Sunday, February 2, 2014

Is Democracy destroying the Lutheran Church?

 "...of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Should that be the motto of Christ's Church?  Should his Church be governed based on the will and whim of the majority?  I don't think so.

As much as I admire Martin Luther and the other Luther fathers, I think they made a big mistake in their establishment of a quasi-democratic form of church government.  Just look at the mess we have today in Lutheranism!  From Gospel Reductionist liberals to Church Growth/Contemporary Worship-advocating conservatives, the Lutheran Church is a splintered embarrassment.

Lutheranism needs some top down authority.  Lutheranism needs bishops with real disciplinary power.  Lutheranism needs a good housecleaning and the only way that is going to happen is with an episcopal form of church government.  Will it cause a schism?  Most likely yes, but it will only speed up the inevitable:  liberals are marching down the road to universalist humanism and evangelical-wannabe Lutherans will soon meld into non-denominational generic Christianity.

Go to any large, metropolitan city in the Midwest and West and visit five LCMS churches.  You will most likely encounter a wide range of worship practices.  A member of a Church-Growth, contemporary worship LCMS church will feel like an outsider visiting the local High-Church, liturgical LCMS church and vice versa.  Making the sign of the cross will seem like non-Lutheran Catholicism for the Church-Growth Lutheran, while his High-Church counterpart will wonder why he is the only person in the congregation making this ancient gesture of Christian identity.

Yes, the Lutheran Church exists today due to the corruption and decadence of the episcopal Church government of the sixteenth century.  But I believe that Lutherans have gone to the other extreme.  We are a disorganized mess.  Can't we find a form of episcopal government that still reigns in the abuse of power by the bishops? 

I pray we can.

Episcopacy  (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

in some Christian churches, the office of a bishop and the concomitant system of church government based on the three orders, or offices, of the ministry: bishops, priests, and deacons. The origins of episcopacy are obscure, but by the 2nd century ad it was becoming established in the main centres of Christianity. It was closely tied to the idea of apostolic succession, the belief that bishops can trace their office in a direct, uninterrupted line back to the Apostles of Jesus.
A 2nd-century bishop was charged with the spiritual welfare of his congregation; he was the chief liturgical minister, and he baptized, celebrated the Eucharist, ordained, absolved, controlled finances, and settled matters of dispute. With state recognition of Christianity in the 4th century, the bishop came to be regarded not only as a church leader but also as an important figure in secular affairs.

As the bishops’ duties increased and congregations grew in size and number, it became necessary either to have more bishops or to delegate some of their functions to others. Congregations in an area (diocese) were entrusted to presbyters (priests), assisted by deacons, under the supervision of a bishop. It was this system of church government that became established throughout the church. The bishop retained as his exclusive right the power to confirm church members, ordain priests, and consecrate other bishops.

As the Middle Ages advanced, the system of delegation of duties became excessively organized, and an ecclesiastical bureaucracy came into being. A complex hierarchy of subordinate officials acted on the bishop’s behalf. Although bishops made important contributions to the medieval state, this activity interfered with the office of church leader.

During the Reformation in the 16th century, episcopacy was repudiated by most Protestant churches, partly on the grounds of its involvement in political rule but also because many believed the system was not based on the New Testament. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Old Catholic, and Swedish Lutheran churches have the episcopal form of church government, as do some German Lutheran churches, the United Methodist Church, and others.


  1. Theoretically, our District Presidents are supposed to act as Bishops, with the Synod President being the head Bishop. Theoretically, at least.

    I do agree with you, Gary. Our congregation-oriented polity has led to a huge fracturing of Lutherans in our modern era. It's very sad that if I'm going to go anywhere, I have to research the local LCMS churches to see if it really is Lutheran, rather than being able to trust that an LCMS church will be truly evangelical, confessional, and catholic. Not a good problem to have.

    Granted, I don't want us to be shackled by a ruthless episcopate that can ram anything, good or bad, down the laity's throat with no care and no means of reproach. However, our laxity in this regard has made an easy breeding ground for heterodoxy.

    I understand why the LCMS was founded with such a polity. The forced union of Lutheran and Reformed back in the Old Country really stung for our forefathers. But I think we could stand to re-implement some structure.

    1. Amen.

      My wife's aunt recently informed us that she wants to leave evangelicalism, but isn't ready to return to her birth religion: Roman Catholicism.

      I at first wanted to tell her to find the closest LCMS Lutheran church...but then I remembered, I will have to do some research to see just how orthodox, just how liturgical, and just how Lutheran the LCMS church in her area REALLY is...before I can recommend she visit it.

      Very sad.


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