As the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod wraps up its convention in Houston, I’m encouraged by several business items:
- The encouragement of individual confession and absolution. Corporate confession, even in LSB Divine Service III, may seem rote to some. Individual confession allows a person to receive whatever pastoral care that person needs, bringing to light sins that may be affecting a person’s conscience and announcing that Christ has indeed forgiven that person. It is incredibly difficult to miss Law and Gospel in individual confession and absolution, and that is a good thing. I advise my parents to inquire about it to their pastor. It will be harder for my family to do it because of distance, but as the opportunity arises and the kids get older, I recommend it.
- Funding Hispanic studies. When originally Roman Catholic Spanish-speakers leave Roman Catholicism for American evangelicalism or Islam, they exchange one form of man’s law for another, in the latter situation stripping themselves from the Kingdom of God. They need to be retained, receiving God’s forgiveness of sins and assurance of their name written in the Book of Life. The Hispanic culture coming into this country has a tendency to refuse societal integration, so we must bring the Gospel to them.
- Supporting adult stem-cell research and opposing embryonic stem-cell research. We are biblically informed that life begins at conception. It is appropriate to condemn research that destroys human life.
- The refusal to prioritize the saving of non-Christians over preaching the Gospel to Christians. We do not believe in “once saved, always saved.” Christians should always be going to church, receiving the Word and Sacraments.
There have been various overtures regarding the unity of Synod. I don’t have to be ordained or involved in synodical politics to know there is disunity in the LCMS. I’ve had one pastor suggest to me that bread and wine may be substituted in the Lord’s Supper. Another pastor held a contemporary service at the same time as Matins, leaving a lay elder to read the pastor’s sermon during Matins. I’ve seen a lay minister write a sermon on the Ten Virgins with no mention of the Gospel. A vicar preached on Jonah 3 and didn’t mention baptism or repentance. One midweek sermon at a church in North Houston was replaced with a reenactment of the Magnificat, with “Mary” putting in her own words. This should strike Lutherans as beyond simply weird.
When I travel I go to the LCMS web site and research congregations in the area, but the disunity in the Synod forces me to do additional research, checking out the congregation’s web site. A key indicator is how the congregation treats liturgical worship. A congregation that reveres liturgical worship is likely to stay closer to scriptural teaching. Bible studies should study actual Biblical text, using translations that avoid paraphrasing as much as possible. Matins and Vespers during the week? Bonus, especially since I teach two Sundays a month. The additional research is sometimes a pain, especially when congregations don’t have web sites. Once a while I have to call the church office and ask questions. I don’t get many opportunities to worship, so I have to make the most of what I get.
Synodical affiliation is in its best left-hand function an indication that “the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered” (Augsburg, Article VII). The proper business of the Synod is the maintenance of that reputation. It is not for Synod to force a congregation into teaching a particular doctrine, but to lend its endorsement that a particular church is teaching proper Christian doctrine. Those LCMS churches that do not, sully its name and devalue its endorsement. The congregations make the Synod, not the reverse.
There will always be conflict. There will always be Pharisees that sit in Moses’ seat in this world. There will always be ways that churches can improve. We should repent of each others’ offense, forgive each other, and work to move our espoused unity toward the real unity of the church established by Christ and delivered through scripture. We should not ask what is enough doctrine to save but seek to teach everything Christ has commanded to teach. Unity with the one holy Christian and apostolic church does not always mean bigger numbers; the sum of believers and unbelievers will always be more than the saved.