Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Special Convention Tied in Blue Ribbon

Aside from questioning the urgency of changing a synodical structure that has served us well for some 150 years, and the spending of millions of dollars in financially uncertain times that could be better used in the mission of the church and the training of men to serve that mission, the problem with the proposed Special Convention of Synod, as I understand it, is that it’s predetermined agenda has been limited to address the restructuring of Synod based upon the Blue Ribbon Task Force Study on Synodical Structure and Governance. The reason this is a problem and not a solution is that Synodical structure is an adiaphora that, if it carries Christ and His Gospel is meet, right and salutary. If said structure, and/or restructure, proceeds from the passion, efforts, and love of men, and serves to place them at the center as those things by which the church and her mission will rise or fall, it is no longer carrying the Gospel but displacing it – and thus no longer adiaphora at all, but that which has indeed been forbidden by God and His Holy Word.

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.


Anonymous said...

Respectfully submitted: you forgot to provide closing quotation marks to Lamb's statement.

I. M. Abaldy II said...

Maybe I was just fishing for a comment. ;^)

Thanks for the correction.

anguskohler said...

See what happens when you try to hurry. I posted it for the wrong story/blog/post/?

This begs the question. In these mega churches with a huge pastoral staff how do they maintain close or closed communion? It would seem that the pastors would only see half of the communers and possibly not know all members.

anguskohler said...

I guess I am a bit dense. So are they wanting to restructure so that the close community church is eliminated in favor of the corporate industrial mega churches? I know if I were member of a small church and was told that my congregation would be no more and I would have to go an becoms another nameless corpse in a mega church I would not be interested. What happened to the power of the congregation? I thought that congregations in the LCMS were afiliated with the synod not subjects of it. Is this impression right or is it just the medication?

P.S. I would love to see your thoughts on justification, grace, faith and works.

I. M. Abaldy II said...

Angus asks:
"I guess I am a bit dense. So are they wanting to restructure so that the close community church is eliminated in favor of the corporate industrial mega churches?"
Izzy replies:
You would have to ask them what they want. But the effect will be that the larger, multi-staff congregations will have sufficient votes to force their agenda on the smaller, single pastor congregations as well as to require said smaller congregations to pony up and feed the kitty to fund programs they may not be large enough to implement, or may challenge as less than faithful to our confessionof the faith.

Angus also asks:
"What happened to the power of the congregation?"
To which Izzy replies:
It will be be assumed by the larger churches and synodical/district officials who know better than the smaller churches who show by their inferior size that they are supposedly not as faithful or effective as the larger congregations.

Angus wonders:
"I thought that congregations in the LCMS were afiliated with the synod not subjects of it. Is this impression right or is it just the medication?"

Izzy can't speak to the hallucinogenic effect of your meds, but the Synod is theoretically and constitutionally advisoryin nature.

Finally, Angus "would love to see [Laughing Martin's] thoughts on justification, grace, faith and works."

These are most clearly expressed in the Book of Concord, and are very publicly confessed in the sermons and expositions posted on this blog and at the congregation which I am called to served.

In obedience to the Word and service to His people,

anguskohler said...

Is there any thought of the smaller congregations organizing an an orthodox confessional branch of the LCMS where ~they could study and become as faithful and God fearing and saved as the big churches?~


The meds are not hallucinogenic they just keep me nauseated/sick to my stomach with all that one could imagine would go with that all of the time. If they were hallicinogenic I'd be playing psychedellic music rather than country rock and I could just sit back and enjoy the ride. 8^) <\\\\<