Friday, August 12, 2005

My 2¢

Since Dave and Josh and Chris have expressed their views about what the LCMS needs, I thought I’d throw in my two cents as well.

I really disagree with the analysis that polity is the basic problem. First of all, up to 1945, the LCMS put in a pretty good record of doctrinal and liturgical solidity combined with spectacular growth under Walther and congregationalism. But more fundamentally, having just finished Here We Stand (the book), I was strongly affected by Hermann Sasse’s insistence that polity is not a "Christian" issue. As you’ve seen, I have a great respect for the pastor plus strong lay elders and charity-dispensing deacons model of the Presbyterian church, but after reading Sasse, I repent of any effort to see that model as in any way binding on the Christian church. Christ is not a lawgiver establishing a constitution with separation of powers for His church; what law he reiterated is the common moral law of mankind. At any rate, I accept Sasse’s argument that that’s the Lutheran view. And since it is, if we were to be blessed by changing our polity, then we would show that our confessions are in fact wrong and God did give a church constitution. This does not mean that our polity might not need fine tuning; God expects us to use our brains to read the signs of the times and structure our communion most effectively to that end. I am not familiar with the call process; for all I know it could encourage congregational "shepherd stealing." But I take it as an article of faith (that then seeks understanding), that polity is not the fundamental issue.

Can Lutheranism survive without the Lutheran church? That’s the question Dave’s move gives us occasion to raise. (Occasion only - - Dave I know you’ll understand that this is long-percolating thoughts, not some effort to attack your move.) Why is it that convinced Catholics don’t leave no matter how bad the liturgy or stupid the bishop is? Because they identify the doctrine, the -ism, with the visible church. Catholicism without being organizationally a Catholic is meaningless. And why don’t Orthodox change the liturgy? Because they identify the liturgy as part of the law of Christ, given through the mind of the church. These are great unity-building doctrines. The problem I see is that Lutheranism cannot, without betraying its own confessions, adopt either of these positions in their strict form. On the other hand, it is hard not to see in the old (pre-1945) LCMS an adoption in practice of these positions. And for the church, that is functional; it works; it keeps the sheep in line. And like I noted with Burke’s "little platoons" argument/paradox, there’s nothing like strong Lutheran (or Catholic, or Presbyterian, or Orthodox, or "non-denominational") identity to keep one likewise strongly grounded in "mere Christianity." So we have to keep that strong identification of -ism with organization, without falling into un-Lutheran traps of denying our doctrine of the church being wherever Gospel is preached and the sacraments administered.

I think we all agree that the role of the family as transmitter of Christian teaching could be strengthened in the Lutheran church. That is, in fact, a divine command (Deuteronomy to Proverbs to Ephesians), and confessional as well (Luther’s three kingdoms of church, family, and state). The confessional Presbyterians are big on this and on how the church is a family (Eph. 2). As the Presbyterians have emphasized this means responsible male headship in the church as in the family. I think the recent LCMS decision that women can hold authority roles in the church apart from the pastorate is a great opportunity, because in a way it is right. Christ is not a new lawgiver. Unlike the Catholics, or the Presbyterians, we cannot make laws in the church that don’t apply to society in general (whether those outside the church actually follow it is irrelevant). So, unlike them, we will have to make our argument on the basis not of Christ established this or that constitution in the church, but rather of natural order of the family, on the natural leadership of fathers in their family, including in the family that is the church of God the Father. That’s a harder argument to make, because you have less of an out of saying "Hey, I have no problem with women in combat, or women CEO’s or women presidents, it’s just in the church rules are different." But if we make that argument successfully, I think we will also find fathers taking up the catechetical role in their families, and mothers supporting them in that role. And I think we will also find families getting bigger. Gains all the way around, again if we can make that argument. But this battle against female leadership in the LCMS is where we need to be to be for transmission of the faith in families.

Preaching to myself, I have also to say that everyone on this board out to be involved to the extent they can in adult Sunday School instruction, in voter’s meetings, and in general making ourselves ready to serve the church as laymen. It’s boring and annoying most of the time (not the Sunday School teaching which is a wonderful experience, but the voter’s stuff), but if you want to be someone people listen to when the next decision is made, you pay your dues. Woody Allen said 90% of life is showing up, and he’s right.

Originally posted at Here We Stand

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