You Could Learn a Lot from a Dummy

dummiesThis post takes its title from the 1980s’ U.S. Department of Transportation ad campaign to get people to wear seatbelts.  They showed you a crash using test dummies and then this tag line.  In the 1990s Big Brother gave up making nice and revealed the iron fist behind the velvet glove.  “Click it or ticket.” Put it on or pay up.  It’s ironic, perhaps moronic, that I sitting in a 4,000 pound automobile surrounded by metal and air bags must wear a seatbelt but the guy on the less than 1,000 pound motorcycle surrounded only by air doesn’t have to wear a helmet. You think I’ve digressed, but it’s not nearly as far as you think. This post is about learning from dummies.

The dummy to learn from is Voltaire.  I say he is a dummy because “When Voltaire was asked how he, who denied God, could take Holy Communion, he replied that he ‘breakfasted according to the custom of the country’” (Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, 299).  Yet even from this dummy we can learn because he also famously said, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

Many posts ago I spoke about the principle of authority among Roman Catholics, the Reformed, and Confessional Lutherans.  I said you could know what the principle of authority in each group was by what you were not allowed to criticize.  In Rome it’s the papacy, in the Reformed its reason, and among Confessional Lutherans it’s suppose to be the Bible.

This fits in with Voltaire’s observation.  Because the Pope rules over Catholics as sure as the proverbial bear eliminates in the woods.  And reason surely rules the Reformed who can’t get past the finite being capable of the infinite in the Person of Christ. And the Bible use to rule all Confessional Lutherans as sure as higher criticism was allowed to walk out of the LCMS 40 years ago with not so much as one attempt at rapprochement.

I said the Bible use to rule because as of 1999 CPH brought back higher criticism by publishing Dr. James Voelz’s What Does this Mean?. Under the banner of reaching the postmodern world Dr. Voelz’s was allowed to criticize Scripture saying among other things that it was lot more like a waxen nose than some thought (page 221, fn. 9).

But it was really the 2004 Synodical Convention that dethroned Scripture.  There it was decided that the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) was bound not by Scripture buy by resolutions and received CTCR reports.  There it was also decided that if you had the permission of your ecclesiastical supervisor you could not be criticized for what you did. They actually said you couldn’t be brought up on charges. I phrased it the way I did to show you that if you can’t criticize a person who has the permission of his ecclesiastical supervisor than you really aren’t allowed to criticize the latter either.  “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” In 21stcentury Missouri Synodom you can’t criticize the CCM or ecclesiastical supervisors, but you can criticize Scripture.  Who’s the dummy now?

So what does that have to do with the digression about the government having seatbelt laws in all 50 states and helmet laws in only 19?  You can still criticize our government, but you still can’t criticize the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or Bill of Rights. Pastors and people of the LCMS have less freedom to question their theological leaders than they do their political ones, and more freedom to criticize the Sacred Text than the secular ones.


Comments

You Could Learn a Lot from a Dummy — 12 Comments

  1. It is always an interesting, and revealing exercise, to identify what cannot be challenged, debated, or contested in any given time or place.

    Doesn’t take long to deduce the implications, either. Thanks for the exercise.

  2. Don’t know about Voelz, but you have surely tagged the 2004 convention correctly!

    Immediately after that one, the first of my CRM friends was forced out because he put Scripture over the convention resolution that women might be Elders/congregational Presidents and thereby supervise the Pastor.
    He’s long ago out of the ministry, of course.

    Since our elected leadership holds its seat as long as it wants to (or has its nose severely out of joint, if not) how different are they from episcopacy? “Law” certainly comes from the top down and for some time didn’t even pretend to be based on the Bible/Lutheran Confessions.

    As I read it, the CCM in 2004 and thereafter was bound only by the whims of the SP then, who does not take criticism well, as I have reason to know, from one encounter.

  3. @helen #3
    They’re different from episcopacy in that they have to keep running every three years, which means they have to hone their political vs. their ecclesiastical skill set. They become the Borg, not the Bride of Christ.

    It’s sort of like living together rather than being married. Because the Synod/District could chuck them out at any convention w/ next to no paperwork, there’s a lot of pandering going on.

    Yes, yes, yes church polity IS adiaphora, but if you breed dogs for 10 generations to create long silky fur, don’t be surprised if they can’t hunt as well as their progenitors. If you have (a perfectly allowable in a Biblical sense) polity that rewards political acumen, don’t be surprised if our leaders are no longer churchmen speaking the truth w/ boldness.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  4. @Matt Mills #4 This is a good warning for those we may support who use people for political gain in the LCMS: “If you have (a perfectly allowable in a Biblical sense) polity that rewards political acumen, don’t be surprised if our leaders are no longer churchmen speaking the truth w/ boldness.” I have a couple of those in mind. However, I am not so certain that getting them into the hierarchy and out of the pulpit is such a bad thing…especially for the parishioners they serve. ;D

  5. @LadyM #5
    Indeed. The trouble with both an episcopal model and a political model of church hierarchy, is that the men who are drawn to it are the ones you don’t want there… and the ones you want there, don’t want it.

    I suppose the same is true of most power structures… but most especially in the Church.

  6. @LadyM #5
    However, I am not so certain that getting them into the hierarchy and out of the pulpit is such a bad thing…especially for the parishioners they serve. ;D

    Politician breed politicians: witness PLI, “Church Growth” aka “Transforming Churches”. And they tend to eliminate, as far as they can, anyone who disagrees with them, e.g., anyone who thinks the Lutheran church should be based on the Bible and the BOC.
    [It doesn’t help that many of our “politicians” are as far from being Lutheran, in their own way, as the people running the elca are. Both sorts think members are sheep to be sheared for fat salaries at the top and shivied in the direction the leadership wants them to go, but caring for them is far from the bureaucratic mind.]

    So getting them out of a particular congregation may be good, there, but very bad for the whole church.

  7. @helen #8 “So getting them out of a particular congregation may be good, there, but very bad for the whole church.” I know, you’re right. I have to wonder – if all COP and district/synodical officers received the median salary of the entire clergy, would things change? Isn’t the last five years’ salary the determining factor of the retirement amount on the Concordia plan?

  8. @LadyM #9

    Wouldn’t it be funny, if we had an inverted pay scale? The poor kids coming out of seminary with a boatload of debt would get the higher salaries, and as debt declined, so did pay, until every pastor reached the same recommended pay rate.

    No more of this increased pay for years of service, or elevated posts. If every pastor is of the same dignity of office, level out the pay, with the exception of the young kids whose seminary debt we subsidize. Same cost of living allowance across the board, and same retirement / benefits plan. Let’s see how equal everyone is willing to live out their theology of the Office…

    That ought to kill the incentive for the rung climbers, anyway… and anyone who thought they would aspire to pastoral CEO status.

  9. @LadyM #9
    if all COP and district/synodical officers received the median salary of the entire clergy, would things change? Isn’t the last five years’ salary the determining factor of the retirement amount on the Concordia plan?

    I agree, they should, and when the DP’s figure their “median” salary, the church related income of all their CRM’s should be included. (I can’t imagine a thing that would get those men into paying calls faster!)

    @Brad #10
    That ought to kill the incentive for the rung climbers, anyway… and anyone who thought they would aspire to pastoral CEO status.

    [Of course, this all has as much chance of happening as the schemes dreamers post in other forums which would actually make congress obey the laws and live under the insurance they plan for “the rest of us”.]

    They’ll be equal in heaven. Too many of them are aiming “to have their best life now.” Wonder if they’ve ever thought about what that might mean later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.