The Log in Our Own Eye
So how could you stay in a fellowship that utterly denies the Biblical teaching of the Office of the Ministry? That throws our Confessions to the wind? And not just as a matter of mere morality – that is, not just a fellowship that is lax about weeding out adulterers, drunks, and knaves – but a fellowship that actually denies an integral and substantial aspect of this precious and holy gift of our Lord?
And so, we in the LCMS are self-condemned. No, we don't ordain women. Why bother when you can just have a layman act like a pastor? Why bother making pastors out of unrepentant homosexuals when you can get along without pastors at all? We don't ordain those we can't (non potest ordinare mulierem ad officium presbyterorum) or shouldn't (non debet ordinare molles ad officium presbyterorum) ordain, we refuse to ordain at all and pretend that we can do so by twisting the Scriptures. Which is, of course, the way the ordaining of women and unrepentant homosexuals came to pass.
So what is a pastor or a congregation whose fellowship has become errorist to do? Can he and they stay in good conscience? Now that's a question for the ages and I don't know how to answer it exactly. But I must, if not answer it, at least find a way to live with myself while trying to answer. So what I have is not an answer, but an observation and my own attempt at living piously within my calling.
The observation is this. We are in the same situation as that first generation of Reformers. The hierarchy (which now includes a strange thing called “Convention Delegates”) is errorist. And numerous individuals among the people of God have been led astray. We are living in Dark Ages. In that situation, Luther taught, and preached, and called for debate and discussion. A remnant was drawn to his teaching. He and they were later cast out unjustly by the same hierarchy and carried on as Church – by schism rent asunder, by heresies oppressed.
And so, here's how I try to live. I teach that this fellowship is in open rebellion against its own Biblical confession. I refuse to receive any sacramental act or attend any Divine Service presided over by a “licensed layman” and teach the people I'm called to serve to do the same. I discuss the topic with my brethren in the Office – and not just those who agree with me. I urge the Synod, through channels formal and informal, to stop the practice.
Full disclosure: All of that is immensely easier for me because I serve in a district that has exactly zero “lay ministers” with a district president who is publicly opposed to the Wichita Recension of the Augsburg Confession. So none of that really costs me anything. If you try to live out those statements in other districts, you will no doubt face hardship. But is there anything else one can do?
I grew up in one such district – and when invited back for my home congregation's 100th anniversary I spoke to the people, gently* but firmly, about how what the Synod is doing is wrong. That was easier for me as someone who was flying out on Monday – and even that was hard. But the people of God will surprise you, too. They have an aversion to bureaucrats. They want to see it in the Bible. The brave circuit counselor bent over backwards to make sure my home congregation got a pastor to serve them during a recent vacancy – telling the district office No Thanks to their offer (read: pressure) to just “license” a layman. He got not a little flak, and it was a burden on him personally to keep those people fed as the Lord would feed them. And God bless him for it – no one who does such a thing shall lose his reward.
And here's another aspect of the problem that I don't have to deal with out here, but which I suspect is the most important part of it. If you live next door to one of these “licensed layman:” how can you call him to repentance in gentleness and love and integrity? After all, many of these men have been lulled into their sin by Infallible Authority: the Synod said it was OK, therefore it is OK (Papism: It's not just for the Pope anymore.) These men need to hear the Scriptures and Confessions. They need true shepherds who will urge them to repent.
On the other hand. . .
It's twenty years ago now that the LCMS tossed out AC XIV. I often wonder where we would be had a goodly number of pastors ignored the advice I just gave in 1989 and said, “That's it. We're outta here.” Would we be better off today? I don't know. But 20 years later, it's a little hard to change tactics.
But is this too much to hope? What if a number of brave souls now came over from the ELCA, tossing out their own log and saying, “We were wrong about women pastors. We saw something we didn't like in God's Word and thought we could get along without it. Now we see that that's not possible. Now, brothers, we repent, and we urge you to do the same: for you, too, can't toss out something in the Scriptures and Confessions that you find inconvenient.”
Wouldn't that be something?
* How? Well, what I do is try to imagine Ron Feuerhahn in the same situation and just do and say what he would.