It's lunchtime on the first day of the Convention, so I have a brief opportunity to comment on what has happened so far. In pre-Convention activities yesterday, I did make my effort to address Res. 8-01A of the previous LCMS Convention (2004). My own Emmaus congregation, our South Bend Circuit, and our Indiana District, as well as other Districts and various entities of the Synod, memorialized this Convention to rescind that resolution and its consequent by-law changes. The floor committees had open hearings yesterday morning, and I spoke to the one responsible for the structure and governance of the Synod. That committee has put forward two resolutions that address a few of the concerns involved in 2004 Res. 8-01A, but it has for all intents and purposes ignored the overtures from my constituencies and numerous others.
Not surprisingly, my comments and appeals made no difference, and nothing new has come to us from Floor Committee 8. It is rather intent on proposing a special Convention of the Synod in 2009 (a year prior to the next regular Convention), for the purpose of putting forward a complete restructuring of our synodical polity and governance. I would suggest that the current LCMS by-laws and so forth do need to be addressed, especially in view of the changes that were made in 2004! But I am very leery of what might be proposed at a special Convention. I fear that it will be an attempt to adopt an even more pronounced hierarchical structure, not of the ecclesiastical sort, but of a bureaucratic nature. I have no desire to become cynical and pessimistic, and I pray that my fears will be allayed, but we shall have to see what transpires. It is surprising that such an expensive undertaking as a special Convention would be seriously considered, but it appears to be a basket into which a lot of eggs are being deposited.
The opening "worship" service was held last night, whereas this morning's (Sunday) session opened with a modified version of the new LSB Service of Prayer and Preaching. I am pleased that the opening service, yesterday, also followed an order of service from the LSB, namely, Divine Service Setting Four. I would have preferred Setting Three, or even Setting One or Two, but at least an officially agreed-upon order of service was used. The Propers appointed for this day (from Seriec C of the three-year lectionary) were read and prayed last night. The sermon, however, by the President of the Synod, took as its launching point a free-text, i.e., 1 John 4:9-11. The preaching loosely followed a basic Law-Gospel structure, for the most part, though the Law was not very pointed and the Gospel not very specific. The text was not really exposited, but provided some of the key themes and phrases that were woven throughout the sermon. There were cute and humorous anecdotal remarks to begin with, and three or four emotional stories of personal witness opportunities that the President has recently had. It is difficult for this sort of preaching to do the work of putting the sinner to death with the Law and raising him to life with the Gospel. I will say that the atonement of the Cross was articulated clearly midway through the sermon, and there is little doubt of President Kieschnick's personal faith in that saving death of our Lord Jesus Christ. There were also references to the means of grace as the channels of the Gospel, by which Christ delivers the goods to us in the here and now. Unfortunately, these few nuggets of clarity were not the crescendo of the sermon, but a bridge to more stories and to a drumbeat of personal responsibility that all of us have to speak the Gospel to others.
I know that I ought to speak the Gospel to others more faithfully and frequently than I manage to do. Thus, when I am admonished to do so, I am accused and convicted and brought to contrition. This is the work of the Law, and there is a necessary place for it in the preaching of the Word of God. But please don't leave me in my sin! Don't simply admonish me to try harder and do better. I cannot save myself, and if I thought I could manage it, and tried, it would be a poor Gospel indeed that I would endeavor to share with others.
This seems to be the trend, already, and the tone that is set for this Convention. The Ten Commandments, as the summary of God's Law, are little to be heard; everything is subsumed under the so-called "Great Commission." This all-encompassing Law is set forth, not unto repentance and faith in the Gospel, but as an effort to motivate and drive everyone to get off their butts and do something. The resolutions we are being given to consider are largely of this legalistic, Law-driven sort. Apparently, we're supposed to fix everything by forcing everyone to be nice, and above all to evangelize. Why can we not simply focus on Jesus and the preaching of His Gospel, and allow those dear children of His who are freely and fully forgiven by Him to live by faith in that saving Word and work of His, which will, by His grace and Spirit, animate their lives of love? Or is this too simplistic or naive?
I was especially discouraged by the hymnody that we were given to sing last night. All but one of the hymns, really, were of the "sanctification" and "new obedience" variety. There is a place for such hymns, but they have to be used sparingly, with discretion, and not allowed to predominate. It reminds me of Luther's evaluation of the historic Epistles for the Sundays after Holy Trinity, which tend to focus especially on good works and to avoid the great texts of faith in the Gospel. The selection of hymns last night (and this morning) was even more slanted toward the Law than those historic pericopes, and the overall effect was demoralizing. I told one colleague on our long walk back to the hotel, that it always sounds to me like the debaucherous teenage boy in the back seat with his date: "If you really loved me, you'd. . . ." So it goes: "If you really loved Jesus, then you'd be doing more to show it." This isn't the Gospel, and it doesn't strengthen my faith or increase my love.
With the glut of such hymnody, maybe it was appropriate that the Divine Service last night was identified as the opening "worship." There is a place for worship, that is, our sacrifice of thanksgiving for the gifts of God in Christ, which we offer in repentant faith in and with the receiving of His gifts. But why must we always have man's worship emphasized, as though it were the heart and center of things, instead of God's Liturgy, which truly is the foundation for anything and everything we might do? I suppose that is a losing battle, but I grow so weary of it.
The best thing about the Convention, by far, has been the opportunity to meet and visit with old friends and colleagues, many of whom I rarely ever see. The conversation and consulation of the brethren remains one of God's most precious gifts and treasured blessings in my life. I am grateful to hear and receive the Word of the Gospel from these men, even when it seems to be so lacking in much of what we are doing in the business for which we are supposed to be here.
Now I must return to that business and give attention to my delegate responsibilities. The next thing on the docket will be the election of the synodical president. The good and gracious will of God be done, for Jesus' sake. May He ever bless and keep us by His Cross.