Can you pick up a newspaper these days without seeing something in it about what is happening in Washington? We have come to realize even more in these last months that the direction of our national government profoundly affects us here at home.
That is why what happened at the recent synodical convention should matter to you. We are not lone rangers here in Adell. We are members of a synod, a body of churches that walk together and confess together. What affects one part of the body affects the whole.
This convention was a watershed moment in the history of the Missouri Synod. Like a man who stands at a fork in the road, we had to decide which path to take. Whatever path was chosen would influence the direction of the church body for the next generation.
So which direction did we choose?
Before we answer that question it would be helpful to look at what each path looks like. Each path represents one of the two movements in the Missouri Synod.
The first movement is what we will call the “Confessional Movement.” The Confessional Movement in the Missouri Synod believes that modern problems should be solved by timeless solutions. Churches should not change to fit the fads of today, but rely on the means and methods that the Lord has given to His church in every age, the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. The Confessional Movement is not interested in modern gimmicks in order to get people in the door and increase numbers in the church, but in remaining faithful to the treasures given to us, the Word of God and the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church. What does this look like in practice? The Confessional Movement advocates the exclusive use of the liturgies and hymns of our hymnal, a pastoral practice of closed communion, a frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and the true mission of the church which is focused on the Word and Sacraments. The Confessional Movement also supports the historical “congregation centered” approach to how the Synod is run rather than a “big-bureaucracy” top down approach.
The second movement in the church we will call the “Church Growth” movement of the Missouri Synod. This movement tries to implement models of growth that have been used in successful businesses. The idea of this movement is that if you give people what pleases them then they will be more likely to join the church. This movement’s goal is to change the way church was done in the past in order to appeal to modern people. Pastors become CEO’s where they change things to eliminate supposed hindrances to the faith. Such a congregation in the Church Growth Movement might look like a LC-MS congregation in our area where large screens face the people, the pastor conducts the service in a polo shirt and slacks, no hymnals, hymns, or liturgies are used, a praise band is up front which implements entertainment style worship, open communion is practiced (anyone welcome up front no matter what denominational affiliation), and the pastor preaches on interesting topics from the bible rather than the assigned texts of the day. This movement is what the current administration of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was advocating. While this group claims to reach people where they are at (which is a laudable goal) it can tend to be at the expense of the truth of God’s Word.
So which path won the day?
That’s where it gets a little more confusing, or shall I say, a little more interesting.
In a fascinating turn of events the delegates at the convention voted one way on the resolutions and another way on the elections. The resolutions that were passed favored a centralized government with more power “up top” in the synod headquarters while the elections were a sweeping victory for the Confessional Movement. The irony of the situation is that the very people who didn’t want more power in the synod headquarters were elected into office and given more power, while the party who wanted more power and influence in synod were voted entirely out of office! I guess the Lord has a sense of humor. So much for the plans of men.
In short our hope is that the newly elected officials that were installed on September 11 in St. Louis will have a good effect on some of the more disappointing resolutions that were passed. Maybe some of the resolutions can be undone at the next convention. Maybe three years will give us more clarity on some of these issues and whether they work or not. Who knows, maybe the extra power will be of help in getting more things done in the Synod. In the end each person in the pew should know that you have a new synod president named Matthew Harrison. (For purposes of this article I am calling him “the mustachioed bandit” who “stole” the election. He has a pretty big mustache if you didn’t notice.) He grew up on a farm in the Midwest. He plays the banjo. He loves theology and knows the history of our Synod better than just about anyone. He has written several helpful books for both pastors and laypeople and is well educated. He is a leader who has demonstrated in his parish in Fort Wayne and his directorship for ten years of LC-MS World Relief and Human Care that he is a go-getter who can get the job done. But most of all he loves the Gospel and has a pastor's (and not a bureaucrat's) heart.
There is an old prayer in the Missouri Synod that has been around for at least a half of a century. It’s time that we pray it once again.
Almighty God, merciful Father, keep and preserve our whole Synod, its teachers and officers, true to Your Word. Cause the work of our Synod to grow and flourish. Guard and protect all members of our Synod against the danger of sinful ambitions, the love of dissension, and the spirit of indifference in doctrine and practice. Preserve us from all heresy and false belief. Bless and defend the seminaries, colleges, and universities of our Synod. Give us faithful pastors and teachers of Your Word. Accompany all missionaries on their perilous ways, and help them to perform their work faithfully. Gather the elect from every nation into Your holy Christian Church, and bring them at last into Your Church triumphant; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The Lord bless and keep us in His grace.