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.