I read somewhere a revealing observation of a Roman Catholic priest who spent sometime with an episcopal council or conference only to discover that the bishops were not the learned and erudite defenders of the faith he had presumed. Their banter was rather pedestrian and their focus more on the running of their dioceses like businesses than on the great theological causes of the faith. So it came as no surprise to him that the bishops did not have a clue what to do with Roman Catholic politicians who did not confess or promote the faith in their service -- but even contradicted it! The theology was left to academics and the running of an efficient machine was the goal and purpose of the diocese and those who appointed them. Is it different among Lutherans?
To be sure, every now and then a person of substance and consequence slips through and surprises us all but I fear that most folks in the Church prefer a well-vested episcopal administrator to a theologian who can school us in the faith. They feel the same way about their local pastors! Of course, we all understand the necessity of the various levels of the Church's jurisdictions being faithful in their use of the resources the good people of God provide but at the same time I wonder if we might better be served by able catechists, teachers, and defenders of the faith than by great business administrators. Ours is an age in which resources might be lacking precisely because the theological voice of the Church over against the parish, pastor, and public square is either silent or predictably mundane.
The COVID business has proven one thing. As churches, we suffered from a lack of heroic leadership in the upper echelon of the offices of our church bodies. We got great cautionary counsel and we got plenty of CDC updates and even help applying for a government loan but did we receive the kind of weighty and profound theological and confessional voice to steady the good bark of the Church in the midst of this storm? I fear not. For most of us, the parishes and pastors were either left on their own or ordered to do the prudent thing without any creative concern for how we might continue to be the Church in the midst of a pandemic. But this is not simply about COVID.
Sometimes I wonder if the challenges before us in this post-Christian era do not expect and even demand from us more theology rather than less and more theological voices of substance rather than fewer. While I do not speak directly to one individual or one regional estimation of the Church but generally, our lack of solid catechesis and faithful theological leadership on the highest levels has not served us well. We do not need leaders who can read a financial spreadsheet but hesitate to wade into such difficult challenges as internet communion and the boundaries of theological and liturgical dissent. We need precisely that -- wise counsel, faithful leadership, and bold witness from those who serve not only as our own ecclesiastical supervisors but also the face of the Church to the world.
The challenges of COVID will not go away. Whether we can find our illusive dream of a COVID free life or will be forced to find a way to live with COVID, the pandemics will come and go and with them the necessity of profound leadership to guard and guide the Church through the maze faithfully. Whether Roe is overturned or not, we will need those voices who can address the sanctity of life, cohabitation normality, sexualized childhood, same sex marriage, gender confusion with clarity and faithfulness to our people in the pews as well as to the world outside the Church. Whether we use technology wisely or faithfully, we need voices who can address the confidence we place in devices and screens and the unsocial nature of social media and speak theological to these issues and not simply from the vantage point of preference. Whether we view all diversity as good or only some, we need those theological voices who can effectively speak to worship that no longer reflects our confession and the absence of reverence toward a God who is anything but casual about sin, death, and the devil and our salvation. Whether we like rock and roll or bluegrass, we need voices who can explain why music is not without its culture and how that culture conflicts with the culture of the Divine Service (its own culture and not simply a format). Whether we love life or live in anxiety and fear, we need compelling theological leadership to remind us that we are in but not of the world, that heaven is our abiding city, and that we have this life for godly purpose but dare not confuse the present with eternity. And these are just some of the things we need from those whom we appoint or elect as overseers or bishops. Whether their jurisdiction by divine rite or churchly good matters little. We need them and the them we need are weighty, solid, faithful, and adept theological voices to correct, reprove, instruct, guide, govern, and give witness to the hope that is in us.
It may not be possible or prudent but I think it would help immensely if the minutes of such groups recorded a spirited debate on such important subjects. Along with hearing reports and entering executive session, I, for one, would welcome the knowledge that behind closed doors the work of the Kingdom is being discussed along with the business of the Church. And if those elected to serve the larger church gave some solid time given to prayer, it would encourage us all to pray, I think.