Thursday, September 27, 2007

Concurrent Bisynodicalism?

My friend and colleague in the holy ministry, the Rev. Paul Beisel, quoted a snippet from Father Hollywood here.

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has become divided to the point of being (at least) two concurrent synods living within one corporate structure. Perhaps we've become a conservative version of the Anglican Communion that is trying to maintain organizational unity between churches that believe radically different confessions.

The big issues that divide our synod are not things like abortion and homosexuality. We're even pretty much united on the inspiration of Scripture - including such corollary issues as the ordination of women. The really divisive issues (at least in my personal experience) are: closed communion, the role of women in our churches, and worship styles.

The latter has become particularly divisive, and I believe, overshadows the first two. There are other divisive issues, to be sure, such as the rancor over public Christian prayers offered with non-Christians, worship services conducted with non-Lutherans (or even non-Christians), relationships between the LCMS and the ELCA (e.g. joint schools and chaplaincies) and the division over how our synod and its convention should be constituted and governed. However, I see the worship issue as one that continues to drive a wedge deeper and deeper into the heart of Missouri.

While fighting a rear-guard action to fight off office clutter, I ran across a printout of a blog post I wrote back in July of last year. I think it is still an accurate rendering of how we, as a communion with a specific written confession (which is unique among the historic communions of the Christian Church) can disagree so vehemently and suffer such division.

I don't have an answer. But I know the answer is not to ostrich-head ourselves and pretend there is no division. We keep hearing pronouncements from on high that we don't suffer any doctrinal divisions as a synod - merely a diversity of practice. This is simply not true. We do have divisions. We cannot address them until we acknowledge them. If we acknowledge them, perhaps we can resolve them, perhaps not. But one way or the other, we can move on.

We may eventually come to a consensus, or we may have to divide the synod and its resources among two or more successor factions. Simply pretending there is no problem is a foolish approach. It is as dangerous as ignoring a growing tumor out of fear of hearing what the doctor might have to say.

Unity is important, but true unity is by far better than a pretend one.


Chad said...

Pastor Beane,

My question is, doesn't this situation undermine our doctrine of communion? Great care is taken by our Pastor to catechise new members so that the integrity of our local communion confesses a common faith, yet it has to be extremely confusing (at least, it is for me) to see the same Church maintain communion with other Churches that obviously have serious confessional differences. They get a free pass, but the new member seems to be held to standards that aren't applied to people with their fingers crossed.

In the intro to the book I linked to by Gary North above, he wrote:

"Something has obviously gone radically wrong in the Presbyterian Church. To identify what went wrong, you need to understand when it went wrong, and how. This story is unknown to virtually all Presbyterians, even members of the tiny splinter denominations that came into existence as reactions to the liberals' takeover of the mainline Presbyterian Church: what happened, how it happened, and when it happened. It did not happen randomly. It was planned.

This plan is repeatable. It has been used by liberals to take over every mainline American denomination in the twentieth century, including the Roman Catholic Church, which succumbed in 1966. No hierarchical denomination is immune. But because so few Christians are aware of the plan's features, and what its telltale signs are, defenses against it are weak or nonexistent. Because of this, it keeps working. So far, only conservative Missouri Synod Lutherans have self-consciously held it in check. Only the Southern Baptist Convention has reversed it."

I gave my Pastor a copy of that book. While reading Gary North is not even something many Presbyterians enjoy doing :), I do think it offers much food for thought in the current struggle.

Blessings to you in your work, I enjoy your blog very much.


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Chad:

Thanks for your kind words, and your thoughtful post.

I also enjoy Gary North (I read him over at Lew Rockwell).

The LCMS had its reckoning with its radical left wing back in the 1970s. Many of them left with the Seminex walkout. We are one of the few major communions in America where the conservatives won.

For the most part, our battle isn't between "liberals" and "conservatives" these days. The left wing of the Missouri Synod is almost non-existent. There are a few voices crying out for women's ordination and the like, but so few as to be more than a blip on the screen.

Sometimes, the divide is described as "conservatives" vs. "moderates" - but I think that terminology is too one dimensional and not very accurate. Our "moderates" would be considered "right-wing extremists" in nearly every other church body.

Our divisions are more along the lines of "traditionalists" vs. "non-traditionalists." In other words, we have conservatives who advocate the traditional liturgy and hymnody vs. conservatives who advocate "modern" worship forms and popular styles of music. The former cling doctrinally to the Book of Concord as a confessional standard, whereas the latter tend to speak more in terms of pragmatic neo-evangelical approaches to the Christian faith.

On the one hand, it is a blessing that we aren't debating whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, or whether we should endorse homosexual unions - but then again, we are just as divided as the Anglicans and the Presbyterians - just on different issues.

The divide among Missouri Lutherans is almost a Catholic/Protestant fissure. Traditionalists cling to the Gospel in our Catholic roots, while non-traditionalists cling to a pragmatic American revivalist understanding of the Gospel that downplays our historic confession.

Thus, one can find two Missouri churches a few miles apart, one with incense and chanting, and the other with a stage and play-acting. While both churches believe in a six-day creation, the theology underlying worship simply can't be reconciled - at least if we're going to be honest about it.

Of course, these are just my opinions as only one member of a synod of many thousands. I don't speak officially for anyone except my own eyes and ears - which have seen and heard some very strange things in our congregations.

Pax Christi, and keep those fingers uncrossed! ;-)

Lawrence said...

If all congregations refused to embrace the errors of which we speak, the errors would not propagate, so I can't lay all the blame solely on Synodical hierarchy. I can lay a lot of blame on the congregations who encourage and teach the errors to the people who eventually find
themselves in Synod leadership positions.