Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hard discussions, not elections

So, yesterday, Rev. Matthew Harrison was elected to be the New President of the LCMS. So, what does this mean?

It doesn't mean a new golden age for those who are more conservative in their outlook.

It doesn't mean that the armies of Synod will march and drive out before them those whose positions are loose.

It doesn't mean all the strange things I didn't like last month will disappear.

If these are our hopes - our hopes are foolish and will fail. The election of Rev. Harrison means one thing - that now we can have the hard discussions, that now we can look the problems we have in the face because that, more than anything else, is something I think Harrison will lead us towards.

President Keischnick loved to talk about how united we are - how we are One Synod, One People - we are UNITED. . . but only with a few small differences. Compared to the rest of the world, I suppose - we aren't as fractured as the ELCA or the Episcopalians. However, those differences that are here in the Missouri Synod are real and they are important.

President-elect Harrison acknowledged these differences and the pain they caused with his first words from the podium yesterday - he acknowledged that for many his election brought pain and suffering and dissappointment. In other words, he acknowledged that we aren't unified - but rather that there are divisions among us that we can't just sweep under the rug - that a 52%-48% vote, or even Harrison's 54%-45% election won't fix.

We are going to have to talk - and this is something Missouri hasn't done in a while. We have fallen into this horrible pattern - this egoism of congregationalism run amuck where we think like this:
A - I am in the LCMS.
B - My Congregation does X
C - Therefore, to be LCMS means one does X

No, it doesn't - it means you do X - whatever that X is. And there are a lot of variables. We have many things that we are going to have to talk about.

1. Worship and its Style - there is a drastic divide among us as to what worship is, how it should be done, what its goal is. Liturgical (high or low), or blended, or contemporary (and of what sort)? Is uniformity to be craved, and if so to what extent? Is worship primarily care of the congregation or outreach to the lost? How does culture shape worship and to what extent should it?

2. The Office of the Ministry - What are the duties and rights of a pastor? How should these pastors be trained? To what extent should there be lay ministry(or perhaps "localized" or "location specific" ministry would be a better term, because once you are designated for Word and Sacrament, you are by definition no longer lay)? What needs to remain limited to men? What needs to be limited exclusively to pastors?

3. Role of Synod and Districts - we've opened up a restructuring can of worms - the restructuring of this convention will have ripple effects, and additional changes will need to be made in districts and the like in response. Should all districts be like Oklahoma - merely part-time volunteer (now under a regional VP)? Should we enlarge the districts? Should our districts be restructured to mirror the Synodical structure, as the districts are simply an extension of Synod? How much distinctiveness will districts maintain?

4. Outreach and Missions - what is our outreach and mission focus going to be? What is outreach? Will we continue in Law-heavy outreach plans, or will there be something else? How will Ablaze continue? Will we start training more foreign pastors at our Seminaries?

There are many more questions -- but the thing is, now is the time to talk about them - to hash them out - in our circuits, in our districts, to come to a proper understanding of who we actually are - to see where those differences lie - and then to hash them out on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions.

And this may lead to the most uncomfortable question of them all. Are we really two different Synods. . . or even three? Is it time for Lot and Abraham to go their separate ways, departing in peace from each other?

I don't know - but now I think we will be encouraged to have these talks - that our theological conferences won't be "model" - they will be messy and rough and difficult. But now I think we'll be able to talk a bit more directly.

In doing so - remain charitable, remain kind - argue your position well, and if you cannot defeat your opponent, maybe you need to reconsider your own. And study the Scriptures - read Luther's Scripture commentaries - study the Confessions.

Our circuit here has a monthly confessions study - I call on all of you to get one started in your own - especially with the guys you "don't like". Man up - get together, look at the AC and then ask yourselves what this means. And let's go from there.

Lord have Mercy upon us.


Elephantschild said...

Beautifully said. Thank you.

Rev. Josh Sullivan said...

Thank you! You've put to words what I have been thinking since the election results.

I think we need to be clear that we want resolution to these different theologies within the Synod, NOT a synthetic 'reconciliation.'

luketimm said...

I'm going to go a step further - the election of Harrison doesn't mean anything. I didn't mean anything with Pres. K was elected. It wouldn't have meant anything if he were re-elected. Here is a hard truth - synod no longer means anything. And the leader of that which means nothing is pretty irrelevant. Kieshnick being the president didn't really MEAN anything for the confessional crowd. It didn't change the way they did ministry, preach, teach, reach out, blah, blah, blah. Synod is a beautiful flower that over time cut herself from stem and roots. This happened long before GBK - so I'm not saying it's one party or the other. BUT, does synod train pastors?? No, sem does. Does Synod tell the sem what to teach?? No...Does Synod manage my benefits? No....Does synod manage the finances of church? No, that's LCEF. Someone please remind me, what does synod do??? They don't really do outreach, for that is the role of the church. Church's proclaim Word and Sacrament, church's administer. So because 1. we're fractured and 2. Synod has no real authority to actually ACT on something and 3. we distrust each other so much and 4. congregations and the entities serving them (i.e. LCEF, sems, etc) and 5. digital networking is so easy and powerful vs the analog of resolutions and conventions (btw, I think that all synod really ever was was an analog social network on steriods) - because of all that - the beautiful flower of synod is going to wilt and die. Because she is not needed by the left, right or center any more. We hold on to her and restructure because we are simply afraid of life without her.

My only real fear is that there may be an underlying desire in both 'sides' for homogeneity that in truth is simple sectarianism in worst sense of the word. I feel that way about some - that they really just want church's like mine and people like me to either adopt their practice or get out because they don't want to be associated with me - or rather - they don't want people to think that they and I (my church) are the similar. That is hurtful. I don't feel that from Eric or from all my confessional friends - but some for sure.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

@Luke - It may very well be that how we do Church is different - and if it is, it is. Shouldn't be a thing of rancor.

I think in some ways the LCMS is too inbred. On my dad's side, all the folks are ELCA - that can get interesting on occasion. On my mom's side, well, my cousin is a southern baptist minister, and others are Methodists and one's converting to Judaism. . . some odd stuff.

We believe differently - we worship differently - so for some things, we go our separate way. Doesn't mean we don't love each other - my gay cousin (maybe his religion would be "Tori Amos Groupie"?) and I love each other dearly - but we don't pretend we approve of everything the other believes.

The problem is that in the LCMS sometimes we want the "family" to pretend they are all the same when that may not be the case any more. And so we stopped talking - we just instaneously move to the opposite sides of the room and talk in hushed whispers. Come - let's talk about who we are, what we believe, what we do, what we think we should do - and see what happens.