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Gottesblog

A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Why?



By Larry Beane

As a postscript to Fr. Curtis's advice on advice, I would like to offer some of my own.

Actually, I don't really have advice so much as some questions. In this video, two of my brother pastors are giving the same advice that I would also give a new pastor (and I frequently do). In no way am I questioning their wisdom. Like I said, I agree with this advice in general - which is what a YouTube video is: general advice. And I believe the only way to keep a man in the ministry - a man who has devoted four years of his life, possibly his family's life, four years of seminary and church resources, financial and otherwise, to train for the holy ministry - is to really be careful about making changes in the parish. I think most of us in the ministry have seen and experienced the heartbreak of classmates and friends, brothers in the office, who have quit or been run out of their parishes by trying to change something. And so, to new graduates, we all counsel "festina lente" - make haste slowly - especially in matters of worship.  It is such universal advice as to be cliche.

In the video, the second pastor speaks of things that will make the new pastor "uncomfortable."  I think he has hit on something very profound.  Pastors - especially new pastors - can expect "discomfort."  He doesn't mean that the temperature might be too high in his study or that his shoes don't fit well any more.  Rather, he is referring to things that will cause a pastor spiritual discomfort, discomfort in his conscience, in what he knows is right, in his being hamstrung from leading and teaching what he himself has been led and taught to do. For that is what many of our seminary graduates find when they are sent forth to their primary congregations. In some cases, these men will be shocked and scandalized by what they will find.

In spite of the fact that, as Fr. Duddleswell pointed out from the BBC series "Bless Me, Father," it is an "ugly Protestant word," I am going to ask: "Why?"  Why are pastors uncomfortable in theology and practice, and perhaps must remain so for years, decades, or even their entire ministries?  Why?

Why do we teach men in seminary that we in the LCMS practice closed communion - not because it is policy, not because it is in the handbook, not because some bureaucrat or convention (popes and councils) have decreed it by parliamentary fiat - but because it is the right and proper thing to do, the biblical thing to do, the Christian thing to do - only to then tell these men to act immorally, contrary to the Bible, and against what the church has always done - once they get into a real parish?

This is the very definition of dissonance.

Why do we pledge to norm our teaching by the Book of Concord, which unambiguously confesses against infrequent communion, and is actually quite clear that the Holy Sacrament is to be offered at least weekly - only to pull the stilts out from a man and encourage him to violate the confessions (at least for a spell) that he has sworn to uphold as soon as he actually gets a call?

Why do we train seminarians meticulously in the theology and practice of the liturgy only to tell them to yield to their congregation's wishes (even if it is just for a while) to abolish it if that is what they encounter when they leave the seminary's bosom?

In any other context, we encourage people to keep their vows - even if it is unpopular. We never counsel a seminarian or newly minted pastor to cheat on his wife if that's what is going on in his parish (at least for the time being), until he has "earned their trust," until he has led Bible studies, preached sermons, and distributed CPH tracts on marital fidelity for a period of months or years.

We don't encourage pastors to ignore the commandments the way we encourage them to ignore entire articles of the Augsburg Confession (at least until enough catechesis has happened).

Why do we educate our pastors about the importance of these matters only to tell them they are not actually so important to actually do them when they actually get a call - in the interest of not being a "bull in the china shop" or not being "winsome" or some such?

Again, I am not encouraging anyone to be a "bull in the china shop." The situation is what it is. If you go into your first call and immediately institute every-Sunday Eucharist, abolish non-liturgical worship, or close down the "y'all come" communion statement, there is a right good chance you will swiftly be CRM, unemployed, or maybe even divorced. You might be moving back in with your parents and looking for a fast-food restaurant that is interested in hiring M.Div.'s who washed out of the pastoral ministry.

But again, I am asking "why" this is.

I think the answer is this: we don't believe Walther.

Yes, that's it. And I'm not a particularly big fan of Walther.

But we give grandiloquent lip service to Wather's Law and Gospel. We use the very words as almost a mystical incantation, even pronouncing it in some cases as "Lawn Gospel". It is as Lutheran as brats and beer. But here is the problem: if a congregation (or a subset of members) refuses to accept a pastor's instruction and exercise of pastoral shepherding - be it for closed communion, frequent communion, or liturgical worship - they are sinning. It may well be a case of a small faction of the congregation that is leading the charge against "the new guy" who wants to "change" how "we've always done things." Not only are such parishioners sinning by endorsing unbiblical practices and/or violating their own promises to abide by the Lutheran confessions, but they are adding rebellion against authority and impenitence to the mix. And if things get ugly - as they often do in these situations - rumors and attacks on reputations, gossip and slander may start flying around the parish.

And so we tell the pastor just to sidestep the whole thing, go along to get along. Back up ten yards and punt. Hopefully, you will get the ball back in the fourth quarter (i.e. when you are nearing retirement and the antagonists in your parish have all gone to their eternal reward).

We do not counsel the pastor to call the sinners to repentance. We do not encourage the pastor to - in Walther's words - give "not one drop" of the Gospel to the impenitent. In fact, we tell him to do the polar opposite: to yield to the sinner. It's just easier. It's less trouble. The paychecks keep coming. The seminary doesn't have egg on its face. It keeps the DP off your case. And you get to look "pastoral" and "wise" in not confronting the sinner.

But I want to ask again, "Why?"  Why do we ignore Law and Gospel in this case?

And to that question, I think the answer may be that we believe Walther a little too much. Poor C.F.W. just can't get a break!

I think much of the problem is our Waltherian polity. Pastors are not just beholden to, but dependent upon, the very people whom he is expected to call to repentance. It is not unusual for the biggest donors to be the most demanding, the loudest and pushiest of those who object to things like liturgical worship, closed communion, and weekly Eucharist. Often the very people leading the charge to compel the pastor to tolerate sin are the ones the pastor can ill afford to tick off.  The sheep corral the shepherds.  Hebrews 13:17 is turned on its head.  The pastor is a hireling.

Moreover, the pastor is caught between the pincers of the congregation and the district office. In our current polity, the District President wields considerable power. It may be apocryphal, but I've heard a quote attributed to Dr. William Weinrich that our district presidents today enjoy powers that Roman Catholic bishops can only covet. If a pastor causes headaches for his DP, the DP can in turn blackball the pastor - even if only informally, by dropping a name or raising an eyebrow.

And so new pastors are told from every source imaginable: the congregation, the district president, the seminary, and yes even from Gottesdienst editors - make changes "slowly" - a pace that might even be so slow as to not make them at all.  Gospel reductionism covers a multitude of antinomianism.

But woe to you, Pastor, if you do not heed this advice even if you heed your conscience. You will very likely be eaten for lunch. Your reputation may be trashed, you might lose your salary, your district president may put you under restriction, your former professors may pretend you don't exist, your colleagues in the ministry may click their tongues when they talk about you, and you might even find yourself depressed and on psychotropic drugs.  And you would have plenty of company.

And like the poor vicars who are compelled against their consciences to speak the Words of Institution over bread and wine, nobody in the seminary or the ministerium or the synod bureaucracy will help you. In their defense, they cannot. Our polity leaves pastors (and those training to be pastors) twisting in the wind.

In fairness, there is not much anyone can do other than mourn the loss of our friends while secretly thanking God that it isn't us that has been devoured - at least this time.  This is our dirty little secret.  I don't have any answers nor any advice of my own other than to reiterate our Lord's pastoral advice to the apostles to be "wise as serpents and as innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16) and St. Paul's pastoral advice to St. Timothy: "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine" (1 Tim 5:23).  The former advice is paradoxically theological, while the latter is therapeutically practical - even as both are biblical.

And as Fr. Curtis says, your mileage may vary.