Let the Games Begin!
In only 283 short days, the 2019 Synodical Convention of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod will convene. Because some are still screaming at the sky over the 2010 convention results, the political games have already begun. Last week the very public campaign for one of the candidates for President went viral among clergy. Former synodical and district bureaucrats have hit the phones, district conventions, and circuit meetings to push that specific campaign forward. According to the website, there are seven key tenets that are crucial to the self-proclaimed “movement.”
The first tenet of the campaign is that “we” have let fear stall “our” mission in the church and that “we” don’t have hope in the Holy Spirit anymore. I only assume that the plural pronouns are meant to be inclusive of the synod as a whole. However, the truth behind this movement isn’t fear of losing sight of the mission of the Church. The truth behind the fear of what’s happening in Synod is that my generation of pastors who have come out of both seminaries (millennial, St. Louis guy here) actually want to be Lutheran. In response, I have seven “tired” tenets in response.
1) We’re tired of the political games. 2) We’re tired of so many parading around practicing as evangelicals only dressed up as Lutherans. 3) We’re tired of being told that Word and Sacrament ministry is secondary to neighborhood meet and greets because mission is all that matters and that the church is going to die. 4) We’re tired of being told that being uniquely Lutheran is offensive and narrow-minded. 5) We’re tired of the Divine Liturgy being watered down or even completely replaced for moralistic, therapeutic deism. 6) We’re tired of altars unfaithfully being left open. 7) We’re tired of pastors unfaithfully remaining on the roster only for their insurance and pension thus setting up men who are recently graduated from seminary for failure or burnout.
“We” aren’t fearful of anything. We’re tired. Instead, it’s this ridiculous political movement that is fearful—even angry—at the fact that the vast majority of the pastors your generation groomed came out of seminary desiring faithfulness. We see straight through your games. We don’t want to play them. We only want faithful leaders who will prayerfully make decisions without being manipulated. We’re not the state. We’re the Church. Stop acting like the world and be faithful. We heard this read this week (historic lectionary) in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (fuller context provided):
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:17-24 ESV).
Paul makes a huge assumption here, namely, that the ones to whom he’s writing have actually heard the truth of Jesus. The way this “movement” is acting is as if they have no ears to hear what Jesus has to say.
Their second tenet calls for the setting aside of the Lutheran Confessions in favor of the Scriptures alone. This sets up an either/or fallacy, and it borders on breaking ordination vows. We celebrated the 500th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses only a year ago, and now only one year removed, there’s already a call to forget all of that “Reformation stuff.” As for the rest of tenet 2, I’d like some proof. If there are actually pastors who aren’t studying or teaching the Scriptures, it should probably be handled by the elders of those congregations and then the circuit visitor if the issue isn’t resolved. Their solution simply breaks what they say they’re trying to avoid in tenet 3. Further, it was this same group in a movement begun years ago that was the “relentless” quoters of Walther until Walther got spun back on them. Who would they rather us quote? Osteen? McNeal? Most likely anyone who will try to convince us that Jesus has already left the walls of the church and is storming through the neighborhoods, I guess.
Tenet 4 calls for diversity. Diversity as far as ethnicity, language, etc. is an excellent thing, but sacrificing the Divine Liturgy on the altar of cultural appropriation is not the answer. When we have no unity in practice, we certainly cannot have unity in doctrine. That’s what causes alarm about what is being put forth in tenet 5. Reaching the lost is crucial to the Church. It is the Great Commission. However, it then suggests that being “confessional” means confessing with others, referencing other denominations. Have we forgotten what it means to be in altar and pulpit fellowship and why it matters? Of course, if it’s only person’s driveway for the community bash, there’s no altar or pulpit, is there?
But then you get me with tenet 6. I’ve been defending unity in doctrine and practice. Yet, they’ll shout, “Adiaphora!” so that now I’m the one passing “loveless judgments” on another’s “doctrine and practice.” If that’s the response I receive from this, I think we’ve missed the point. If we have differences in doctrine within the Synod, we are no longer synod, that is, walking together. They want “mutual trust and love” (tenet 7) to be the foundation. They want transparency and not anonymity, yet everything that is coming from that side is shrouded in mystery. Who is the author? Does the candidate know about or endorse this? They call for us to maintain the Eighth Commandment while shattering it themselves behind the closed doors of conventions, Winkels, and phone calls. Enough is enough.
What saddens me the most about such an obvious political movement within our Synod is that the ones leading such a movement have been removed from the parish for so long they have forgotten what it is to be pastors. No pastor wants political movements within their congregations. We see the damage they cause and the unnecessary division they create. Why in the world would anyone expect congregations or pastors to get on board with such an obvious political play? Why are the former (and some current) “higher-ups” promoting this? I thought congregations matter! Well, I guess, only the ones with the loudest voices and who are lit most ablaze for Jesus.
As a result of this, I have also taken a “hard, honest look at our beloved Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and what it has become.” I too have seen how “sinful actions have contributed to the brokenness of the church body.” So stop the games. Stop trying to be divisive with political movements and actually have a conversation in person with real people. We’d be a lot better off if we did. Kyrie eleison!