What Do I Tell My Friends?

On the off chance that people you know have heard about the LCMS scuffle that has been picked up by more mainstream media, and on the off chance your friends ask you Isn’t that the denomination you’re a part of?  and on the off chance they follow it up with How in the world can you be a part of that sort of group?, here are some thoughts on how to respond.

1.  This isn’t about Sandy Hook.  Just as it wasn’t about 9/11 the last time the LCMS had a dispute about ecumencial services.  The issue is not about whether we should be praying for the community of Newton, CT or not.  We should and are.  Most definitely.  People in the LCMS are not mad that an LCMS pastor was praying for the people of his community.  What some people were apparently mad about was the type of forum some of that prayer occurred in.  
2.  This does not mean that LCMS Lutherans don’t love people of other denominations or faiths.  This is going to be a tougher line to take because unfortunately, often times in our own internal shorthand and in our public statements, we can sound unloving.  We are not unloving.  At least we shouldn’t be.  And those who are need to listen up and take note of this.  We love people – all people.  The issue isn’t about love, it’s about worship.
3.  Worship is a big deal to Lutherans in a culture that, if it considers worship at all, considers it very often as something that’s all about me and what I like or want.  Lutherans (and our Catholic brethren and certainly plenty of other Christians as well) deny this.  Worship is not about what I like or want, but rather worship is our response to the goodness of God.  God blesses us and the natural response is worship.  
But that assumes that we know who God is.  Most Christians will say that they do.  And most Christians do.  Lutherans and Baptists and Presbyterians and Catholics etc. etc. etc. disagree with one another on important but comparatively minor issues.  We stand united in our confession of a Triune God and the stuff that the ecumenical creeds have been proclaiming for 1700 years or so.  
While we have a lot in common with other Christian groups, our differences are specific, historic, Biblical, and represent very deeply held convictions.  They may not be differences that mean one group is going to heaven and the other is going to hell, but they are serious enough that we have to say that we can’t worship together.  We can’t worship together because part of worship is proclaiming what God has done, and if we don’t agree completely on what God has done (or the more slippery matter of how God has done it), then we need to love one another and worship separately.
This is totally OK.  Lamentable, we might say, but still OK.
Many Christians feel that worship ought to be a matter of community, it becomes an opportunity to affirm one another and be welcoming and inclusive.  We don’t want to leave anyone out, they say.  Those are good goals, and there are lots of ways and times and places where we can do exactly that.  There was a really popular bar once upon a time that purported to accomplish this goal (although it really only accomplished it for the handful of stars that made up the core population of the bar).  
But if we don’t all agree about what the Bible says, even if we agree that our differences are not likely a matter of salvation, then rather than continuing to argue and bicker and get ticked off at one another, we ought to just agree to disagree and worship separately.  Which is what we do.  And while we can argue that this is a shame and hurts the Gospel, we haven’t found a way around it yet.  And what we do know is that everybody understands this, even if they don’t agree with it.  Everyone understands that the reason you have dozens of different churches in a given town is because they disagree with each other about some stuff and so they keep to themselves.  
When we get together with other people we love, but who believe very, very different things about God than we do – Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus etc. etc. etc. the issue gets simpler, really.  What the LCMS strives to ensure is that at no point does a LCMS pastor participate in a service where those in attendance might reasonably assume that the participation of this LCMS pastor and other religious or denominational leaders means that the LCMS pastor, or the LCMS in general, is in agreement with these other religions or denominations.  
This is the core issue in the current debacle.  It seems clear that there were very pointed steps taken to make sure that nobody walked away with that assumption.  But like every organization, the LCMS has people that span a spectrum of conservative to liberal on pretty much every issue you can imagine.  As such, there are some folks who feel that any time an LCMS pastor participates in an event with other clergy and spiritual leaders, it is a no-no – even if it isn’t specifically a worship service, even if it is for a very good cause, and even if specific, pointed steps are taken to make sure everyone present understands what is happening and what is not happening.
Complicating all of this is the fact that the LCMS does not have clear guidelines or definitions for what sorts of events pastors can and can’t participate in.  Which means at some level, every pastor has to figure that out for themselves.  And that means that every pastor is potentially going to be in some other LCMS person’s cross-hairs over the issue.  It’s a shame, but it’s sinful human nature.  Most of the time this isn’t a big deal as nobody really knows about it.  Other times it can be very damaging as neighboring pastors lash out at one another.  Sometimes it can be very damaging because the disagreement becomes public on a broader scale.
4.  Resolution – of a sort – has been reached.  Apologies have been issued and accepted by several of the parties involved in this dispute.  Peace is being restored.  
5.  The issue is more complicated than a headline or a short news story or a tweet or a Facebook post is likely going to take time to explain.  
Anything that you would add to this to help explain the situation to others so that you don’t appear to be in the same nutty ranks as the Westboro Baptist Church?  

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