Critical Thinking — It’s an election year.

June 8th, 2013 Post by

Your-Vote-CountsYou 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:

 

Right-click here to save MP3

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.


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  1. Wyldeirishman
    June 8th, 2013 at 23:07 | #1

    Having been under President Linnemann’s pastoral care prior to his election as NWDP, I can assure anyone reading this that the information being presented here is correct, and I say this without even a shred of animosity for the man (who baptized our daughters).

    As the man unabashedly stumped for former SP Keischnick, I don’t believe adding anything to what’s been written would matter overmuch…only that progress is never neutral, and the casualties that follow suit in a “missional” purge are very often those who are drawn to the Lutheran Church for the exact OPPOSITE of what’s being advanced and advocated.

  2. helen
    June 9th, 2013 at 07:04 | #2

    @Wyldeirishman #1
    only that progress is never neutral, and the casualties that follow suit in a “missional” purge are very often those who are drawn to the Lutheran Church for the exact OPPOSITE of what’s being advanced and advocated.

    What interests and appalls me is that the faction which claims to be for “church growth” is so anxious to get rid of church going people… who don’t happen to agree with their ideas. If they are truly anxious to preach the Gospel, why not start with the people who are there!?

    It’s like, “The only way to ‘modernize’ the Lutheran church is to get rid of Lutherans!” If that makes the Lutherans give up and quit, will some subsequent preacher reach out to them as the “unchurched”? [That word has more meaning than I thought... but not the liberals' meaning!]

  3. Jason
    June 9th, 2013 at 07:07 | #3

    helen :“The only way to ‘modernize’ the Lutheran church is to get rid of Lutherans!”

    Hey, it’s been working great for e_ca!

  4. JoyfulNoise
    June 9th, 2013 at 18:50 | #4

    Mr. Dieckmann said: 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.

    I pray that’s the case and not the contrary.

    Helen, your post is spot on.

  5. Wyldeirishman
    June 10th, 2013 at 11:41 | #5

    @helen #2
    Agreed. It’s as if a self-perpetuating revolving door mechanic is the de facto modus operandi, over and above Law and Gospel preaching.

    Being mission-minded OR confessional remains the great false dichotomy, then. That’s the read that I’ve always gotten from DP Linnemann, at any rate; the “choice” is between the one or the other, and “doctrinal purists” are basically fighting the air.

    *sighs*

  6. David Moseley
    June 10th, 2013 at 16:37 | #6

    Why is Herb Mueller Challenging President Harrison? From what I know they are both conservative.

  7. Jason
    June 10th, 2013 at 16:54 | #7

    @David Moseley #6

    It is not uncommon to have the 1st VP also nominated. In some respects, it is good, because then only one real challenger can make the top three. But then the opposition only has one candidate, and not split the vote. But then again, if he doesn’t really excite the other side… Also, if the only challenger isn’t as exciting in general, the mushy middle will likely vote for the incumbant.

    All in all, I really expect Pres. Harrison to win. He always had may vote, since the day I was selected to be my congregation’s delegate to district, no matter who was all nominated.

  8. Martin R. Noland
    June 11th, 2013 at 12:58 | #8

    Dear Mr. Diekmann,

    Thanks for your excellent review and criticism of DP Linnemann’s letter. I was thinking about doing something like your post, but you hit the main points, backed them up with factual evidence, and I couldn’t do better. I particularly appreciate the line-up of great Harrison audio clips from “Issues, etc.” Great job, Scott!

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    In Mr. Diekmann’s post, I think we can see some advantages that have come to the “rank-and-file” pastors and to all the laymen of the LC–MS due to the World Wide Web and its tools (with many thanks to the editors at BJS and Norm Fisher too). In spite of complaints that we often hear from church officials about the Internet, it has many salutary uses for the church.

    Here is what I mean: In order to judge the factuality of what they were told by church officials, previous generations of pastors and laymen had to keep huge stacks of “Christian News” and “Affirm” in a closet somewhere, with some indexing of the former to help; as well as copies of “Reporter” and the Witness. Nowadays, with superb search functions on the Internet, you can find almost anything online in a few minutes, if you know how to search.

    So when some disgrunted church officer or pastor says things about the synodical president, it doesn’t take long to check it out for yourself. Mr. Diekmann’s post proves that DP Linneman’s letter does not square with the facts about the President of the Synod.

    Mr. Diekmann rightly criticizes the false dichotomy between “mission” and “confession” that Linnemann projects onto the LCMS. This false dichotomy was propagated in LCMS circles by F. Dean Lueking’s book Mission in the Making (CPH, 1964), and is still being repeated today. The book is useful for its details, but its dichotomy thesis is simply wrong.

    Rev. Lueking was a leader in the pro-Seminex forces in the LCMS and, by the way, took his congregation Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, out of the LCMS after they installed a Seminex graduate there. The false dichotomy between “mission” and “confession” is part of the old Seminex propaganda.

    I had the opportunity shortly before I was terminated at CHI to give a paper to an LCMS mission society in Saint Louis. I showed them from the official Wittenberg “Consilia” of 1664 that the orthodox Lutheran theologians were, in fact, very mission-minded and they put the burden of sending missionaries on the princes and councilmen of the cities, who had the money to send them. Orthodox Lutherans have always been “mission-minded,” but their missions have often been “squeezed out” due to global politics.

    One example of Lutherans being “squeezed out”, and then I will finish.

    New Sweden was a colony founded in 1638 by the Lutheran Swedes in what became Delaware. Mission work among the Indians was part of the plan. Rev. Johann Campanius translated the Small Catechism into the local Indian language, and it was later published (500 copies in its first printing) in that language, for mission work among the Indians. Global politics interfered, however, since the Dutch (who were Reformed) took over New Sweden in 1655, and then the English in 1664 (who were Anglican).

    This pattern was pretty typical around the globe, where German Lutherans, Swedes, and other Scandanavian Lutherans tried to do mission-work, but the Dutch, Spanish, or English took over and stopped the mission work. When Loehe’s colony was founded in Frankenmuth, Michigan, it also had Indian missions as part of its plan. It was having some good success, too, until the federal government forced the Indians to move west.

    There are many stories that can be told about Lutheran missions, including many great stories about LCMS missionaries. When you are in Saint Louis during the weekday, go visit the LCMS International Center, and go down one flight of stairs to the “CHI Museum” that is there and open during office hours. A quarter of that museum is devoted to telling missionary stories. Delegates and guests to the convention in July should take the time to visit the CHI Museum, if they can work it into their busy schedule.

    For a sneak peek of the CHI Museum, check out President Harrison’s 5 minute guided tour here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-cQ3lznedQ ).

    Thanks again to Scott Diekmann, for a really superb post!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  9. June 11th, 2013 at 18:47 | #9

    Thanks for your comments Dr. Noland. I wish the Consilia Theologica Witebergensia was available in English.

  10. Dana
    June 14th, 2013 at 18:36 | #10

    Thank you so much for writing this! Now I know who our Pastor is referencing in his sermons as he has been preaching against those who want to stay closed “up in their towers.”

    I also wonder, though, why more LCMS Lutherans are not commenting about the emergent church’s role in this. I took over our church’s Board of Christian Education one year ago when I had never heard of the emergent church. Since then we have been fighting many curriculums introduced by our Pastor, from a Leonard Sweet inspired confirmation (a lot of you probably know which one I’m talking about) to multiple Leadership Network studies, as well as contemplative practices promoted to our youth. I think we can thank Dan Kimball for those. One of those practices occurred at the High School District Gathering and possibly started at the National level.

    Yes, our Pastor is enrolled in PLI as he was able to snow the church council at the time into believing it would be good for him and the congregation.

    Anyway, what we are seeing is not the old confessional vs missional struggle in the LCMS. We are witnessing intentional chaos. This is stand on The Word Christianity vs change so the world likes us, let’s forget about the real gospel and make the world a better place missional.

    Please look into Brian McLaren’s latest project with Mesa. http://www.mesa-friends.org. They have announced the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, October 31, 2017, to officially be the end of the Reformation ear and beginning of the “Catholic Counter-Reformation.”

  11. June 14th, 2013 at 18:42 | #11

    Thanks for your comment Dana. McLaren’s latest project sound like the subject of a future post!

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