17 April 2008

Another little exercise for young theologians

The flap over "Issues, Etc." has now been going on for several weeks. Perhaps it's worth taking a step or two back from the fray: to consider what this flap, and the arguments being made, reveal. (Note: if anyone asks why I should care, please see my post on that topic.)

For this exercise to work, it will take time to think and reflect on one point, before moving to the next.

1. Make a list of the arguments being made by each side. What is the nature of the pro-"Issues" arguments? What is the nature of the con-"Issues" arguments? (My suspicion is that you'll find the pro-"Issues" main arguments are theological and churchly; the con-"Issues" main arguments are drawn from corporate life.)

2. How has each side responded to the arguments of the other? (The pro-"Issues" side tried showing popular support with a demonstration and petition drive, has raised questions of corporate malfeasance and has threatened to withdraw financial support; the con-"Issues" side dismisses the demonstration and petition as a blip on the screen and, by and large, has maintained corporate silence.) What does the nature of each side's response reveal about that side's own deepest-held assumptions?

3. (I raise this point with some hesitation. Only one who's actually gone through the loss of a job knows the anxiety you experience when you give up safety for the sake of the truth. I assume here that, in the case of a theological strife one puts life and living on the line--the "So take they then our life, goods, fame child and wife" strategy; but in the case of a corporate policy with which one disagrees, one learns to "eat it" or find another job.)

  • Assuming that there are some pro-"Issues" people living in the belly of the corporate offices, how have they responded to the whole thing? Do their actions or non-actions reveal this whole affair as, at bottom, a theological strife or a corporate kerfuffle?
  • Some pastors have said, "I'll stay until they boot me out." But they live at a relatively safe distance from ground zero, in terms of their livelihood. As long as their people are happy, there's little that the corporate office can do to them.

This third point cuts close to the bone, I'll grant. But the corporate and theological sides of the LCMS have grown together so closely, for so long, only such practical cutting can reveal the underlying reality.

4. What do ##1-3 reveal about the nature of the entity in which this tempest has arisen? Is it, at bottom, a corporation with churchly decor?

a. How is it that the cancelling of a radio program which talks about theology and worship is so much more distressing than the cancelling in practice of theology and worship, across thousands of parishes?
b. Would leaving to make a new corporation solve any fundamental problem with the picture?
c. What, then, follows from all this?

When you wrestle a pig, you get dirty and the pig stays happy.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

An interesting exercise.

Not sure I understand your point 3 or agree with 4a. These people are just as distressed with the degeneration of theology and worship in parishes. It's just that the cancellation of IE is a clear-cut, more tangible thing to latch onto, that symbolizes all the rest of the discontent.

The thing that has struck me the most is the profound distrust on both sides.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Thanks, Anastasia.

Point 3 is a practical way of showing how those who are actually involved in the "Issues" issue view the nature of the problem. I'm quite sure that if some leader in the International Center said, "Deny that Jesus is God, or lose your job," a lot of people would be looking for work. That's a theological challenge. But if some leader said, "I want you to be at your desk from 9 to 5" (this happened at the IC, to pastors who could have been helping vacant congregations), that's a corporate challenge. If you don't like that policy, you leave.

Now, then, which is the "Issues etc." controversy? If supporters of IE at the IC view this as a theological issue, they will be willing to put their jobs on the line and say, "This isn't right." But if they aren't, then for them it's fundamentally a corporate matter. In that case, the whole theological component of the controversy is revealed--from their point of view, at least--to be a preference for vanilla as opposed to chocolate icing on the corporate cake.

So far, the ones most vocally protesting the handling of the case are those whose own positions are, essentially, safe. Such protest may be discounted, because it doesn't cost anything.

As to 4a, that was a point raised by my son, which struck true to me. What practical protests--what petition drive, what demonstration--is found on matters of worship? Did anyone picket outside Rev. Hower's parish when he dressed up as Jesus, licked icing off a cake and said, "Mmm. Take and eat!"? Worship is the central activity of the church; radio programs are not.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Touché on point 4a. I didn't know that horrid thing had happened. What DID people do about Hower?

I do see that some people are viewing this as a corporate policy problem, while others view it as theological. However, on another blog, I’m reading that the Synod is actually supposed to be a mere corporate entity, a mere “clearinghouse” for monetary purposes, and that it is a mistake on both sides to view it as anything more. That is, a mistake for Synod to think itself some kind of authority, a mistake on the part of the IE people to view it as church. It's just a way, so we are told, of parishes getting together to fund such things as seminaries and publishing houses.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

That's correct--but it's so abhorrent to normal Christian consciousness that people keep attributing to the Synod, and it keeps taking for itself, churchly attributes and vocabulary. Hence the ongoing need to unmask the reality, and the problem that caused it--the jettisoning of bishops.

Rev. Benjamin Harju said...

Fr. Hogg,

Are you suggesting that Lutheran pastors and congregations are better off calling and consecrating pastors (read: bishops) to lead them, rather than elect and hire ordained businessmen? ;-) Because if one did that, then 'walking together' would not be based on merely mutual recognition or decision, but on Christ being the Head and Good Shepherd through His Office in the Church. Hmmm...

If we Lutherans believe that Church polity is an adiaphoron, then in our freedom on this issue we ought to choose to "walk together" under the Office of Christ, rather than a corporate banner. But, alas, too many mistake the Episcopal Office as a license for absolute authority without check, and they run away together in fear to do it their way. Fashioning union in response to fear is a dangerous thing.

Ignatius said...

"How is it that the cancelling of a radio program which talks about theology and worship is so much more distressing than the cancelling in practice of theology and worship, across thousands of parishes?"

Oh, pray tell... I hope that for those whom I love dearly in the Lutheran Church many will turn their energy toward something other than a radio program.
Is there not greater concern over such issues like not having Eucharistic centered worship?
For example, let me speak facetiously regarding this matter on communion in the LCMS.
"Let’s worship God with all our hearts. However, we are going to exclude His very flesh and blood two Sundays out of the month for reasons of convenience. There are some in the congregation who are unhappy with having to be here for the additional 15-20 minutes." And a radio program is a current cause for an outcry??? Come on…REALLY!!!

My wife and I went to a fundraiser tonight for area Christian Schools, Mike Reagan was the key note speaker. Something was said by one of the faculty that sounded eerily familiar to fingernails on a chalk board. I quote, "let us do what we can with our student so they can go out in to the world and make Jesus famous." What is at stake by making Jesus famous to so many different people who want so many different versions?

This is when I think of St. Paul asking, “Has another Christ been preached to you?”

Rambling on,

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

On th eother hand, Pr. Harju, it doesn't seem bishops are necessary to get people all tangled up in "authority". From where I sit (admittedly on the outside) it looks like the LC-MS is acting very much like a [bad] bishop, and a lot of pro-IE Lutherans are likewise responding is if it were.

And freedom? With respect, where's freedom in all this? Were Todd and Jeff free to preach against a certain worship style, namely, feel-goodism? Apparently not, despite worship styles being termed adiaphora. Sounds like "confessionals" feel their freedom at least threatened, while the other side who has used it to become "happy-clappy" parishes, has abused it.

My point is that the things you seem to fear about having a bishop appear to be already at work in your midst.

Recently, on somebody's blog (but unfortunately I forget whose) I read a wonderful statement to the effect that the Church is NOT an authority; she is simply the Truth, embodied. I thought that was a very true and very nice end run around "authority" as conceived by, say, Rome.

Hmm..I think I'll do a blog post on this thorny issue of "authority."

Rev. Benjamin Harju said...


I agree with your assessment wholeheartedly. From the Orthodox side of things this whole scenario with the LCMS must seem pretty insane.

I've heard that comment about the Church being the Truth embodied before, too. I don't know what blog you found it on, but I can think of a couple people (no longer with the LCMS) that have said as much.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

No, I wouldn't say insane. To me, it looks mostly just sad. (And as I said, what's saddest to me is the very profound level of mutual distrust.)

It also looks somewhat inconsistent, if you'll kindly pardon my saying so. What I mean is, people's de facto ecclesiology (on both sides) seems not to jibe with their theoretical ecclesiology.

Jeff said...

You think that is bad. You should LCMS seminarians go at it and what they go at it over. Mutual distrust starts very early in the formation of an LCMS pastor these days. There is a lot of straing for gnats and swallowing camels in contemporary Lutheranism.