Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Envied Unity?

In his book, LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick repeatedly promotes the idea that a) the LCMS is united in doctrine and b) that the unity our synod enjoys is the envy of many other Christian church bodies.  Here are a few quotes I found just glancing back through the book for about five minutes:
"The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod enjoys a doctrinal unity that is the envy of many Christian churches in the world today" (p. 22).

"What the LCMS believes, teaches, and confesses is what makes this church body the giant that it is.  Giants are big and strong, able to conquer enemies that threaten their existence and way of life" (p. 28).

"We in the LCMS simply are not arguing or even debating the major doctrines of the Christian faith so much in contention in other parts of Christendom.  We are undeniably blessed with a God-given unity and harmony in confession that is unparalleled among the major denominational church bodies in the world today" (p. 31).

"We have so much more that unites us than divides us!" (p. 36).

"Out of a deep and abiding concern for the health and vitality of our Synod, I remind the reader that while we certainly have had and continue to have an abundance of difficulties and disagreements, we are undeniably blessed with God-given unity and harmony in many, many ways" (p. 88).

"In many ways, our system of higher education is second to none and is the envy of many Christian church bodies" (p. 101).
This is nothing new for Pres. Kieschnick.  It has been his standard operating procedure throughout his tenure as LCMS President to promote the idea that we are blissfully united in the fundamental (core, essential, important, or whatever other terms he uses) doctrines and the envy of others because of that unity.  It is very obvious that he belongs to the school of thought which believes that doctrinal unity can be maintained even when contradictory practices are employed by pastors and congregations.  But, this is quite impossible, since, well, practice is nothing more than doctrine in action.

If I tell my wife that I love her and that I'm devoted only to her, but then go out and sleep with other women, are we still blissfully united?  Do the vows we made to each other trump my infidelity and maintain the unity of our marriage?  When she finds out about my unfaithfulness, can I pull out the marriage certificate, point to it and say, "But, honey, look, we're united!"?  Or, maybe I could use the old standby:  "But, honey, those other women didn't mean anything.  You're the only one I love."  Would that work?  Would my wife say to me, "Oh, it's okay dear, I know I'm the one you truly love.  Our unity can't be damaged by your infidelity"?     

That may seem a silly analogy, but it's actually quite fitting.  By continuously promoting the idea that we are blissfully united, Pres. Kieschnick is really saying that it's okay for pastors and congregations in our synod to sleep around and cheat on us by borrowing, or outright adopting, the practices of those whose doctrines contradict ours.  After all, those "cheaters" made vows to remain faithful to us.  They even have ordination certificates and congregational constitutions which prove that they made those vows.  It doesn't matter that they cheated on us.  Those other "women" didn't really mean anything, after all.  They still love us.  Just ask them.  They'll tell you that they love Lutheranism.  And, that is enough for Pres. Kieschnick and company, who believe that our unity cannot be damaged by their infidelity.

As absurd as that sounds, it gets worse.  It's not just that Pres. Kieschnick and company believe that our unity cannot be damaged by the infidelity of those who vowed to be faithful to us, it is that they promote the idea that those of us who are upset by the fact that we have been cheated on pose the real threat to our blissful unity.  If we would but learn to accept these "cheaters" and love them for who they are, rather than pester them about their unfaithfulness, all would be well.  We're the problem, not them.  We're the ones who threaten to fracture our unity, not them.  We should learn to live and let live, agree to disagree.  We should worry about ourselves and not others.  It should be enough to hear from these "cheaters" that they love us.  We should believe them.  They have the dang papers to show us, after all.

Can you imagine telling a wife whose husband has cheated, and continues to cheat, on her to learn to live and let live and agree to disagree?  Can you imagine telling her to learn to accept her husband and love him for who he is, rather than pester him about his unfaithfulness.  Can you imagine telling her that she is the one who poses a threat to the unity of her marriage for getting riled up about her husband's infidelity?  The guy said his vows, after all.  He still says he loves her.  That should be enough.  Get over it, woman!

And, by the way, who in the world would envy such a marriage?  This idea that our synod is the envy of many other church bodies because of our doctrinal "unity" is more than a little presumptuous.  Even if it is true, and I'm not convinced that it is, how prudent is it to point it out time and time again?  Every time I hear our President state how envied we are by others, I just cringe.  If others envy us, so what?  Shut up about it, already.  Telling everyone how envied we are makes him sound like a vain, pompous ass, puffed up with pride.  I once had a family member who was going through problems in her marriage tell me that she envied my marriage.  I didn't go around telling everyone that my marriage was the envy of others.  How absurd!

Besides, the only way others could possibly envy our synod is if they were blissfully ignorant as to the struggles we endure and the divisions we have within.  They must be looking solely at what we claim to believe, teach, and confess on paper.  As far as that goes, I would understand them envying us, since I am convinced that what we believe, teach, and confess on paper is the truth.  But, if they truly knew what was happening among us, I doubt very seriously that they would envy us.  But, again, even if they did, why would we flaunt it?  To do so is, as I said, absurd.

And lest anyone think I'm all wet in saying all this, just listen to Pres. Kieschnick as he concludes his book.  You'll need to go here and read the poem by Robert Frost, titled "The Woodpile," first.  Go ahead.  I'll wait. 

Good, now that you've read that, here are Pres. Kieschnick's concluding words:
The woodpile, one might say, is The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.  Compared with many church bodies, it is big and impressive.  It is more than 160 years old - seasoned and ready.  It is full of potential to bring the light and warmth of Jesus Christ to a cold, gloomy, sin-filled world.  And yet, too often, ignition that could lead to a roaring blaze is doused by our own hand.  We pour water on our own wood.  We pour water on one another's fires because we don't like the way our brother is going about building and burning his.  It's not exactly how we would do it, and so for some reason it isn't right.  We meddle in so many other fires that we fail to tend to our own.

And so our woodpile sits, in Frost's words,
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow, smokeless burning of decay.

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is not about "the slow, smokeless burning of decay."  Our history, our present, and our future are too vital and too promising for that.  I am convinced, brothers and sisters in Christ, that we can keep our cord of wood - namely, our doctrine and practice - neatly stacked, perfectly tidy, carefully arranged, and ready to be used for the purpose for which a stack of wood is intended - not "to warm the frozen swamp . . . with the slow, smokeless burning of decay," but with the light and warmth and energy provided by a roaring fire.  I firmly believe we can do all that and yet be supportive of one another in the various and creative ways we seek, and sometimes need, to use our stack of wood to warm and light a cold, dark world.  And when honest disagreements arise, whether over doctrine or practice or style or methods, I am convinced that we can learn to deal with those disagreements in love and trust, rather than letting them fester into major squabbles that embarrass the church and stymie our proclamation of the Gospel.

When the day comes that we are able to do that, and I believe it is not only coming but has already begun, the sleeping giant will rise.  He will gather up logs in his powerful arms and feed them into many fires.  And we, the children of the Light, the people of the church who collectively are that giant, will carry our torches like lamps throughout the world.  For that is what the God of the universe has called us to be.  And that is what He has called us to do, by the power of His grace, in His most holy name.

In closing, I share with you these words of St. Paul that appear in a number of places in this book, but which cannot be overemphasized in our midst (Ephesians 3:14-19; 4:1-6 is quoted).  To this God alone be the glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord! (pp. 196-197)
Notice the prescription for waking "the sleeping giant" (i.e. the LCMS).  It is not to remain faithful to Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.  It is not to see to it that our doctrine and practice remain pure and undefiled (Sorry, St. Paul.  Your repeated advice to Sts. Timothy and Titus about maintaining sound doctrine in the pastoral letters just ain't relevant anymore.  The world has changed, after all.  We need to meet people where they are and if that means sacrificing a little purity of doctrine, so be it.)  It is, rather, to learn how to disagree agreeably.  It is to stop pouring water on the fires of others just because they do things differently.  It is to refrain from questioning, but learn to be supportive of, the various and creative ways others seek, and sometimes need, to use their stack of wood (i.e. doctrine and practice).  Live and let live.  Agree to disagree.  If we can learn to do that, the "sleeping giant" will rise and conquer the world for Christ!  The only thing that stands in our way is the pesky and embarrassing squabbling brought on by those concerned with "incessant, internal purification."  We simply don't have time for that nonsense.  Besides, it makes us look bad.  I mean, gee golly willickers, we all believe in the important stuff!  Other Christians envy our unity, for Pete's sake!  But, they laugh at us for arguing over the less important stuff, like how we worship, who is permitted to our altars, to what degree we allow women to serve, where we draw the line on participating with other Christians or religions, the proper relationship between the Office of the Holy Ministry and the priesthood of all believers, and so on.  Our agreement, our unity, on the really important stuff should trump our disunity on this stuff.  Besides, our "covenants of love" (synodical resolutions, CCM and CTCR statements, etc.) tell us how we must live together regarding this stuff, and we'll be coming out with more "covenants of love" soon that will further define how we live together regarding this lesser stuff.  We should love and trust one another, agreeing to abide by the decisions our brothers and sisters make about this less important stuff.  So what if the vote only gets 51%, we should abide by the decisions made and quit all this bickering, which makes us an embarrassment and hinders our mission.  When we're able to do that - when we're able to live and let live; when we're able to agree to disagree; when we're able to ignore the un-Lutheran practices of others in our fellowship and learn to simply trust that they still love Lutheranism and are just being creative in their practices; when we're able to focus solely on the unity we share on the essentials and stop focusing on the non-essentials - then we'll be the giant we're meant to be! 

The problem with all this, of course, is that we're not called to be the giant Pres. Kieschnick envisions.  We're called, instead, to be faithful.  We're called to be the remnant.  We're called to follow the narrow way, not the broad way that leads to destruction.  This way is not the easy path of compromise, but the difficult path of steadfastness.  This way does not promise earthly success.  It does not promise earthly popularity and prosperity.  This way leads to being hated by the world and by those who have been willing to compromise with the world.  This is the way of the cross.  It is not easy.  It is painful.  It cuts against the grain.  It promises no earthly reward, but stores up an eternal reward in heaven.  And, it is not an embarrassment to Christ's Church to insist upon following this way and to call those to repentance who have veered off the path.  It is not a detriment to the Gospel or a hindrance to the mission of Christ's Church to be about the business of maintaining sound doctrine and practice, even though doing so will bring persecution from those who see it as a waste of time.  It is what we are called to do.

Our Lutheran forefathers understood this.  Pres. Kieschnick doesn't.  He has proven that in many and various ways throughout his tenure as LCMS President, but no more so than with the publication of his book.  He has stated in public that he is no theologian, and he makes that vividly clear in his book.  He also makes clear that he is no true Lutheran.  I know that sounds uncharitable and unloving.  I'm sure some would say to me, "Methinks thou doth protest too much."  But, it's true.  True, confessional Lutheranism is simply lost on Pres. Kieschnick.  He just doesn't get it, and I'm sure this has much to do with him listening to non-Lutheran "church consultants" and other pretend Lutherans in our midst, like the self-proclaimed "Church Doctor" and foremost "church growth movement" advocate in our synod, Kent Hunter, among others.  He has bought into the lie that Lutheranism can compromise with the false doctrines of others, and still retain its truth; the lie that Lutheran substance is not sacrificed by adopting and employing "evangelical" style; the lie that Lutherans are nothing more than Fundamentalists who use wine in Communion; the lie that unity is established by agreeing to a minimalistic set of core beliefs; the lie that the so-called Great Commission is the article of Christian faith upon with the Christian Church stands or falls; the lie that it is sectarian to be about the business of maintaining sound doctrine and practice; the lie that "incessant, internal purification" shows a lack of love for the lost; the lie that theology is done by citing our "covenants of love" and then finding a Scripture passage in supposed support of them, rather than beginning with Holy Scripture as true Lutherans do; the lie that it is OUR job, OUR mission, OUR duty to save lost souls; the lie that the means of grace instituted by our Lord, His Holy Word and Sacraments, are simply not enough and need to be supplemented by OUR creativity, vision, and ingenuity; the lie that the world has changed so much that the Church is required to change with it or die; the lie that the surrounding culture should determine how the Church functions; the lie that the ends justify the means; the lie that the 8th Commandment forbids criticism of any kind; the lie that the Institution should be protected at all costs, even if by dishonest means; the lie of "LCMS Exceptionalism," spoken of by Pr. Todd Wilken a few weeks back; and so forth.

In fact, borrowing from Wyneken again, I would say about Pres. Kieschnick's book and about his tenure as LCMS President:  I don't know if it was from God or the devil, but it certainly wasn't Lutheran.   


IggyAntiochus said...

Iggy, here, and I got your back! Here is Part I.

The marriage illustration is ABSOLUTELY appropriate! As the Church is the Bride of Christ, she needs to remain faithful to Him in every sense of the word. Faithful in Word and Sacrament. Faithful at His pulpit and altar. Faithful to His Confession - all of it!

As for that closing Ephesians passage, it takes some serious theological study to really have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth...

Exactly how will this comprehension reach us? Through a dream or vision or some new prophesy? NO! It comes only through the revealed Word as found in Sacred Scripture. It comes through our water-connected-to-the-Word Baptism. It comes through His body and blood in-with-and-under-the-bread-and-wine. It comes as His Church is faithful in administering His gifts. Keyword: Faithful.

Scripture warns the Church both of abandoning love in Ephesus (Rev. 2:2ff) and tolerating false teaching in Thyatira (Rev. 2:18ff).

About the Church of Ephesus... A careful reading reveals their zeal for discernment and sound doctrine was not their downfall, but rather their lack of repentance. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the work you did at first (Rev. 2:4). The tendency is to say, "See, too much emphasis on doctrine leads to a lack of love." Not so. A lack of repentance leads to a lack of love. They were commended for their commitment to doctrine and discernment. They were rebuked for their lack of repentance.

IggyAntiochus said...

Here is part II.

The letter to the Church of Thyatira is clear, though. They tolerated a false prophetess. They tolerated false teaching. They had love and faith and service and patient endurance... (Rev. 2:19). Yet Jesus states, But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants... (Rev. 2:20). Christ has stern warnings in this passage regarding the tolerance of false teachers and their teaching.

Some in Thyatira did not tolerate the false prophetess. Jesus comforts them, saying, But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come (Rev. 2:24, 25).

Pastor Peters did a wonderful post - ok, so all of his posts are wonderful, but this one relates - about the perception of Missouri arrogance from the old ALC and LCA. This Missouri arrogance lives on when we perpetuate this idea that we are the "envy" of others because we have such "doctrinal unity." It also lives on when we are unrepentant of our Pharisaical tendencies to boast about our tradition of sound doctrine.

Pastor Peters addresses both sides of Missouri's arrogance and proposes a solution:

Missouri's future, if she has one, lies not in a purity cult where everyone's orthodoxy is constantly under scrutiny. We need no Gestapo policing the dogma. Missouri's future, if she has one, lies not in recapturing a snapshot of our past. We cannot afford to live in or act like yesterday is still today. Missouri's future, if she has one, will not be born of rewriting the constitution and by-laws of Synod (though clearly they need repairing). Missouri's future is not waiting for us in some non-denominational how-to journal. We have tasted enough of the forbidden fruit of those beliefs and practices incompatible with our Confessions.

Missouri's future, and I believe she has one, lies in Pastors and parishes who want to be Lutheran, who are not ashamed of this identity, who are convinced that our Lutheran answers are relevant and speak in a timely way to the questions laid before us by our times and our culture, and who speak apologetically (in the sense of defending the faith) in a winsome way to those not yet with us, who do not attempt to be all things to all people but simply Lutheran people amid all things, and who are the same people when they are gathered on Sunday morning that they are throughout the week.

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


Thanks for having my back, brother! Great response. The letters to the seven churches in Revelation is an excellent place to go to understand how our Lord views the matter at hand. It is always about faithfulness, born of repentant hearts who trust in Christ alone. The idea that we can remain faithful while merging false doctrines and practices with true doctrines and practices is clearly incompatible with our Lord's teaching there, and throughout the sacred pages of Holy Scripture. The one who ultimately conquers is the one who remains faithful to the One who has already conquered all. And, that faithfulness is only possible through reception of the means of grace instituted by our Lord and delivered by Him to His Bride as He stands in Her midst.

I agree that the posts of Fr. Peters are always wonderful. His thoughts about Missouri's future, which I read on his blog when he posted, hits the nail squarely on the head.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, which are most excellent!

meggers said...

Where does the K-man live? Crazytown?

(Not as profound as Iggy's comments, I'm aware, but it's getting late in the day to think too hard about the things written by the K-Man.)

IggyAntiochus said...

Who is K-man?