You Can Have the Church of My Grandfather

Till the end President Gerald Kieshnick was pilloried for his 2001 comment that the LCMS was no longer your grandfather’s church.  He defended or perhaps clarified it in his 2010 report to the Synodical convention. President-elect Harrison and the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Churches also bang that drum slowly from the other side.  They want to be the church of their grandfather’s.    I don’t.

My grandfather’s LCMS excommunicated him for dancing.  He died under the major ban.  To put food on the table during the Great Depression, he and my grandmother entered a marathon dance contests.  They lasted the longest, won the fifty bucks, were the toast of Bay City, Michigan, and were summarily excommunicated for their sin.

My grandfather’s LCMS loved to sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Just as I Am.”  They came to believe these were good Lutheran hymns and so came to be enamored by those whose theology really were in those hymns.

My grandfather’s LCMS loved big numbers.  Big numbers were proof of the Lord’s blessings.  Still is in their steadily dimming eyes.

My grandfather’s LCMS gave us the circa 1965 “Preaching Teaching Reaching Mission.” In “Helps and Hints for Lay Visitors” on page 48 we read, “PRESSING FOR A COMMITMENT.  If there is hesitation in reaching a decision, keep speaking of the benefits of faith in Christ and of the uncertainty of daily life.  Say, ‘This is something that ought to be taken care of NOW, don’t you agree?”  Tell them this is a decision people never regret.  Some people refuse to sign anything, so request permission to sign their names for them”  (emphasis and abysmal theology theirs).

This returning to the past in the name of the future has been believed before.  Livy thought it could be done in the case of the Romans.  He believed “that it is both desirable and possible to erect a future upon the basis of an idealized past.”  But as one scholar notes, “Such a claim is, however, utterly unrealistic.  In the first place it ignores the truth that history does not repeat itself; that the ever-changing situations constitute a perpetual challenge to the ingenuity and endurance of mankind.  In the second, it presupposes… that there is nothing to prevent them, should they so desire, from living the life of their own grandfathers, the ‘valiant men of old’” (Christianity and Classical Culture, 96-97).

You can have the church of my grandfather.  I want the Church of the prophets and apostles.  I want the Church our great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfathers were interested in returning to: the Church of the fathers.  The Book of Concord is at pains to show that what it believes, teaches, and confesses is consistent with what the fathers of the church believed, taught, and confessed.  You can have the church of my grandfathers I want the faith of the fathers.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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3 Responses to You Can Have the Church of My Grandfather

  1. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    With all due respect, Rev. Harris, I doubt that President Harrison has any desire to resurrect these things that you mention. President Kieschnick meant that things don’t work the way they did back in the days of our grandparents. It is a different world. So, we can’t do things as a church the same way they did it back then (I disagree, of course, in speaking of worship, etc.). But, in principle, I agree with you.

  2. Paul Siems says:

    Pr. Harris,

    Your observations are astute. You are realizing what most in the LC-MS are unwilling to admit.

    Your points are on the mark. It is sad, however, that without fuller explanation that almost no one will perceive that the points mentioned are merely illustrative of THE Points to be observed.

  3. Rev. Sherman Stenson says:

    Right on target, Pastor Harris. We wrestle continually with those who’d rather set the clock back to some imagined Golden Age (as if the Christian Church was somehow at its earthly pinnacle in the heyday of the LCMS) than move forward into battle in an ever-changing, adapting, and sinister world–equipped with, and depending solely on, the eternal truths and power of God’s Word and Sacraments.

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