So with the news of the LCMS inability to deal with one of its most flagrant dissenters since the 1970s, it is sure to be an issue that the people of God need to learn about. One of the best things about the seminex time was the increase in laity knowing the issues and the truth of the matter.
So what can be done locally in the parish?
There will be some to suggest the political avenue: candidates, elections, resolutions, memorials, etc. This is fine, but it is not the congregational answer. It is also the answer which continues to show limited success since the system itself is starting to get in the way of faithful church practices.
I would suggest bringing the issues of the LCMS into your parish in the form of special Bible Studies. A few months ago I began this in my parish. Do we talk the dirt of the LCMS? No. We have gone through the Constitution, which allowed for plenty of teaching of our theology, what it means, and what it looks like. Have we discussed aberrations and violations of the Constitution (like the clause about exclusive use of doctrinally pure hymnals?), yes, but the tone of the studies does not have to be “rainy day”. There are some really good things to teach about when you teach about the LCMS. Our history, our theology, our practices all come up. Face it, the laity are not ignorant on these things. They travel, they have family in the LCMS in other places. They see the mess and experience it firsthand. They can sense the dissonance when publications like the Lutheran Witness teach good stuff while other publications from RSOs teach other stuff. They can sense that something just doesn’t quite fit.
One of the most helpful things in the discussion has been the ACELC study documents. They point out some of the issues certainly, but they also collect the Scriptures, the Confessions, and stances of the LCMS on these issues. It is a great repository of our confessional teaching that relates the teachings to our practices. They teach what we have believed and still believe. The ACELC video “If not now, when?” is also helpful as an overview of the ten issues the ACELC has identified to address.
One thing that I have remembered to remind the people of through this is that our Lord Jesus Christ is ascended to the right hand of the God the Father Almighty. This has meaning as we look at the Church on earth. He who was crucified but is risen also now rules over all things for the good of the baptized. It is easy to get wrapped up and bound up into Synodical intrigue and the mess of ecclesiastical unsupervision that goes on, but that often leads to the temptation to despair. Despairing in Christ is no good at all. Despairing of your trust in princes is good (even ones who wear collars and claim churchly office), for Christ is still Lord of His Church (this is a Lutheran belief, if you want to trust a man, try the papists).
Pastors – take the extra time to teach more. Teach the few who will come. Teach the many. In season and out of season.
Laity – take advantage of the time to be taught. Show up. Listen. Ask Questions. Lutheran teachings are still treasures for the soul.
One warning I would issue – in your teaching make sure to not overstress the issues at hand. From seminex we got a whole bunch of folks who believed that THE Lutheran distinctive was an “inspired, inerrant” Bible. While we believe this, it is not the center of what we confess. From this overemphasis, there were some who used that as a litmus test for joining churches and found fellowship with churches like the Assemblies of God possible. A contemporary example would be overemphasizing liturgy to the point that people think Eastern Orthodoxy is a good option.
So have your studies. Talk it out. Teach. Learn. Pray. Encourage. Warn. Rebuke. These are good things. And whatever happens, know that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Evangelical Lutheran Church still gets its life from Him.