Saturday, November 25, 2023

The problem with that word "synod"

As any Missouri Synod Lutheran has been told a gazillion times, synod means walking together.  Apparently Roman Catholics are now also learning that buzz word and its meaning.  Of course, we can all agree that walking together is a good thing -- safety in numbers and all that.  We should all gladly affirm that the Church ought to be walking together -- it is pretty clear that this is the intent of God.  We might all be willing to adapt our pace one to another in the goal of walking together -- if for no other reason than for the sake of the weak.  Synod is the easy part.  Walking together is nearly universally affirmed as being the right thing to do.  The problem, as always is where we walk, which direction, if you will.

Synod is but a goofy word and concept unless we are all walking together on God's path.  If Scripture matters, the very notion of the “way” must draw us into the Word.  St.Luke tells us that the Church in apostolic times was called “The Way’”(Acts 9.2).  St. John records that Christ declared Himself to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14.6).  In His high-priestly prayer Christ prayed: “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17.24). To be with the Father’s beloved Son, the Image of God (Colossians 1.15) in whom we were created (cf. Genesis 1.27) now and for ever has been the human race’s call since the beginning. The Scriptures warn us that the broad boulevard leads away from God and right into hell but the narrow way of Christ is what leads to God, to His everlasting presence, and to heavenly bliss (St. Matthew 7:13-20).  The problem is not walking together but where we are headed and on which path we are treading.  All the chest beating about synodality and such do nothing at all for us unless we are walking together on God's path.  That is the problem.  Now more than ever, Christ the Way is being divorced from Christ the Word until Scripture is hardly much more than a starting point for a conclusion that comes before the journey.

The pressures upon the Church are not simply our failure to walk together but our failure to walk on the path of God's Word and the apostolic witness of the ages.  Every church body wrestles with the tension of being in but not of the world.  You cannot escape it as a church body nor can you escape it as an individual Christian.  This is what we need to be talking about.  Where are we treading and what is the goal?  

This is what Missouri wrestles with in its diversity of congregational government, worship styles, catechetical substance, confessional identity, adherence to Biblical truth, and common sacramental practices.  We keep trying to make it a broad boulevard or a big tent -- just like the world would have it.  We are listening to each other but we are not listening to God's Word and to our own confessions.  

This is what Rome is wrestling with in its diversity of orders, worship styles, catechetical substance, confessional identity, adherence to Biblical truth, and common sacramental practices.  Rome has learned from Protestants to pay more attention to voices other than God's Word and the apostolic tradition and will end up heading down the same path as liberal Protestantism if they keep to this path.

Whether you are talking about Lutherans who loathe rules and flaunt adiaphora for things that are not really indifferent at all.  We are also talking about Roman Catholics who have traded doctrinal unity for deference to a man called Pope.  Our problem is not that we are not diverse enough but that we are not united as we ought to be in the unchanging and unchangeable truth of Scripture, preserved by apostolic tradition, and the very mark of catholicity.  It is tiresome to hear Lutherans insist that we must preserve the freedom of the congregation (and its minister) to govern themselves as they would, determine their own mission as they will, order their own liturgical life as they choose, and interpret the common Confession as they desire.  

We have a chaos of parishes doing their own thing (not perhaps a majority of individual congregations but certainly the congregations where the majority of our people belong and worship).  The people of my parish are always bringing back horror stories of congregations they visited while away but which looked, acted, and sounded nothing like ours.  This is not about a freedom of ceremonies but a free for all in which no liturgy is as good a choice as a full sung liturgy replete with all the historic ceremonies.  Doctrine is life and what you see and experience on Sunday morning either supports your confession or grates against it.  We are listening to everyone but the Word of God and our own Confessions and so we end up as muddled as Rome (having completed its listening post on synodality in which Scripture and apostolic tradition are but a couple of the many things given weight and value for the shape of that communion's life and future).  We will all end up as empty and bloated with hubris as the Protestants who have decided the Scripture is offensive to Christ the way and culture must have a voice and a vote on what their churches believe and do.  It is not the walking together we ought to be concerned about but which path and toward what goal.  If we get that right, the rest will be easy.  If we get that wrong, we will all end up on a party bus to destruction.

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