Monday, July 15, 2019

Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace

In a few short days the delegates will come together at a convention center in Tampa, Florida, to do the business of the church.  Their purpose is a holy one but it will be hard to tell this group from any other group of conventioneers gathered in an off season location.  They will sit at tables aimed at a stage with all the technological toys to keep our eyes up front and on the podium.  The leaders will follow Robert's Rules of Order and keep us on task as the clock ticks down (it costs money for every hour we are in that convention center).  We will take time out for devotion and prayer, for preaching and singing, and the appropriate images will flash on the screen.  We will hear stories of success and tales of trouble and be presented with resolutions designed to help us repeat the good news and repair the causes of the bad news.  It will be dignified but not without jokes or humor.  There will be a giant room of vendors with all the freebies conventioneers love and a bookstore in which to purchase the latest offerings from our church press.  There will be rushes to lunches and lines at the restrooms and calls to order and questions called and then the same people will board the transportation modes that brought them there to return home.

But we dare not forget that this is not a business, not a corporation, not a cause, and not a rally.  It is the work of the CHURCH we are doing.  Under it all we have an agenda not set by a president's office or floor committees but by God.  It will be our task through it all to remember this when it will seem like this is either fun and games or political drama.  Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace -- that is why we are here.  We are not here to invent new doctrines or to latch on to quirky or novel interpretations of Scripture or to leave behind the sacred deposit for the promise of something new or different.  We are not here to exercise political muscle.  We are not here to raise up a purpose or a cause different from the one the Lord has given.  Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, that is enough of an agenda in a world growing ever unfriendly to the cause of Christ and ever more difficult for the baptized as they live out their vocation of new life in Christ.  That is enough of an agenda as we face the prospect of the mother church of far off places being dwarfed by the Gospel success there and our own decline.  That is enough of an agenda as we are tempted to mimic the entrepreneur style evangelicals in their successful work building little kingdoms on earth.  That is enough of an agenda as we recall with nostalgia the past that seemed so much easier and more friendly.  That is enough of an agenda as the LCMS gathers.

Maintain. . . if we do this, we have done enough.  If we maintain the unity of the Spirit not through vaguely worded motions that mean what we think they mean but through holding onto the faith and holding it up in our own day, that is enough.  If we maintain the unity of the Spirit through the refreshment of the Word of God, through the common voices raised in prayer, and through the many voices joined as one in song, that is enough.  If we maintain the unity of the Spirit and can do it in the bond of peace, as brothers and sisters in Christ through the grace of our common life born in baptism and our life refreshed through confession and absolution, that is enough.

I do not have huge expectations for Tampa and I hope few are so tempted to pin their hopes and dreams on one convention and a few votes.  Yes, they mean something and yes we must do the church's business but we are not a business or a political party or conventioneers.  We are God's people, representing God's parishes, here to remember that in all we say and do.  It is God's own enterprise and His Word will not return to Him empty.  It is enough that we send it by speaking it to those inside the room and before the world outside.  Maintain.  Maintain our doctrinal integrity, our confidence in the efficacious Word of God, our conviction that the Sacraments bestow what they sign, our joy that the Spirit is at work in the means of grace, and that no one and nothing can deter God's purpose or prevent His Kingdom from its appointed destiny or steal us unwillingly from His flock.  If we can go to a church convention and then return home again without having lost anything of our doctrine and truth, piety and practice, worship and witness, then I call that a success.  Maybe I am old or cynical but I think I have come to trust less in princes and dominions and more in God's providence and purpose.  So if we can simply maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in our convention and bring home the same, I call that a good year for our church body.


Carl Vehse said...

Coincidentally today, ANO / Lutheran Watch posted the following comment about "Lutheran Church Canada" that applies equally well to the Missouri Synod and its upcoming convention:

"When we talk about 'Lutheran Church Canada' or any related organizations that fly under the LCC umbrella, one typically thinks of a church endeavoring to advance the work of the faith. The reality is that LCC the Synod, the old Districts, both Seminaries, and every individual church actually has two aspects to its operation – the 'left-hand' kingdom under God’s authority on earth through the civil government and the 'right-hand' kingdom under God’s spiritual authority.

"The 'left-hand' corporate entity operates in obedience to the laws of the land pertaining to corporate operating standards, employment standards, paying taxes, the management, disbursement, and accounting of funds, and the like. The 'right-hand' aspect is the work of proclaiming the Word, ministering to the flock, rightly dividing Law and Gospel, and everything else that goes with that."

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