Friday, May 16, 2008

Post-Synodical Reality

Big things have been happening in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. It has been hard to hold back from commenting. Why hold back? For one thing, the purpose of this blog was not to address ecclesiastical matters. It's only meant to be a personal account of how very dangerous a little liberal arts education can make you. Plus, this blog is a spinoff from my book review column on Mugglenet, where I chose to use a flimsy pseudonym to prevent confusion as to whether or not I consider these writings "part of my ministry."

Now that I'm parishless that isn't much of an issue, but a popular public writer doesn't change identities in mid-stream-of-consciousness. This leads to two implications. On the "art, entertainment, and cat litter" side I sense that many of my readers have followed me over from Mugglenet and I don't want to bore them with sectarian drivel. On the "theology" side, I know and understand the distrust with which concerned members of the LCMS hold anonymous and pseudonymous bloggers.

So before I say anything about Synod, I must first direct your attention to the disclosure at the bottom of this page. I must also ask those who are here to read about books, symphonies, movies, food, and funny stories to bear with me. And finally, I must ask everyone to understand why I write this blog. I am not on a crusade. I have no personal axe to grind. I have no political ambitions. I am not writing for money. I simply one of those poor souls who suffers from the affliction of being a writer, a disease from which I have suffered since I learned to wrap my fingers around a pencil, and I can no more help writing than a kleptomaniac can control his urge to steal. I am also concerned about what is happening in the church body in which I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained.

And, finally, I am liberated by a sensibility of not serving in a parish, nor working for the Synod or its districts or auxiliaries. I think I can reasonably hope my job is safe because I don't blog about it and, as far as the Synod goes, I "can't be touched." Any more than I already have been, that is. And since I am now ready to acknowledge that the likelihood of my ever receiving a pastoral call in the LCMS is similar to my chances of winning the PowerBall (given that I don't buy lotto tickets), I may as well say my piece, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. And if you came here for entertaining gossip about "art, entertainment, and cat litter," bear with me; remember, "theology" has always been on the menu!

So, after lots and lots of ado, here's my piece.

The Eighth Commandment (by Catholic/Lutheran reckoning), the "false witness" one, forbids us among other things to speculate about other people's intentions and motivations. But given the Missouri Synod's public silence - and worse, feeble dissembling - where an explanation of several recent, public decisions was called for, the temptation to speculate has grown well-nigh irresistable. A plague of pundits has sprung up and they are doing more damage to each other than to the Synodical policies they oppose. They are like bickering shrews trying to attack a thick-skinned rhinoceros with toothpicks. One gets so distracted by all their nattering and their tendency to make the "opposition party" look bad that one almost suspects that is part of the regime's strategy. But one doesn't quite do so because that would be, you know, violating the 8th Commandment. Aargh.

I do think the "regime" does a disservice to its members by provoking this temptation. Plus, if one examines the regime's decisions (which are public knowledge) along with its stated theories and practiced methods, one can infer a few things that the pastors and laypeople of the LCMS need to talk about and think about. Here are some of the thinkings triggered by the LCMS regime's recent, publicly-known doings and talkings.

The time is coming, and now is, when the Synod will cease to exist for any practical purpose.

The "practical purpose" of the Synod is to furnish our congregations with pastors, our schools with teachers, and our mission field with missionaries so that they can "make disciples of all nations," etc. At present, the Synod as such is not doing any of these things. Far be it from me to speculate on what the Synod's current "purpose" is, but it doesn't seem to be anything most LCMS pastors and congregations care to support with their money.

If you want to fund a vibrant, evangelistic, distinctly Lutheran radio ministry, you must now support it directly because the Synod no longer has any direct role in it (and nor does the Lutheran Laymen's League and its broadcast program).

If you want to fund a college or seminary so that it can continue furnishing us with teachers and pastors, you must now support it directly because the Synod no longer etc. etc. To be sure, their Regents are elected by Synodical Convention delegates; but the authority of a Board of Regents is mainly theoretical these days. So the Concordias do what they please, and raise their own capital to do it with. Choose the one(s) most nearly doing what you think right and send your donations to them directly. Do not pass LCMS headquarters, do not let them collect your $200.00.

If you want to fund a school so that your church can more effectively "make disciples" of your own children - by rigorous catechesis - as well as reach out to other students who are unchurched... well, that's a matter of your personal stewardship, and that of your congregation. It's our Christian duty and, I dare say, ought to be a high priority for every LCMS church. It isn't. The schools are failing for lack of teachers we can afford to hire and lack of support via Christian stewardship. As soon as people start thinking of the school as so much financial ballast weighing down the sinking ship of the church, it is only a matter of time until the school gets jettisoned. Has the Synod offered any help or advice on this issue apart from hand-wringing and a stench of failure?

If you want to fund an African missionary who has been fulfilling the Great Commission, you must now support him directly since LCMS Mission fired him for baptizing children, teaching the faith, and other marks of "insubordination." Meanwhile LCMS Mission's late track record does not inspire one to open one's pocketbook. Steeped in the "Ablaze!" methodology, LCMS Mission has been recalling missionaries from planting churches and starting seminaries and sending, in their place, mostly short-term religious tourists who "witness the faith" by teaching ESL, doing mercy works, and (if the opportunity arises) sneaking a little Jesus talk in the back door. Plus, they have to travel on their own dime. So even what "mission work" LCMS Mission is doing isn't actually funded by LCMS Mission. Your mission dollars are truly going into a black hole. Why not just pick 3 or 4 missionaries in the field and arrange to fund them directly? Or, although LHF and CLEF aren't on speaking terms with each other, you could support either or both of them because they are currently doing things LCMS Mission promised to do 50 years ago.

If you want to support all the faithful pastors who have been persecuted and driven out of their parishes, forget it. You can't afford it, there are too many of them and the number keeps growing. What are they going to do with their skills and training? They're going to have to fall back on another line of work, because the LCMS has promoted lay ministry to such an extent that, even with a record number of "vacant" congregations, the seminaries can't place all their graduates. Guys like me, rotting away on Candidate Status after resigning or being driven from a parish, may not even find very much pulpit supply or vacancy work in a church climate where "lay deacons" are regarded as quite sufficient.

These conditions are the result of the Synod's recent teachings and policies on the ministry. A movement is in train to make the seminaries entirely redundant by setting up a different path to the pulpit more in keeping with this new "theology" of church and ministry. The result will be pastors who speak with less authority on the basis of God's Word, laypeople who derive less assurance of forgiveness and salvation from their teachings, and a move toward pastors as executives being hired, fired, and compensated in proportion to the growth and success of a commercial entity (formerly "church"). So far from furnishing the church with ministers, the LCMS regime is actively campaigning against the ministry of the Gospel.

In short, Synod for all practical uses has ceased to exist.

What will your congregation do in this post-synodical age? Will it join another Synod? I hope not. There are no greener pastures. There is only the real and present likelihood that, having joined the WELS, ELCA, or whatever, you will find yourself in the middle of an entirely different mess you are totally unequipped to deal with. It's time to face the fact that you don't need to have a Synod and you are better off without one.

How will your church get pastors? Simple. Keep the one you've got as long as you can. When he retires, dies, or takes a call elsewhere, make a list of the men in your church - men mature enough to provide leadership but not so old that they can have only a short ministry - men, say, in their late 20s and early 30s. Strike off the list anyone who obviously lacks the gifts and qualifications to be a pastor (not to put too strict a filter on), or to whom no one has a substantial objection. Write the remaining names on 3x5 cards, fold the cards, put them in a bag, and have someone pull one card out of the bag. Send the person named on the card to the seminary of his choice, with the congregation combining to pay all tuition-related expenses. Don't take no for an answer. And while he's at school, let the elders take turns reading the service out of a book, doing the Scripture readings, reading published sermons or even (by force of necessity) preaching. If you can explain what the Gospel lesson meant and why the doctrines it teaches are good to know, you can probably preach a better sermon than some people who have studied the craft at a high level.

Since the lottery drawing constitutes a commitment by your congregation to support that man and submit to his ministry, he can be regarded as your called and ordained pastor from that moment on. The seminary training is important, however, so that you can know greater assurance that what your pastor proclaims is the Word of God, and not the idle ramblings of a dilettante. Where he goes to the seminary is immaterial. If he goes to Concordia-Fort Wayne, he doesn't have to be placed in the LCMS. If he goes to Yale Divinity School, send him a set of Luther's Works and require him to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest every page of it. Ta-Da! A quick recipe for Lutheran Pastor Without Synod! Any other questions?


chaplain7904 said...

You remonstrate a lot, and I sense self-pity in your writing too.

As one whose been where you are, take a few deep breaths and relax.

No one owes you a Call or a paycheck.

I think self-supporting pastors are the wave of the future in the post-synodical age (which may only be temporary), so support yourself, and if you stay on the roster there's much you can do within the LCMS. If not, you'll be a superbly trained layman, and that isn't a bad thing at all.

Your ecclesiastical suggestions need a little work. There's no way a layman should lead the Service while a member is away at seminary. (And what seminary would he go to which would qualify him to be a Lutheran pastor?)

I agree that training pastors is a good reason to band together.

We don't need a Synod to do mission work. I don't think we should be sending missionaries to Africa or anywhere else - outside of our immediate church neighborhoods. "All Nations" isn't a geographical term, it means "all the Gentiles" i.e. "all unbelievers." There are more than enough "Gentiles" here.

Day schools are nice and beneficial IF you can find Lutheran teachers, but they're not necessary to the propagation of the faith. No reason to lament.

As far as laymen leading the Service goes, let these people go to another church if their pastor retires, dies or leaves. There's no promise that their own congregation is going to exist forever.

RobbieFish said...

Wow, chaplain. Ouch. I don't think you're quite tuned in here.

I appreciate your opinion but I respectfully disagree. As to laymen officiating, there is such a thing as an emergency situation. Perhaps in a metro area like St Louis one has more choice of where to go to church, but when there is only one local church that is faithful to the Gospel, and that church has neither a pastor nor a synod, I would consider that an emergency situation & I would forgive them for taking temporary steps to deal with it. A congregation properly speaking is the Church of God in a given community.

Wherever the faithful combine to receive and promote the ministry of the Gospel, the church lives. If you declared it dead the moment it had a pastoral vacancy, no congregation could survive without the Synod. I think you should rethink your position on this.

Walther would argue with you on the issue of parochial schools. Christian education is a key arrow in the church's quiver. Your seemingly casual, ho-hum attitude about them smacks of the reason they are declining & I don't think their decline is unconnected to the decline in faithful worship participation.

I have no argument with your statement that mission work does not require Synod. But I would hope that carrying out the great Commission "right here" and supporting foreign missions doesn't have to be an "either/or."

Thanks for the encouraging words in your para "I think self-supporting...bad thing at all." Phooey on your invective in the preceding paras. I've been where I are more than long enough to be relaxed about it. I believe I made it clear this isn't about me. I have no expectations on my own behalf whatsoever. I am merely pointing out that at present, based on current events in the LCMS, one could reasonably argue that there is no such thing as Synod from a practical point of view, and this need not be a source of distress for the folks out at Shepherd of the Sticks Lutheran Church.