Author Topic: Leaving Lutheranism  (Read 3542 times)


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Leaving Lutheranism
« on: August 17, 2006, 03:30:52 PM »
I was grateful to read articles by Frank Senn and Richard Niebanck stating why they remain Lutheran in the face of so many gifted and thoughtful Lutherans leaving for Rome or Constantinople.  I too find myself troubled by the prospect of staying put within Lutheranism and the lack of more satisfying alternatives.
I am truly attracted to Roman Catholicism but the Roman Church I am attracted to seems not to exist in actual practice in the parishes I have surveyed.  I have attended mass at noted cathedrals and local parishes and found what most typically find -- a rushed liturgy, weak liturigcal music, trite and shallow hymns (and praise choruses), sing along with Mitch cantors with their arms going up and down, and a congregation of people that whispers or acts bored through the entire thing.  A summer visit to a noted cathedral left my wife and I very unimpressed.  Why go to Rome when in my own Lutheran parish the liturgy is sung better, the hymns more faithful to the Gospel, and the people generally more connected to the liturgy and sacramental mystery.  I do not know where those folks go to find Roman Catholic parishes whose practice is consistent with the high vision of theology they espouse.  It is not where I have been!
I am attracted to Anglicanism but live in America where Episcopalians are in search of a truth -- any truth -- that they can call their own amid an agenda of political, social, and moral change.  Bishop Gene Robinson's comment that he and his personal integrity as a gay man were more important than the unity of the Church only highlights a radical individualism that parades in churchly vesture.  I know a couple Episcopal parishes with faithful clergy, good liturgy, a high sacramental theology, and good Biblical preaching but why exchange these rarities for the rarities I already know among Lutherans?  Some Lutherans may be rushing down the same boulevard of theological, moral, and Biblical vagary but they are at least a few blocks behind the Episcopalians.
I am attracted to Orthodoxy but the experience of a very dear friend has convinced me that Orthodoxy is so tied to an ethnic perspective and identity that my Western heart would not fit.  I am too wedded to Bach, Brahms, Pachelbel, Walter, and a thousand other choral and instrumental composers of yesterday and today.  I could not leave them all behind.  I am not Greek.  I am not Russian.  I am not Macedonian.  I am not Bulgarian.  I grew up in a Swedish-German community in Nebraska.  After more than half a century with this Western catholic identity, I know that I would never be at home with a tradition I love more with my head than my heart.
So I too stay where I am.  I am encouraged by younger pastors (who have put out a fine hymnal in the Lutheran Service Book).  I am at home in a parish where I have served for nearly 14 years and which has accepted (sometimes a bit grumpily) my leadership toward a more explicitly catholic vision of confessional identity and liturgical vitality.  So I will stay.  For now.  Still hoping that a better option might come along yet growing ever more comfortable in the misery of a Lutheran communion that could be so much but settles for far too little.
Fr Peters
Fr Larry Peters
Grace LCMS, Clarksville, TN


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Re: Leaving Lutheranism
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2006, 10:40:16 PM »
Fr Peters:

Well said, dear brother.  I find your assessment very true from my own experience and it parallels my search.  I expanded my search back to Rome by studying at the Centro Pro Unione near the Vatican a couple of years ago.  I realized that Rome is not nirvana (sorry for mixing metaphors) and their bureaucracy makes the LCMS look downright accomodating.

My beloved wife and I have come to the same conclusion: attempt to flourish were planted.  I am finding it possible to be a good Evangelical Catholic in an overly ethnic, bipolar (multipolar?) Synod with the paradox of rigid orthodoxy  and pietism operating independently of each other.  Our merciful God certainly has a sense of humor....hey He called me to the pastoral ministry!


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Re: Leaving Lutheranism
« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2006, 10:55:58 AM »
Concerning the articles by Frank Senn and Richard Niebanck:   Although the issues raised are certainly pan-Lutheran, this strikes me as essentially an internal debate within the STS, (although I have recommended STS membership to ECCL clergy, I have not joined myself only because I don't have the time to devote to its activities - so I do have some respectful  interest) I will only ask a couple of general questions, and having asked them, will step back: 

First, it seems that although Pr. Senn's response to a post in which he stated that the STS was not intended to be a "holding pattern" for those waiting to enter Roman Catholicism, with the steady, slow trickle of STS members leaving to become Roman Catholics, it certainly has been that for at least some.  Although the STS has its 9.5 theses, perhaps, if there is a consensus that Prs. Senn and Niebanck are correct, the STS might want to consider reassessing just what an Evangelical Catholic Lutheran really is and if that stance is helpful any longer, the relationship between the Lutheran and Reformed Churches and their theologies (are the two are opponents - or if there is there is some form of a continuum between the two which has developed over time under the umbrella of larger Protestantism), which doctrines, exactly ,are (to Prs. Senn, Niebanck and others) the "core doctrines" which must be accepted in order to be true Lutherans (instead of which documents of the BOC must be accepted and on at least some level - quia, quatena, or merely "respect") in order to be truly Lutheran.  And finally, what, precisely, is the point at which people (both clergy and laypeople) are to be considered to be no longer Lutherans in any sense, but rather Catholics (in the broad sense) or "(temporarily) independent (Roman) Catholics of Lutheran heritage."  In a broader sense, it raises the question as to what the term "Evangelical Catholic" mean now, and whether or not it is helpful any longer.

Next, it is mentioned, on the one hand, that (obviously among other things) the STS is a "Ministerium" (please correct me if I have misunderstood it) which is useful for those who feel that the Church in which they have taken the vows as clergy is in error on at least some level, in at least some areas; and on the other hand it is emphasized that clergy should remain within the Church in which they took their vows as clergy no matter what.  It strikes me that there is a bit of an inconsistency there. 

It seems that if it (the STS) is is a Ministerium which enables clergy to be true to orthodox Lutheran Christianity while remaining within a "conflicted" Church in which they ordained, that at least some STS members are treating it, de facto, as the Ministerium within which they actually function (there are lots of hairs which can be split here, and remember that I am painting with a broad brush.)  Perhaps that could be re-evaluated, and the STS might consider redefining itself as a "pan-Lutheran Religious Order" or, using post-Vatican II terms which may be more helpful, an "Institute" or " Society" (the actual Roman term is a Priestly Society," but perhaps "Pastoral Society" would be  a modification to use instead)  rather than a "Ministerium."

Finally, some could consider Prs. Senn and Niebanck's stance that regardless of how it began, the fact "on the ground, now" that Lutheranism is now a Church rather than a reform movement within and for Western Catholicism, strikes a blow at the heart of the most basic (occasionally but rarely noted and usually un-stated) premise underlying the Lutheran Evangelical Catholic tradition within Lutheranism, that Lutherans are non-Roman Catholics.  This begs the question as to whether or not it is now being percieved at least by some, that Evangelical Catholicism as presently understood by at least some, as a stance within Lutheranism, has gone far enough, and now has become a problem on at least some level for Lutheranism (the potential start of a "new Counter-Reformation.") and should either be reined in or seriously redefined (if that is possible . . .)

« Last Edit: August 23, 2006, 12:40:32 PM by Irl Gladfelter »


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Re: Leaving Lutheranism
« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2006, 08:27:55 PM »
Regarding the 8/22/06 reprinted articles from the Lutheran Forum:   "I'll be staying put" by Frank Senn,  and "The Inescapable Choice" by Richard Niebank,   both of which are found in the SELECTED REPRINTS section of this Online Forum,  and the follow up discussion on such articles as:
found in the Online Articles section:  8/22/06 "Why I didn't stay put" by Ben Eicher;
found in the Letters to Editor section 8/22/06  "On the August Issue" by Larry Wolhrabe;
found in the Letters to Editor section 8/22/06  "Response to Eicher" by Frank Senn;
I submit below for your further reflection and consideration of this topic,  the July 2004 statement of Paul Anderson,  "To Stay or to Leave"  as found at    A short bio of Paul Anderson can be found at the website faculty page for THE MASTERS INSTITUTE
It is also interesting to note others on that faculty,  including but not limited to David Glesne - author of the book UNDERSTANDING HOMESEXALITY,  as is currently being discussed in the Your Turn section of this Online Forum.

This statement by Paul Anderson was previously posted by me earlier this summer,  before the software for this Online Forum was hacked and/or crashed,  and as a result the thread where it was discussed was lost.   This is yet another reason for me to repost it.
Respectfully submitted by Dave Storhaug, layman.

To Stay or to Leave
by Paul Anderson

Many ELCA members, pastors, and congregations are looking seriously at their relationship with the ELCA. They don't like divorce, but neither do they want to be married to someone they rightly accuse of unfaithfulness. To even consider the issue of ordaining practicing homosexuals is to treat the Scriptures with disdain. The ELCA has lost its authority. So do we bail out or do we stay in hopes of bringing change? Divorce is sad and shameful, but spiritual adultery is devastating.

Are there liabilities in staying? Those who choose to stay must have a compelling reason for staying, just as those who leave must have a reason. We must think strategically. Some have said, "We are going to stay and be a prophetic presence." Some churches tried that strategy for over fourteen years. The leadership of one church acknowledged that they were not a prophetic voice-they were an ignored voice.

I met in Finland with two different groups of pastors on two different days. The first day I met with those committed to staying in. For the first 45 minutes I heard them discuss about how difficult it was to work within the system. When they asked me to share, I said, "You must give your people a more compelling reason for staying than what I've been hearing. Complaining is not much of a rallying call."

Stay-inners must know how to deal with their anger. On my congregational missions years ago, I kept running into upset Lutherans, frustrated with the direction of their Church. Those who leave a system, like a wife being abused, have the option of getting healed. They don't have to fight the same battles any longer as those who stay in are continually faced with. They must choose either to ignore them altogether or come up with a way to live with their tension.

Are those who leave cowardly? We would not call a child who leaves a dysfunctional and abusive family a coward; we would call her a brave girl. That child is taking a bold step not only to seek healing but to also help other family members not strong enough to leave. I disagree with a pastor friend who said, "It is not morally acceptable to relocate to a spiritually sunnier climate during these times." It is not only acceptable but honorable if a congregation follows the leading of the Spirit in good conscience and for reasons of stewardship.

Another friend asked me if I would leave and abandon those small churches on the plains in North Dakota. My response was that we would have more impact on the plains through The Master's Institute and the ARC than we could have from within. We may in fact be abandoning them by urging them to stay in and be "prophetic." Who's listening to them?

Is a person or church which stays more loyal than one which leaves? Loyalty gets convoluted in dysfunctional systems, and leaders who call people to loyalty may be proving that they are not worthy of it. Loyalty to a person or institution unworthy of it is not a strength. Are those who stay within a dysfunctional institution more loyal? Who or what are they being loyal to? Not to a person. Should they be loyal to the ELCA? That would not be appropriate in light of where the leadership is going. The ELCA has been experiencing a theological and moral landslide since its inception. The leadership is not worthy of loyalty.

Some can stay in a dysfunctional system and remain healthy. This is especially true of strong pastors in big congregations. They stay healthy by totally ignoring the synod and doing their own thing. They don't support the institution; they don't read "The Lutheran," they don't use synodical materials, and they don't send anyone to ELCA seminaries or colleges. So even those who speak of the need for loyalty are not truly loyal.

Do those who leave lose their influence? North Heights hasn't. They get calls regularly from churches concerned about their relationship to the ELCA. I haven't. I am still invited into ELCA churches. The international opportunities among Lutherans are at an unprecedented level, both for ministry possibilities and long-term relationship through The Master's Institute and The Alliance of Renewal Churches.

MI is a strong seminary. We came to the conclusion that we could not start a new paradigm from within an existing paradigm. We chose to raise up an alternative-a new wineskin for a new day.

Isn't it better to stay and try to make changes? It is unrealistic for a boy in a sick family to assume that he can somehow change Dad or Mom. He must be concerned about coming into a place of health. While it is noble for pastors and congregations to join together in an effort to tweak the system or to take over, history would call that action unrealistic. It is more realistic to concentrate on "us" rather than on "them," such as through a non-geographic synod. Such a synod can be said to be improving the life of the church by allowing a group however large or small to find a place of unity within the church. But it is not a unity with the whole church, and they will continue to be in an adversarial position with the leadership. Whether that is better in the long run is a decision for each church. What if all those churches decided to leave and quit the fight? Some might consider them better off. The boy in the abusive system must learn how to live with what happens today, not just what happened last month. By leaving he maybe have a better chance of getting strong and helping others.

It is more difficult for smaller churches and less aggressive pastors to continue in the ELCA. They tend not to have the fellowship and support of metropolitan communities. Their congregation is isolated, and like children in dysfunctional families who don't have outside friends, they are stuck with making the most of a bad situation. Staying and leaving can have something to do with size. If all the children in a dysfunctional family are in agreement about how they will cope in a difficult situation, they might stay in the family and survive. Isolation, however, can make staying unbearable. One charismatic in a hostile congregation probably needs to leave-or one church in a hostile district. Put fifty renewal-minded people together and they will find sufficient camaraderie to stay and be a positive voice.

The same can be true for synodical affiliation. Any efforts to address the problems in the church, such as the most recent Dorado Covenant, that bring together a critical mass, enable churches to do more than survive. It gives them a positive agenda, a reason for staying. But telling an isolated church in Nebraska to stay and be a positive voice borders on abuse. It's like telling that lone Christian who has just discovered the empowering presence of the Spirit to stick it out, pray for the pastor, and be a good influence. We have crushed some spirits by giving that advice. Better to be aligned with like-minded brothers and sisters, whether an individual or a body.

Is it wrong to be critical of the ELCA? Jesus didn't follow the Pharisees around; they followed Him around. He didn't go out of His way to set them straight, but where His higher call to do kingdom ministry collided with their small-mindedness, He set the records straight without compromise. I don't have time or calling to be investigating all the problems within the ELCA. Occasionally I address issues, such as I am doing in this article, because people ask us if they should leave. The ELCA is on my prayer list. I pray for its success, not for its demise. I have hope for many congregations, but I have little hope for the institution. I don't spend time being critical. I am not fighting that battle now. My stakes are in different places. Those who are fighting that battle I support and will continue to do so however I can. I don't regard them any less for staying, and I trust they don't regard me any less for not staying. I trust that God gives them a strategy that keeps them on the offensive rather than the defensive.

Why should a congregation think about leaving? They need to ask: How can we do kingdom ministry best? If that can happen by staying, then they stay. If they conclude that they are better off by leaving, then they must leave.

Are people who leave usually more cranky than those who stay? Sometimes. But if leaving enables them to get kingdom focused and pursue a positive agenda, they may be less cranky than people who stay and complain.

But isn't staying more positive than leaving? That depends. Charismatics were told in the seventies, "Bloom where you are planted." We could as well have said, "Wither where you are planted." If leaving enables people or churches to better fulfill their call, that sounds positive to me. Leaving can have a negative twist, but it also has a positive side, as in "leave and cleave."

Where should congregations who leave the ELCA go? It depends upon the values and vision of the churches. There are a variety of options, including Lutheran Churches for Mission in Christ, The American Association of Lutheran Churches, The Association of Free Lutheran Churches, and The Alliance of Renewal Churches. The two-fold mission of the ARC is church transformation and church planting. It strongly favors the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

Can one be more effective within or without? Prophets within are not often honored. Raise up an alternative, and people must stop and take note, as it happening with MI.

Isn't leaving breaking the unity of the Church? It depends upon our understanding of unity. Is it found in denominations or in the larger body of Christ? Those who have considered leaving but who have for reasons of conscience decided to stay are not in unity with the ELCA anyway. They do not share their values or their vision. It is unity of structure and no more, certainly not the unity of the Spirit.

But doesn't leaving further splinter the body of Christ? It may. But look at our own history. The Lutheran Church resulted from a split-off with the Roman Catholic Church. Should Martin have stayed? He had no choice. Would renewal have come from within? Hardly. Luther had greater impact on the Catholic Church as a former Catholic than as an obedient monk. Denominations are a cultural reality and a fact of history. They are not Biblical expressions of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Those who leave the ELCA are not leaving the body of Christ, nor the Lutheran Church for that matter. They are leaving one expression of it, and that expression is unfortunately a distorted one.

Any other liabilities of staying? One is losing one's voice. I have seen seminarians domesticated or worn down by the system. I have seen churches lose their vision by simply fighting. Some would rather switch than fight.

We must also ask, "What is the Spirit doing today?" One of the things happening in a post-denominational climate is the raising up of networks. What to some is a trendy knee-jerk reaction of leaving may in fact be the wind of the Spirit linking them with a network like the ARC or LCMC that will likely have long-term kingdom impact. I think some can be more effective from within because of the relationships they have fostered. Others are more effective from without. It must be a decision that the Spirit gives us. People who leave should never be shamed, as some unfortunately have been.

The ultimate issue is stewardship. We are not our own. Jesus is not building our Church, nor are we building His Church. He said, "I will build my Church." Our job is to serve His purposes. Our highest loyalty is to the Lord of the Church, not to the Church. We need more than a Lutheran mindset--we need a kingdom mindset.


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Re: Leaving Lutheranism
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2006, 06:10:31 PM »

I am attracted to Orthodoxy but the experience of a very dear friend has convinced me that Orthodoxy is so tied to an ethnic perspective and identity that my Western heart would not fit.  I am too wedded to Bach, Brahms, Pachelbel, Walter, and a thousand other choral and instrumental composers of yesterday and today.  I could not leave them all behind.  I am not Greek.  I am not Russian.  I am not Macedonian.  I am not Bulgarian.  I grew up in a Swedish-German community in Nebraska.  After more than half a century with this Western catholic identity, I know that I would never be at home with a tradition I love more with my head than my heart.

As one who grew up in a German community in Wisconsin - wedded to the same things you mention - and who departed the Lutheran ministry eleven years ago to enter Orthodoxy, I find your characterization of Orthodoxy quite foreign.  My own experience of Orthodoxy is that it is a lot like America, kind of a melting pot of many different backgrounds that is long on heart and strong in the Gospel (I would note that in my own parish close to 80% of the members are converts with no ethnic connection to traditionally Orthodox cultures).  In fact, I think a strong argument can be made that it is at least as diverse, and probably more so, than the ELCA.



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Re: Leaving Lutheranism
« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2006, 11:08:41 AM »
I'll add my ditto to Fr. Brian's observation. Our parish is 90% converts and quite mission-minded. I am aware of several parishes (one of which is Serbian!), whose total focus is helping African Americans reclaim their historic roots in Orthodoxy. In the border-land of Texas it is not unusual to hear the Divine Liturgy served entirely in Spanish.

I have also served abroad in parishes that serve the Divine Liturgy in German, Italian, and Korean. I was also privileged to work at our Summer Camp 2 years ago with an African priest from Kenya.

I can't speak to your friend's experience. I do know that the 300 million of us roaming the planet are not all Arabs, Slavs or Greeks and that we continued to be united around a common Liturgy served in very diverse ways.

Fr. Bob