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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Confessional Lutheranism Cannot be Silenced

I'm surrounded by all sorts of Chicken Littles. Or is it Henny Pennys? I'm not sure which--whichever one went off shrieking about the sky falling, and it's a chicken either way. Anyway, I'm surrounded by them, or at least they outnumber the sane people in my narrow corner of the blogosphere.

I say that because there is controversy (What!? No kidding!) in my church body, the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, because certain persons with agendas are getting in the way of other folks with their agendas. And of course we can't wrestle with what's going on without a few Lutherans (including some outside the LCMS) casting the whole struggle in terms that sound vaguely apocalyptic: Sons of Light waging war against the forces of darkness, etc.

Seriously, to read what people have been writing lately, you'd think we Lutherans were strangers to conflict. You'd think we'd never gone through any feuding or shaking out process before. Nothing could be further from the truth. We've had our share of conflict, and acrimonious disputes. We've had folks with agendas oust other folks and their agendas, and usually most of us have had the good grace to not publicly accuse either side of cheating. Somehow Missouri always seemed to pull through, if not always pulling together.

But now supposedly the End is near. The Synod, according to some, is beyond saving, and this because the current elected leadership has allegedly engaged in trying to stamp out confessional Lutheranism of the right-wing variety. The latest grievance arises over the administration's decision to discontinue a popular radio broadcast, "Issues, Etc." The administration claims the decision was purely of a financial nature, while those hungry to get one of their own back in power claim it was motivated by a desire to silence the voice of Confessional Lutheranism.

Now without doubt, "Issues, Etc." was a terrific daily radio show, and many, many thousands, perhaps millions over it's long run, were blessed by it. It's also true that it's host, Rev. Todd Wilken, had been fairly critical over the inroads made by what is called church-growth marketing, and the show clearly was negative towards Lutheran churches adopting much of anything from American Evangelicalism. The show was therefore very helpful for showcasing the distinctiveness of our Lutheran theology and practice, and the voice of Todd Wilken became a recognizable voice for Confessional Lutheranism.

With the show's cancellation, however, some are saying the end of the Missouri Synod is upon us. It's time to get out. It's time to recognize that Missouri has traveled farther down the slippery slope than anyone knew. Come out, ye, from among them! Save confessional Lutheranism from being compromised! Save it from being silenced!

Usually at this point there is much wailing and hand-wringing; if Missouri's light goes out, what church body of any size will be left to testify to the truth? What will happen to the pure Gospel? How will Lutheranism survive if one of the last, main conservative/confessional bodies sells out? Countering the chant to "come out from among them" is the rising chorus of, "We must save Missouri at any cost!"

Now I appreciate that the issues rocking the LCMS are serious, but I honestly doubt the sky is falling. I don't know of a single LCMS pastor who denies the historicity of Christ's Virgin birth; or of the Bodily Resurrection; or doubts whether Christ is truly and locally present in the Sacrament of his body and blood; or who teaches that Adam and Eve never literally existed. I don't know of a single LCMS pastor who rejects the pastoral epistles as not being genuine. Or who thinks the exodus through the Red Sea never happened. I've heard rumors of confessional Lutherans coming under attack, and yet I don't know of single pastor in the LCMS who doesn't accept every symbol included in the 1580 Book of Concord.

Based on these observations, I conclude there probably remains hope for my church body. It's even possible some of Missouri's finest days might be yet to come. But even if I am wrong, even if we're on a slippery slope and picking up speed, the sky still isn't falling. It may be the curtain coming down on a Synod which began in 1847, a man-made church structure, but regardless of what people say or write, it was the Lutheran Confessions keeping the Synod alive and relevant, not vice versa. And the Lutheran Confessions not only antedate the Synod, but they'll remain long after the LCMS is a memory.

In other words, there is something about Confessional Lutheranism that cannot be silenced; not merely must not, or should not, but can not. And now, of course, I no longer have in mind simply Pastor Wilken, although I doubt much whether he can be silenced either. What I mean is, take "Issues" off the air, and other radio shows will spring up so the message does not go silent. The message will find a media outlet, or make one. If a confessional church body falls apart or gets to a point where it no longer can be regarded as confessional, the Lutheran Confessions will generate a new synod to clearly articulate them. That's how powerful ideas work; they don't merely benefit from institutional support, they give rise to the new institutions in the first place. So likewise, authentic Lutheranism--that is, Book of Concord Lutheranism, Law and Gospel Lutheranism--is going to continue to find expression, irrespective of anyone's agendas.

Just a closing thought; cannot means absolutely can NOT. To silence it you'd have to get rid of thousands of faithful pastors. You'd have to wipe away all the archived shows of "Issues," and "Radical Grace," and other shows committed to the same viewpoint, not only from all the servers in the world, but even from everyone's personal iPods. You'd have to confiscate every single Book of Concord, and also every copy of Luther's Small Catechism, because if even one extant copy got overlooked somewhere, it would eventually find a believing reader again, and soon it'll find expression again.

But even if all that were done, the Confessions still couldn't be silenced forever. Take away all the Lutheran Confessions and erase them from everyone's memory, and you'd still have the Bible to contend with. From the unchained Word of God, everything essential in the Confessions would get generated again. And the promise we have from Christ is that heaven and earth will pass away before his word passes away. That part of the "sky," at least, is divinely guaranteed never to fall.

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