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Nobody Is Cheering

Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

view DOC file

Sun, Aug 1, 2010 

The convention of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has come to an end.  In many ways it was a typical convention.  There were over a thousand delegates in attendance.  There were over three hundred special guests and advisory delegates.  One hundred and twenty Resolutions made it through the floor committees, some of them two and three times.  Exactly three resolutions were declined, four resolutions were withdrawn by the committees, and twenty-six resolutions were not acted-upon for a variety of reasons.  Some of them were ignored because that accomplished the same thing as passing them would have.  A few were left untouched because the convention did not change the convention cycle to a four-year cycle in place of the present three-year cycle, and some were accomplished by other resolutions.  One or two were not acted upon because it was clear they would not pass.

Most of the resolutions passed, and a significant number by huge margins.  Since most of our resolutions come from committees and Boards of the Synod seeking authorization to do something they think would be good or useful, and those are often suggested to them by someone higher up in the bureaucracy, one might think that the Synod stands united behind all of these wonderful ideas.  The truth is that most of them were passed in the last two days of the convention, and those facts suggest that the delegates were simply "conventioned-out" and not willing to do the work of thinking and debating that they had been sent there to do.

Actually, those who have observed our conventions over the decades understand that almost everything is usually passed once it makes it to the floor.  Occasionally there is an uprising, and conventions struggle to pass the resolutions, but usually, if it makes it into Today's Business, it is likely to be passed.  The real work of deciding what is going to be done is accomplished by the floor committees, and they are under the strong and direct guidance of the President of Synod.  The convention provides the foundation for the pious fiction that runs the bureaucracy - "The Synod in convention asked us to do this."  I call that a 'fiction' because it is also well known and understood by those who have some history of observing the way things work, that if something is passed that "they" don't want to do, they simply do not do it, and some things are being passed at each convention that they were already doing without legitimate authority, and they brought it to the convention to "regularize it".  When they fail to do those things, that failure can be explained later as due to a lack of time, or falling through the cracks, or being unable to find funding for that worthy program, position, or idea.

The real work is done in the committees, and they decide which overtures will be heard and seen, and which will simply be declined.  This year the convention illustrated that by passing a total re-organization of the Synod by less than a fifty-two percent majority.  That means that the old program boards are gone and will be replaced by some sort of central planning board.  How that will work, and how it will impact our work as a Synod is still to be seen.  On the other hand, some proposed changes were defeated, or simply not enacted, which amounts to the same thing.  No one saw their agenda as completely successful.  Some people wanted more changes, and some wanted fewer, or different changes.  Nobody is cheering everything.

But, typical of our Synod in convention, as we made sweeping and historic changes in our Synod as to how we relate to one another and how we do business, we also elected an entirely new slate of officers, charging them with these dramatic changes, and relieving those who designed and desired these changes of their positions and authority.  Since we do not elect every officer at the same time, the changes in personnel are not absolute or complete, but they are striking and will make a difference for a while.  So, those who were cheering the changes were likely not cheering the election outcomes, and those who might be pleased with the elections were not pleased with much of the business the convention passed.  Nobody is cheering everything, and some are not cheering at all.

My opinion of the changes and of the elections is fairly well-known, especially now that my 'blog' on the convention actions has been reprinted in a national publication without my prior knowledge.  That's okay, too, I guess.  It is another illustration of the principle I teach that one should never say or write anything publicly that they do not want shared with the entire world, or are not willing to have known just as broadly, even if they did not intend for it to be published.  Any word you speak or write belongs in fact, even if not before the law, to anyone else who reads or hears it, because you can never control what they might make of your words, or do with them.  Sometimes, in these days of telephone cameras and the internet, the same rules apply to private speech and behavior!  It serves one well to do and say only what they want known before the world.  Secrets are hard to keep, unless you keep them inside your own head.

As I was saying, my opinions in these matters is fairly well known, so I don't have to grind that ax here.  But no one is happy with everything that we have seen accomplished at this convention.  Some are unhappy simply because they wanted it to go a different way, and others are unhappy because they believe what has happened, and the changes that will occur, are not for the blessing and benefit of our Synod or its Gospel mission.  We must all find our comfort in the knowledge that God is in charge.  What has happened has happened for a reason.  God has something planned for us - each of us individually, and for the Synod as a whole.  It is helpful to keep in mind that the Synod belongs to God and not to us.

That is not to say that what is coming is what we would happily call a blessing.  It might be, and I pray that it is so, but I have been watching the church bodies around us in the world, and God is in charge of them as well, and sometimes what He has done with them is to take His Word from them in response to their unwillingness to stand firm and confess the truth boldly.  There is a strong element of confessional Lutherans in our Synod, but it is only about a third of the Synod.  Another third is what we would call "the other guys" and then we have the group in the middle that actually decides which group gets to run the bureaucracy for the time being, by switching their electoral allegiance back and forth.  That leads me to wonder if we are getting what we need as a Synod, or what we deserve.

Either way, God is actually in charge.  He gives us the circumstances of our lives - and of our churches and of the Synod - and calls on us to be faithful and confess Him and stand firm in the faith.  It is certain that we have lost what has been a great blessing in the order of our Synod.  It is also certain that the Gospel ministry and the mission of the church can go forward and prosper under this new arrangement, by the grace of God.  The men who fill the offices can make a big difference, too.  But electing the "right" man for the office is no guarantee that good things are going to happen.  Good men doing nothing can be worse for the church than evil men conspiring to do damage, as long as good men are standing firm, confessing the faith and doing a deliberate job of catechesis and resisting the evil.

That is not to say that anyone who was running for election had evil intentions or would do evil deliberately.  Some of those who were candidates had different ideas of what the Church ought to be and how it ought to behave than I do, or than most anyone I respect believes the church should be and conduct itself and its work, but I would estimate that there was a difference in faith and perhaps some values, not a difference in the desire to see good things happen.  I suspect that they define "good things" somewhat differently than I do, and faithfulness, and a whole host of terms we use in the church and too often assume the "other guys" mean the same things by them when they use them as we do.

Can God bless our Synod now? Of course! How things work out will depend on our faithfulness.  We need to be faithful to the Gospel.  We need to be faithful to what the tasks that the Lord lays before us, that they are done with the blessing of the church and the spread of the Gospel in mind.  We need to be faithful to the Word and faithful in prayer, and faithful about doing what the Lord has given us to do, taking each opportunity He gives us and making the most of it for the purpose that by some means - all means, all that may be saved are brought to the saving knowledge of Christ and forgiveness.

Of course, when I say that it depends on us, I don't meant that the power comes from us, but that God blesses us in accord with our faithfulness.  If the Lord lays before us many an open door for mission, and we ignore them and just continue on as though they were not there, the blessings that lie behind those doors will remain behind those doors.  When pastors and laymen and women do not cling to the Word of God, God allows that Word to be taken from them.  Where sound doctrine is not valued highly, false doctrine creeps in.  God blesses us in accord with how we use the blessings He has already given to us.  Much of what we have lost in the Synod can be laid at the feet of the pastors and laity that did not treasure the foundation of Word and Sacrament, that did not cling to the pure Gospel, but took their participation in the church too casually, allowing their worship - and their support of the work of the church - to become a now and then, hit-and-miss sort of affair.

I was a young man in the church in the days when everyone went to church every Sunday.  If you were not there, people called on you because they knew that something was wrong, and they wanted to help you in your time of need.  Then came the '60's.  Somehow, the word got out that people did not absolutely have to be in church, and going to church was no longer an expectation of society, and all those who did not want to be there quit.  Too many Christians listened to their flesh and decided that they could be gone for sporting events, and vacations, and birthday parties and the like, and church attendance became irregular.  Pastors forgot that being a Lutheran was a precious thing and taught their congregations that it really didn't matter which church you belonged to.  It was a matter of preference, and suddenly our youth started going elsewhere, where it was new and different and exciting in their minds.  Our young people, now the forty-some and fifty-some generation, starting marrying outside of their faith and church participation deteriorated further.  People began to chafe at having to be there, and they objected to sound catechesis, and for a time many Pastors gave in to the grumbling, and now we have a less-aware laity, and doctrinal precision is looked on with suspicion, and the church is enduring an epidemic of wanna-be Protestants rising up and firing the pastor who demands faithfulness to God's Word and actually teaches children something in Confirmation classes.  Faithfulness is now sometimes derided as a 16th century mind set, even by leaders in our Synod.

The point of that is that the ways that the previous generation dealt with their blessings and opportunities brought the church to the place where it is now.  Not every pastor or layman was inattentive or unfaithful, but enough of them were that the church is not as influential, even in the lives of its members, as it once was.  Today, we have what we have, both in the sense of blessings and opportunities, and in the sense of challenges and difficulties.  We have a new thing happening in our Synod, and new people leading the effort, starting with their installation in September.  We have the sound doctrine we hold onto, and the faithfulness to Word and Sacrament we exercise, and the fellowship of the saints that we have in our midst, and the gift of prayer.  The situation is in our hands to work with it - while it is still day, before the night comes when no man can work - to do the work the Lord has given us to do and take advantage of the opportunities He places in our path.  How it all works out is in His hands, but He is watching us to see if we learn from the past and take care with the blessings we have, or if we follow the casual attitudes of the previous generation and allow things to slip away.  If we treasure His gifts, He will pour them out abundantly, and our Synod - and our congregation - will thrive in His hands.  If we do not, I suspect He will not see any reason to continue to pour out those gifts upon us.

Nobody is cheering too energetically about the convention just past because it was, in terms of human judgment, a mixed bag.  But we know that God is at work, and He has given us this place and time and situation to be His people and to confess faithfully, and to treasure His gifts.  So, let us praise our Father for His grace and abundant goodness, and let us confess Christ in word and deed, and be about our Lord's work with thankful hearts.  We only have a little time left to rescue our families and our neighbors.  We also have just one job, not to win the battle (Jesus has already done that) but to fight the good fight and stand firm and faithful, and hold one another up, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.  So, let us be about it.

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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