I received in my inbox an email circulating among delegates to the 2013 LCMS convention. The writer of this email (a district president) articulates his impressions of three nominees for synod president, including the incumbent Matt Harrison. The email’s author is quick to set up a dichotomy from which he argues “two distinct paths” the synod can choose to go down depending upon who is elected synod president. According to this DP both paths taken “are best understood in the way they relate to our current culture.”
The first path, which presumably represents the current synod president, is one which puts the synod into conflict with the culture at large. As the email’s author states, those on the “first path” (representing Matt Harrison) “sees the church as reacting against the culture – making a defense for the Gospel before those with whom we disagree.” On the other hand, those on the “second path” (represented by Rev. David Maier according to the DP writing the email) are those who “sees the church as seeking to engage the culture in conversation in an effort to introduce more people to the love of God in Jesus Christ – making a witness for the Gospel to those who don’t know Him yet.” For the writer of the email the choice is clear. The dichotomy he sets up is one where Matt Harrison embodies a reactionary synod acting against the culture at large, versus a synod which is engaging and permeable to the culture around it. What interests me, for the sake of this article, is the later distinction.
What does it mean to say that the synod should be engaging “the culture in conversation”? This whole idea of “seeking to engage the culture in conversation” is one laden with the sort of thinking coming out of the Church Growth wing of the synod. The idea of engaging the culture is one of being permeable to it. That is, those promoting this “second path” envision a great exchange transpiring between the Church and the pagan culture it is in “conversation” with. The question becomes what then should the Church receive from this great exchange with the culture around us? After all, this interchange of information, ideas, and thoughts transpiring through the “conversation” implies that the Church adopts something from the culture. Otherwise it looks impermeable, reactionary, and at conflict with the culture. Importantly, what is the LC-MS supposed to be adopting from the culture around us in order to look like a real stakeholder in “the conversation”?
The implication with the dichotomy set up by the DP is that those on the “first path” aren’t willing to let go of, or back off of, their apologetic responses to the culture where the Church and the culture really are in conflict. For example, do we want a synod that remains silent in light of the mass murdering going on in America via abortion? Should we stop speaking about the sin of homosexuality, and so-called “gay marriage,” because that puts the synod into conflict with half of the culture willing to tolerate such sin?
Is it being suggested with this “second path” that we must compromise the pure Gospel in order to “engage the culture in conversation”? This sort of notion that we must give up something in doctrine and practice, or make our doctrine more appealing to the pagan culture around us, misses a critical point. The pagan culture around us is dead in sins and they hate God. The cross is foolishness to them and it always offends them when preached in its purity. Of course, these facts don’t mean we should not be involved with the cultures in which we live. Obviously we aren’t to become monks. We are after all in the world, but not part of it. By the way, the Church is commissioned with the proclamation of the Gospel and not in holding a conversation with the pagan culture. See the difference?
I will conclude with what I have written in other articles, which doctrines must we make “permeable” (compromise) to the world around us in order to become “all things to all people”, or to “engage in the conversation”? How about this idea? Why not be faithful to the Holy Scriptures and our Lutheran Confession to the extent that along with Martin Luther we can say,
“Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Rather than be so worried about what the pagan world thinks about the Church and its doctrine, let’s stand firm and lovingly pronounce the Gospel in its purity to the world around us. Jesus has given us the message to deliver and it is solely up to God the Father who He draws to His Son through the preaching of the Gospel. To paraphrase the words of a past synod president; how about getting our doctrine straight and getting the message out? I believe the clear path to take is the one where we as a synod are faithful to the pure Gospel given to us by Christ and we fearlessly deliver that pure message to the culture around us.