Our recent discovery of Concordia Chicago’s efforts to improve the campus environment for homosexuals or to sensitize students to the threats faced by homosexuals, however you want to understand it, has prompted me to think back to the “bad old days of the LCMS” before the election of Matt Harrison. Of course I jest about the “bad old days.” The election of a new president is not a denominational panacea, but it certainly can be a difference maker. More on that later, but first let me share the three greatest problems in our synod as I see it.
The recent Concordia social and moral fiasco reminded me of some of the BJS posts from months and years ago. There was the William Ayers controversy on the same Concordia campus, the gay activist music director out west, the woman pastor leading worship for the Texas district youth gathering, and more. This week’s revelation from Concordia reminds us that these things are going to be with us for a while and even more so, the temptation to such compromise with the world will be with us until the Day of the Lord.
There are probably better lists out there but from my perspective our most acute problems are threefold: the Concordia system’s expansion without parochialism, a mission attitude dominated by church growth principles, and a lack of episcopal oversight in parishes and districts.
The efforts to start some sort of STOP program at Concordia Chicago are clear symptom of a university system that has grown beyond its ability to maintain a confessional ethos. This growth of the university student base has been promoted as a way of bringing Christian culture into the world but many rightly understand it to be an attempt to bring in money to keep the institutions competitive and open. A Christian liberal arts education is a good thing but the price we are paying to operate our Concordias is obviously too high when the world is brought into the Concordias as much as or more so as Concordia is exported into the world.
This issue always reminds me of one of principals a few years back. He went to Concordia Chicago to get a Masters in Education. In the entire program he only had one Lutheran professor and that teacher was not LCMS but ELCA. Growing all of our programs for the sake of financing the university but then stafffing these programs with non-LCMS instructors does not qualify as offering a Lutheran liberal arts program.
The second of my three greatest problems is the changed mindset in our synod’s mission work. As in many of our parishes, the material principal for mission work is no longer a Christ-centered, cross-focused, law/gospel balanced approach but is instead fueled by the sociological and psychological principals of the church growth movement. As the poignant “xtranormal” video that we posted a few weeks ago illustrates, this approach to the church says that the Gospel is not enough for our witness.
I was told a few years back that our District Presidents spend as much as 40% of their time outside the district, attending various workshops on the latest fads available to add to the Gospel and other administrative training. I have heard more than one bishop complain about confessional pastors spending too much time on the internet, and they do have a point, but I do not see those same district presidents turning down invites to the latest “whiz bang” training session.
Speaking of which, I do know first hand of a situation where a confessional district president did just that. Our congregation “earned” a trip for two to the annual LCMS Foundation three day party and retreat several years ago. This one was on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (This annual conference by the way, is one of the biggest purveyors of the latest protestant church growth fads into the LCMS.) After a day or two I was having a drink with a synodocrat. I was becoming perplexed by the whole situation and I asked him if I could really believe my eyes that the Foundation actually paid for a people from each district to come to this “Church Growth convention.” He wryly told me to look around and notice which DP’s were not there. Not knowing any but my own bishop he had to point out that the Wyoming District President, to name one of a few, was nowhere to be found.
The third great problem I see is a lack of oversight. Pastors and district presidents (bishops) are not holding the church accountable to right practice. This is also a result of poor catecheses. There are countless congregations where ill-catechized laity have been allowed to follow the lazy, easy and compromising path toward acceptance of the heterodox teachings of open communion, unionism, lay and woman’s preaching among others. Young pastors are then called to these congregations and sometimes are able to patiently teach the word and change the theological culture over time but too often they either unwisely dictate without patient education or are simply chewed up and spit out by well-intentioned but misguided heterodox parish councils and voters assemblies. We need patient courage on the part of pastors and district presidents and a willingness on the part of the laity, to listen to sound teaching.
The encouraging thing in all of this is that the election of a patient, wise, confessional theologian and pastor to the LCMS presidency will make a difference over time. At the BJS conference I got to spend a lot of time around President Harrison. I was very pleased to see that he is a very genuine man. He is humble and gentle but also is a very driven leader. Over time I am convinced that these three major problems in our synod will begin to be alleviated. As I said above, the temptation to follow the world will never leave us, not at least until the Lord returns, but there is good reason to think that in the years to come the LCMS will elect more orthodox-courageous bishops willing to stand up for sound teaching and practice and that more and more young pastors will teach patiently, and have some new found support from the DP.
That reminds me of the fourth great problem that we face as a synod: our own sinful flesh, and among the bags of bones in confessional Lutheranism, I am the chief sinner. May we each confess our sin each day, receive God’s forgiveness and in the power of the new being created in Christ, do our part to preserve and extend the confessional nature of our beloved LCMS.