The Reformation in general, and Luther in particular, were not about restructuring the church by the creative, innovative practices of men -- however pious, educated, respected, or well-intentioned they may have been. Quite the contrary, they were about purging the church catholic of those innovations and getting back to the orthodox teaching and practice of every article of faith. The Pope and his priestly caste had taken the place of Christ as the mediator between God and man, and become the source of good works for the mollification of the Father’s wrath and remission of the common man’s sin. In an ill-conceived reaction to the hierarchy of Roman Catholicism and unfortunate misunderstanding of the Lutheran reformers, the "Protestants" restructured by replacing the works of the Pope and the priestly caste with the works of the priesthood of all believers.
The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) stumbles upon the truth -- much like modern day screenwriters for movies and television shows like The Simpsons do when they pillory the hypocritical, self righteousness nature of so-called fundamentalist, evangelical, born again Christians -- when he opines:
"The Reformation was one of the most colossal failures in history; it threw overboard what makes the Church tolerable and even gracious; namely, its aesthetic appeal; but kept its barbarous theology."
Not that the Reformation of the Lutheran confessors was a colossal failure. But Whitehead hits the nail on the head in saying that the Reformation was about throwing overboard from the ship that is Church all those things that were based upon aesthetic appeal rather than theology, that is, the Word of God. And sadly, both the "Protestant" and ABLAZE! movements with their restructuring of the human authorities within the church on earth, seem to buy into Whitehead’s premise that the graciousness of the Church resides in its aesthetics rather than its theology. This mistaken notion is the product of a secular, ungodly culture and should not be embraced by any who consider themselves to be members of the body of Christ, lest they give the impression that theology is indeed barbarous.
I continue to be amazed and dismayed by how closely the events in our synod seem to mirror the culture, and how content and even desirous synodical leadership seems to do so, rather than to be the light and the narrow highway of our God that transforms that culture.
Here we would do well to consider this thought from a certain Congregational minister: "Contemporary servant leaders ... lead by holding aloft moist fingers to sense the changes in the wind. In all this they show themselves to be different indeed from the One who embodied what servanthood was intended to be and who never once tailored his teaching to what he judged the popular reception of it would be--unless he was an exceedingly poor judge of what the crowds and religious leaders had in mind when they heard him." [David F. Wells, No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 215.]
Instead of looking at our culture with its business and political models for the "solutions" to our supposedly unacceptable growth pattern, as the ABLAZE! movement and its handmaiden special convention proposal tend to do, perhaps we ought to look at it to inform us as to the emptiness and futility of adopting its methods and mores. Even apart from the theological flaws underlying the current synodical mind set
- that bigger is better (the church has always been a remnant);
- that the great commission is predicated on our missionary zeal (the mission is dependent on Christ being with us to the ends of the earth in the baptizing and teaching of everything He has commanded);
- and that we must somehow make the Gospel more alluring to the world (we are not to conform to the desires of the world for flowery words and miraculous signs, but to bring the transforming power of Christ crucified even in our own weakness) –
a look at what our culture has wrought should be enough in and of itself to give us pause in pursuing its methods.
I couldn’t help but see these items from a recent Patriot Post, http://webmaila.netzero.net/webmail/new/5?count=1187020204, as relevant to the current sitzenleben of the LCMS. The first, by radio talk show host Dennis Prager, is something of a diagnosis and treatment regimen. The second is an observation from WorldNetDaily columnist Henry Lamb about our secular government that is also descriptive of our synod. And finally, a prescription from the pen of novelest and playwrite Honore De Balzac as brief and pointed as any written on a doctor’s pad.
The malady presented by Prager is this: "Today’s young people have the ability to experience excitement more than any generation in history. Outside of school, excitement is available almost 24/7. MTV is exciting (MTV has done far more damage to this generation than has the tobacco industry); video games are exciting... The list of exciting things many children experience is as long as there are hours in the day. But all this excitement is actually inhibiting our children’’s ability to enjoy life and therefore be happy. All this excitement renders young people jaded, not happy... All this excitement in their lives bodes poorly for the future happiness of millions of American children. Real life, let alone daily life, will seem so boring to them that they will not be able to enjoy it. And more than a few of them will opt for lives of constant excitement, often in ways destructive to themselves and others."
And he goes on to say: "The solutions are as simple to offer as they may be difficult to enforce. Limit the amount of excitement in your children’’s lives: the amount of video games, the amount of non-serious television, the amount of music whose only aim is to excite. If they are bored, they will have to remedy that boredom by playing with friends, finding a hobby, talking to a family member, walking the dog, doing chores, reading a book or magazine, learning a musical instrument or foreign language, memorizing state capitals, writing a story or just their thoughts, exercising or playing a sport, or just thinking. The younger the age from which children are deprived of superficial excitement, the longer they will remain innocent——i.e., not jaded——and capable of real happiness."
Broaden Prager’s point to speak to our whole culture rather than just children, including a philosophy of education (seemingly adopted by our "mission" minded synodical leadership) that is largely based upon entertaining/exciting/luring people to learn, and substitute the idea of faithfulness for happiness and innocence. Now what does this say about the incessant preoccupation with being ABLAZE!?
We would be wise as a synod to learn from Lamb’s observation about elected officials: "Society has been successfully engineered to believe that the goal is no longer freedom, but the control of government, which means the control of society, to fit the agenda of the controlling party. The idea of entering public service as an elected official in order to limit the power of government, and maximize the freedom of individual citizens, is an obsolete concept."
The Blue Ribbon Task Force’s Study Document, after offering a litany of "basic theological principles," presents a summary and conclusion that has virtually nothing to do with those principles other than to draw on our Christian liberty to do as we see fit for the sake of carrying out an undefined mission. Its Hypothetical Case Studies, and Exploratory Questions have nothing to do with theology, and everything to do with suggesting a shift of earthly power:
- away from the local congregation in calling a pastor;
- away from a representative form of government that balances the unique assets and needs of smaller, single pastor congregations with those of larger, multi-staff congregations;
- away from the checks and balances of having equal delegations from the ranks of trained and ordained to service in the church, as well as of vocations that place the priesthood of all believers out in the world;
- away from being an advisory body that relies on the free will offerings of its members.
My understanding is that our walking together as Synod was never meant to be a lockstep obedience to a hierarchy or its humanly devised, felt needs programs for fund raisers and membership drives. It was established in order to ensure that God’s people
- would always be able to practice the orthodox faith free from those who insisted on deviating from it;
- would have a pool of pastors trained in everything God has commanded from which they could call a man, by the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to rightly preach the Word and administer the Sacraments in all their purity and efficacy whether in the congregation or the mission field
- would have an organization by which they could be accountable to and responsible for one another in maintaining good order and discipline among congregations, as well as assisting congregations in need, so that wherever one worshiped one could be sure to find a Divine Service that rightly proclaimed the Word and administered the Sacrament in the truth and purity of the Lutheran Confessions.
Our District and Synodical officials are well on the way to usurping the autonomy of the local congregation and its authority as holding the office of the keys – witness the current dispute resolution process, the new covenant congregation program that establishes a synod within a synod, and the Strategic Ministry church growth program tied to the distribution of monetary assistance. Furthermore, as soon as a congregation is required to pay a minimum membership fee (as per trial balloon #1 on p. 23 of the Blue Ribbon Document), or if they fail to comply, face users fees for the privilege of having insurance programs and other resources for which they already pay the full and substantial cost -- synod will no longer be advisory and it will have made the freedom of individual congregations obsolete.
The solution to what ails Missouri is not forced compliance, whether by hierarchical governance or revenue taxation. What is true in the secular realm, according to De Balzac, is most certainly true in the churchly realm:
"To live in the presence of great truths and eternal laws, to be led by permanent ideals——that is what keeps a man patient when the world ignores him, and calm and unspoiled when the world praises him."
If only Missouri would once again
- corporately recognize the centrality, and agree to live in the presence of Christ that is conveyed in our liturgical, sacramental structure;
- submit to be led by the permanent ideals as expressed in our Confessions;
- and recommit to proudly proclaiming and practicing them in front and in the midst of the world instead of apologizing for and hiding from them --
then perhaps we can once again be a church that is content to rely on God’s ways and not man’s ways and thus provide a patient, calm, and unspoiled port in the storm of a world ablaze with their own lusts and passions for self gratification and enhanced size.
Unless a Special Convention targets such a theological reformation, rather than the political restructuring proposed, I urge you to vote "no" when the CoP meets to determine whether a Special Convention is to be called.