Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sinful Separatism or Doctrinal Common Sense?

In President Matt Harrison’s recent comments on the sale of University Lutheran Chapel, he mentioned the dissensus occurring in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod over what it means to be Lutheran. While there are likely many laymen completely unaware of these problems in our synod, the majority of those involved in the “synodical process” are acutely aware of these disagreements. A recent convention highlights the difficulties.

Our last district convention was an exposition on dissensus. While there was a thin veneer of civility on the surface, hidden beneath were a multiplicity of discordant pieces of particle board, tenuously held together with a minimum of glue. One of the most glaring examples of this friction occurred during the Divine Service on the last day. Was there some sort of outburst by someone? No – just the opposite. There was an absence – of Confessional pastors and laymen in the Divine Service; at least a few of them opted to skip the service rather than commune with those with whom they so vehemently disagreed. This action may seem inappropriate, actually skipping the Divine Service because you disagree with some of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Is this a case of sinful separatism?

The district where I reside is certainly one that isn’t overly Confessional – it’s more like a showcase for novel approaches to doing ministry that push the boundaries of Confessional propriety. Exploring new ways to do Word and Sacrament ministry using other-than-ordained-pastors is encouraged, open Communion is abundant, and practices which disregard our Confession through the embrace of non-Lutheran practices are all amply represented. Some people in the district fit the description which Robert D. Preus warned us about over two decades ago:
…Those who wish to be touted confessional Lutherans have mouthed the pure doctrine of the confessions, but sometimes abandoned or rejected a practice or worship which conforms with the pure Lutheran doctrine. Pastors, conferences, conventions, and even church bodies fall into this quasi-docetic self-delusion when they give lip-service to the creeds, pro forma subscription to the confessions, and reaffirmation of orthodox doctrinal statements, while their practice and worship lapse into Reformed or sectarian or generic forms, disconnected from their high doctrinal assertions.
With this lack of a district-wide confessional stance, could a refusal of pastors and laymen to attend the Divine Service because they disagree with the doctrine and practice of fellow district members be considered sinful separatism? There are certainly people who will make the argument that the answer is “yes.” Before you make that argument, however, consider what the following three Lutheran theologians have to say about the relationship between the Lord’s Supper and fellowship (quotes come from Cyberbrethren):
There cannot be a more inward, brotherly fellowship than that into which one enters with those in whose fellowship he receives the holy Supper.
- C. F. W. Walther

Our participation in the Lord’s Supper is a public profession on our part that we are not only in fellowship with Christ, but that we also are in fellowship with those with whom we commune at the Lord’s Table. For those that approach the same altar together profess to be one, one in all points of Christian doctrine and practice….
- George Stoeckhardt

Because altar fellowship is the most intimate expression of confessional unity, those who commune at the Lutheran altar are those who are in complete confessional agreement and fellowship with the other communicants.
- Norbert H. Mueller
With these quotes in mind, the sinful separatism argument doesn’t make much sense. Participation would mean an affirmation of some people’s ill-formed doctrine. Perhaps this refusal to commune at the district convention was not sinful separatism, but rather doctrinal common sense.

There are people out there who work hard to make it look like we’re all one big happy family here in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and share the exact same doctrine, thereby trying to legitimate their practice. Our synod president obviously disagrees with them, and for that I’m thankful. Admitting that we’ve got problems is the first step toward reconciliation, or, worst case scenario, separation. While reconciliation is the greater goal, separation may be a distasteful option if consensus cannot be achieved. Concord will take repentance, prayer, hard work on everyone’s part, and the blessing of our Lord.

It grieves me that we have such animosity towards one another, and long for a day when we will truly walk together as one in Christ. We must all acknowledge that the other guy isn’t the enemy – our battle is against the evil one.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2 ESV).

photo credit: Meredith_Farmer


Anonymous said...

I was at that convention too. I attended worship. What can I say about the worship? It had a sermon. The sermon was drawn from the scriptures. That's good.

The worship service itself gave me the impression (as most convention worship services do) that there was an agenda driven to tell all of the seeker-sensitive crowd that they are the favored children and to tell the liturgical/confessional that they should really be doing this dynamic stuff instead.

Something horrible has happened: our worship together at conventions (including LWML conferences, sadly) has become a pawn in the battle for the identity of the LCMS. The 'in your face' pushiness has driven away the out crowd and turned the gospel into the law. What was the sacrament of our unity is made into the bludgeon of conformity. "You shall worship this way or no communion for you. You don't get the sacrament unless you endorse our naughtiness."

Can't someone in the district offices figure out a way to hold a worship service that brings us all together in communion? Grief.

David Cochrane said...

Where we live our problem has been to find a congregation which has historic liturgy, join it, then see it change. When that happens those of us who are not in favour are told in sermons and other ways that we are unloving to the nonlutherans. The music changing is bad enough then we hear the sermons becoming reformed.

Andrew said...

I must confess having difficulty with this. Perhaps my difficulty lies in a lack of communication. I get not attending with a clear conscience, but what next? How does it get resolved?

There are deaf ears on one side of the aisle and hardened hearts on the other.