06 September 2008

Take 2

Thank you, brothers, for the excellent back and forth in the previous post about my day-dreaming of a church body in fellowship with, but outside of the bureaucratic jurisdiction of the LCMS. I thought I'd pull together a few thoughts in a new post, especially since Fr. Eckardt sounds interested in taking up the canon law topic in Kewanee in about a month.

First, I'll pull out a couple of points from Fr. Stuckwisch and respond to them, and then note a few points for the potential discussion at Gottesdientst Oktoberfest: Day 2.

Rick wrote:
"The only thing is, I don't think the LCMS would want to be in fellowship with us; and, if we all left, I'm fairly certain that we wouldn't want to be in fellowship with whatever was left of the LCMS after we were gone."

I profoundly disagree. And here again perhaps my optimism is to blame. But I take seriously the stated confession of the faith made by even the goofiest of parishes/pastors among us. Do you really think that if "we" left the bureaucracy of MO that the rest of them would repeal a quia subscription to the Confessions at the next convention? I don't. And I think we owe fellowship to them so long as they make that confession. So long as they make that confession we have something to call them to repentance on.

Part of my optimism here probably comes from my experience as a graduate of the St. Louis seminary. While Fort Wayne can claim its share of neo-evangelicals, the majority are surely from St. Louis. And yet, at St. Louis I've never known a professor - even the most neo-evangelical of them - to advocate for dumping the confessions: they honest-to-goodness see their running after evangelical fads as ways to promote Lutheranism. And the guys I knew who went the neo-evangelical route would consider themselves as confessional Lutherans.

Now, I firmly believe that they have made serious errors in putting that faith into practice. But they desire to be in fellowship with others who confession the Book of Concord: they would not break fellowship with us. And why should we break fellowship with them if they still confess the same doctrine, though live it poorly? Do we not rather owe them fraternal care, support, and calls to better practice? And isn't the best call to better practice living a better practice and showing its benefits in living color?

Which brings me back to my main point. Fr. Rick wrote,
"My own opinion is that we should continue to confess within the Missouri Synod, wherever the Lord has called and stationed us, until conscience would prevent us from remaining in that fellowship, or until we are driven from our post. At which point we should then continue confessing from wherever we find ourselves next. And praying, night and day, that the Lord would call both us and all to repentance."

My question is: how can we best continue to confess, influence, and call to a better practice our brothers in the Missouri Synod who both confess the Concordia with their mouth but live a neo-evangelical parish life? Is that best done within the Missouri Synod, as part of the same bureaucratic network? Or could it perhaps be better done under the model of the old Synodical Conference: a separate body in fellowship with Missouri?

Let me mention one other benefit of the latter arrangement: our sister churches around the world look to the LCMS for guidance. Would they not benefit from a strong Lutheran voice in the United States still in fellowship with them and MO, but giving a clear call and showing a clear example of living out Lutheran doctrine in traditional ways?

Now, what might this new bureaucracy look like? Especially in matters of worship practice? How can a church body have more of the unity we crave without becoming leagalistic? Is that possible?

I think so. And I'd throw this out as a place for Fritz to start the canon law discussion at Oktoberfest. Why couldn't the constitution of such a synod say something like this: "The Hypothetical Lutheran Synod values the traditional forms of the Lutheran Divine Service. For the sake of a united confession before the world, each parish of the HLS shall utilize the Common Service (as contained in either TLH p. 15, LW p. 136, or LSB p. 184) as its chief Sunday service. Permission from the president/bishop/overseer (pick your favorite term!) may be sought for utilizing other settings of the Divine Service from these hymnals alongside the Common Service settings for good reason."

So there's a place to start: we don't all have to have the same rubrics, we don't even have to have the exact same setting of the Common Service, or even the Common Service all the time: but wouldn't it be nice to once again see the letters of your synod on the sign outside the door while you're on vacation and know pretty much what you're going to get inside? Wouldn't that, perhaps, be a strong confession to our other brothers in MO about what a benefit unity in practice is?

Critique and nit-pick that all you like: but isn't that basically what we are really yearning for in our worship practice? And why not have it? Why not give it a try, at least? And since it is self-evident that such a unity simply cannot exist in the bureaucracy of the LCMS, why not at least think seriously and constructively about making it a possibility within the fellowship of Missouri if not her bureaucratic structure?

So come on down to Kewanee for a serious discussion of what such a canon law for Lutherans might look like. It might come to nothing - probably will - but won't it be refreshing to set aside the nay-saying we've become so accustomed to for a morning and just talk constructively about how maybe we could make it happen?

Still asking "what if. . . "


Pr. H. R. said...

I should clarify: Fr. Eckardt is specifically wanting to discuss what a Lutheran "canon law" for worship might look like - not my DayDream Synod idear. . . My suggestion on how such a synod might form a canon law for worship is offered as a starting place for our thinking about the question that Fr. Eckardt is asking. . .see his post: http://gottesblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/liturgy-seminar-october-14-tentative.html

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your further thinking and follow-up post, Pastor Curtis.

It's not often that I find myself in disagreement with you, but it's almost a pleasure to disagree with such an eloquent brother in Christ.

First of all, understand that I'm not ready to abandon ship at this point; so, don't misread my comments as though I've concluded that "the rest of the LCMS" has denied the faith. I actually believe, as you are implying, that most of the pastors and most of the members of our LCMS congregations desire to be faithful. That is why, even though I have said that you are being too optimistic in your idea, I tend to be more optimistic, myself, than others may be.

However, fellowship is not based upon good intentions, nor upon faith in the heart, but, as you have also described, it is based upon a public confession of the faith. As near as I can tell, you are thinking of this confession in terms of doctrinal statements and positions and a formal subscription to the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. This "confession" you are distinguishing from "practice," if I am reading you correctly. However, I would offer for consideration that the actual practice of a congregation is its public confession, or the foremost part of its confession, irrespective of what may be written in its constitution and by-laws. So, too, in the case of a synodical fellowship: practice is (a major part of) its confession.

Far my part, at least, the things that most trouble me about the LCMS are not its cumbersome and convoluted by-laws, but the sort of practices that are encouraged and supported by the administration, and the sort of heterodox practices that have evidently become the norm in a growing minority of congregations. Those practices are a confession, and the longer it stands in contradiction of the formal confessional standard identified in the constitution and by-laws, the more determinative it becomes.

I appreciate your points concerning our seminaries. However, what seminary professors teach and write, whether good, bad or otherwise, is not as significant nor as influential as what pastors preach and congregations practice. Faithful preaching, in particular, is the main hope that I hold onto for the future of the fellowship that presently comprises the Missouri Synod. Reports of poor preaching and metho-baptist-pentecostal practices are the things that cause me the greatest sadness and far more consternation than the ills of our LCMS polity and politics. The bad part about the polity and politics is that, instead of curbing poor practices, it seems more and more to be aiding and abetting them. In my atypically pessemistic present opinion ;-) Convince me otherwise, and I'll thank you for it.

For the time being, I believe that the sincerely good intentions of the rank and file are being served and supported by the good example and encouragement of those who would be most likely to form the sort of new jurisdiction you have suggested. I understand that what you envision is a relationship whereby "we" would continue to influence congregations within the LCMS, but, sadly, I am skeptical that it would work that way.

It would be interesting, though, to see if even a relatively small group of "traditionalist" pastors and congregations could come to an agreement concering a "canon law" of liturgical practice. While that appeals to me on all sorts of levels (probably both good and bad), I am wary of the temptation to establish something other than the Gospel rightly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered as the heart and center of our unity and fellowship. I don't think it's impossible to get this right, but I think it is difficult to manage and maintain. Ah, well, all good things are by grace and come only from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is cause for confidence, for boldness and courageousness.

So, dear friend and brother, help me to avoid becoming a cynical and pessemistic old fogey, and show us the way to confess with clarity and compassion.

wmc said...

It won't work. If you split from the Synod's jurisdiction, the Synod will cut fellowship ties (or more likely, will interpret the split as the formation of a new body with whom there is no formal fellowship and refuse to pursue it). You're assuming that fellowship ties remain when there is a split. They don't. The worldwide confessional Lutheran churches will still be in fellowship with the LCMS, not its splinter offshoot. What you'll end up with is yet another Lutheran sect.

Always remember, the unpardonable sin in today's LCMS is not being a team player.

Paul McCain said...

Well, jeepers-creepers, I was going to say I'd be willing to go along with agreeing to use the Common Service, out of the same hymnal [that would actually be great, in my opinion]. I was even willing to say that I would agree to use the right finger gesticulations, but only if Fritz would stop shutting Jesus up in a box on his altar.

But now that Heath's idea has been blown out of the water, forget it.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Whoa...did McCain just concede to the enduring sacramental union?

Paul McCain said...

Let's try that again....

No, silly, read my post again. Gesticulations? Sure. Jesus in a box? No.

And if you don't understand the difference, you deserve to be gesticulated at and shut up in a box yourself.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

A lot of the assumption of the difficulty of this is that the remainder-LCMS would be problematic. I think it would be too hard to gather enough Confessional Lutheran Congregations together under another banner.

Pastor Curtis put forth a standard - just use the common service -- yet how many Confession Congregations happy use DS 1, 2, or 4 and would hesitate to give them up -- or even think that they should have to get an exception to let them remain doing what they have become accustomed to. That standard wouldn't work.

But then, what it we set a looser standard of union - oh, I'm certain some people would be quite content with a "we will freely use anything contained in _____ book" standard. . . but what of the other congregations who have, shall we say, a higher liturgical heritage than what is contained in that book. Would they desire to give up their traditions?

And this is a matter of contention even among congregations that desire to be confessional and liturgical. You hit the nail on the head - the question would be how to do this without being legalistic. . . and I fear that whatever one doesn't like would be viewed as "legalistic". It would require a lot of sacrifice. . . and practically speaking, I don't think that will happen unless something happens in the LCMS that forces folks to abandon the LCMS. . . and then that sacrifice becomes a practical necessity. I'm cynical - even in the Church I think things happen more often out of necessity than a thought out desire to show love.

Which is why I would say that, whenever stuff goes down, we should just appoint Cwirla as the head potentate (by human right only) and let him set the orders for us all. That way our new synod's motto could be "Don't Panic".

Of course - I wonder if he would have the pastors wear manacles again - after all, we should always carry a towel.

wmc said...

The term is "maniples" and I'm all for it, baby.

Don't panic!

Paul McCain said...

I think the greater threat of "manacles" is from those who play the "my liturgy is bigger than your liturgy" gambit, constantly.

wmc said...

Somehow it always goes back to TLH p. 15 doesn't it?

Why that version of the 1888 Common Service Order? Why not simply some semblance of the western catholic Mass as it has come to us through the Reformation and purged of the pernicious papal errors ? TLH p. 15, LW DS II or III (forget I); LSB DS 1,2,or 3. Even 4 and 5. Zion, Detroit is fine (gotta know where the ditches are). I don't even care what instruments you use. I don't care if you swing from the rafter by your censor in a pink (excuse me "rose") colored chasubile. Just, please, a recognizable western catholic Mass. Satis est!

Did I just use the word "Mass" twice in a single post?

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Okay, I think the word you all are looking for is monacles. And what in the world does that have to do with "my liturgy is bigger than your liturgy." This is such freaking straw man Rev. McCain. Of all the people I know that have many ceremonies in their liturgy, I have never, ever heard this kind of speech out of their mouths. I happen to be good friends with them too. Where are you getting this stuff? Let's see some concrete proof. Let's see words, direct quotes, something. Everyone I know in this Synod that uses a more embellished version of the Divine Service believes that more or fewer ceremonies does not make the liturgy greater or worse. Honestly.

Todd Wilken said...

Cwirla wrote:

“It won't work. If you split from the Synod's jurisdiction, the Synod will cut fellowship ties (or more likely, will interpret the split as the formation of a new body with whom there is no formal fellowship and refuse to pursue it).”

I agree.

This says it all.

“I banish you... You’re banished.”


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Ah. . . maniples. I'd like to say that was a freudian slip. . . but it wasn't. . . just bad Latin and such.

However, the fact remains that there isn't a lot of trust amongst the Confessional brethren, and we fear those other confessionals will end up chaining us up somehow. I don't think there will be a peaceful coming together unless there ends up being something so big and ugly that we agree to circle the wagons instead of jockeying for position on the "My theology/liturgy/exegesis is cooler than yours" Trail.

wmc said...

What is being advocated here is simply a divorce by another name. It's the old "we're separated but still married" form of denial.

The fact is, we are doctrinally and liturgically undergoing an organic split in the Synod. It's like cell division. The first stages are internal, where the cellular structures polarize to one side or the other. Only at the end does a hard cell wall form. We haven't yet formed the wall, but the polarities have been happening within the synodical cell for longer than my 16 years in the ministry. I think the polarity in worship is probably the beginning of the last stage of division.

Todd Wilken said...

Have we moved from "if" to "when"?

Reformationalist said...

Dear brothers, and other observers, too:

It has been said before, and apparently it needs to be said again, that when those of us who practice and conduct a consistent, liturgical life, shaped by what we understand to represent the catholic tradition of the Church of the Augsburg Confession, as described in plain, clear, and understandable language particularly in Articles 14 and 24 of the Augustana, we are not on a campaign or proposing some sort of race to see whose liturgical life is "the best." Suggestions that we are doing such are either misinformed or else engaged in malicious mischief (for reasons that pass me by -- I just don't get it). These suggestions appear more and more the true source of any divisiveness that is occurring among us. For example, when brothers among us engage in mocking the traditional practices of others, such as the rude and and offensive description of a tabernacle as "locking Jesus in a box" (seemingly preferring, I guess, to be locking Jesus in the cupboard), the time to call a halt to such divisive talk has come. It does not serve the Church of Christ!

Fr. Robert W. Schaibley

Paul McCain said...

Bob, the practice of shutting Jesus in a box, or closet does not serve the sake of unity precisely because Lutherans, in our Confessions, reject such practices, have provided for a much better way of doing things, and have recognized for centuries the inherent problems in such practices.

Attempts to appeal to a very few continuations of such practices in a few German territories does not a case make for Tabernacles and the reservation of the host.

Pastors who insist on such practices are not malicious of misinformed. They are incorrect.

I do not see how we can hope to foster genuine unity in adiaphora [which is precisely what Luther wisely called for], to strive to do the same things, in the same way, as far as possible, is a bad idea. I think there is much to commend it.

But as your post again proves, again, as long as we are more concerned about pushing our pet agendas and theories on the Synod's worship practices, be they on the high side, or low side of the equation, then I do not believe we will be able to strive together for the greatest uniformity as possible in worship practices.

Say the black. Do the red.

If Heath can create a degree of commitment to doing one service together, more power to him. I will be the first to sign up for that. I think that is a great idea.

I would be happy if we could all agree to use even the same one hymnal.

Reformationalist said...


Sometimes, especially in light of some exchanges here of late, to which I have already given note, you really do need to come down from your own high altar and repent. Whatever justification you might find with words, the fact that you labeled a brother's piety as "locking Jesus in a box." Your words were offensive and abusive and therefore wrong. Frankly, who are you to judge -- in the manner you did -- this brother and his congregation and their liturgical practices?

Second, it would be helpful to you, I would think, if you did NOT push the "single hymnal" plea, if for no other reason than the fact that all of us know that only one hymnal is a likely candidate, and you happen to be its publisher! Not quite a position for giving an impression that you just one joe talking to the rest of us joes.

Thirdly, and lastly for me, a hymnal or a law will not bring us to an expression of confessional unity in the services of God's house. An embracing of what serves an orthodox congregation and its pastor(s) just might! I'm not talking about the Rodney King solution: "Can't we just all get along?" I'm talking about the manner in which adiaphora is recognized and utilized by the very confluence of differing-- yet traditional in the catholic meanin of it as affirmed in the Augustana -- liturgies led by men who together embrace the heart of truly reformational Lutheranism. THAT IS UNITY worthy of our pursuit!

Cordially in cruce Christi,

Robert W. Schaibley

Paul McCain said...

Bob, an individual's piety is not the point in this conversation, which is about what would lend itself to the greatest unity as possible in external rites and ceremonies in the church.