Monday, January 30, 2012

A Report on the Lutheran Concerns Association Annual Conference

The Lutheran Concerns Association Annual (LCA) Conference was held the day before Concordia Theological Seminary’s (CTS) annual symposia in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on January 16. For those of you who didn’t make it, I’d have to say it was well worth the trip.

There aren’t too many venues in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod where you can sit down in a relatively intimate setting and hear from a Seminary President, a Synod Vice-President, a member of the Synod Board of Directors, a man who witnessed first-hand the “battle for the Bible” in the LCMS, and several other well known LCMS people all in one day, yet that’s what we were treated to at the LCA Conference.

The day started out with a Bible study presented by Rev. Charles Froh, and devotions by Rev. Dr. William Weinrich. CTS President Rev. Dr. Larry Rast gave his presentation “For Better or for Worse? Seminaries, Theological Education, and Pastoral Formation after Google.” If you attended the Lutheran Confessions Symposium at CTS, Dr. Rast’s presentation there was similar to the LCA presentation. A portion of his concluding remarks:
The purpose of this paper has been to raise some questions in your mind—though it may not have offered any answers. Questions about pastoral formation and certification, delivery systems for theological education, the relationship of pedagogy and methodology, continuing education, basic issues of funding, and many others will need to attention of best minds gathered together in prayerful consideration of the future of our confession. I hope this paper will contribute modestly to that endeavor, and I look forward to working through these issues with you.
I always enjoy Dr. Rast. He is a strong advocate for a rigorous on-campus pastoral formation program, one which, as he pointed out, takes gobs of dollars to support. Our seminaries certainly need our support if they are to continue to provide pastors who know the original languages and are solidly grounded in our confession.

Dovetailing nicely with Dr. Rast’s presentation was Rev. Kevin Vogts presentation “Our Concordia System: The Dying of the Light or Light from Above?” Rev. Vogts was the Director of Communications and Church Relations at Concordia Wisconsin from 1998-2003. He noted the continuing secularization of many of the Christian institutions of higher education in the U.S., which to some degree is related to their transformation to self-supporting institutions – which is where we are today with our Concordia University System and two seminaries. Rev. Vogts closed with a helpful set of suggestions on how we can preserve the integrity of our educational system. Certainly, both of these presentations offer hope for the future, but we will need sustained commitment in order to accomplish these goals.

A show of hands of those presenters who read Stand Firm. Or not. Rast is waffling.
Rev. Michael Kumm, who is the Vice-Chairman of the LCMS Board of Directors, presented on “Synodical Issues and Update.” He gave an overview of the ongoing restructuring effort, which is a rather herculean task, as well as other miscellaneous synodical affairs, while at the same time not giving away too many state secrets. It’s always nice to be able to question someone who actually knows what’s going on in the Synod!

Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller presented a refreshing paper on “Youth Ministry and the Disappearing Demographic: What’s Gone Wrong and How Can We Fix It? or Giving Attention to the Conscience of the Lord’s Youth.” Pastor Wolfmueller mentioned that the spiritual battle within our youth is one in which the devil is trying to break their conscience. The Scriptures, on the other hand, want to deliver us to a good conscience. He discussed ways in which Satan attacks the consciences of our youth, and then provided suggestions on how the conscience issue can be addressed. While some of his suggestions may seem obvious, what is more obvious is that many of them aren’t getting done. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.

Walter Dissen and Scott Meyer, who between the two of them have more synodical experience than all of the apostles combined, presented tandem papers on “Theology: The Real Issue of the Preus Era.” These presentations were in response to the recently published book written by James C. Burkee titled Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod. There have been several conservative LCMS people who have reported that the book lacked rigorous academic vetting, relying on hearsay rather than on solid evidence, and that, among other things, the book twisted the basis of the “Battle of the Bible” from a serious dispute over theology, to one mainly interested in political power and control, thus discrediting the LCMS in the process. Both of these gentleman supplied ample evidence to demonstrate that this particular thesis of the book is flawed.

Rev. Dr. John Wohlrabe, 2nd Vice-President of the LCMS, spoke on the “Office of the Ministry: Current Concerns.” He pointed out areas in which the Synod is tending to deviate from its historical position on the Office of the Ministry, erring both towards a functional view, and towards a sacerdotal position. He concluded that “the tug-of-war involving tension and balance in the doctrine of the ministry continues as it has throughout our history. But, as with many aspects of Lutheran theology, this is not an either/or but a both/and. The tension and balance are to be maintained.”

A nice lunch was also provided, and there was plenty of time to say hi to old friends and meet new ones. This short synopsis doesn’t do justice to the quality of the presentations. Hopefully they will be released in digital form and placed on the internet in the near future. I’ll let you know when that occurs.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was elected to the LCA Board of Directors. I certainly support the LCA’s goal “to preserve the confessional and liturgical heritage of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod,” but don’t expect Stand Firm to be an acolyte for the LCA, which ought to be pretty obvious since it’s taken me over two weeks just to get this posted! If you have any ideas on topics for next year’s conference, or speaker suggestions, I’ll be glad to pass them on.


Anonymous said...

The LCA meeting was well worth the trip, the time, and the mini-expense.
If we had only heard Walter Dissen and Scott Meyer, it would have been time well spent. The handouts along were invaluable. Mr. Dissen is a hero of mine--a warrior of the walkout days. The symposia were frosting on the cake.

Joe Strieter

jim claybourn said...

I'm hoping that the dvd's come soon. I want to share with my pastor, youth group leaders, etc.