Friday, March 3, 2023

Seeing heresy everywhere. . .

Someone sent me a link to something called Lotuseaters from the UK only to find these conservative Roman Catholic lay commenters were talking about the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  This on top of the countless tweets and retweets and blog posts that have created quite a stir with respect to a book published by the Synod.  But it is not only or simply about the book.  The furor has gone well past even the ordinary haunts of the Lutherans and the disaffected Lutherans to be picked up by folks who actually believe that the LCMS is only about a day and a half behind the ELCA in caving into the culture, diversity, equity, inclusion, and every other woke and CRT proposition known to man.  We have become a spectacle.  We thought we might be a stodgy conservative largely Midwestern church body but now it appears we have found our fifteen minutes of fame and suffered before the eyes of the guardians of orthodoxy on the internet.

On top of that, the whole thing has gotten mixed up in everything from misogeny to racism.  The President of the LCMS was compelled to disavow such things publicly with a letter.  To some it was the desperate act of a politician, to others it was a desperate attempt to distance us from some of the more extreme voices, and to others it was a brave stand in a world which is more in love with soundbites than reasoned paragraphs.

What is someone to think?  According to the accusers, Missouri is corrupt, her leaders are corrupt, her doctrine is corrupt, and her practice is corrupt.  Though some might admit that Missouri is the last best hope of orthodox Lutheranism in America, there are others who warn she is a leaky ship not likely to make it back to port in tact.  Such is the state of the storm and the state of affairs on the good ship Missouri.  If you believe the critics, that is.  

Let me begin by saying that there is little possibility for clarity with all the shouting going on.  Nobody is listening to anybody except the people who back up your own preformed opinion.  It is a house on fire while no one is looking for a fire hose.  That is precisely the problem with our age.  We not only lack leaders of substance and consequence who can tell us to be quiet and listen, we refuse to pay attention to them if they do say anything.  The same political divisions and suspicions that are making it hard for even good people to govern are intruding into the Church until there is hardly any difference between the sacred and secular voices of outrage and condemnation.  Where there is heat, there must be fire.  But without someone to manage the fire, the flames may well consume the good with the bad.

We have become a cranky people who are deeply suspicious and intolerant.  Some of the voices out there insist that they are speaking with candor and with love but it is hard to hear the love amid the sheer delight at tearing things down.  I know we have problems as a church body.  I know our leaders are not perfect.  But I challenge you to find another church out there that is as concerned about truth and as willing to work for a full and common truth confessed before the world. We fought a battle for our lives over the issue of the truthfulness of God's Word.  We saw once venerable institutions brought to rubble only to rebuild them from nothing.  We are a church body with the great expectation that our leaders are theologians and not simply managers of an institution.  We are a church body with a structure that preserves and encourages the role and responsibility of the local congregation and their pastor to preach, teach, and give witness to the faith confessed and the hope within us.  We are a church without contempt for either the laity or the clergy -- at least we were until some of this tried to pit us against each other.  We are a church where our publishing house actually publishes theology and not little self-help books of Christianity which make it seem like Christianity is a DIY religion.  We are a church where pastors are formed not only in the theology of what we believe but in the faithful practice.  We are a church that loves the Gospel without reading it as license to do what is pleasing in your own eyes.  We are a church that is known the world over for what we believe instead of for what we do not.  You look and tell me a better place to be?

We have got to stop crying out that the roof is falling every time we have honest disagreements about what is being said or how it is being said.  The internet is at its worst when it functions as an inquisition tribunal to air out our disputes and make sure that self-righteousness always wins.  We will not be able to carry out the mission before us if we see heresy everywhere and then battle it out with a hundred words or less in quote or comment (often out of context).  Scripture pleads for us to come and reason together.  I am not talking about compromising our core truths but about talking honestly together before we tell the world Missouri is dead or woke or whatever.  I fear the meme is not the friend of truth but may very well be its executioner.  Not everything is worthless because somebody else said it or because the wrong person said or because they did not say it as you would have said it.  Christianity has enough enemies outside who seek to destroy it without those on the inside tearing it down from within.  The whole business has already occupied too many of the conversations within my parish -- much less the internet and the world.  We need to be more careful both about the tactics and the tenor of our commentary.


jwskud said...

Airing our dirty laundry all over the internet = not good!

Deciding that the magnificent Large Catechism needs any appendment whatsoever = much, much worse.

Deciding that said appendments should be authored by people outside of our faith = borderline lunacy.

I have not, nor will I ever, read this "new edition" of the Large Catechism. I already have multiple unadulterated copies in my possession. But I am fascinated at the series of decisions that apparently took place behind the scenes to issue this new edition.

Moreover, we have such a fantastic collections of profs and pastors and even laymen in our Synod - why go outside to find authors for articles on contemporary issues? It makes no sense whatsoever.

jdwalker said...

Is there really much shouting? I don't roam the halls of Synod, so my exposure has been online.

On a serious note, I'm wary of disagreement being described as not listening. It always dumbfounds me when someone I disagree with thinks I just didn't understand their point, their perspective, just how right they are. I think I understand your position; I just don't agree with it.

"You look and tell me a better place to be?" Agreed, but that's part of the problem. Staying just a little less heretical than the next guy shouldn't be the standard. Not that you are advocating that, but part of your basis for asking that question was our history. So are we preserving what was handed down to us? Or are we heading in a different direction?

You mention Battle for the Bible, and it makes me wonder whether this is delayed fallout from a failure to fully reckon with that? Much as WWII grew out of WWI, I wonder whether this controversy has its roots in the Battle of the Bible. What I mean is that there were changes to the LCMS made in the years preceding the Battle of the Bible and during the Battle of the Bible that carry through and expanded to create some of the issues raised in relation to this current issue. So perhaps we need not rest on our laurels of being better than elsewhere or having fought a worthy battle in the past, but confront the issues that have been left to linger and fester for far too long?

It doesn't help to do that if the leaders of the Synod today don't do that, and instead lose focus to address accusations of the views or character of some individuals that are not the issue of the wider controversy. It would be better to address those issues with those individuals or in a separate manner. Instead, it seems the conflation is intended to detract from actually addressing the issues raised and the broader concerns that are shared by a larger community.

And this gets to my larger issue with this post, which is that it is more concerned about tone, appearances, etc. than the issues. Just as we may have too many people ranting publicly, we have too many decorum police. The practical effect is to actually stifle discussion without improving decorum while allowing the natural momentum of the issue to continue ahead. I liken is to government agencies that end up fining a bad actor a small portion of the profits made well after the damage is already done and irreversible. The very slow, quiet approach just encourages the bad conduct that it is intended to address.

As for my part, I will continue to voice my concerns about the publication. I will advocate that the publication not be purchased since there exists copies of of the Large Catechism that are not paired with materials that even the CTCR admits are not meant to articulate or defend doctrinal views, but rather simply the individual perspectives and judgments of the writers, some of who have individual perspectives and judgements (both in the essays in question and particularly in their broader works) that you most definitely do not want to adopt. And of course there will be numerous opportunities at the congregational, district, and synod level to continue to address the issues raised by this most recent event.

I also pray that our pastors listen to laymen who may have more direct experience in how incrementalism starts. We've lived through it with employers and other orgs. We've seen how superficially benign mattes create a foundation for further developments. It comes down to whether our pastors have the discernment and experience to recognize the current direction of matters and what prior decisions support it. And we've seen it before perhaps? The Battle of the Bible didn't happen overnight. There were most certainly decisions and directions taken that accreted over time to lead to something that should have never reached that point. Let's not wait until that point again in the name of decorum and desire to avoid external commentary.

Norman Teigen said...

Haven't checked you out for a while. Finding you thoughtful and insightful after all these years. One sidebar for discussion: I find it troubling that some Lutherans condemn other Lutherans. The enemy is the devil, the world, and our own flesh.

Norman Teigen
Hopkins MN

Carl Vehse said...

Norman Teigen: "I find it troubling that some Lutherans condemn other Lutherans."

Well, in the past there were the Gnesio-Lutherans vs the Philippists. Later the confessional Lutherans opposed the pietist Lutherans.

In the US, there were initially three Protestation Missouri Saxon laymen opposing the Stephanite pastors. A little later there were the Waltherians opposing the Loeheists. Then there were the Missouri Synod Lutherans vs the ecumenical Lutherans.

In 19th century there were battles between Lutherans in the Missouri Synod and in the Buffalo Synod, the Ohio Synod, the Iowa Synod, and some other synods.
In the 20th century there have been condemnations between LCMS and ALC Lutherans. Disagreements also can be found between LCMS and WELS Lutherans.

Within the Missouri Synod, there have been attacks against "Statement of the 44" Lutherans, RIM Lutherans, and Seminex-supporting Lutherans. Also the battle between the "It's Okay to Pray" syncretic Lutherans vs the confessional Lutherans.
There's even the catholic Lutherans vs the "True Visible Church" Lutherans. At the CUS schools, there are confrontations between the woketardian Lutherans and conservative Lutherans.

Now it's the Purple Palace Lutherans labeling as "alt-right" Lutherans opposed to a number of the essays contained in the latest CTCR/CPH/ChiCom-manufactured book.