Monday, September 8, 2008

LCMS Inc.: We R In Control

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard of the document that came out of the theological convocation last month in St. Louis, prepared by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structure and Governance, called “Walking Together - The LCMS Future.” This document is the result of the “brainstorming” begun by the BRTFSSG regarding the restructuring of our Synod, and serves as a basis for future discussions. It’s a sort of “wish list.” I’ll leave it to you to speculate from whose wishes the suggestions were garnered.

There have been many blogs commenting on various aspects of “Walking Together.” The one with the most detail of those I’ve seen is Pastor Hall’s at his blog This Side of the Pulpit. I’ve also got a few comments of my own, so here goes.

First, a couple of “goods.”

I like the cross “logo” outlined by the “leaves” at the beginning of the document, although it makes me wonder if it isn’t Synod’s attempt to follow the world by looking environmentally friendly, or “green.” It reminds me a lot of Emergent Village’s “FRIEND OF emergent village” logo (you can get your own here if you’d like). The likeness seems appropriate since the LCMS is in the process of being subsumed by the Emerging Church anyway, with the recurring invasion of Emerging Church leaders like Dan Kimball and Leonard Sweet at LCMS functions. The definition of subsume is “to take up into a more inclusive classification,” and what could be more inclusive than the Emerging Church, considering their “chastened hermeneutic?”

I also liked their suggestion on page 6 to change “the name of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to better reflect who we are today.”

A great idea. No offense to the good people of the Show-Me State, but not that many people identify with Missouri. I think we should get away from the geographical reference, but wouldn’t it be great if we could keep the LCMS letters? Of course, that means coming up with something different for the “M.” Since the goal is “to better reflect who we are today,” if we use an “M,” then there is one obvious hands-down choice, some form of the word mission. “Mission Synod” sounds a bit awkward. “Missional Synod” is an improvement, but if we’re really honest about who we are today, then it’s got to be Lutheran Church-Missiolatry Synod (or Missiolatrous Synod). That really says it all. Which leads to my next point.

Enough with the joking around. I want to know what happened to the Church gathered around Word and Sacrament? I guess that ended at the top of page two with the passing mention of “the Synod’s theological principles.” Congregations are now “primary mission centers.” This entire document is geared and directed towards only one thing, mission. It oozes mission. It sweats mission. It reeks of mission. We should be missional, but that’s not the only thing Christ’s Church is about. A few quotes as examples are in order:

In order to advance Christ’s mission...

As we together participate in Christ’s mission...

...for congregations to walk together in God’s mission... that they could better support and encourage the mission.

...the key issue becomes how the national Synod can best serve congregations so as to enhance their mission and do for us all what we cannot do–or do as well–by ourselves.

The whole document reflects the continuing abandonment of justification by grace through faith in the upper echelons of our Synod in favor of the Great Commission. We’re so mission-happy that we can see nothing else. This “target fixation” results in a flawed document which begins with a false premise. They state that “faced with ministry challenges in an ever-changing world, congregations are looking for encouragement, support, and resources.” I haven’t noticed anyone beating down the doors of the International Center pleading for more mission encouragement, support, and resources, at least not from my congregation. With the Ablaze!® “movement” attempting to seat itself in every pew in the Synod, and consuming huge portions of the Synodical budget, what further resources could we want? I was hoping for a few less resources.

The statement “Instill flexibility so that congregations and groups of districts could reorganize as they feel best meets their missional needs,” also indicates that the purpose of “Walking Together” is to reorganize the Synod towards a missional (read Church Growth Movement) posture. One of the major facets of the Church Growth Movement is the consolidation of power at the top, changing Christ’s Church into more of a business conglomerate, and there are plenty of ways in which this document accomplishes that goal. Some of those ways include transformation of congregations, executives who report directly to the Synodical President rather than District Presidents, more votes accorded to larger congregations, allowing Synod to establish criteria for the selection and election of delegates, lengthening the term of officers, making it much more difficult for individual congregations to proffer overtures at the conventions, the establishment of a larger and more hierarchical Synod bureaucracy, and talk of “binding force,” to name just a few.

With all of this restructuring going on, I can’t help but think of Neil Young’s song from a few years back “We R In Control.” Replace the lyrics “CCTV” with “LCMS” in the song, or whatever name we’ll eventually have, and the song fits rather nicely.

Eventually, the still small voice may not be that of God, but that of the small Confessional congregation as the last of it’s breath is being squeezed out by the Synodical Goliath sitting on its chest.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing in “Walking Together” is the statement on page 5:

...the Synod expects every member congregation of the Synod to respect its resolutions and to consider them of binding force on the assumption that they are in accordance with the Word of God and that they are applicable to the condition of the congregation.

Sorry, but that’s one assumption I’m not willing to make. At one time in the history of the LCMS, there was doctrinal integrity in the Synod, and we did walk together in doctrinal agreement. It was assumed that what came from the top of the Synod was for our benefit and in accord with Scripture, but that idyllic time has passed. The very fact that they would make the above statement indicates other forces at work. Has the Synod now elevated itself above St. Paul and angels? (Acts 17:11, Galatians 1:8)

I feel compelled to speak out on these weighty Synodical issues, but I leave it in God’s hands. His will be done. There’s no guarantee that our Synod will even survive. The LCMS has no God-given mandate. It will only survive if it follows the Confessional path that our forefathers traveled.

I’ll close with a quote from Dr. Cameron MacKenzie’s paper “Uses and Abuses of Power In the Church:”

...we can conclude that power is being used rightly in the church when local congregations organize themselves around this mission: the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. All sorts of other things can either lead to or flow from this mission – everything from clothing banks and soup kitchens to aerobics classes and book clubs, but the means of grace not only must come first in the congregation but must also be the standard by which we measure everything else that we do in the church. The world has many ways of responding to the temporal needs of a community, but only the church can preach Christ. This is its task, this is its life. So the first point that we make about the use of power in the church is the need for the gospel to be first and foremost in the mission of every congregation.

God’s blessings as you consider the important issues that confront us as a Synod, as we once again attempt to walk together.


revalkorn said...

I figured the leaves were a sign that "we realized we were naked and so we hid".

But maybe I'm reading too much into it.

wrmyers said...

Hopefully the leaves are not those of kudzu (the vine that ate the South) attempting to hide the Cross. Kudzu is known for its rapid growth and devastating environmental consequences. On the plus side, it can reportedly reduce the craving of alcohol and the effects of hangovers.

Scott Diekmann said...

We lived in Alabama for two years, so I'm familiar with kudzu. It's a bit ironic though, if it reduces the craving for alcohol, you shouldn't need it's anti-hangover effects!

Christopher D. Hall said...

Thanks for the props. I appreciate your discussion of mission-above-mission.

But "We R In Control?" What a bizarre song.

Anonymous said...

Respectfully, I am going to have to place myself on the other side of the fence concerning the name issue. I do not mind being referred to as the "Missouri Synod," even though I have never visited that state since it reflects our history. Our roots grow deep in that state, and it is a connection to our past (which, ironically, seems to be anathema in this day and age). However, this issue is indeed adiaphora, and I am by no means dogmatic.

Scott Diekmann said...

I agree Zelwyn. The name change part was a tongue-in-cheek comment. Plus, in keeping with the current trend in contemporary LCMS church naming, it would have to be the "Lutheran" we would drop, not "Missouri."