During the 1970s in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), the “liberal” faction referred to itself as the “moderates.” Richard John Neuhaus advised against this term, observing dryly that the LCMS never did anything in moderation. I always thought that, contra Neuhaus, and in the context of world Lutheranism, the term “moderate” was pretty close to the truth.
The Lutheran moderate was someone who appreciated the scholarly veneer of the higher-criticism of the Bible, but who also believed in the basic assertions of the creed, including the divinity of Jesus.
The Lutheran moderate was someone who appreciated the social advances of feminism, but who balked at the thought of homosexual activity being approved by the church.
The Lutheran moderate was someone who believed in “open communion,” but who agreed with Luther that the body and blood was received by communicants.
The Lutheran moderate was someone who, most of all, wanted to be involved in the ecumenical movement, first with American Lutherans, then with other Christians all around the world (e.g., see the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology).
History has bypassed the Lutheran moderates, both in the LCMS and in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
As I have written previously at the “Brothers of John the Steadfast” website, we are now seeing a passing of a generation in the LCMS (see my posts at Nomination Numbers: What Does This Mean?, My Salute to the Passing Generation of LCMS Leadership, and What does this Election Mean? )
This means that the moderates’ hopes and dreams for the LCMS are now, practically speaking, a lost cause.
The 2009 convention of the ELCA, which institutionalized the ordination and marriage of homosexuals, means that, practically speaking, the moderates’ hopes and dreams for the ELCA are also a lost cause.
At least for the next generation, the LCMS is going to be affirming and teaching the plenary-inspiration-and-inerrancy of Scripture and the normative authority of the Lutheran Confessions.
The LCMS will continue to affirm and teach the traditional social conservatism that has characterized the Lutheran church, due to Luther’s view that God has ordained the left-hand kingdom and its particular vocations (as described in the Small Catechism), including the unique relationship of husband and wife.
The LCMS will continue to affirm and discuss the issue of “closed communion,” and its practice will vary, but Luther’s complete doctrine of the Lord’s Supper will be affirmed and taught as found in the Book of Concord.
The LCMS will continue to reach out in love, mercy, and fraternity to fellow Lutherans around the world, but continue to remain at arm’s length from those Lutherans whose agenda agrees with the ELCA.
For its part, the ELCA will follow the left-wing of the Democratic Party wherever it goes.
The ELCA will harbor those in its fellowship who deny every traditional doctrine of the Christian church.
The ELCA will expand its notion of “church fellowship” to include non-Christian religions.
And, to the complete abhorrence of moderate Lutherans, the ELCA will become one of the centers for propagandizing the “Christian homosexual” movement around the globe, using “mission monies” and its colleges and seminaries for that purpose.
How do I know what the ELCA will do? I am a graduate of Union Theological Seminary-New York (a.k.a. UTS; 1990 M.Phil.; 1996 Ph.D.), which is also the alma mater of ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson. I lived at UTS for four years. I know exactly the aims and goals of UTS professors, graduates and their networks. I sat in their classrooms, read all required and suggested books, and discussed theology, world religions, the ecumenical movement, social justice, feminism, and the gay movement with anyone willing to talk civilly to an LCMS pastor.
The LCMS position has the advantage of being biblically and confessionally consistent. The ELCA position has the advantage of being socially consistent, i.e., “politically correct.” The moderate Lutheran position has no such advantages and never did.
What, NOW, for the moderate Lutherans?
It will be too hard for them to admit that their position was an amalgam of various teachings and practices that were joined together because they “felt good.” That would require abandoning their hopes and dreams, which they cannot do, because their ties to these things were emotional, not logically consistent.
More likely, the moderate Lutherans will join together in a moderate Lutheran church-body, expressing their hopes and dreams in their constitution, with clear limits, so that the future members of their church will not fall into the LCMS or ELCA ways-of-thinking-and-doing.
There are seeds of such a church-body in the Lutheran CORE Network; the Word Alone Network; the Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ; and the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau; as well as other groups and small church-bodies not mentioned.
This will only work if the leaders of these smaller groups can put the needs of their people and churches first, their egos second, and pool their resources.
If they don’t institutionalize their hopes and dreams in such a church-body NOW, starting in the next couple of years, those hopes and dreams will die with their owners. I say this, not to be mean, but to give them a fair warning from my perspective as a historian.
The clock is ticking . . .