“Are you a missional church?” “Are you a confessional church?” “Do you care about the lost?” “Do you care about doctrine?” So goes the questions for those in the Lutheran churches of North America. This is especially so for pastors. The political climate within many North American churches has the tendency to create allegiances, “us” and “them.” This is often the case in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). “Which side are you on?” “Who do you support?” Or even more fun, “We have the Lord on our side, how about you?” As if somehow the Lord can be bent to any such allegiance.
Last time I checked, it was the Lord who gets to be the “boss,” and the way He went about being “boss” was by suffering Himself up on the cross to die for our sins. Those who would come after Him are called to pick up their cross and follow Him—pastors, parishioners, and pagans alike.
Some say it is done through missions. Others say through faithful ministry. Some say through purity of doctrine. Others say through impassioned outreach. Must they be pitted against one another? Must they be done to the exclusion of the other? Does not all ministry, all mission, all doctrine and all outreach come from “the Holy Christian Church”—a church that is, by the way, made up of real confessing and believing people, living real lives in the midst of a real culture, filled with real sins, real pain, and real joy?
In the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod this uneasy tension has been present for decades. As a pastor, circuit counselor, and practitioner of theology, (our congregations are locally divided into clusters called circuits, where the circuit counselors convene monthly meetings between the brother clergy), it has been readily apparent that this tension remains.
But perhaps, in some ways, this is a good thing. The recognition of each extreme may help to maintain a healthy balance for those in the middle majority and continue to provide needed dialogue regarding the doctrine and practice of twenty-first century North American Lutheran congregations, pastors, and missionaries, as it relates to the mission of the Holy Christian Church.
However, the unfortunate practice has not always been to dialogue, but to take sides, label, break the 8th commandment, and ultimately, to jostle for the power to control the dialogue and the perception of the church’s mission.
I happen to be a proponent of lifting up the historic doctrine and practice of the evangelical Lutheran faith of the LCMS. But I am remiss to do so by way of (political) power or by bullying. Inevitably, to gain power over someone means one has to disempower someone else. When this occurs, anger, hostility, resentment, and the feeling of being disenfranchised, are bound to set in, until the control of power inevitably swings back the other way, and then does the same to those on the other side of the aisle.
Rather, what I hope for, and what I am advocating for here, is a return to collegial and honest theological dialogue. This would mean a return to mutually respectful and intentionally candid dialogue about genuine evangelical Lutheran theology—its history and practice—conducted in love and truth, for mutual edification and Christian celebration.
Thus, for you quiet LCMS readers out there, I encourage you to dialogue with your brother clergy (or sister congregational members). Don’t simply speak with those whom you feel you have the most in common. Whether you consider yourself to be “confessional” or “missional,” the labels of “Lutheran” and “Christian” are the ones that bear the common ground. And it is here where the dialogue can begin.
Seek to dialogue, avoid creating heated debates or instigating arguments you know will prove unfruitful and less than sanctifying. That doesn’t mean a person backs away from the truth. Rather, my aim is to promote healthy and helpful dialogue. As the Apostle Paul urges: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph 4:29).
Therefore, my plea for you is to be intentional about dialoging with brother clergy (or fellow LCMS Lutherans) of a different perspective. But do so with all love, respect, and patience, with the desire to understand, and yet with the goal of lifting up what it means to be a faithful 21st century Lutheran church that “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).