(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four part series from Pastor Preus. All of his posts can be found archived in the Brothers’ Cafe.)
It’s been a couple of months since one of the district presidents referred to liturgical pastors as “Museum keepers.” I thank God he is not my district president. I know a pastor in Wisconsin who uses the liturgy and traditional hymns once a year on Reformation Sunday, but he calls it heritage week. I thank God that he is not my pastor. I know a pastor out west who has promised that he will not sing more than one song a week written before 1950. I’m glad that he is not the pastor of my congregation. And I know a mission program which is predicated on the belief that “What has been done in the LC-MS toward the work of evangelizing the world pre-Ablaze has failed.” I’m glad that Ablaze! is not my mission program. Wait a second. I guess it is mine. I am a member of the synod and so is my congregation. This is my program.
And that’s a big reason why we will not live up to our potential. Ever since its inception Ablaze! has implicitly required me to believe that until now we have failed. And I will not believe this because it is untrue, unkind and prideful. You can’t expect a program to enjoy buy-in from those required to support it when it means those very people have to disrespect their fathers and grandfathers. I won’t do it. And apparently lots of other people whose fathers and grandfathers were heroes and saints of yesterday will not do it either.
But there is one more underlying problem with Ablaze!. And this reason more fundamentally explains why Ablaze! is stalled and the synod is confused about speaking the message of Jesus.
In Ablaze! we have separated doctrine and practice. Sorry to harp on an old theme but that is what we are doing. We have place an “and” between our doctrine and practice and we need to get rid of the “and.” We need to “Ban the And.“
Here’s the doctrine: God sent His Son to live and die for the sins of the world and rise again. He makes His gospel – message of Jesus and sacraments of Jesus – powerful to whomever it is applied. He wants all men to be saved by this gospel. He has appointed some to be apostles some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers to do the work of the ministry. He honors all Christians with the charge to confess the faith and tell others what he has done. All confessional Lutherans believe, teach and confess these doctrines.
Here’s the practice: Teach and confess that God sent his Son to live and die for the sins of the world and rise again. Teach and confess that God makes His gospel – word and sacrament – powerful to whomever it is applied. Appoint pastors/teachers to do the work of the ministry. Honor all Christians with the charge to confess the faith. Teach everyone the catechism so that they will know what to confess and how to tell. All mission-minded Lutherans learn and confess these doctrines.
Wait! It appears that the doctrine and practice are the same. They are almost indistinguishable. That means that a confessional Lutheran and a mission-minded Lutheran are the same thing.
This is so because you can’t confess the faith to no one. There has to be a listener. And the minute someone listens you have doctrine applied in practice. You can’t have a mission without sending someone who has something to say. And the minute you do you have a practice which applies doctrine. You can’t be mission-minded without being confessional and you can’t be confessional without being mission-minded. There is no such thing as a synod which is “Confessional and mission-minded.” Confessional is mission-minded and mission-minded is confessional.
In the past Lutherans understood this and the word “Confessional” was used to embrace both the doctrinal and practical sides of our identity. If you were “Confessional” of course you wanted everyone to hear and know the confession. And if you were “mission- minded” of course you wanted everyone to hear and know the confession. Everyone in the synod was both because you can’t be one without the other. And everyone was content with the adjective “confessional” to embrace both our doctrine (the content of the faith) and our practice (apply the content to people).
It’s like loving your wife (doctrine) and kissing your wife (practice). If you have the correct marital doctrine you’re going to have the correct marital practice. I don’t think it matters if we refer to “loving husbands” or “kissing husbands.” We simply need to know that there is one kind of husband – a loving, kissing husband.
It’s like being a Cardinal fan. You go to the Cardinal games (doctrine). Fans go to games. You also love to talk about the Cardinals (practice). Fans talk. You can’t separate the two. It’s hard even to distinguish. You yell at the games (practice) while Albert Pujols hits a home run (doctrine) and then you go home and tell your friends (practice) what you saw at the game (doctrine).
Now someone has added the word “and” between “confessional” and “mission-minded” as if you can be one or the other. And this little word “and” has caused great division in the church. It’s even underlined so that you cannot escape the conclusion that we are divided.
We need a new mantra in our synod if we are to be confessional Lutherans. “Get rid of the ‘and.'” We need a no tolerance mantra. BAN THE “AND.” Once the “and” is gone we can forgive its offensive nature and begin to work together as our fathers and grandfathers did. BAN THE “AND.”