Mollie Ziegler Hemingway has a fine article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, in which she addresses the precipitate cancellation of the popular Lutheran radio interview/news program Issues, Etc. by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s board of communications. Mollie puts this strange and very unpopular action—an online petition to bring the show back has more than 5,000 signatures—in the context of the denomination’s latest identity crisis.
As Mollie notes, the official LCMS explanation for the cancellation of a program that was a faithful representation of confessional Lutheran thought and practice is dubious. Even if the numbers were as bad as claimed—another week or two on the air was going to bankrupt the KFUO network? Jeff Schwarz and Todd Wilken, the producer and host, respectively, couldn’t be given the dignity of some notice? But the numbers cited on the LCMS website are misleading, as a blog dedicated to the Issues issue explains in some detail.
The LCMS, in which I was baptized and confirmed, is unlike any other Protestant body: It’s not mainline and not quite evangelical, at least in the altar-call, clap-happy sense. Rather it is orthodox, confessional, and liturgical—or at least it’s supposed to be. For those Christians who are tired of the strip-mall approach to church-hopping, in which the congregation with the best music and most emotional appeal wins your heart this week, the LCMS has always been a traditional, sober, and catholic alternative. Unfortunately, many within the LCMS have decided that being Lutheran isn’t enough; they also want to be BIG and compete with the nondenoms around the corner. And so some congregations have gone all Baptist and charismatic in terms of worship style, and in some cases present a soteriology that contradicts that of a church with a very high view of the sacraments—a view that includes a doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
Please note that the LCMS is not TEC: It has not fallen prey to the historical-Jesus wars and continues to teach the Christian faith’s traditional sexual morality. And if you asked Dr. Kieschnick, the Synod’s president, or any other LCMS pastor for that matter, whether Jesus literally rose from the dead, I have no doubt he would answer with a swift and emphatic yes. As opposed to many, if not most, mainliners, who would most probably respond, “Well, it all depends on what you mean by literally and rose.” In fact, if the LCMS errs, it’s definitely in the direction of a biblicism that brooks little to no debate over modes of biblical interpretation, even of such controverted works of prehistory as Genesis. (In fact, Dr. Kieschnick a couple of months ago gave an interview in which he explained his own theory of how Noah ventilated the ark so as to make it habitable.) Talk of Genesis as poetry or a reworking of ancient creation myths to say something unique about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will not go over well. As for how the evidence for biological evolution fits into biblical history . . . my, it looks like rain today . . .
Whither the LCMS? Given its congregationalist polity, it will probably vary from city to city and congregation to congegation. But if the LCMS want to be the “home” that worn-out wandering evangelicals come back to—as opposed to the Roman and Orthodox churches—it needs a president who respects the tradition’s confessional roots and will allow Lutherans to be Lutherans: not fundamentalists, not evangelicals (although Lutherans, historically, were the original evangelicals), not charismatics, and not mainline Protestant liberals.
I’m not holding my breath.