Friday, May 5, 2023

Institutional trust. . .

It has been said that if Rome thinks in terms of centuries, Constantinople thinks in terms of millenia.  So what does that mean for those not Rome or Constantinople?  Well, let me make a stab at it.  Evangelicals seem to think in terms of minutes -- the moment.  They are not alone.  Though the mainline Protestant denominations try to think in minutes, they are behind the curve and end up thinking in hours.  About the time the fad has moved on, the mainliners are just starting to notice and warm up to the trend.  Some of the other denominations try to think long term but it is generally no longer than a few decades and, for some of the very conservative ones, a bit longer.  Lutherans are divided.  Some are like the mainliners and are a little slow but you have to admire how hard they are trying to be with it.  The rest think largely in terms of institutional history (the founders of their particular jurisdiction) though some within those groups reach back centuries to the Reformation itself.

The result of all of this is a loss of trust in the institutions themselves.  Evangelicals switch churches on the basis of whims and preferences and who is doing the newest thing.  It is hard to fault them when the culture of these groups, especially the non-denominationals, have little to offer but the here and now with God's sanction and blessing.  Mainliners maintain institutional loyalty even when those institutions have veered far and away from their confessional moorings.  This may be true largely because they are graying and it is harder to change when you have had a lifetime invested in one tradition.  That will change when the gray haired are no longer there anymore.  Lutherans have had a long history of a love/hate relationship with headquarters and institutions.  We know we need them but we like them about as much as a colonoscopy (that was a gray joke).  That is, until somebody criticizes our brand and then we fight like heck to defend our honor -- only family has the right to criticize family!  Rome should have been insulated from some of the loss of trust and it was for decades.  Then came Vatican II to undo what had been done on Sundays for centuries and now we have a pope who speaks kinder and gentler with paparazzi but speaks with forked tongue and venom behind closed doors.  When doctrine was no longer the tie that binds, popes became the glue to hole Rome together and nobody seems to trust this guy.

Let us not forget what the internet has done.  We are all experts on everything.  Yes, I know I am one of the guilty ones.  That said, the stridency and anger that the unsocial media has fostered has not been lost on the institutions of the churches either.  We love to hate and there is nothing more fun to hate than an institution.  We spend a pretty fair amount of time attacking our leaders as well.  Until it is election time and we have nobody left to choose but the guy we love to hate along with the rest of the institutions of the church.  At some point we must awaken to the reality that our loss of trust in our institutions is as much our fault as it is theirs.  For the Missouri Synod, this is the bitter fruit of a tolerance of things synodical for the sake of mostly agencies we think we need (Concordia Plans, anyone?) while at the some time always and ever insisting that even when Missouri gets it right it is only advisory.  The truth is that we have to see Scripture in the same way -- it may be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth but it still cannot make me believe what I do not want to or do what I do not want to.  Therein lies the problem.  We really don't want to invest ownership or oversight of our institutions -- we want them there like the fire extinguisher in case we need them but locked behind closed doors when we don't.  We will all wake up one day to find that we need to break the glass and get the institution out only to find that it is no longer there -- only a rusted hulk of something that once was.  On that day we will all get what we deserve.

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