I recently had the pleasure of arguing for several hours straight with a travel companion over the issue of the Missouri Synod's Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program, which kicks off this year. I am not sarcastic when I say it was a pleasure. Theologians actually enjoy engaging in arguments over theological matters. It is what they do. The only time it gets burdensome to me is when the subject matter is less than theological, and when those involved argue in a childish or effeminate manner. My interlocutor in this case was truly, as I say, a travel companion, in more than one way, for we are fellow travellers as theological thinkers and servants of the church. So I am grateful to have had part in such stimulating discussion as we rolled through the "exciting" interstate scenery of Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming, even if it was with someone from another seminary. Truth be told, for the record, I am not affiliated with any seminary, and indeed, my position on the matter is shared by no seminary of the Missouri Synod.
I have been meaning to blog about the SMP deal ever since then, for there are good people in the Church who have become convinced that there is something good, something redeemable, about this program. To my dear fellow Lutherans especially, whether pastor, seminarian, bureaucrat, or faithful supporter of the Church, I urge you to mark carefully and well what the Church is getting involved in with this. Many of you have read some of the articles in synod and seminary publications, in which SMP has been sold to you, and you have read them through gracious, Lutheran, Eighth Commandment eyes. Caveat lector. Read them again, and with care.
For the message we are supposed to buy, and then sell to others, is that SMP is a remedy for what is wrong with DELTO, that SMP is a significant, yet pastoral, step toward eventually undoing the Witchita Amendment to the Augustana (that is, the decision of the LC-MS at its 1989 Witchita convention to license laymen to engage in the sacramental ministries of the ordained priesthood, without ordination, contrary to all Catholic tradition, including the Augsburg Confession). Yet how can the Church remedy the violation of the Augsburg Confession with a program which itself violates the Augsburg Confession?
First, SMP is a program which recruits men who are already in the ongoing work of violating the Augsburg Confession. Those are at least some of the very men being recruited for the program. It used to be that the Church looked for men who resembled the way of life described in the third chapter of St. Paul's first Epistle to St. Timothy. To that list of what the Church looks for in a man we can now add a track record of violating the Augsburg Confession. But they do it because they are "needed," and because they care about the lost.
Second, though we are told that ordination is given to SMP students "early" in the program, in fact a review of the literature reveals that ordination is administered half way through the program. SMP is very much a dumbed down retarded descendant of traditional seminary formation. Yet one thing it shares is the average duration, ie., four years. And at the two year mark the student is ordained. So not only will the SMP man often be a man who is "needed" in an illicit ministry of the Word, but in fact, he is kept in that situation for two years in an official program of the Synod.
I myself am unconvinced by the arguments for SMP which appeal to the man who ministers to people in the outer reaches of the Yukon. One reason is that I am not sure he exists. Another is that if he does, surely the mighty Missouri Synod could get him to seminary, and surely a Synod which today has sem graduates languishing without placements, can send one of those men to replace the Yukon guy to take care of those people while he is in seminary. As long as we can name men who today are ordained and qualified for ministry, but are not placed in the Church, and I for one can name some, then what is the need for this new program which rejects the tradition of the Church, and which, as synod literature boasts, might have eighty students this year? As Tom Hanks once said in the film Big, "I don't get it."
The Church of our time has largely grown lazy, and incurious. But the Holy Ghost can and will wake us up from our slumber. This is my prayer. And He will do so partly by the courageous work of churchmen who are speaking eloquently, reasonably, and insistently, on the issue, such as Father Larry Beane. He has much to lose, from an earthly perspective, but speaks up anyway. For a well written take on this same topic, please read his blog.