Any discussion of a future for Lutherans after Lutheran denominations pass away must begin with God’s first instructions to humanity: Be fruitful and multiply. Practically speaking, our rejection of God’s command in Genesis 1 is the most significant proximate cause of our decline. The future belongs to those who show up for it, but like most Americans, we embraced deliberate barrenness and thereby strangled our future before it even reached the crib.
What’s more, even when we did reproduce, we failed to pass on the faith to our youth. Parents outsourced their children’s theological education to the church for an hour or two each week while simultaneously outsourcing every other subject to pagan schools who (at best) told them God had nothing to do with anything. More typically, of course, our families were told to fornicate freely, hate children, and pursue mammon over all else. And most recently, they are taught to carve up the bodies God gave them and embrace their true identity as the opposite sex, an animal, an alien, or God knows what else.
Now, simply having babies again won’t be enough to save the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod; it’s too slow for that. The cynic in me is inclined to think that this is why Synod has been largely unconcerned with God’s command, preferring instead to recruit other nations to replace their people. Encouraging child-bearing would only help their sheep rather than themselves. But If we, as individuals and congregations, cannot finally rise to the challenge presented by the sexual revolution and recover genuine chastity among us, then we will not have any future at all–with or without Lutheranism.
So how do we do this? By doing what we should have been doing in the first place: Teaching God’s command to be fruitful and multiply as normative for Christians, and by proclaiming marriage as God’s solution to the sexual temptation that surrounds us all. Both of these are straight out of both Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. But while it is simple in theory, there are several complicating factors at work that make putting it into practice more difficult.
The first is that we have abandoned this teaching for several generations now, and much of the practical know-how has been lost in the meantime. The Church can deliver imperatives like “get married” and “don’t fornicate” all day, but when youth naturally respond by asking “how”, we don’t have much of an answer for them. We tell them to be warm and well fed, but do nothing to meet their needs.
The second is that when we observe the practical impediments to marriage in our culture, our latent antinomianism kicks in, and we refuse to specifically address them because the Bible doesn’t specifically address them. For example, does our culture encourage young men and women to eschew any parental involvement in their love life and instead find mates by spending copious amounts of time alone to explore their mutual romantic feelings? We should be addressing things like that because it naturally leads to fornication rather than marriage–both matters of Biblical command. But since we cannot tell the difference between gaining moral wisdom and adding to God’s Law, we remain silent and shame others into doing the same. Antinomianism will get its own post in this series, but it nevertheless bears mentioning here first.
The third complication is a growing disconnect between pastors and laity. Word and Sacrament are the meat and potatoes of pastoral ministry. But practically speaking, there is a great deal more that pastors need to carry out and oversee as part of their job. And because they have the kinds of duties that are never truly finished, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and burnt out. Good boundaries are therefore an absolute necessity. The problem, however, is that as laity find themselves more and more oppressed by the world and seek pastoral assistance, boundaries are increasingly being established for the sake of dismissing those concerns. (This will also get its own post in this series.)
Pursuit of marriage is one such example. Suggesting that the church needs to take an active role in helping their youth find suitable marriages often triggers responses like “pastors aren’t matchmakers” and “that’s a left-hand kingdom issue.” These responses aren’t exactly incorrect, but their use to end conversations is pastoral malfeasance. As a Pastor, it’s your job to tell your sheep that they need to find ways to develop chastity for themselves and their children. And as you are likely a father, you yourself need to successfully accomplish this. Indeed, managing your own family well is a God-given qualifications for your job. As such, leadership and example are the bare minimum of your lot in this matter. So yes, you must work with your people to help make marriage practical. Your boundaries need to be established through delegation rather than dismissal. Pastors and laity need to work together on this; our congregations will not survive without such cooperation.
So with this in mind, what kind of steps do churches need to take to exhort their membership to pursue marriage and family? Here are some ideas to consider:
If your congregation does not recognize the marriage imperative, teach them.
For the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived, marriage is a divine imperative. Apart from a relative few exceptions, marrying and having children is part of leading a godly life. Churches have, unfortunately, allowed our wicked culture to bury this fact, and so most of us delay and avoid marriage while we pursue mammon, debauchery, popularity, or other godless passions instead. But God’s Word’s still stands in judgment over both us and our culture. Christians need to hear that judgment. We need to hear it loudly and plainly. Most importantly, we need to hear it in our local congregations rather than from podcasters and bloggers like myself who are more likely to broach the subject.
Worldliness may have made such teaching unusual in American churches, but it is simply part of delivering the whole counsel of God. Pastors, if you’re already following and preaching from the lectionary, there will be ample opportunity to bring this up organically in your sermons. God’s Word offers frequent exhortation to marriage (unless, of course, you’re legalistically restricting yourself by refusing to preach the Law.)
But teaching in the church does not end with sermons. So do a topical bible study on LGBTP issues, hookup culture, or chastity–these are weighty issues about which most Christians need to hear God’s Word. Do an in-depth study of the Ten Commandments or Luther’s (original) Large Catechism; if you do it well, you will hit the proper points.
You can also bring the issue up to your relevant boards (elders, youth, education) to make sure your most active members have it on their radar. If your congregation is like most in the LCMS, the membership will be older, and they have absolutely no idea how horrible America’s coupling customs have become in the past 40 years. For the sake of the younger generations, do not let your leadership stay in the dark.
Laymen can also do this in a more limited way. If you are a teacher, you can instruct as many students in these issues as will listen. If you are a board member, you can bring it up to your board. When you attend Bible Study you can bring up the subject yourself when the context permits it. If you have no position in your congregation, you can bring your concerns to your pastors or elders to try and get it on their radar (also, you can work on bettering yourself so that you can serve your congregation in more roles.) None of us can do it all, but all of us can do something.
Teach Biblical chastity rather than just adding Biblical expectations to broken customs.
I’ve written about this before, but while the church has continued to teach “no sex before marriage,” “marriage is between a man and a woman,” and “abortion is murder,” we cannot simply teach these rules in a culture which otherwise discourages marriage, androgenizes men & women, guides everyone into fornication, and despises children. We need to start from the ground up with the understanding that our society is our mortal enemy in this respect.
We need to explicitly talk about marriage as an expected and esteemed estate, giving special honor to husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers. We need to talk about children as joyous gifts of God rather than expensive burdens to be avoided through contraception. This is how the Bible and our Confessions talk about these things, so this is another one that we should have been doing all along. Boys and girls alike should be raised to aspire to marriage and children. Since our culture will not do that for us, it falls to the Church to teach God’s Word on the subject and to train Christian parents to do the same in the home.
One uncomfortable corollary of this, however, is that we will also need to cast down any American idols which teach us to despise marriage. The Spirit of the Age proclaims education, career, and youthful debauchery–establishing marriage as an optional arrangement that one should only pursue once these idols have been fully satisfied.
Teaching Biblical priorities means teaching them in contradistinction to worldly priorities. We need to start explicitly teaching that marriage is a work more pleasing in God’s eyes than any college degree or high-profile career (women especially need to hear this as everything else in our culture is dedicated to telling them the opposite.) We need to teach that the typical high school-to-college pipeline is no reason to put off obedience to God’s command to marry. We need to stop splitting up our families and congregations by sending our kids across the country for college and careers, away from the only people in their lives who understand the Biblical priorities, and into the care of pagans who work hard to instruct our sons to be incels and our daughters to be whores. We need to put the same kind of effort into finding suitable spouses for our children as we do into finding suitable colleges.
Another uncomfortable corollary is that our congregations will need to provide church discipline for those who wantonly despise marriage by divorcing faithful spouses. Every divorce between members of a Christian congregation involves a grievous sin. Either one is murdering her family through divorce, or one spouse has committed adultery against or abandoned the other (meaning abandoning the fundamental responsibilities of the marriage like refusing sex or physically maiming a spouse you’re supposed to protect.) So in 100% of divorces between members, one congregant is grievously sinning against another.
But Jesus says, “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault… if he does not listen, take one or two others along… if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” A member’s divorce is an uncomfortable subject because it’s so personal, but it is not a special case where God’s Word stops applying. Aggrieved husbands and wives need to know they can go to their congregation to be vindicated and to receive help in winning back their erring spouse to Christ through repentance. If you cannot honor marriage when it is under threat, then you cannot honor it at all.
Organize parents of young children to work out how they’ll help their children marry
Parents everywhere are beginning to wake up to the dangers posed by American culture in general, and our growing sexual anarchy in particular. To be sure, our culture has been toxic for quite some time, but the kind of imminent harm posed by transgenderism and pedophilia has made it almost impossible for Christian parents to continue ignoring the issue. We’re wary of government schools, television programming, and social media like never before.
Unfortunately, despite the growing awareness, parents are not yet sure about how they’re going to deal with it. It’s one thing to want to direct your children towards marriage instead of degeneracy. It’s another thing to actually help them achieve that when your entire culture is aligned against you. For the most part, parents are still in “we’ll do our best” mode, which is a hope but not a strategy.
But none of us are going to figure out a strategy alone because marriage is inherently social. In light of that fundamental reality, congregations should organize their committed young parents into meeting regularly to discuss their concerns, ideas, and specific challenges when it comes to marriage for their children. Not only will they collectively develop some strategies, they’ll also learn they’re not alone and get to know likeminded families with children of the opposite sex who will also be aimed at Christian marriage and family.
Families can organize this on their own, of course, but doing this as part of their congregation is a force-multiplier. They can receive encouragement, spiritual guidance, and leadership from their pastors. Other members can offer assistance, such as babysitting on-site so parents can actually attend the discussions and the children can spend time playing together. Other local congregations willing to address the same challenges can also be brought into the endeavor. But most importantly, this is entirely in keeping with proper Christian fellowship. Not only is marriage both a Biblical command and a holy estate that’s been made part of the ordinary Christian life by God, but spouses sharing the same Faith is clear Biblical wisdom. Where better to look for prospective wives and husbands than among other Lutherans?
Therefore this will ideally evolve into finding ways to facilitate match-making within local congregations. Instead of expecting our children to find spouses somewhere out there in a culture that hates marriage, we can direct them to worthy individuals they actually know who share Biblical values. We can even host dances or or other social events as they get older. This can not only provide a better foundation for marriage, but also make marriage a possibility at ages considerably earlier than America’s absurd median of thirty years old. This can also help resolve some of the issues surrounding the unattractiveness of Christian men to Christian women, as the social mechanisms of female attraction like status and preselection bias can once again be leveraged towards monogamy rather than polygamy.
Start reestablishing gender roles in your congregation’s culture
We cannot expect men and women to unite in healthy and fruitful ways when we strive to treat the sexes as interchangeably as we can get away with. Egalitarianism is yet another idol which is worshiped by many American Christians, and it needs to be cast down. There is no Biblical command to equality.
Naturally, this needs to begin with the gender roles that God has explicitly established. The father is to be the authority within his home and family. I’ve already written about this at length, so I won’t labor the point here, but we cannot expect marriages to thrive while we deny the way God designed them to work. Pastors need to preach this faithfully and support the fathers in his congregation rather than undermining them out of his own fear of his female sheep. The same needs to be taught when it comes to teaching and authority in the church. The more a role involves teaching men, the less it should be carried out by a women–from obvious roles like pastor or elder, all the way down to simpler ones like lay reader.
But the more faithful we are in those explicit Biblical commands, the more the distinction will naturally bleed into other roles that are wise but not commanded. Not only will Christians begin to reject the worldly imperative of putting women into every role, they’ll begin to recognize the beauty inherent in masculinity & femininity and lose their desire to deliberately confuse the two. Men and women can work together enjoying their differences rather than ignoring or hating them.
Given the nature of all this work, it should be clear why pastors and laity need to work together in this. By virtue of his office and qualifications, a pastor could accomplish most items from this list. However, no pastor can accomplish everything from this list–it is simply too much; and though these things are responsibilities, they are far from his only responsibilities. Laity, in contrast, can only accomplish some of the things in this list. Our roles may involve teaching, serving on boards, and so forth, but those scopes are relatively narrow. We do, however, have far more access than any pastor to our own homes. We must constantly reinforce and practice at home everything we receive from the church, or it will all be for naught.
From beginning to end, this endeavor relies on those complimentary positions. Fathers need to reclaim the role of catechizing our children rather than outsourcing it to the pastor; pastors need to make sure the men in their congregation are actually equipped for that. Parents need to help their children achieve marriage; pastors need to remind parents that this is both a responsibility and a possibility. Parents need to teach their children to be chaste; pastors need to teach parents what Biblical chastity entails. Clergy and laity alike need to know that they are not alone in this. We are one body with many members, and we need to start acting like it.
These ideas are, of course, only a start. But we have to start somewhere. If we cannot finally rise to the challenge of the sexual revolution and recover chastity, then we will not have a future. We can hardly expect God to provide success when we despise the gifts he has already given us. This endeavor may be different, and change may be uncomfortable, but that does not stop it from being essential. Those of us who decide this is just too hard–that disregard this challenge and refuse to take up their cross–will find that they enter the next life not having fought the good fight, but having taken the good vacation. If our line isn’t to end with us–both genetically and theologically–then we have a lot of work to do.
May God preserve us from such an ignoble fate, and empower us by His Spirit to rise to the challenge and tread the Spirit of the Age under our feet.