I read a blog today from a former Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod pastor who has become a Roman Catholic: http://beatvsvir.blogspot.com/2008/06/how-i-became-catholic-i-wasnt-part-1.html. He gives details of the story of his conversion, though he doesn't go into a great deal of theological depth. I always find it sad when someone I considered a brother in the faith can abandon what he's confessed for so long. I've seen it go in a number of directions--first a college friend to a heterodox Lutheran body, then a seminary professor to Eastern Heterodoxy, and now an acquaintance to the Roman church. It doesn't get any easier to watch.
With everything that happened to me over the past three years, I've had a number of people ask my why I remain in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and why I strive to return to serving in a congregational setting. The second part is easier to answer than the first, but let me begin with the first.
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod is not the Church. It is merely a collection of believers who have chosen to walk together because they, at least on paper, agree on what Scripture teaches. That agreement on paper includes the belief that Scripture is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and that the Lutheran Confessions are a (and I say "the") correct exposition of that Word of God. As I said, this agreement is on paper; in practice, the LCMS is divided from top to bottom on various and sundry issues. The division troubles me. Nevertheless, I have not seen a church body which has a more faithful statement of belief than the LCMS. There is at least one other that has as faithful a confession--namely, the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America, also known as ELDoNA--and does, in practice, have a more faithful agreement between its congregations to practice what they agree to on paper. Nevertheless, I do not believe ELDoNA's confession of faith is any more faithful than that of the LCMS. With that said, if I am removed from the roster of the LCMS or my CRM status is denied when I apply for reinstatement in 2009, I may consider leaving for ELDoNA for the possibility of returning to parish ministry one day. Unless that happens, though, I am remaining in the LCMS.
Why? Part of the reason is the faithfulness of the LCMS confession on paper. I fully agree with the LCMS confession of faith--at least on paper. I have my issues with the current leadership, but I'll always have issues with the human leadership of the Church on this side of heaven. Another part of the reason is the obvious--it's what I know. I've been a lifelong LCMS Lutheran, and I've spent nearly eight years contending for the faith as an LCMS pastor. That's not an eternity, but since those eight years have been among the worst eight years in our history since the first eight, it's certainly long enough. And a really big part of the reason is that it's my best chance of returning to parish ministry. If I leave for ELDoNA, or anywhere else, for that matter, the chances of me being a parish pastor again are no better, and maybe worse, than if I stay where I am. Some church bodies won't accept pastors unless they bring a congregation with them; others, chances are I'd have to start a congregation from scratch. That wouldn't be impossible, but if that's something the Lord wants me to do, He's going to have to talk a lot faster than He talked to get me into the Ministry in the first place, and that was very fast indeed! (I admit it--the thought scares the h-e-double-hockeysticks out of me! Then again, so did the thought of being a pastor.)
So . . . why do I want to return to parish ministry? This is the easier question to answer. Why? Because it's what the Lord has Called me to do. I went into the Ministry kicking and screaming; and now that I'm out, I'm kicking and screaming to get back in. As much as it bugs the hell out of me, it seems the Lord always knows better than I do what's best for me. The Ministry is not an easy life, but it's the life God chose for me, and it's where I belong. Imagine a fisherman with no boat. Imagine a coach with no team. Imagine a president with no country. I'm no less a pastor right now, but what good is it for me to be a pastor when there is no one for me to whom I can deliver God's gifts?
So I'm hanging around. There are some people who think it's easy to get rid of me. I may be off the board, but I am by no means out of the game. When the Lord makes the move to bring me back, I'm ready. And when I do go back in, it will be as a Lutheran pastor. There is no denomination, cult, or Church that is more than the one I'm already in. And I'm not leaving.