Friday, May 30, 2008

Swimming the Tiber

It has become commonplace for Lutheran pastors to become Roman Catholic - or as we say to swim the Tiber. The companion expression is to swim the Bosporus for those who become Orthodox. Recently I heard a report that a pastor that I have known and respected did swim the Tiber.

Why is this happening? Often times it is the best and the brightest that we are losing. The answer is complex and varied. But one factor is that we in the Missouri Synod are failing to be Lutheran. Confessional Lutheranism is built around an authoritative Scripture and authoritative confession which is expressed in practice in the liturgy. This also results in an authoritative ministry, speaking the words of Scripture. At the heart of this is the concept of means of Grace. We do not believe that God's gifts are floating around out there, but that they are applied to each Christian, directly, by name, in Word and Sacrament.

We have this structure on paper but often not in practice. C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the LCMS, stated that no one dare challenge a pastor when he is correctly speaking the Word of God. Yet, I have had congregational leaders, including elders, tell me to my face that they don't care what the Bible says. Many of our congregations are begging to adopt non-Lutheran worship practices, which implicitly deny our understanding of means of grace.

Rome has many problems, from the perspective of confessional Lutheranism. But they have structure and they do believe in means of grace. This is why many of our best and brightest are swimming the Tiber - they see Rome as more Lutheran than most Lutherans are.


Kari said...

Rome gets justification wrong, & that is the issue that our faith is built on, right? So, how can they justify themselves going to Rome? I'm sure I've read that that's the most important thing. All other Christian religions require you to help out to receive grace, or justification. Or, am I messed up on this? They should have stayed where they were at. Work on getting Lutherans to be really Lutheran again.
Can they stay married when they go to Rome? It doesn't seem fair that some priests can be married in Rome, if they're converts, but their own can't be married.

Walt's World of Religion and Politics said...

I agree with much of what you have said. But we should be clear, Rome has justification, but has distorted it by teaching that grace is a "fluid" poured into us allowing us to do good works. So in their own way they would agree with "grace alone".

Leonard Klein, an ELCA scholar who swam the Tiber some years ago stated that one has to decide which heresies they want to live with. I have to admit that the heresies American Evangelicalism are difficult to cope with.

The bigger question is this: Is there hope of rebuilding a genuine confessional Lutheranism in the 21st century. I am confident that this doable. Apparently, this pastor who recently took the dive no longer feels this way.