What Harrison Can Do
The following will appear, Dv, in the next print issue of Gottesdienst along with other analysis of the future of traditional, confessional Lutheranism in the LCMS from many of the other Gottesdienst editors.
What Harrison Can Do
by Fr. H. R. Curtis
I have often wondered at people lamenting the LCMS' lack of bishops. The problem with the LCMS is that she has far too many bishops. A bishop, in the Lutheran understanding, is a holder of the pastoral office exercising all the duties thereof. There is only one Office of the Ministry, and it can only be passed on whole and undivided. You can't give some men just give a piece of the Office, as in Rome's understanding. Some men, for the sake of good order, might not exercise all of the duties thereof - but all have the same Office, all are bishops.
Therefore a bishop acting as a bishop is a shepherd of souls - he is somebody's pastor. He's a steward of the mysteries and as such has the authority to see to the proper administration of those mysteries: "To this we answer that it is lawful for bishops or pastors to make ordinances that things be done orderly in the Church." (AC XXVIII.53)
Instead of a few of these sorts of bishops, exercising all the duties of their office over a few large territories, the LCMS has thousands of these bishops over small territories. Thousands of men each and every week, who are the shepherds of souls, have and exercise the authority to make ordinances about how things are done in the services of the Church. We have lots, and lots, and lots of bishops.
The President of the LCMS does not and cannot, therefore, act as a bishop in this Lutheran sense. He is not the pastor of anybody. (At least, he hasn't been in about half a century.) And he does not have the right to change any parish's ceremonies and order of service. And, since he is nobody's pastor, neither is he the pastor of the other pastors of the Synod - and thus those pastors do not owe him the obedience that "hearers owe their pastors" in these sorts of matters. Or to put it another way: the President of the Missouri Synod is not empowered to excommunicate anybody.
So, first off, curtail your expectations of the new President of the Missouri Synod. He cannot stop neo-evangelical worship and the ongoing abolishment of the Mass among us with the nod of his head. He cannot say to that Winkel colleague of yours, "Stop communing Methodists, and use the Common Service." He is not serving as bishop. No doubt, he is by virtue of his ordination ontologically a bishop, but he is not exercising that Biblical Office over anybody; rather, he exercises an office created by the Constitution and By-Laws of the LCMS.
But here is what President Harrison can do, and what I hope he does, for the cause of confessional Lutheranism in North America and around the world.
The Rule of IV
The problems that beset us can be helpfully arranged by reference to the Augsburg Confession. And, happily enough for the mnemonically challenged, the really problematic ones these days are: IV, XIV, and XXIV. President Harrison can aid the cause of traditional, confessional Lutheranism under each article.
AC IV: Grace Alone (No, Seriously: Alone)
The outgoing leadership of the LCMS has made no bones about their focus on Missions. The Ablaze! campaign was the heart and soul of President Kieschnick's vision for what the LCMS was to be: an evangelical powerhouse growing by way of adult conversions and critical events. He was also found of a certain rhetoric that was, frankly, Arminian in tone. It boiled down to this: Life is short, and Hell is not. Every time I snap my fingers somebody goes to Hell. Get out there and stop that from happening! If we don't give, pray, and tell the message, people will end up in Hell to whom we could have gotten the message and saved them from such a fate.
Um, what about grace alone? What about the Election of Grace? Will God really lose one of his elect if I'm lazy and do nothing? Is the population of heaven a function of my exertion? I explored this issue in much greater detail at the Gottesdienst West conference this summer (paper here), but for now let me get right to what President Harrison can do to help turn back the tide of this Functional Arminianism and Arminian rhetoric. He can simply say something like this each time he speaks of missions: Brethren, God saves us by grace and he has promised that no one can snatch his elect from his hands. If you decide to sit around and never tell anybody about Jesus, you will not be able to take a little lamb from his hand. But how can you keep from speaking of Jesus? You are saved by God's grace! And more grace abounds - he will use you as an instrument for speaking the word of grace so that all his elect might be gathered in from every tribe and nation. . .
AC XIV: Pastors pastor
This is the hardest theological task President Harrison will face. For twenty years now the LCMS has been, not only in practice around the edges, but officially on paper and at the center, a heterodox body. In 1989, the LCMS tossed out AC XIV and its insistence that only those placed in the Office of the Ministry shall preach, teach, and administer the Sacraments.
This is the most pressing, clear cut issue for Missouri and world Lutheranism today. If the Missouri Synod, the founder of so many confessional church bodies around the world, can simply get by without pastors in large swaths of her territory - then why shouldn't we Russians, Haitians, South Africans, save time and money and just train laymen to do these functions as well?
This is an open scandal, a denial of Scriptural truth, and a delight to the devil, the world, and the flesh. The rejection of the Biblical mandate and need for placing men in the Office of the Ministry is firmly entrenched in many districts (not to mention many hearts and minds). But there is hope. In July 2007, the systematics faculties of the seminaries came out forcefully against the current LCMS teaching in a joint statement that was ignored by the Kieschnick administration. President Harrison could resurrect this document and use his talents as a good teacher and powerful preacher to lead us into faithfulness.
He also has the services of a First VP who has been rock solid on this issue. In fact, while he was DP in SID, now First VP Mueller not only prevented any consecrations by laity, but was even known to volunteer his time on Sunday mornings to serve areas that could not find any other vacancy pastor. Now we need these two godly men to preach and teach on this topic both publicly and at the COP table and call the Synod to repentance. This will take bravery and strength. Pray for them.
AC XXIV: Ubi missa est?
The conventions of the LCMS are notoriously hard to analyze. Why did the 2010 convention pass the bulk of President Kieschnick's vision for the day-to-day operations of the Synod - and then hand it over to Matt Harrison to run? Verily, this is a great mystery.
But maybe it was that opening service. In 2007, when I and the greater part of the Gottesdienst editorial staff were delegates, the opening service was Divine Service, Setting 1 from LSB. During the convention proceedings some of the walking music was performed by a praise band - but it was just the walking music. Never entered the Divine Service. But on opening night of this convention, President Kieschnick's worship planning team really let 'er rip. Oh, it was still the DS - mostly. But there were some "fresh" lines mixed in with the Kyrie - sort of a chancel dramatic reading if not a chancel drama. And there was a "techie" TV altar. And there was a real life praise band. And there were key changes of which no one was warned. And there were. . .
This was all a first. And there were so many of these firsts. And I wonder if it wasn't all a bit much for many of the delegates coming from nice, normal LCMS churches. How many of those 50 or so swing voters saw that worship service and thought - gosh, has it come to this? All us Lutherans in the room and we do - this?
The way forward for President Harrison here couldn't be easier. Another local story, if you'll indulge me. We used to have these worship wars, I am told, in the SID at pastors' conferences. One circuit would host conference and it was all praise bandy and ex corde orders of service. Another would host and it was time to play duck the censer and keep up with the Gregorian chant tones. In other words, the corporate worship of the brethren became the time to score points. The DP (yes, this is another Herb Mueller story) finally took things in hand and encouraged the planning committee to take the worship at conferences from then on - and to just do the orders as printed in LSB.
Peace and prosperity ever since. Worship is worship again and not point scoring. When Lutherans gather, we follow Lutheran orders of service that all Lutherans know and everybody's happy. In 2013 I'll bet dollars to donuts that President Harrison instructs the chaplain to just do what's in the book. And in the meantime, he can just say a few nice things here and there about the rich heritage of our Lutheran worship, how great LSB is, and how neat it is to worship just like grandpa did. That's all he needs to do to lend a lot of support to the liturgy - the ensuing silence about "diverse forms of worship" after nine years of hearing about it will be worth more, and be more classy, than any argumentative statements he could come up with.
Of course, if President Harrison encouraged a pastor here or there to rediscover the Common Service, had a talk with the St. Louis Seminary about what's appropriate in chapel, and wants to lead Vespers at the next Gottesdienst Octoberfest, that would be fine, too.