Casting Down Idol Altars: Try Faithfulness

Some years ago I was speaking to a high synod official. I said, “The good kings of Judah not only reinstituted temple worship, but also tore down the idol altars” (a political as well as religious act). In response, I was told that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod had no idol altars. Those who practice open communion, for example, were trained improperly. Now we had good training and pastors were taught about closed communion. We need not worry about idol altars. Everything – I was assured – was calm.

It was a clarifying moment for me. I realized that there would be no a push to purify the synod. I don’t mean heresy trials. I mean a specific effort to make sure everything we do is faithful in act and intention.

A year after the “idol altars” conversation, Concordia Portland started a Pride Club. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Portland succumbed to its pride in 2020 – the second Concordia to Close. Bronxville – caught up in equity and class struggles – followed soon after. We’ve now lost three of ten schools in five years. 139, 115, and 98 years of service ended. If I were the sort to recommend convention plans, I might suggest the next one focus on the health of the remaining schools. Conversations about the mission and ministry of these schools seem appropriate. Comprehensive reports, resolutions to strengthen them, specific statements regarding their ministry and specific resolutions to insure faithful practice could be prepared. They could be released in advance of the convention so the synod and her members have time to carefully consider our next move. I assume nothing of the sort is being planned. It would have been mentioned by now.

Meanwhile, a whistleblowing professor at our largest University argues that wokeness has become endemic at the school. The interim President responded to these accusations by denying the charges and attempting to cancel the professor. Nothing says “Good faith effort not to be woke” like cancelling anyone who dares challenge you. The irony is apparently lost on the interim president.

Not long ago the synod changed the governance of the schools. Instead of conventions electing all regents, the regents themselves can appoint local folks who have specific expertise (i.e. large bank accounts) to provide targeted advice (i.e. large endowment checks). Despite warnings that the exact situation we now face would occur, the synod sold the souls of the Concordias for a few pieces of silver. Perhaps the property on which Portland or Bronxville once sat can be used as a Potter’s Field and complete the analogy. Seldom has faithfulness been sold so cheaply. It didn’t insure survival. It hurried their demise.

Regarding Concordia Wisconsin, everyone is asking “What can be done to solve this one problem?” The same question was asked of Bronxville and Portland before them. The synod in convention can close the school outright, change the bylaws regarding regents, turn them into trade schools, force them to only teach classes in underwater basket weaving or forbid those classes, etc. In the meantime, CUW won’t get a president without the synod president’s approval. An interim can not serve forever. If the school delays ovelong he will be replaced with a different interim. Lawsuits could be filed, but those sort of things look bad to accreditation boards. Once again, we rely on secular authorities to save us from our own unfaithfulness.

I think the Concordias are worth saving. They are not entirely corrupted yet. But we need to roll up our sleeves, put on the big-boy pants, and get to work. I haven’t seen any signs the synod’s leadership is doing that. Not that they aren’t working hard to put out one dumpster fire after another. I’m sure they are. Presidents and faithful regents are almost certainly spending many hours on the situation in Wisconsin, especially in the last week or so.

But there is no synod-wide effort to define what the schools are, what they will be, whom they will serve, what training they should provide, and how it will be funded. Each University has half the regents elected by various synod entities, and then are told to find more regents, and make their own way in the world. In what reality does that sound like a recipe for success?

Maybe the time has come to cut our Concordias free, to abandon the work of our fathers who sacrificed to build them. There are forces trying to do just that. If we want to watch them slowly close one after another with no plan to save even a single one, we should keep doing what we are doing. Let each chart its own path unconnected to the wider church. Just remain calm. No idol altars here. Or…

In seminary I once got a 48 percent on the first exam in a class. While I stood outside the door pondering my failure, the professor helpfully shouted from inside “Try studying.” Wonder of wonders, it worked. What should we do with the Concordias (and with every part of our synod?)

Try faithfulness.

What does that look like? The people of God, scattered about this land, gather each week in their congregations  – no matter how inconvenient it may be – to hear and learn the Word of God, to receive instruction in that word, to partake of the blessed sacrament, and to respond in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. At the synod level it means rooting out unfaithfulness – tearing down idol altars wherever they are found. Our sole direction must come from the Word of God. Anything that violates or calls into question that Word must be done away with. We must be winsome in our efforts. Again, I’m not suggested heresy hunts. But we must also be unyielding. It’s time for a return to the Lord and His Word at all levels.

We’ve seen in the last few years one idol after another rear its horned head at our synod, sneering and gnashing teeth at us. By the grace of God, the most egregious of these idols have been cast down. But to our shame, we have relied on secular authorities and secular reasons to cast them down for us. This will not continue forever.

We have already lost much – perhaps too much at this point recover. It does not mean we shouldn’t actively fight. The other option is to continue as we are and let institutional inertia slowly shrink our synod to a size that can once again be faithful.

I’d hate to see the mother church that bore me go under. I owe the LCMS more than I can ever repay. But I would sooner see it sink under the waves and never rise again than continue to allow false teaching. God will judge. He will keep his word pure. And he will preserve his church, in spite of our best efforts.

But maybe, just maybe, we could offer to tear down an idol altar or two along the way.

If my ideas intrigue you, stay tuned. I’ve got some specific idols that the church needs to destroy. For an overall plan of reform for the synod, head over to

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