Monday, April 7, 2008

What Threat?

Picture of sinking shipCaptain Smith wasn’t overly concerned about icebergs the night the Titanic sank. I hope the members and Pastors of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod don’t demonstrate that same indifference, because there’s a berg up ahead and we’re rapidly bearing down on it.

I mention this because many people aren’t aware of the threat. Maybe you’re one of them. You go to church, possibly serve on a committee or two, and go home to your various vocations. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But it’s not the whole picture.

The LCMS has been a divided synod for many years. Issues such as how the church should be "grown," worship style, whether we should pray with other religious bodies, the role of women, disagreement over the role of the pastor, synodical governance, and a whole host of others topics have often split the synod into two "camps." Let me impress upon you the graveness of our situation. Pastor Burnell F. Eckardt, Jr. wrote a few years back "I have been hearing not a few rumblings of taking to the lifeboats, to save conscience from fellowship with idols." There are many others who have made the same observation.

Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, our synod’s President, when beginning his first term in 2001 discussed the divide which confronts us. When President Kieschnick was up for reelection in 2004, headlines in the St. Louis Dispatch read "Church leader faces reelection fight," and "Embattled Lutheran president wins vote." These are not the headlines of a unified synod.

Yet President Kieschnick recently claimed in a face-saving letter to the Wall Street Journal that our synod is not divided. Several readers wrote back to the Journal refuting his claim. LCMS Pastor Wayne W. Schwiesow mentioned "the deep divisions that exist in our denomination." Helen Jensen, an LCMS member of 40 years commented that "‘Missouri’ is divided." (Visit Augsburg1530 for further information on Mollie Hemingway’s Wall Street Journal article and the subsequent follow-on letters.)

Augsburg1530 reported that our synod’s Board of Directors and council members recently met to identify areas that were causing discord. The most startling finding on their list was a "Failure to recognize the severity of the division in our Synod." Yet President Kieschnick seems to be squelching any attempt at resolution.

Bring Back Issues quotes President Kieschnick:

You are NOT free to preach or teach publicly that Synod is wrong on ANY given issue.

If there were no division in the LCMS, he certainly wouldn’t have said that. His statement sounds totalitarian. It doesn’t sound like the stance of someone who is interested in resolving differences, but instead eliminating them. What is of greater concern, his stance is not Biblical. We are to be like the Bereans. Even though St. Paul himself taught the Bereans, they didn’t take his word for it. They examined the Scriptures to see if what he said was true, and he commended them for it.

It is an unsavory business bringing up these kinds of issues and airing our "dirty laundry." It is also a job we are commanded by Scripture to do. Paul tells Titus to "...hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9). As the church militant, we must at all times be on guard.

In closing, I’d like to quote from Pastor Eckardt’s outstanding paper, On the Drinking of Wittenberg Beer:

In these troubled times, it turns out that we are left with the Gospel alone, when, as the hymnist puts it, every earthly prop gives way. The frustration among confessional Lutherans with regard to the course of events in the churches of our day is not unlike that of Luther, who wrote in 1520, "Farewell, unhappy, hopeless, blasphemous Rome. The wrath of God has come upon thee as thou deservest. We have cared for Babylon and she is not healed. Let us then leave her that she may become a habitation of dragons, specters, and witches"(WA, vol. 6, p. 329; cf. AE, vol. 41, p. xv). Yet, as is well known, Luther finally wrote Rome off because Rome had first written him off. The pope burned his books so he burned the pope’s books. The pope excommunicated him, and his invective against Rome was largely the result of Rome’s declaration that he was a heretic. In so doing, Rome was forbidding the Gospel. Times were certainly more troubled in Luther’s day than they are in ours. But perhaps there will come a day when some synodical hyena will declare that the official position of the synod is to brand us confessional Lutherans as heretics, in which case we can happily burn their decrees.

In the meantime I woolgatheringly wonder: Why can’t American beer be as good as Wittenberg’s? Maybe the answer is best attempted allegorically: We produce weaker beer much as we practice weaker liturgy than the Wittenberg Reformer and his friends. We drink weaker beer much as we take in weaker theology than we’d get from reading him. And if we drink in too much of the senseless prating of bureaucrats, we’ll be missing out on the better beer. But if, as Luther was eager to exhort, we imbibe in the Word of God more abundantly, if we learn to trust it implicitly in the face of mounting fears—and this implicit trust will be told by the way we worship—perhaps we won’t find ourselves getting so desperate about our state of affairs. So in short, it’s best to be discerning about what you drink. Wittenberg beer is definitely better.

No comments: