On Sunday, June 17, the 95th annual convention of the ELS began in traditional fashion, with an afternoon Synod Sunday service, following the “Bugenhagen” order of service, also known as the Danish-Norwegian rite of 1685. It was chanted in a vibrato tenor, typical of pastors of Scandinavian descent. This was followed by a picnic, forced indoors by threat of rain. The late afternoon was highlighted by musical performances of Norwegian folk songs and folk dancing at a replica pioneer log cabin.
The proceedings of the convention, starting Monday morning, have brought us out of our idealized past and into these present dark times, addressing threats to our Biblical confession and religious freedom, and following the paths of centralization and synodical restructuring.
Like many Lutheran synods (e.g., LCMS and CLBA), the ELS has sought greater efficiency through restructuring. Last year, all official synodical communication and publishing was placed under the office of the synod president. This meant the replacement of an elected board of publication with a communication committee, half of which is elected and half of which is appointed by the synod president. This year, a Director of Communication position was authorized, a called full-time position that serves under the president. We are told it will be like Paul McCain’s position during Al Barry’s LCMS presidency. The other full-time position is an Evangelism Missions Counselor, who will serve under the authority of the Board for Home Outreach, formerly the separate boards of evangelism and home missions.
Of note perhaps to BJS readers, several issues I have discussed in my blog posts have been addressed during the convention as well as legislation involving moral and church-state issues:
1) “It is Written”: Back in March, I posted an editorial questioning the decision to have the ELS magazine the Lutheran Sentinel published in print only six times per year, with the other six months appearing in an online only edition. Given the aging membership of the ELS, this decision seemed to forget a great number of the Sentinel readers. The synod in convention passed a resolution directing the president of the ELS and the Committee for Communication to “re-examine” the “changes in publication schedule and format of the Lutheran Sentinel and report back to the 2013 convention.”
2) “Confess and Defend”: The president of ELS was encouraged to use the apologetics document, “Confess and Defend,” produced by the ELS doctrine committee, to “assist the membership of the synod to ‘engage others with Jesus.’”
3) “Unity in Worship”: the Committee on ELS Worship (CEW) explanation of the 1986 ELS bylaw was accepted as an answer to the resolution of the 2010 convention.
4) HHS Ruling: The issue that generated the most debate at the convention was the floor committee on doctrine’s resolutions regarding the recent Health and Human Services Ruling. Concerns were raised from the floor regarding how appropriate it is for a church body to address a specific piece of legislation and how doing so might violate a “separation of church and state.” Such concerns were overruled as the following resolution was passed:
WHEREAS, the Doctrine Committee has been instructed to keep the membership of the synod informed about issues in government, law, and society which may encroach on religious freedom, and,
WHEREAS, the recent HHS ruling is an incursion into religious liberty, because it requires that all private health care plans, including those of institutions and individuals who object on religious grounds, must cover sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception, therefore,
A. BE IT RESOLVED, that the delegates of this synod convention be encouraged to inform the membership of their congregations about the issues and challenges of the HHS ruling, and
B. BE IT RESOLVED, that the Synod President be directed to produce a statement about the HHS ruling.
5) Marriage Penalty in the New Health Care Law: The report of the floor committee on doctrine noted that “our ELS members face many challenges pertaining to God’s institution of marriage, including preferential treatment given to those who live together outside of marriage due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).” In response to this challenge to the Biblical teaching on marriage, the ELS convention resolved “that the members of our synod be alerted to this recent challenge and be encouraged to remain steadfast in their commitment to the institution of marriage of one man and one woman as established by God in Holy Scripture and natural law.” The ELS statement reiterated its Scriptural position on marriage found in its statement, “We Believe, Teach, and Confess”: “marriage is the only proper context for the expression of sexual intimacy and for the procreation of children” and that “the divine institution of marriage is to be heterosexual, in which, according to God’s design, a man and a woman may enjoy a life-long companionship in mutual love.”
6) Bible Translations: The ELS doctrine committee recommends against the use of the NIV 2011. It was resolved the convention that “the members of ELS congregations be informed of the weaknesses of this translation and seek pastoral guidance in selecting accurate and understandable translations,” and “that the Doctrine Committee continue its study of various Bible translations and report its findings to the synod.”
Another highlight of the ELS Convention was an address by WELS President Mark Schroeder. One theme that will resonate with BJS readers is what he noted as a renewed confessionalism in the WELS.
For official ELS Convention coverage, see http://www.evangelicallutheransynod.org/convention2012/