The Convention concluded at 1:00 p.m. earlier today. Now it is time to decompress, as I began to do, delightfully so, with my good friends Pastor Bender and Pastor Gehlbach over a late lunch. Such "good friends, faithful neighbors and the like," are assuredly a divine gift and blessing, for which I give thanks. I was similarly grateful for the opportunity to share supper with several good friends from Detroit last night, and with a group of like-minded colleagues over Starbucks (liquid dessert) this morning. No Christian, far less any pastor, should allow himself to go it alone. There is a time to go apart from the crowd for prayer, but one really must return from such prayer to hear and heed the Word of the Lord from brothers in Christ, and continue to pray in the midst of the brethren, and confess and proclaim the Word to them, that one and all may be sustained by the Spirit of Christ as members of His holy Church. Sincere thanks to all of those brothers who faithfully admonish and encourage me, who call me to repentance by speaking both the Law and the Gospel to me.
Speaking of both the Law and the Gospel, I had a lightbulb moment this afternoon when my brothers and I were speaking of God's discipline. The comment was made that the same Lord God who raises up the pious and faithful ruler, like David for example, also raises up and seats upon the throne a tyrant like Ahaz. Why? In order to discipline His people for the sake of calling them to repentance. And suddenly it dawned on me, in a way I had never considered before: Why should we suppose that God is less adept at properly dividing the Law and the Gospel in His dealings with us, than we strive to be, by His grace and Spirit, in pastoral care and practice? The best advice I heard all day is for each of us to do what he is given to do, within his vocation and stations in life, be they great or small, and to rely upon the Word of the Lord to deal with us and with His Church as He would, according to His good and gracious will for us in Christ. There is only one thing that we can be sure of: that is the Gospel! Not a club with which we are to be pummeled, nor a duty and responsibility for us to fulfill, but His sweet Word of forgiveness.
On that very note, I am exceedingly thankful that the final resolution adopted by the Synod in Convention (2-07A), by a 95.7% majority, encourages "Christian Forgiveness and Greater Use of Individual Confession and Absolution." In my preparations for this week, I had identified this resolution as the one that I was most eager to see adopted. As of this morning, I was doubtful that it would even come to the floor for consideration. At my first opportunity, in between floor committees coming and going, I appealed to the Chair that he allow the time for this resolution to be moved. My thanks to Pastor Gehlbach for seizing the chance, at the end of today's session, to remind the Chair of that request, which, I am happy to say, was then granted. Christ be praised! I was able to speak briefly in favor of the resolution, suggesting (in the words of the late Dr. Korby) that the true key to the renewal of the Church is the Office of the Keys; that Individual Confession and Absolution is a largely lost and forgotten treasure among Lutherans; and that there is no more powerful means of encouraging forgiveness among Christians than for them to be given the opportunity to examine themselves, to confess their sins, and to receive Holy Absolution in the name and stead of Christ. This is the Gospel at its very heart and center.
I rejoice that such a resolution was adopted, because it will ultimately mean that more people will hear and receive the forgiveness of sins. Convention resolutions add nothing to the Word of God, nor to the clear teaching and confession of the Small Catechism and the Book of Concord. Holy Absolution is what it is, and does what it does, because it is the Word of Christ our Lord, whereby our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. Nevertheless, a synodical resolution that urges greater use of Individual Confession and Absolution will lend it a credibility with those who might otherwise refuse to consider it. And if such people are consequently more inclined to avail themselves of this means of grace, then this entire Convention was worth it. This Fifth Chief Part of the Christian faith and life is more evangelical, and has more to do with the actual Gospel, than any one other thing that we dealt with all week long.
In looking back over the course of this Convention, somewhat surprisingly, I would have to say that it was in many ways a turn in the right direction; or at least the beginning of such a turn. Despite my crankiness on Tuesday, I have to agree with President Kieschnick's assessment, that this Convention demonstrated a consistent collegiality and churchmanship that have not characterized many such occasions in the past. Significantly, where discussion and debate were allowed to take place, I believe that the delegates listened and weighed carefully what they heard, and voted largely on that basis. And after my own consternation about the quick calling of the question earlier in the week, I sensed that the assembly was not of a mind to terminate debate without hearing sufficient arguments from all sides first. I'm rather glad, actually, that it is this group of delegates who will (in all likelihood) be back in 2009 for a special Convention of the Synod; because, frankly, I think this particular group might actually be able to make something positive out of that sort of work. As I've previously indicated, it is my opinion that some sort of restructuring does need to happen, for the sake of good stewardship of the Church's resources. My concerns have been (and remain) with the approach that will be taken to that work. But I am not going to despair over it. I'm going to pray for wisdom and clarity and the chance to work with brothers in Christ who will give me a hearing and also help me to think through things more comprehensively and carefully than I would on my own. Call me naive, but that is my hope and prayer.
One other very important and positive thing that happened today was the adoption of Resolution 8-05A, "To Encourage the Study of CTCR Documents Relating to Public Rebuke of Public Sin and to Amend Synodical Bylaws Relating to Matthew 18." I'm not much enamored with the title of this resolution, but the bottom line is that we corrected a grave error that was made at the previous Convention. One of my dear colleagues, an impressive young pastor from Illinois, summarized the situation well: As of 2004, the LCMS said something the Bible does not say, and now, with this resolution, it doesn't say that anymore. That is a very good thing. The dissent process, which various pastors and congregations followed, along with overtures that were submitted from a number of districts, actually accomplished what was most necessary. The dispute resolution process adopted in 2004 still stands, with most of its flaws and weaknesses intact, but it no longer suggests that the words of our Lord Jesus in St. Matthew 18 prohibit the public rebuke of public sin. Another resolution (8-06) begins the process of addressing another problematic aspect of the dispute resolution process, namely, the composition of the hearing panels. Let us hope and pray that equity and fairness may be restored, even if it happens slowly and in a more cumbersome manner than we would prefer.
As I take some time to look back over the proceedings and actions of this Convention, I intend to offer a constructive critique, because I believe that is necessary and beneficial, and really part of my responsibility as a delegate. But I also intend to consider and highlight, both for myself and others, the things that were accomplished positively to the glory of Christ and the benefit of His Church on earth. Already on this last day of the Convention, exhausted though I am, and glad to be done with this tiring work, I recognize glimmers of light and signs of hope. Not the least among those positive blessings is the number of faithful young pastors who are able to get up and speak with intelligence, confidence, faithfulness and eloquence. These are men not driven by political ambition or desire, but by a love for the Gospel and for Christ's Church, and by the Word and Spirit of God. They speak to the rest of the Synod, not outside of their vocation as pastors, but precisely from within that vocation, as a continuation of their preaching and teaching and catechizing and pastoral care. God grant that I would be counted among them.
Sermon for Quasimodo Geniti
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