Friday, March 19, 2010

Conversion vs. Re-affiliation

Here is a tidbit that may surprise many of you, given what I have heretofore revealed about myself:  for the past 2+ years, ever since we moved from the Mountain West to the Upper Mid-West, we have been attending a Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod congregation.  Last week, we formally became members.

When we first moved here, we visited about six different churches, some of them several times.  For the first year, we divided our attendance between a small PCA congregation about 15 minutes away, and the smaller LCMS church only two blocks from our house.  But in then end, we decided to attend the LCMS church full time.


  • Proximity.  Our community is very walk-able, and walking to church is really nice.  The SWPLs are on to something here.
  • Format.  Our Sunday school class, taught by the pastor, was in a sit-in-a-circle, Bible-study format rather than a platform lecture format.  And while I can’t really claim to prefer one to the other, the Bible-study format makes it easier to meet people and build relationships.  Which brings me to:
  • Friendliness.  While the PCA church wasn’t un-friendly, we were never able to turn our attendance there into any extra-church play-dates or get-togethers.  While the church did have some mid-week Bible studies that might have generated more social opportunities, my recollection is that most of these were men-only or women-only rather than for families with children.
  • Involvement.  While the PCA church probably would have provided ministry opportunities, that doesn’t have the same draw as being recruited to (in my case) join the LCMS choir, which is really what put them over the top.  Not only is the LCMS church small, most (but not all) of its members are old, and they are eager for the elevated involvement of the following generation (or two).  The PCA, in contrast, never gave much indication that they needed us one way or the other.

These aren’t the only reasons. Truth be told, these events seriously undermined my institutional loyalty to the PCA.  It may not seem like a big deal – in and of itself, it isn’t – but the issue itself and the way it was handled brought into sharp relief a number of things that had been bothering me.  First, many PCA congregations seem to be drifting away from their theological moorings.  Locally, I had observed this in several minor ways, and while I originally written them off as anomalies, they now look like a pattern.  Nationally, the drift shows up in, for instance, the PCA’s initial support (since retracted) for amnesty.  And second, I began to wonder how well I was fitting in socially. This hadn't much bothered me before, especially since I had nothing to compare it to, but the LCMS church just felt warmer to us than the PCA did.

It could be argued that we abandoned one denomination over small political differences to join one with which we have large theological differences. The LCMS has something called the Book of Concord, which appears to play the same role in Lutheran theology as the Westminster Confession plays in Presbyterian theology. Although most of that theology is almost identical, the Lutherans and Calvinists hold subtle yet strenously debated differences in their understanding of the Lord's Supper. I will not bore you with those differences here, except to say that they were considered a Very Big Deal back in the day.

Yet, for my part, I couldn't invest those differences with enough importance to prevent me from participating in the Lord's Supper in good conscience. And when I explained to the him the Calvinist view, our pastor responded that it was "close enough" for membership purposes.

But I hope the LCMS doesn't become too heterodox in its membership standards. Their willingness to hold to their traditions, even when I disagree with them, is still one of the things I like about them.


Anonymous said...

Walking to church is really nice. So is walking to work - the SWPLs are on to something. We currently do both. Unfortunately (at least in this regard), we are moving to another part of the city because we can't stand living here in SWPL-central, and hence likely won't be able to walk to our new church, or our jobs. It's a funny world.

Dexter said...

This is an old post, but I hope you'll still see my response to it. I assume you are still a member of the LCMS. Do you regard it as "socially conservative" - i.e., does it transmit the messages that you want your wife and children to hear? That is, not the purely "religious" messages but the "how to behave" messages. Do they actively discourage promiscuity and promote abstinence?

The next question is, if your congregation is "conservative", then will other LCMS congregations necessarily also be conservative, or does it vary from place to place?

We are looking for a church and we want one that is going to counter the liberal messages coming from everywhere else in our diseased culture.