Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Great Republic of Missouri

I think it was Robert Preus (of sainted memory) who said that the LCMS was not a republic of autonomous districts but a Synod divided into small administrative units.  Or something like that.  That we argue against it all the time, Missouri has always functioned as a hierarchical body, that is, until events of the last fifty years or so have led to act more like a republic of semi- or completely autonomous Districts.

The split in Missouri and the tensions leading up to it tended to emphasize the distinct character of the Districts, groups capable of making separate or even conflicting decisions from Mother Mo.  DPs were then less the representatives of Synod in that place than they were representatives of geographical (or, at least two non-geographical) groupings of Pastors and parishes.  Their job was to represent us to the Synod, if you will, in the same way that our Representatives and Senators represent their own constituencies to the halls of American government -- Synod being somewhat on the same character level as big, bad, obtrusive government.

So Synod is not me or even us -- Synod is them.  What we have lost sight of is that this invention is at best an illusion, perhaps a falsehood we tolerate, or, worst, a downright lie.  DPs and Districts do not represent the Christians in a certain place to the Synod as a whole.  They are simply Synod in that place.  The tendency of Districts to act as if the whole cannot decide without the agreement of the parts is a foreign understanding of the Synod.  The way Districts treat money, for example, is part and parcel of this alien understanding.  It is a convenient delusion to believe that it is ours first and only a small portion, as we determine, belongs to the whole.  None of the founders of Missouri ever conceived of Districts as competition with Synod.

Worse, the individual parishes and their Pastors routinely speak of Synod as they or them -- that is, not me... not us...  But the way our forefathers defined our church structure was the Synod's first meaning is me and us.  Synod is not "other" -- Synod is me.  Go look in the mirror.

Even worse is the idea of "corporate Synod."  I absolutely detest this thing.  It may be a legal distinction necessary and salutary in one context but it is untenable as theology or history.  It would do well if we just forgot about the legalese and went back to the more popular notion that we all are Synod and that Synod in this place is me/us (congregation and Pastor).

It would help our church body a great deal if we ceased speaking of Synod as they or them, ceased referring to the "corporate" Synod, and ceased the idea that Synod is something different from me/us.  We are them.  They are us.  Period.

The same goes for the special interest groups.  The Council of Presidents is not some special authority.  The CoP is simply a group of  people within the Synod with a common job description and experience -- part of the many that we are.  The same is true of every other little entity within the larger structure of Synod.  The sooner we see that Synod is us and we are Synod, the sooner we can act and work on becoming who we are (as Pres. Harrison is wont to say).

We have gotten to the sad point where some flaunt their independence from Synod, some flaunt their dissent from Synod, and some flaunt their cynicism and distrust of Synod.  It is as popular as cheating on your income taxes.  Well, that is wrong, too.  If Synod is to become something more than a synonym for all the things we despise, we have to start looking into the mirror and thinking "We are Synod; Synod are us."  Only then can we hope to rein in the great gulf of doctrine and practice -- in such way that there are no winners or losers.  For truly we have all lost by belonging to a Synod we despise, ridicule, and dispute.  Meanwhile, the good work that God is going in us, among us, and through us gets lost in the fray of the battle...


Anonymous said...

Synod are us? We despise Synod? It all depends. When Kieschnick was president, the confessionals despised Synod. Now that Harrison is in charge, the missionals despise Synod.

Synod is slowly becoming confessional again, while districts remain steadfastly missional. Missionals love districts, while confessionals despise them. How can the districts be prevented from acting against the interests of Synod?

The LCMS is truly a schizophrenic body.

Anonymous said...

Schizophrenia can also be found within individual congregations. The LCMS pastor insists that he is confessional. However, the pewsitters know only Willow Creek worship and study materials. Most of them have never studied the catechism. How can Koinonia cure such a dysfunctional patient? Does the patient even want to be cured.

Anonymous said...

"Someday, we will wise up and make our DPs accountable to someone other than a triennial convention that the DP himself controls.
Until then, pastors and congregations will continue to be mistreated." TW

Quote by Pastor Todd Wilken: