The Ever-Diminishing “Moderate” Minority in the LCMS, By Martin R. Noland

I have being wondering what the LCMS moderates have been thinking since the election of President Matthew Harrison and his fellow conservatives in 2010.  Occasional forays onto the public blog of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau (http://www.alpb.org/forum/index.php?board=8.0) have evidenced more venting and bickering than thinking.

I recently rediscovered the web-site of the “Daystar” organization, which has a new web address (see http://thedaystarjournal.com/).  Under the “Recent Articles” section, Dr. Robert Schmidt, Professor Emeritus of Concordia University—Portland, offers some reflections on the present position of LCMS moderates in his brief article “The Remnant.”  Note the elegiac tone.

On the relationship between former President Kieschnick and LCMS moderates, Schmidt states “After rallying around the initial candidacy of Gerald Kieschnick, moderates felt let down when he moved to the right and failed to champion their issues.  As a result, few worked hard for him in the last election and predictably he lost.”

What were the defining issues that Kieschnick failed to champion?  Schmidt answers “a welcoming communion table, fellowship with other Christians, celebrating the ministries of women, and patient understanding and acceptance of gay brothers and sisters.”  Interpreting these phrases in the light of the rest of Schmidt’s article, these can be tersely stated as:  open communion, ecumenical agenda, women’s leadership in the church, ordination of women, and the homosexual agenda.

I wonder how different these defining issues are from those of the left-wing of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  I can’t see much of a difference, which would mean that the term “moderate” rings hollow.  In truth, Schmidt’s defining issues ARE the issues of liberals.  Kieschnick’s position was, after all, the moderate position between the liberal minority and the resurgent conservative majority.

What will the so-called LCMS “moderates” do now?  Schmidt says “Most of those educated under Piepkorn, Caemmerer, Krentz, the Dankers, and Franzmann have now retired from the ministry.  Wearied from the battles of the seventies and the [sic] discouraged about the results of the last election, many moderates are also retiring from the politics of the Synod.”  As I have said previously on this blog, this indicates a generational change of leadership in the LCMS.

Should we conclude now that the LCMS “moderates” contributed NOTHING positive to their church from 1945 to 2010—that all the positives were on the conservative side and all the negatives on the other?  No.

We must first state clearly that the conservative’s stand on Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions was absolutely correct and necessary.  Paradigmatic examples of that stand are found in:  J.A.O. Preus’ “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” (1972), published in “Heritage in Motion” (CPH, 1998); Ralph Bohlmann’s “Principles of Biblical Interpretation in the Lutheran Confessions” (CPH, 1968); and Robert Preus’ essays in the two volumes “Doctrine is Life” (CPH, 2006) and his “The Inspiration of Scripture” (reprint, CPH, 2003).  Without this Scriptural and Confessional foundation, the Lutheran house will most certainly collapse!

But we cannot deny that the LCMS moderates had some salutary effect on their church, although it was disturbing to many folks at the time.

LCMS moderates were united in their support of the American Civil Rights movement.  The roles of Andrew Schulze, O.P. Kretzmann, and Richard John Neuhaus cannot be forgotten.  Nor can we forget the patient leadership of many African-American pastors, such as R. F. Jenkins, Joseph Lavalais, Richard Dickinson, and Robert King. The integration of African-Americans into the life and governance of this church did not come easily (see Richard Ziehr, “The Struggle for Unity” [CPH, 1999]).  Today African-Americans serve in significant and powerful positions in the LCMS, including the LCMS Board of Directors, both seminary board of regents, and as the director of Lutheran World Relief.  The integration of Latinos and Asian-Americans has followed in the wake of the African-American success.

LCMS moderates had a heart-felt concern for the urban center and its needs, which was being abandoned by LCMS congregational members.  District boards for “Social Ministry,” and operations with similar purposes, attempted to keep a Gospel witness in the “inner city.”  This competed with the interests of “church growth” executives and Willow Creek Association LCMS pastors, who wanted to move all metropolitan congregations to the outer suburbs and exult in suburban “homogeneity.”

LCMS moderates had a heart-felt concern for all types of charity and human care issues, which they continue to share with the current president, Matthew Harrison.  LCMS moderates kept reminding their church that the earliest church in the Book of Acts was heavily involved in human care, as was its chief theologian Saint Paul.

LCMS moderates were not dismissive of modern theological scholarship, unlike most conservatives.  LCMS moderates “wrestled with the giants” such as Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, the Niebuhrs, Tillich, Moltmann, and Pannenberg.  They were, in this respect, following the path blazed by C.F.W. Walther and Francis Pieper who “wrestled with the giants” of their day.  But the moderates were, fatally, overconfident in their ability to withstand the appeal and force of these intellectual giants.  LCMS moderates trained in the old educational “system” had excellent linguistic skills, but were inadequately trained in philosophy and the history of theology—or just trained wrong, truth be told!

Will the LCMS moderates now simply sail away into the sunset, or will they also leave behind a Trojan horse filled with “Greeks bearing gifts”?  Schmidt’s comment about the gates of Babylon, in his penultimate paragraph, makes me wonder.

Pastor Dr. Martin R. Noland
Trinity Lutheran Church
Evansville, IN

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