Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Pitfalls of Lutheran Ecclesiology

Over a year ago, I explored the dangers of evangelical ecclesiology specifically within the modern church growth movement, with its emphasis on vision casting pastors as the central hub around which the congregation revolves. Moving onto today, I want to highlight certain issues within the Lutheran system of church membership, which despite being a vast improvement , leaves the door open to congregational and leadership abuses. What follows is a few observations based on the stories of Lutheran friends, and is not meant to constitute a system wide study of any Lutheran church body as a whole.

1. Though I value  a democratic system of church government, it works best when everyone is moving in the same direction. In churches which are negligent about Lutheran catcechesis and instruction, confessional pastors are often unprotected from Christians who want to smuggle evangelical doctrine in under the radar, and form sectarian groups within the church to challenge his office. Thereby church democracy becomes a weapon in the hands of non-Lutherans to throw out Lutheran distinctions, and force the pastor to compromise on the truth with implicit threats to his own well-being. To combat this abuse, I would suggest changes to the church by laws whereby congregational participation depends on adhering to catechical studies, with those who refuse to participate losing their membership benefits including altar fellowship.

2. Strict adherence to church protocols not mandated by Scripture is hurting the sheep and allowing wayward pastors to go unchallenged and uninvestigated. This erroneous idea that pastors have no obligation to suffering Christians in other churches within their synod, who are faced with domestic violence , false teaching, and isolation, is quite frankly cowardly and irresponsible. Christians who cry for help should expect to see godly, ordained men to step up and show some leadership, questioning sinful behaviour from other pastors and congregations when that church fails to exercise biblical methods of church discipline. In cases of domestic violence, outside parties should be educated in the ways abusers use lies to manipulate pastors and congregants to isolate the innocent party, so that in future the victims will not be treated as an equally guilty party in a failed marriage. Interchurch and parachurch organisations like the LCMS taskforce on domestic violence and Boz Tchividjian's GRACE should be consulted, and their literature and speakers made available to every church to prevent abusers gaining a foothold in the church.

3. Stop outsourcing biblical counselling to non Christian third parties. I've been made aware of several LCMS pastors who rather than perform their duties to counsel Christians with besetting sins are shipping them off to the godless world of psychiatry where sins are labelled as "mistakes" or "disorders", and rather than being confessed and absolved sins are medicated against by whatever the world considers to be this year's wonder drug. If we seriously believe that Scripture and our confessions alone are our source for biblical wisdom, then we should stop seeking the wisdom of this world, and in particular psychoanalysis, for counselling in areas of Christian life where the works of Freud and Jung or modern psychiatry journals have no authority to speak. Pastors are called to lead God's sheep with Word and Sacrament, not psychiatrists.

4.  Faithfulness to confessional documents in certain Lutheran church bodies has within the last year wavered, especially in the light of the #fivetwo movement, seemingly without any external action from church leaders apart from the occasional Facebook sound bite that talks tough. In reality whole circuits, DPs and pastors (as in the case of #fivetwo) can deviate from our confessions without lasting temporal consequences so that silence is often seen as a tacit 
approval of more missional, non confessional movements within Lutheranism.
As an antidote to breakaway movements I suggest that more help and theological training be offered to assist church elders whose role is to watch over the church's teaching and practice, and if necessary to take action against the erring with the application of proper church procedures. Further training would encourage, arm, and deepen church elders ' knowledge of our confessions and give them more tools for battling false teachers among their congregations to the betterment of God's elect and the reputation of the church.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Glory Hounds

Luke 20: 45- 47
And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples,  “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,  who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
2 Timothy 4: 3
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.
Luther's  1518 Heidelberg Disputation:
Thesis 21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” [Phil. 3:18], for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.
A theologian of glory craves applause, and the respect of congregations above the purity of God's Word. In so far as the two polar opposites conflict, he will choose the plaudits of goats over the other out of fear of ruffling their feathers and losing his livelihood and place in the community. Such people who exist amongst the Office of the Holy Ministry are the shifting sand that buckle in times of trouble, suffering and persecution.  Christians, true to God's Word, often find themselves isolated and abused in a church populated by goats in all manner of ways, when the cowardly theologian of glory aping the role of pastor leaves suffering Christians to their fate without comment or reply. His preaching lightens sins to the vocabulary of "mistakes" and reduces the gospel to how Jesus made us happy so that any painful or potentially 'upsetting' talk of Law, God's Wrath against sin, or eternal damnation might be relegated to the lower leagues around the coffee table so that itching ears might continue to be amused by his repertoire of parlour games and anecdotes.  Against such superficiality that leads people to hell, true Christians speak out for church discipline and reform to his irritation, which demands respect and an unblemished reputation where none is deserved as he surrenders God's Word and the confessions to the postmodern hordes for whom truth is relative and who all agree to disagree on the fundamentals to their ruin.  The kingdom of the theologian of glory is never built to last.  Jesus won't tolerate its soiled existence among the true lampstands in his kingdom and would rather tear it loose from his branches, than let it inflict his people further with its thorns and briers.  In such places there will be no clapping of hands, but an absence of God's Word as he refuses to grace such temples of man made glory with his presence, and leaves them to their sacraments of ash.