Friday, October 25, 2013

What Is He Trying to Accomplish?

Over the past several months I have learned from a number of individuals that there are people in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod who are wondering about my intentions in writing about women's ordination and issues in science and theology. Apparently the same question has surfaced among these individuals, namely, "Just what is he [Becker] trying to accomplish in the LCMS?"

I am surprised to learn of this question, since I thought my aims have been clear.

Permit me to repeat those goals:

(1) to encourage members within the synod to think differently about two issues, namely, (a) the synod's understanding of Scripture that insists that only qualified men may serve as pastor in the synod; and (b) the synod's understanding of Scripture that requires one to interpret the creation accounts in Genesis to be literal, historical descriptions of what God did in the not-too-distant past over the course of six actual 24-hr. days ("six-day creationism");

(2) to have the synod change its position that restricts the office of pastor only to men;

(3) to have the synod reject "creationism" in favor of a more robust doctrine of creation, one that sets forth a theological understanding that better accords with the language and genre of these Genesis texts and that better accords with what people today know to be true and valid about the natural history of our planet.

My concern is that the synodical positions against women's ordination and in defense of "creationism" cannot be defended theologically, at least not persuasively. The position on "creationism" is especially susceptible to strong theological and scientific criticism. Finally, these synodical positions do harm to the mission of the LCMS in our egalitarian and scientifically-informed society and they do harm to individual consciences.

I believe it is the responsibility of academic theologians within a given church body to cast a critical eye on those theological positions of the church body that are questionable and debatable--and to set forth theological understandings that are more persuasive. I think we can learn something from Martin Luther in this regard.


  1. "Just what is he [Becker] trying to accomplish in the LCMS?

    He's trying to do something like what Martin Luther did when he argued against wrongheaded Catholic theology -- the Internet being the 21st century equivalent of the castle doors.

    Those who were elected to administrative offices in the LCMS do not OWN Lutheran Theology. For example, the ELCA, which is also a legitimate Lutheran church, has a different view on ordination, and I suspect that many ELCA members don't accept the Creationist perspective of the LCMS. As a matter of fact, when push gets to shove, I suspect that many LCMS members also disagree with the official LCMS perspective, but just don't want to make a fuss about it for reasons that have more to do with family/friendship dynamics and things like that.

    I also believe that Martin Luther himself would not subscribe to either of these LCMS views. He did after all reject many Catholic perspectives of Christianity. The LCMS dug itself into a hole over these issues and simply can't bring itself to admit it.

    Bob Sylwester

  2. Your goals are both noble and, in my opinion, very necessary for the theological foundation of our pastors, teachers and educated laity. If we hold on to a theology that does not reflect the fullness of biblical teaching, then we are doing a terrible injustice to our people, especially our educated lay people who need a solid theological foundation for their faith.

    Thank you for your willingness to speak up. The people of our Synod need to hear your voice!

  3. Paul D Doellinger -- My greatest concern is that I'd we teach our 7th and 8th grade children a non-scientific or a pre-scientific understanding of "creationism" that ignores or even rejects scientific evidence, when they take science courses in high school or college and see the overwhelming evidence that God used "evolution" as His way of creating "the heavens and the earth", they will then reject Christianity and adopt a totally secular view of life. The issue is not "creation VS evolution", but it is "creation AND evolution" or perhaps more precisely "creation IN evolution". Our only other alternative, if we want to hold on to our children would be to stop their education after the 8th grade (as the Amish do) to keep th

  4. The problem is that Missouri is on the wrong side of history and theology. They don't want any discussion of issues that they believe have been settled. Their obscurantism is dismaying. You are like the mosquito that keeps buzzing in their ear. At what point will they realize that they are defending hopeless positions?

    Bill Oehlkers

  5. Dr. Becker - it is implied in the rest of your post, but I think you need to include a fourth goal (a new goal #1). That would be to reaffirm the central teachings of the Reformation, as abstracted in the Small Catechism, and cease asserting trivial matters that make the message of justification, by grace through faith, difficult for others to hear.

    1. John,
      You are mostly correct.

      For a long, long time, the LCMS in convention has focused on matters that are not clearly and directly addressed in the Evangelical-Lutheran Confessional writings. By majority votes, delegates have adopted legislation that goes well beyond the clear teaching of the Confessions. One has to wonder if these convention resolutions address matters that are central to the evangelical faith, since the Confessions themselves do not directly address them.

      Several LCMS pastors and laypeople have emailed me in the past week to voice their frustration with the synod and to tell me that their own daughters, nieces, granddaughters, etc., have left the synod because of how the synod views and treats women.

      BTW, these male members of the LCMS will not speak out themselves. I suspect that they are concerned that they might lose their positions (or cause tremendous conflict in their local setting) if they came out publicly with their criticism of the synod's actions on these peripheral matters.

      What would the Lutheran Church in the USA look like if we merely focused on the simple, direct, and clear biblical teaching that is articulated in the Smaller Catechism of Dr. Luther? That is an interesting question. The tendency of the LCMS in its history has been to add to its confessional basis (going beyond what is explicitly stated in Art. II of its Constitution). A strong case can be made that the synod has indeed, de facto, added to its confessional basis by insisting upon the binding character of every statement in the Brief Statement and A Statement.

      In any case, with regard to the issues I have raised in my dissent, the Smaller Catechism does not give explicit, binding teaching with regard to who can fill the pastoral office. It certainly does not set forth how one is to interpret the first chapters in Genesis, as long as one can affirm, "I believe that God has created me and all creatures and has given to me..." This lack of practical and interpretational specificity in the Smaller and Larger Catechisms is a strength.

      I would also argue that the Table of Duties in the Smaller Catechism is partly out-of-date (at least with regard to political responsibilities, the duties of servants/slaves). But that is ok, given how the Augsburg Confession explicitly acknowledges that some apostolic teachings (e.g., don't eat blood, don't eat non-koshur foods) can freely be set aside over time, with the change of cultural norms, as long as the gospel is not harmed or the faith of the weaker brother/sister is not harmed. And "weaker" here means one who is scandalized by gospel freedom to the point of losing his or her faith in Christ.

  6. Matt, why are you not also being as equally candid about your views on actively homosexual clergy and the issue of homosexuality? Elsewhere you have, pardon the pun, clearly "come out" in favor of these issues and expressed your agreement with the ELCA's recent decisions on these issues.

  7. Paul,
    You are obviously obsessed with homosexuality, so much so that just about every one of your responses here on my blog site is about it and not about the topic at hand. That you constantly want to post about homosexuality makes me and others wonder about you and your obsessions and phobias.

  8. Nice dodge, as usual, Matt.

    Why are you so afraid of being as equally open and honest about your views on homosexuality as you are on your other views that are contrary to the doctrine and practice of your church body?

    As for "obsessions" ... I could not help but chuckle over that accusation. Seems you are the one who is obsessed with trying to push an agenda in The LCMS that was clearly rejected decades ago.

    Matt, seriously, you know you belong in the ELCA where your views are welcome with open arms.