Friday, January 27, 2012

They have kneelers - and they use them

I promised to share a few impressions of the symposia last week at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne. I won’t bore you with a play-by-play journal of the week. But here are some things that struck me.

I didn’t attend the Exegetical Symposium that took up the first part of the week. Instead, I attended the presentations for the Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions (Wednesday afternoon through Friday morning). The overarching theme was: Justification in a Contemporary Context.

The presentations were very scholarly. I think all the presenters had a doctorate in something or other, and several came from non-Lutheran circles. It seems that the purpose of the presentations was not to teach the truth, but to inform the audience regarding current philosophies and trends in the broader “Christian” context. Rather than, “This is what God says,” it was more, “This is what so-and-so thinks (or thought) about justification.” While that may be helpful for ecumenical dialogue, I would have preferred more discussion of the Scriptures and Confessions themselves. Justification is an article of doctrine that urgently needs to be studied among Lutherans, and the best way to get back to a Lutheran understanding of the chief article, in my opinion, would be to set aside everything written about it in the last 300 years. First Scripture, then the Confessions, then Luther and Chemnitz. Once we have learned from them how to believe and to speak like Lutherans again, then we can move forward cautiously from the 16th century.

For me, the high point of the week was getting to know the LCMS pastors and laity, as well as their culture. In addition to their friendliness, there was a seriousness among them that I have rarely seen in WELS circles, an eagerness to discuss theology and doctrine that was very refreshing. As one pastor told me, “It’s a way of life.” Say what you want about the problems in Missouri, but their conflicts and battles have forced them back into the Scriptures and the Confessions, and as a result, they are far more ready to speak and discuss than those who simply assume their orthodoxy or take it for granted.

There was actually a very open and honest admission in Ft. Wayne that the LCMS has major problems that need addressing. This didn’t just come from a few disgruntled rabble rousers. It came from everyone - from recent seminary graduates to seminary professors to the synodical president Matt Harrison (who, I should mention, expressed to me his heartfelt love and appreciation for our president Schroeder and his joy in renewed discussions with the WELS). It seems to be a given in Missouri that the synod is sorely divided and in desperate need of repentance and help from Above.

…which brings me to what struck me most about the seminary in Ft. Wayne, and it has to do with their chapel. It’s a beautiful, reverent chapel, with a baptismal font filled with water in the entryway. Many, though not all, would dip their fingers in the water and make the sign of the cross on themselves. There was lots of crossing oneself during the Matins and Vespers services, and a reverent bowing of the head at the Gloria Patri – without prompting and without any sort of chatty instruction from the presiding minister. There was a natural piety evident among the worshipers and among the ministers that was shamefully unfamiliar to me. Most noticeably to me, in their chapel they have kneelers – and they use them.

In all my years in the WELS, I can’t remember ever kneeling in church. I recall seeing kneelers (but not using them) in the pews at only a few old WELS churches I have attended, and they were unheard of at the synodical schools I attended. (I honestly don’t know if the chairs in our “newly” renovated seminary chapel have them. Maybe they do.)

What does this mean? It means nothing in and of itself. But to me, the kneeling I witnessed in Ft. Wayne is representative of a very salutary spirit within the Missouri Synod. Both of our synods have the Scriptures and the Confessions as their foundational documents. But both synods have clergy and congregations that have moved away from these foundations in this or in that area. Missouri tends to err more on the side of unionism, while the WELS tends to err more on the side of sectarianism. Neither synod practices much synodical discipline (at least, not the Scriptural kind). Neither synod is united within its own walls regarding the Office of the Holy Ministry, and both have remnants of Pietism and Church Growth philosophies and methodologies running rampant.

But Missouri is, for the most part, honest about this, open about her disunity, and prepared to acknowledge the seriousness of her flaws. More than that, her current president has repeatedly and publicly called his people (starting with himself) to repentance, and seems committed to addressing every issue from the Word of God. I see many, many LCMS pastors fighting for the historic, apostolic, Lutheran faith. But they are not fighting from a high horse. They are fighting from their knees. And that is a good thing. I hope it continues.

And I pray it rubs off. I know it did on me.


Anonymous said...

Unlike WELS worker training schools, the Fort Wayne chapel doesn't have a PowerPoint screen up front. I think that's representative of something significant as well.

- Rev. James Schulz

Anonymous said...

"They are fighting fom their knees." I love this quote. As a member of the LCMS and a future seminarian at CTSFW, I acknowledge openly the problems within our synod but she is slowly regaining catholicity each and every day by the grace of God. I look at where we are, and then to where we are going...and I cannot help but feel an overwhelming sense of joy Congrats on your Sabre of Boldness Pr. Rydecki.

Dagan W. Siepert

Unknown said...

Thank you Pastor Rydecki for the thoughts on the symposium at Fort Wayne.

As a former LCMS member from birth to age 37 and a WELS member for the past 11 years, I have been present to see the changes in the LCMS and concur there are many pastors now on their knees repenting and witnessing to Biblical doctrine and the Confessions. My former home church homes in NW Iowa are small congregations that continue to hold to the Bible and Book of Concord thought there is not enough study of the later.

I was very impressed with my parent's LCMS congregation and pastor at Prince of Peace in Fort Collins, CO where the liturgy has been restored to a more formal service. We often go with my parent to their LCMS church and then drive across town to the WELS church - St. Peter's where Pastor Joel Spaude does a wonderful liturgical service.

I want to thank you Pastor Rydecki for your efforts with Intrepid Lutherans website. You have often given me encouragement as laity to do more than I might or would have else wise. Your encouragement to attend the John, Brothers of the Steadfast conference as made me act to attend in a couple weeks to participate in the Lutheran conversation on the use of social media to spread the gospel message by confessional Lutherans.

I would like to see WELS efforts (most likely funded or support by grass roots WELS folks) to do things beyond the Intrepid Lutherans blog like what Pastor Fisk, Pastor Wilken and Pastor Wolfmuller are doing in the LCMS. There is no point in waiting another 10 - 20 years when issues in WELS might require directed efforts to educate the WELS laity and pastors . We have WELSTech as an audio podcast and also many audio podcasts for devotions and Bible readings. We need confessional pastors and laity to educate WELS, ELS and LCMS members like LCMS does with Issues Etc, Worldview Everlasting and Table Talk and Higher Things (youth target).

I am excited as a new WELS Certified teacher who is on the call list awaiting a call to any school to teach science and technology, but I am glad to put my time and talent to the task well I await that call and even once I am called as time permits.

Blessings Pastors Rydecki, Spencer, Lidtke and laity Lindee and Heyer for Intrepid Lutherans. Let's move the mark ahead and find people to do the work of proclaiming the true Biblical gospel while talking doctrine and the Lutheran Confessions.

God bless you all.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I've been informed from a brother who's having technical difficulties with our website that the chairs in the new seminary chapel are indeed equipped with kneelers. That's great to hear!

But he doesn't recall a powerpoint screen in the chapel. Is there one?

Joe Krohn said...

I am glad you had the opportunity to experience those things. Although as you said, they are not compulsory, it is a breath of fresh air to see the genuine humility in the crossing, bowing and kneeling before our gracious Lord. I felt similarly when we discovered Trinity here in Austin. We are probably one of the few churches that still use the TLH. I was born into WELS and I do remember growing up kneeling for Confession at one church we belonged to...and we didn't have kneelers! But never the bowing and crossing. I still haven't been able to bring myself to the crossing...probably the WELS upbringing and my mother being ex RCC. Eventually. :) We have kneelers going in this year in conjunction with a floor renovation and I saw one of the elders hand off some dried palm leaves to our pastor that will be treated and burned for Ash Wednesday. I also love the Crucifix processional on high festival Sundays.



LPC said...

Just a quick hello from an old friend and pronounce God's blessings to you Pr. Paul.

I saw your comments in one of the blogs, thanks for your penetrating insights.


Jesse Harmon said...

I belong to an ELCA church. We don't have those kneelers behind each pew. I don't think we ever had them.

If we did, I've never seen them in the 15 years I've been attending.

I don't think we would use kneelers anyway, since the average age for our church members is between 55-60, with a significant portion above the age of 65, so it would be nearly impossible for them to kneel in such a small space.

This was a very interesting read.....

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