President Kieschnick was easily re-elected for a third term on the first ballot. Others will analyze the number of votes and be able to comment on that from a thousand different angles, but the bottom line is that the incumbent President received several dozen more votes than the needed majority, and 130 more votes than the Reverend Chaplain Dr. John C. Wohlrabe, Jr. It was not the outcome that I was hoping for, but so be it. I have disagreed with President Kieschnick on numerous points in the past, and will no doubt continue to do so. Nevertheless, I will honor the office to which he has been elected, and I will pray for him in that office, that the Lord would continue to govern and protect His holy Church also through this man. I don't much like it, really, from my limited human perspective, but I don't know what else to do. I'm sorry that I don't have the clarity and conviction that many of my colleagues seem to have about this.
Actually, I've been thinking that we really shouldn't be voting on this office of synodical president anyway, at least not every triennium. Voting to elect someone to the office is fine, I suppose, but having a new election every three years does not seem right to me. If we are going to treat the office as a Divine Call, in which an ordained pastor serves full-time, then a periodic new election to the office strikes me as an abuse of the Call. Perhaps, if there wasn't this regular standing for election, the President of the Synod would more easily conduct his office in the conscientious fear of the Lord. I'm not offering that as an accusation, but as an observation.
In President Kieschnick's acceptance speech, following his re-election, he appeared to speak from the heart concerning his faith and his vocations, his family and life. I am not inclined to judge anyone's motivations or intentions, and I frankly have no reason to doubt or question the sincerity of the President's words. Most of what he had to say, I appreciated and would readily agree with. I heard him express, not only his faith and confidence in Christ, but also a humble recognition of his own sin, and a desire for our prayers on his behalf, our forgiveness where he has failed, and our patience with him as a fellow Christian man of frail flesh and blood. These are good words, and right words, and I daresay a more forthright confession of the faith than I have heard, by and large, in the proceedings of the Convention overall. I trust the Lord to work through His means of grace, His Word and Spirit, unto continued repentance and faith in the President's heart and life. That is indeed my prayer, not only for him, but for myself and others, my family and friends and congregation. It is still the case that we dare not trust in princes, who are but mortal; earthborn they are, and soon decay. Our trust is in the Name of the Lord.
Prior to the election, President Kieschnick, in the final portion of his report to the Synod, identified a number of challenges and controversies within the LCMS. He urged that our doctrinal solidarity is far greater than our differences; which, in comparison to much of "Christendom," is probably quite true. Christ be praised for that. I'm not clear on whether the President would regard our differences as matters of doctrine or practice, and I'm not at all sure it is so simple to distinguish between such things in the cut and thrust of life. Our doctrine must be practiced, if it is any true doctrine at all; and our practice not only confesses our doctrine, but assuredly catechizes us (rightly or wrongly) and thereby serves to shape our doctrine over time. The President identified four key areas or points of disagreement, however he might categorize them. They are (a.) the practice of "close (sic) Communion," (b.) the big questions of Church and Ministry, including the relationship of the pastoral office to the "priesthood of all believers," (c.) the service of women in the Church, and (d.) "traditional" vs. "contemporary" worship. I agree with him that these are significant areas of controversy. In my opinion, they all touch upon the heart and center of both doctrine and practice, of both faith and life, namely, the work of Christ.
President Kieschnick took a firm stand on the whole question and debate of dispute resolution. The process established by the Synod is to be the exclusive and final protocol for dealing with such matters. That is problematic for a host of reasons, and I continue to pray that the process now in place (as adopted by Res. 8-01a of the 2004 Convention) can be dealt with in a godly way. I'm not holding my breath, but I wait upon the Lord, and I implore His mercy upon us. I regret that the President seems to pose a choice between the Synod's dispute resolution process and civil lawsuits. Is there no middle ground? This whole thing has become so politicized, and so convoluted, I am tempted to despair of any substantive discussion and debate.
A similar dilemma emerged in the President's remarks on inter-Christian relations. He offered what I regard as a false dichotomy between those who would have no contact whatsoever with heterodox bodies, and those who would engage in selective associations with such bodies. This presents an extreme position on one side, over against a moderate stance on the other. I guess that is not such a new rhetorical approach, but it is not helpful or constructive.
What struck me in particular, in the President's report, was a comment that we must change what needs to be changed, and retain what needs to be retained. In hearing him say that, I could not help but think of the opening remarks of Dolores Umbridge at the beginning of the new schoolyear at Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Having just seen the movie based upon that book, I'm almost certain that she made exactly the same comment. It did not bode well for the students of Hogwarts in the ensuing months, and I shuddered a bit when I heard such words coming from the mouth of our synodical president, now newly re-elected for another term of office. So I shall pray for the President of our Synod, and for the pastors and congregations that constitute our Synod, that the Lord would bode us well. Above all, I pray that He would call me daily to repentance, and keep me steadfast in His Word and faith until I die. For such is His good and gracious will, fulfilled in Christ Jesus for us all.
Edward T. Oakes, S.J.: An Appreciation
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