Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The myth of an order bringing polity in the Church

The LCMS has a congregational polity. We do not have "bishops" in the administrative sense, where a man tells who to fill what pulpit and the like. This brings with it many frustrations - congregations end up becoming much more divergent in practice, pastors and congregations are not often disciplined, many pastors are left woefully underpaid and otherwise abused. We often can think that if only we had bishops, this would be better.

A Roman Catholic friend of mine introduced this link by saying, "A dissident Jesuit, educated beyond his intelligence, gets put in is place." The Jesuit in question, the CEO of the Asian Catholic News Agency, thinks that quantum physics nullifies the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

The article of the smackdown is a nice read - but not the main point. What we see here is an example of a "dissident" who isn't removed. I just read Willa Cather's "Death Comes for the Archbishop" - and much of that book is about how this newly consecrated bishop is often ignored in New Mexico, and basically has to handle things very much in the same way I handle them.

It is a myth to think that any specific polity will bring order in the Church. Sin will always strike at the order in the Church, it will always bring about false doctrine and schism and stupidity. The solution is not hoping for order, or thinking that if the right man gets in somewhere else that everything will be rosy where you are. No - the solution is to act properly according to what you have been called to be. If you are a Pastor - be a faithful pastor to your sheep, and also a faithful colleague to your fellow pastors, reproving where reprove is needed. If you are a parishioner, be a faithful parishioner. Hear the word, receive the Sacraments, support and respect those who care for you spiritually, and encourage them to do so when and where they fail (for they too are human and will fail).

Whatever the polity, Satan will try to destroy. Whatever duties are given to an office in any polity, Satan will try to pervert. Tend to the office you have been placed by God, whatever the polity or structure - and thus obeying the Word of God and by the use of the Word of God, put Satan to flight.


in situ said...

Excellent words.

Looking forward to meeting you Saturday night at Trinity.

Robyn B. @Leave the Lights On said...

Actually, the Jesuits answer to their Superior General, who is a priest, not a bishop. Other than the fact that he must remain obedient to the Bishop of Rome (the pope) in matters of faith and morals, the Superior General has total authority over the order.

But I do get your point. The Jesuits these days have a reputation for heresy of the liberal variety (and in fact, have always been controversial). It takes a pretty blatant offense for the relevant authorities to correct any priest, including a Jesuit. But at least the structures are in place for such correction. Who corrects congregations and pastors in the LCMS, when it is necessary to do so? Their brother pastors? Is there a synod or "board" of elders who handle such things? Who gets to say "Get behind me, heretic!" when an LCMS pastor (God forbid) denies the Resurrection or some such?

I've been meaning to read "Death Comes For the Archbishop" but haven't gotten a chance yet. When you say the bishop is "often ignored," do you mean ignored by the rest of the Church heirarchy, or by his flock? If the former, I'm not sure why this would be a big concern, because the bishop is the highest office in the Church. Bishops don't answer to other bishops, including archbishops and even the pope, except in particular circumstances.

Denver's Archbishop Chaput published a column just today that explains this aspect of the Catholic heirarchy: Reminds me of the argument you once made, Eric, that YOU are like a bishop in terms of heirarchy, based on the practice in the early Church.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Robyn - things are slightly... sloppy in the LCMS. We are basically a confederation of independent congregations and pastors who agree to work together. We have rules that we are to follow, and there are District (think diocese) and Synodical officials (national). Within the congregation there is a board of elders and also the voters assembly - if a pastor engages in false doctrine, it is the duty of the elders to lead the voters in removing the pastor with the support of the District. If a congregation remains in persistent error, it is to be removed by the district.

The bigger problem again is that proper discipline isn't maintained - that those who rise to higher office often have political favors that need paying off or tend to be a bit more liberal. . . and less concerned about doctrinal purity. (Administrators crave smooth running operations - disciplining the erring can cause a lot of waves)

So - yes - I would argue that I hold the office of bishop as it is described in Scripture, although I do not have the multi-parish responsiblities assigned to the office by later generations (although I have been elected a circuit counsellor, which means I do work with 9 other congregations and their pastors).