There are many wonderful things about life in the church. Dealing with corrupt teaching is not one of them. It compromises and corrupts even those who try to faithfully teach God’s Word, until they often can no longer even see the corruption. It’s as if a beggar got so used to eating moldy bread, that they can no longer enjoy fresh baked bread from the oven. And it happens. People – members, pastors, synod officials – get so jaded about corruption of doctrine that they can not even see it when it is in front of them.
I recently had a discussion about the SET form. It is the “Self Evaluation Tool” which every pastor must fill out before ordination, and then update from time to time. (If you don’t update, your old answers stay there, so you are never without answers. Every pastor has one.) It was designed to help district presidents know what sort of pastor and man a candidate was, so they could match him to a local congregation. If a pastor absolutely refuses to do children’s sermons, and you have a congregation where the pastor has historically offered vibrant and lively children’s sermons, you might like to know that before issuing a call. If there is a specific health concern that a pastor has that limits where he can serve, or if the pastor has special training or skills that might fit well in a specific situation, that is good to know. You wouldn’t want to send a pastor that thinks closed communion is bad idea to a congregation that faithfully practices it, would you? Wait, what? Doesn’t scripture teach closed communion? Yes. Yes it does. And the SET inquires about it:
Describe your preferred communion practice in view of Res. 3-08 (Indianapolis, 1986) “Resolved, That the pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod continue to abide by the practice of close communion, which includes the necessity of exercising responsible pastoral care in extraordinary situations and circumstances.”
You may have noted that the question never mentions Holy Scripture, which teaches “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (ESV) It never asks how a pastor understands the small catechism, which explains “that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins’… the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.” It doesn’t ask how the pastor goes about teaching the precious doctrine of closed communion in his parish, and how he works with his officers (elders, ushers, etc.) to gently and pastorally implement it on a Sunday morning. Imagine if it did! Imagine if, instead of this procedural policy question, a pastor got to answer this “How do you patiently instruct your congregation in the proper teaching and practice of closed communion?” and then got to follow up by answering this question, “If an unknown visitor comes to your church on a Sunday morning, what happens?” Oh, the glory of such questions! An opportunity to confess the truth and beauty of God’s word, and to speak about how that word works itself out in the life of the church! I long for a church where those questions are asked of pastoral candidates!
Instead, and this shocks me every time I read it:
IT ASKS HIM WHAT HE PREFERS ABOUT A TEACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD!!!!
Of course, in one sense, that’s something we do need to know. Do you teach what the word of God teaches? But “what is your preference…” is a weak and weaselly way to ask that. And here’s where corruption – like rust or leaven – spreads: This is sent to calling congregations so they can see how pastors answer the questions. Members see this while they are literally “sheep without a shepherd.” They learn that closed communion is a preference. And then a new pastor comes in – this has happened – and they immediately try to talk the pastor into abandoning closed communion. After all, the district thinks its ok. It’s only just a preference and a policy and a resolution of synod. It doesn’t have anything to do with the actual words that came from the mouth of Jesus on the night he was betrayed? If it were that important, surely the district would not ask about preferences. It’s just some silly policy the LCMS has. If it were more, surely the district would have quoted the Word of God.
Members have left the church over this. I don’t mean over closed communion itself – although people have left over that. But over the synod’s treating it like a preference. And people have been mislead by this corruption to think that closed communion is really just a hang up the pastor himself has – and if he has the hang up, my local *insert local community church that isn’t LCMS here* church doesn’t have that hang up. So I’ll just start going there. Maybe I stay on the roles here until they remove me, maybe I see if this guy sticks around. Maybe I let key members know that if he leaves, I come back.
These are not hypotheticals. I have seen them happen, and not just in the congregations where I have served. Districts that attempt to be faithful to the Word of God regarding closed communion are corrupting the very congregations they are trying to keep faithful. It is diabolical, in the truest sense – it originates with demons who can only lie about our Lord and his Word.
Closed communion isn’t the only time the SET form asks about preferences for things which are clearly taught in the Word of God. Those questions are, to me, the clearest sign that our synod is not united in doctrine. The proper word for that – and one that synod officials get the vapors if you use about the LCMS – is heterodoxy. Those questions are a blight for faithful pastors and congregations. They cause division and corruption even among the faithful, and the questions continue to be asked year after year, continue to be answered year after year, continue to be sent to sheep who are led astray – not by the answer, but by the questions themselves – year after year.
That’s why I say we are asking for God’s judgment in this. Jesus had a few choice words in John about those who teach and promote lies in His name. We should probably heed those words and repent. And, just as a matter of timing, it’s better to do that sooner, rather than later.