Deacons are quite the discussion topic in the news these days, ever since Pope Francis stated he favored a study to clarify whether the church could admit women to this church office, as our own Richard "Religion Guy" Ostling recently explained.
Catholics aren’t the only ones chatting up the topic. One conservative branch of American Lutheranism is talking about whether to cut back on the number of applicants to the diaconate.
Catholics began including men, almost always married, in a permanent diaconate back in the 1970s after Vatican II. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod began doing so in 1989. Both efforts have proved amazingly popular, so much so that the Lutherans are wondering if there’s too much of a good thing.
Recently, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch weighed in on this, so we come in near the beginning of the piece. This passage is quite long, but essential:
“This is the heart of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a conservative-leaning network of 6,000 churches whose roots are in northern Europe. Though the headquarters is in Kirkwood, more than 2 million members are spread across the country.
Like other mainline churches, the synod struggles to find new blood in the U.S. -- both in the pews and at the pulpit. The decline helped motivate some men often in remote and inner-city areas, to bypass four years of seminary training to serve a congregation in need.
Lutheranism has always been built on a tension between ordained clergy and what is called the priesthood of the believer, or the laity, and over who can do what. While the pool of men -- the church ordains only men -- answering the call to enter seminary and serve as pastors has shrunk in recent decades, some want to enforce higher standards on ministers who aren’t ordained and strip away the so-called “Licensed Lay Deacon” credentials.
Since the synod made efforts in 1989 to officially allow trained deacons to serve as pastors in exceptional situations, the grass-roots practice of elevating a parishioner from within a congregation to ministry has exploded to include more than 500 people.
Is there any heat in these discussions? Check this out:
Gottesdienst, a journal on Lutheran worship, put on the recent conference in Hamel for traditionalists to plan how to curtail the practice, which some presenters attacked as a threat.
“I for one am not surprised by the entire lay ministry fiasco we have had to endure for nearly 30 years,” said the Rev. Burnell Eckardt, reading from a paper he prepared. “Confusion, division, and unrealistic expectations have ensued.”
The reporter took a complex topic and broke it down into concepts laity can understand.
Some say the deacons need more theological training. Others say that theological training hasn’t stopped the LCMS from losing members and that maybe the denomination needs to equip laymen to be deacons in unorthodox surroundings to better reach the lost.
This report served as part walk-up for the denomination’s upcoming July convention and part illustration of the battle between various segments of the denomination in light of a dropping membership.
One GetReligion reader who brought this to our attention noted that the reporter could have mentioned the 14th article of the Augsburg Confession (one of nine doctrinal statements that informs the LCMS) that reads, "Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call." Fair enough. Just what is, and what is not, a "rightly ordered call" provides the grounds for this debate, which has been raging among Lutherans for several years.
However, reporters don’t like referring to documents if they can help it, as running a full quote can cut back on valuable space and the writer may have felt that quoting the Confession wouldn’t enlighten readers one way or another.
Still, the reporter, who has received at least one award for his writing does a good job of explaining an insider church debate to secular readers. One side stresses the theological training the denomination is known for. The other side says all the theological training in the world isn’t going to matter if they don’t have enough boots on the ground to reach unbelievers and help provide essential pastoral ministries.
Both are valid arguments and the reporter shows that by letting people speak for themselves. That's Journalism 101. Oh, and if you have any doubts about the passions behind each side, scan the comments section.
Would that other media could explain inside church baseball topics of this kind with such clarity.