The Rev. David Juhl had a simple yet profound post lately. You can read it here. Given my own proclivity for the Lutheran Confessions, I agree wholeheartedly with that the distinction must be made simply as to whether a pastor is faithful or unfaithful.
Within the Lutheran Church, that distinction must be made solely on the basis of faithfulness to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, as Pastor Juhl indicates.
The challenge is to see that personal preferences don’t begin to trump the true doctrine and practice. At this point these thoughts are rather rough as they’re coming out. Hopefully as I get through them some sense may be made of them. What follow are examples of what I’m trying to get at.
Worship style need not necessarily indicate faithfulness or unfaithfulness. It may indeed be a faithful act to set the liturgy to contemporary arrangements and instrumentations. If these settings direct the worshipers to the things the Lord is giving them and doing to and among them in the divine service, they are indeed the acts of faithful ministry. If, however, such stylistic choices bring with them it’s-all-about-me anthropology rather than actual divine service, then it becomes an unfaithful act.
Accordingly (and please put the pitchforks away until you’ve read the whole point), the liturgy didn’t fall in its current form from the throne of God into our laps. The liturgy focuses us on God’s work among us. Indeed, God does things in the parts of the liturgy. He changes us through his work in the divine service. For example, he reminds us of our identity as his baptized children in the invocation. He drowns us anew and raises us up to new life in the Absolution. He hears and answers our prayers. He feeds us with his Word in the readings and the sermon, and with his Body and Blood. He places his blessing upon us as we leave. All of these are God’s acts upon us. We leave worship as changed persons. Yet demanding that worship be the same at all times and in every place may be an unfaithful act, if it elevates form over substance. Likewise, changing the wording, say, of the confession and Absolution is not necessarily an unfaithful act, provided the confession covers general sin and applies to all sinners, and God’s first-person forgiving of our sins is still there.
The above examples are places where I think “faithful” and “unfaithful” might get prematurely applied to a minister, if you follow. It’s vital that one use sanctified discernment when making such assessments, and that he is never hasty in declaring an observed practice to be unfaithful.
Yet there are decidedly unfaithful practices, and there are men who have chosen to be unfaithful in the ministry to which God has called them. For whatever reason, these men have sold their birthrights for a mess o’ pottage. They have functionally renounced the faith they claim to confess. The general reason seems to be a disposition toward the path of least resistance. It’s laziness, and laziness is easier than faithfulness.
It’s easier to “not rock the boat” of contemporary American Protestant Christianity. If we don’t seem any different, they’ll get off our backs.
It’s easier to win hearts and minds when we don’t preach appropriate Law and Gospel. We’ll “Dr. Phil” them to death and call it relevant or life-related, and they’ll love us!
It’s easier to quantify the effectiveness of ministry by means of numbers and programs.
It’s easier to let let others do the work for us. Point, click, print, preach.
It’s easier to be blown with the winds of change rather than to remain rooted in universal truth. We’d rather be deemed to be hip than thought a curmudgeon.
It’s easier to reach out to people “where they are” and praise their uniqueness, leaving them in the comfort of their sinful selves. We might be thought to be unloving if we challenged the status quo of Old Adam.
It’s easier to do snappy rather than substantial.
I could go on. I won’t right now. It’s not just a personal gripe. Unfaithfulness is an afront to faithful ministry in the church throughout the centuries. It’s reckless endangerment of God’s people. Every minister makes mistakes. Every minister is a sinner. But willful and overt unfaithfulness to Scripture and the Confessions is an unconscionable offense.