Thursday, July 8, 2010

This is Missouri’s Moment

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s 64th Regular Convention begins on Saturday. As the convention draws closer, I become more and more excited about the opportunities which confront us as confessional Lutherans.

For decades now our Synod has become increasingly fixed on a reliance on answers that come from on high, i.e. Synod boards, task forces, and committees such as the Commission on Constitutional Matters, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, rather than on the plain and simple Word of God and our Confession. A burgeoning body of “canon law” is being created. All of this complexity and reliance on official pronouncements is not lost on the laity.

While the average Jane and Joe pew-sitter may not be aware of every “ruling” in the Synod, they do notice billboards proclaiming that “JeffersonHills Church Sucks” [sic], they do read about Holy Week firings in The Wall Street Journal, and they do make note of missionaries being pulled from the field. They shake their heads and wonder what is going on in St. Louis. While they may not be interested in reading the LCMS Board of Directors “Board Briefs,” they still understand the difference between their own congregation’s grass roots efforts to proclaim the Gospel to those who hunger for the forgiveness of sins versus an evangelism marketing campaign on a web page.

For all the talk of restructuring, the congregational polity is still alive and well in the LCMS, because it is here that the mission of the church has taken place, and it is here that it will continue to take place. From pulpit, font, and altar, the Lord grows His Church, at times rapidly, at other times slowly, as we continue to wait on Him. This, we laymen understand.

Ultimately, the impending Presidential election and the restructuring proposals are not about this or that personality, they are about in Whom we place our trust. No amount of restructuring will rush the Lord in His mission, and very few laymen want to see a 2010 Convention commemorative coin minted with the LCMS logo on one side accompanied by the motto “IN STRUCTURE WE TRUST,” and a likeness of the LCMS headquarters on the other side with the motto “SOLA STRUCTURA.”

As the structural bridle is cinched tighter and tighter on the congregational horse, it increasingly chafes. The horse can see the lush grass of Lutheran theology. Will he be allowed to graze, or be put to the whip?

C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the LCMS warned:
God forbid that we ever get to the point where we merely put on a big show and then have a convention in which we discuss all sorts of peripheral piffle about ceremonies, rules, and insignificant trifles (armselige Lappalien). Instead of that, may we always concentrate on the study of doctrine.
     …We come here to be strengthened in our faith and knowledge, and we desire this not primarily for the salvation of our souls, but so that we might become more proficient in feeding our congregations in the green meadows of the Gospel. …If the study of doctrine is not the number one priority at synodical conventions, then one of two things will happen: either the convention will be manufacturing laws, or even worse, it will degenerate into an affair of mutual praise, love-assurance, and life-insurance. [emphasis in original] (Essays for the Church, Vol. I, 46, 47)
Our congregational horse needs some breathing room. Now is the time to loosen the reins, returning to the theology that at one time unified us, rather than the tighter rein of Synodical structure. I cannot help but be optimistic that we will slacken the reins and loosen the bridle so that the wonderful Lutheran theology on which the LCMS was built will once again be allowed to guide our thoughts and actions, that the truth of the Gospel will be unbridled and proclaimed to a world thirsting for living water. As I’ve heard Pastor Matt Harrison say, “It is Missouri’s moment!”

photo credit: pmarkham

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