17 July 2007

Observations on the Second Day of the Convention

Well, today was a rather interesting day, especially with respect to the mood of the Convention. Maybe everyone had a peaceful sleep last night and so began the new day in good spirits, or something. I know that, for my part, the chance to share supper and conversation with my dear friend and colleague, Pastor Bender, was a balm to my heavy heart and a huge boost to my sagging spirit. In any event, there was relatively little rancor today, and more of what might be called good-will and gentlemanly courtesy. Along those same lines, I will say that the overall tenner of this Convention seems less contentious to me than what I experienced in St. Louis three years ago. Would it be fair to suggest that the minority are genuinely evangelical and the majority can relax and afford to be nice?

I’ve been surprised by the number of voting delegates from three years ago who are here as voting delegates again at this Convention. Obviously, I am one of those, but I’m certainly not alone. I don’t have any sort of statistic on that, so maybe it is simply a matter of my own perception. Nevertheless, there seem to be far more of the same pastoral delegates than I had expected. I don’t know what to make of that, but it is simply an observation.

A somewhat similar observation is the number of people who have made multiple trips to speak at the microphones. That has seemed unusual to me. I’m not casting aspersions, one way or the other; many of those who have spoken repeatedly are dear friends and colleagues of mine, and, hey, I’m glad they’re up there speaking faithfully and forthrightly. I’ve not gotten up to speak yet, myself, although I did come close on several occasions today. There are things coming up that I am more interested in, and I have not wanted to "wear out my welcome" at the microphones. The fact that others have been speaking frequently has given me pause for thought, as to whether it matters how often one addresses the Convention. Well, I mainly pray that when I do have something to say, I will have the presence of mind, the courage and the wherewithal, to speak calmly, candidly, clearly and with charity of heart.

There were two unfortunate resolutions passed today, in my opinion. One of them (5-04) increased the number of regents on each of the Concordia University boards by allowing up to four additional voting lay members (for as many as eight altogether) appointed by the respective board itself. This in comparison to the four voting members (one ordained, one commissioned, and two lay) elected by the Synod in Convention, and another four (of the same status) elected by the geographical district in which the university is located. The president of the district in which the university is located is also a voting member of its board, by virtue of his office. Because of difficulties with the electronic voting boxes at the point when this resolution was called, it was adopted by a standing vote. Many of us who voted against the resolution asked to have our negative votes recorded by name in the official minutes of the Convention. A corresponding resolution pertaining to the two seminaries will come before us at some point in the next day or two, and it seems likely that it will also be adopted.

Another resolution (8-01) was adopted, ostensibly settling the conflict of the past many years between the Synod’s Board of Directors and its Commission on Constitutional Matters. As one member of the Board commented in the course of debate, the bylaw amendments introduced by this resolution are basically a compromise position, which deals with the problem for now, but fails to address the heart of the controversy. The gist of it is that, in those cases where the governing documents of the Synod are (or appear to be) in conflict with the laws of the state, "such issues shall be resolved in accord with the provisions in the Constitution and Bylaws of the Synod." No doubt the intentions are good, but the appearance is hereby given that Synod may choose to defy the civil law, not on the basis of the Word of God (for indeed we must obey God rather than man), but in adiaphora (i.e. matters that are neither commanded nor forbidden by the Word of God), on the basis of synodical polity. I agree with others that we really ought not to be in such a position, in which we presume to interpret the law of the land. Better simply to submit to the governing authorities, as Scripture does command us, to obey the law, excepting only those cases in which the government would require us to disobey the Lord our God.

Another resolution that has caused much concern, "To Establish Specific Ministry Pastor Program" (5-01A), was introduced today, but has not yet been voted on. There are lots of mixed feelings about this among my own circle of friends and like-minded colleagues. It proposes to establish a program for the training of pastors, under the auspice of the seminaries, by way of mentors, distance education, and a significantly reduced number of courses. The men so trained in this program would be ordained to the Office of the Ministry, but restricted in their area of service to a particular location or circumstance. The goal is to undo the mischief introduced almost twenty years ago with the licensing of non-ordained "deacons" for preaching and the administration of the Sacraments, in contradiction of the Augsburg Confession. This proposal aims to regularize the training of such men, for actual certification, call and ordination to the pastoral office, even though differences in education would require the restriction of their "jurisdiction," to use the historic language mentioned by Dr. Larry Rast in his introductory remarks. I have been leery of this resolution, along with many others, but I do see the potential benefit in adopting it. I believe it could have a very good and salutary result, notwithstanding the risk of abuse that also goes along with it. In particular, though, I would very much like to have some assurance that the many "lay-ministry" training programs currently operated on the district level would be phased out or subsumed under the specific ministry pastor program (and thus under the seminaries). We’ll see.

Other than these several matters, the day was straightforward, conciliatory and downright peaceful. During floor nominations for the Board of Directors yesterday, a motion was made and adopted to identify whether any potential nominee had been a plaintiff in the lawsuit of this past triennium. This "scarlet letter" became increasingly irksome and flew in the face of all the talk about fraternal love, reconciliation, forgiveness, and a desire for peace and unity. The different spirit that seemed to prevail today was most obvious when one of those delegates who had voted in favor of identifying the plaintiffs rose to move the reconsideration of that motion. It was put to the vote again and defeated this time, an action that was met by a round of applause from the assembly. That was an exemplary moment.

Along with the removal of the lawsuit "scarlet letter," there was also a dramatic shift in the attitude of the Convention toward floor nominations in general. I don’t believe that any such nominations were accepted yesterday. Today, in striking contrast, there were only two floor nominations that were not accepted, out of dozens that were made over the course of an hour. The slate of candidates on the "big ballot" tomorrow should be impressively huge after that!

There were standing ovations given for the two resolutions brought forward by Floor Committee 6, dealing with World Relief and Human Care. Both were adopted with impressively high majorities. One issues a strong word of opposition to embryonic stem cell research. The other extends thanks to God, and to the many entities and individuals of the LCMS, for the relief that has been given in the wake of several devastating natural disasters in the past few years. I suspect that the spirit in which these particular resolutions were set forth, received and embraced, contributed tremendously to the softening of the tone of the Convention on this second day. It does appear to be the case that our Synod enjoys its greatest unanimity in the area of human care. Let us praise God for that, and for all that goes with it, even as we continue to strive for greater unanimity in the doctrine and practice of the faith.

Oh, yes, speaking of such unity and concord in doctrine and practice, it should also be noted that the LCMS entered into pulpit and altar fellowship with the Association of American Lutheran Churches. This relatively small church body is constituted by former ALC congregations that declined to become a part of the ELCA when it was formed in the 1980s. Although there are some questions and concerns regarding the actual practice of some of these AALC congregations, their public confession appears to be quite solid and sound. The speech that was made by the Presiding Pastor of the AALC, following the adoption of church fellowship, was one of profound gratitude, both impassioned and encouraging. The AALC has already been sending its seminary students to Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, for some time now, and seems eager to benefit from our theological assistance and support.

I’m probably omitting matters of importance, but that is all the comes to mind this evening. In any event, I need to make a point of wrapping this up and putting myself to bed for a good night’s sleep. God grant that He will be merciful upon us, for Jesus’ sake, and guide the deliberations and actions of the Convention by His Word and Holy Spirit. Glory be to the Father and to the and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

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