Joining the Bandwagon

bandwagon-2I am a pastor in a small town. I’ve been here for over a decade. When I hit the ten year mark (making me the longest serving pastor in the congregation’s history), people finally stopped asking how I liked living here. It was about the same time that comments about me being “fairly new” stopped. Things move slowly here. But then, when you were born, went to school, got married, had your entire career, raised children and then grandchildren in  one town, you’ve sort of earned the right to call people who’ve only been here for a decade “newcomers.”

After all, the bank president is someone you knew when you were both in Kindergarten. You saw him go through his awkward phase. Perhaps you turned down his request to go to the prom. So, there’s not a lot he could do that would surprise you. The new pastor on the other hand? Well, who knows what he might do? He moved five times before he came here. He may move again. And all his ‘fine’ changes to the church may be undone in the first thirty minutes by the next guy.

There is a stability that comes with knowing each other a long time. I actually envy it of those who were born here. They have deep roots in the community. Mine may be growing all the time, but they can’t match the deep roots of my multi-generation parishioners.

Paul suggests that newcomers to the church should not be quickly ordained. The principle is sound. You want to make sure you get to know someone before you give them authority. Find out how they work with others, how they treat the weak – those who can not repay them with similar favors. And, most importantly, make certain that they are not likely to let a position of authority go to their head. That can not only harm the church, it can destroy their own salvation. We don’t want that.

Our synod has recognized this by generally requiring that seminary students be members of an LCMS congregation for at least two years before being accepted into a program leading to call and ordination. This gives time for them to get familiar with our way of doing things. It gives time for the pastor to get to know them, to evaluate how they will respond under the pressure of being Christ’s minister in the church.

A couple of days ago, there was a press release from the Saint Louis seminary. A former member of the LCMS, who has since gone on to heights of glory as a professor at a Baptist seminary, will be joining the faculty of our flagship seminary, as well as rejoining an LCMS congregation. The press release spoke glowingly of his credentials, and of his newly-stated commitment to the Lutheran Confessions.

Some of us were understandably curious about this. It breaks a number of protocols set in place over the years. It also seems to go against Saint Paul’s advice. Now, there may be good and sufficient reason to do those things. But the press release, and subsequent statements from synod officials, did not address the irregularity of the appointment. Instead, at their best, statements from synod officials merely repeated the glowing words of the press release. At their worst, they called into question the integrity of those who did not immediately jump on the bandwagon. One pastor was accused of “crying wolf”. Some pastors suggested that the motivation for asking questions may be demonically generated(!) One suggested that we just trust our leaders; after all, they have our best interests at heart.

But while there are cases of those who have been brought in to leadership positions quickly, and then risen admirably to the challenge, they are the exception. There are just as many, if not more, examples of pastors who were given authority they were not yet ready to have, and then burned out on it. Our own synod’s history begins with a fairly egregious example.

In addition, the appeal to academic credentials falls flat when we remember how much worldly acclaim the faculty of the institution in question received, right up until the moment that all but five betrayed their church and walked off the job.

The suggestion that we must trust our synod leaders is a good one, until one recalls a past president of the synod who listed all of his very conservative Lutheran theological bona-fides, and then promptly went on a nationally syndicated radio show and denied baptismal regeneration. He later claimed he misunderstood the question.

I was taken to task for suggesting that a clear statement regarding the Sacrament of the Altar might be in order. The press release quoted Dr. Seifrid as saying “Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the distinction between Law and Gospel are elements of Lutheran theology that take up what’s in the Scriptures.” What does it mean that the Lord’s Supper “takes up… what’s in the scriptures”?

The Lord’s Supper is the issue that has universally divided the Lutheran and Reformed (Agreement on 14 1/2 out 15 articles). It is this issue that inspired the Variata to the Augustana, (which I categorically reject) and rightly brought into question Melanchthon’s reputation among Lutherans for all time. Perhaps a clarifying sentence regarding the presence of Jesus body and blood in the Sacrament would be helpful.

Dr. Seifrid went on to say, “Then, in their own way, reading the confessions helps us to hear the Scriptures properly.” At my ordination I bound myself to the Lutheran Confessions because they are a correct exposition of God’s word. Is his statement very close to my vow? Yes. But it is in the differences that the problems arise. A predecessor in my parish was removed shortly after he asked the congregation to affirm the primacy of the Gospel in the Holy Scriptures. Why? Because he meant Gospel devoid of Law, and Holy Scripture devoid of content. It is not only what we affirm that makes us Lutheran, but what we reject. I’m not sure what he means by “in their own way.” A less than clear commitment to our confessions as a correct interpretation of Holy Scripture in all it’s articles can and should be easily addressed.

The Press Release also fails to mention that he will be teaching students, while he himself would be ineligible to be one. He is a newcomer to the LCMS. And not only after slowly discovering that his church teaches wrongly, but after explicitly leaving the LCMS for Evangelicalism.

With so many strange things about the appointment, and given the history of our synod and some of the troubles we have faced (From Martin Stephan’s ‘special tutoring’, through Seminex, to the recent confusion at the highest levels of our church regarding such a basic concept as “idolatry”), perhaps a little more information would help me to jump on that bandwagon with the professors I have come to respect over the years. That would be wonderful. Bandwagons are a fun place to be, especially when surrounded by friends, colleagues, and brothers and sisters in Christ.

But please allow us a moment for reflection. We don’t know him as well as you. We were just introduced to him yesterday. And while he is, I am certain, a bright and capable scholar, and qualified churchman, our church has rules and procedures specifically so that we don’t end up with unhappy results.

We aren’t trying to ruin the party, or be sticks in the mud. We are doing what the Berean Christians did: Carefully weighing what is said according to scripture. So far, the statements have been unclear. That is not good. Perhaps in the coming days our synod officials will answer the questions that have been asked. Not with platitudes, but with forthright answers regarding the parameters of the confessional commitment of our brother in Christ, especially in those areas that divide Lutheran from Evangelical. What made him leave the LCMS, and why does he now seek to return? Perhaps in the next few weeks he will the opportunity to publicly answer these questions himself. That would be wonderful.

Patience, as I understand it, is a virtue. With a little more clarity, a bit more time, and a bit more prayerful consideration, we will likely be joining you on that bandwagon.



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