Friday, April 14, 2023

Who is Synod?

A long sigh..........  We are in that silly season again but this time it is not Washington that is the focus -- it is St. Louis.  The presidency is not of these great United States but of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  There will be no shortage of high powered rhetoric and enough hyperbole and straw men to make almost any ordinary thing impossible to understand.  We have already entered the season and it will not end, or should I say pause, until after the last ballot is counted.

My biggest frustration is the way we banter about that word Synod.  There will be the obligatory explanations of the etymology of that word.  We will get all warm and fuzzy about the idea of a diverse people walking together, trusting each other to make decisions right for them and about our prospect of taking the world for Jesus.  We will be reminded that synod is not church but only the congregation is (an unfortunate Missourism that is generally overplayed and seldom understood as was intended).  We will hear over and over again that Synod is advisory, that congregations must and will decide whether to pay attention to Synod or not (excuse me, decide whether the resolutions of Synod are expedient or not).  We will emphasize that we vote (except on the Word of God when we are not really voting) and that we have divided the vote so pastors cannot domineer over the Synod (but it is okay if lay folks do).  Any and all of this is enough to get on anyone's nerves but what really gets me is how we speak of Synod as if it were something alien or foreign to the parish and every other part of who we are and what we do.

Some will insist that Synod cannot save us.  Others will insist that Synod is the only thing that can save us.  Both will talk about Synod as if it were a subversive organization out to strip the congregation of its power, property, and money OR as if it were an irrelevant and outdated organization that needed to be put out to pasture as other forms or agencies replace it.  All of this seems to engage the people on a visceral level and stir up those on both extremes.  The only problem is that it is impossible to speak of Synod as a hierarchical form of government imposed over the congregation and people.  Whether you want it to be or not, that is simply not who we are and it is disingenuous for anyone to speak in this way.

The District is Synod in that place.  Congregations do not form districts which form Synod.  Districts are Synod in that region.  Synod is not above or below the congregation -- Synod is the congregations banded together out of doctrinal unity, for the purpose of expressing this unity in practice, preparing pastors and church workers for the congregations, their schools and missions, for publishing orthodox materials for catechesis and worship, and for the support of this common faith in a common mission.  So to all of those who get all riled up about Synod as a foreign power with designs on the congregation, get real.  If all the congregations looked in the mirror, they would see Synod.  

I know that there is nothing I can do about the silly season which erupts every time we elect a new Synod President but the least we could all agree to do is to be honest.  No Synod President is a pope.  Synod is not some sort of threatening overlord and the congregation the heroic rebel.  For good or for ill, Synod is people (remember Soylent Green?).  The power of the Synod President is largely the pulpit -- he persuades and does not rule.  The responsibility of the Synod President is more about keeping us honest than it is telling us what to do (in other words, it is about ecclesiastical supervision).  He and all those elected with us cannot save us from ourselves -- only God can.  Ours is not a problem of finding someone new but remembering what old things God has given us (the means of grace) and how these things sustain and, God willing, grow the Church (and the LCMS).  So do me a favor, those on the left stop speaking of Synod as an evil villain and those on the right stop speaking of Synod in the same way (only louder).  If we want to improve Synod, we just might start with ourselves -- paying attention, getting involved, and stop blaming the straw men for what we have said and done to screw it up.

1 comment:

jdwalker said...

"that is simply not who we are"

That seems to be the phrase of our time. Every scandal is followed up with the mantra that it is "not who we are".

"Ours is not a problem of finding someone new"

Our current someone was sure to release a statement on the most recent LCMS scandal to make clear that is "not who we are" lest anyone "sully the reputation of the LCMS".

As observed by others more insightful than myself, who is the "we" being spoken of? Your post seems to acknowledge that there are at least 3 primary factions with different perspectives on who we are or at least who we should be.

I expect the convention will be much talk about this or that not being "who we are" and the implications for the LCMS brand will be in the background. And I wonder whether that will push congregations further down the road of seeing the convention as frivolous. And in turn when they do look in the mirror, will they see synod as useless.

I, at least, lean in that direction at times, which I do think is unfortunate. Why waste the money and time to hold a convention? So that some people can argue about the wording of a resolution to support Christians to be witnesses for Christ? To encourage congregations to "be better" at getting people who don't look like them to come to their church? To commend deconnesses? Perhaps I'm too dismissive, but we pushed back the latest convention a year, and it didn't matter. What if we pushed off the convention another year, and another year, etc.? What if we didn't have a president for a few years?

If the Church doesn't depend on these things, if the congregations don't depend on these things, why is so much put into them? And is there something about the way we've organized ourselves and reflect the culture around us that is driving this hoopla? I wonder whether rather than saying we can set things up like a governments and business set things up for administration but still have a different purpose and function may be misguided. I still have to say (without any real expertise in being able to assess it) that I like some of the ideas put forward by Pastor Winter for what the synod organization should look like. Will having a structure and organization that is intended to reflect and further the purpose better avoid some of the problems. Perhaps not since we are after all men.