Friday, August 26, 2011

On Vacation

No, not me.  I just returned last week from a wonderful, two-week vacation, which began with our annual "Messer Weekend" at our home with family and friends, included a trip down to "Almost Heaven" West Virginia to visit my kin, and was rounded off by camping with friends several days at Jackson's "Greenwood Acres Family Campground."  Fun times and very refreshing - didn't open my laptop the whole time (almost :)!

The vacation to which I'm referring here is the vacation from church discipline the LCMS has been enjoying for a great many years.  Seriously, when is the last time a clergy member of the LCMS was removed from the clergy roster for false teaching?  Is that even possible today, with the convoluted dispute resolution and dissent processes currently in place?  Does anyone even know how all that stuff works anymore? 

I honestly cannot recall hearing about any rostered clergy member in the LCMS being removed for false teaching in the past few decades.  I mean, I know of many cases of rostered clergy being removed or placed on restricted status for other reasons (immoral life, pastor is too Lutheran for the congregation, etc.), but I know of no cases where the reason for removal has been false teaching (even though some removals are advertised as such).

And this is certainly not because there aren't false teachers on the clergy roster of the LCMS.  There are.  And no one has to go "heresy hunting" to find them.  They just speak out loudly and publicly - and proudly.

The most recent example of this is the public proclamation of Dr. Matthew Becker, an LCMS pastor, who serves as an associate professor at Valparaiso University and as vacancy pastor at a congregation in that area.  Dr. Becker has been publicly advocating for the ordination of women for some time now.  He has written articles about this, blogged about it, and entered discussions on the topic in various forums to present his views.  He has even made it known that he teaches his students that Scripture does not forbid the ordination of women and boasts of changing many minds over the years.  Additionally, he has also boldly declared that he is in agreement with the ELCA theologians who signed their social statement on sexuality, which led to the 2009 decision to allow for active homosexuals in a committed relationship to be ordained and serve as pastors.

Some time ago, a brother LCMS pastor, after attempting to call Dr. Becker to repentance for his false views, filed charges against him with his District President.  According to Dr. Becker, those charges were dropped, because Dr. Becker has filed an official dissent with the CTCR (Commission on Theology and Church Relations) of the LCMS on the topic of women's ordination, and the dissent process must be allowed to play itself out before charges against him could be filed (or something like that).

Meanwhile, I guess it's okey-dokey for Dr. Becker to continue to spew forth his false teachings around the blogosphere and in the classroom.  That he has filed an official dissent makes him untouchable and protects him from discipline, evidently.  One would think that a rostered clergy member of the LCMS in dissent would be told that he could not speak publicly against the position of the LCMS on the matter until the issue was settled.  I mean, if a brother pastor cannot bring him up on charges of false teaching while the dissent is in place, it seems reasonable, not to mention fair, that the dissenting pastor should be ordered to hush up about things until his dissent is answered.

But, this whole matter just brings to light the real problem that plagues our synod, namely that we simply don't practice church discipline any longer.  In fact, those who lament this reality and call for a return to faithful church discipline are labeled "radicals" and "heresy hunters" and "purists."  They are accused of wanting to "purge" the synod of everyone that doesn't believe exactly as they do in their own, self-conceived "purity cult."

This, too, was evidenced in recent discussions around the blogosphere where Dr. Becker was making his false teachings known publicly.  The LCMS forbids the ordination of women, based on the clear Word of God (just like the vast majority of Christendom, by the way).  The issue has been studied and debated.  A decision has been reached.  We do not ordain women, not because women are inferior to men or somehow incapable of performing the functions of the pastoral office, but simply because God has said "No" to this in His Word, and call us crazy and kooky, but we still believe, teach, and confess that Holy Scripture is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, and the sole source and norm of Christian doctrine and practice.

So, it should not be surprising that, when an LCMS pastor comes along publicly advocating for the ordination of women, other LCMS pastors and laity state that he should either leave our fellowship and join up with others (like the ELCA), who have abandoned God's Word and the confession of the Church for 2,000 years on this (and other) issues, or be removed from our clergy roster if he refuses to leave.  And yet, those who opined in this non-surprising way during recent discussions were ridiculed and chastised by other LCMS pastors and laity, as if they were nothing but rude, obnoxious, unloving people for even suggesting the idea that an LCMS pastor, who publicly teaches false doctrine and refuses to be called to repentance for doing so, should either leave or be removed.

How long will the LCMS lounge around in beach chairs, taking a vacation from church discipline?  Like many others, I am hopeful that the upcoming Koinonia Project will have positive results in addressing many of the issues which divide our synod.  But, I am worried that those positive results will not come if we get bogged down in addressing issues that have already been decided among us, and if we do not make it clear that those who are in opposition on decided issues cannot remain in our fellowship.  In other words, we do not need to add the topic of women's ordination to the list of things to be discussed and decided.  That has been discussed and decided already.  It's a non-issue.  Those who disagree should be called to repentance.  And, if they will not repent, they should leave of their own volition to seek fellowship elsewhere where their false teachings will be embraced or be removed from our clergy roster.

I wonder if there is anything an LCMS pastor could teach publicly that would result in his removal from our clergy roster.  I mean, if a well-known and outspoken LCMS pastor/professor can publicly teach false doctrine and boast of leading many others away from the truth without suffering any repercussions, what hope is there of preventing an average parish pastor of teaching falsely about any number of doctrines and leading many astray?  Of course, we're supposed to have a system in place to prevent this very thing from happening.  We elect District Presidents and Circuit Counselors, who are supposed to serve as Ecclesiastical Supervisors.  They are, according to the LCMS Constitution, supposed to oversee the doctrine and practice of the pastors and congregations under their purview, visiting those pastors and congregations to make sure their doctrine and practice is in line with Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.  But, would anyone honestly argue that this is what actually happens in practice?  I've been a pastor for over six years and have never been visited by my District President or Circuit Counselor to ensure that the doctrine and practice where I serve is in line with what we Lutherans believe, teach, confess, and practice.  I'm betting that the vast majority of my brother LCMS pastors around the country would reveal the same.  The only time most LCMS pastors will hear from their District Presidents or Circuit Counselors is if members of the congregations they serve bring to their attention that there is conflict and strife in their congregations.  Thus, our District Presidents and Circuit Counselors really serve not as Ecclesiastical Supervisors, but as Conflict Resolution Specialists.  And, sadly, when they are invoked to deal with conflict within a congregation, doctrine and practice often take a back seat to pragmatics in the attempt to solve the conflict.

Thus, we deny in practice what we affirm on paper (which can be said about a great many things among us).  We talk a good game about church discipline, but do not walk the talk.  The end result is madness, where each LCMS pastor can teach and do what is right in his own eyes, much as things were in the time of the Judges.  And, as long as we remain on our convenient vacation from church discipline in our synod, there will be no advance toward the sort of unity and peace the vast majority of us covet.  As I said, I share the hope of many that the Koinonia Project will have positive results among us, but when false teachers among us are allowed to openly and publicly put forth their false teachings without any repercussions, and when those who call for repercussions are ridiculed as crazy people, the hope I have is diminished.  And, if filing an official dissent with our CTCR means that one can boldly spout forth his false teachings for all the world to see without fear, as if his official dissent makes him untouchable, well, our problems run even deeper than I had imagined.

It's time to wake up from our slumber and come back from our vacation, which, of course, means that I must be a "radical, heresy-hunting, unloving, purist."  Maybe so.  But, then, the same would have to be said of our Lutheran forefathers, who were not big fans of having false teaching going unchecked among them.  So, I'll happily accept being called names and ridiculed with my fathers in the faith, just as I'm happy to be called names and ridiculed by the world and many who claim to be Christians for my adherence to God's Word on the topic of women's ordination.  It's expected, after all.  Jesus told us that we'd be hated.  He also warned us to beware of false prophets.  And, we've been told ahead of time in His Word that, in the last days, a great apostasy would come, during which many would turn away from the truth to follow after myths that would scratch their itching ears, and that many would call what is evil, good, and what is good, evil - and all that.  So, you know, "Here I stand."  I'm a Lutheran, after all.        


Scott Diekmann said...

Judging by the overwhelming number of comments on your post Pastor Messer, apparently everyone is on a disciplinary vacation - but I'll stand with you. I've been thinking about this, as far as it relates to the Koinonia Project, for a while now, and will eventually get around to a post of my own about it. It seems that the LCMS culture has changed. Discipline is something we no longer do. Now we just blog about it and call it good.

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...


Sorry for my "five days late" response - didn't notice you commented till just now (mea culpa). Look forward to reading your post on this in the future and so glad you'll be returning to ye olde blog soon (miss reading your thoughts, brother!). And, grateful to have a faithful brother like you standing with me, since that assures me that I must be standing in the right place.

Your brother in Christ,
Pr. Messer

Anonymous said...

hi friend, keep fit when you on vacation