What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

 

editorial ramblings by John W. Berg

 

 

 

(This article was originally published in October 2005)

 

There are few things in life more ominously portentous to one’s professional well being than being selected as a keyboardist for the Grateful Dead1 but one of them is being a self appointed critic of a sect whose ubiquitous mantra is “We teach the word in its truth and purity, ommmm.”  For many in the Wisconsin Synod I am now one of the dead (and is it bad form to say I’m one of the grateful dead?) Yes, I am Wisconsin Synod no mo’.  My confession finally did me in (and it was about time!) My foul was my participation in this fowl emanation, The Motley Magpie, a fowl so foul that I was convicted, notified and then shown the door in the space of 7 days for the crime of causing “division” in that synod for my part in this insidious journal without a single word being shown to be in error - but those are just details. Now, of course, that Pauline charge is that reserved for purveyors of heresy, yet my ex-ecclesiastical superior (who contrary to the Tractatus assured me his district president authority was divinely instituted), while not charging heresy, felt this an appropriate charge with his unique interpretation of Titus 3:102. But he was right on this, I didn’t belong, and now I don’t.  

 

But at least I was offered a great honor, I was given a “Worms” send off. “Two questions. Are these your writings?” And, of course, you know the second. Like Luther I was allowed to give my revoco, but forbidden to ask questions (can you believe he put that in print?) And as promised, when I tried, I got no answer, just a stone cold stare. In fact, one of the “whereas’s” in the resolution which gave me the boot says, and I quote, “Whereas Pastor Berg seeks to defend himself….” (As an understatement this rivals only Joan of Arc’s  “Do I smell something burning or it is just me?”) What gall!

 

Anyway, I, too, protested there are some fine and good things and “if you just let me know what is wrong….”  And I can one up Luther, I didn’t get a day to think about it, but of course, Dr. Luther got the opportunity to recant the 95 Theses, I got the chance to recant “Bart Simpson on Church Growth Methodology” (to use an analogy, Luther’s “Masterpiece Theatre” to my “Battle of the Network Reality TV Stars”). It was too bad that there wasn’t a third question, “What is your favorite color?” for the moment was more Monty Python than Worms. But the outcome would have been the same for I, too, do not know the air speed of a coconut laden swallow, European or African. The solemn ceremony ended with the unceremonious stripping of the “Come to the WELS” bumper sticker from my car. (That’s a joke, get it? I didn’t have one, ok?)

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? (Yes. Go. Now!)

 

The division I, rather the Magpie, was causing - whatever it was, I wasn’t told - apparently was occurring on the various campuses of the Wisconsin Synod higher education system. College and seminary students were reading and apparently agreeing with this menace, the #%&$! Magpie! (I suspect large quantities of Guinness were also involved, or knowing students, Bud Light.) The real reason was, of course, that I had the temerity to question and critique synodical theologians and leaders, my ex-DP included, and by doing so to expose them as “morons,” as the district president, incredibly, not I, labeled them. Double ouch. I accomplished this great feat by quoting them and, adding insult to injury, by naming names! To be sure, I was causing division, but the question is whether it was of the Titus 3:10 kind (which was never even alleged, let alone shown) but of the Matthew 10:35 kind. My ex-DP said that I had “publicly humiliated” him when I simply quoted this public statement of his

 

Church and Change has scheduled Leonard Sweet, a Methodist seminary professor, as keynote speaker for their (sic) November conference. Sweet is reputed to be an expert on reaching post-moderns. His theology, however, appears to be suspect.

 

I responded to that by writing “‘Appears to be?’ Hmm, let’s see, a Methodist seminary professor.” That sort of emasculating sarcasm is the sort of thing that simply cannot be tolerated (I actually wanted to write, “What gave you the clue that his theology was suspect: ‘Methodist’ or ‘seminary’ or ‘professor?’”) The Conference of Wisconsin Synod DP’s was also savaged by these two impertinent words of mine, “Ya think?” which was my comment on this public statement from that august body

 

Concern that such action [women administering the Sacrament in Wisconsin Synod churches] could cause confusion about the role of women, especially in regard to the pastoral ministry, since it may appear to some that women would then be functioning as pastors.

 

Which apparent “functioning as pastors” (presiding over the Sacrament) the COP assured a suspicious ELS and its own restless conservative constituency that these gals though administering the Sacrament were not doing. The COP gave the practice a doctrinal ok with the obligatory caution to go slow lest some misunderstand. Now if offering the Viaticum isn’t a pastoral act then I don’t know what one is. The public humiliation endured because of my “ya think” was too much for even these hardened men to bear. I also was accused of embarrassing the seminary by quoting some embarrassing and duplicitous answers offered by these anonymous seminary profs on their official Q/A. Apparently letting the public know that a seminary prof offered that a women lector may so function unless she reads in such a way that her tone and “stance” indicated she was trying to exercise authority over a man was embarrassing to them. To be frank, that’s not questionable, that’s just bizarre.  And even though we offered the pages of the Motley Magpie to both district president and seminary professor to respond they passed, well, I assume they did, they never responded.

 

This dismissal, by the way, was in no way unexpected. The decision to write in this solecistic, in every sense of the word, quire journal put me on a one way supernova journey, a journey into confessional Lutheranism I began years before which I knew would blast me out of wels-world - we Magpies had no quixotic dreams of glory. My troubles began a year ago when I was summoned before the magisterium to give account for an article penned not by me but by my LCMS sibling, the first meeting at which I was told in print in advance that I was forbidden to ask questions. Apparently, being related to that author was my crime - as has been my punishment! They did not even take into account the pain filled 52 year sentence I had already served for that accident of birth!  At that meeting I was accused by my ecclesial overlords of further “causing division” by my sectarian practice of confirming the youth of my parish at 6th grade! (I’m embarrassed that since then I’ve only lowered it to 4th grade). He also branded my practice of se-communion “contrary to the Confessions” Now, which confession, he didn’t tell me, my guess is the one out of Heidelberg, because that isn’t in mine.

 

Incense, Peppermints, Color of Thyme

 

Ironically, the already two year old decision to put down the Magpie neatly coincided with the asphyxiation of my synodical affiliation, and even more providentially, our three year reign as “troubler of Israel” began and ends with, appropriately, the Reformation. Literally. Those who have been with us from the beginning may remember that it was a joint Reformation service my parish hosted some six years ago that caused such great concern in my former low church-church that a high synodical official wondered aloud to a friend whether a skull and bones “secret liturgical society” had sprung up in his proudly low church synod. It had been reported to that former Seminary president that at that service, among other Cavalier crimes, the sounds of chanting, yes, of the Verba were heard (with some of the area clergy steadfastly refusing to participate in this “novel” intrusion into their Reformation celebration, the Holy Eucharist.) It was bemusement over that concern that was the genesis and genius of the now infamous Magpie.

 

For the “all things to all men” synod from which I was dismissed that service with Eucharist and Eucharistic vestments was over the top, for nary a puppet, power point presentation, donut or drum set was in sight, with is de rigueur for my old district.3  The offense of that service was so great that it led to the refusal of the Bay Area brethren some five years later to suffer again such chancel prancing Romanism when it was our turn again to host. The circuit pastor called a few weeks before we were to host again and informed me we would not, for we were, in his words, “giving offense” by the manner of our worship, not to the weak mind you, but, in his words, “to strong members” of these Bay area churches (yeah, I scratched my head too.) The crime was that we were, in his words, “too catholic” and he cited the following sins which had been relayed to him by the triumvirate pastorate at the synodical franchise in San Jose4:

 

- We had a procession, (not just any procession but one led by a cross, and not just any cross, but one with Jesus on it!) 

 

- We bow/genuflect in our service along with other such high church echopraxia (which our circuit pastor said he would never encourage his own members to do. Boy, are they going to be surprised, in an instant, at the name of Jesus, in the twinkling of an eye.5)

 

- It was reported that I had been addressed as “Father” (despite its use by Luther in the Large Catechism and by the blessed Apostle Paul, and despite the fact that the title was not used in our parish.  It is now, FC X and all that.)

 

- (and I almost choked on a jequirity at this one) the most heinous of crimes, we used, and I quote, “an extreme high church liturgy.” This “extreme high church liturgy?” The Wisconsin Synod’s own watered down version of the Common Service from their hymnal, Christian Worship. The best analogy I can come up with to try to make this clear to any outsider is that calling CW’s page 15 “extreme high church” is akin to saying that the Magpie is highbrow writing. But it is all relative and in my area using a set liturgy and celebrating the Sacrament is “extreme,” after all, when you inject homemade creeds, tricycles, basketballs, lounge acts, squirt guns and assorted other Affenspiel into the sacred, as is the profane practice around here, well…

 

- And finally, “Father” Berg wears…a collar! Guilty! (I say as I hang my ring-necked head marked with the sign of the beast, a penguin, stamped into my pontiff 3).

 

It’s a Nice Day for a White… Martyrdom

 

At my “exit interview” the first veep of the district hysterically berated me for doing nothing to educate him and the Wisconsin Synod pastors on these things, especially on the use of the word “mass.” (My job? OK, I think there is a book he vowed to read that might help him with that). In the finest moment of my otherwise pathetic life, I took the 3 year run of the ‘Pie and let it plop heavily on the table and said “We tried.”

 

But I should have known it was coming, really, for unbeknownst to me I had actually been under “double secret probation” for some time. For my Delta House antics (among others, wearing toga like vestments) the Conference of Presidents of the Wisconsin Synod censured me, according to my ex-DP, for, by being the editor of the ‘Pie. For by being the editor, I “associated [myself] with the false teaching included in ‘That Christ Was Born a Man’” written by my brother, that heinous LCMS clergyman, which article’s theology, in the words of my ex-DP, “seemed to be similar” to that of the equally villainous Dr. David Scaer, a LCMS theologian, public enemy #1, which my ex-DP said “seems to be,” according to him, the “classic” heretical Missouri Synod teaching. No! A Missouri pastor agreeing with a Missouri professor articulating the Missouri position?! Outrageous! Now, never mind that no false teaching was proven in regards to this article and never mind that it did not address the matter of “classic” LCMS teaching, but as the title suggests, ontological matters that ought guide us, well, just read the article (Vol 2:1) to see how humorous this all is.  It would have been nice to know what was wrong with that article.  But seeing “LCMS” behind the name of one of our editor’s was sufficient evidence of heresy. Sigh.

 

However, this grave synodical resolution, passed in May of last year, was not sent to me (even though I ignorantly asked in July for anything in reference to me in the synod’s or district’s minutes) but sent only to my congregation the following September!  Interesting, too, was the fact that the resolution mentioned neither me nor the Magpie as the DP said it did. Go figure. I repeatedly asked him to ‘splain all that to me, but he “‘splained” by simply ignoring that question which I asked several times in person and in writing.6 Having exposed this (and him) in the Magpie proved to be too great an embarrassment for this up and comer, as well as, to the Conference of Presidents, and, alas, my undoing (wink).

 

So Long, Farewell, Aufwiedersehn, Good Bye

 

So on Rosh Hashanah of this year, I began my new life, temporarily as an “independent” (which I think caused me the problems in the first place). For all those of you who kindly asked, my congregation kept to its vow of regulating matters by Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and unanimously voted to retain my services knowing full well their fate (it was removed without the DP coming to the congregation to explain it all, despite our invitation to do so). So I bid adieu to the smattering of confessional pastors and laity (especially those who wrote and supported us, even from high places, but secretly for fear of the Jews) left behind who have not been raptured as I have and leave you to your synod. (Editor’s note. Hope Lutheran was accepted warmly into the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and its pastor was received by colloquy into the same.)

 

But the unrepentant Magpie is left behind, often misquoted and railed against, but never once refuted. But more than that we have left behind an eponymous legacy, for the word “Magpie” has entered the Wisconsin Synod lexicon. A friend encountered a letter writer to the Magpie, one who, like others, self immolated, and teased this fellow that he had been “magpied,” a “’pieing” which the ‘pie-ee good naturedly granted.

 

Blowin’ in the Wind

 

I leave behind a synod that will continue to struggle with its amorphous and atomistic doctrine of “ministry.” To quote retired LCMS English District Bishop Roger Pittelko reacting to the LCMS Council of Presidents study on the same, “notice the exclusion and avoidance of the definite article. This is extremely significant, I assure you!” (Logia Vol. II, 1 p. 33 emphasis in the original.) The not so secret secret is that the Wisconsin Synod’s doctrine is Hoeflingnite. Francis Pieper in his Dogmatics outlines Hoefling’s position,

 

Hoefling grants that the ministry is divinely ordained but only in the sense as “everything wise, appropriate, morally necessary” can be said to have “divine sanction,” not in the sense that an express divine command for the establishment of the public ministry can be shown (Vol. III. p. 445).

 

The Wisconsin Synod’s own Q/A dispelled any notions to the contrary when in answer to a question about “the call” the anonymous seminary professor said in regard to the rite vocatus of AC XIV “There’s no Bible passage that says this, but it is common sense.” He then with sleight of hand said that “[AC XIV] is not addressing the human custom of ordination or speaking of a specific position in the church (like parish pastor or elder or deacon)” as if ordination does not involve the church’s call and this were about titles and not AC V duties. Another Q/A fielded a question by a concerned parishioner whose pastor was encouraging new fathers of his parish to baptize their own children. While labeling it unwise, he defended the right of fathers to do this sans call, sans emergency.

 

So the office to which one must be ritely called is mere common sense. Makes sense! - to Hoefling. Now, whatever we may think is common sense is not a divine mandate or, as a friend says, “if it is common it is not divine.” Yet Wisconsin eristically protests that it is not Hoeflingnite for it maintains a “divine” institution of the public ministry, however, it says there is no divine word of institution, but that the public ministry is “assumed” from the fact that God blesses the efforts of such. Thus Hoefling. So much for the new Wisconsin Synod rule that only “prescriptive passages and not descriptive ones” form doctrine. The Wisconsin scholar John Schaller said this long ago and it is now catching on (See Logia I:1, p. 9ff). Wisconsin scholar August Pieper also said that any arrangement, even one without pastors or whatever you wish to call them is OK. There is no mandate from God, not only for a certain “form,” as Wisconsin likes to say about the office of AC V, but for the public ministry itself, aside from the rubric commending tidiness (1 Cor. 14:40, a law sedes for a Gospel institution!) – Christ’s words to the Eleven (and in John, the Ten) after his resurrection, John 20:21-23, Mark 16:14-16, Matt. 28:16-20 and the Tractatus notwithstanding. Their official statements speak of the church’s authority to call as “implied in the authority to administer the Gospel.” So the Holy Ministry is an implication and not an institution, Hoefling would be proud, yet bewildered by his disciples’ distancing themselves from him.

 

I’m a Cuckoo

 

The queerest aspect of the Wisconsin Synod’s teaching on “public ministry” is what is the very nature of this ministry. Most conservatives within the Wisconsin Synod would say any authorized use of the means of grace by anyone is the public ministry. However, even that minimal requirement is not the teaching of the Wisconsin Synod. In their official documents under the very clause that defines the “public ministry” no mention of a divine institution is found, just the fact that “from the beginning of the Church there were men especially appointed to discharge publicly the duties of this one ministry.” Acts 6:1-6 is cited for this. This is significant.  A former seminary president, Armin Schuetze, in the official lay explanation of their doctrine “Church-Mission-Ministry” on this Acts 6 event, writes that the  Apostles formed “another form of the public ministry,” that of food distribution7 (p. 101). Paul Kelm, formerly in charge of the charge up the charges “Spiritual Renewal Program,” said that “ministry includes both the specific use of the Keys and other general areas of Christian service (Acts 6:1-7).”  Perhaps as telling as the Acts 6:1-7 inclusion in the Wisconsin Synod’s doctrinal statements on the “public ministry” is the omission of Romans 10:13-15.

 

Now, a conservative face of the Wisconsin Synod is turned towards her overseas brethren, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and its own laity and insists, as did my ex-DP, that this “common sense” public ministry must use the Word! The conservatives are placated, the ELS is fooled (or lets itself be fooled), as are the overseas brethren. However, Tom Nass, Martin Luther College professor writing in the Wisconsin’s theological journal spilled the beans by carefully and clearly explaining that all those from clerics to custodians are in the public ministry (Don’t believe me? Check it out in Vol. 91:4, p. 251). Then, of course, you get some wise guy, well, like me, who asks if your janitor must be Wisconsin Synod.  (Ohhh, that is why they label me a smart %$#! Now I get it8.)  When I told my ex-DP and the 1st Veep about their disagreement with the Wisconsin Synod position a year ago they said they would get back to me. (Guys, I’m still waiting.) As fun as it is to inform your district praesidium, the doctrinal “guardians,” of its own synod’s doctrine with which it disagrees, it speaks to the squishy nature of its teaching and the squishy understanding of its teachers.

 

Of course, when you have a doctrine of the Holy Ministry which can be summed up, “anyone doing anything on behalf of the church” then the New Testament passages which speak of the Holy Ministry and its institution, such as 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, Acts 20:28, Matthew 28:199 John 20:20-23 are reduced to time bound irrelevancy. And if 1 Timothy 3:1-7 does not apply to all in this “public ministry,” then it applies to no one and I suppose is just more common sense. To be fair, one essayist in answer to my question affirmed that a member of one’s grounds committee must meet the qualifications set forth in 1 Tim. 3:1-7, as Schuetze also does in his booklet by saying these words apply to all in this expansive public ministry, even those faithfully serving in the kitchen. This explains why you never see Luke 9:62 anymore, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” a passage once regularly used to disallow a pastor who resigned to be again considered a candidatum reverendi ministerium. It would be tough to apply that to all the coming and going ministers in the revolving door of these many ministries.

 

This doctrine was neatly illustrated in their Wisconsin Lutheran College’s Synod “Today” magazine

 

[WLC], under the auspices of the Southeastern Wisconsin District praesidium, is seeking faculty candidates for divine calls in the following disciplines: anthropology, art, biology, business, chemistry, communication, computer science, early childhood education, economics, education, English, finance, German, history, mathematics, music (instrumental), philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, sociology, Spanish, theatre (sic) (Fall, 1997 p. 15. Theatre? How anglophilic!).

 

A Divine Call to physics! Now, of course, theology can intrude here as when the Copernican heresy that the earth spun around the sun became a matter for the bright red robed Inquisitor General. And as Galileo reportedly muttered while dusting off his knees, “It still moves,” many a Wisconsin Synod pastor mutters under his breath about his true belief in this regard but quietly for fear of the black robed inquisitors.

 

In this vein in a Q/A on their official website a questioner asked why Wisconsin Synod women ministers (a.k.a. teachers) are not accorded the same tax benefits as their testosterone laced counterparts as they perform the same functions. The anonymous seminary professor, while not answering the question, wrote that

 

The IRS definition of “minister of the gospel” includes those assigned “sacerdotal duties.” These have been interpreted and applied by the IRS to include public preaching, public distribution of the sacrament, and presiding at weddings and funerals.

 

How delightfully ironic that the Internal Revenue Service has a better grasp and definition of the Office of the Holy Ministry than these Lutheran Quakers for it neatly paraphrases AC V. So, anyway, the theatre teachers/ ministers armed with their “Divine Call” who, it seems, meet this definition who are guys, not dolls, get the tax bennie, because, well, they’re guys!  Yes, you can have your doctrine, but don’t push the IRS too far.

 

Well, so much for AC V and AC XIV, which, I’m sure, I will be told by the Wisconsin Synod defenders do not say what they say and are true insofar as they agree with their Doctrinal Statements. 

 

Dirty Little Secret

 

This segues into the other issue which the Wisconsin Synod theologians have not handled credibly (or is it, incredibly) the just-won’t-go-away “role of women” issue. “The Dirty Little Secret,” as it is dubbed by the cognoscenti, is their belief that a woman may not be in authority over a man, anywhere, anytime, anyplace, from the bed room to the board room and everything in between. Wisconsin Synod women may not be in authority over men in society, yes, outside of the Christologically iconic relationships found in marriage and the church. Their Q/A illustrates this for you disbelievers

 

In some jobs which place her over men it would be almost impossible for a Christian women (sic) to function without violating the scriptural principles - this would certainly seem to be true of serving as president.

 

One can almost see the tears streaming down little Tiffany’s cheeks as her first grade teacher corrects her for putting down the wrong answer for the “what I want to be when I grow up” assignment. But a semantic loop-hole has been discovered by their beleaguered “professionally trained,” as they are advertised, seminary Q/A theologians who must bravely stand on the front line and answer all the gals who suddenly discover this teaching and angrily launch missals at the Q/A although the profs are safely protected in their bunkers of anonymity, a protection not afforded the parish pastor who must implement this discipline on these meretricious hussies who occupy these on top of males positions. One marvels at the ingenuity of the guy who thought of this answer to give when a woman asks if she can be a manger/boss/drill sergeant/governor/US president/night manger at El Burrito Loco and whether this violates the Wisconsin Synod rule,

 

If a Christian woman through responsibility for her property or needed employment finds herself in a position where she is placed over men, she should try to exercise her responsibility with an attitude and demeanor that shows her respect for the biblical principles and which does not diminish the men’s sense of responsibility for leadership. (Emphasis added. Note how authority morphs into responsibility. How delightfully Jesuitical.)

 

Ah, yes, she may not exercise authority, but she may exercise responsibility. (“Uh, sorry Private Jones, but could you please, and in no way are you to interpret this as I diminishing your sense of leadership here, ok, but could you drop and, I’m not exercising authority here, give me twenty?”) Interestingly, when the stilettoed boot is on the other foot and the man has a dominatrix boss the answer is much more forthright,

 

In regard to the situation when a man finds himself working in a situation where a woman is in authority over him. This is an unhappy situation since God’s will is not being followed.

 

This “you may not be the boss of me, but if you are submissive you may” gerrymandering reminds one of the Papist’s loophole of annulment in the “both party guilty of divorce” ruling. As most Latter Day Saints I know who don’t observe the ban on Pepsi, most Wisconsin Synod women in positions of secular authority (which by definition includes responsibility) continue to order about men in defiance of the edict, but perhaps, and where all this is frightfully dangerous, contrary to their consciences burdened with this sectarian teaching.

 

Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time

 

The logic that forbids women in the Wisconsin Synod from voting in the parish for it “binds the wills” of others is also extended into society so that franchise is also a dangerous thing for Wisconsin Synod women to exercise (exceptions are made for those who vote for good candidates, i.e. pro-life ones.) The answer to the question of whether a Wisconsin Synod woman may vote, is invariably an unqualified “Uh, maybe.” One former Wisconsin Synod seminary professor, Wilbert Gawrisch bravely explains,

 

If a woman, therefore, exercises the privilege the state extends to her with the attitude that this gives her an opportunity to step out of her subordinate role in life and to demonstrate her equality with men, she is violating the order of creation and is guilty of sin. On the other hand, if a Christian woman casts her vote in a spirit of humility and service in full recognition of her subordinate role in God’s order of creation, she can do so with a good conscience (“Men/Women in God’s World” Mich. District Teacher’s Convention, 1979, p. 18).

 

Yeah, that usually happens. One wonders when some unequal-to-a-man Wisconsin Synod woman will ask if the same can be said of voting in the church assembly. (Not that I am trying to stir up trouble, mind you.)

 

What the Wauwatosa theologians forget is that headship and submission are symbiotic states found within Christologically iconic relationships. Every body needs a head and every head, a body. Disembodied heads and headless bodies need not apply. God created men and women for willing and Christological relationships together, yet sin altered this and so we have the kingdom of the left hand and the estate of society.  Now, I am not head of all women, just one and she is named “Beth.” My wife is not to be in submission to all men, just one, me, poppy. I am not head of all churches, just one and she is named “Hope,” and she is in submission to one, me, Father. Unless I take another wife or parish, I have no other headship/submission relationships. I am not head of Deputy Clementine Johnson, who might have to order me to “Spread ‘em, creep!” or, if this preaching gig doesn’t work out, with my curvaceous, va-va-va-voom, shift manager at the Mondavi winery. By the way, many in the Wisconsin Synod have trouble with the two kingdoms in other areas. In response to an article I wrote for the Wisconsin Synod’s Forward in Christ magazine, a Minnesota campus pastor wrote to tell me Christ’s “turn the other cheek” precludes me from physically defending myself against a mugger (actually fear did, there were three of them!) See Luther on this, AE Vol. 21. If I recall I asked for his car (I’m still waiting)). See Matthew 5:42 on that.

 

Ball of Confusion

 

Wisconsin’s confused teaching is exacerbated by its Webster definition of what “authority” is, defining it as “binding the will of another.” This, of course, is contrary to what our Lord said in giving his future ministers a lesson on ecclesiastical power trips

 

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be our servant (Matthew 20:25-26).

 

The Holy Ministry is not about bossing about and “binding wills” but is about service and being pinned to a cross. But saddled with this definition which is coupled with a confused misunderstanding of what is the nature of the Holy Ministry, Wauwatosa theologians must engage in a continuous debate over what constitutes binding wills and if something does, then that is verboten their women pastors (which they concede they may have), and if not, then all’s fair. So while allowed to be lectors, women are forbidden from picking the hymns – “binds wills,” you know (thus their Q/A). So you already see women ministers (although the title “pastor” is a bit much for these ultra conservatives) administering Holy Baptism, serving as lectors, administering the Sacrament (as long as the ineligible are held back by an usher, whose gender now becomes an issue) for none of this apparently “binds wills.” Telling male employees to “snap to it,” however, is not permitted even if you broke through the glass ceiling and are a Fortune 500 CEO.

 

Indeed, the time may be coming soon when the lone hurdle (aside from voting on the color of the new carpet) that a eucharistically vested Wisconsin Synod woman pastor at present may not clear will be knocked down. Read this from the Q/A in which the petitioner asked about a Wisconsin Synod woman reading a male pre-prepared sermon. The seminary prof writes

 

The question of whether the sermon has been pre-prepared is irrelevant. Reading a sermon in front of a congregation is still assuming what most would see as a position of authority.

 

“What most would see?” Perception is reality and perceptions change. Now for these ad fontes theologians a female cleric would seem to run afoul of the Pauline prohibitions, but those are being “exegetically” handled. Paul’s “husband of one wife” has become “one spouse at a time.” Indeed, in the Wisconsin Synod catechism alters Luther’s explanation of the Tenth Commandment where the object of the lapidary command against coveting becomes a generic “spouse” (following the precedent of its idiosyncratic creedal “fully human”). 

 

What’s My Age Again?

 

But the Pauline prohibition on women teaching men (even outside the church!) must be observed within Wisconsin and so this theology must also deal with the “when a boy becomes a man” issue. As Wisconsin has women professors in secular institutions as well, they resort to Bart Simpson’s “boys will be boys” defense. Typical is this answer on their Q/A on when a boy becomes a man “This is true of most males at the latest sometime between the age of 20 to 25.” Now all the women professors at Cal State Hayward and their own colleges may safely teach their boys (assuming no lad over 25 is enrolled). Incredibly another Q/A pushed the boy becomes man to his late 20’s!  Now I wonder which one of them is going to take a trip to Iraq and break the news to the “boys” over there. Interesting, however, is the answer given to when males may begin to assume authority and be able to “bind wills” in Wisconsin Synod churches, that is, vote. There the age of 18 is given as the most common.  Cake and eat it too!

 

I can only commend Father Peter Berg’s “That Jesus Christ was Born a Man” to the Wisconsin Synod (and the articles he cites therein), and close with a cautionary quote from our favorite quotable theologian, Father Paul Alliet, who in response to the question “What is the difference between the Wisconsin Synod and the ELCA on women pastors?” laconically answers, “about 20 years.”

 

Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock and Roll High School

 

On the Wisconsin’s Synod youth web page “Living Bold,” one Vicar Jonathan Enter giddily reported that he enabled the youth of his northern Wisconsin parish to “realize their dream” of conducting a “worship service” (sic) replete with a “youth preacher” (who “preached half the sermon.”) The good vicar excitedly asked,

 

Could you imagine hearing the song, Amazing Grace, played on electric guitars at a WELS church service?! 

 

Yes, vicar, I can.

 

Ain’t That Peculiar

 

One of the festivals of first order in my old association was “Recruitment Sunday.” The synodical experts kindly provide spankin’ new services for the day. This year’s included a confession of sins with this exchange,

 

P: For taking your precious Word and Sacraments for granted:

C: Christ, have mercy on us.

 

Yes, Kyrie Elieson, for the service did not provide for the option of the Sacrament being offered.

 

Powered by Insanity

 

All Gaul is divided into three parts and so is the Wisconsin Synod, represented by three movements, with the third representing a “barely detectable smattering” (the MM boys), at least there are three voices that have taken the unofficial route to try to influence this ailing synod.  The perkiest voice is led by CHARIS magazine and the church growth movement it spawned, “Church and Change” which was quickly adopted by that synod. (It’s director provided us with one of our favorite lines, “If Jesus were alive today….”). Their godly concern is to get the Gospel out. Unfortunately their focus is on what is dubbed “Gospel delivery systems.” Sadly, however, they do not see the oxymoronic nature of this. We don’t need something to deliver the Gospel, the Gospel is Gospel, that is, eu-angel-izing, that is, preaching, administering. Illustrative of their church growth theology is this from an article editor John Bauer co-wrote for the CHARIS journal on “Effective Evangelistic Churches”

 

We calculated a new “conversion quotient” by dividing the number of adult confirmations by the average weekly worship attendance. The total number of congregations which had a .05 con-version quotient averaged annually 202 out of 1250 churches and missions over the five years.  (And thankfully Bauer notes) We also applied that filter to the adult confirmation rate.  (Editor, Whew!)

 

Neat, let’s try that. Ok, 11 converts divided by average attendance, 5,000 men plus women and children, let’s say 15,000, equals a “conversion quotient” of .00073 (I’m not sure how to apply the filter). Bauer also writes that “pastoral leadership is a significant contributing factor” that must have a “passion for conducting ministry with excellence.” I would wager that for these folk a paltry .00073 conversion quotient wouldn’t indicate much “passion” or “excellence.” To quote Bauer, “if Jesus were alive today” he probably wouldn’t be pleased.

 

This feculent church growth water was carried in my former conference by the circuit pastor, who, in a one page conference paper on preaching, suggested we jazz up our presentation of the Gospel to males with the ever so clever assonant theme “From Niagara to Viagra” - for a Genesis 38 text no doubt. (Now draw your own mental picture… eeeeuuuuwwww. Sorry about that.) Compare this with Dr. Luther’s advice on preaching and reaching the common man

 

Now the mass is part of the Gospel; indeed it is the sum and substance of it…For this reason popular sermons ought to be nothing else than expositions of the mass, or explanations of the divine promise of this testament (AE 36, p. 56).

 

Armed with calculators, these blue pilled charged, cutting edge preachers rarely deliver the good spell. Read, for example, the sermons of two of the chief “C ‘n C” gurus on the website of St. Mark’s, Green Bay (John Parlow’s Oct 16th offering is prime example). Luther writes that he who does not preach the Gospel is a “kind of pest to the church” and “plays the wolf” (AE 36, p. 116).

 

The second and most strident voice/group was formed in opposition to the “C ‘n C” frat boys and has calls itself “Issues In WELS.” It was formed by the old main line conservatives, mostly out of Michigan, who bleed WELS purple, official color #PMS 2755. They are concerned about preserving the status quo and gather regularly around campfires with Miller Lites in hand to plot their departure from the WELS to form the, well, kiss my grits, “MELS” Michigan Evangelical Lutheran Synod (for real). Fellowship, the doctrine on which this group believes the church stands or falls and monetary issues are at the top of their list. With whom you sit down and pray with and how money is spent reminds one of another group within the church who were also quite zealous. My ex-DP who is part of this group-think took great umbrage at my evaluation of a COP resolution, which intended to nix the appearance of an allegedly non-Trinitarian Methodist at the upcoming C ‘n C folk fest, that it was little more than impuissant posturing, as I personally learned COP encyclicals don’t always make it out of the conclave, and thus it was probably little more than blowing smoke.

 

Finally, you have a remnant, a motley group of jackdaws who squawk, “celebrate the Lord’s Supper, preach the Gospel, reestablish the Sacrament of Private Absolution, operate with a Christological hermeneutic” and so forth. The other two groups have little concern for these matters. Typical is the view my ex-DP expressed in an angry note to me. He said the Magpie should have stuck to “ceremonia and not doctrina.” Unfortunately, that statement evinces, first of all, a gross ignorance of what the Lutheran Church’s “ceremonia” are for they are the practice and proclamation of her faith. It also shows a naïve and dangerous Nestorian division of doctrine and practice that runs rampant in the Wisconsin Synod where the showing of the slick “WELS Connection” video stands side by side and in some cases ahead of the Sacrament, for in their minds, it is all adiaphora.  Sadly, too many services and sermons in this synod (as in others) are barely distinguishable from those in Protestant ones.

 

So, you tell me, who has it right?  If you agree we do, you should know that we take no credit, for those at whose feet we sit know these things far better than we and our only goal was to speak about what we have learned, to speak of things we know not. We are not much different than the illiterate parish priests of the Middle Ages of whom Roger Bacon (+1294) spoke,

 

[they recite] words of others without knowing in the least what they mean, like parrots and magpies which utter human sounds without understanding what they are saying (as quoted in Daily Life in Medieval Times, Frances and Joseph Gies, Black Dog & Lenthal, NY, 1990,  p. 199).

 

The official opposition to these evangelical positions confirmed the correctness of our decision to publish for three years. And yet, despite many, many encouragements to continue, we shall mercifully end our promised three year run as we simply have run out of gas (or is it hot air?)  If you would like to comment on this final issue, please do and we will respond. You can either e-mail me or simply draw a pentagram on the floor and while walking around it, chant “I summon thee” three times and I should show up. Have a beer ready.

 

Hi, I’m Johnny…..

 

Real men wear black, we wannabe confessionals love to say (and so my Oakland Raider’s “Real Men Wear Black” emblazoned t-shirt serves double duty). Like the “men in black” of movie fame, they attempt to monitor alien theologies within their midst. But, don’t be fooled by any clerical get up, as David Scaer said about the ELCA and her Sacramental theology, “a chasuble is hardly corrective.”  And so we turn to the real “man in black,” Johnny Cash, who summed up in song the purpose of this journal which can be found in the very first words of this journal, “The mass is the heart and life of the church.” Now that I think about it we should have stopped after writing that, D’oh! Cash poetically summed this up in the classic about the coming judgment “When the Man Comes Around.” Cash, magpie like, unknowingly sang about the blessed Cup of the Lord, which his faithless Baptist bishops denied him in this life, a Cup which he now enjoys as he participates in the Heavenly Mass singing now in the heavenly choir around the throne of the Lamb with angels and archangels,

 

Will you partake of that last offered cup

  or disappear into the potter’s ground… §

 

The Reverend Father Johnny W. Berg is the pastor of Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Fremont, California. Both he and the congregation are grateful members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

 

_______________________________________________________

1 Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, the first keyboardist of the dead died in '73 from liver failure. His replacement, Keith Godchaux was dismissed from the band in '79, and died the next year in a car accident.  Brent Mydland replaced him, but in 1990 died from an over-dose.  By the way, most of the pop culture references found in the MM were kindly provided by Jesse “Astrotron”, an unemployed blues guitarist I met at a bar, who is still looking for the big break for his hops fueled indie band “Dry Willie Red” (formerly the California carport band “Psychedelic Surf Punks” which was part of the Sacramento “velour underground” scene of the early 90’s). DWR has achieved critical, if not commercial, success with its penetratingly dark songs about youth angst such as “Mr Harradas.”

2 Even the Wisconsin Synod’s Book of Concord addendum “This We Believe” gets this right. By the way all the dealings on which I comment are in the written or recorded record and/or have been witnessed.

3 For example, there is a new cutting edge mission in Phoenix, “Crosswalk Church” which was singled out for singular praise by the AZ-CA district president, which says, amidst sounds of drums and the smells of “Krispy Kreme donuts” and “Starbucks Coffee” – which they advertise – that “We’re serious about helping people understand who God is, but we want to have fun while we’re doing it!”  Hmm, fun while understanding who God is? Uzzah, prophets of Baal, Nadab, Abihu, are we having fun yet?

4 The circuit pastor later withdrew those charges and apologized for breaking the 8th commandment which he alleged these other Bay area pastors participated in and whom he promised to bring to repentance. Reminding him of that obligation and the subsequent thought that these Wisconsin Synod pastors would need to repent, brought the censure of the presidium upon me.

5 “He who cannot distinguish between a cow and a horse ought never to discuss questions of farming. He who cannot distinguish between evangelical and Roman Christianity better than that he believes that a man who makes the sign of the cross or bends his knees or makes confession must be a Roman Catholic, that man ought never to discuss matters that pertain to Christianity” (Bo Giertz, Messages for the Church in Times of Crisis, p. 14). Bo knows liturgy.

6 Luther in mocking Zwingli and his inability and refusal to answer questions tells us a story where a “moron” replies to the question “Where does this road lead to” by answering “I am whittling young woodpeckers!” One might substitute, “carving up magpies,” for “whittling woodpeckers.” Luther goes on to say “Satan is certainly a master of gabble, when he does not know how to answer” (AE 37 p. 250). 

7 For Luther’s view, contrary to Schuetze’s, see AE 36, p. 116.

8 “I’ve made an ass out of myself so many times, I am beginning to wonder if I am one.”  Norman Mailer.

9 For Luther’s take on the Matthew 28 and Mark 16 citations see The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (AE 36, p. 111f) where he writes, “Why do [the papists] not conclude that he also ordained priests when he laid upon [the apostles] the office of the Word and baptism.”