Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Converts - Part 3: "The Church Without Wheels"

Those who leave Lutheranism often level variations of the same charge:

The church of the Book of Concord does not/no longer exist(s). The Lutheran Church, as expressed in its confessional documents does not exist.

I submit that this observation by our critics is proof of the correctness of our confession. Since it is impossible for us as sinful individuals to measure up to the requirements of God's Word for even a few minutes it only makes sense that it is impossible for large collections of sinful individuals to measure up to the only modern church that purely expresses God's Will in her confessions without error.

While other confessions have resorted to creating human doctrines, practices, and methods to make church more rational and easy, Lutherans have embraced the narrow gate of truth which renders a perfectly orthodox church in all places at all times virtually impossible this side of heaven. All other churches adapt to the whims of human invention. As men err, their churches adapt and err with them. Confessional Lutheranism, grounded on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, will not follow sinful men as they stray. Thus people abandon her and cease to embody the confession.

Take the Roman church as an example. As her people fall into various forms of error, she makes her doctrine conform to those errors. As new false doctrines are introduced over the years, she adopts them and makes them appear legitimate. She then forces her faithful to conform to her imperfect version of the truth. Men have put wheels on that church. Rome is driven by her human occupants. Romans who want to leave the point where pure truth exists simply have to take their church with them. Even when everyone adopts human error, the church, as she is identified by her ever-evolving confession, remains occupied and true to her faith (though inconsistent to her previous traditions and documents). To the casual observer, the Roman church practices what she preaches. This is because she preaches only what she practices for the season that she practices it. In those places where she has not abandoned the truth for error, she finds herself in agreement with her Lutheran opponents.

Bound by Law and Gospel, the catholic, orthodox, and evangelical church does not do this. As her people fall into various forms of error, she remains steadfast in doctrine. She does not compromise with reason, bad exegesis, and novelty. She does not have wheels. Confessional Lutherans who want to leave the point where pure truth exists must leave their immovable church and go to one with wheels. If every Lutheran was to adopt error, the church, as she is identified by her confession, would be abandoned and cease to exist. To the casual observer, the Lutheran church can never perfectly practice what it preaches. This is because, as long as she is still truly Lutheran, she preaches what God has revealed... which no man but Our Lord Jesus Christ can faithfully accomplish, fully comprehend, or steadfastly keep. Since all Christians are hypocrites and failures it makes sense that when Christians gather around pure doctrine and try to practice it, they find themselves speaking hypocritically and failing to realize God's ideal.

This is why this one criticism, of all of the criticisms that Christians level against each other, is uniquely reserved for those who profess what has come to be known as Confessional Lutheranism.

If we confessed the human standard that there is nothing special about the Lord's Supper or Baptism as many protestants do, most of our battles over Sacramental practice would not be an issue. We would be unified like many protestants, but at what cost? Since we confess God's Standard which He revealed in Holy Scripture, we find that sinful man continues to contest and rebel against it.

If we confessed the human standard that men are justified by works as everyone else does in one form or another, most of our battles over preaching and evangelism would not be an issue. We would be unified like many other churches, but at what cost? Since we confess God's Standard regarding salvation, which He told us was foolishness to men, we find that sinful man continues to contest and rebel against it.

And so, God's church, the purified bride of Jesus Christ, exists in those places where the Gospel is preached in its purity and the Sacraments are properly administered. These are the marks of the church. Since they are from God--not men--we humans find them difficult to achieve and even harder to preserve among us. It is easier for us to create our own definition of the church. It is easier to create a standard that we can meet or erect an earthly kingdom in which to house The Church. We strive to make it understandable and tactile. Those things may make people feel better, but they are merely human distinctions that are neither true nor helpful.

We who still remain are the Ecclesia Militans. It is going to be a struggle as long as we are here where sin and error remains. This struggle is that of truth against error. It only makes sense that the struggle will be the most extreme here where the most truth is found.

Thanks be to God that Christ saves us by faith and not by our feeble works. Thanks be to God that Christ preserves the church in spite of us.

Thoughts on Being Consistant

It seems that Confessional Lutherans have developed two different schools of thought:

1. Some have asserted that there are those who are aggressively decrying those who leave Lutheranism while largely ignoring the fact that many Lutherans have left Lutheranism a long time ago, but remain Lutherans.

2. Some have asserted (to include myself) that there are those who are aggressively decrying those who have watered down Lutheranism with protestant error while largely ignoring the fact that it is serious business when someone decides that the sound doctrine of Lutheranism is incorrect and officially passes from a pure confession to an error-filled one.

After a great deal of prayer and reflection I have developed a question: Are both positions right?

Both types of error are serious and must be addressed. Both types of error undermine the integrity of the true confession of the church. Both should be defended against with an equal amount of passion and vigilance. Is it possible that we need to take a step back and self-evaluate instead of telling other people how they should look at things?

At the risk of further irritating my only reader, I am going to engage in more stereotyping in order to speculate as to why people feel the way that they do. This is, of course, purely speculation on my part based on my limited life experience with people and looking at what makes them tick.

Question: If those who are hard on public converts are indeed soft on crypto-converts as some people believe, could it be because we are willing to overlook lesser errors due to the fact that we have all but written off those mistaken brothers as stubborn and largely unfixable? That would explain why we appear relatively cool to protestant error that has been running rampant for quite some time in some areas of the synod. We may be admitting that we feel that we cannot fix the problems internally, but at least we have the ability to defend the confessional ideal.

Question: If those who are hard on crypto-converts are indeed soft on public converts as some people believe, could it be because deep down they empathize with the frustrations expressed by those who have given up on Lutheranism and the LCMS in particular? That would explain why they appear relatively soft on those who have already left what appears to be a damaged if not sinking ship. They may be admitting that they feel that they cannot speak harshly against someone who at least started out with similar frustrations and observations about Lutheranism.

This debate is just another example of how Lutheranism is difficult and uncomfortable. The temptation is to view issues from either totally one side or totally the other when the truth is usually somewhere in between. I find it hard to believe that it is either one side or the other is totally correct here. I suggest that the both/and principle applies. We should be firmly presenting the truth to both mistaken brothers who remain Lutherans in name only and mistaken brothers who leave and adopt a confession that contains error.

Problems in the church militant never create a licence to embrace false teaching. Misgivings about our own failings do not disqualify us from presenting the pure doctrine and practice.

And we could all work on our tact.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Displaying Absurdity by Being Absurd

1. I have decided that the world is not round despite all evidence to the contrary. Sure I have believed that the Earth is round all of my life and I have seen all of the photographic and scientific evidence that proves it, but I have to go with my conscience. It would be dishonorable and dishonest for me to pretend that the world is round when I no longer believe it to be such. Yesterday, I told my young niece that the world is flat. My sister called me a fool and forbade me from teaching her child such stupid nonsense. It is shameful that my sister talked to me like that. I have no idea why she got so upset. She actually told me that I should have my head examined and questioned my sanity. How dare she! It's almost as if she cared more about her "round-earth" opinion and the education of her child than my feelings. *sob*

2. I understand that the Roman Catholic Church was doing alot of bad stuff, but it was just shameful of Martin Luther to air out all of that dirty laundry the way that he did. Nailing things to the church door? Really? Has he ever heard of polite discourse? Sure I disagree with the way the Pope of that time was running things, but what was really shameful was the way that Luther went about trying to fix the problem. He called people names and made everything so public. That was something that should have been handled internally. He ridiculed people for being wrong. And then people who agreed with Luther wrote all of these documents saying the same things instead of correcting Luther for his aggressive tactics. I don't blame the Pope for kicking them all out after he caused so much trouble. What's worse is that Luther is treated as this hero for telling the truth the way that he did. The real honorable guy was Pope Leo who followed his conscience and got the money together to build such a pretty church... but it was kind of wrong to cheat so many poor people to build the pretty church.

3. Sure I wish that the LCMS would do a better job of keeping people in line with the Lutheran Confessions, but what is really bad is how the Lutheran Blogosphere does all of these personal attacks on people who are just trying to do a good job of running the synod. There are much better ways to voice outrage and you have to admire the leadership for having the integrity to stand by their convictions. Take the removal of Issues, Etc as an example. Of course I disagree with the removal of such a good program, but you have to admit that it took alot of guts to take a stand against all those people who wanted it put back on the air. Did you see how some of the staff was vilified? Standing by your decisions in the face of heated opposition... now that takes integrity! What would have been really unfortunate is if the decision makers had kept it on the air after they decided that it should not be on the air. They need to be true to what they think is right. In the end, I hope that everyone gets over their problems and that God Blesses the synod as it moves forward without Issues, Etc on the air.

4. I know that alot of you have problems with ABLAZE!, but you have to admit that the hearts of the organizers are in the right place. Don't you think that we should just let them go about their business and see what we can do to fix our own congregations? After all, if we were doing our jobs in our individual churches, the synod wouldn't have to resort to questionable tactics and doctrine to reach lost people. Who are we to question their methods when we have so many problems?

...I would do more, but moral relativism and political correctness make me want to go barf.

Converts - Part 2: "Not All Converts are Equal"

Johnny and Billy both sat in their desks staring at their answers for the pop quiz. By coincidence, the two boys had become greatly concerned over their answers for the final question.

Johnny, filled with doubt about his answer, read the question again:

On what date was the United States Constitution adopted by a convention of the states?

Johnny had written "July 4, 1776" as his answer, but he was starting to have doubts. That answer had seemed too easy. Suddenly, Johnny remembered that Independence Day had more to do with the Declaration of Independence and that the Constitution was ratified much later...

Billy was equally concerned about his answer. He had written "September 17, 1787" as his answer, but he was starting to have doubts. That date had popped into his head because they had talked about it in class, but he could not remember what that date corresponded to. Suddenly, Billy remember that "July 4, 1776" was the celebration of the nation's Independence from England. Was that it? Billy pondered for a moment and realized that he had been wrong...

Both boys confidently erased their answers and wrote in new ones.

Johnny erased July 4, 1776 and wrote September 17, 1787.
Billy erased September 17, 1787 and wrote July 4, 1776.

Both boys turned in their tests with confidence that they had narrowly averted disaster on that last question. Johnny was right to convert his answer. He had been mistaken. Unfortunately, Billy was wrong to convert his answer because his first answer had been right all along.

Both boys followed their conscience and changed their minds with the best of intentions to get the answer right. I suppose you could commend both boys for following their gut and going with what they believed to be true.

But like so many things in life, there was one objective answer: September 17,1787. Johnny went from wrong to right while Billy went from right to wrong.

When handing back the quiz, the teacher turned to Billy and said, "Good job, Billy. I see that you had the right answer, but I am proud of you for having the integrity to change your answer when you no longer thought you were right. I wish that you had kept the right answer, but at least you weren't hypocritical by turning in an answer that you thought was wrong."

Please! What kind of teacher is that?!? How does that help Billy at all?

Let us never forget that there is objective truth. People who go from the right answer to the wrong answer have made a mistake. They do not need to be commended on their methods or their desire to get the right answer. All of that effort caused them to err. They need to be told what the right answer is so that they are not confirmed in their mistake.

Converts to Lutheranism (the right answer) are to be commended. Converts from Lutheranism (the wrong answer) need to be shown their error in judgement... not complimented on their "integrity".

Monday, June 23, 2008

Converts - Part 1: "The Christian Mid-Life Crisis"

Observations From a Fellow Convert

Over the last several years, I have noticed a common trend among many converts to various sects within Christianity that confuses and irritates me. I am not speaking about the casual church attendee who bounces from denomination to denomination based on the "feels" of a given congregation. I am talking about people who eat and sleep a certain belief system for years and then change that foundation in the worst possible way for everyone around them.

I will go ahead and warn everyone that I have a very critical view of any church leader who spontaneously converts from one church body to another... especially when it is done in a Pharisaically public manner.

What makes die-hard loyalists (pastors, elders, and theologically-sound laymen) stray? At the risk of oversimplification, I have observed that the launching point that starts many converts down the road to leave a particular confession is often built on a line of thinking that is based on a critical logical fallacy. For this part of the discussion, I am not even going to talk about the "right" and "wrong" confession to believe in. Right now, we are simply talking about the "right" and "wrong" way to go about looking at your confession versus the others that you may be interested in. If you read conversion stories from this category of theology junkies, they tend to follow this reasoning:

The Mid-Life Crisis Method:

Step 1. I am a [X]ist.
Step 2. I do not disagree with [X]ian doctrine, but my fellow [X]ists are not [X]ian enough.
Step 3. [X]ists do not meet my expectations and standards of [X]ism.
Step 4. That imperfect condition of [X]ism here in the church militant makes me unhappy.
Step 5. Therefore, I am going to go looking at a faith that is even more not [X] for answers and judge this new (i.e. fresh/exciting) faith against the one that I am already dissatisfied with. At that point I will choose between the faith that I already don’t like and the one that I think might be better.
Step 6. Now I suddenly realize that this new faith is what I had always wanted to be as an [X]ian. After fair analysis, I have suddenly realized that this new faith is what I always should have been, but was too ignorant/cynical/partisan to notice. This new faith is what I was really looking for when I became a [X]ian in the first place.

This is the impression that I get from many of these stories. I think that this is why converts are often treated the same way that we treat middle-aged husbands who "trade up" from their old wife to a new fling from work. At least in my mind, the comparison fits in the majority of cases. By the time a convert starts to seriously look at a new belief system, the decision to leave the old belief system has been made. They may not even realize it yet, but they have spiritually left the church, but physically remain there as they struggle to come to grips with their dissatisfaction.

This condition makes the comparison process unfair and disingenuous. Once you reach Step 4, it is virtually impossible for the old system to compete with any new system that you consider. You may even fool yourself into thinking that you are providing a fair and balanced comparison, but such a thing is impossible. The process of comparing confessions this way is a sham that only serves to assuage the convert’s guilt over what he perceives as possible disloyalty to his old beliefs. To feel better, he offers his old faith (which he has already begun to reject) a chance to redeem itself in the kangaroo court of his own mind. It is no surprise that the old belief so often fails every test that it is given while the new faith passes with flying colors.

To support this observation, I would like to point out that many of the public stories about conversion have very little to do with objective concerns over doctrine. You do not find perceived error as the launching point of the quest for truth outside of the original faith. It always starts with complaints that sound so much like the "marital problems" that "force" men to look elsewhere. I also submit that the majority of these converts are middle-aged men who demographically fall into the category of individuals most prone to this kind of narcissistic second-guessing in other areas of their lives. It is no wonder then that religious converts often choose the first "rebound" belief system that presents itself and it always starts with innocent flirting. Most of the time, the rebound belief system of choice possesses the very thing that they have always felt their old system lacked. This new system that they gravitate towards has a better pedigree, is flashier, is more missional, is more modern, or seems more enthusiastic. It is only when that missing need is met that converts bother to reconcile doctrine.

I think that this is why converts are willing to gloss over the new faith’s short comings. Once you have decided that you might want to leave the belief system that you have been so invested in, you are tempted to look for somewhere—anywhere to make yourself feel better. At this point you do not make clear decisions. Just about anything looks good when you have such a low view of where you are at. You start to make decisions based on what you think is right for you under the guise of following your conscience.

From Being in a Bad Situation to Creating a Worse Solution

The truth is that you have gotten so good at lying to yourself about your motives that you can no longer trust your impulses. This is the dangerous time when the Devil appears as an angel of light and helps you to select the "best course of action" for your unfortunate circumstance. The Devil does not want a public pillar of your church to just fade away or to resign correctly and respectfully. The enemy is constantly seeking to damage the church further by heaping mountains of human baggage between individual Christians and their Savior. He is looking for one thing when it comes to wounded church leaders: scandalous collateral damage.

This is where the misguided seeker becomes an instrument of division and schism that the Devil uses to wreak havoc on both sides of the conversion. It is not enough to publicly admit to a crisis in faith and commit to a penitent period of prayer and fasting while you beseech the Holy Spirit for divine guidance. It is not enough to admit that you are no longer fit to be a teacher because you have critical questions that need answers. It is not enough to withdraw from public view so that you are free to perform several months—maybe years—of study and evaluation. It is not enough to try to address these problems maturely and promptly for the good of the church. No, you have to continue to keep these concerns secret so that it festers until it is too much to bear. You have to let the whispers in your head go unchallenged by pretending that you can make wise decisions without help from your peers and superiors in the church body.

All of a sudden, after years of pretending that you can handle this and lying to your brothers and sisters by making it seem that everything is okay (even though you are nursing private doubt and concern), something happens. You feel "led" to make a knee-jerk decision that instantly changes your public confession while you are still locked in the leadership position that you abandoned long ago. The same impulse that made you feel "led" to keep your concerns relatively secret now prompts you to feel "led" to spectacularly convert one day. You swing from super-private doubter all the way to poster-boy convert in one loud swoop. Who—or what—is doing the "leading" here?

In spite of all of the self-delusion going on, you manage to correctly diagnose that your old faith has serious problems. You correctly diagnose that all of the controversies and bickering obscure the Gospel. Your solution? Leave that already damaged sect in such a way as to create even more controversy and bickering among the poor Christians that you have elected to abandon while simultaneously creating a cloud of controversy that follows you to the new faith that you have decided to join. How is that faithful to the body of Christ?

Is that really your conscience or is that the voice of someone trying to use your situation as weapon against the church? The voice suggests that you should prove to yourself and others that you are in control and are capable of fixing what you now perceive to be decades of misjudgment. Most of all, it demands that you remain true to yourself…

…not true to your oaths
…not true to the Gospel
…not true to Christ
…not true to Holy Scripture
…not true to apostolic tradition
…not true to your troubled church body, your besieged congregation, and the obligations of your divine call to brothers and sisters that you know will be shaken to their foundations by the way you are going about your personal crisis.

…but be true to YOURself and what YOU now believe to be right for YOU and YOUR conscience.

All of a sudden, you dust off that word "integrity" which you have been ignoring during this whole irrational process and decide that it is best if you just come clean to everyone about your total reversal in belief systems regardless of who it hurts. You put your precious spiritual integrity ahead of the souls of weaker Christians that might be permanently driven from the saving shelter of the Christian Faith by your stumbling block. To go back to our mid-life crisis metaphor: It is not enough that you are compelled to divorce your wife, you have to combine that with leaving her for the hot tart that you only noticed when you started having problems at home. You don't even bother having the decency to put a reasonable period of time between you moving out and your new honey moving in. How did you think it was going to come across?

...But at least you’re being true to yourself and are no longer living a lie.