.

I am not here to second guess the bishops or district presidents.  I do not have inside information.  I do not have first hand knowledge of such wrongs -- only those who claim to have been wronged.  I do know that the numbers of pastors resigning seems higher than it should.  But what I also know is that we live in a time of doctrinal relativism, a time in which many Lutherans (and I presume Roman Catholics) are either embarrassed by or find their church's teachings out of date or irrelevant.  So it is not surprising that a parish (whatever the confession) finds it upsetting when they get a pastor who does believe what their church teaches (at least officially).

While some might think this is an episcopal issue or a problem of wronged pastors or priests, it is the tip of a larger iceberg.  Christians today believe and live as if the faith were adjustable to personal preference or changed along with the times or irrelevant to daily life.  It begins with worship attendance.  Every church body finds itself competing with other activities or none for the attention and time of the member and Sunday morning no longer finds even the majority of members gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord.  Membership no longer expects presence and so the real numbers of our congregations dwindle every year as more and more of those who once were counted on the rolls decide to absent themselves from God's House -- permanently.  

After attendance, the next issue is truth.  Within denominations, there is a growing distance between what is believed officially and what is believed by both clergy and pewsitter.  It is not new but it is getting worse until even basic beliefs can no longer be assumed.  Spiritual but not religious has infected nearly ever aspect of Christianity until it seems common to continue to say the words of creed and liturgy without actually believing them.  The Jesus of history and the Christ of kerygma have never been so different.  So Roman Catholics can dismiss the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist without thinking that this affects their identity as Roman Catholics.  And Lutherans can dismiss the creation account, the historicity of Biblical characters, the factual basis of Jesus' miracles, and a host of other things and still presume that they remain good Lutherans.

Perhaps the last problem is what to do about it.  The typical response is to band-aid the wounded churches through it all and keep the patients comfortable -- addressing the symptoms without dealing with the actual ills.  So in the congregation the modus operendi is to continue to reduce demands upon the member, the content of what is believed, and any distinctives that might apply in worship and piety.  In other words, we make it so easy to become a member than anyone can without confessing any faith or committing to any discipline of the faith.  But the problem with this is that lessening the load of the member inevitably comes with increasing the demands and pressure upon the clergy.  COVID only magnified this growing stressor and helped accelerate the whole process.  After all, how else do you keep a non-essential church going whose worship life could just as easily be replaced by coffee in front of a screen while sitting in your pjs?

I suspect that Rome will find more reasons to evaluate the psychological condition of some of it more conservative priests and that Lutherans will find more resignations announced at voters meetings and in the pages of our official periodicals.  Of course, it will make some feel better but it will not help the situation at all.  Am I wrong?

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

"Lutherans can dismiss the creation account, the historicity of Biblical characters, the factual basis of Jesus' miracles, and a host of other things and still presume that they remain good Lutherans."

A long-term Koinonia Project was recently (2010) implemented to address the problem of these kinds of doctrinal heterodoxies in the Missouri Synod. How's that working out?