A NOTE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This essay in four parts was submitted to publish anonymously. The author wrote a short-form essay which they wanted to publish with attribution. We are publishing both anonymously because we wanted to respect the identify of the author. The author is a member of a congregation in ABC District of Lutheran Church Canada.
The Pastoral Office
Another area where we have set aside our Lutheran doctrine and practice is in the area of Missions. It seems that the work of Missions is a central driver in restructuring the synod. I am troubled by this focus, not because I do not desire to reach the lost, but rather because the vision for these Missions completely deemphasizes that the Word of Christ is what creates saving faith. Instead of a Lutheran understanding of evangelism (Word and Sacrament in the Divine Service), I am hearing pastors who are seeking to inspire zeal for Missions based on their visions and ideas. I am hearing an approach that is not Lutheran.
Pastors are called to be faithful servants of God’s Word. They are called to feed Christ’s sheep with His Word of Law and Gospel and with Christ’s Sacraments in season and out of season. They are not called to be visionaries and they are not called to be leaders – they are called to be faithful. Dietrich Bonhoeffer discusses this type of vision casting by pastors. In his book Life Together (New York: Harper and Row, 1954), this “visionary dreaming” a man does when he creates his own “visionary ideal of community” and brings it to the community of Christians is discussed in detail. When a man brings his own ideas to the community of Christians, he “sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself” according to the rules he has created. He “acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together” (p. 28). We know this to be false. The creator of the Christian community is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it is the Holy Spirit who binds them together.
We should be wary of these visionary ideas, remembering that we live by grace through faith in the Son of God who loves us and gave Himself for us. Pastors do not occupy their own office but Christ’s Office; they are under-shepherds of the Good Shepherd. Similarly, it is not our church but Christ’s Church. We know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ grows and sustains the Church. We know Faith is created and nourished by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments. We are not at liberty to decide what we think the Church is. We cannot create faith with man-made visions or human organizational structures. We cannot improve upon the Word of God. To attempt to do so, and to measure our success based on the attainment of these so-called visionary ideas is, to quote Bonhoeffer again, “proud and pretentious” (p. 28). In our attempt to structure our Synod we cannot lose sight of the promises God has given us; we must ground our structure first and foremost in the Word of God.
Any work the Church engages in should be entirely rooted in Holy Scripture. Specifically, the Church’s mission in reaching the lost must be inherently tied up in the sacraments (most notably Holy Baptism). For this reason I find it particularly troubling that our church structure currently places Mission work on the corporate side of the Synod. A structure with Missions placed solely on the corporate (that is to say business) side of things divorces mission work from Christ’s command in Matthew 28 where he makes it clear that missions are necessarily sacramental. We should never be discussing the existence of Missions apart from the Sacraments, and that is exactly what we have done.
A concept that is extremely important in this talk of Missions yet is sorely lacking from it is the Doctrine of Vocation. This doctrine teaches us that as fathers, mothers, children and co-workers we can be witnesses of Christ to the people and in the places where God has put us. For parents, but especially fathers, this means living and teaching the faith at home. This means spending time in the Word and in the Catechism and in prayer with your family. Even in our places of work there are ample opportunities to share the riches of our Lutheran Confession, not as a work to earn God’s favour or to justify ourselves before Him, but because we have God’s favour in Christ, we are His baptized and forgiven children. We have received Christ’s Body and Blood and thus we know we are forgiven and have eternal life. So all that we do, we do it out of love for our neighbour and solely for their benefit. We do not need to earn anything, because in Christ we have everything and that is why we serve.
In the LCC, we have become so focused on reaching the lost, that we have failed to follow our vocations and catechize those in our synod, namely our youth. Many of our young people do not know the basics of our Confession. Unfortunately, we have come up with an incorrect view of catechesis in general, one that views it as a “one and done.” This one and done view can clearly been seen in how the Rite of Confirmation is practiced in our synod. The youth are confirmed and we never see many of them again; they view Confirmation as a graduation of sorts, rather than a part of their continual growth in the faith. We are failing to understand the Catechism as Dr. Luther said it should be: “we are to be life-long students of the catechism.”
One of the saddest things I ever heard from one of our youth (born and raised Lutheran) was an experience at an Evangelical Youth event. They said of the event, that they were asked to write down a sin that was troubling them, put their sin in a box with everyone else’s and then watch as all of the “sins” were burned. The young person explains that burning that sin made them feel so good. I was honestly shocked upon hearing this declaration – writing our sins and burning them is not how we are forgiven. Did this young person not know of Holy Absolution? It seems we are not teaching our youth to understand the comfort we are given by hearing the words “I forgive you all your sins for Christ’s sake and by His command.” They are missing the crucial understanding that Christ our Lord uses our pastor’s voice to speak, as He Himself absolves us of our sins. Lord have mercy on us, what are we teaching our children? Or more to the point, what are we not teaching them?
Perhaps being more well-versed in the catechism would help us to understand the dangers inherent in our becoming what Pastor Will Weedon calls “the church of the Lutheran hour.” The Small Catechism explains the importance of the Third Commandment that we “shall sanctify the holy day.” Historically in the Lutheran Church, preparation for the Lord’s Day began on Saturday evening with Private Confession and a service of Vespers. The day itself began in the morning with singing Matins, followed by the Mass (Divine Service). Sunday evening’s service of Vespers ended the day and was dedicated to Catechesis, especially for the young (though their parents were expected to attend as well). I’m sure what I have just described sounds very foreign to our ears, because we have lost so much of our Lutheran identity forgetting that it is the day that is to be sanctified, not just the hour. Both pastors and parents need to be called to repentance for how lax and lazy we have become; we are neglecting to hear His Word and failing to teach it to those He has entrusted to us.
But how can we teach our children, when we in the LCC have put such little stock in admonishing our youth to aspire to be fathers and mothers? We have failed to teach them that having a degree and a career are important, but not at the expense of having a family. How can we teach our children, when we are not having any children to teach? It seems a great deal of the problem with our numbers is that we are not bearing and raising Lutheran children. This is another area that this non-Lutheran approach to missions fails to address.