No one fights more viciously than family members. Those who leave the family are even more aggressive in their attacks upon those whom they ought to love most. We have all felt the animosity of our family members and the pain that it causes. Those who abandon the Church of the Augsburg Confession are her most implacable enemies. That move, which ultimately abandons the article of justification, causes vehement invective against the truth. It is almost as though those who abandon their mother would describe her as a prostitute. Perhaps they are just trying to justify to themselves their abandonment of the article of justification through Christ.
On the cusp of a historic convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod this summer in Houston, it is easy to feel that we have neglected the article of justification, by bruiting about the lie that we were really agreed about doctrine all along. All we really need to do is just get properly organized as a church body and great things would happen. Well, the great organizers have been in charge now for three convention cycles. The great results have been chimeral at best. And there does seem to be rising dissatisfaction and even familial animosity growing in the synod. But I suppose this is what happens when boomers begin throwing our grandfathers under the bus. The strange thing is that the synod will be confronted with a huge centralization of power in the recommendations of the committee charged to reorganize the synod (“if we could just get organized!”), at a time when younger people greatly distrust centralization of government and are much more used to the collaborative efforts that arise from the ad hoc communities built through technological means, such as the Internet and networking tools like Facebook. It seems the boomers (I am one of them!) would like to throw both Grandpa and Junior under the same bus. I am not sure that the people under forty will take it kindly.
However, this is more than a generational dispute. It really is about what it means to be a church body under the “indispensable criterion of justification.” To be a Lutheran church body we need to be asking what any particular action or “reorganization” has to do with the article of divine righteousness in the presence of God for Christ’s sake. We never get to ask that question when the gospel and justification are all presumed to be settled already. Our neglect of justification is like the joke about Ole and Lena, the long-married Swedish farmers. One day Lena says to Ole, “Ole, you never tell me that you love me. Why not?” Ole replies, “Lena, I told you that I loved you on the day we were married. And if I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.” Where the defining and constitutive teaching of the church is ignored we will neither know what the church is nor how God builds her. Where Christ and His gospel message that sinners are counted righteous through His sacrifice given for them and blood poured out for them is merely a settled matter to have been gotten through so that we can get down to the really important issues, we are in danger of ceasing to be the church. “Pastor, why don’t you talk about the righteousness of Christ given to us poor sinners anymore?” “Oh well, I said I believed in it on my ordination day, and if I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.” It wasn’t good enough for Lena. It is not good enough for Christ’s bride, the church, either.
It is no wonder, then, that conflict seems to be simmering. We are not actually talking about the things that create Christ’s church and keep the true fraternal harmony within her. Instead, we are listening to the teaching of those who despise or take for granted the indispensable criterion of the church’s existence, the article of justification. We are burning through enormous sums of money to organize conversations about organizing, when we should be about preaching the gospel and letting Christ build His church and His concordia.
(From “Memorial Moments” by Rev. Scott Murray. For subscription information click here.)