Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Traditionalist Lutheran Bishop is Consecrated

The latest issue of For the Life Of The World includes an article about the historic consecration of Fr. Vsevolod Lytkin as Bishop of the Siberian Lutheran Church at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Talinn, Estonia. Three members of the CTS Fort Wayne faculty were on hand: Drs. Wenthe, Weinrich, and Quill. Unfortunately, the online version of the magazine omits the article - which includes the newly-consecrated bishop's magnificent sermon that shows the triumph of the Christ's cross over Marx's hammer and sickle.

However, I did find an article here which includes some striking photographs showing what traditionalist Lutheranism looks like - as our Lutheran brethren from behind the erstwhile Iron Curtain have avoided some of the political and cultural pressures that we in America have allowed to mold and shape our piety, polity, and churchmanship.

I think we have a lot to learn from our brethren who have clung to tradition through centuries of oppression.

One thing I have learned in my thirteen years of marriage to a non-American is how full of hubris our American culture is. We really have bought into the idea of Manifest Destiny, of the City on the Hill, that the Americans are a Christian Nation, a Chosen People Favored by God. We must police the world and export "democracy" out of a sense of "noblesse oblige" to our inferiors, to those not fortunate enough to be born American (especially little brown people Over There - they are always in need of What the Greatest Country in the History of the World Has to Offer). It was only after I met my wife that I learned the word "un-American" sometimes has positive connotations by people outside of our borders - depending, of course, on the context.

Someone just mentioned to me about a Lutheran blog site that quoted a foreign source that uses the term "Lutheran priest" - which apparently caused a few bronzed-Protestantized eyes to roll. This is yet another example of American myopia and provincialism. Lutheran pastors are not only called "priests" in our confessions, but also in common parlance throughout much of the world (go ahead and google "Lutheran priest" in quotation marks). I suspect that many American Lutherans would be shocked (if not scandalized) to learn that much of the Lutheran world (especially among traditionalists who cling to the historic liturgy) refers to their pastors as "priests" or "bishops," addresses them as "Father", and knows nothing of the voters assembly and congregational polity that has almost risen to the level of de jure divino ("by divine right") among some latter day disciples of Carl Vehse and adherents of the mob rule democracy so feared and loathed by the founders of the American republic. Many Lutherans around the world (such as those in Russia, the Baltics, Scandinavia, and Africa) have maintained the traditional episcopal polity (as preferred by our Lutheran confessions) of bishops consecrated in apostolic succession, and who ordain and oversee the ministries of Lutheran priests and Lutheran deacons. I believe these increasingly common international contacts with our more traditionalist brethren from around the world (whose church bodies, in many cases, date back to the Reformation itself) - some of whom we Missouri Synod Lutherans are in full communion and altar/pulpit fellowship with - can only be a good thing.

If given the choice between 1) attending a casual devotion led by a district president in a golf shirt with a praise band leading a round of Shine Jesus Shine in a cafe-style "worship center," or 2) participating in a solemn High Mass presided over by a bishop in a miter as the choir chants Veni Creator Spiritus in an incense-filled Gothic cathedral - I wonder how many comfortable American Lutherans would opt for the latter. I also wonder how many Lutherans who have endured and overcome oppression would opt for the former. In a McDonald's culture, tradition is only a plastic fork that gets stuffed along with unopened ketchup packets and half-eaten food into the industrial receptacle with "THANK YOU" printed on the door. In a culture forged by frugality and austerity, utensils are precious and are not thrown into the garbage.

Thank God that there are "un-American" Lutherans who have maintained the traditional polity and catholic identity of the Church of the Augsburg Confession and have not been impacted as much as we by the confusing influences of the Reformed, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, and non-denominational Christianity (not to mention the flippancy, shallowness, and lack of historical grounding) that dominate the contemporary American religious culture - as well as the secular ethos of democracy and egalitarianism that is upheld with a pseudo-religious fervor in the United States).

Anyway, here is Bishop Lytkin's sermon (as published in For the Life of the World) on the occasion of his elevation to the episcopacy:

Tallinn, Estonia May 6, 2007
Sermon on Cantate Sunday
by Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin

Fathers, brothers, and sisters: I would like to begin my sermon with a quote from the song of a famous bard of the Soviet time,

I remember, I was silly and young,
I heard from my parent
How my parent destroyed
The Church of Christ the Savior.

You know that this is not black Russian humor. There is history in these words, history of my country of Russia as well as history of your country of Estonia, since by evil destiny you were forced to share our sufferings with us. For over fifty years, you were part of the Soviet Union, the country that was founded by hangmen and tzar-murderers.

This country is no more. We now live in free democratic countries. Still, almost all of us have come out of that Soviet time. Some people were touched more by this, others less. Some tried to oppose the regime, others have realized all the terror of the Soviet system only after its fall.

“I remember I was silly and young.” From a Christian perspective, one realizes that the most terrible thing that was that such a great multitude of people were born in unbelief. They lived all their life in unbelief and the most terrible thing is that they also died in unbelief. I don’t like to speak about politics, particularly while preaching, but it’s impossible to forget those times. I remember them especially when I visit Estonia, as it was here that all my Christian life began at that time.

Just like many others, I was looking for God. I remember how “silly and young” I was, yet, gradually, little by little, I began to seek answers to eternal questions. My family was not Christian. Nevertheless, my parents taught me not to trust Soviet propaganda, and so I did not. Since Soviet propaganda said that God did not exist, it seemed quite likely that he did. Thus my Christian faith began due to my parents, though they did not tell me about God directly.

Like many other people at that time, we also understood that it was impossible for God not to exist. What would one live for if one’s life were limited to earth, not even in a sense that we were just temporary dwellers on this earth, but, as one priest once wrote, “if there is no God… then all humankind is found collectively not on earth, but in the earth, in our common grave.”

I understood little of religion, but I knew that there must be something besides this material world, in which we live, only to die.

I purchased books, atheistic books, for there were no others at the time, and I tried to find quotations from the Bible in them, words about God, and I found them and tried to understand. Obviously, the atheists quoted the word of God only to critique. But, we were Soviet people – we got used to interpreting all things official backwards.

Finally, God’s grace led me to Estonia. Here I met Christians for the first time in my life. I will never forget how I talked to an old man who was the guard at the Holy Spirit Church. Then I spoke with the wife of Pastor Jaan Kiivit, and finally with the pastor himself.

I was twenty when I came here for the first time in order to find the Lutheran church. I did not know anybody. I had virtually no money, and I lived at the train station for a week and memorized Luther’s Catechism.

I would never dare to do that now. But then I came back to the train station every evening and tried to find a seat on a bench in the waiting hall area. There were a limited number of seats. I was surrounded mostly by similar poor travelers, and also alcoholics and homeless people. It is so strange to recall it now. But I learnt the Catechism, and then Jaan Kiivit baptized me. This is how my Christian life began here in Estonia during the old Soviet era.

I remember, I was silly and young,
I heard from my parent
How my parent destroyed
The Church of Christ the Savior.

You know, these words are perfectly descriptive of the Soviet life! Certainly, my parents did not participate directly in the destruction of Christianity, but a number of people participated on a global scale in the construction of society with no room for God. Wily rulers deceived them by promises of earthly paradise, and they gullibly followed them.

Afterwards it was too late. Millions of Christians were tortured in prison camps; thousands of churches were blown up and demolished. To be sure, the Orthodox Church suffered the most, but other confessions also shared in that horrible slaughter.

As you know, we have no Lutheran church buildings left in Siberia. All that could be destroyed was destroyed. The last Lutheran church building – St. Peter’s in Barnaul – was destroyed in the early seventies.

So, what a grace has been given to us that this regime did not outlive us, but, rather, we outlived it! And we have not become only passive witnesses of its end but rather participants of building a new life.

It is so, because God placed us in the ministry in his church. We save people’s souls through the word of God and the holy sacraments. Can there be anything more wonderful that this task? This, nevertheless, is not of us; it is only due to Christ. It is he who came to us with his word. However little this word was to be seen in the articles in the atheistic books, nevertheless, God helped us to see his word there.

And he called us through this word, just as we read in today’s Gospel:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden. (Matt 11:28a)

The word of God always fulfills that for which God sends it. One believed secretly, and then he began to believe openly.

Another remembered the faith of his parents, and yet another began to seek and he found. You can meet such people, laymen and priests, in every parish. One of my colleagues almost joined the Communist Party, but he heard the gospel and was captivated by this news to such an extent that he finally left everything, took his wife and children and a box of potatoes, and went to work as a missionary, and then became a priest. This is how miraculously God acts in our lives.

Today’s sermon is based on the Old Testament reading in our church lectionary. It is taken from the twelfth chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. This chapter describes the joy of deliverance, but it is not limited to description; it is rather a praise song of God’s people, gratitude to God for his miraculous gifts.

It is obvious that his song of praise had a liturgical meaning because one may see a number of parallels here with the other hymns of praise, most notably with the Hallel psalms that the Old Testament church was singing at the Passover (and other celebrations) while thanking God for the gift of deliverance.

Our chapter has much in common with Psalm 118. As you may remember, we sang this Psalm on Easter Sunday.

The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation…. I thank thee that thou hast answered me and hast become my salvation. (Ps 118:14, 21)

Salvation is a major theme of both the Psalter and today’s text from Isaiah. The key word here is yoshuakh, which is related to the name of our Savior:

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. (Is 12:2)

We also sing another part of Psalm 118 every Sunday. We sing “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” when we greet Christ who comes to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

God comes to save us. Just as the people of old were saved from Egyptian slavery, so also have we been saved from the slavery of in and death through the death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Christ – Joshua – has become our salvation. He has come to us in order to bring liberty to the oppressed and to give rest to all who labor and are heavy laden:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and by burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30)

That is:
Come to me, all who carry heavy burdens of life,
And I will give you rest…
Take my yoke, not yours. Take my burden, not yours.

The yoke that our Lord gives to us is quite unlike those yokes to which we are accustomed to bearing in this world. There is no violence and oppression here, as Christ is gentle and lowly in heart.

It is not difficult to see here an idea of blessed exchange, so loved by Luther. Those carrying their burdens may take them off their shoulders and take another one, which is of Christ. Those tired and looking for rest may find it with Christ, Son of god who humbled himself, took the form of a servant, and also took our sins upon himself so that he could present his righteousness to us.

He brings salvation to us as a gift. He does not require from us to redeem our own sins but grants forgiveness to repentant sinners at every liturgy. It is only in him that a soul of a sinner who is thirsty for forgiveness and reconciliation with God may find rest:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt:29-30)

As children we were taught that only obedient children receive the gifts. However, the gifts of God are given to us without any qualifications or conditions. God does not postpone his grace until people do something. God freely gives his blessings. (If I have to become somebody or do something for my salvation, if I have to earn salvation, then there is no grace here but only unrealized Law.)

We can do nothing to be saved. The Lord does not require it from us. He came and died for us and rose even before we were born. He still continues to come and serve us by giving his true body and blood to us at the Eucharist. Through these he strengthens our faith and gives us power to follow him into the kingdom of his Father.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Is. 12:3)

Remember your baptism now. Remember how God accepted you and how you became a Christian. Maybe, we do not remember it often, but today God gives us a new opportunity to thank him and rejoice that water from the wells of salvation was poured also on us, that we are saved, and that nobody may snatch us from the hands of Christ.

And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name; make known his deeds among the nations, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.” (Is 12:4-5)

God always makes great things, even if it seems to us at times that he is idle. Isaiah wrote at a terrible time, when her enemies were threatening to destroy God’s people. The strong ones of this world attempted to destroy the chosen nation and her monotheistic faith. The hearers of Isaiah may have found it difficult to believe that their God would be known in all the earth. The ancient prophesies are, generally speaking, an unusual thing. They are spoken, and then time seemingly stops for ages until it finally wakes up and resumes moving. The powerful ones think that all the power is in their hands. Therefore they create empires and call cities in their honor, they build monuments and mausoleums for themselves. But in the end, it turns out that time is not in their hands. Time is in God’s hands.

A day comes when that which seemed indestructible and unshakable is destroyed. People in all the earth are given knowledge of God, acquire faith, come to church, are baptized, and bring their children. The church grows – this is how God acts in our lives.

Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (Is 12:6)

Brothers and sisters, the Lord is in our midst. We are able to hear his word and partake of him. He comes so close to us in the sacrament of Eucharist that we can even touch him.

Eucharist does not only connect us to Christ, but also unites us with each other.

It is so wonderful to have spiritual fellowship with the brothers with whom we share a common faith. However, the special character of this day for us Siberian people is that not only have we been one in faith with the Church of Estonia, but, for a long time, we have also been a part of her. Now we become the autocephalous church. Still, though we are independent, the Church of Estonia will always remain a spiritual mother to us. No matter what happens, we will remember the many years in which you cared for us.

No matter what happens… We went through a number of things together. And who knows what else we will have to go through. We know how the church buildings, even those that are large and sturdy, are destroyed. We know also how fragile temples of human lives are destroyed. It happened often – and who knows – it may happen again. Who knows what the future has in store for us. Global warming, materialism, street extremism, Islamic terrorism, liberal theology: there are so many terrifying and deadly things around us!

But Christ is among us, both now and forever. Neither death nor hell nor the devil may change that. We will receive forgiveness of sins, rest, and a blessed eternity in Christ. Amen.


Paul T. McCain said...

Larry, I think you got carried a way a bit in your remarks, but essentially you are making some valid points.

I received Jack Cascione's rant via his Reclaim News, demanding that Bishop Lytkin now, as his highest priority, institute "supreme voter's assemblies."

Here is my response to the whole issue. Note particularly Sasse's pity little essay on the subject.

There is NOTHING wrong with about voter's assemblies, nor bishops, nor whatever other form of church polity a Lutheran Church wishes to embrace: consistories, councils, etc. etc.

Father Hollywood said...


I agree with you that Scripture doesn't specify any particular model of church governance. Polity is an adiaphoron - but as is typical among us, we tend to see adiaphoron being the same as "anything goes." This is why I do think we Lutherans need to restore a healthy (and evangelical) sense of tradition to our theology - to oppose the modern American "I'm pro-choice on everything" ethos.

I think you are even falling into the trap a wee bit as evidenced by the leap of logic you are making. From the fact that Scripture is silent on the matter, you conclude that "There is NOTHING wrong about... whatever other form of polity..."

In other words, you are saying "anything goes" and all forms of polity are equally good.

Scripture doesn't prohibit a polity of swapping out a pastor to be the District President every day - but I don't believe such a system - although completely allowed by Scripture - to be as good or as workable as any other system.

Some systems simply work better than others - and we can use history as a guide.

We could decide church issues by tossing a coin - but I don't believe this would be the best way to do things - even though Scripture doesn't prohibit it (and, in fact, one could argue for it based on Scripture as with the casting of lots etc.).

Episcopal polity has been the norm in the church since the late first century. However, democracy in the church is a recent experiment. In fact, as it is practiced presently in the LCMS - universal suffrage - is a radical and novel way to run a church (or a secular government for that matter). Scripture doesn't prohibit it, but it is quite an innovation. Only a tiny segment of Christians even today have such a model of governance.

Universal suffrage in secular government has been a disaster. People vote on things they know nothing about. People blindly vote for a party, or because they like the sound of a person's name, or because the politicians have swindled them by promises that can't be kept. DeToqueville predicted democracy in America would fail when the majority would figure out that they could vote largesse to themselves. This is exactly what revolutionary Marxism is.

Again, the founders of the U.S. were fearful of democracy - since they knew their Western history (democracy was a failure in ancient Greece as well). The founding fathers established a Republic (as opposed to democracy) for that reason. However, our republic has been steadily watered down in the direction of democracy ever since (federal income taxes, a central bank, universal suffrage, directly elected senators, affirmative action, Social Security, federal centralization, etc.).

It is little wonder that Pr. Cascione thinks as he does. We have all been conditioned from childhood that democracy is good, noble, and even sacred. We are incorrectly taught that the U.S. is constituted as a democracy. We believe in an egalitarian system when God Himself established a hierarchical creation.

Cascione also falls prey to the notion that whatever Rome does, we don't do. This reminds me of my visit to a shut-in a couple days ago in which she (my parishioner) didn't cross herself, know the liturgical responses, or say "Amen" when I communed her - while her Roman Catholic husband did all of these things (including saying "Amen" when his wife communed - I did not commune him, of course).

I am not arguing Scripture says one political system or the other is better or worse. A congregational system that is faithful to Scripture is far better than an epicopal system that is not. However, all things being equal, I believe the hierarchical system that mirrors God's creation (including the order of earthly creation and the polity of the angels) that dates back nearly to apostolic times, that was universally practiced in the Church for centuries, simply works better than an experimental system of independent congregations and universal suffrage.

Congregational autonomy has created a system in which every pastor and/or congregation is free to practice open communion, to reject of the liturgy, to endorse glossolalia, to teach evolution, to practice unionism and syncretism - completely without consequence. The system is so decentralized that any member of synod can literally "do what is right in his own eyes."

An LCMS church in California is openly calling for women's ordination - and not a thing will happen to them. There is no discipline, no "walking together," because there is literally no *oversight* (episkope). Oversight requires overseers (episkopoi). We've become a synod of latch-key children with no oversight.

Of course, this is my opinion, Paul, and others are free to see things otherwise. However, I'm quite sure that in terms of our understanding of Scripture on the matter, we are in complete agreement - which is the most important thing.

Paul T. McCain said...

And Jack's latest rant is that it is the Supreme Voter's Assembly that establishes the real presence in the Lutheran congregation. I'm not making this up. You can read it for yourself on

As for "anything goes" -- one does not need to embrace that notion in order clearly to maintain the doctrine of the Lutheran Church over against any particular form of church polity.

The Lutheran Church itself testifies eloquently to the fact that multiple polities may be used, and have been used. None guarantee orthodoxy any better than the other.

Popes and councils may err, but God's Word never errs, or deceives.

Bishops and District Presidents may err, but God's Word never errs, or deceives.

Conventions and "Societies" may err, but God's Word never errs, or deceives.

If you are not satisfied with my refusal to advocate for one form of polity over another...well, you are doing to have to take that up with greater minds than mine, like Luther's or Sasse's or our Lutheran Confessions.

Bishops? Fine. Good. Not necessary, or essential. Great to have them. OK not to have them.

Synod conventions? Fine. Good. Not necessary, or essential. Fine, if you want to do it that way.

Consistories? Federations? Councils?

As long as they permit the Gospel to be preached purely and Sacraments administered rightly, Lutheranism, as Sasse points out, is not going to get all hot and bothered about any particular form of polity.

Episcopal polities have, and do, continue to go disastrously wrong, perhaps no better example than the things a certain bishop in an Italian city has been doing for quite some time.

Before you get too starry eyed about the "historic episcopate" just ask Swedes, Norwegians and Finns how well their "bishops" guard and defend orthodoxy in their "Lutheran" churches.

Be sure to check out Sasse's essay:

Father Hollywood said...


Indeed. Multiple polities *may* be used (Scripture doesn't advocate any particular polity) - but this doesn't mean all are equally good, useful, or practicable.

Paul, it's not that I'm satisfied or unsatisfied with *your* beliefs. It's not about you. I'm just expressing my belief on my blog. I have already said I agree with you that Scripture is silent on the matter. I'm just saying that history isn't silent. I don't know why you (yet again) have to turn a helpful discussion into a something so personal and condescending. Let's be gentlemen about it, or the discussion is over. Furthermore, you've already put a link to your blog here. One more time and I'm going to call it a "mantra" and ask if you've taken up eastern meditation. Either that or I'll have to charge for advertising. ;-)

Of course, the Lutheran confessions do express a preference for traditional polity, as our reformation differs from Zwingli's and others' in that we believe "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The reformers weren't objecting to episcopal polity, but rather the straglehold the Roman bishop had on the bishops and the church in the west. Had a group of German bishops left the pope and embraced the evangelical reforms (as did Petri in Sweden), we may not even be having a discussion about polity today.

The reformers were rather hesitant to ordain any priests without having a bishop to do it - not because it is necessary according to Scripture, but rather because they were hesitant to jettison tradition. There is real value in retaining ancient forms that have proven their worth (the liturgy, the church year, and vestments come to mind).

Again, Paul, I'm not arguing that *Lutheranism* gets "hot and bothered" about any form of polity. *I* (speaking for *myself,* not Sasse, Lutheranism, the LCMS, nor you) believe traditional is better than contemporary, ancient is better than novel, proven is better than experimental - both in liturgical and political forms.

And before you pick on the Scandinavians, let me remind you of the courage of our brethren in the Swedish Mission Province and of the Finns who are taking a stand for the order of creation. The episcopal system is serving the Mission Province well - since they submit to Scripture. This is a rhetorical question (and I don't want anyone answering it on my blog): Who do you think is better defending orthodoxy, Olsson or Kieschnick?

Time will tell, of course, but I believe evangelical churches that are rooted in Scripture will be better served by traditional bishops overseeing pastors and congregations than by every Indian being his own chief, than by having pastors and congregations free to do anything and everything without consequence (owing to a lack of oversight) and by allowing articles of faith to stand or fall based on 51%.

I would also point out that very few sectarians have retained traditional polity. Most have a polity similar to the LCMS. It is interesting that nearly every congregation in the world that confesses the Real Presence has traditional polity, whereas nearly every congregation that denies the Real Presence has either a congregational or (in fewer cases) a presbyterial model.

Paul T. McCain said...

Church history is instructive.

It shows that the system of hierarchical bishops claiming jurisdictions over vast tracts of land and churches came along several hundred years after the church's beginnings in the first century.

"Bishops" were much more akin to "senior pastors" of large congregations with multiple associate and assistant pastors. It was not at all uncommon for their to be "bishops" who were the pastor of a large church in a city, with associate priests/pastors in the smaller village churches surrounding it. That's how the bishops operated, at first. It was more akin to, to put it in our terms, the circuit counselor being the "bishop" with other pastors.

Then Roman Catholicism, of course, copying Roman governmental models, effectively replaced provincial governors with bishops, who functioned as head of both church and state.

The Reformation came along and ended the abusive practices of the Roman hierarchical system and called for all bishops and pastors to live together in unity and harmony in the Gospel.

Church history is instructive, for it shows us that Lutheranism in Germany did not choose to go with a system of bishops. Other Lutherans did. It worked well, for a time, in various places, then it did not, neither the consistorial system, nor the episcopal system.

As for the Reformers being hesitant to ordain preachers and pastors, this is precisely what the Confessions said must happen when bishops refused to do so, and Luther and Bugenhagen gladly did so, as the "bishops" of Wittenberg, so to speak.

My point is that we need to be careful that we do carefully evaluate church history before we get too carried away with thinking that an episcopal polity is "better" than any other chosen form of polity.

It has been used, in various ways, at various times, in church history, sometimes with great benefit (think of St. Augustine!), sometimes with disastrous consequences: think of the present-days bishops of territorial churches in Germany or Scandinavia, etc. or the evils of RC bishops of the Reformation era.

Your argument that "traditional" is better than contemporary, and then assuming that a certain form of episcopal polity is "traditional," needs some tempering with the facts of the traditions and what actually did, and did not, happen in Christian history.

Father Hollywood said...

Again, God is the creator of hierarchy. Lucifer was the first to buck the hierarchy. Eve was the first human (closely followed by her husband) to buck the hierarchy. The order of creation is hierarchical. The husband is the "hierarch" of his family, with wife submitting to his authority, and children submitting to both. Mankind has dominion over animals. There is even a pecking order for the angels!

When the hierarchy is challenged, we have chaos. All forms of rebellion and lawlessness are a challenge to the hierarchy. Feminism and "everone a minister" are manifestations of the same. The French and Bolshevik revolutions were (not surprisingly) both atheistic and hostile to the Church.

The farther we get from godly evangelical oversight over pastors and congregations, the more chaos we have.

I can accept the fact that some people may argue that the polity we have in the LCMS is no better or no worse than any other system - though I think no two systems are alike - some systems of governance (secular or ecclesiastical) simply work better. Very few would argue that all polity is equal in the secular realm: kingdom, republic, communist dictatorship - they're all equally good.

I'm arguing that egalitarian, democratic polity (though not prohibited by Scripture) is not the best way to go because it is not harmonious with the way God made the universe to work. Again, a biblical congregational model is better than an apostate episcopal model - and vice versa. But on the whole, I believe democracy is a terrible idea - especially in the Church. For we are to confess the truth - not change it with a 51% majority.

Again, that is just my opinion.

However, what isn't a matter of opinion is the reality that episcopal polity is traditional polity. We can try to "Missourize" history all we want by anachronistically applying our own terms to the early and medieval church (as LSB does in its commemorations, e.g. "Leo the Great, Pastor" and "John Chrysostom, Preacher" - when the whole world uses the traditional nomenclature of Bishop (or Pope) of Rome and Archbishop (or Patriarch) of Constantinople).

But the bottom line is that episcopal polity dates back to the late first century, has been used continuously across Christendom ever since (including in the east where nothing like a papacy developed), is today used by the vast majority of Christian churches - including every historic communion with the sole exception of Lutheranism - and even then there are many Lutheran church bodies that are episcopal.

A polity in which every congregation is autonomous, in which pastors have no bishops but are overseen by a board of lay "elders" (a misuse of the biblical word), and to a degree by "district presidents" which are nearly all ordained men who have no "divine call" (to use the LCMS parlance), in which a "synod" describes not a convocation of bishops but rather a membership organization of congregations and ordained and non-ordained (!) ministers, in which the highest tribunal is a "convention" of lay and clerical "delegates" (of both sexes) operating as a 501c3 tax exempt corporation governed by Robert's Rules - is simply not "traditional."

You can argue that the Scriptures are silent on matters of polity (I agree with that). You can argue that our system works no better or worse than any other system (I disagree). But it is simply not true to call our system "traditional" or to say that episcopal polity isn't. It's just not so.

I stand with the confessions that traditional polity is preferrable - but if it can't be retained, other arragements have to be made since people need (and have a right to) pastors. Our presbyterial ordinations may be irregular (per tradition and common custom in the historic church), but they certainly are valid and there is certainly historic precedent.

Just the same, I applaud the Mission Province for not simply abolishing their historic episcopacy. Dittoes for the Church of Siberia. Even Andrew Elisa, President of the Church of Sudan saw the importance of tradition and was consecrated as a real bishop (in the narrow, de jure humano sense of the word) a few months back. When your whole world is being turned upside down by oppression and civil war, I suppose the stability of tradition is of great comfort.

But here in democratic America, there are a lot of folks who don't like traditional anything - be it stay at home mothers who wear skirts and cover their heads in church, proper grammar, classic literature, clerical garb, the historic liturgy, or episcopal oversight in the church.

Pastor Beisel said...

Fr. Hollywood,

I'm finding what you say to be all too true. Good post, and good responses. Just because something is not expressly prohibited in the Scriptures does not mean that we ought to do it. "All things are permissable, not all things are beneficial." How often have I had to repeat this to my members!

Paul T. McCain said...

Gentlemen, you are missing the point. Of course the Confessions, as I've said several times already, and in my blog posts, assume the continuation of an episcopal form of church polity.

But the reality is that episcopal forms of polity can be every bit as bad as anything you regard as bad in any other form of polity.

Did you bother to read the Sasse essay?

Father Hollywood said...

Actually, the point is that even though Scripture is silent, it is a leap of logic to conclude that any form of polity is just as good as any other form of polity. Nor are all forms of polity "traditional." That's just postmodern political correctness.

There is a school of thought that says all choices are equal, none are better than any other. Breast or bottle? It's a choice of two equally good options. Stay at home or put the kids in daycare? Personal choice. Bishops or voters? Mac or PC? It's all the same. It's just six of one, half dozen of the other. Everything is equal, especially when Scripture is silent.

The point is that the silence of Scripture doesn't make all things profitable. Nor does it stifle all discussion about the merits of one or the other. I don't believe Dr. Sasse would tell us since he has spoken, the matter is forever closed to further inquiry.

I wonder what Dr. Sasse would conclude about the current state of affairs in the LCMS - things that exist now that I'm quite certain he would have never foreseen.

But I'll be happy to call your Sasse and raise you a Loehe. ;-)

Here is an interesting quote from Wilhelm Loehe in 1847 (interesting year that was, wasn't it? The next year was even more interesting on a global scale - let the historian with ears to hear...):

"One thing is regrettable , when our good people arrive over there and breathe the American air, they become imbued with democracy and one hears with amazement how independent and congregational they think about church organization. They are in danger of forgetting the high, divine honor of their office and becoming slaves to their congregations ."

Hmmm. Pastors being removed from calls willy-nilly. Pastors unable to celebrate communion every Sunday. District Presidents refusing to stand up to a congregation to defend a pastor. Conventions approving "lay pastors" and female elders. Etc.

My point is that Loehe is being vindicated by the history that is going on around us. I'm sure the Siberian Church will have its own problems, but the appeal to mob rule won't be one of them.

Paul T. McCain said...

If episcopal polity is as good as you say it is, how do you account for its failure in pre-Reformation times, and in modern times?

Bishops did not keep the church any more orthodox than an non-episcopal polity has caused it to become heterodox.

You want to turn this into a conversation about something other than what Lutheranism believes about church polity.

If you wish to continue ranting on about the failure of American Lutheranism, then please at least pause and consider the failure of Romanism and episcopal polity and the failure of episcopal polity everywhere in Lutheranism that it was embraced and used.

Father Hollywood said...

To say something works better doesn't mean it is perfect. Episcopal polity is more stable. It has a longer track record. If you spin a penny on a table, friction will eventually overtake it and it will stop. If you spin a gyroscope, it will also stop - but the flywheel effect will cause it to spin longer than the penny on the table.

Similarly, a three-legged stoll is more stable than one with four.

The Lutheran Church of Sweden remained faithful well into the 20th century when the church was hijacked by the state. It was well into the middle ages until the Roman bishops became corrupted.

Again, a congregational polity that submits to Scripture is better than an episcopal polity that doesn't. However, *all things being equal,* I believe episcopal polity is more stable and able to weather the storms of a fickle culture. Democracy is simply more mercurial than other forms of government.

How long did it take the Missouri Synod to fray into a plethora of "worship styles" and various interpretations about what constitutes syncretism? How long in Missouri's history did it take to institute "lay ministers" and to give the green light to women serving in nearly ever capacity?

Like the traditional liturgy, traditional polity provides a more stable means of transmitting the Gospel. Even during pre-reformation times, the Gospel survived because the liturgy survived.

It is not for nothing that the reformers desired to keep that form of polity. When given the hard choice of having to modify it or have no clergy at all, the Garman (and later American) Lutherans did what they had to do. But other Lutherans weren't confronted with such a choice.

If we eventually have a choice between being completely biblical and congregational, or being completely biblical and episcopal, all I am saying is that I believe the latter will provide a better fighting chance for longevity. I'm not offering it as a panacea. But I think it's just plain silly to say "none of that matters." It's not like we can pick the biggest guy in the church and hand him a magic-8-ball and say "This system of governance is as good as any other system since it is an adiaphoron."

I hope this clarifies things. Is anyone else confused about the point I'm trying to make?

Paul T. McCain said...

Thanks for the clarification. I think you have made your case well, clearly, and briefly. And you've made a good case for your argument!

"All things being equal...this would be the better approach" ... that's a position I can live with, since it is then a matter of human judgment in matters of freedom in the church and if then it is that, then that is a perfectly Lutheran position.

I might even be agreeing with you!

Father Hollywood said...

Possible concordia? Why, that takes the fun out of everything! ;-)

Paul T. McCain said...

I know...I'm sure we'll find something else to get in a good dust-up over again.

Aaron Carlson said...

My only arguments for the Lutheran Episcopate are:
1)-- It's the standard throughout time and memorial - in all of Christendom, including Lutheranism. Even the early LCMS.
2)-- I want to prove that the Lutheran Church (like the Anglican Church) is NOT Protestant, but evangelical catholic (or part of the conservative reformation).
Therefore 3)-- The Episcopate is ONE MORE THING (besides THREE Sacraments, a Liturgy, Strong Patristics, and Tradition-tolerance) to distinguish us from the Evangelical Protestant (Reformed) world.

P.S. Not to mention that the Lutheran Confessions prefer it - and the LCMS is supposed to Confessional, right?

Aaron Carlson said...

Yeah, I'm LCMS... But I'm of Swedish Lutheran descent. So to me, it's a bit odd to be having this debate AT ALL. Why to we have to SO GERMAN, and conform ourselves in the new world to the limitations put on you 'Germans' in the old country. Religious freedom, why not take advantage of it to live up to what our confessions would have wanted even though logistics prevented them BACK THEN.

Aaron Carlson said...

German Lutherans WANTED TO BE episcopal - but Rome wouldn't let them, you're acting like a Calvinists. Let's make one thing straight… "Lutherans don't want change", for us reform is uprooting the bad but leaving just enough of the OLD skeleton to perfect the previous system, not replace it. CONSERVATIVE REFORMATION.