02 August 2007

Floor Committee 2: District and Congregational Services

All in all, I was really most pleased with the resolutions stemming from Floor Committee 2: District and Congregational Services. Not that I was in favor of everything that was here adopted, but it seems to me that many of these resolutions show signs of theological growth.

2-01 To Foster Greater Understanding of Worship through Theological Conferences (838 pro; 260 against; 76.3%). It's easy to by cynical about "theological conferences," which have often not provided for the vigorous debate and constructive argument that ought to occur on controverted matters of doctrine and practice. Nevertheless, any time we are given the opportunity to discuss the Word of God, and honestly to engage one another with the Word of God, there is more than a little potential for greater clarity and the strengthening of faith. It is surely no secret that "worship" has been one of the most volatile and divisive topics among us for the past several decades. I keep hoping that, as a Synod, we will actually get down to the business of addressing the heart and substance of the matter. It isn't a battle over styles or aesthetics, though it is true that "style" is connected to and communicative of substance. What we do, along with how we go about doing it, does make a great deal of difference. Otherwise there wouldn't be such dissension. Certainly, in whatever does not matter, love ought to give way to serve the neighbor, and make no more bones about it. Yet, the superficial differences in practice that continue to divide us, and the tensions that remain within the Synod, are indicative of fundamental theological differences with respect to the Office of the Ministry, the means of grace, the definitive centrality of the Holy Communion, the significance of tradition, the catholicity of the Church, the nature of catechesis and its ongoing necessity, the role of music as a handmaiden of the Word, and the function of rites and ceremonies in the life of the Church. The resolution calls for conferences that will "build greater understanding of our theology of worship and foster further discussion of worship practices that are consistent with that theology." I hope and pray that will happen, on the basis of the Word of God in Christ.

2-02A To Provide Guidance and Direction for Use of Diverse/Contemporary Worship Resources (856 pro; 310 against; 73.4%). This resolution still strikes me as schizophrenic, standing as it does alongside the commendation of the Lutheran Service Book, on the one hand, and the call for theological conferences to resolve our differences in the doctrine and practice of worship, on the other hand. Who would deny that "contemporary worship" has been the cause and the subject of most of the controversy in this area for many, many years. Nevertheless, the resolution calls for guidance and direction of that which is already happening, like it or not, without the Synod's approval and support. I hate to see the Synod lend its imprimatur to these trends, but I do believe they need to be addressed constructively and evangelically. On the surface of it, anyway, that is what this resolution proposes: "contemporary worship songs that reflect Lutheran theological and liturgical emphases, including justification by grace through faith in Christ, Holy Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the church year." If these things truly are to be the emphatic substance of the materials envisioned, produced and disseminated, then I believe the evangelical content will lead the people of God to a desire for greater decorum and a more solemn dignity, befitting the presence of Christ in His Gospel-Word and Sacraments. In any case, I find it somewhat encouraging that the Gospel, the means of grace, justification, the liturgy and the church year are specifically the substance that is being sought. Those are the right things to be asking for, and that ought to mean something.

2-03A To Commend Commission on Worship for Lutheran Service Book (1081 pro; 49 against; 95.7%). Much like the LSB itself has been over this past year, this resolution was one of the most positive and unified actions of the Synod in Convention. Every indication seems to be that the LSB has the very real potential to be a rallying point for a renewal of liturgical practice and unity within the Synod as a whole. Of course the book is not perfect, but it is an excellent piece of work, and a whole lot better than we probably had any right to expect. It can be used in ways that leave much to be desired, such as when the weakest and most questionable hymns are consistently chosen and allowed to dominate the life of the Church. What truly characterizes the LSB, however, in its orders of service and the vast majority of its hymns, is the rich heritage of the Church catholic and the evangelical tradition of the Lutheran Reformation. Much of the credit for that goes to the capable and consistent leadership of the Reverend Dr. Paul Grime, who served as the project director for the LSB from the very beginning. His pastoral wisdom and care have been a tremendous blessing to the Church, and the fruits of his labors, along with those of many other faithful servants who worked on the Lutheran Hymnal Project, will continue to benefit the Church for many years to come. The LSB has been extraordinarily well received, and it was warmly applauded by the Convention. Those are very good signs.

2-04A To Create Position of Director for Strategic Development of Hispanic Ministries (875 pro; 112 against; 88.7%). Creating new beaurocratic positions generally does not excite me, but I find myself less pessimistic than usual in this case. At any rate, there is a pressing need for evangelism among the vast number of Hispanics in this country, and I suppose there is a corresponding need for greater synodical leadership of such efforts. Surely, these things can and should be undertaken with integrity and consistency, pastorally administering the means of grace as the only sure and certain way of ministry among any group of people.

2-05 To Support Synod National Youth Gatherings (724 pro; 130 against; 84.8%). I have mixed feelings about the National Youth Gatherings, partly because they are far too large in size, and especially because they seem to be guided and governed by something in addition to the Gospel. Nevertheless, they have the potential to serve a worthwhile purpose, and I don't suppose that they are all bad. I know young people and youth leaders who have benefitted from the experience of one or more National Youth Gatherings. The good news is, there is a whole lot of room for them to get better. There is much that could be learned, for example, from the Higher Things Lutheran Youth Conferences, which have been so salutary and so successful in recent years. Regrettably, this resolution appears to be, in part, a veiled criticism of Higher Things and anything else that isn't "endorsed" by the LCMS. The National LCMS Youth Gathering, the resolution points out, "fully and publicly supports the mission and vision of the LCMS; submits its publications and resources to doctrinal review; submits its worship services and liturgies for review to the LCMS Commission on Worship; and submits its speaker list for review to the LCMS President's Office." Methinks the lady protests too much! It makes me wonder at what point local youth groups will be "encouraged" to submit all of their activities to some administrative office in St. Louis for "official endorsement" before they can proceed. Come on. If the folks responsible for the National Youth Gatherings want to boast about how great they are, let them highlight the ways and means by which they serve and support the Word of God, instead of harping on their LCMS "credentials." Maybe this resolution wasn't aimed at Higher Things, but, if it was, that is a genuine shame. Higher Things has always been a labor of love on the part of LCMS pastors and dedicated laity, who have sought to do nothing else but serve the youth of LCMS congregations with the Word of God in Christ.

2-06 To Promote Relational Vitality in Congregations. No action taken.

2-07A To Encourage Individual Confession and Absolution (690 pro; 31 against; 95.7%). This was the final piece of business enacted by the Convention, and the most evangelical thing that was done all week. I was pleased for the opportunity to speak in favor of this resolution, and was even more gratified to see it adopted by such an overwhelming majority. Twelve years ago, the Synod in Convention encouraged congregations to work toward having the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day. I know that for myself and many others, that synodical encouragement did make a difference in recovering that historic and most edifying practice. In much the same way, this resolution encouraging the teaching, promotion and actual use of Individual Confession and Absolution will support faithful pastors in the catechesis of their members. Most important, I believe that more Christians will examine themselves, confess their sins, and receive Absolution as a consequence of this Convention action. There's nothing more central to the Gospel than that. By contrast, I warrant that most of the problems confronting the Synod and plaguing the Church on earth in our day stem from the fact that Individual Confession and Absolution has not been the normal and regular practice of every Christian. The key to the renewal of the Church is the Office of the Keys.

2-08 To Celebrate Significant Synod Anniversaries (1041 pro; 88 against; 92.2%). This is a great resolution, which calls for the recognition of faithful men who were instrumental in the founding of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod: Wilhelm Loehe, Friedrich Wyneken, and C.F.W. Walther. Remembering those who have gone before us in the faith, and giving thanks to God for the blessing He has bestowed upon His Church through such faithfully departed saints, is both appropriate and edifying. There is so much to learn from the history of the Church, including a more modest sense of ourselves and our own place in the great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded. I was thankful that an attempt to remove Wilhelm Loehe's name from the list of those to be recognized was rebuffed by a series of eloquent speakers, who pointed to the solid contributions and outstanding example of that faithful man of God. Ten or fifteen years ago, I suspect that his name would not have been on the list to begin with, and I doubt that many people would have stood up to defend his good name and reputation. Yet another sign of genuine growth and improvement within our beleaguered Synod, thanks be to God. By the same token, it was pointed out after the fact that Wilhelm Loehe is commemorated on the 2nd of January in the Lutheran Service Book.

2-09 To Initiate Planning for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (627 pro; 85 against; 88.1%). This is all fine and good; it is certainly appropriate and salutary to remember and give thanks for the Reformation. It is a shame that the resolution appears to be more about promoting Ablaze! than commemorating the great evangelical events of the sixteenth century. Of course, we should not attempt to live in the past, and we ought to be continuing the work of the Reformation: the preaching of the Gospel, the teaching and confession of the Word of God, the catechesis of Christian disciples all over the world in all that Jesus commanded, the faithful administration and use of the means of grace. To those very ends, we celebrate the Reformation in much the same way that we commemorate the saints who have gone before us; which is to say, with thanksgiving to God for these gifts to His Church on earth, and for the encouragement of our own faith and life within our vocations. Let us hope and pray, and make every effort to ensure, that the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation (in 2017) will be such an occasion for the Synod, to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbors in the world.

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