I've heard various friends and colleagues bemoaning the lack of organization on the part of conservatives in preparation for the Convention, and now I'm hearing many suggestions that we need to get organized as soon as possible for the next go-round. I respect the men who are making these comments and suggestions, and I respect their opinion, but I disagree. I believe that we did as well as we did at the Convention, and we did far better than I had anticipated, in large part because there really wasn't much in the way of conservative para-synodical organization. We certainly did as well or better than three years ago, in my view, when there was such a huge amount of time, energy and money invested in organizing. That's how I see it.
Anyway, we already have an organization, a structure and processes, known as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. We belong to that fellowship of pastors and congregations, and it is therein that we ought to be working, contending as needed, but above all confessing and catechizing. By catechizing, I don't mean informing people about the "issues" in the Synod, although I do believe that congregations ought to be kept well informed about such things (because they are the Synod). But the real work of catechizing is that of the Word of God, the speaking of the Law and the Gospel, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is what alone changes hearts and minds, and what ought to govern and guide the entire life of the Church.
The pastors who spoke so eloquently and persuasively from the microphones at the Convention, spoke as they did, theologically, because they spoke from within their office as pastors, in the way they preach and teach and catechize all year long. It was striking, the contrast between the speeches of those men, who are confessional not only in name but in this very such practice of speaking the truth in love, and the "Jesus First" (sic) leaders who by and large said nothing but to call the question, or to get riled up and defensive about such and such. I'm thinking that for many of the delegates to this Convention, "Jesus First" ended up looking rather bad, if not downright silly, with all their politicking, posturing and propaganda. Without a conservative political action group to butt heads against, they were mostly a group of Don Quixotes, waving their sharpened swords at imaginary windmills. They bewail and rail against thost nasty, mean-spirited conservatives, but it was "Jesus First" that was engaged in all the negative behavior. The confessional pastors and lay delegates simply did what confessionals ought to do (what every Christian ought to do): they confessed. They spoke intelligently, politely and respectfully, persisently and carefully. And I really believe that many of the delegates listened and learned and began to be moved by the straightforward truth of the Word of God.
He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. "Jesus First" got a little taste of that on Monday, when the tide turned against their scarlet letter campaign to identify plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Meanwhile, the churchmanship and collegiality that the President of the Synod praised more than once, were mostly demonstrated by confessional pastors who simply behaved in a manner becoming of their office, animated by the Gospel that they preach and administer. Voting results aside (though the fluctuation in the margins of the votes was telling), those speeches made a difference that matters, whereas the "Jesus First" spokesmen came off badly, because they don't appear to have anything of substance to say.
The thing is that the Synod is not the elected officers and full-time executive staff in St. Louis. The Synod is the fellowship of pastors and congregations that make up the membership of the LCMS. This is the argument I made concerning the nominations process last year. We don't need to invent a means of determining who the confessional congregations of the Synod want to nominate; what we need is for those congregations to nominate the men they believe to be the best suited for the office of president (and other offices). That's our process already!
Both at the last Convention and again this time, Sam Nafzger was able to point to the fact that, when the CTCR document on the service of women in the church was put before the Synod for study and response (in 1998), almost no responses were received (it was like only a handful). That's why they were able to bring the thing back and recommend it. We simply gave it up to the "respected leaders" to do our thinking for us, which is more and more what is being put into place as the structure and polity of the Synod. That's what we'll get with a new Constitution and Bylaws, and it's what we deserve, if we don't actually engage the process and participate in it and work within this organization to which we belong, and which belongs to us as members. No matter how hokey it may seem at times, or pointless, it is the polity that we have received under God's providence in our temporal life together.
There were some significantly positive things accomplished at this Convention. I've mentioned some of those highlights previously, and I intend to say more about such things in the future. But for now I want to reiterate that these things were accomplished by and through the organization of the Synod itself. Perhaps the most notable example, again, is the correcting of false teaching on St. Matthew 18. That is tremendous. And how did it happen? In two ways, really: the dissent process, and the submitting of overtures especially from district conventions.
There will be opportunities, stemming from this Convention, for dialogue and discussion on various theological matters, including the doctrine and practice of "worship." Everyone should participate in those discussions to the fullest extent possible, and trust the confession of the Word of God to change hearts and minds. Our own hearts and minds daily need to be changed by the same Word of God, which we need to hear and receive, as well as teach and confess. We do that in our vocation as the children of God, within our respective stations in life, including the place that God has given us within the Missouri Synod. We pastors need to be active in our circuit winkels, and contribute to the life of our districts, and do those things that we are given to do, rather than diverting all our time and energy to creating organizations of our own devising. I'm not saying this as a criticism of various study groups and ministeriums, which I believe to be important and necessary in their own right (though not for political action, but for catechesis and the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren). What I am saying is that we already have a structure and polity within which we can work, and that we ought to be working within it.
Meanwhile, along with doing what each of us is given to do within his (or her) own vocation and stations in life, I'd suggest that everyone read Augstine's City of God, Jaroslav Pelikan's little book on the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Machiavelli's The Prince. I need to read and/or re-read these things, myself, for the sake of better understanding genuine politics in relation to the life of the Church on earth.