Tuesday, October 09, 2007


We live in tumultuous times in The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. There are certainly benefits to belonging to the synod - such as access to our universities and seminaries to secure teachers and pastors, the various benefits packages for church workers, the idea of being in a fellowship (rather than being an independent little raft adrift in the ocean), and the venerable witness and historical precedent of those who came before us in affiliating with the LCMS - especially in its finest hours of preserving the Lutheran confessional witness in the face of 19th century unionism and the integrity of the Holy Scriptures in the face of 20th century liberalism.

Leaving the synod ought not be a decision to take lightly.

However, if a pastor and/or a congregation leave the synod, it would seem that one of the advantages is no longer having to deal with the headaches that synodical membership brings. For example, the LCMS worship wars, the political strife, the "anything goes" approach to certain matters in our synod (which are doctrinal and/or practical according to whom you ask) - such as the role of women, closed communion, and the nature of the office of the ministry. Leaving synod would mean no more fuss about whether to support Ablaze!(tm) or not, worrying about either supporting President Kieschnick or finding a candidate to run against him, having to take sides regarding the Board of Directors or the lawsuit against Kieschnick, the rancorous discussions within the CTCR and the CCM, etc.

In some ways, walking away from the synod would be liberating.

What I don't understand is why so many pastors leave our synod, and then spend the rest of their valuable days in the service of the Lord continuing to fight battles that no longer concern them? Christian News, for example, is filled with rants by former LCMS pastors that deal again and again with internal LCMS matters. Why do these guys even care any more? Shouldn't leaving have freed up their time to deal with more substantive matters? Heck, even more recreational time with the family would be an improvement.

Another example: I get e-mails from a former LCMS pastor whose church left the synod (with him leaving as well). Often, the e-mails have helpful announcements and such, but sometimes they are the pastor's personal editorials on internal Missouri Synod affairs - which no longer concern him. Why? I mean, why go to the trouble to leave and then continue working on your Missouri ulcer? For what?

Then there are former pastors who have left Lutheranism all together. One of them is a good friend of mine, a seminary classmate, and a man of integrity who could no longer serve as an LCMS pastor and joined the Orthodox Church as a layman (after having been compelled to violate his conscience on vicarage and having a very difficult first call in the LCMS ministry). Once he left, his former grumpy constitution went away. Even his voice changed. His constant stresses were no more. He told me he was so much more at peace, and never worries about who gets elected to synodical offices or what resolution gets passed. He spends his time trying to be a faithful lay Christian and family man. That seems like the right way to leave the synod.

Mind you, I wish he would have stayed in the ministry (he was a top-notch theologian and pastor) and in our fellowship. It grieves me that we are no longer in fellowship, but his conscience didn't permit him to remain a member of synod nor a Lutheran layman. He cut the apron strings, and never tries to tell us how to run our synod.

But there are other men who have left Missouri and are now either Orthodox laymen or priests. Many (not all, by any means) continue to argue, debate, write, react, and post to blogs about internal Lutheran and LCMS matters. They spend hours involved in LCMS squabbles. What's the point?

If my congregation ever decides to leave the LCMS (and I'm by no means saying this is even on the back burner), I certainly would not be reading CTCR decisions and spending hours writing retorts to synodical resolutions and decrees of the LCMS president. I would be lying if I were to say that no longer even reading such things wouldn't be a great benefit to changing affiliations.

There seems to be something terribly unhealthy about obsessing over an organization that you have left, and trying to impose your will upon it from the outside. If one's emotions and sentiments are that strongly attached, why leave? And if not, why the hand-wringing? Why not get on with one's life and vocation post-Missouri? Isn't there enough to keep an Orthodox priest or an independent Lutheran pastor busy?

Maybe someone can explain it to me.


David said...


Thank you for saying what I've been thinking for years!

Philip Hoffman said...

Father Hollywood,
I can't really answer this question. But I am wondering if you have any conclusions to offer?


magistralatina said...

Don't you think it's because these individuals are still emotionally invested, although they have physically left?

One hears so often that 'I didn't leave [insert name of institution here] - it left me!' I suspect that's why you see the constant probing of the old wound.

Father Hollywood said...

Philip & Magistra:

I think Magistra may be on to it.

Maybe it will just take time for these guys to "move on." I do think some of them have left because it absolves them of all responsibilities and consequences, and now they are free to throw stones from the outside all day long.

Being on the "inside" (while not all that comfortable), I feel a little like we're being "stalked" by jilted ex-lovers. It creeps me out. It also just fuels the fire and gets in the way of our attempts to "walk together" (as futile as they may prove to be).

Then again, there's no bigger zealot than an ex-smoker, ex-drinker, ex-Catholic, ex-American, ex-liberal, ex-conservative, etc.

ghp said...

FH: Would Luther's life-long commenting on the goings-on in Rome be viewed as problematic?

It strikes me that there are some instructive similarities...

Father Hollywood said...

Dear GHP. That's really an interesting question!

I'm no Luther scholar, but I always thought he said less and less about Rome as the years went by. I think Lutherans were less attracted to the pope and more tempted by Reformed theology as the years went on.

Even if this isn't the case, I still think the situation is very different. As a pastor, Luther was constantly warning his parishioners against falling back into the false doctrine they had contended with their lives long. That's very different than an independent Lutheran pastor ranting and raving on a blog or in Christian News about specific votes on the floor of the LCMS convention or matters pertaining to synodical politics.

Similarly, I doubt that Orthodox pastors have to remain vigilant lest their parishioners start getting involved in LCMS lawsuits.

There is just something very different here.

The LCMS is a tiny little American church body. What happens in Missouri isn't exactly earth-shattering to the church catholic. I don't think the same can be said of Rome ("when the pope catches a cold..."). However, when Kieschnick gets the sniffles, I don't think the pope or the patriarch are reaching for the Kleenex.

Plus, the pope was still a threat to the Lutherans - by virtue of his worldly military might. By contrast, the LCMS can't burn anyone at the stake (though I suspect some of the DPs might be tempted, at least for a couple seconds). :-)

Pastor Beisel said...

I can't speak for those who have left, but could it have something to do with self-doubt? I mean, here they have done what everyone told them not to. Was it the right move? Perhaps by continually harping on the problems they have left, they justify themselves for leaving. As if to say, "Yeah, I did make the right move." I could be way off base.

Chris Jones said...

Speaking from experience, I think Magistra is right.

I am not a pastor, so their experience and the reasons why they behave the way they do may be different, but ...

It has been almost a quarter-century since I left the Episcopal Church, in which I was raised. But I continue to take an interest in that denomination and its difficulties. (At this point, as severe as its problems are, that interest probably amounts to a morbid fascination.)

The reason is not far to seek. That was the place where the Gospel was first imparted to me; it was and is the Church of my parents and siblings; it was the Church in which I was married and my children baptized. Those are bonds which are not easily broken, and there is a part of me which still loves that Church, however deeply I disagree with it on matters of teaching and practice.

So it is, I think, with the pastors who have headed East. They may have come to disagree with Lutheranism on some points, but they cannot say that they don't care about the Lutheran Church unless they no longer feel any love for it (and for their friends and colleagues that they have left behind). And I just don't think that that is the case.

Past Elder said...

I don't know if my experience is helpful in this regard, but here it is. There may be a difference between those who leave the synod but remain Lutheran and those who leave the synod and convert to something else.

I'm a convert to Lutheranism in general and LCMS in particular. I was raised in the pre-conciliar RC church. The two are not related. I left the RC church because IMHO it morphed itself into something quite different at Vatican II that I as a believing Catholic could in no way see as Catholic. In other words, I left on Catholic grounds alone. However, that this could have happened to the church also IMHO showed that what was before must have been wrong too, so affiliation with SSPX or something like that was also out of the question, however much I admire (present tense intended) their heroic struggle.

At the time all other Christian churches to me were just echoes of the Catholic Church with some reformer's ideas tacking and filling, Lutheranism getting an E for effort as a well intended attempt to be Catholic without being Catholic, so in my case the experience invalidated Christianity itself, which I did not profess for the next roughly twenty years.

Growing up in Minnesota I was exposed to Lutheranism all the time. However it didn't get personal until this IMHO utterly stunning babe entered my life, who had left LCMS over Seminex much as I had left RC over Vatican II. (Talk about an offer you can't refuse -- God doesn't mess around, but that's another story.) But as the marriage approached LCMS was the route, and as it was the one Christian denomination for which I retained a modicum of respect (present tense would not have been too far off here either!) I agreed, and as children approached we were in Adult Information Class, the pastor gave me Tappert to read, by the end of which everything was answered -- Vatican II was the latest in a long history of such things, and here I was shown the one, holy, catholic and apostilic church which, having not been overcome by the gates of hell, meant he was the Christ after all and we need not look for another!

Now, I don't read in these guys any who ceased to be Christian, so maybe my experience isn't comparable. Anyway, when I look at my former church, it revolts me twice over, once on the Catholic grounds on which I left (as in, it's not even Catholic but a stinking impostor) and also on the Lutheran beliefs I now hold.

Today I experience both of what you describe. I feel a huge sense of relief at no longer having to hang on to what pieces and pockets of not only "traditional" Catholicism but also authentic Vatican II revisionism as one can find. Being as big as it is, the RC church is a little hard not to notice, but for example, watching the latest papal installation, I felt so glad not to be hanging on to it for what bits and pieces remain of the real deal and at the same time knowing that 99.99% of post-conciliar Catholics would be as unable to participate on the basis of their ordinary (no pun) parish experience in this as at a Hindu Temple while I belt out the chants! That was the Lutheran happy to be Lutheran, knowing where home is, that there is a home at all, and it ain't Rome.

Yet the "conversions" of Lutherans to this preposterous fraud calling itself Catholicism bug me. Not as a Lutheran so much as an ex-Catholic. If you swim the Bosphorous you still get Orthodoxy, but if you swim the Tiber you get something that by no stretch of the imagination is Catholicism. I find it very hard not to holler You ain't where you think you are!

Which may or may not relate to the situation of former Lutheran Orthodox who haunt confessional Lutheran comboxes. Magistra is onto it indeed. The elusive factor is this: it is one thing to say a church no longer is what it was, which I believed therefore I must leave; it is quite another to say what it was is wrong too and I have joined another I now believe is right.

FWIW, which may be nothing.

ghp said...

The Luther example is not, of course, a 1:1 analogy/mapping. I'm not sure that it needs to be, though...

Luther's involvement (Melanchthon's & Chemnitz's as well) in the development of the various parts of what came to be collected as the Book of Concord cannot help but be viewed as getting up in Rome's "grill", if you will.

While it was surely an attempt to clarify & defend Lutheran doctrine, it did so by denouncing errors found in Rome (and Geneva).

Granted, the main focus was doctrinal, but that focus inevitably yielded some commentary on politics & practice.

I think it's a fine line between commenting on error in another church body and trying to (for example) sow discontent or effect internal politics. That said, at least the editor of CN has a dog in the fight, as his congregation is a member of the LCMS even though he himself isn't. I tend to think that gives him a little more standing than, say, the author/editor of Reclaim News.

That all said, I also think that Magistra is on to something with the observation about emotional investment. Sort of like a survivor's guilt.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Fr. Beane, you wrote (in part):

"But there are other men who have left Missouri and are now either Orthodox laymen or priests. Many (not all, by any means) continue to argue, debate, write, react, and post to blogs about internal Lutheran and LCMS matters. They spend hours involved in LCMS squabbles. What's the point?...There seems to be something terribly unhealthy about obsessing over an organization that you have left, and trying to impose your will upon it from the outside. If one's emotions and sentiments are that strongly attached, why leave? And if not, why the hand-wringing? Why not get on with one's life and vocation post-Missouri? Isn't there enough to keep an Orthodox priest or an independent Lutheran pastor busy?"

A couple of observations, from one who's likely one of the targets of this post.

There is no need to psychologize with phrases like "obsessing," "terribly unhealthy," "emotions and sentiments," "hand-wringing", all of which are kinder and gentler, but no less ad hominem, than the remarks made by, for example, Rev. McCain. (Similar things could be said about comparing becoming Orthodox to "having an affair," or even your own words about "being stalked by jilted ex-lovers.")

I continue to post, though more rarely than I used to, and to fewer blogs (usually just Bill Weedon's), because I continue to care about men like you and Bill--and those he's able to comfort with his matchless rhetorical skills. I spent over 20 years in the ministry of the LCMS. I got to know a lot of fine people in that time. Those relationships don't just end.

I continue to post because I'm convinced that the LCMS is still a house ablaze, if you will, and I'm concerned about many of those people still inside. (You might ask Frederica Matthews-Green why she still speaks with Episcopalians, years after she and her husband became Orthodox.)

When I see people I've cared for and still care for using nostrums and non-sequiturs to talk themselves into saying, "Well, with this house on fire at least we'll cut down on our heating bills," I speak. Why?

Because I'm concerned that the only way these people for whom I've cared can continue to stay is to yield to relativism and isolationism--both of which are deadly to Christian faith. I don't give a hoot about the organization. I care deeply about the people I came to know.

Perhaps instead of trying to analyze my psychology from afar, it would be more useful to consider my arguments. For my part, I've always tried to avoid ad hominems. (I used one, once, just to show Rev. McCain what one was--if I've used others, I'll gladly apologize.) I've always focused on the issues.

Or, if you're not interested, I can suggest another phenomenon for analysis. Why do so many in the LC-MS feel obligated to hide their identity by making anonymous posts blogs and blogs?

Philip Hoffman said...

Fr. Hogg,
I think I can shed a little light on why so many LCMSers blog anonymously. They are afraid of the thought control of the LCMS. They are afraid to speak because the "law dogs" will censure and threaten them. I still feel that Robert Benne's paper at the Ft. Wayne Symposia is spot on. And if you can find his Forum Letter reaction it is excellent as well.


Father Hollywood said...

Fr. Gregory:

No need to be so defensive. You can't have an "ad hominem" without a "homo" (stop that giggling, you sixth graders...).

I specifically didn't mention any names. Do you have a guilty conscience?

Blogs are opinions - not scholarly sociological theses. My opinion is that I think it is unhealthy to leave an organization and then continue to be intimately involved in it. I'm not a psychiatrist, so my opinion is in no way "official." I'm just truly baffled by what I have seen.

I don't know if this describes you or not. I don't read very many blogs at all these days (my time has become very constrained). In the few blogs I do read, I inevitably run across former LCMS folks who seem to know more about the current day-to-day gossip and workings of the bureaucracy than I do (and I'm a member!).

Ditto on Christian News (which gets sent here at church, and so I scan it before "filing" it). The ex-members are more involved and worked up about LCMS minutia than I have ever been. And though it is a value judgment, I find their writing to be hysterical. I'm sorry, that's my conclusion. Others may well disagree.

I just don't see the point - being that they have left. Some of these guys work themselves up into a cappuccino froth over internal matters that don't concern them at all.

If my church were to leave the LCMS, I can't tell you how uninterested I would be regarding lawsuits, Ablaze!(tm), who is running for what, and who is supporting whom for what, how many delegates each circuit gets, 8-01a, etc. It would be a burden off my shoulders.

I do understand that I have no deep ties to the LCMS. I'm a first-generation Lutheran. I don't have the emotional attachment to the synod that others do. Fair enough. Even so, I'm amazed at how many guys want to carry that burden after they have left. I believe my Orthodox layman friend has it right - and he's a lot happier for it.

If you disagree, fine. You have every right to speak your mind and publish it. And I have every right to be bewildered at what I read in Christian News and on blogs.

I've always had great respect for you even when we disagree. I hope we can remain cordial. If my remarks caused you hurt, I sincerely apologize and deeply regret it. My intent was to express my bewilderment at why so many (and there are many) former members of the LCMS continue to be involved in internal LCMS matters.

Your answer does explain the phenomenon to an extent. Thank you.

As far as anonymity goes, I think some people are afraid of ramifications of expressing an opinion and angering certain folks in high places. I know there are seminarians, for example, who won't use their real names online for fear of not getting a call. Even the Federalist Papers were published anonymously. To be honest, I know very few of the people who post to my blog. I don't get bent out of shape if they don't identify themselves. If they become vulgar, I do remove their posts (which I've had to do on occasion).


Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Fr. Hollywood,

When I wrote, it wasn't because of a guilty conscience. But it doesn't take a degree in rocket science to understand that the universe you're covering (Formerly Lutheran Orthodox priests who post on blogs) is rather limited. There's, let's see, Fr. John Fenton and me. And Fr. John has the good sense not to post often. (I looked up your phone number and tried to call, to clarify; I regret I couldn't get hold of you.)

If one becomes convinced, as I have been, that a house holding many folk dear to one is on fire, continued involvement with those inside isn't so hard to understand, is it? When I post anywhere, it's usually for one of two reasons: (1) I detect formerly "confessional" theologians slipping into relativism; (2) I spot someone holding out false comfort to those who remain. This second reason was why I posted recently on Weedon's blog wrt the "official hymnal", for example.

I've always tried to stay away from the ad hominems. I don't comment on Dr. Kieschnik, or the Council of Presidents. I didn't leave the LCMS because I didn't like the direction it was going, or didn't care for some of the people. I left because I came to see that it wasn't Church, but corporation, and that Lutheranism in general is not Church, but confession. I continue to post, when I do, because I love many who remain there. And I do confess some fear that some of those who remain, when they finally smell the smoke, may run out of the Wittenbergian frying pan into the Roman fire. We Orthodox say that the Pope was the first Protestant when he decided he could unilaterally change what had been handed down in truth and love from the first.

I have admired you from the very first time I heard of your suffering for the Truth's sake. No higher honor can be given a man in this life. And I know the fear that causes many, on all sides of the issues, to post and blog anonymously. If Truth is to be followed, fear must be faced and overcome.

You have not offended me in any way. If I have offended you, I beg your forgiveness. I continue to hold you in the highest regard. I think your suffering is probably not over. But there are worse things than suffering. And there is nothing better than to love the Truth and follow him where he leads.

May the Lord remember you, your wife and son in his Kingdom, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages!

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory Hogg

Past Elder said...

Well, Fr Hogg, we may not agree on whether to swim or not, but it seems we agree that if you're going to swim something make it the Bosphorous and not the Tiber.

After what I experienced in "Rome", St Louis' problems, as some in my part of town would say, ain't no thing.

Father Hollywood said...

Fr. Gregory:

Mrs. Hollywood told me you had called, but I was up to my eyeballs getting ready for Wednesday night Bible Class / Mass.

Again, my observations were not meant to denigrate anyone. There really are times when I daydream about no longer being in the LCMS (of course, it isn't up to me, but up to my congregation - and their relationship with the District and Synod has been rocky since long before my tenure). To no longer even have Ablaze!(tm), articles about lawsuits, book reviews about marketing books, and the new emphasis on the deaconess program constantly in front of my face seems like a dream.

My now-Orthodox classmate never even thinks about such things, instead being able to focus more on family life and his Christian journey. It seems like all we Lutherans can manage to talk about when we get together is Kieschnick, Benke, and who the "confessionals" will be putting up in the next election. I'm sick of it.

As for me, if I ever leave or are removed from synod, I can't imagine reading Christian News and following the latest antics out of St. Louis. If the LCMS were to ordain women or do something newsworthy outside of the LCMS, that would cause me to want to comment. But writing articles supporting Wohlrabe or trying to expose election shenanigans would just seem like a waste of time to me.

I'm glad you have taken no offense, none was intended. My frustration probably came out too vitriolic.

Christopher Orr said...

Broken hearts heal, but the break always leaves a scar that itches - especially when the weather is changing. You can only have a broken heart if there were good times to remember, as Chris Jones pointed out. So, while a lot of bad may have happened along the way, that good is still there and the loss of it still stings. Put that together with the joy many feel when they have settled and a committment to 'sharing the good news' and it makes sense that people will stay informed.

Now, as to whether this understandable looking back is spiritually health or not, that's a different question. There are probably different answers required for different people.