Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Contrasting Candidates: Harrison and Kieschnick in The Lutheran Witness

The June/July issue of The Lutheran Witness asks a series of questions to the five men whose names will appear on the ballot for President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in July, Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, current President of the LCMS, District President Herbert Mueller Jr., Seminary Professor Dr. Carl C. Fickenscher II, and Seminary Professor Dr. Daniel L. Gard. Due to fair use considerations, only Rev. Harrison's and President Kieschnick's responses are presented. Here are the questions asked and these two men’s responses, which in many ways are a study in contrasts:

Q: How would you judge the health of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod today?:

Harrison: This is the most dynamic moment in history to be part of the LCMS! Worldwide opportunities abound. I’m giddy with hope (Rom. 15:4-13)! Yet, we are accomplishing a fraction of what’s possible. The New Testament shows us the twofold reality: “Saints” are also sinners, beset with problems (1 Cor. 1:2, 10ff.). It’s never been different. We need Jesus. We are blessed to know the Gospel in all its fullness. We have faithful workers, the two greatest Lutheran seminaries in the world, LLL, LWML, LCEF, great schools, partner churches—the list goes on! Best of all, the world is open for the mission of Christ. Healthy? Under the Law, no (Rom. 3:9ff.). But by the Gospel, we are congregations of living saints, blessed for this moment (Zech. 8:13; 1 Peter 2:9-10). The key to exploding upon the world in mission and mercy is this: Courage through repentance and renewal by the mighty Word of God. We’re no more or less healthy than that ragtag dozen who burst onto the world after Pentecost.

Kieschnick: A church’s health is measured by its faithfulness to Scripture and the Gospel which gives it birth and to which it is called to witness. The doctrine of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ alone is the foundation on which the church stands and the glue that holds it together.
      By this standard, the LCMS is a healthy church. Every congregation and church worker is committed to the written Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, as confessed in the Lutheran Confessions.
      When viewed, however, by God’s Law, the LCMS falls far short and is sick unto death. Too often the Gospel we are commanded to proclaim is undercut by the witness we give—indifference to sharing it with others, lack of civility and accountability in treating those with whom we disagree, distrust for one another, and failure to confess the full counsel of God in faithfulness to His word.
      Thanks be to God for His amazing grace in allowing us poor sinners, in spite of our sin, to serve Him through our beloved Synod, seeking to proclaim Christ’s Gospel in faithfulness and for the salvation of many!

Q: In today’s ‘whatever works for you culture,’ how can the LCMS best reach out to people with the Good News of Jesus and testify to the truth of God’s Word?

Harrison: It’s simple—and all in Mark 1. A dozen times the Greek text says “and immediately” Jesus “came,” “healed,” etc. In my favorite verse, Jesus says “Let’s go!...I came to preach” (1:38). He’s confronted by a leper. “If You will it, I may be clean.” “Having compassion,” Jesus “touched him.” There it is: (1) Jesus acts! Act! Don’t have another meeting! Go! Visit congregation and community. (2) Preach the Good News! We need a revival of Gospel-centered preaching! (3) Have compassion on the hurting—inside the Church and out (James. 2:15ff.). Dare to reach folks where they are (Matt. 25:34ff.). We are blessed with a substantive, biblical message for this insane, post-modern world. “You’re hurting. How’s that ‘whatever works’ thing going for you? You know, Jesus loves you. Here’s how much…”

Kieschnick: Christians often avoid non-Christians. Engaging people, not avoiding them, provides avenues for them to meet Christ. People in every culture seek answers to basic life questions: “Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Is there a God? Who is He? Does He have a plan for my life? Is there life after death? Is that life for me?” Genuine, caring relationships enable people to feel free to ask such questions in an atmosphere of trust and safety, providing Spirit-led opportunities for sharing God’s answers to those questions from His Word with Christ-centered love, care, and concern.
      As God’s representatives, we are privileged and challenged to make known the eternal truths from Holy Scripture, which reveal His grace, mercy, and forgiveness to people who have not yet met Him. We must do so unapologetically, sensitively, boldly, caringly, and courageously.

Q: During this year’s convention, delegates will consider proposals to restructure the way the Synod is organized. What is your opinion of the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance?

Harrison: The change we really need is not structural. We lack repentance. (Just look at how we treat one another [Gal. 5:16ff].) And we do not believe that the Word of God can actually unite us (Eph. 3:20). It’s time to resolve enduring issues ( Part of me might like the massive increase in power proposed for the Synod President. That’s why it’s not a good idea. The power of Synod is only the power of the Word (Walther). There is good cause to celebrate non-geographic districts. Proposals that enjoy overwhelming support should be passed. Narrow decisions will render us more fractured. I am heartsick about the planned elimination of World Relief and Human Care. Change the Lord brings always works for good (Rom. 5:3; 8:28ff.).

Kieschnick: For more than four years task force members have addressed challenges in our Synod—unnecessary bureaucracy, lack of coordination, ambiguous supervisory relationships, inequitable representation, inefficient organization, insufficient accountability, etc. They have sought and responded to feedback from convention delegates and other leaders. While having expressed a few concerns, I believe task force recommendations are critical.
      Amended structure and governance will not resolve all our challenges, but will enhance rather than impede the proclamation of the Gospel, improve efficiency, and increase effectiveness. What was first created as an organizational system for a Synod made up of a small number of congregations (14) now struggles to serve more than 6,100 congregations. Task force recommendations are designed to keep our Synod centered in Christ, passionate about accomplishing God’s mission, and devoted to carrying the Gospel which God has given to us with vision and courage into the future.

Q: In our present economic environment, money and resources seem tight everywhere. As president, how would you lead the Synod (nationally and locally) in stewarding its resources and people?

Harrison: At LCMS World Relief and Human Care, we’ve been responsible for receiving and managing some $100 million in donor funds over the last decade, always in the black. (1) The Synod has for years borrowed designated funds for operations. This is largely because LCMS World Mission costs (including the Fan into Flame campaign, despite best intentions) have exceeded revenues by millions yearly. It’s time to change how we do business. Synod’s Board of Directors must cease spending in excess of revenues. (2) Since 2001, undesignated funding (from districts) has dropped from $28 million to $18 million. The major cause, I believe, is that we have virtually ceased funding what congregations care most about: (a) Sending pastors to plant churches overseas (Rom. 10:15). (b) Training pastors and church workers (Matt. 9:37ff.). $2 million a year to each seminary can bring 200 international students to our campuses each year! We can rock the world for Christ! (c) Mercy for the needy (2 Cor. 8-9). There is no shortage to what the Lord can provide. The sooner we get back to these basics, (and stop doing some other things), the sooner we will realize it (2 Cor. 9:8). Let’s go!

Kieschnick: Faithful management of God’s gifts necessitates raising the level of Christ-centered biblical stewardship among our people and achieving greater expenditure efficiencies.
      Generous contributions for mission support (Fan into Flame) and response to disasters (Katrina and Haiti) demonstrate the willingness of God’s people to respond to spiritual and physical need. Compelling, clear communication about such need is critical, enabling concerned Christians motivated by Christ’s love to respond.
      Fewer paid staff can recruit, coordinate, and support volunteers with time, talent, and treasure to offer. Their hearts beat for local, national, and international mission, ministry, and mercy.
      With a grateful heart I thank God for women and men who take seriously their role in the body of Christ and support the work of congregations, district, and Synod. I’m overwhelmed by their generosity and dedication!

The entire article can be read here.


Nancy Loy said...

Hmmmm. Very enlightening! I was hoping for a compare/contrast and this was it. Thanks for posting. I think I (or Steve!) can make a decision here pretty easily!

Anonymous said...

When you distill these two perspectives down to essentials, it's a vivid Gospel/Law comparison. I'm interested in what the other candidates had to say. Haven't seen the LW yet, but do they ask the question "Why do you want to be the President of the LCMS?"


Martin Diers said...

Well, you know what they say. "You never look better than you do on your resume." That's why I tend to look at a candidate's record rather than his promises.

But I'm an outsider looking in, dearly hoping and praying that the individual congregations of the LCMS repent and do the right thing. I do not have any such hope for the LCMS as a whole, only because I have studied enough history to know better.

Anonymous said...

I would enjoy reading an article explaining where the convention delegates stand regarding the issues. If many unpopular Blue Ribbon Task Force recommendations are passed, then it would not matter who is elected president. The new president would be forced to implement the new changes.

How would either candidate address the issue of cooperation in externals with the ELCA? LCMS works jointly with the ELCA on a variety of missions and disaster relief projects. What kind of Lutheran is the target population expected to become: ELCA (historical-critical, liberal), or LCMS (confessional)? Isn't working jointly with the ELCA a conflict of interest?

Issues, Etc. is (was) the most successful radio program in LCMS history. Are there any plans to restore support for this program. Would there be any support from the LCMS for Pirate Christian Radio?

Does the LCMS have a plan to keep the teens and 20-somethings engaged in the church. What steps would Harrison or Kieschnick take to attract young people to the LCMS. How can this be done without compromising confessional Lutheran doctrine. How can technology be best used to reach the 18-35 year olds.

Evangelicals, Catholics, liberal churches, and non-denominational churches have differing and negative perceptions of an LCMS Lutheran. How would the presidential candidates address the issue of the image problems of the LCMS. How can the LCMS grow if these negative public perceptions are keeping potential church members from considering the LCMS?

Scott Diekmann said...

Those are great questions anonymous. It is a little frustrating that there is no real forum where those types of questions are answered by the candidates. The way things are set up now, the candidates aren't allowed to "circularize," an old-fashioned word for campaign, so there is a real road block in being able to know where the candidates stand on any particular issue.

Regarding your question of cooperation with the ELCA in externals, it looks like the current adminstration isn't going to change anything in relation to our current cooperation with the ELCA, based on the CTCR and special committee results, as well as the fact that President Kieschnick has taken no action. I think Pastor Harrison would say that the status quo cannot be maintained with the ELCA, since that's what his executive assistant, Dr. Al Collver stated a while back.

As far as answers to the other questions, I guess they're known only to God!

A goal for the future should be to redo the way the convention and "campaigning" are done, so that a more transparent, ethical, and equitable system can be employed.