Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Doctrines" of the LC-MS: A Response

Lois Meyer Voeltz at The Creator's Tapestry has presented an article calling for a "conversation" on the topic of what the Missouri Synod teaches.  This post is my contribution, for what it's worth.  Ms. Voeltz writes:

The opening question for the New Year: how are the 'doctrines of the LC-MS' formulated? Is there academic/theological study, a vote by the Convention, are they mandated, or are they put into practice because of a tradition? A clear understanding of the process would be helpful.

Years ago, as the question of my particular understandings of 'LC-MS doctrines' was asked, the first thought was the Three Solas. That wasn't the correct answer! Instead the topics/doctrines were abortion, homosexuality, and women in public ministry. What a surprise.

Again, my question, how did these topics become doctrines of the LC-MS, with a very particular viewpoint?

This post is by no means an attempt to give a fully comprehensive answer.  That would require a book, or several.  However, a few initial observations are in order: 
  • First of all, the doctrines or teachings of the LC-MC are ultimately based on the Holy Scriptures and the Confessions of the Lutheran church as an exposition of those scriptures.  They are the fruit of more than two millenia of study by the great fathers of the church and the consensus of many church councils.  In other words, the various positions that the Synod has taken on such contested teachings as the ordination of women, homosexuality and abortion were not formulated out of thin air or concocted by a few men in a back room.  They are backed by a long tradition stretching even beyond the history of the Lutheran church. 
  • Challenges to the various "topics" Ms. Voeltz mentions have often come, it appears, out of changing social conditions and the desire of people to have the church embrace those changes.  As women became more involved in society, especially high positions of leadership in government and business, it seemed natural that they would assume an equal role within the church.  When abortion became legal and more widely accepted, it seemed natural that the church would also find it to be an acceptable option.  And then, with the increased acceptance of homosexuality in our country, a challenge was posed to the church:  why can't people of all sexual orientations participate as freely in the church as they do in society in general?
  • Thus, social changes have driven new interpretations or the search for them.  The LCMS, instead, has long desired that the church would follow where the Scriptures led, not the world, even if that meant we were seen as 'out of step' with the culture around us.  
One might debate the above, but I would encourage us to look historically at the church and see how these issues came to the fore only when the culture pushed them there.  For example, how could the church resist the ordination of women to the ministry for 2,000 years and only in our generation suddenly embrace it as if it was normal all along?  Likewise the other issues.  These circumstances should seriously be considered in answer to Ms. Voeltz's questions.  

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