A Time To Heal
The past week has seen the passing of two giants of a bygone era of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The first is Herman Otten of New Haven, Missouri. Otten is infamous for his weekly newspaper Christian News that took many liberties regarding journalism and sourced material. The second death is Delbert Rossin, who founded the charismatic organization Renewal In Missouri (RIM). His impact is still felt to this day as the SET evaluation tool for seminarians and pastors includes questions regarding the charismatic movement.
There has been no shortage of ink spilled over both of these men and the movements they led, so the purpose here is not to rehash either’s legacy or to take needlessly gratuitous shots at the deceased who now rest together in light. I draw attention to both men and their timely passings to say that it is the end of an era. It may be an era narrowly defined by the particular experience that is the Missouri Synod, but it is an era at any rate. Christian News and the Missouri charismatic movement have been at the center of the collective conscious of the LCMS for decades and, while remnants remain, the passing of these two men signals a shift in history.
I remember answering questions about the charismatic movement on my evaluation tool and thinking the tool was comically antique. And every time a Christian News weekly arrived at my church I would smile at the inanity of its articles. Part of what made it so is that it read like something that arrived via time machine rather than being a weekly current. Despite both being a sort of punchline, their authority was palpable in our church body. Newer pastors, many of a certain age, began to see the pain that was left in the wake of movements like these. Our synod is one that deals in pronounced pain and the Seminex era and its aftermath, which gave way to things like the charismatic movement, have had a long-lasting impact.
An era is more than a man or two but eras often encompass individuals who maintain a profound presence. As far as characters go, Herman Otten remained this up until the day he died as he was vetting, courting, and endorsing new candidates for the synod presidency. Rossin was not the character that Otten was (who was?), but the ministry he founded had far reaching consequences for many of our congregations, mine included. While it may seem presumptuous to claim the end of an era upon their passing it seems appropriate here. If for no other reason the passage of time is what defines an era, and time has certainly passed on the Seminex and charismatic eras.
They say time heals all wounds, but if this were true then the LCMS would have already been healed. The wounds of this church body are still open sores that invite infection because against all wisdom we continue to pick at them. Pastors of another generation have not seemed to work through their PTSD (and I do not use that term lightly) regarding Seminex, while pastors of another generation haven’t worked through their feelings regarding Robert Preus’ ouster from Fort Wayne. Then there are still yet pastors of another generation who being enamored with the battle stories of old are in a desperate search to re-enact the battles today (if only these re-enactments were like the Civil War re-enactments and not an actual call to arms).
The common denominator here is the clergy. This isn’t to say the laypeople of our synod have completely healed from the wars of yesterday but it is crystal clear that pastors are the ones still taking up arms in battles for wars that have long ceased. To be frank, this is a scandal. It is wrapped in the idea of contending for faithfulness but the witness we inevitably give is one of bellicosity. It may seem unbecoming to speak this way about people in need of healing but one gets the sense that our practitioners of absolution do not believe they need healing. And while in this church body there are different views of the office of the ministry (ranging from high to low), the wounds of this church body are bound up in the wounds of its ministerium. Whatever your view of the office, the path to healing for this church body begins with its own physicians.
The time for healing has come. Yet this is not a healing that dismisses wounds that led us to this place, there is nothing worse you can do to a hurting person than dismiss their pain. But clergy need to lead the way for healing. If you know anything about pastors, and if you know something about Missouri Synod pastors, then you know leadership in this way will not come easily or naturally. But I fully believe this is the call upon the current generation of those serving God’s people. We cannot undo the past, nor would we dream of it, but we can lead toward a future. And the future that is most promising is one that promotes health and healing.
By the way, this is not a program that promises numerical growth or success for our church body. I’ll leave that to the statisticians. What we are talking about here is a call to Spiritual renewal, renewal by and from the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. We have this Spirit of Jesus within us as the people of God and this Spirit is calling us to healing. So we are not talking about a quick fix and we are not talking about ensuring the church body lives to see another generation. This is about God’s people being nourished and rehabilitated by God’s own Spirit. I tend to think that if we are healthier as people and pastors then the institution will inevitably follow, but there are no guarantees.
The relationship between pastors and their congregations can be viewed in a marital sense. That is, the longer you are there the more you begin to resemble each other. I believe this is true of the relationship between the pastors of the LCMS and the people of the LCMS. We live in a time in which people are dealing with immense hurt and are in need of abundant healing. If we do not deal with our own pain, individually and institutionally, we are doing a disservice to the people we have been called to lead.
Equipping the saints certainly includes a faithful confession, and a crucial component of a faithful confession is that it be in someone. In our case the faithful confession is in the person of Jesus. And we confess that Jesus is the great physician whose ministry of healing is a signpost for the new creation. This is our moment; this is our time. How do we know? Because we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.