- Kay Ryan, in an interview with The Paris Review
Any author, if he can’t claim to be a commercial success, will find comfort in discovering that he’s got what they call a “cult following.” I’m bemused to discover that I seem to be developing a cult following of my own in an area where I’d never have looked for it—pastors and theologians of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.
Professor Gene Edward Veith and Concordia Publishing House publisher Paul T. McCain were early boosters, for whose support I’m extremely grateful. More recently I’ve added “Aardvark” of Aardvark Alley and Pastor Charles Lehman, who posted the following measured evaluation of Troll Valley on Facebook last night:
Lars Walker is a genius. This is indisputable fact and not up for debate. If you disagree with me then one or more of the following are true:
1. You've never read any of his books.
2. You're an idiot.
3. You are a vampire or some other variety of mythical being that lacks a soul.
4. You are Kristin Cashore or Stephanie Meyer.*
*Yes, I do realize that after writing #3 that #4 is redundant.
A recent addition is theologian Dr. Jack Kilcrease, who blogs at Theologia Crucis.
“And this surprises you, how?” you ask. “They’re Lutherans. You’re Lutheran. Sounds more like incest than Romeo and Juliet.”
Ah, but that’s because you don’t know the history of Lutheranism in America. Between Missouri Lutherans and Free Lutherans like me, a great gulf has historically been fixed.
As it happens, I’m just now editing this year’s issue of the Journal of the Georg Sverdrup Society, and the subject is “Sverdrup and Lay Activity.” This was the rock on which Lutheran unity in America foundered for generations, and it formed a solid barrier between Them and Us.
You see, there’s an article in The Augsburg Confession that says, “It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments without a regular call.” This was traditionally interpreted to mean that no lay person, except in the greatest emergency (maybe) would be allowed to teach in any way or to administer the sacraments. In its full-blown form, it actually delayed the development of Lutheran foreign missions for some time, because a pastor could only be “regularly called” by an existing congregation in a particular area. In heathen lands there were no existing congregations, and so there could not be a regular call at all. Tough luck, lost souls.
My people, the pietists, held to a looser view of this article (it must be admitted that, at the time, we were the crazy liberals, since the liberal/conservative divide was drawn along the lines of the rights of the laity, rather than the authority of Scripture). The Haugean movement, my tradition, was born in the preaching of a laymen who eventually suffered years in prison for usurping the preaching and teaching powers of a pastor.
In America, the two great Lutheran factions (speaking very broadly; there were numerous sub-factions) were those who favored lay activity and those who desired to recreate, as much as possible, the state churches of Europe with their pastoral privileges.
And the Missouri Synod was the rock of the conservatives. The fact that the “high church” Norwegian pastors got their training at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, was a great offense to the folks on my side (there was even one faction known as “The Anti-Missourian Brotherhood”).
And so it amuses me to find, after a century and more, that I’m now allied with Missouri Synod people. The fight is different today. Old enemies are now allies, in the face of opposition that makes our differences seem slight in proportion.
Also, I think both sides have mellowed a little. I doubt that the average Missouri Synod pastor today is terribly distressed by news that a layman is leading a Bible study. And I think it must be admitted that very few of our Free Lutheran congregations come close to Georg Sverdrup’s ideal model, where the church is a great beehive of lay activity, with the pastor acting as choreographer and cheerleader (aside from his sacramental duties, which we never denied).
Anyway, I greatly admire the faithful of the Missouri Synod, and am tickled to find that some of them like my Haugeaner tales.