Friday, March 26, 2010

Our Lutheran Confessions - A Good Friend?

I recently had an LCMS pastor tell me that he sees our Lutheran Confessions as a good friend.  He went on to explain that, for him, they are like the good friend you haven't talked with in a while, but get caught right back up with when you run into that friend.  I don't think the way this pastor views our Confessions is unique today.  In fact, I believe there are many pastors in our synod today who see our Confessions in the same light, as a good friend they run into from time to time and say, "Hi." 

If our Confessions are seen as a good friend by these pastors, who do they see as their "best buddies"?  Who do they "hang out with" on a regular basis?  Who is having an impact on them and influencing the way they think and act?  After all, those good friends we have in this life - the kind we don't talk to on a regular basis, but get caught up with from time to time - don't really have a significant impact on us.  They're the kind of friends who "overlook our broken gate and admire the flowers in our garden," as it says in the pic above.  They're the kind of friends who are there for us despite our faults.  They're the kind of friends we can turn to when we're down, because we know that they'll be there to pick us back up.

Is this the role our Confessions should play for Lutheran pastors - the role of a good friend?  Hardly.  I mean, we Lutheran pastors take vows promising to perform all our duties in accord with these Confessions.  We don't befriend them; we pledge obedience to them.  I don't know about you, but I have not pledged my obedience to any of the good friends I have in this life.  The good friends I have wouldn't demand that of me, anyway.  They're good friends, not authorities.  They may have completely different views on many things, but they remain good friends.

This idea of treating our Confessions as a good friend is akin to the mistake so many parents make today of treating their children like friends.  My children, and I have four of them, are not my friends.  I'm their father, not their buddy, Tom.  It is my responsibility to bring them up in the fear of the Lord, to teach them right from wrong, to make sure that they are well mannered as they interact with others, and to discipline them when they go astray.  It is their duty to honor me (and their mother) and to obey the rules I (we) set forth in our house.  Much more could be said about this, but you get the point. 

Our Confessions are not the writings of our good friends, but of our spiritual fathers.  We Lutheran pastors have promised to live in their "house" and to perform all our duties according to their "rules."  We don't get to do our own thing.  We are not permitted to pal around with others who have a different set of "rules."  We don't get to "live our life as we please."  But, that's exactly what happens when pastors see our Confessions as a good friend.  The Confessions are not an authority for them, but they are like a good friend who loves them no matter what.  They live in their own "house" and are free to play by their own "rules," believing that their good friend will always be there for them.  In reality, they are like rebellious teenagers who don't play by their father's rules, saying, "This is my life and I'll live it how I please."  Of course, they don't see it like that.  How can they?  When they don't see the Confessions as the writings of our spiritual fathers, whose authority they must obey, they will hardly be able to see themselves as rebellious.  I mean, can you really rebel against a good friend?  Think about it.

All of this begs the question, though:  How can pastors who see our Confessions as a good friend faithfully fulfill the vows they made to perform all their duties in accord with the Confessions?  Is that even possible?  I don't think so, and I think we see proof of this impossibility all around us today in our synod.       


IggyAntiochus said...

I'm thinking of a parody of "Jesus is a friend of mine." :)

Luther is a friend of mine (and a friend of Philip)

I guess it needs some work...

Rev Keith Reeder said...

You make a fine point. And by the same token, I wonder how such pastors view themselves with respect to their congregations. I would imagine that their first concern is pleasing everyone (or "loving" everyone, as they would describe it). If doctrine gets in the way of this, it is explained away or ignored. Conversely (and I would say consequently), those pastors who subscribe to the Confessions and exercise the authority entrusted to them earn the reputation of being authoritarian, iron-fisted, hard-headed, what have you. It takes just one pleaser to hamstring for decades the ministry of faithful pastors who succeed him.

Rev. Josh Sullivan said...

Good post. I had a similar thought while attending an ordination a few weeks ago in my area. As the candidate promised fidelity to the Confessions I wondered how often he would study them any given week.

I try to read my BoC once a week for an hour. This isn't much, I realize. But it is a start towards living in my spiritual father's house. I'd be interested to hear how often other confessional pastors read/study the good book.