Monday quarterbacking…

First, Teeeee-bowwwww! Don’t you just love it when a guy gets beat up for 4 hours and gets told he’s basically just above a slime mold and then that slime mold has the audacity to win ugly?

Ok, now that football is out of the way. One of my favorite sarcastic sayings that has some deep insight is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Churches, both congregations and even more so larger organizations, do this all the time. And they do it amp’ed up on crack. Churches tend to give a theological polish to the way they do things. Over time that theological polish builds up and becomes God told us to do it this way. Cross reference Eve’s answer to the snake (Gen 3:3), “God said we shouldn’t eat that fruit, and not to even touch it.” God said the first, but not the second. Theological polish build up.

Here is one place where the Lutheran Confessions are incredibly useful. Augsburg Confession article 7 defines where you see the church. The church is where you hear the gospel preached and the sacraments administered. Staying at the local congregation – the kingdom of the gospel is found in the preached word and the sacraments. When the called pastor steps out of those rolls, he or she is in the kingdom of the law. That is one of the reasons that I’m a big stickler for preceding any congregational meeting presentation I give with something along the lines – “you are completely free to disagree with what I’m saying here.” And I make sure the signs of the office (stole, alb, etc.) are put away. I don’t want to add Theological Polish. But we have probably all been part of situations or congregations where there has been theological polish build up, where decisions properly in the realm of debate and governance are given sacramental importance.

Now move that to a larger grouping level. We call these synods which is a great old name and captures the true nature. It means walking together. Groups of congregations that share a confession agree by human right to organize themselves. (The confessional document Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope is all about this. The reformers were happy to have a Pope as long as it was admitted that his office was what we would call secular.) But when you get to such bodies you tend to get Theological Polish build-up of staggering proportions. Whether that is actual or de facto infallible doctrines, fancy titles and the whole mess. Or just what we all know as the arrogance of office and the hostility and closed ears to dissent. All backed up and supported with the general sense that this is how God ordained it.

So, if you dare to suggest that something isn’t working, maybe we should take a closer look at it and change something, you usually get a dumb-struck reaction. What this really is, is a deep seated personal response by the authority. What do you mean it isn’t working, this is the system that produced and promoted me?!? Here is the CEO of google Eric Schmidt showing some self knowledge and an ability to see this problem.

“Regulation prohibits real innovation, because the regulation essentially defines a path to follow,” Mr. Schmidt said. This “by definition has a bias to the current outcome, because it’s a path for the current outcome.”

Now I’m going to give you a hypothetical title, a C.V. background and ask a question. It is not a big secret that there are a number of congregations is rough shape. In response to that a larger body decides to establish a office of Congregational Turnaround to help the struggling congregations. Now the C.V.
B.A. in Liberal Arts from Synodical College (~35 years ago)
M.Div. from Synodical Seminary (~30 years ago),
S.T.M. (advanced Theological degree) from Synodical Seminary (~20 years ago)
D.Miss. (specialized professional degree) from Synodical Seminary (~15 years ago)
Parish pastor in out of region (i.e. mid-western) parishes (30 – 20 years ago, and 10 years ago)
Foreign Missionary/Seminary Professor (between parish stints)
Mission Executive in a small (in-region) district (recently)

Now the question. Would such a hypothetical CV and hire for such a hypothetical office represent doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes?

There is a reason we have Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party Candidates, candidates for president who have never held office before and a bunch of other things. Andrew Sullivan nails it in Newsweek.

The theme that connects them all is disenfranchisement, the sense that the world is shifting deeply and inexorably beyond our ability to control it through our democratic institutions. You can call this many things, but a “democratic deficit” gets to the nub of it. Democracy means rule by the people—however rough-edged, however blunted by representative government, however imperfect. But everywhere, the people feel as if someone else is now ruling them—and see no way to regain control.

Now a hierarch would point out all kinds of theological problems with that. Many correct. But that response would just be adding to the feeling at large. The deeper question is can we remove enough of the polish build-up to respond as a group, or is this a new wine in old wineskins case?