20 March 2008

The Issue beneath Issues

A few days ago, Mr. David Strand of the LC-MS ended the Lutheran radio program Issues Etc. and terminated the employment of its host, Rev. Todd Wilken, and its engineer, Mr. Jeff Schwarz.

Since then, Lutheran blogdom has been ablaze with understandable indignation at both the fact and the manner in which the whole thing happened. There was no discussion with those outside the so-called "Purple Palace." It seems that the employees in question were simply told, "You're done." People seem stunned to see their ecclesial body act like a corporation.

Well, it is a corporation.

A few years ago, when I was a minister in that body, I got a group of pastors to discuss issues concerning Rev. David Benke's appearance at Yankee Stadium. They were split on the issue, just like the LCMS. One side thought that what happened was just fine--a mission opportunity. The other side thought Rev. Benke had compromised the gospel. I was more on the second side, though I saw some merit in the first side's point of view. But what really mattered to me, was that we talk about these differences and seek to have one mind--the mind of Christ.

So I kept saying to the other men, "We can't just agree to disagree. We're church. We have to act in a churchly way."

Then one of the other pastors, who'd been in the LCMS even longer than my 22 years, said, "That's your problem, Robb. You think the Missouri Synod is church. We're not church. We're a corporation."

I won't say here how I responded. It's enough to note that I expressed myself the way a pilot does when he's been flying through fog and comes out of the mist only to discover a mountain peak dead ahead. But here's the point: I knew at once that he was right. The Missouri Synod is a corporation.

And so, sadly, will be any split-off or successor body which the most avid and passionate confessional advocates might be inclined to create. It's one of the genetic flaws which simply cannot be fixed in the west. The bishop of Rome asserted his power, his right to rule, over against his brethren in episcopacy in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Absolute power corrupted, as it always does, and the conciliar movement could not prevent it. Lutherans, unable to secure episcopal authorization for their priests, declared the historic episcopacy as de iure humano and began ordaining their own clergy. Since then, they have lived under a series of de iure humano arrangements, ranging from "bishops" (Scandinavia) to the "Voters' Assembly" and "Synod" (America).

Troubles arise in the Church, too: stupidity is an equal opportunity employer. But when a bishop goes off the tracks, or a priest does something foolish, the Church takes action with the full knowledge that it is Church, the bride and body of Christ--not only on the parish level, but also on the trans-parish level. One may suffer and be faithful, as did St. Nektarios of Pentapolis. Or one may speak up and work for peace without the nagging feeling deep down that, after all, one is only dealing with a fallen human invention.


Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

Isn't this just Byzantine intrigue? :) Hope you are well.

Issues ETC has been a big part of my formation. I will really miss it.


Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

The whole thing is somewhat sad, but not at all surprising.

Jeff said...

The Missouri Synod being a corporation instead of church explains a lot of the problems I saw in seminary.