Great Stuff Found on the Web — Why?

Found on GottesdienstOnline:


By Larry Beane

As a postscript to Fr. Curtis’s advice on advice, I would like to offer some of my own.

Actually, I don’t really have advice so much as some questions. In the video below, two of my brother pastors are giving the same advice that I would also give a new pastor (and I frequently do). In no way am I questioning their wisdom. Like I said, I agree with this advice in general – which is what a YouTube video is: general advice.

I believe the only way to keep a man in the ministry – a man who has devoted four years of his life, possibly his family’s life, four years of seminary and church resources, financial and otherwise to train for the holy ministry – is to really be careful about making changes in the parish. I think most of us in the ministry have seen and experienced the heartbreak of classmates and friends, brothers in the office, who have quit or been run out of their parishes by trying to change something. And so, to new graduates, we all counsel “festina lente” – make haste slowly – especially in matters of worship.  It is such universal advice as to be cliche.

In the video, the second pastor speaks of things that will make the new pastor “uncomfortable.”  I think he has hit on something very profound.  Pastors – especially new pastors – can expect “discomfort.”  He doesn’t mean that the temperature might be too high in his study or that his shoes don’t fit well any more.  Rather, he is referring to things that will cause a pastor spiritual discomfort, discomfort in his conscience, in what he knows is right, in his being hamstrung from leading and teaching what he himself has been led and taught to do. For that is what many of our seminary graduates find when they are sent forth to their primary congregations. In some cases, these men will be shocked and scandalized by what they will find.

In spite of the fact that, as Fr. Duddleswell pointed out from the BBC series “Bless Me, Father,” it is an “ugly Protestant word,” I am going to ask: “Why?”  Why are pastors uncomfortable in theology and practice, and perhaps must remain so for years, decades, or even their entire ministries?  Why?

Why do we teach men in seminary that we in the LCMS practice closed communion – not because it is policy, not because it is in the handbook, not because some bureaucrat or convention (popes and councils) have decreed it by parliamentary fiat – but because it is the right and proper thing to do, the biblical thing to do, the Christian thing to do – only to then tell these men to act immorally, contrary to the Bible, and against what the church has always done – once they get into a real parish?

This is the very definition of dissonance.

Why do we pledge to norm our teaching by the Book of Concord, which unambiguously confesses against infrequent communion, and is actually quite clear that the Holy Sacrament is to be offered at least weekly – only to pull the stilts out from a man and encourage him to violate the confessions (at least for a spell) he has sworn to uphold as soon as he actually gets a call?

Why do we train seminarians meticulously in the theology and practice of the liturgy only to tell them to yield to their congregation’s wishes (even if it is just for a while) to abolish it if that is what they encounter when they leave the seminary’s bosom?

In any other context, we encourage people to keep their vows – even if it is unpopular. We never counsel a seminarian or newly minted pastor to cheat on his wife if that’s what is going on in his parish (at least for the time being), until he has “earned their trust,” until he has led Bible studies, preached sermons, and distributed CPH tracts on marital fidelity for a period of months or years.

We don’t encourage pastors to ignore the commandments the way we encourage them to ignore entire articles of the Augsburg Confession (at least until enough catechesis has happened).

Why do we educate our pastors about the importance of these matters only to tell them they are not actually so important to actually do them when they actually get a call – in the interest of not being a “bull in the china shop” or not being “winsome” or some such?

Again, I am not encouraging anyone to be a “bull in the china shop.” The situation is what it is. If you go into your first call and immediately institute every-Sunday Eucharist, abolish non-liturgical worship, or close down the “y’all come” communion statement, there is a right good chance you will swiftly be CRM, unemployed, or maybe even divorced. You might be moving back in with your parents and looking for a fast-food restaurant that is interested in hiring M.Div.’s who washed out of the pastoral ministry.

But again, I am asking “why” this is.

I think the answer is this: we don’t believe Walther.

Yes, that’s it. And I’m not a particularly big fan of Walther.

But we give grandiloquent lip service to Wather’s Law and Gospel. We use the very words as almost a mystical incantation, even pronouncing it in some cases as “Lawn Gospel”. It is as Lutheran as brats and beer. But here is the problem: if a congregation (or a subset of members) refuses to accept a pastor’s instruction and exercise of pastoral shepherding – be it for closed communion, frequent communion, or liturgical worship – they are sinning. It may well be a case of a small faction of the congregation that is leading the charge against “the new guy” who wants to “change” how “we’ve always done things.” Not only are such parishioners sinning by endorsing unbiblical practices and/or violating their own promises to abide by the Lutheran confessions, but they are adding rebellion against authority and impenitence to the mix. And if things get ugly – as they often do in these situations – rumors and attacks on reputations, gossip and slander may start flying around the parish.

And so we tell the pastor just to sidestep the whole thing, go along to get along. Back up ten yards and punt. Hopefully, you will get the ball back in the fourth quarter (i.e. when you are nearing retirement and the antagonists in your parish have all gone to their eternal reward).

We do not counsel the pastor to call the sinners to repentance. We do not encourage the pastor to – in Walther’s words – give “not one drop” of the Gospel to the impenitent. In fact, we tell him to do the polar opposite: to yield to the sinner. It’s just easier. It’s less trouble. The paychecks keep coming. The seminary doesn’t have egg on its face. It keeps the DP off your case. And you get to look “pastoral” and “wise” in not confronting the sinner.

But I want to ask again, “Why?”  Why do we ignore Law and Gospel in this case?

And to that question, I think the answer may be that we believe Walther a little too much. Poor C.F.W. just can’t get a break!

I think much of the problem is our Waltherian polity. Pastors are not just beholden to, but dependent upon, the very people whom he is expected to call to repentance. It is not unusual for the biggest donors to be the most demanding, the loudest and pushiest of those who object to things like liturgical worship, closed communion, and weekly Eucharist. Often the very people leading the charge to compel the pastor to tolerate sin are the ones the pastor can ill afford to tick off.  The sheep corral the shepherds.  Hebrews 13:17 is turned on its head.  The pastor is a hireling.

Moreover, the pastor is caught between the pincers of the congregation and the district office. In our current polity, the District President wields considerable power. It may be apocryphal, but I’ve heard a quote attributed to Dr. William Weinrich that our district presidents today enjoy powers that Roman Catholic bishops can only covet. If a pastor causes headaches for his DP, the DP can in turn blackball the pastor – even if only informally, by dropping a name or raising an eyebrow.

And so new pastors are told from every source imaginable: the congregation, the district president, the seminary, and yes even from Gottesdienst editors – make changes “slowly” – a pace that might even be so slow as to not make them at all.  Gospel reductionism covers a multitude of antinomianism.

But woe to you, Pastor, if you do not heed this advice even if you heed your conscience. You will very likely be eaten for lunch. Your reputation may be trashed, you might lose your salary, your district president may put you under restriction, your former professors may pretend you don’t exist, your colleagues in the ministry may click their tongues when they talk about you, and you might even find yourself depressed and on psychotropic drugs.  And you would have plenty of company.

And like the poor vicars who are compelled against their consciences to speak the Words of Institution over bread and wine, nobody in the seminary or the ministerium or the synod bureaucracy will help you. In their defense, they cannot. Our polity leaves pastors (and those training to be pastors) twisting in the wind.

In fairness, there is not much anyone can do other than mourn the loss of our friends while secretly thanking God that it isn’t us that has been devoured.  This is our dirty little secret.  I don’t have any answers nor any advice of my own other than to reiterate our Lord’s pastoral advice to the apostles to be “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16) and St. Paul’s pastoral advice to St. Timothy: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine” (1 Tim 5:23).  The former advice is paradoxically theological, while the latter is therapeutically practical – even as both are biblical.

And as Fr. Curtis says, your mileage may vary.

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

Norm has been involved behind the scenes in many of the "go-to" websites for Lutherans going back many years.


Great Stuff Found on the Web — Why? — 11 Comments

  1. Required reading for seminary students. Back in the day a guy named Lew Brighton used to give us realistic glimpses of what we should expect. Good post, Steve Sommerer

  2. Well, advice to new pastors seems to have changed a little bit on the Gottesdienst Online. Here’s an excerpt from their May 21, 2009, blog, “How A New Pastor Should Add Ceremonies“:

    “Some ceremonies should be added by the new pastor without asking. He should just do them. If the people fuss he then says, “Oh, I thought that was the way it was done everywhere. That is what I grew up with/had on vicarage/saw at the seminary, etc. What is wrong with it?” Depending on the ceremony there is a very good chance the parishoner who raises the concern will say, “Oh, nothing. I just hadn’t seen it before.” Then you can go on with it. The other advantage is that it often takes a couple of months or more before they point out that you are doing things differently. By then it is fairly established.

    “Two words of caution: you have to be prepared to back down on adiaphora and you can’t take the people’s word for what their practice was.”

  3. It seems to me as a poor layman that there is an unasked question that is important to the equation, i.e. how did the congregation get screwed up in the first place such that errant practices must be corrected? The answer: they were misled by prior pastors who either taught them incorrectly and promoted these practices or lack thereof, were too fearful of confrontation to correctly teach their flock, or were too lazy to be bothered. I have seen all three. Lest I appear to be giving the laity a pass I note our Berean responsibility to stand up and have our voice heard when we recognize we are being given a stone rather than a loaf and demand to be taught rightly. We are all like Churchill and love to learn but hate to be taught. We have to get over ourselves and be willing to listen and if we have questions, to do so with gentleness and respect.

  4. “We use the very words as almost a mystical incantation, even pronouncing it in some cases as “Lawn Gospel”.

    But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! – Lawn Gospel

    “I think much of the problem is our Waltherian polity. Pastors are not just beholden to, but dependent upon, the very people whom he is expected to call to repentance.”

    I think this is a bit of reductionism regarding Walther. The problem is not the recommended polity but the failure to implement it fully. If LCMS looked a lot more like the full polity/practice described in Church and Ministry many of the problems listed would be rare.

  5. James,

    I agree. This is Walther reductionism.

    First of all, to reject Walther is to reject Luther. The guts of Church and Ministry are countless direct quotes from Luther.

    Secondly, it is quite clear from Walther that there is no authority in the church except Christ and his word. Let’s apply this to the closed communion example given by Rev. Beane.

    There is nothing wrong with a pastor early on in his call to preach and teach against open communion. When he does, he may get people reacting against this teaching and who come to him. He may also find out through the years that there are other people who are communing at his table that are not properly catechized.

    In each case, there is a long, patient process of teaching that is called for. This means lots of visits with the erring people and lots of teaching from the word. Rev. Beane sets up a false dichotomy of either banning all the errorists immediately and a too long period of teaching. It just does not need to be that way nor is it in reality. Discovering error and then dealing with it is a long slow process.

    I recently had an adult catechumen ask me if her beleif in abortion would keep her from being confirmed. Her son was taught that week in our day school that abortion was a sin and she was troubled by this.

    I did not answer her question. I did not need to. Instead, I asked her to prepare for a long, drawn out discussion with me over the word on this matter. It turns out that my patient approach really made a strong positive impact on her. A week later, in just five minutes after our third of sixteen catechumenate classes, she was convinced by the word of the sin of abortion. I did not think it would happen that fast but it did, thanks to the Holy Spirit.

    Walther’s Wordcentric polity worked again. I had no authority over her other than the Word and she had no authority to resist me other than the word.

    I might add that Rev. Beane is one of my favorite Lutherans and I would recommend his blog to all. He is wrong however, in joining in the false charicaturing of Walther’s polity.

  6. Excerpted from Dr. Walther’s First Presidential Address – 1848 (translated by Rev. Prof. Paul F. Koehneke, Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, April 1960, pp. 12-20):

    “Can we, therefore, my brethren, be depressed because we in our American pastorates are endowed with no other power than the power of the Word and especially because no other power has been granted to this assembly? Most assuredly not. This very fact must arouse us to perform the duties of our office and to carry on our present labors with great joy; for in this manner the church also among us preserves its true character, its character of a kingdom of heaven; in this manner Christ remains among us as what He is, the only Lord, the only Head, the only Master; and our office and labor preserves the true apostolic form. How could we lust for a power which Christ has denied us, which no apostle has claimed, and which would deprive our congregations of the character of a true church and of the true apostolic form?”

    “Even though some congregations may use the liberty they possess of rejecting our recommendations even if they are salutary; thereby they indeed deprive themselves of a blessing. But what would be the result if such congregations by their entrance into our organization had obligated themselves to submit to all of our orders? The exercise of our power would have laid the foundation for constant dissatisfaction, for constantly reviving fear of hierarchical efforts, and thus for endless friction… In our Evangelical Lutheran Church, however, we must preach to our congregations that the choice of the form of government for a church is an inalienable part of their Christian liberty and that Christians as members of the church are subject to no power in the world except the clear Word of the living God. There the above mentioned disastrous results are certainly to be feared from any restriction of the liberty of the congregations, especially in a republic such as ours is.”

    It is not just the Waltherian polity that is a problem for Loeheists in the Missouri Synod, but also the Scriptural doctrine of church and ministry, exposited in the Lutheran Confessions and in C.F.W. Walther’s Kirche und Amt, which is the position of the Missouri Synod. This is the reason that Wilhelm Loehe finally severed his relationship with the Missouri Synod in 1853, although many of his Sendlings helped organize or joined the Missouri Synod.

  7. Holy cow, I got Vehse agreeing with me. Where did I go wrong? I retract everything I said in the above comment.

    Just kidding Ricky! 🙂

    Your quote about the congregations that do not follow the salutary Waltherian advice is excellent and to the point.

  8. @Pastor Tim Rossow #7: “Holy cow, I got Vehse agreeing with me.”

    Well, based on his 1840 book, Dr. Vehse would have agreed with and thankfully supported what President Walther said in his 1848 synodical address, just as Walther, at the Altenburg Debate, had acknowledged Vehse’s Protestation document as “a precious gift of God.”

  9. Just wondering if the cat picture Pastor Rossow is what you want to put out there. Every time I see it I think crazy cat lady…can’t even focus on thread…

  10. What if the “new guy” is really the interim guy, and what if he’s all but dropping the liturgy? And what if you, as a concerned parishioner, ask the elders what is going on and you are told that although he’s not opening with the invocation, he’s not including a psalm, he’s not doing the confession and absolution at the beginning of the service as was customary, but is moving it to just before the Lord’s Supper, he really is still doing the liturgy, just in a different order. Seriously, what do you do? This service has used contemporary worship music many years, but we have always followed the liturgy. In less than a month we’ve gone from a liturgical, albeit more ‘modern’ service, to the worship leader opening with an Evangelical-style prayer and welcome, announcements or some sort of ‘mission talk’ during the offering, and other American Evangelical trappings. Since we are vacant, but just installed a church planter/associate pastor, and have an interim pastor, I don’t know who is in charge. And not ever having been interested in church politics until now, I don’t even know who to address with my concerns. I have literally wept in 3 of the last 4 services, because I feel as if my church has been stolen away from me.

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