21 July 2007

A Beautiful Disaster

I've heard various friends and colleagues bemoaning the lack of organization on the part of conservatives in preparation for the Convention, and now I'm hearing many suggestions that we need to get organized as soon as possible for the next go-round. I respect the men who are making these comments and suggestions, and I respect their opinion, but I disagree. I believe that we did as well as we did at the Convention, and we did far better than I had anticipated, in large part because there really wasn't much in the way of conservative para-synodical organization. We certainly did as well or better than three years ago, in my view, when there was such a huge amount of time, energy and money invested in organizing. That's how I see it.

Anyway, we already have an organization, a structure and processes, known as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. We belong to that fellowship of pastors and congregations, and it is therein that we ought to be working, contending as needed, but above all confessing and catechizing. By catechizing, I don't mean informing people about the "issues" in the Synod, although I do believe that congregations ought to be kept well informed about such things (because they are the Synod). But the real work of catechizing is that of the Word of God, the speaking of the Law and the Gospel, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is what alone changes hearts and minds, and what ought to govern and guide the entire life of the Church.

The pastors who spoke so eloquently and persuasively from the microphones at the Convention, spoke as they did, theologically, because they spoke from within their office as pastors, in the way they preach and teach and catechize all year long. It was striking, the contrast between the speeches of those men, who are confessional not only in name but in this very such practice of speaking the truth in love, and the "Jesus First" (sic) leaders who by and large said nothing but to call the question, or to get riled up and defensive about such and such. I'm thinking that for many of the delegates to this Convention, "Jesus First" ended up looking rather bad, if not downright silly, with all their politicking, posturing and propaganda. Without a conservative political action group to butt heads against, they were mostly a group of Don Quixotes, waving their sharpened swords at imaginary windmills. They bewail and rail against thost nasty, mean-spirited conservatives, but it was "Jesus First" that was engaged in all the negative behavior. The confessional pastors and lay delegates simply did what confessionals ought to do (what every Christian ought to do): they confessed. They spoke intelligently, politely and respectfully, persisently and carefully. And I really believe that many of the delegates listened and learned and began to be moved by the straightforward truth of the Word of God.

He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. "Jesus First" got a little taste of that on Monday, when the tide turned against their scarlet letter campaign to identify plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Meanwhile, the churchmanship and collegiality that the President of the Synod praised more than once, were mostly demonstrated by confessional pastors who simply behaved in a manner becoming of their office, animated by the Gospel that they preach and administer. Voting results aside (though the fluctuation in the margins of the votes was telling), those speeches made a difference that matters, whereas the "Jesus First" spokesmen came off badly, because they don't appear to have anything of substance to say.

The thing is that the Synod is not the elected officers and full-time executive staff in St. Louis. The Synod is the fellowship of pastors and congregations that make up the membership of the LCMS. This is the argument I made concerning the nominations process last year. We don't need to invent a means of determining who the confessional congregations of the Synod want to nominate; what we need is for those congregations to nominate the men they believe to be the best suited for the office of president (and other offices). That's our process already!

Both at the last Convention and again this time, Sam Nafzger was able to point to the fact that, when the CTCR document on the service of women in the church was put before the Synod for study and response (in 1998), almost no responses were received (it was like only a handful). That's why they were able to bring the thing back and recommend it. We simply gave it up to the "respected leaders" to do our thinking for us, which is more and more what is being put into place as the structure and polity of the Synod. That's what we'll get with a new Constitution and Bylaws, and it's what we deserve, if we don't actually engage the process and participate in it and work within this organization to which we belong, and which belongs to us as members. No matter how hokey it may seem at times, or pointless, it is the polity that we have received under God's providence in our temporal life together.

There were some significantly positive things accomplished at this Convention. I've mentioned some of those highlights previously, and I intend to say more about such things in the future. But for now I want to reiterate that these things were accomplished by and through the organization of the Synod itself. Perhaps the most notable example, again, is the correcting of false teaching on St. Matthew 18. That is tremendous. And how did it happen? In two ways, really: the dissent process, and the submitting of overtures especially from district conventions.

There will be opportunities, stemming from this Convention, for dialogue and discussion on various theological matters, including the doctrine and practice of "worship." Everyone should participate in those discussions to the fullest extent possible, and trust the confession of the Word of God to change hearts and minds. Our own hearts and minds daily need to be changed by the same Word of God, which we need to hear and receive, as well as teach and confess. We do that in our vocation as the children of God, within our respective stations in life, including the place that God has given us within the Missouri Synod. We pastors need to be active in our circuit winkels, and contribute to the life of our districts, and do those things that we are given to do, rather than diverting all our time and energy to creating organizations of our own devising. I'm not saying this as a criticism of various study groups and ministeriums, which I believe to be important and necessary in their own right (though not for political action, but for catechesis and the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren). What I am saying is that we already have a structure and polity within which we can work, and that we ought to be working within it.
Meanwhile, along with doing what each of us is given to do within his (or her) own vocation and stations in life, I'd suggest that everyone read Augstine's City of God, Jaroslav Pelikan's little book on the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Machiavelli's The Prince. I need to read and/or re-read these things, myself, for the sake of better understanding genuine politics in relation to the life of the Church on earth.


Athanasius66 said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rick. You have spoken with great wisdom; I agree whole-heartedly. Christ is the Lord of the Church. May our practice flow consistantly true to our confession of Christ and His word.

Kevin Hahn
Faith Lutheran, Marinette, WI

jerseyboy7 said...

Allow me to leave an opposing view point to what you offer. You have stated that some of the ultra conservative groups have already begun crying that they weren't organized enough. I simply do not believe that is anywhere near being true. The extreme right was organized for over a year. The fact of the matter is they simply do not have the support of the people in the Synod. If I had heard "good ship Missour" one more time I was ready to puke. In fact, I was expecting the hear hear Wohlrabe singing The Good Ship Missouri to the tune of The Good Ship Lollypop. I also do not think that it was Jesus First who came off looking bad but the extreme Conservative groups. Right before the convention one of the groups actually called Kieschnik a tyrant and a liar. The difficult thing about these situations is you really don't know who it is who authors them. However, if it could be shown that ordained ministers in the LCMS were behind these scandalous releases I would support their removal from the clergy roster of Synod. (I also draw attention to the delegate who called one of the committee heads a liar). Given the fact that Wohlrabe never distanced himself from the constant attacks on Kieschnik only showed that he is unqualified to be president of our Synod. Honestly, I really think it is time for some of these individuals to follow the lead of Cascione, and move on.

Paul Gregory Alms said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts, Dr. Stuckwisch. Really close to my own. In fact, I wished I had written them.

Paul Gregory Alms said...

Just found your blog. I will be reading it in the future.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...


In all due respect, the tone you expressed in your post actually proved the point Rev. Stuckwisch expressed in his original post.

Rev. Ryan Fouts

Susan said...

>>various friends and colleagues bemoaning the lack of organization on the part of conservatives in preparation for the Convention<<

As long as there is concerted work and effort put into political solutions (in other words, as long as we trust in such "solutions"), a loving God will assure that those efforts crash and burn.

jerseyboy7 said...

Since I had no "tone" in mind when I wrote my comments I have no idea what you mean. I voiced my opinion regarding the incorrect notion that the extreme right didn't politic prior to the convention and were totally above the board. Since at least 2002 the "confessionals" in synod have been waging war against Kieschnick. I never read where anyone called Wohlrabe a liar. Unfortunately, several individuals on the right did indeed call Kieschnick a liar. And, I really do believe that if they are on the clergy roster of synod they should be removed. If you wish to discuss any of these views I would be more than willing to reply.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I appreciate all of the comments and responses to my thoughts on this. I do intend to say more about it, as I have opportunity in coming days. It is helpful to me to "think out loud" about what took place at the Convention; so for what it's worth, that's what I'll continue to do. Not because I have all the answers, but as part of my responsibility as a delegate and as a pastor of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod.

In the meantime, I will simply say that, whatever organization there may have been among conservatives, I was not aware of anything more than ongoing discussions of the teaching and practice that are the concern of every Christian. I've taken part in such conversations where they have dealt theologically with the doctrine and life of the congregations that make up the Missouri Synod. I'm pleased to have such and similar conversations with any of my LCMS colleagues, or laity, irrespective of anyone's "political leanings." I'm firmly of the opinion that discussing and debating the Word of God, and speaking the Law and the Gospel to one another, is the key to our common confession and fellowship in the faith.

jerseyboy7 said...

Let me say at the beginning that I appreciate the fact that you didn't read any "tone" into what I have written. I do, however, continue to disagree with you that the "conservatives" weren't well organized in their attempts to defeat Kieschnick. Robert Doggett, the president of one of these groups (Lutheran Concerns Association) wrote the following in one of his many letters: "Lutheran Concerns Association is presently hard at work on the 2007 LCMS Convention, along with other confessional organizations and we need contributions." These efforts have been going on at least since the last convention.

On another topic you stated that you were against a hierarchial polity in the LCMS. Why? I believe just the opposite that there should be such a hierarchial structure put into place. I do not believe in the "voter assembly" concept as it now exists in the LCMS. I can't imagine the early apostles and fathers of the church saying "Let's put this topic to the vote of the local congregations."

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Dear Jersey Boy 7,

Thanks for your further comments and questions. I'm on the road at the moment, so don't have time to reply properly for the time being. Your question about a hierarchy is one that I do want to answer, because it is not only an important one, but a topic that many are interested in, and one that is frankly misunderstood. For the moment I'll simply say that there are different kinds of hierarchy, and I'm not opposed in principle to the concept of any hierarchy.

As far as organization of the conservatives is cconcered, I do understand your point. I'm sure there were efforts to this end over the past three years, and, yes, I've been aware of some of those efforts myself. But I was thinking especially of what was (or wasn't) evident at the Convention itself. Sure, there were some behind-the-scenes things going on, and certainly it is true that I and others discussed elections and resolutions and, if you will, "political strategy." But as far as organized propaganda, para-synodical politicking and such, there was relatively very little of this at the Convention. The conservatives that I have heard, before, during and after the Convention, have bemoaned this lack of organization.

I believe there is a place for politics in the life of the Chuch on earth. And I believe that like-minded members of the Church (and of the Synod) should talk to one another about their thoughts and plans, their theology and practice, and, yes, even about synodical Conventions. But "politics," as I understand it, refers to the public use of the established "polity" within the "polis" to which one belongs. Which means, in this case, using the structure and governance of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod as members of the same.

I should also say, very sincerely, that we should not only be talking to like-minded colleagues with whom we already agree, but engaging in fraternal discussion with those of differing opinions. We ought to be discussing and debating, and even arguing, on the basis of Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions, the theology and practice of our faith and life (including polity). If any of us, on any "side," fail to engage in that sort of mutual conversation, then we have neglected the one thing that is most important. As I've said before, it is only the Word of God that changes hearts and minds, and only the Gospel that we can finally be sure of.

Thank you again for your remarks. I will try to reply to your question about hierarchy in the near future.

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...


I apologize if I mis-read your post. Simply be aware that language calling for the removal of individuals from the clergy roster (particularly when those individuals are not present to defend, or repent, of their statements) is certainly *charged* with a particular tone -- as are statements about things making you want to "puke." Such rhetoric only furthers division, and does little to promote Christian charity.


jerseyboy7 said...

Ryan, apology accepted. My "puke" reference was not to be taken literally. It was my way of saying I was annoyed with the constant reference to "The Good Ship Missouri." The LCMS is not part of the US Navy. As for my feelings that certain individuals should be removed from the clergy roster I don't think you have a valid point given the fact that we don't know (or at least I don't) who authored those documents. But I am curious as to whether or not you were so quick to jump on those who called DP Benke a heretic?

Rev. Ryan Fouts said...


When the controversy surrounding Dave Benke erupted, I was still a seminarian. It was not my place to voice any opinions regarding any individuals or perspectives regarding the particular case of discipline that had been the matter of the time. Neither is it appropriate to resurrect old issues at this time in this forum. That said -- I think folks on both sides of that issue were at times guilty of not following the 8th Commandment's exhortation of putting the "best construction" on things, and at times the best wisdom was not followed -- i.e. selling T-Shirts and other things on-line supporting what had truly become a divisive cause among us. There were many sins committed on both sides at the time that have never truly been addressed in a Christian manner. It is encouraging, though, that as time has passed we are able to speak to these issues in a more cordial way.

In the Missouri Synod we tend to think every instance of confessing our faith calls for a Luther-at-the-Diet-of-Worms sort of "Here I Stand" confession. In reality, Melanchthon's irenic approach at Augsburg (which was really rather charitable to the opposition) is more frequently where we ought to take our lead when confessing our faith today. Certainty and decisiveness of verbage, and charity of approach, are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

While there is certainly "politicking" going on among the "right" in the LC-MS, there really isn't any single, unified, effort among us as there is for the "left" with Jesus First. A very few of us pay heed to Christian News (the ones pushing the "right ship" talk), and there are likely more of us on the "right" are opposed to the tactics of Christian News than there are those who defend them. Thus, it seemed to me, that at this convention it was less a battle between "political organizations" as it had been three years prior, and more a question of how we, as confessing Christians, are going to walk together in the days and years ahead. There will always be the loud-mouthed individuals who, unfortunately, reflect poorly on the whole by speaking many words with little wisdom.

The thing about coming through times of controversy, however, is that it tends to force us to "grow up." It took some 30 years of controversy before the Lutherans were able to really come together and resolve the controversies that had enveloped them after Luther's death by way of the Formula of Concord. These things tend to take time -- but I think we're starting to see some positive developments toward resolving our issues in a Christian manner. Hopefully, some of these positives will continue.


jerseyboy7 said...

Ryan, I certainly can agree with what you write even though I might have some minor disagreements. For example, the mentioning of the Benke case, since it really hasn't been put to rest by the right. Since they have continued to discuss it I certainly feel it is well within my right to discuss it as well. Also, I would disagree with you concerning the power of Jesus First in the synod. But otherwise, I think your reply was well written and quite accurate on many points. Thanks.