Thursday, January 7, 2010

Theological Pluralism in the LCMS

In 1996, Dr. Laurence White, the Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston, presented a paper to the Lutheran Concerns Association titled “The Transformation of Missouri.” His paper is as timely today, perhaps more so, than it was when it was written back then. It’s well worth reviewing in light of our upcoming 2010 Convention in the LCMS. Perhaps it may cast all of the proposed structural changes in a different light. Here are a few of Dr. White’s thoughts. The first two paragraphs are quotes from the conclusion, followed by quotes from other areas of the paper.

Some would suggest that we've just gotten too big to operate without strong central control and a complicated multi-layered governing structures. District officials are heard to lament that the greatest single obstacle to the efficient operation of their districts is Missouri's stubborn attachment to the autonomy of the congregation. Others would insist that times have changed and as we prepare to move forward into the 21st century we too must change. The simple arrangements of 150 years ago, they tell us, are not adequate for the 1990's.

I am convinced that all of these suggestions miss the point. The transformation of Missouri has little to do with numbers or dates. It has everything to do with our confidence in the power of God's holy Word. The challenge which now confronts us as confessional Lutherans within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is to restore that confidence in the power of the Word of God before it is too late.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is slipping into a what might be called a "Post Confessional Era." While many of our pastors and most of our laity remain comfortably ensconced in a state of complacent indifference, the character of our church is undergoing a radical transformation. To be sure, we continue to pay lip service to the importance of doctrine - this is the Missouri Synod after all and appearances must be maintained. But all the rhetoric of orthodoxy notwithstanding, doctrine is not longer the decisive factor in the life of the New Missouri nor has it been for some time.

The New Missouri has demonstrated a curious inability to resolve theological problems in a Biblical manner. Throughout recent decades, political expedience and the realities of institutional power have consistently taken precedence over theological integrity for both moderates and conservatives. Forthright doctrinal discussion has virtually disappeared among us replaced by diplomatic double talk and discreet evasion as both sides vie for strategic advantage in the ongoing struggle for political control of the denomination.

In a church where the focus is on the organization, doctrinal discussion is perceived to be a threat to unity rather than a means to unity. In such a church, doctrinal disagreements are to be minimized and ignored least they jeopardize the reassuring illusion of institutional solidarity. In such a church those who are so indiscreet as to raise doctrinal concerns are to be consigned to irrelevance, scorned as "troublers of Israel."

Whether they are based on the banks of the Mississippi or the Tiber, church organizations have always found it very difficult to admit that they've ever been wrong. CTCR opinions routinely receive convention acceptance by simple majority vote - the fact that 30% or 40% or 49% of the delegates at a convention are voting against that doctrinal statement seems to concern no one. In recent years the commission has been unable to achieve God pleasing unanimity even within its own membership on a number of crucial theological questions. Theological pluralism is simply a fact in the New Missouri and our practice reflects that sad state of affairs.

You can read Dr. White’s entire paper here.


Anonymous said...

I have never been comfortable with the term "moderates" for those true radicals that occupied the Seminary during the 50's and 60's.
There's nothing moderate about them. They were/are theological liberals, and ought to be known as such. Moderates, indeed!

Johannes the Moderately Dry

Scott Diekmann said...

You could substitute heretic or idolator for moderate. When you rule over the text, you have made yourself God.