01 August 2007

Floor Committee 1: Missions

As part of my own analysis and assessment of the LCMS Convention, in preparation for my delegate report to the other pastors and congregations of my circuit, I am working my way through the resolutions acted upon, considering the work of each floor committee in turn.

Here then are the resolutions stemming from Floor Committee 1: Missions. By and large, they were adopted by high majorities, with affirmative percentages in the high-80s and mid-90s.

1-01A To Support Revitalization of LCMS Congregations (929 pro, 199 against; 82.4%). On the surface, this resolutions appears to be positive and encouraging. It is questionable, however, that "a revitalized congregation" is defined as one that is "regularly and consistently making new disciples and renewing their members in order that they make new disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit." Surely this language can be interpreted and understood in a salutary way, but it would have been preferrable to speak of faithful catechesis in the Word of God, leading to and from Holy Baptism, rather than using ambiguous language that leans toward the counting of heads. A truly vital congregation is one that is faithfully hearing and receiving, proclaiming and confessing the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, and living in the means of grace. Whether or not the congregation is growing numerically is no true measure of its spiritual vitality. If that sort of growth is in view when the resolution speaks of "making disciples," that is misleading.

1-02 To Encourage Mission Planting Partnerships. No action taken.

1-03 To Prepare New Study and Increase Emphasis on Priesthood of All Believers (714 pro; 151 against; 82.5%). The royal priesthood of the baptized, in Christ, has an important place in our confession and practice of the Word of God. I only wish it wasn't so often subjected to such mischief, and that it wasn't treated as though it were the hallmark article of Lutheranism. I'm not a big fan of the way the Brief Statement deals with this particular matter, and I'm all the more sorry that it was quoted out of context in the "whereas" clauses of this resolution. I would far rather address the topic on the basis of the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions (especially the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope). I've always considered it to be a leap of logic, ill-supported (and ultimately false), to argue from the priesthood of all to the notion that each and every individual Christian possesses the authority "to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments," yet that was the impression given here. I was grateful for friendly amendments to the resolution, one of which incorporated an explicit reference to Luther's teaching on vocation, and another which clarified that the proposed new study would not be implemented or used without approval by the Synod in Convention.

1-04 To Encourage an Intentional Mission Development Focus (708 pro; 115 against; 86%). It makes sense that Christians should be encouraged to be more intentional about conveying the Gospel to their neighbors. I'm not sure, though, what is meant or intended by "equipping God's people for mission." This sounds like more of the old, misguided "everyone a minister" language that tends to obfuscate the particular stations in life to which God has in fact called His people. I don't intend to be cynical, but it seems to me that new church planting properly happens when a congregation causes the Word to be preached and the Sacraments to be administered in a place where the Gospel has not previously had free course. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the Church on earth, where and when it pleases Him, by the means of the Gospel. We ought to be cautious, therefore, about the quest for "new and effective resources," lest such things be sought as methodistic substitutes or addendums to the divinely-given means of grace.

1-05S To Make Outreach A Top Priority in Worker Training (706 pro; 419 against; 67%). This resolution occasioned one of the most interesting discussions of the Convention, I thought. The original form of it called for outreach to be made the top priority in the training of church workers by the colleges and seminaries. Various concerns were raised about what this would mean, practically speaking, for the curriculum and degree programs of our synodical schools, which have a great track record in the preparation of workers for particular vocations in the Church. It began to seem as though outreach were being championed in competition with the teaching of doctrine and the development of necessary skills for the diversity of occupations and stations in life to which our college and seminary graduates are called. In response, one delegate articulated very nicely that Christians confess the Gospel, not apart from, nor in competition with their vocations, but precisely within them. Another delegate eloquently expressed the great harmony and continuity that exist between doctrine and evangelism, a point that was apparently misunderstood by the chair of the floor committee, who proceeded to accuse the delegate of trying to drive a wedge between the two. A friendly amendment was offered, suggesting that, instead of "the" top priority, the resolution might call for outreach to be "a" top priority in the training of church workers. That seemed eminently reasonable and helpful to me, but the floor committee deemed it, not only unfriendly, but as a substitute resolution; that is to say, as amounting to an entirely different resolution. That estimation really raised red flags for me, as far as the intentions of the floor committee were concerned. Surely the chair and other members of that committee would not really wish to argue that purity of doctrine and unity of confession in word and deed ought to be counted as lesser priorities than outreach. Or maybe that does get to the crux of the divisions within the LCMS. Yet, really, in all seriousness, with what do we reach out if not the Gospel in its truth and purity? It is sad that these things, which are so very much of one piece with each other, should be pitted against each other. I am forever grateful for the marvelous example of Wilhelm Loehe, the nineteenth century Lutheran pastor who so clearly understood that purity of doctrine, faithfulness in practice, and genuine zeal for missions all go hand in hand. And he not only said it; he did it. Well, the long and short of it was that the friendly amendment was in fact accepted by the delegates as a viable substitute motion, which was then adopted by a majority of 67%.

1-06 To Commend Our Chaplains (1102 pro; 13 against). Mom and apple pie.

1-07 To Give Thanks and Commend the Lutheran Women's Missionary League for 65 Years of Service (1070 pro; 27 against). Mom and apple pie.

1-08 To Commend Lutheran Hour Ministries for Its Faithful Mission Focus (735 pro; 95 against; 88.6%). This would have been another mom-and-apple-pie resolution, if not for the unresolved elephant in the room. The issue was not even mentioned, probably because this resolution was introduced in the waning minutes of the Convention, but the treatment of long-time Lutheran Hour speaker, Rev. Wallace Schulz, has never been properly resolved. Until that is dealt with appropriately, in the same public manner that it took place, it will remain difficult for many people to wholeheartedly endorse the continued work of the Lutheran Hour.

1-09 To Report Detailed Accounting of Fan into Flame Funds (1095 pro; 62 against; 95%). This is a good thing, and the report ought to be studied and considered carefully when it is released. Not in suspicion of any impropriety or wrongdoing, but for the sake of integrity, accountability, and exercising real partnership in the collective work of the Synod. The trail of where and how money is spent is perhaps the most telling indication of priorities, and therefore ought to be assessed regularly. The desire to be transparent in this regard is commendable.

1-10 To Encourage Creative Partnerships Between Districts and Congregations and the LCMS Sister and Partner Churches (768 pro; 57 against; 93.1%). The gist of this resolution is that we ought to be serving and supporting our sister and partner churches around the world. That is most certainly true. The LCMS actually has a more significant responsibility in this regard than many of our pastors and congregations probably realize. We rightly offer the assistance of manpower, money, and other material resources. However, the most important encouragement we can provide is a consistently faithful teaching, confession and practice of the Word of God. The resolution specifically urges that congregations and districts of the Synod be involved in the assistance of sister and partner churches. Somewhat discouraging was the emphasis placed on doing so "through the Board for Mission Services," only because this point was evidently urged in criticism of other mission efforts on the part of LCMS entities apart from the Board for Mission Services. That struck me as counter-intuitive and rather ironic, given the incessant drumbeat of equipping individuals for mission development.

1-11 To Continue Assessing LCMS Campus Ministry and Its Association with the ELCA (689 pro; 137 against; 83.4%). Notable in this resolution was the inclusion of President Kieschnick's assessment, "that, at many levels, the ELCA continues to demonstrate a vastly different understanding of the authority of Holy Scripture and interpretation of the Lutheran Confessions than does The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod." Notwithstanding that forthright critique, the relationship of LCMS campus ministries with the ELCA will continue to be studied, as it has been for the past six years, without any recommended changes at the present time. It is hard to know by what criteria adjustments might ever be called for, if vastly different attitudes toward Scripture and the Confessions are not already sufficient cause. Mainly, I would have appreciated a further exploration and discussion of the current arrangements, rather than calling for yet another three years of assessment.

1-12 To Respectfully Decline Overtures. No action taken. This would have thrown out a request for the theology of Ablaze! to be corrected. But of course, taking no action amounts to the same thing as declining the overture.

1-13 To Commend International Church Partners and Worldwide Mission Effort (1006 pro; 14 against; 98.6%). Mom and apple pie. Thanking God for His blessings in the case of our partner churches, commending those churches for their faithfulness in Christ's mission, and committing the Synod to prayer and support for these churches: "Amen" to all of that.

I remember a comment by one of my seminary missions professors, Dr. William Houser, that he was always tempted to stand up at conventions and speak in opposition to missions resolutions. He argued that it was disingenuous to adopt such resolutions and not follow through with any real action (which he perceived to be the consistent and disappointing pattern of the LCMS). His point is well-taken, I think. Patting ourselves on the back with the adoption of mom-and-apple-pie resolutions is pointless and misleading, if there is no follow-through in practice. The same thing is true with respect to our doctrine, which must be confessed in both word and deed.

The mission of the Church is the Gospel, which is its own reason for being and not some means to another end. It is accomplished among us and throughout the world by the ways and means of the Word, that is, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, by Holy Baptism, by ongoing catechesis in the Law and the Gospel, by the regular and real practice of Confession & Absolution, and by the faithful administration of the Holy Communion. It is by those ways and means of the Gospel that congregations and individual Christians are daily and richly revitalized in the faith and life of Christ, in whom alone the Kingdom of God is at hand.

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