As I wrote when I started this “After Lutheranism” series, one of the greatest threats to American church bodies is our ongoing failure to adequately oppose the progressive social justice agenda or “wokeism.” Indeed, the recent events surrounding our now infamously bad additions to Luther’s Large Catechism are leaving many Christians with a sinking feeling about the LCMS. After all, the same patterns which have typified the downfall of so many different institutions are observable among us as well. Is the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, once known for staunch adherence to God’s Word, now going woke?
Evidence to the contrary is sadly lacking, but there is one objection I see coming up again and again: The LCMS certainly runs on the politically conservative side, so it therefore cannot truly be going woke. It usually goes something like this: “How can you say the Synod is going woke when there are so many conservatives? You may not agree with them on everything, but aren’t their views pretty close to your own? Certainly, they must be far closer to yours even than to the average American’s–let alone some purple-haired trans lesbian’s! Clearly, the contention that Synod is going woke must be the product of a growing over-sensitivity and extremism on the right rather than reality.”
The problem with this objection isn’t that it’s making a false observation. The LCMS does remain an relatively conservative church body by typical measures. The problem is that the objection only considers positions on the wider debates of our day which are far too superficial. Yes, we may look almost identical on a standard American opinion poll because we have a lot of complaints in common. However, complaints alone do not determine one’s vision of what his society should look like or what direction we should take to get there.
The foundational beliefs which determine vision and direction usually fail to be captured by mere complaints. For example, the average conservative LCMS functionary and I would agree that women shouldn’t be permitted to be pastors. And that agreement would indeed set us both apart from the average American who considers such a view archaic, though not unheard of. However, Lutherans and conservatives alike have a well-earned reputation for merely being a few decades behind the times. Accordingly, whether we would allow women’s ordination today is far less relevant than whether we embrace the worldly priorities which would make it a reality in the future.
Details like that are precisely where our differences emerge. The average LCMS conservative believes that we need more women in church leadership—just not in the pastoral office. He would also accuse men of sin for believing otherwise. Handing our reins to feminism while retaining a small space for the Bible to set a few seemingly arbitrary boundaries does lead to women’s ordination whether the conservative wants it to or not. It is one well-trod paving stone in the road to hell because God isn’t the one who told us to seek women leaders.
And that is how all of these woke-adjacent issues work. The West has been given a vision and a direction by progressive liberalism. Conservatives follow the crowd slowly because they hem, haw, pause, wander, and daydream, but they do ultimately follow. What they don’t do is openly defy the crowd by offering a different vision and pointing out a different way of getting there. That kind of difference is anything but superficial, and yet you would never discover it by asking about the controversies of the day. You’d find it by asking about issues that are not yet real controversies. For example, instead of asking whether women should be ordained, you would ask whether women should be allowed to vote. Or instead of asking whether gay marriage should be legal, you should ask whether sodomy should be criminalized. Those are the kinds of differences that matter in the long run, and they are precisely where adherents of ancient Christianity depart from the merely conservative Christianity of today.
And because conservatives are genuinely dubious of the ancient faith of their forebears, they will ultimately find common cause with that purple-haired trans lesbian. For example, they fundamentally agree on the equality of men & women and the evils of sexism. They merely disagree about whether a refusal to ordain women is truly sexist or not. That’s why the conservative always has far more vitriol for a man who says women shouldn’t be pastors because they’re easily deceived than he has for any actual pastrix. He may see both conclusions as wrong, but only one “error” really cuts him to the quick.
No matter how much a conservative Christian agrees with me superficially, I’ve come to realize that he will always side with the woke against me whenever their shared fundamental beliefs about pluralism, secularism, equality, multiculturalism, and globalism are threatened. And that is exactly the behavior we’ve been observing from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod over the past few years. If you know, you know; and those of us with a genuinely different vision for the West know.
It remains to be seen whether the LCMS will successfully overcome this very real slide into wokeism. I am no prophet, but as the “after Lutheranism” theme of my last few posts suggests, I don’t really expect it to do so as an (intact) institution. Nevertheless, whatever happens to the institution, the large faithful remnant among us will stand against it–both now and after Lutheranism should it come to that. The question with which we are left is “how.” While I’ve written a fair amount on that subject as it pertains to laity, we need to start grappling with the question of how our clergy and leadership ought to oppose wokeism among us.
The question is difficult only because so many people think wokeism is purely political and fail to recognize it as a false religion. So when many pastors hear that they need to oppose wokeism, they erroneously think they’re being asked to take up a political crusade. While there’s nothing wrong with a pastor taking political action, neither is it a requirement of the office. Many pastors find themselves too busy, too disinterested, or too ill-suited for political leadership, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But wokeism, driven as it is by critical theory, is a wolf set on destroying Christians in both body and soul. It is a false religion put into practice through corrupting institutions–governmental, ecclesial, economic, or otherwise. Any man who seeks to be a true shepherd rather than a hireling must therefore be prepared to drive these wolves away from his flock. With this proper understanding, the following responsibilities of a pastor in opposing wokeism should become clear.
Care about your flock.
The extent to which many Lutheran clergy make themselves aloof from this conflict is egregious. “Trust not in princes.” “We lose down here.” “We don’t need a political savior.” “God is still in control.” “Our home is in heaven.” “Set your hope on things above.” “We are but sojourners and exiles here.” These are the kinds of rote responses given by many pastors when laymen speak up about their distress over what’s happening to their families, homes, and nation. There’s truth in most of them. Many of them are even explicitly Biblical. However, there is something very wrong with how many pastors are applying these sayings.
When Scripture speaks this way, it is as encouragement. We live in a wicked world and many evils befall us–often specifically because we are faithful to Christ, for the Spirit of the Age hates us for our Lord’s sake. The Christian needs to know that evil does not get the last word. And so Paul tells us that our current sufferings cannot be compared to the glory that awaits us. Peter tells us that our sufferings now will result in glory and honor on the Last Day. Jesus tells us that we are blessed when we are persecuted because our reward will be great in heaven. As we fight the good fight of the Faith, we need to be reminded that Christ is our conquering king. Whatever setbacks we experience in this life, his armies will nevertheless receive the crown of victory and trample Satan underfoot. His heirs will nevertheless inherit the Kingdom.
In contrast, many pastors offer these aphorisms not to encourage us in our fight, but to discourage us from fighting at all by telling us that our battles are meaningless. “Trust not in princes” and “we lose down here” are deployed to tell us that politics don’t matter therefore we should ignore them. “We are sojourners whose home is in heaven” is deployed to tell us to stop bothering to defend our homes from perverts and invaders. “God is still in control” and “set your hope on things above” are deployed to tell us not to concern ourselves with our children’s well-being. These are the very earthly vocations Christ has commanded of us, but too many pastors are quick to tell us there’s no point to any of it. By telling God’s faithful to abandon the field, these sayings are emptied of all Biblical wisdom and turned against their godly purpose. Words meant to avert desperation are instead leveraged to encourage complacency.
The impression this gives to faithful Christians is that our shepherds simply want us to stop bothering them with our petty concerns. But what are our “petty” concerns today? Schools try to convince our sons to literally emasculate themselves. Society teaches our daughters to be whores. Our government threatens our families with destitution unless we submit to medical experiments. Our families disown us and our employers fire us because we refuse to deny God’s condemnation of sodomy. The heartless cruelty of nihilistic clergy telling us that this is all beneath concern cannot be overstated. Lutheran churches who persevere in this battle will be shepherded by men who actually care that such things are happening to their flocks. Wherever this is the case, comforting the afflicted and encouraging the defeated will be a pastoral priority–as they should have been in the first place.
Boldly call evil evil and good good.
One of the most spiritually devastating aspects of woke culture is the constant gaslighting. Whether it’s claiming that trans women are women, that men can marry each other, that all religions are basically the same, or that everybody is completely equal in every way, Western Christians are constantly surrounded by lies. But the ubiquity of the deception isn’t even the most dangerous part. Our culture goes even further by having authority figures in government, universities, businesses, and media tell us over and over again that we are the crazy ones for doubting these lies. It is an understatement to call this a spiritually toxic environment in which to live and raise our children.
Man was never created to exist atomistically; peer pressure is part of our design. We will always be affected by the voices shouting in our ears whether we want to be or not. Therefore, as the Spirit of the Age constantly corrodes our grasp on natural law and Biblical wisdom alike, Christians need men who will boldly proclaim God’s Word in opposition to these lies. Where the devil is at work, our Pastors should be constantly pointing out the deceptions and reminding believers that they aren’t the crazy ones. And they should be doing so with confidence.
Sadly, this is far less common among us than it should be, and the reasons are legion. Some pastors try to avoid it out of a relatively innocent desire to be apolitical–they know that politics are divisive and would prefer not to involve themselves in it. Given that shepherding a church is already quite difficult, it’s understandable that a pastor would want to keep things simple and avoid such treacherous waters. Nevertheless, God’s Word stands in judgment over politics as well. Where Scripture speaks and sheep need to hear, a pastor has no excuse for silence.
Other pastors avoid it out of a desire for worldly approval. They crave the recognition of unbelievers and want to be seen as the reasonable ones, rather than one of those Christians. They may speak the truth from time-to-time, but not with boldness. On the contrary, they bury Scriptural proclamation in endless nuance designed not to edify, but to avert the world’s ire. They might reluctantly admit that sodomy is a sin, but they’ll never use the term “sodomy” and will immediately change the subject to easier issues like pornography. They might briefly acknowledge that feminism is wrong, but they will spend far more time talking about what evil and abusive failures men are. Where their congregants need bold presentation of God’s Word, they proclaim sensitivity & “winsomeness” uber alles and thereby propagate their own timidity among God’s people.
But the worst of the bunch are the blatant false teachers among us. The LCMS continues to be plagued with antinomians. These men will not proclaim any of the specifics of God’s Law over and against the Spirit of the Age, preferring to acknowledge sin only in the abstract–enough to justify their jobs, but not enough to actually be faithful. Because wokeism primarily denies and corrupts First Article gifts rather than their own reductionist gospel, they have no interest in the subject. What’s worse, if they actually hear any Lutheran speak out against the gross public sins America celebrates, they will fall upon him like a pack of wolves to accuse him of self-righteousness and hatred for the Gospel.
Those congregations who persevere through the woke calamity will have pastors who routinely remind them that while the world has gone mad, God’s Word remains the same forever. They will have pastors who are unafraid of being blunt in sermons and Bible Studies wherever God’s Word is blunt. When they offer nuance, it will be to help their wavering sheep understand the virtue of God’s proclamations, not to hide from worldly condemnation. They will openly speak against the insanity of wokeness so that their congregation can build on the Rock.
Don’t bind your congregation’s conscience to modernism.
As I’ve said, it’s understandable that many pastors don’t want to get involved in politics. The body of Christ has many members with different functions and we certainly don’t need each member to be an eye. And yet, many of these apolitical pastors who cannot be roused by all the woke, ungodly attacks against the Church quickly find their ferocity whenever modernism is threatened. If men in their churches begin to believe that the postwar liberal consensus is at the root of many of the problems in our society and seek to undermine it, then and only then is it time to break out the church discipline. While they have no interest in politics for themselves, they deliberately hamstring other Christians who are better suited to that purpose when they rock the boat.
But such action for the sake of modernism is highly dubious, for modernism is not a Biblical doctrine, and the postwar consensus is not a Scriptural command. On the contrary, a straightforward reading of Scripture will put many of its shibboleths under judgement. The Bible tells us that women are the weaker vessel and that wives should submit to their husbands, but our pastors get outraged if anyone questions egalitarianism. The Bible tells us that the nations are God’s creation but pastors eagerly pursue diversity and hinder anyone who tries to preserve their nation by halting globalism. The Bible tells us to flee fornication and condemns adultery, but pastors rush to the defense of every unrepentant fornicator they can find and tear down men who express the godly desire for a virgin bride. Scripture tells us that any man who fails to care for his family is worse than an unbeliever, but our pastors condemn and deride men for putting their own children before foreigners.
It is not God who instructed our clergy to be outraged over such things, but many of them nevertheless seek to tie the hands of laymen who bring God’s Word with them into their earthly vocations. A good father who protects his family from wokeism or a good citizen who tries to steer his nation down a godly path will inevitably question social ideals which Americans take for granted. Lutheran congregations who cultivate such godly men will have pastors who refuse to be an enforcer of the Spirit of the Age, but instead feed them with God’s pure word, affirm their Christian freedom to do good for their neighbors, and uphold their authority in their own homes.
Be willing to suffer alongside your sheep.
For most of my life, every pastor preaching or teaching the various verses about persecution would include the comment, “thankfully, we don’t need to worry about that sort of thing in America.” Clearly this is no longer the case, and for now, that blessed time is drawing to a close. The pagans that surround us have once again been given free reign to take their hatred of Christ out on His followers. The satanic woke assault on nature and goodness is the great conflict of our time. Those laymen who live out their faith in opposition to the Spirit of the Age are beginning to suffer for it once again.
Pastors who attempt to drive off the wolves that would deceive, discourage, or distract their congregations from this conflict will likewise face consequences at the hands of the world. Feminism in particular is deeply entrenched in our congregations and will take decades of patient struggle to finally root out. A pastor may not be fired for condemning sodomy the way a layman might, but there will still be a cost to being faithful to Scripture, for many rank-and-file Lutherans who sit on boards and councils are quite worldly indeed. So what I’m asking of pastors here is no less daunting than when Peter instructed slaves to be obedient even to cruel masters.
But as Peter also says, that is what we have been called to. And when we suffer for doing good, it is a gracious thing in God’s sight. There are many false teachers who would rob all Christians of that comfort. What Scripture means coram mundo, they will apply coram deo and assert that your actions were not truly good because you’re a sinner. They will say you’re suffering because you weren’t sensitive enough, winsome enough, or loving enough. And because we are sinners, there will always be some faults even in our best actions. But you will never be more perfect or more loving than Christ, and He still endured suffering at the hands of the world. As we strive to be truly Christlike, we must rest in the sure and certain knowledge that our faults are forgiven, and through faith, our good works are made acceptable to God. These comforts are truly meant even for sinners like us. When we comfort one another, we will suffer, but we will suffer as one, as we ought.
As fellow members of Christ’s body, faithful Christians need to support everyone who is fighting on the same side of this battle. Maybe we think they are being too extreme, or maybe we think they are being too hesitant, or maybe they’ve made big mistakes. But as long as we are truly on the same side, we should be understanding about such things. Pastors need to support the laity who fight the good fight rather than undermining us, and laity need to treasure those clergy who serve them well as more valuable than gold. Let us all learn. Let us all grow. Let us all fight. And let us all be one body as we do it. But as for those Christians who would beat their fellow servants and team up with the world against the Church, there can be no real unity, for we are on different sides. There are many men of high standing and repute in the LCMS who would do well to consider which side they are truly on.
Throughout history, Satan has attacked the church in many different ways in different times and places. But today, in our own time and place, wokeism is where his stroke falls heaviest against us. This is what is undermining our doctrine right now. This is what is leading to our persecution. This is what is driving ordinary men down paths of reprehensible wickedness. We must therefore faithfully resist him, for it is not our place to choose which walls are under attack.
Those churches which man their stations and remain faithful through this conflict will be the ones to inherit a future after Lutheranism. May God send faithful workers into the field to support His people; and may He preserve each of our churches with an unyielding faith in Jesus Christ.