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Thoughts on LCMS Convention and Unity

As the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod wraps up its convention in Houston, I’m encouraged by several business items:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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8 Comments

  1. It’s time for faithful Lutherans to think differently.

  2. Have you ever noticed that we have to resolutions to get us to look at the Word? The Word isn’t enough, we need a synodical resolution to get us to cherish that Word.

  3. weedon says:

    Dan,

    Thanks for the thoughts. You might also find Pr. Stuckwisch’s thoughts of interest:

    http://sword-in-hat.blogspot.com/2007/07/beautiful-disaster.html

  4. CPA says:

    “A key indicator is how the congregation treats liturgical worship. A congregation that reveres liturgical worship is likely to stay closer to scriptural teaching.” Generally, but not always. I spent quite a bit of time recently at a quite liturgical church with mostly good preaching, which was, however, about as far to the left as you can be and still be in the LCMS — and maybe a wee bit farther. Liturgy is good, but it is no magic bullet solving all problems.

  5. Dan says:

    Hence the weasel word “likely”. :)

    Where did the “leftness” show through? The liturgy? Somewhere else?

  6. CPA says:

    Not in the liturgy so much — although they did use the Lutheran Book of Worship. I don’t want to go into details too much, but for example, in the examples of sin that the preacher would preach against, sexual sins were never included — it’s was as if the sixth commandment just didn’t exist. And once the pastor trotted out the “God is neither male nor female, so all our masculine language about Him is merely our own time and culture-bound attempt to understand Him”.* But no female language was ever used for God. Like I said, skirting the limits, but never really going over.

    *Just in case any one wondered is that true and relevant, it IS true that God in Himself can be said to be neither male nor female. But we do not worship God as He is in Himself, a consuming fire, surrounded in dread majesty and inaccessible light, we worship God as He has REVEALED Himself, first to the patriarchs and Israel and finally and for all time, in the person of Jesus, who prayed to “His FATHER”. Hence for all time God is to be worshiped as our FATHER, not our mother, although since of course paternity shares much with maternity (the same measure of love and sacrifice) one can sometimes compare God to a mother.

  7. Emily H. says:

    Do you ever end up in Omaha, NE for business? If you do, you’re welcome to come and visit our church (about an hour away from Omaha). Drop a line if you’re going to be in our neighborhood!

  8. Dan says:

    Not much oil in Nebraska. Thanks for the invite. :)