Saturday, August 13, 2016

Ruminating a bit on the past LCMS Convention

You can read Aaron Wolff's take on the July LCMS Convention here.  The ALPB Forum had a running report of the action at the convention and others have posted as well.  I was there as well -- not as a voting delegate but as an advisory representative.  It was the first time I have been to a convention and not cast a vote for anything.  It was both interesting and a bit frustrating at times.  What it did accomplish was to give me an entirely different perspective on what was going on while the words were coming from the podium and the delegates were assembled before the dais.  I sat with the District Presidents, Board of Directors members, and the Commission on Handbook members and gained a new appreciation for both the strengths and challenges of our semi-democratic and semi-episcopal structure.  In the end, we are only as strong as those who lead us and those who follow the faithful leaders!

First of all it is amazing to see the scope of all the details that must be handled for a convention this size and scope.  Lynn Marvin was largely in charge of arrangements and she did a spectacular job of seeing to it that all was in order (how she got 1350 or more folks fed so quickly and efficiently at the delegate dinner was amazing).  Barb Below, Jon Vieker, and the rest of the folks from the International Center made it all seem easy (from gavel to gavel).  Or course there were a few missteps from the convention chair (revolving as it did through the VPs as well as Pres. Harrison) and there was enough humor to keep it all from becoming an issue.  Here I cannot but laugh again at Tim Yeadon (New England) whose quip offering $100 to any of his former vicars to call the question to get the resolutions of his floor committee passed!  Who can forget the competing mustache claims of Terry Forke (Montana) and Pres. Harrison!  I am sorry if I missed anyone but my thanks and appreciation go to everyone of you who worked so hard to make it all come together.

Second was the impact of the worship life of the convention upon the proceedings.  Will Weedon and his crew did a masterful job of bringing the somewhat diverse worship experiences of the delegates together that with one accord we might praise Him who called us from darkness into His marvelous light!  I cannot say that the worship had ever had such an impact upon the proceedings of a deliberative body as it seemed it did upon this convention.  The liturgies, preaching, and prayers were deep, profound, and powerful -- acting to gather the hearts and minds of God's people as one each day before the assembly began, at mid-day, and then at end of day.  The very moving remembrance of the saints who had passed into eternal light since last our church gathered in convention was especially gripping.  I buried one of those men and attended the funerals of two others.  It still brings tears to my eyes.

It is my conviction that what happened in the morning prayer/matins, mid-day, and evening rites worked hand in hand with the preparation before the convention to direct what took place there.  I especially recall the fine sermon of Chris Esget, 6th VP, whose sermon was mentioned in many delegate speeches to the floor.  This is, of course, how it should be.  Lex ordandi, lex credendi is what we say and this convention week we saw it in action.

Third was the significant presence of partner churches, those with whom we have established fellowship more recently, and those with whom we are working more closely although not yet in full fellowship.   As Torkild Masvie from the confessional Lutherans of Norway put it, the smaller churches need Missouri but as I noted to him, Missouri needs the voices, witness, and relationship with churches like his as well as the explosively growing Lutherans in place like Africa.  It is a two way relationship and both benefit.  In the past I had not felt as globally connected as a member of the LCMS as I felt at this convention.  From Siberia to Norway to South America to Africa to Asia and everywhere in between the global voice of Missouri is being sought out even as Missouri seeks to hear from other Lutherans.  This is a good thing!

Finally, it did seem to me that the delegates (a diverse group filled with more first time delegates than ever I experienced before) were of a common mind to be thoroughly Lutheran in confession, witness, and practice.  The shaping of the work of the Task Force into resolutions to be acted upon by the delegates brought a needed direction to what Wichita did not mean to begin with the licensed lay deacon program while at the same time preserving the role of such diaconal office and service for works of mercy and assisting roles appropriate to such a lay office.  There were advances in every area of our intentional Lutheran identity from parish to university to mission and this was not accidental.

We Lutherans are sometimes somewhat insecure about who we are and how we practice that identity. We have too often have borrowed theology and programs that are a poor fit with our Confessions.   It seems from this convention that we are more intent upon being Lutheran without complaint, embarrassment, or apology than I have seen in a while.  That is a good thing.  Lutheranism may or may not last but if it does not, I pray that it will not be because we borrowed so heavily from others that we lost our identity in witness and work!  From Lutheran parish to school to university to seminary, we are intentional about creating and maintaining a strong a vibrant Lutheran identity in all aspects of our life together and I, for one, believe that this is key to our future growth.  The world does not need wannabes who are not authentic or genuine to who we are and this seemed to shine through much of the convention.

Sure, there are loose ends.  We will have to revisit the subject of ecclesiastical discipline and we have not at all solved every problem with lay acting as ordained but we have marked a path and signaled a willingness to walk where it leads.  God help us.  We once turned back a dalliance with liberalism that weakened our confidence in the Scriptures as the eternal voice of the Lord.  Now we are working to turn back what has been an irresistible temptation to be satisfied with Lutheran in name only as long as the programs worked and made the numbers look good.  It is not the end but it was a good and solid beginning.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

The LCMS at this time in history is not what it once was, and it is not able to go backwards. However, just as Luther implemented changes in his time, there is tension today between tradition and innovation. Change by itself is not always bad, but it takes wisdom to discern the difference between good ideas and bad ones. If Lutherans look honestly at the past, these conflicts are continuous because their church history is dynamic, not static, and subject to many cultural and theological influences. The LCMS need not embrace progressive ideas which are anti-biblical and anti-Lutheran, but some changes will not hurt the identity of Lutheranism if implemented. Knowing the difference becomes the challenge. That is a good reason to have conventions, and to talk these things over.

Janis Williams said...

Agreed. Conventions/gatherings/councils, whatever you desire to call them are an integral part of what it is to be a synod. You cannot walk together in silence. As the two disciples walked the road to Emmaus, they talked. When Jesus joined them, the conversation became instruction. As a synod, the LCMS must continue walking and talking, instructed by her Lord, so the decisions will be made with Wisdom.

Anonymous said...

What about the CRM issue? What about seminary tuition? When will these issues be put to rest?

Meanwhile, many pastors within the LCMS have their own convention:

Why, oh why are they so eager to imitate the churches that Chris Rosebrough routinely critiques on his Fighting for the Faith podcasts?