The phrase lex orandi, lex credendi is a compact way of saying that what you practice becomes what you teach. “Orthodoxy is… the right doctrine and the right praise of God (1)”. Or, in the words of the sainted Klemet Preus, “Our practice teaches theology (2)”.
Pr. Larry Beane was presenting on this topic at the recently concluded Brothers of John the Steadfast Conference held at Zion Lutheran Church in Tomball, TX. His excellent talk sparked an idea to attempt to ‘empiricize’ lex orandi, lex credendi using the LCMS as a case study.
There’s no claim to scientific infallibility with these findings, but they are, sadly, indicative. Here’s how we built the study:
- 60 pastors were selected and equally divided into two sets – ‘Liberal’ and ‘Confessional’:
- Liberal — 30 pastors associated with the FiveTwo network.
- Confessional — 30 pastors associated with Brothers of John the Steadfast, the Association of Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Churches (ACELC) and Lutheran Concerns Association (LCA).
- Each pastor had to be rostered with the LCMS and fulfilling a pastoral call to one of the Synod’s member churches.
- Each pastor had to have received an M.Div (SMP in one instance) from a recognized Lutheran seminary.
- Cherry picking was avoided by taking names in alphabetical order from available listings until 30 were found in each set that met the above criteria.
- Data for each pastor and his congregation was harvested from the LCMS worker and church database. Numerical data for the churches was current for year-end 2014.
RESULTS AND OBSERVATIONS
For the first observation, I examined the association of each pastoral set with the seminary that issued their M.Divs. Whilst the Confessional set exhibits more diversity in seminary training and age, it is evident that there is increasing polarization between the two main seminaries. St. Louis has, especially over the last 13 years, become a generator of Liberal pastors, whist Fort Wayne is the Confessional redoubt.
For the second observation, I tested the association of each pastoral set with liturgical and contemporary worship (CoWo) services:
For the third observation, I sought to test whether doctrine was affected by practice. The supposition was that we should find evidence of heterodox doctrine as the natural companion to CoWo. Yes, that is a somewhat redundant since the adoption of CoWo is by nature heterodox, and so is affiliation or collaboration with the FiveTwo shadow synod. However, we set those two issues aside and created a more explicit test based on the content of each church’s Web site and sermons. Items that triggered a heterodox rating included any of the following:
- Explicit false teaching.
- Open communion and / or infant communion.
- Lay preaching.
- Bible studies using heterodox and / or heretical sources such as Rick Warren, Beth Moore, Francis Chan, Hugh Halter et al. (Those specific authors are actual examples from the research).
- Small groups or “life groups” with lay led Bible studies.
- Purpose driven ideology / strong works righteousness flavor with an emphasis on life application and exhortational preaching.
- Children excluded from “adult” services.
We can, therefore, conclude that there is a strong correlation between CoWo and heterodoxy. Practice has, indeed, informed doctrine.
Given the wide gulf between the two sets, we sought to better define the character of each by examining congregational data reported to the Synod.
The results are disturbing, suggesting that the Synod now exists largely as a historical legacy rather than a church body united in doctrine, practice, and mission. The LCMS has devolved into a confederation of shared assets with some common interests.
The demographic and resource differences are fertile ground for increasing politicization of Synod affairs, and provide the contours of many conflicts and disputes within the LCMS.
Don’t get too knotted up by what this data portends. “A critical look at our ecclesial environment must not lead us into despair or into self-righteousness, if we remember the words spoken to Peter after his confession: The gates of Hell shall not prevail”(3).
Note to penultimate table: there is a large difference between Liberal and Confessional congregations when measuring the ratio of average weekly worshippers to baptized members. This is mostly a function of the location and legacy of the Confessional congregations, most of which are in very small towns with older members. Rural congregations are also prone to losing their young members to city life, but those members often remain on the rolls rather than transfer their membership. Overall, the difference is mostly eliminated when it is compared location-to-location.
Klemet Preus provides a fitting conclusion:
When the service is viewed primarily as our praise and adoration of God, then the purpose of the sermon is to move the hearers to praise God. That means that the preacher must be persuasive and inspirational. He knows he has preached well if the singing is robust, the praying fervent, the praise boisterous, and the mood happy. Have you ever gone to church and gotten excited about something but weren’t exactly certain what you had learned about Jesus? That preacher may have a wrong idea of the direction of the communication in the Divine Service.
If the service is primarily God speaking to us, then the purpose of the sermon is to teach the doctrine of salvation. That means that the preacher must be a student of the Bible himself and communicate the truths of God faithfully and clearly. He knows he has preached well if the people learn about Jesus. Have you ever gone to church and left without feeling particularly excited, but later you realized you learned something? That preacher may have the right idea of the direction of the communication in the Divine Service (4).
(1) Ziegler, Roland F. (April 2002), Concordia Theological Quarterly, “The New English Translation of The Book of Concord (Augsburg/Fortress2000):Locking the Barn Door After. …” page 164-165.
(2) Preus, Klemet I. (2005-01-01). The Fire and the Staff (Kindle Locations 2259). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
(3) Ziegler, op. cit page 165.
(4) Preus, op. cit. Kindle Locations 2753-2760