04 July 2012

Abraham and Lot, the 4th, and the Future

I thought about trying to be highly witty and begin this post with the words "When in the course of human events..." but no, I'm not quite that witty this morning.  Besides, what I am now going to suggest is not a violent dissolution, nor anything that needs be done.  Rather, I will suggest a course of action that I think would be a wise use of our freedom.

I write as a Lutheran who happens to be in the Oklahoma District of the LCMS.  Oklahoma is an interesting district.  We have all stripes - some of the most liberal folks in the Synod, some of the most conservative - we have some of the highest, most ornate worship, and we have some of the most contemporary, the most baptist styles.  And yet, we are at peace: I hear of terrible fighting and discord from other districts -- or if there is civility they speak of it as though it is a great surprise. 

At first my hope had been that every district would be as mine is -- small, only 80 or so congregations, where all the pastors know each other by name -- and without property to speak of, where all district positions are part-time and volunteer -- acts of love to the brother pastors and sister congregations.  Without the property, without the large purse to control, without the institutional belly to fill, we live in peace.  There is no haranguing, there is no bitter fight for control because we do not have anything of note to control. 

But I fear that this will not come to pass in the LCMS as a whole.  There is too much wealth invested to be disbanded and given away.  The Oklahoma model will not work, will not bring peace.  The powers that be in our institution would not give up their status - not enough, not gladly.

Thus, I have a new proposal.  Consider Genesis 13.  When there is strife between Abram and Lot, when they are fighting over the land, the resources, what do they do?  The separate in peace.  Lot goes one way, Abram the other.  And they part not in bitterness, not in contention - but in peace.  Indeed, Abram still rescues Lot when he is attacked, still prays for him when his Sodom is destroyed.

What I propose is this.  As there are two general wings in the LCMS - one which wishes to maintain a liturgical focus (be it high, low, fancy or bronze) and one which wishes to be more flexible and dynamic in worship style so as to appeal to as many as possible - let us split.

And let us do so blindly -- let us find two men, two committees to craft a description of the style, the order that would be self maintained.  And then let every congregation choose one of these ways and go.  And then let the Synod and her districts be divided proportionately...  Seminaries and Universities and District headquarters all divided and redistricted to fit as the two new bodies will need.  Let the name "Missouri" go with the majority - let the minority take a new label as they will deem proper.

And then, let us maintain fellowship.  Let us maintain a joint health and retirement plan.  Let this be a matter of institutional sundering -- and if down the line 10, 20 years theologies have completely diverged, so be it.  If then it means that one would rather seek greener pastures with the ELCA or NALC, so be it.  If it means one would rather seek the pastures of the old Synodical conference to be re-established, fine.  By that time institutional drift would let either or neither of these happen as an obvious matter of course - a gentle separation instead of a violent (and wantonly glorious) break.

And why do I think my idea is good?  Because no one would be happy.  Those who love to tout numbers and earthly glory -- well, the numbers would look bad either way.  Those who want the glorious ousting of the louts -- well, we would still maintain fellowship with them for a time, even as the institution divides and stabilizes on it's own.

Let there be a peaceful split.  Let each side think they are Abram looking on foolish Lot... but letting Lot be Lot with a shrug and in goodwill letting him go his own way, praying that it will not be too hard on him when he falls and struggles.

This is indeed a no win solution -- but the purpose is not to win, but rather to allow peace... peaceful growth, or perhaps the peaceful road to folly and ruin... but peace, peace without a Synod divided, with people demanding that others walk with them down a road the one believes best, the other believes ruinous.



Rev. Eric J Brown said...

And as a note, I am on vacation with spotty internet (between Grandma's and time on the road, who knows when I will have good access) - so while I am not a bit verklepmt, still, discuss amongst yourselves for a while.

Susan said...

"And then let every congregation choose one of these ways and go."

What happens when a congregation itself is split? Or if the pastor and the congregation have quite different views? It might be a congregation who has a pastor leading them in a baptisty direction, and yet they continue to honor him because God set him in that office over them. Or it might be a congregation who has been happy existing as a community church, and then is given a pastor who is leading them toward the liturgy and more frequent use of the Sacraments. In either scenario, having the congregation "choose which way to go" could be decidedly unpeaceful.

Joanne said...

Because you are neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth. If the OK district is as diverse as you describe it, if it were healthy, there should be great turmoil there. The fact that you have 80 congreations milling around a train wreck in polite composure, is a sign of something really wrong in Oklahoma. No sins here, just differences in taste.

I'm not buying it. And if the lambs and the lions are lieing down together in harmony in OK, why are you talking about a division of the land? Have you already decided who's going to get Sodom and Gomorrah?

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Dear Eric:

This seems to be Marquart's suggestion of a peaceful divorce. I think it is a good idea - though it would be received by the leadership with the same enthusiasm as any centralized government welcomes secession (there are a few exceptions to the "Our Secession is Patriotism, Your Secession is Treason" rule, but they are exceptions).

What you are proposing is for Czechoslovakia to dissolve itself into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It could work - but it doesn't have a very good track record in America where we see "Bigger Is Always Better" (which is part of the problem with factions looking for "church growth").

I think it is an idea worth pursuing.

However, I disagree about remaining in fellowship and being bound by common bureaucratic ties related to retirement plans and such. Like parents often have to ask their children rhetorically on a hot day when the air conditioner is blasting: "Are you outside or in?"

The problem is the perception that difference in style is not a difference in substance. If this is true, then there is no reason for the Great Divorce. If it is true, there is no reason to be bound together by the marital bonds of fellowship and financial ties.

It's almost like you're proposing a divorce in which the parties continue to share a bank account and a bedroom. I think it would be healthier to go our separate ways and be done with it.

Interesting proposal! If I were witty myself, I might say something about pledging our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. But that kind of talk makes our King Georges a little nervous. :-)

WM Cwirla said...

Back in the early 1990s, I participated in an informal discussion on worship with representatives of various "groups" in attendance. It was part of what came to be called the Napa Conferences, a gathering of differing viewpoints around a common agreement of good food and fine wine, which can't go too wrong. At that time, I proposed the "amicable divorce" solution that our brother suggests above. I do believe our attempts at Evangelical "style" with Lutheran "substance" have led to irreconcilable differences among us. I see nothing changing in my own PSW district as well. And it's not just the older Baby-Boomer, Seminex supporting crowd, which is mostly retiring or dying off. It's the younger vintage of pastor coming up through the ranks with a strong dose of emergent edginess and leadership pragmatism. The gulf widens.

The question is whether isolated we will be stronger or weaker. The neo-confessionals have a penchant for eating their own, and if you throw the paleo-conservatives into the mix, mutually assured destruction is almost inevitable. On the other side, the new bunch is much more prone to excess and error without the curbing influences of conservative orthodoxy.

My fear with such an amicable divorce is that the neo-Evangelicals will spiral right out of any semblance to Lutheranism even as they grow in numbers while the neo-confessionals will dwindle in number to the point of irrelevance. As in the political world, conservative movement always offer resistance by their very nature. They need their opposite as a raison d'être.

Also one must ask the obvious, as we do when couple divorce amicably: If you can be so friendly in divorce, why can't you stay together for the sake of the kids?

Rev. Larry Beane said...

We have to determine just how much infidelity we're willing to put up with "for the sake of the kids." In the fallen world, married couples headed for divorce do have to consider things like insurance and job security. Sometimes it may be the reality to stay in a bad (or even abusive) marriage for the sake of convenience, finances, or as a lesser evil.

It may be that in the LCMS, the devil we know may be better than the devil we don't know. But as Uncle Remus says: "But then again, it mightn't!"

What we pretty much do now is focus on our own congregations (and like-minded congregations and pastors) and sort of operate as shadow-synods. There is not a lot of fellowship going on between the factions - except for the "bi-factional" element that "swings both ways" when it comes to worship practice. But even in that case, there tends to be a hardly-closeted preference for entertainment worship, and at best a grudging tolerance of traditional worship.

But then again, did anyone ever say that the church would grow and prosper at the time the Lord returns anyway? Should we expect anything other than a remnant as time moves forward?

Come Lord Jesus!

WM Cwirla said...

At our Napa Conferences described above, I used the analogy of cell division to describe the state of things in the LCMS. While this was fifteen or so years ago, I think the analogy continues to hold quite well.

During cell division, there is first an internal sorting and division of things, beginning in the nucleus. Only near the end does a cell wall dividing the two cells become apparent. My point was that while things seemed somewhat fluid within the LCMS, there was definitely a polarization around the issue of worship that would eventually lead to an inevitable division.

I asked the question regarding amicably staying together only because someone inevitably will. I'm fairly convinced that we are all quite entrenched in our positions, and the divisions among us have progressed far beyond nuclear mitosis. Perhaps, as our brother has suggested in his post, we have come to that moment of unvarnished honesty when we finally say out loud what is fairly obvious to even the most casual of onlookers.

What I am not so convinced of, however, is whether the traditional side can actually come together into something cohesive. I have no doubt that the neo-Evangelical side will coalesce quite nicely, as they are pretty much open to "whatever works." I'm just not sure that the neo-confessionals together with the older paleo-conservative brothers will be able to achieve a suitable consensus, given the number of hobby horses that are being ridden.

This is the real challenge behind Pr. Brown's piece. Can we come up with a workable confessional consensus?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Joanne - if my synod were just Oklahoma, I wouldn't be thinking of separation. We are at peace. We don't have the turmoil and political wrangling that I hear from friends in other districts -- and while there are some theological differences that can and ought to be hashed out... we can do so calmly in Oklahoma because there is no property/money at stake. All of our elected positions are unpaid, volunteer offices held by folks still serving in the parish -- we have no full time staff. And, as we all have our own parishes, we are too busy to try and micromanage our neighbor's parish, or come up with plans or visions in order to justify our office job.

Like I said - I'd love it if every district were as we are... because we aren't a train wreck. The rest of y'all and the national Synod... well, that's another issue.

Also - I'd imagine both sides, if there were a split, would be assuming that the other would be going to Sodom.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think Rev. Cwirla's cell division example hits the nail on the head... and the joint insurance, etc. would be a temporary thing to let the division move more slowly and less contentiously. Also, the fellowship would be to help keep some influence, some impact... to let each "side" go their own way with their own resources without wasting so much time and effort in the struggle for resources.

I'm not saying that this divide would be a doctrinal necessity (hence, keep fellowship)... instead of a "divorce" think more about kicking the 32 year old artist out of the house and making him get his own apartment. You love him, you help him, but dang if you just don't want to listen to his crappy music any more.

Joanne said...

You're not at peace, you're at an equilibium. And yet your chemical makeup indicates that you should be in turmoil, boiling over. The sectarians are converting your children and stealing your churches. I wonder if Eve was any more beguiled by the talking serpent. Then again, before someone gives up, they first stop caring. Baptist, Pentecostal, Luthean, we'll all get to heaven.

The last time we had that "let's separate thing" both sides believed they were the true Lutherans. But, once free, the side that left and joined the LCA, ALC, actually became the core group for forming the ELCA.

If we knew we were losing these people to gross false doctrine, would we have fought sooner and for a longer time to keep more of them.

A classmate whose faith in the Bible I never doubted got carried away by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The fool now is trying to fight abortion from within the ELCA. Did he ever belong there?

If you dissolve the Lutheran church in Oklahoma, how many of the congregations that go away will still be Lutheran in 20 years. None? Seeing them then totally Pentecostal, and no longer just playing at it, would we do more now to keep every Lutheran congregation in Oklahoma?

Or as the French King Henry might have said, Oklahoma is worth a mass. We will contest for all 80 congregations in Oklahoma to bring them back into the fold rather than rue not having done it 20 years from now.

There is a remnant in every congregation, do not abandon them to the sectarians. Fight for them.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


We are a Synod -- a group of congregations and pastors who are to be like minded - walking together. If we aren't walking together... that doesn't mean we "fight" -- it means we go our separate ways. Errorists are not my enemies to be crushed -- they are brothers and sisters who are straying, and they should be corrected gently, and if they will not listen to correction, let them walk.

Or in other words -- we ought defend the doctrine, we ought to speak truly -- but wrangling over institutions and money... not so much.

I also think... well... you don't know much about my district and might be projecting things.

(And note, see, I'm still dealing gently with you, even though your tone is purely polemical and you give no factual basis for your assertions. Sound and fury...)

Susan said...

I wonder if Jesus ever let anybody go away?

Joanne said...

You sound too tired to fight, or is it too tired from fighting. A ship is just fine, until another ship fires a cannonball across her bow. Your ship holds many confessional Lutherans, the remnant in every congregation.

I've known for many years many Oklahoma Lutherans and my urgency stems from knowing how bad the faith gets in churches that leave our synod. It seems when they leave it's such a small problem, but that remnant can find itself in very strange doctrine land fairly soon.

I am related to Oklahoma by affinity and in-laws that I love. I've been attending church in Oklahoma since 1964 way out in the wheat fields around Enid. I care about the remnant and think they are worth the fight.

Go for the teens first; use the Higher Things group.

There is a resignation in your voice that sets me on edge. There are medications that can help with that. There is a host of angels waiting on your call, there is a cannonball that needs to be fired, and Higher Things needs to be invited in, going to San Antonio needs to be discouraged among your youth.

If I take the medication, I won't care either. OK can just slip off the Lutheran radar. But, you can care and do what is in your Path to do. And, you can exhort others to do the same. Be the prophet that troubleth Israel.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Dear Eric:

Maybe you could clarify your "Sound and fury" comment.

Is it related to the line from MacBeth: "it is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing."?

If it is, I would like to express my disagreement, and would like to commend Joanne for giving us a lot of food for thought. I find her comments thought-provoking while not being provocative - IMO.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Susan: And the young man went away sorrowful, for he had much money.

I think we have gotten these false Kingdom of Glory dreams, where we will be the avenging angels of God setting the Synod right, winning everyone over. No. That shouldn't be our concern. Our concern should be confessing the faith, being faithful.

I am simply wondering if the fighting for the institution is... worth it, or if it would simply be better to each go our separate ways.

Joanne: "You sound too tired to fight, or is it too tired from fighting" I would say that you sound like you are itching for a fight. I don't see enemies to be defeated... they are at worst brothers to be restored. Being Quarrelsome isn't a good thing.

Also, I think you have missed the point of the original post -- why would Oklahoma fall off the radar... what would this have to do with just Oklahoma? This would be a Synodical thing... I'm not saying "Oklahoma should split" - I'm saying, "Since the Synod won't be like Oklahoma, let's split the whole kit and kaboddle."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Cwirla asked: "Also one must ask the obvious, as we do when couple divorce amicably: If you can be so friendly in divorce, why can't you stay together for the sake of the kids?"

Question of retort: What if your wife is crazy and keeps taking the children's bread money and blowing it on trashy romance novels? In that case, getting her her own house where she only blows the money that she herself earns might be better.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

One other quick question.

Why would this be a "Divorce"? Divorce is a highly loaded term. God hates divorce - it is a sundering of what God has put together.

The Synod isn't a marriage. The Synod isn't "Church" -- it is a human organization. Organizations split all the time: companies spin off one division or program into a separate entity all the time.

David Jay Webber said...

Synods do have a "churchly" character, because they are (or should be) the ecclesiastical "walking together" of congregations and pastors. A synod is the cooperative shared work of sister congregations and brother pastors. Kurt Marquart used to say that churches don't stop being church when they work together. This is why it's a problem when a congregation or a pastor are yoked together in a synod with other congregations and other pastors who are going in different directions - who do not share their commitment to what the work of the church actually is.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

In 1530, Lutherans were wrestling with church fellowship and our recent split with Rome. I think the Augsburg Confession continues to speak to this issue of fellowship within the Church as well as the larger issue of what the Church is.

"And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike." (AC 7)

There is a built-in tension here that we have to negotiate.

In and of itself, ritual diversity does not break fellowship. However, when the deviations in style bleed over into the "doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments," the unity of the church is already broken.

Our confession wisely differentiates between a liturgical legalism that micromanages rubrics, but by the same token, clearly acknowledges that ceremonies are clearly linked with doctrine.

This line of reasoning is shown in AC Conclusion 5: "Only those things have been recounted whereof we thought that it was necessary to speak, in order that it might be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part against Scripture or the Church Catholic. For it is manifest that we have taken most diligent care that no new and ungodly doctrine should creep into our churches."

The wisdom of our fathers has left us a gray area to navigate. One faction argues that style has nothing to do with substance, while the other claims a tightly-knit relationship. The AC Conclusion confesses the latter.

If one holds to the former, than anything goes in worship. If one holds to the latter, than there are certain lines that, if crossed, break fellowship. The latter seems to be the self-defined and confessed position of Lutheran Christianity.

Beyond a certain point, ritual diversity breaks fellowship in the same way that abandoning a spouse breaks a marriage.

The bureaucratic recognition of such a broken fellowship is really a secondary issue. I think there is a de facto break in the LCMS. I doubt that members of the coffee shop congregations are going to attend High Mass at Zion, Detriot, and vice versa. Even without an official "divorce" there is an unofficial "separation."

And maybe that's just how it's going to have to remain. I see no way to reconcile the two diametrically opposed premises that 1) Style and substance are separate, and 2) style and substance are intertwined.

Both can't be true at the same time.

David Jay Webber said...

"In and of itself, ritual diversity does not break fellowship. However, when the deviations in style bleed over into the 'doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments,' the unity of the church is already broken."

That exact question is the topic of this recently-published essay, if anyone is interested in taking a look at it: http://www.redeemerscottsdale.org/pdf/WebberWalkingTogether2012.pdf

David Jay Webber said...

Here it is in hyperlink: http://www.redeemerscottsdale.org/pdf/WebberWalkingTogether2012.pdf