Thursday, November 8, 2007

"That's it man, game over man, game over!"

With those immortal words, the legendary patron saint of Missouri Lutheranism, St. William Hudson of Aliens, invites us to understand the reality that we are surely finished... doomed even. We have lost people. We are all alone as that acid-spitting menace takes over our base. Sure we fought well, but we do not stand a chance. It has never been this bad. We should just give up. The alien monsters in the synod have already won. Now is the perfect time to panic and wet yourself.

Forget Pelagianism, Arminianism, synergism, and all the other isms that you have ever heard of. It seems that the most despised heresy in the LCMS is Optimism. Nothing else has been so universally anathemized and mocked. Ha! There is no room for something as foolish and unLutheran as *spit* hope! Everyone should just face the facts and ride this sinking ship until you have to swim for yourself--if you aren't swimming alone already.

This worry is as old as the Reformation itself. You can read these sentiments as they are expressed throughout our history. It is a devilish fear that creeps into the hearts of good men to shake their resolve and break their spirit. It is an attack against faith itself. From this unjustified panic, worries about the fate of the church begin to blossom and bear fruit. It causes us to doubt that we are in the right place, fighting the right battles, and making a positive impact. This resignation strangles our heart. It causes us to assume the worst about our church and our brothers. What then? Do we curl up and wither away? Do we wait until we are so novel that we are stored on the museum shelf for future generations to look at? Do we abandon all hope, surrender, and flee the field of battle while there is still work to do? Do we crack like our beloved St. Hudson?

Are there problems? Duh. Find a single place on earth where living humans congregate that is not splitting at the seams while trying to destroy itself. This is the nature of sin. This is the nature of our fallen world. Get your hide up off the floor and deal with it.

There is a pathetic undercurrent of hopelessness in our synod. If you listen carefully, you can hear many good Christians bemoan the futility of it all. That isn't a spirit of unity and boldness. It sounds more like grumbling or resignation. Start talking about how the synod is doing and it is Y2K all over again for most people. Dooooom!

The Hudsonites scream, "Game over!" They are the first to point out any number of woes that have befallen us in their lifetime. Because the LCMS is made up of sinful people, they are usually true in one way or another... so? We aren't confessional. We may be doctrinally sound, but we do not practice what we believe. We've lost so much since C.F.W. Walther. Most of our congregations have embraced neo-Evangelicalism. We are too Purpose Driven. The liberals run the show. The conservatives run the show. Those silly moderates are letting all of this happen. Our laity does not know enough about what we believe. The LCMS is not relevant. It does not reach people. It subscribes to a Platonic view of the church that it will never achieve. We fall short. We miss the boat. We aren't unified. We have preserved apostolic doctrine, but not tradition. We are in lock step with the papists. We stumble. We go along with the culture. We are shrinking. We argue. We do not stand up when we should. We do not hold each other accountable. We are squandering this great gift of Lutheranism by trying to reinvent ourselves.

Law... law... law... law... law... law... law... law... barf.

...and yet, the LCMS still manages to produce confessional upstarts like me. There are churches who are actually abandoning their blended services. There are places where the trends that we seem to hate so much are reversing. More importantly: the LCMS still takes know-nothing converts and fills them with a passion for the fathers, apostolic tradition, the UAC, and ancient worship forms. I am not from an arch-conservative congregation either. How can this be? How does the LCMS continue from here amid so much unLutheranism? How will our synod remain distinct when so many have sold out? Without us, how will the next generation know the right way?

They will be shown the truth, silly. How can someone like Dr. Krauth be brought up with a teacher like Pr. Schmucker? How can someone like Martin Luther rise from a horrific age like pre-Reformation Europe? The answer is as simple as the Gospel.

Despite all the doom talk that I have heard in my first year as a Lutheran, Christ continues to preserve His church. The church will remain undefeated until the Last Day. Time and again, she snatches victory from the jaws of defeat and preserves truth in the face of horrible error. The light and the fire will not go out. The legacy will continue. It did so for 2,000 years before us and it will continue long after we are all gone. When you get down to it: the church is not really our work at all, but the work of the Holy Spirit. Sure our actions have consequences, but we are letting our macro view of the big picture (and our dim opinion of the future) effect how we look at the things that we actually have the power to improve as individuals. We must be careful not to worry so much about the health of the forest that we neglect the trees that are right next to us.

Positive change has never been secured by hand-wringing. The LCMS will not improve through fanatical witch hunts and the rhetorical genocide of strawmen. Hearts and minds are won from the pulpit, at the alter, in the Word, from reading the fathers, in confirmation, and by our good examples. If a correction is to happen, it will not be from the top down, but from the bottom up. It will not come from pushing back the tide, but by becoming a tide ourselves. This is grunt work. It is dirty, low, and hard. We secure confessionalism by loving pastoral care and genuine encouragement from a passionate laity. All of the great works of the church have been constructive, preservative ones... not destructive.

Compared to where we've been (even in the last 200 years), our current situation is not defeat but victory. People would have you believe that this might be the worst it has ever been. Generations of God's people have been saying that myth since the slaves left Egypt. We must look to the good; to what God promises. Quit complaining and grumbling.

Look at the promising trends! Weekly communion is returning. Private confession is returning. A passion for the Scripture and the historic Lutheran church is returning.

I have visited plenty LCMS parishes as Uncle Sam sends me all around this great country. I have spoken to dozens of pastors and scores of laymen. There is one analogy that I hear time and again. I hate it. It is false. Contrary to popular opinion, the LCMS is not a ship and it is not sinking into the waves of error and unLutheranism. She is larger than that limited view can see and her progress is slower than that impatient view might demand. She may not be perfect, but she is not a sinking ship. We are not her doomed crew.

She is a Phoenix. Like all of the great generations of the church before her, she is rising from the ashes of doctrinal error and bad practice. She is the same immortal Phoenix which rose in the days of Luther, Giertz, and Krauth. Despite the work of her enemies, she can never be killed. Each time we try to kill her, she rises again. She is a glimpse of a portion of the invisible church as it becomes manifest in the preaching of the Gospel and the proper administration of the Sacraments. Her birth is effected each time the fire of Spirit and truth takes hold. She is a warm beacon of light in the dense fog of American Protestantism.

Filled with the legacy of the holy saints and martyrs, the refreshing wind of the living church in all times and places now pushes her aloft. Her hot pinions span the continent as she majestically rises and turns skyward. She struggles and staggers at times, but she slowly lifts from the ground the same way that she has done countless times before: slowly, painfully, deliberately.

She is an organic creation of Almighty God; a gift to His people. She is one entity. She is unified by every flaming feather that patiently works to speed her ascent and struggles to lift her up. Her eyes remain fixed to the horizon as she eagerly waits for her Savior to return. Isolated fires that dot the countryside leap up to her and share in her glory and the light that she offers. Her bosom remains the welcome sanctuary of weary, hurting sinners. Her call is one of repentant joy that pierces the night and rattles the foundations of many who still want to slumber. She is a refuge of truth and love. I am living proof. She is my family. She is my mother.

Do not slander her good name in my presence.


Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Thank you for this nice positive post. It doesn't take a Willow Creek admission for people to see that some practices don't "work." While some try to fix error with more error, some congregations that I've visited are on the way to re-discovering the treasures they had in the first place. Praise God.

Mike Baker said...

You are welcome, Dan.

I think that you are touching on a very good point about trying to "fix error with error".

If our beloved synod goes off of the narrow road that is outlined in Scripture, you can be sure that those who push it that direction will use legalism, reason, and emotionalism to "fix" the church. There is one movement in Christianity: that of the Holy Spirit who moves us in truth, humility, and love to our Risen Christ.

There is not a person among us who is immune to the temptations of narcissim and legalism. Despite our good intentions, it is something that we must guard against for the sake of purity in doctrine and practice.