UPDATE: The pastor concerned has alerted me to an inaccuracy that as been corrected. His church was not in decline.
For weeks we have been justifiably preoccupied with Pastors savaging the Great Commission, and mocking our Confessions. There’s a nasty flipside. I read this weekend of one of our LCMS Pastors being abused by his congregation. It’s all about the root of all evil and that Artemis sized idol – the love of money.
In this case an already small congregation had cash flow problems, but it is asset rich. However, the Church leadership cannot bear parting with its savings or selling assets to cover shortfalls, and heaven forbid that leaders should make a sacrificial contribution themselves. No, their solution was for their under-shepherd to make the sacrifice on their behalf – by cutting his salary aggressively. It is no doubt a disproportionate amount of his package, because churches of this ilk like their Pastors impecunious to begin with.
So they will soon have no Pastor to deliver Word and sacrament, but their savings and assets will show a steady balance on the next statement. They seem not to know that a Church without a Pastor (orthodox and confessional that is) is little different from a mausoleum for the living dead.
A little law is in order:
And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” ESV — Luke 12:19-21
Here’s a forecast: that church’s barns and storehouses are going to be liquidated involuntarily by a third party that doesn’t care whether the buildings become a chicken coop or a mosque. Alternatively, they could burn through the reserves for the sake of the Gospel, and have a happy, satisfying closure if things don’t turn around. No loss then.
What the Church Is
The Book of Concord says a good deal about the Office of the Keys, and what the Church is, but it says relatively little about we who sit in the pews as an organization. We organize the building fund, arrange the Call, pay salaries, see to it that the grass is mowed in summer, that the walkways are cleared and salted in winter, and that the Narthex pleases every constituency, and a thousand other often irrelevant tasks that seem to bother American congregations.
The Defense of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII do remind us that nasty fish are caught in the same net as pleasant fish, and that our job is confined to casting nets, not sorting the catch:
The Seventh Article of our Confession, in which we said that the Church is the congregation of saints, they have condemned, and have added a long disquisition, that the wicked are not to be separated from the Church since John has compared the Church to a threshing-floor on which wheat and chaff are heaped together, Matt. 3:12, and Christ has compared it to a net in which 2] there are both good and bad fishes, Matt. 13:47.
So it should not surprise us when we discover carnivorous sheep with a taste for shepherd’s flesh, but it is infuriating to see bold wickedness against God’s servants.
Men Among Us
I can think of nothing more terrifying than taking a first call as Sole Pastor, especially to a small, close-knit congregation. And I have experienced combat.
The images that come to mind are the opening scene from Private Ryan, except there is only one guy in his clericals storming Utah Beach with his library, good intentions, and high ideals trying to shield a young wife and infant child. They know they have to do it, but every step closer brings bombs bursting in air long before July 4.
The reason they have to endure the shrapnel is because the alternative is worse.
The LCMS has a special wilderness for men without a Call. Sinful congregations and vindictive District Presidents can tip them over the cliff into these scablands to be parched and shriveled for interminable periods. They torment them with mirages of lavishly funded, but heterodox, RSOs, “comfort” animals costing $50,000 a pop, Concordia System balance sheets fat with outsize loans, and rebellious clergy being given the green light to be more dissident. These shimmering visions are accompanied by suffocation in the finest talcum powder of press releases about Mercy, and nary a one about Witness.
It is easy to find fault with our Pastors. How about finding mercy in ourselves?
If you see one of your fellow sheep developing carnivorous habits, step in. Cherish good Pastors, come alongside the bad ones. After all, you called them.
As the LCMS shows no let up in its declining membership, the 2016 Synodical Convention should be focused on tearing down some barns and storehouses, and preventing the erection of new ones. We have no business doling out money to heterodox flim-flam like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, or conducting self-indulgent world tours to examine the orthodoxy of other church bodies when our own Synod is being betrayed from within. 2016 needs to be a torrent of resolutions that take an axe to Synodical overheads to ensure that in 2036 we are not reduced to emergency measures. Very lean years are coming, and it is our duty to prepare.