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Feed: Intrepid Lutherans Posted on: Friday, January 27, 2012 11:20 AM Author:email@example.com (Rev. Paul A. Rydecki) Subject: 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.