Letters to the Editor: A Tale of Two Synods

Subscribers to the magazine Lutheran Witness, the official magazine of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, are no doubt aware of recent improvements to that periodical. From clean and sharp graphics to new authors, Lutheran Witness has been putting out some high-quality material.

The September 2012 edition, for example, gave a frank look at the “State of the Synod,” citing membership numbers and trends, the status of the synod’s financial position, education enrollment figures, and all sorts of other facts and figures that most members of LCMS congregations wouldn’t ordinarily know. And again to the credit both of Synod and of Lutheran Witness, both the good and the bad were published.

The October 2012 issue was of a different sort than most. Titled simply, “Questions,” it was an issue dedicated to answering tough questions that Christians frequently face. Each question took roughly a page to answer and they covered many of the most-asked questions that pastors get from parishioners: closed Communion, the ordination of women to the pastoral Office, the intrusion of athletic tournaments into the spiritual lives of families (an incredibly timely question, in my opinion), cohabitation, gun control, and several others. I was personally elated to see that in each case, the answer reflects a Lutheran understanding and comports with the Church’s teaching on the issue at hand (assuming the issue is old enough to date back that far) through the ages.

The letter from Managing Editor Adriane Dorr to the reader at the beginning of the issue correctly noted that these questions might elicit unpopular answers and raise uncomfortable discussions. Nonetheless, the issue is certainly worthy for use by Lutherans who are looking for answers to their questions.

In the most current issue of Lutheran Witness, the Letters to the Editor regarding the October “Questions” issue were published. You can read them at this link. If you want a frank and real look at the state of synodical doctrine and practice, these letters speak volumes. The letters, though not incredibly numerous and not very long, reflect in painful detail the vast chasm that separates the Synod into two: those who value Lutheran distinctives of doctrine and practice, and those who don’t. This post won’t reproduce them all in their entirety (but you can view them at the LW website even without a subscription), but a few telling letters should give a clear idea of the two synods who are operating under the same name:

First, there were some who were glad to see this kind of clarity and boldness:

The recent October issue was simply the best issue I have ever seen. There is a fresh breeze blowing through the Missouri Synod: It is honesty. Finally, we’re addressing things and stopping the institutional mindset that wants to pretend as though everything is okay when it isn’t. Perhaps, the honesty and compassion shown by your magazine can be a model for all of the Synod. If so, we might become a bit less dysfunctional and inwardly turned.

Rev. David Petersen
Fort Wayne, Ind.

My initial skepticism at an issue filled with “onepagers” was quickly overcome when I discovered that these brief Q&A articles, like the Spirit’s similarly terse letters to the seven churches, each put forward a call to repentance and a call to Faithfulness–a call to hold fast and ever more firmly, in this tempestuous sea of cultural vicissitudes, to what our Lord has given, and thus to receive the crown of life–and gladness. From stem to stern, there is something here for each of us, to bring us again as whole people, religious and secular, to Jesus for forgiveness and renewal. And that is good. I deeply appreciate a Witness that challenges me and my flock in this way and turns us to the Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions for more, for life in the Word of Jesus.

Rev. Dr. John W. Sias
Colstrip, Mont.

Then, there were those who seemed a bit disappointed that the magazine entitled Lutheran Witness might publish answers that are, well, Lutheran:

If I were an NFL official, I would give the October Witness a 15-year penalty for “piling on.” Every snotty, hair-splitting policy and practice with which I have struggled in my 75 years as an LCMSer–all in the same issue! I can deal with one at a time, but all in one issue? What were you thinking?

and

It was with great disappointment and sadness that I read the letter (Lutheran Witness October 2012) from a member of a Lutheran church that had refused communion to her sister, a professing Christian.

Tied to man-made rules that do not serve Christ’s commission to us as followers of the Word, intelligent people turn away, as I did. Professional spokesmen for our faith (pastors and synodical hierarchy) create, mandate and wrap rules and regulations around their minds and hearts. They seek a God so small that He can be manipulated to do what they consider right within the church.

Thank God, I am a member of an LCMS church that is vital, growing and welcomes people to the Lord’s Supper. Our churches should reach out to everyone seeking forgiveness, solace and hope as they search for a church family in which to grow and flourish in the Christian faith.

Then there are those which need no commentary, except to say that they come from rostered LCMS pastors:

While Rev. Meissner gives a fine LCMS answer to the question of why a woman’s sister (not a member of an LCMS congregation) was not permitted to partake of Holy Communion at her LCMS congregation [October issue], the answer fails to recognize that the decision to commune a non-member is not so cut and dry.   Membership in an LCMS congregation is not the only factor that determines if a person is of the same confession that we are and is, in fact, in unity with us.  Many of my members have had children baptized, confirmed and married in the LCMS and yet now worship with their spouse in another church body.  Should they be denied Holy Communion at an LCMS table when they come home to visit?  To answer a hasty, by-the-book “yes” to that question seems to put a higher stress upon the visible unity of one’s denominational affiliation than on the invisible unity of one’s faith.

and

The October issue of the Lutheran Witness is the most biased and one-sided issue of the official publication of the LCMS I have ever seen.  Where is the “other side” of these practices, also biblically-based, for consideration of the readers?  The impression given is that these answers to questions define who the LCMS is in practice, when recent conventions would indicate these answers represent about 51 percent or even 50 percent of the Synod, and a great number of pastors and congregations see things differently.

The October Witness can result in some serious damage to many people who do not find themselves in lockstep with these positions but are part of the LCMS.  Now we pastors have to clean up the mess.  Why not present a balanced approach that recognizes godly differences and yet emphasize that we are still one.  Or are we still one?

and, lastly

In the October issue, Sandra Ostapowich offers a truly strange reason for excluding women from the pastoral ministry. It sounds more like a rationale for male privilege than for servanthood. The reasoning is without a shred of basis in Scripture. For half a century as an ordained pastor I never felt, or heard another pastor say, we were “sacrificing” such a freedom or doing women a favor by relieving them of this pastoral responsibility. Perhaps it’s time for us to reconsider the exclusion of women from the pastoral ministry. (emphasis added)

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