Critical Thinking — It’s an election year.
You likely read Jim Pierce’s post on the email sent out by Northwest District President Paul Linnemann to LCMS presidential electors in his district. I also received the email, since I’ll be one of the electors. It’s worth taking a second look at this email, not to pick on the District President, but to examine his ideas, which seem somewhat representative of the beliefs of many like him in the Synod. (The full text of the email was pasted in the comments section of Jim’s post.)
The author presents what he believes are the two divergent paths in the upcoming election. The first option, basically represented by President Matt Harrison (or alternatively by Vice President Herb Mueller), is a group which essentially builds a wall around the Church as a defense for the Gospel. This wall protects the Church from cultural influence. It sets limits and seeks to avoid undue error. It has the challenge of avoiding missed opportunities and avoiding communicating a message of judgment, and follows a paradigm of limitation. President Harrison is reported to concentrate the activity and authority in the church in the “office of pastor.”
The second option, basically represented by Michigan District President David Maier, seeks to introduce more people to the Gospel. It looks for points of contact with the culture in an effort to initiate conversation and is invested in opportunities. It has the challenge to avoid a message that there is no judgment and that all beliefs are equal. It follows a paradigm of empowerment. President Maier is reported to have fostered a spirit of collegiality and trust among the people of his District.
You’re obviously being led to pick a certain candidate. Whom will you choose, the limiting, cultural gate-keeper of a Synod President that we have now, or the trusted, empowering herald of evangelism represented by the Michigan District President?
It seems that a false dichotomy is being promulgated. I don’t know any Lutherans who think doctrine and evangelism are an either/or proposition. I know plenty of Lutherans who think that doctrine and evangelism are a both/and proposition.
I will take the author’s word that President Maier is the guy for you if you buy into what might be described as the church growth everyone-a-minister paradigm. No one, however, should believe his characterization of President Harrison. This is not a case of intentional misrepresentation. Instead, I believe it’s a case where the writer hasn’t listened to much of what our Synod President has said, or noted the many good things that are happening in the LCMS, and is instead making an a priori assumption that President Harrison fits into a preconceived negative notion of what a confessional Lutheran looks like.
Where it is stated that President Harrison seeks to concentrate the activity and authority in the church in the “office of the pastor,” that’s a half-truth. He seeks to uphold the Office of the Holy Ministry in exactly the way Lutherans have always confessed it. The pastor only has the authority given to him by Christ – to preach the Gospel, rightly administer the Sacraments, and exercise the Office of the Keys. Beyond that, he has no authority. The following quote from an August 14, 2012 Issues, Etc. interview illustrates President Harrison’s orthodox stance:
A shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Oftentimes when things go wrong and there’s a complaint because the people are not following pastoral authority, and that happens, and it happens because of sin, nevertheless, the pastor needs to take a look, a hard look at himself to see how he has been exercising that authority. Is the authority exercised by a leading, a leadership that is sacrificing itself completely in service, or is it self-directed, manipulative, controlling? And we’re all capable of those things. So the uniqueness about the kind of shepherding that Jesus does is that He shepherds by using His authority by surrendering it totally for the sake of others.
The email leads you to believe that the first option is an inflexible, authoritative path. That certainly is the antithesis of what I’ve seen from our Synod President. In a November 9, 2011 Issues, Etc. interview, President Harrison demonstrates a strong desire to preach the Gospel to the culture in relevant ways, while still remaining distinctively Lutheran:
The church must adapt to its times, and it’s always a dangerous thing to do so. Sometimes a person or a church might be tempted to acculturate – that is to adopt the views of the culture, and you might get the short term approbation of the culture, but you may well end up losing the Gospel in the meantime. But the Church needs to evaluate its context, its time. It needs to preach in a way that relates to people, can get the basic Law and Gospel message to people’s ears today, to be creative in going about its evangelistic tasks, to be creative in the way the Church is managed and led. Those are all things that are in constant flux and change and we must learn about, but we have a bedrock truth – Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and tomorrow, and that bedrock truth never changes.
There seems to be no hint of inflexibility in this comment from the August 14, 2012 Issues, Etc. interview, but rather a fervor for taking the Gospel to the world, using the gifts God has provided through our various callings:
The fundamental model and the fundamental word in the New Testament for pastor is poimen, and that word literally means “shepherd;” pastor means “shepherd.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the chief Shepherd of the sheep. We are undershepherds. The task of the shepherd is to shepherd the flock. He gives them the good things that are given from the Lord, Word and Sacrament, He gathers them together, He goes after the lost, etcetera. Now within that fundamental shepherding paradigm there’s room for all kinds of things, I mean, you know, equipping the saints. There’s administration. And the New Testament is full of this kind of language. Look at Paul in Romans 12 for instance. Those who lead, proistamenos, those who are standing in front, are to do so with zeal, and that in the papyri of the time, the ancient world, first century, that kind of word zelotes meant the ability to get stuff done. And so there’s plenty of room for all those kinds of gifts, abilities, and to increase those abilities. There is something called leadership, there’s sociological disciplines that are absolutely valid, but fundamentally, the Church is Shepherd and sheep. Pastors. Preachers and hearers. And if that paradigm is lost, then to the extent that that’s lost the Church is lost.
Finally, it seems highly unlikely that anyone would agree with the email’s characterization of President Harrison after listening to the following portions of an interview of him discussing mercy from an Issues, Etc. segment aired on June 30, 2009:
If you’d like to get to know President Matt Harrison better, you might consider listening to some of the wealth of Issues, Etc. interviews, all listed together here.