August 13, 2015

Alphabet Soup: WELS-LCMS Relations

An acquaintance of mine recently described me as the most pro-Missouri-Synod WELS person he knows. He meant it as a compliment, and I took it as one. I have deep family ties to the LCMS. There's been a Lutheran pastor in every generation of my family since before C.F.W. Walther. Ernst Brauer, the twin of a maternal great-great-grandfather, taught at St. Louis seminary with Walther, and helped to found the synod. My great-grandfather, Emmanuel Mayer, was president of the LCMS Michigan district. My grandfather, Herman Mayer, who was very dear to me, and my dad's brother Richard, were both LCMS pastors. My younger brother went to the ELS seminary just to break with tradition. (Just kidding. He has many and good reasons.)

My point is not to brag about family history. I didn't know most of this stuff until very recently. And I don't regret that my parents left the Missouri Synod when I was barely old enough to remember. They left for good reasons, and I've chosen to stay in the WELS for good reasons. But I've known enough good Missouri Synod Lutherans to know that the bad things that were said about the Missouri Synod when I was growing up in WELS Lutheran schools are not all true. (Diagram that sentence!)

Disputatious Theologians, by Albert Bothe. Courtesy GHDI
We were told things like, "A lot of Missouri Synod Lutherans are going to hell," and "Even the conservatives tolerate false doctrine—otherwise they would leave," and my personal favorite, "If you say a meal prayer with Missouri Synod Lutherans, you are yoking yourself to unbelievers." WELS pastors and teachers like to give the impression that the LCMS is just ELCA without the LGBT sympathies. In other words, many of our pastors and teachers make generalizations, but seem to have no real contact with the Missouri Synod to either inform or discredit these opinions. There is no excuse for a blanket dismissal of our brothers in the LCMS as "false teachers." We should know that the devil is hard at work wherever the gospel is preached. That's as true in the Missouri Synod as it is in Wisconsin.

When a WELS family approaches a Confessional, Christ-professing, Book-of-Concord-wielding, Catechism-touting LCMS school and expresses reservations about the false doctrine their children are inevitably going to be taught (true story), they reveal their ignorance about the differences between our synods. The WELS does a good job of promoting a unified image (thank you, WELS Connection!), but fortunately, is not synonymous with the Invisible Church. The "they think they're the only ones in heaven" joke is probably told in every denomination, but I suspect it must have been written originally of the WELS. Because the thing about Missouri Synod Lutherans is that they seem to possess an acute awareness of the divisions within their synod. No one thinks that you can go to any LCMS church and find orthodox doctrine being preached from the pulpit, as seems to be the case for many in the WELS.

I don't want to sound like I'm promoting unionism here, but IMHO, part of the solution is that we have to get together more often. Although ELS, WELS, and LCMS theologians have been having informal discussions at the Emmaus Conferences, I wonder what other opportunities exist for laymen to have similar discussions and, dare I say, "fellowship" opportunities? How about Higher Things? CCLE? Our synodical worship conferences? Or at the very least, listen to Issues, Etc., and join some Confessional Lutheran Facebook groups. Listen to and read the issues that come up, and see how they are dealt with by Lutherans from all three synods. Follow Matt Harrison and the WMLT (Witness, Mercy, Life Together) blog. In short, inform yourself! If doctrinal matters separate two church bodies, so be it. I'm the last person who would suggest that we set doctrinal differences aside, join hands, and sing Kumbaya. But don't let ignorance add to the barrier between Wisconsin and Missouri.

Pr. Hans Fiene (of Lutheran Satire fame) remarked on Facebook that interracial marriage might be part of the solution to race relations in America. Might I suggest inter-synodical marriage could play a part in restoring synod relations? (I only say this in passing, but word has it there's a bevy of beautiful, unattached LCMS women attending Bethany Lutheran College [ELS]. *wink*) No bias on my part, there.

That is all. TTYL.