Saturday, August 20, 2011

arrogant or just accurate?

At his blog Paul McCain reports about a church that calls itself The Lutheran Church-International.  I don't know anything about this church, so I would have welcomed to chance to learn something substantive, to see a real critique.  Instead he makes fun of the name, Lutheran Church-International, as being a sign of arrogance.  I can certainly relate to the desire to make fun and ridicule.  I often give in to it myself.  I think it can be quite healthy and appropriate, depending on the subject and the situation.  Yet the particular criticism McCain levels in this case gives me pause.  He says:

The smaller the group, the more grandiose the name. And so, here also, in this case, there is a “church body” that consists of less than fifteen micro-congregations, if that many, and because they have some micro outpost in the Caribbean and in Africa and/or elsewhere, they have decided to use the name “Lutheran Church—International.” To my knowledge, no group of Lutherans have ever taken such an arrogant step and claimed “international” status.
It certainly is an unusual name.  After glancing at its web site, however, I must say that, even though it is a small group of churches, mostly in the eastern United States, it does have several churches in other countries.  I guess, just putting myself in someone else's shoe for a moment, if I were a member of a church in Venezuela, I'm not sure it would sit well with me for the church body to be of another country.  So maybe the Lutheran Church-International isn't being arrogant so much as it is simply being accurate.

Also, I admit that the LC-I is a micro-synod, but I don't see why it is necessary for McCain to emphasize that its churches are "micro-congregations."  More than once in my life (and my whole life-since infant baptism-has been LC-MS) I have been a member of a numerically small church, and I don't think I would appreciate the claim that I was merely part of a "micro-congregation."  This line of thinking seems frighteningly akin to the idea that in the LC-MS structuring, the megachurches should have more political representation. 

Finally, the umbrage McCain takes at the arrogant and unprecedented step of claiming "international" status is kind of funny coming from one who is part of the bureaucracy of a church whose headquarters is called The International Center.


Michael L. Anderson, M.D. said...

In some ways, the expression "Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod" itself speaks to a Lutheran Church of stupendous spatial proportions ... and rightfully so.

What it says to me is that the Missouri Synod is but a small part (I wouldn't say a "micro" part, necessarily; I'll leave that to the book publishers among us) of something bigger, perhaps even grander. That grander thing is what even the roundly ridiculed LC-I is a part (assuming that it's on the up-and-up, in its doctrine and practice).

There is an annoying and pathological tendency for Lutherans to "sectarianize" themselves, to think small about their role in going about the Father's business. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of the divisions that have historically resulted from differences in language and those accidents of wars, kingdoms and the divisions of state. Instead of seeing the Lutheran movement as a vertiable spear-point of the Church Militant, we think of ourselves as but another protestant chink in the armor, and amiably enough in our swinish complacency settle for that. Regretably, our daily and weekly practices and rituals, often do seem to justify the self-derogatory shyness. Instead of seeing ourselves as very much the Church (an international and, dare I say it, even a cosmological phenomenon embracing heaven and earth) ... the part which keeps the Church honest as to preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments rightly and ritely ... we set limits on our vision, and the boldness of our testimony to the Church as a whole, and certainly to a dying world in particular. The Lutheran fathers were a lot brasher, as to where they were coming from, and what they represented.


Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Nicely put, brother.

Josh Schroeder said...

"I thought we were the Popular Front." "[No! We're the] People's Front!"

Fr. Art Hebbeler said...

As a pastor of the LC-I, as well as its Secretary, I thank you, my brother, for a kind response to the rather harsh word of another.

The LC-I was founded in 1967 as the International Lutheran Fellowship. Its roots are in Norwegian Pietism (no surprise from its founding city of Bismarck, ND). It was, and remains, deeply committed to the Lutheran Confessions and strong Scriptural teaching and preaching.

Through the 1980s, the ILF was a rather robust organization, with several hundred congregations and specialized ministries, a college and seminary. Unfortunately, much o f the history of that time has been lost, other than the results--a body in the 1990s near extinction. As an historian by training, I have my thoughts as to why the decline, but that's not germane here.

In the mid-90s, there was an effort to rebuild the ILF. It had a number of congregations and specialized ministries in Canada, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. Its focus was more on chaplaincies and other specialized ministries, but congregations did, and do, exist.

As the 21st century began, the ILF experienced a growth in those interested in moving the body from a fellowship of clergy and ministries to a functional church. This coincided with a movement inside the ILF to become more "evangelical catholic" in nature. That created some turmoil as well, and in the process of becoming what she is today, there was a parting (peacefully) of those who sought to remain more pietistic in form.

About 5 years ago, as the ILF moved to rebuild its Canadian presence, it became obvious that the name was creating confusion in the eyes of the Canadian government (among others). Was the ILF a "church body," or simply a fellowship of people? It took several years for the provincial government of Ontario to recognize the ILF as a church body.

In an effort to clear up the confusion, the ILF leadership and its Annual Synod representatives began exploring a name change. At first, the idea as to simply replace "Fellowship" with "Church." However, that was discarded, as there might be confusion with other congregations and church bodies of the same or similar name. There was also a desire to reflect her 40+ year history in selecting a new name as well. That is how Lutheran Church-International was settled upon as the new name for the ILF.

I invite you to look at our web site ( for more information, or to contact me directly.

Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Thank you very much for this information, Fr. Hebbeler.