It’s easy to take the bible out of context. We don’t want to use phrases like, “God is not mocked” without making sure we are applying it to the correct situation. So, when we look at the context of those verses, it is clear that Paul is talking about properly supporting the clergy. Allowing those who are called to preach the Gospel, and sent to do that task, to wallow in poverty and uncertainty is a crime that calls out to the heavens. Those so engaged are mocking God with their lovelessness. No matter how much a church may thrive numerically or financially, if it treats faithful pastors badly it is rotting from the inside. God will judge, and that judgment will not be pleasant for anyone. Abel’s blood cried to God for vengeance. How much more will those who suffer unjustly for the faith – at the hands of those who claim to be the church – cry out to him, and be heard. When Israel was in Egypt, it may have taken 400 years, but the final judgment was terrible to behold. Flies, frogs, blood, darkness, and finally, the Angel of Death. And yet, it is possible for a godless city to repent and be spared. Jonah objected to his Ninevah Mission Trip not because he thought the people would never repent, but because he knew that, if they did, God would spare them. He wanted to see Ninevah destroyed. Sure enough, the people all abandoned their sin (at least for a while) and turned to the Lord God in sackcloth and ashes.
All of that is merely preface. The LCMS has a chance to repent, to fix a grave injustice. This summer, some sort of proposal will be made regarding men who have taken time from their life to learn the Word of God, who have been called and sent to preach that word, but for various reasons, are not serving in parishes. It’s been called Lutheran Purgatory, but that is too kind. Purgatory exists (not really!) to work off the sins a man has committed in himself. Candidate Status is a false judgment set against Christ’s minister by the very men who are tasked with showing them love and support. This is much closer to the work of Caiaphas than the invented teachings of Rome.
Jesus says “By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And yet, the synod has repeatedly been loveless in this regard. Three years ago, our synod’s master satirist produced a video that showed the absurdity of studying this, when men were being consumed now. There is an urgency to this. The urgency rests in the need of our brothers in Christ, who are being tossed aside like so much garbage. The urgency rests in the lovelessness of the Presidents who, like the priest and Levite in the parable, simply walk by on the other side.
Our synod has a chance to finally repent of her sin. If we do not love our neighbor whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen? There are many doctrinal differences in our synod. The Koinonia project is attempting, in its own flawed manner, to address them. But even if there is progress in such an endeavor, it can not be blessed by God if we do not turn away from this sin. “God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” It does us no good to continue saying, “The District President needs to be careful that the needs of those on candidate status are being addressed.” They are not being addressed. The District Presidents have shown a stubborn, ongoing hardening of their hearts in this matter. I question when and whether we will have reached the point that we no longer have the freedom to turn away from our sin, but like Pharaoh of old, God hardens our heart so that the full wrath of God may fall on us. For we can not simply say, “The problem is the District Presidents” when we re-elect them for term after term, and we continue to study a problem that is killing men and their families, and then pat ourselves on the back for our careful and caring attitude while we watch them suffer. We can not simply set up more study on this, or tell people to continue to care for men in this situation, without making concrete changes to the way things are done. The time to stare at the man lying by the side of the road has ended. Either put him on our collective donkeys, or admit that the church simply can not help the hurting, and join the Priest and Levite in helplessly moving on. At least then we would be honest enough to admit that we will do nothing. Let’s not continue to give men hope that we will help them, if we clearly have no intention of doing so. If we want to do nothing, then let’s be about it, and reduce the surplus population. Perhaps the seminaries can put a disclaimer on the applications that says, “Warning: Attending Seminary is no guarantee of being placed in a church that actually wishes to be Lutheran. And if you are ever in trouble in your parish, the District President is authorized to violate the 5th Commandment, John 13:35, and Galatians 6:7, and James 2:16.” If we won’t at least be honest, then, in addition to being loveless, our synod is a liar, and we are of our father the devil.
This summer many proposals will be considered. There are two that simply must be addressed. The first and most well known is the Wichita Amendment to AC 14. But just as importantly, we must repent and turn away from our sin in the matter of “Candidate Status.” How bad is it? We even tell returning Missionaries and Chaplains, “Just wait. In God’s time something may happen.” These aren’t men that were removed for being faithful, or even (as many are saying) intransigent. These are men who have faithfully served in the harvest field, and whose service there has ended. We offer no process at all for placing them back in parishes in our synod. How we treat these men is a clear and unambiguous measure of whether we are keeping our Lord’s command to love our neighbor and honor the ministry, or whether we are mocking God with conventions that call upon his name, while our heart is far from him.
There are some potentially hopeful signs. The report on Candidate status, which was a travesty, has been rejected by our synod president. He is, as we speak, meeting with men on Candidate Status to get their input to send to the floor committee. I know some of the men who are being interviewed. I also know one of the men on the floor committee that will be responsible for this. He is a man of integrity. But what will happen at the convention is still unknown. And the truth is, there has been no official report that offers any hope to these men. Changes must happen, and they must happen quickly. Not just tweaks and adjustments. We must have a “repent and turn to the Lord, blow the Trumpet in Zion, declare a fast, get off of our throne and put on sackcloth and ashes” moment, and it has to happen soon.
There is time. Repent, and be saved, while the Lord grants us the chance.