Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Tale of Two Tunes

Editorial Comment

[Caution: The following is an editorial, that is, an opinion piece. As such it has no points to prove or sources to cite, but seeks only to promote thought, and from thought, perhaps action. Some readers may find it somewhat acerbic and perhaps even caustic. Rest assured it is written in love and hope.
Pastor Spencer]

The other morning as I sat at my desk surrounded by the cold and inky darkness of the day's fifth hour, yet in the glow of two small candles on either side of a humble crucifix sitting on my desk, and finished up the last versicles of the Office at Prime, two musical tunes insinuated their way into my early morning devotions. One was a hymn, #462 in TLH (I never have memorized the hymn numbers in the new hymnal), "I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord." At the time I did not know why that particular hymn came to me at just that moment. It didn't seem to have much to do with the Scripture verses I had just read a few moments before, Luke 3:10-14. But there it was, the words appearing almost before my eyes in the heated vapors above the candles:
    "I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
    The house of Thine abode,
    The Church our blest Redeemer saved
    With His own precious blood."
The hymn, of course, is speaking of the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the total sum of all believers of all times and places. But we are not wrong to think also of particular churches - our churches - congregations of the faithful, in their worship buildings, be they ever so humble or grand. We do indeed cherish and treasure the places where God's Word is preached, where the Holy Sacraments are administered according to Christ's command, where our children are baptized and married, and from whence our mortal remains shall be taken on their final journey. And too, we think of church bodies that train and send Pastors to preach and administer, that monitor and protect doctrine and practice, and that go where we cannot go, in our stead, to announce the Gospel of the finished work of Christ's atonement to the far-flung reaches of the world. We love all these kingdoms and we support them and pray for them.

But then there came another tune, not so outwardly ecclesiastical, yet very familiar. It was a popular song of the 60's by the Beach Boys, "Be True to Your School." The opening words came to me now too:
    "When some loud braggart tries to put me down and says his school is great,
    I tell him right away,
    'Now what's the matter buddy, ain't you heard of my school?
    It's number one is the state.'
    So be true to your school . . . . "
Now, why did I think of that song and those words right after hymn 462? Some might suggest it was because I hadn't had my orange juice yet that morning. Perhaps. But as I put away my brevery, blew out the candles, and got up to turn on the office lights and my computer, another thought came to me. Maybe believers are too prone to take a rather worldly and boastful pride in our little pieces of the Lord's kingdom.

Ah, then I remembered - that previous evening I had submitted my 2011 parish statistics to the synod offices. Could it be that I was taking just a tad of silly human pride in the accomplishments of my little parish over the previous year? After all, attendance did go up a bit - well, at least it didn't go down! And, besides the normally expected infant baptisms and child confirmations, there were those golden numbers, the most prized possession and the holy grail of stats among us Pastors - Adult Baptisms and Adult Confirmations! And, even though we showed a net loss in communicants for the year (that too is becoming the norm with most places), still, that's only because I was diligent in cutting out the "deadwood." Now, I felt like turning the lights and computer back off and hitting my knees for a healthy dose of repentance! Of this I was most surely guilty. Forgive me, dear Jesus!

But there is yet something else here among us - a pride not only in the individual parish figures at the end of the year, but a pride in our synod's purity and unity. A boast and a brag, almost as palatable as a "Lambeau Leap!" Alas, as our little blog itself has shown beyond any shadow of a doubt - perhaps simply by our mere existence if nothing else – such unity is no longer ours in the WELS. Yet, to even suggest this seems to be a great heresy. But why? And why haven't we been able to deal with what looks and sounds to many like aberrations in doctrine and practice in a number of places around the synod? Could it be a reluctance or even refusal to see and admit the problems? Could it be an immense hubris that assumes that all is well and right in WELS, and cannot and will not brook any thought or claim or even suggestion to the contrary?

It comes down to this – Are we so ready and willing to be "true to our school (synod)" that we don't love the Lord's kingdom as we need to, that we aren't and won't and can't carefully and prudently give our beloved church body the tough love it truly needs in a firm and timely manner? The answers to all these questions seem clear enough and quite evident to me. How about you? Perhaps more light in the coming year will help!

Deo Vindice!

Pastor Spencer


Anonymous said...

I'm reading an interesting secular book right now named "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Kahneman. I came across a simple sentence about a third of the way through the book that seemed especially significant to me. It said:

"An inability to be guided by a "healthy fear" of bad consequences is a disastrous flaw"

I thought of that sentence, Pastor Spencer, as I read your post. And I also thought about how Martin Luther began his explanations to each of the ten commandments with the words "We should fear and love God ...". I think those words of Martin Luther were and are calling for a healthy fear (fear as in respect) of bad consequences.
In my work, I see many problems caused by mistakes that could be attributed to a "lack of healthy fear for bad consequences". Perhaps I am over simplifying here. But I think that at least some of our problems regarding the unity we are losing within the WELS stems from a lack of a healthy fear (fear as in respect) of the bad consequences that will result by allowing the importance of purity of doctrine to be diminished.


Anonymous said...

There was an essay Carl Mischke presented once in the South Atlantic District entitled, "Twenty Years Behind Missouri: A Word of Warning for the WELS." One of the warnings in that essay (NOT in the WLS file) was "pride in orthodoxy." I believe the year was 1996.

Can't quote more than that, since I don't have a copy of the essay. Perhaps someone else does...


Pastor Spencer said...

Thank you for your comment, Vernon.

I tend to think that it is not lack of fear of bad consequences, but rather an intense fear of bad consequences that keeps many of our Pastors and leaders from dealing with doctrinal problems among us. The difference is what we mean by bad consequences. You are talking about the bad consequences of the erosion of confessional teaching and practice and the intrusion of sectarian false doctrine, along with the very real spiritual damage this can cause. It is true that this possibility is pretty much denied by most in WELS, again, even though it has been shown to be the case already. But the bad consequences I'm talking about are the loss of Pastors, members, and congregations, with the attendant loss of offerings and influence. In my opinion, it is the fear of these consequences that keeps us from dealing with problems effectively and in a timely manner. So our pride works against us in two ways - it keeps us from recognizing the problems, and it keeps us from dealing with them even if and when we do. To me, one "fix" is obvious - instead of a synod-wide "Walking Together" Sunday, a "WELS Sunday of Humiliation and Repentance" would seem to be in order. Just a thought.

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Pastor Spencer, I agree 100%.

A WELS pastor once told me that we should never say anything bad about our congregation or synod (even though it is true) because that could hinder our growth.

However, John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Lord, said, "Repent!" (Matthew 3:2). Do we want true growth? Do we want to make straight paths for the Lord? If so, then we must find something of which to repent, and repent. We must stop this make-believe about how the WELS is perfect and there is nothing wrong with any of our pastors or congregations. Jesus said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:31-32).

The WELS is spiritually dying because we think we don't need a doctor. But our belief in our spiritual health is what we have chosen to believe, it is not the truth. We should instead submit in humble repentance to the truth: "All ... fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23).

The Reformation began when Martin Luther said in the very first of the 95 Thesis: "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said 'Repent,' He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." Take that to heart.

We fear failure in the eyes of the world more than we fear sin.

"Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall." (Ezekiel 18:30). "This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'" (Isaiah 30:15).

Rick Techlin

Rev. David M. Juhl said...

Change the letters to LC-MS and you have our situation too. We are willing to admit (for the most part) our lack of doctrinal unity. What troubles me is the tone of those who want an immediate solution. This problem did not happen overnight. Working to get everyone on the same page is a necessary step, as is discipline when necessary.

Thank you.

Rev. David M. Juhl
Our Savior Evangelical-Lutheran Church (LC-MS)
Momence, IL

Pastor Spencer said...

Thank you, Rick, for your very perceptive and spot-on comments. I have been pressing our synod leaders for a synod-wide Sunday of Repentance and Humiliation for many years. I think such would go a long way to healing many of the problems that afflict the WELS today.

And, Pastor Juhl, thank you for your comments. I understand your concern. The "tone" of some in both synods is perhaps a bit strident at times, and I know that can be off-putting. But for those like myself, who left LCMS back in 1969 over fellowship with ALC and women voting, among other problems, and who have been fighting false teachers in the WELS since even before I graduated from seminary (1981), our patience is quite thin. I fully realize Missouri's problems began in the 30s and 40s, that WELS' troubles also have been a long time in the making. I realize too, the "fixes" for these matters will not be quick or easy. I and many others, however, would simply like to see a bit more movement toward God-pleasing and confessional Lutheran solutions.

Again, thank you both for your viewpoints.

Pastor Spencer

Joe Krohn said...

I have a hard time with statements like 'it took us a long time to get here so it will take a while to get out.' I liken it to pandering; the type that got Aaron into trouble when Moses went up on the mountain. There are many instances all over the Bible where false doctrine was dealt with swiftly. Mark and avoid...there is no sin in that statement. As one infamously promoted...'Change or Die'.


Pastor Spencer said...

You make a valid point, Joe. It really shouldn't take so long to deal with problems as it does these days. The problem is that because the issues took so long to become obvious enough to deal with, that all the while they were also spreading and becoming entrenched. If it was simply the case of one, or even half a dozen, errant teachers or preachers in a few places, over 30 years, then once discovered they could be quickly confronted and removed if necessary. However, that's now how false doctrine works. It spread exponentially by geometric proportions, and also picks up speed and inertia as time goes on. Before you know it, it is deeply entrenched and has even come to be seen as the "norm" by many in many parts of the body. Thus, a relatively "quick" fix is also bound to be a devastating one when it comes to the numbers that might be lost. And since the organization has schools and headquarters buildings to maintain; professors, missionaries, teachers, administrators, and janitors to provide for, such "bloodletting" might very well make such further maintenance impossible. The body might go on, but many institutions would not. That is extremely painful for many to contemplate, especially those who believe that they have been Called to ensure the survival of both the body and its institutions. So, in the end, as much as we might like the "fix" to be swift and sure, and as much as that would seem to be the best for the kingdom in the long run, it is simply not in the cards these days. So, we need to keep the pressure up over the long haul; support and encourage our leaders, and spur them on to action as much as we can, all the while understanding that the process will take more time than we might like. This calls for the patient endurance of the saints!

Thanks for your comment.

Pastor Spencer

Phyllis Whitten said...

Pastor Spencer, you call for patient endurance of thr saints. I am well into my senior years and believe I am fairly capable of recognizing false doctrine,praying and doing what I can to see it removed.

You express a fear of the numbers that would be lost with an attempt at a sudden fix. What about the damage being done to our children and grandchildren who are being endoctrinated with the false doctrine? They are not just numbers that are lost, are they being lost for eternity?

Pastor Spencer said...


Thank you for your comment, and your justifiable concern.

Allow me to make one thing clear - the fear of numbers that might be lost due to correct and necessary discipline is most certainly NOT my fear! It is my opinion, however, that the majority of our Pastors and leaders do have such a fear. And to be charitable, they too are concerned that some might, in the face of such discipline, leave the WELS hastily and unnecessarily, to their spiritual detriment.

What it all comes down to - again, in my opinion - is faith and trust. We Pastors and synod leaders must very simply have more faith and trust in the Lord of the Church. We must believe that if we do the right thing, such as hold accountable all Pastors and teachers to a firm confessional Lutheran standard in both doctrine and practice, and take whatever steps are called for in that process, in a fair but timely fashion, that God will use us to accomplish His holy will, and that His will shall be for our eternal good and that of His entire kingdom. And we must believe this even if it means we lose such numbers as to make our continuing as a church body, with all the bells and whistles we presently have, impossible. More simply put - let us do what we must, and then let God take care of the results! We are, after all, in the FAITH business! This has been my continuing encouragement to our leaders for more than thirty years, and it will continue to be for as long as God allows.

God bless!

Pastor Spencer

Pr. Kurt Hagen said...

Pr. Spencer -- What materials do you use to pray the Daily Office? I'm curious, because I also do that. So good to hear of a brother pastor who appreciates the church's rich bequest of prayer, liturgy, and devotion!

-- Pr. Kurt Hagen

Pastor Spencer said...

Greetings Brother Hagen!

I use a little book entitled simply "The Daily Office." The editor was Herbert Lindemann, and it was published by CPH in 1965. I'm told it has been long out of print, but that copies can sometimes be found on Ebay or Amazon. I have used it almost daily since my first year in seminary, and it has held together remarkably well. Over the years I have strongly encouraged my friends at NPH to put out something similar, but alas, they say the market would be too small.

Thanks for your question and comment.

Pastor Spencer

Phyllis Whitten said...

In 2008 CPH published a new, marvelous book for daily devotions with readings, prayers, canticles, liturgy, compline for all times of the day and for all seasons of the church year. It is titled "Treasury of Daily Prayer".

It is a larger book, but one of the best Christmas gifts I received from my husband - at the suggestion of our pastor.

Jami Thomas said...

Pastor Spencer mentioned “a reluctance or even refusal to see and admit the problems” of doctrine and practice in our synod. In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve only one command. Their freedom was complete in every other way. They likely never imagined that their perfect relationship with God would ever change. They didn’t deliberately set out to disobey God. They were deceived by Satan’s “slight” twisting of God’s Word.

In Christ, we have freedom. But God has told us not to change His Word. None of us would deliberately set out to change the relationship we have with God through Christ. But we, too, can be deceived. Satan is working hard in our churches and synod to convince us that a new Bible translation or a slight change of doctrine or practice is of little concern. It worked for him in the Garden of Eden. We need to be diligent and alert. And “wake up” those around us.

“Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)

Jami Thomas

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