(Editor’s Note: Norman Teigen’s posts will be archived on the Regular Columns page under the heading “Checking in from the ELS.” The ELS – The Evangelical Lutheran Synod – is a small confessional synod headquartered in Mankato, Minnesota. We here at BJS hope that at least in some small way Norman’s columns will bring confessional Lutherans together. He is not officially representing the ELS so his posts should not be taken as such. For more on the history of the ELS click here.)
The Guidon Factor by Norman Teigen
Members of the ELS do not currently express optimism about a rapprochement between the LC-MS and the little Norwegian Synod. Just about everyone who was around when the two synods split (which action was initiated by ELS and not Missouri) is now dead. The leaders of the ELS who were seminarians or young pastors in 1955 and who later ran the Synod for a time are now at least a decade past holding office. These men are in the waning years of their lives. The attitudes which led to the split and which perpetuated it for a half century are likely to linger on as organizations are run more on memory than current reality.
It would seem to me, at least, that the ELS should be ready to review the reasons for separation and to perhaps suspend the suspension. The reasons for the break-up of the old Synodical Conference, according to a fairly recent WELS study, centered around the Boy Scouts of America. Now with the Boy Scouts not being taken seriously by anyone, the kids, the parents, the Methodists, and even the Lutheran Church-Missourians, it might be time to review the history of the issue and perhaps discover that maybe there is more to unite us than to divide us.
There is of course the big F principle, the big Fellowship. What fellowship is and how it is applied is a big deal for old time ELSers. The Fellowship Principle in the ELS means that one must apply the full load of buckshot in practice. There is no room for nuance and careful evaluation of the values and motivations of other Lutherans by the ELS. Nuance is an unknown word in the ELS.
There is certainly no impetus within the ELS today to restore friendly relations with the Kieschnickean Missouri Synod. Some in the ELS see Missouri as being totally Kieschnickean. Others perceive that several Missouris must exist and that Kieschnickean Missouri is the apparent, but not necessarily the actual, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The number of Missouris in Missouri may not be known even to the Missourians themselves.
The idea of a synod itself is under review and discussion by Lutherans within and without the lines of the old Synodical Conference. To some a synod is a historical relic of pioneer days. Synods were useful in building church structures which would provide educated pastors to far-flung congregations. Now that the times and circumstances have changed there is no need for perpetuating the political bodies known as synods. A synod is today an entity of buildings and budgets and programs and money. The ELS, although less than one half the size of the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, has acquired the mind-set of the bigger dogs in the dog park. One pastor says that the little Norwegian Synod should rename itself as the Evangelical Lutheran $ynod.
The Kieschnickeans and the ‘Confessionals’ are seen by some in the ELS as the only sides in Missouri. Some ELSers think that the kooks of Missouri are the same as the Confessionals and these folks fail to differentiate between the Kieschnickeans and Jesus First on the one hand and Cascoigne and Otten on the other. If these are indeed the two divisions within Missouri then it seems that there are the scribes and pharisees on the one side and the publicans and sinners on the other.
There is a perception within the ELS that the Missouri Synod is the only reliable source in publishing and scholarship. Missouri has the money and the spirit to do this work which benefits many beyond the bounds of Missouri itself. A past generation of ELS synodical leadership has abandoned the idea of theological scholarship. The ELS now prints sermon collections of these old leaders instead of studies in the Lutheran Confessions.
There is always, of course, hope for unity in the Word. Synodical resolutions may create barbed wire fences which keep the groundlings from finding spiritual sustenance when they move or travel. But the unity of spirit among Christians is too elusive for containment.
There is one more idea which I wish to consider in this context and I call it the Guidon Factor. A guidon is a flag which identifies a military unit and distinguishes itself from other units. My guidon was the First Aviation Brigade. Other guidons would have been the First Cavalry Division, the Americal Division, the 173rd Airborne, and the 24th Infantry. There was an Air Force flag and a Navy flag and a Marine flag with many individual unit guidons identifying smaller units within the larger. Each unit had its own guidon but we all knew that the national flag covered us all.
I see guidons at work among the Lutherans. For some Lutherans the guidon is an individual thing, something that is considered to be vitally important to the over-all cause, but an individual thing. I see people parading around the compound of Lutheranism with Jesus First, Time for Grace, Lutherans for Life, Christian Life Resources guidons. Some guidons are of ideas: The Missouri Position on Church and Ministry, Natural Law Theology, Anti-abortionism, and Sanctity for Life. These no doubt important,but ultimately self-serving impulses focus on one area of human concern often at the expense of the larger question of the faith itself.
Some old Norwegians in Chicago, worried about the troublesome effects of alcohol abuse in their community, joined in the name of the faith, a temperance society. The leaders wisely, in my opinion, advised the zealous and sorrowing Lutherans, not to continue on with the organization within their group. The church mission was to preach the gospel and not to ameliorate harrowing social conditions. People of faith can join organizations of great civic virtue on their own. There are two kingdoms and they must be kept separate.
A more valuable set of guidons that unite Lutherans in separate synodical entities are the guidons of the articles of our faith. These guidons are all united in the flag of Christ’s love and grace which transcend all understanding and works of humans.