A few of the comments to various stories about the synod convocation have asked for a description of what went on. The following is based on discussions with a pastor who attended.
Overall, it was perceived by this person to be a bit of a waste of time. The main purpose of the event, the presentation of the Blue Ribbon’s proposals, was simply done by having them read to the group. This could have been accomplished by e-mail or website publication.
Also included in the agenda was a presentation by Leonard Sweet, a so called “futurist.” The point of his presentation was to address the impact of contemporary culture on the church’s mission. Dr. Sweet is on the faculty of Drew University’s school of theology. Here is the description of their theological position (from http://www.drew.edu/).
Our Theological Position
Drew Theological School is rooted in the Wesleyan heritage and celebrates the centrality of Christ to our faith. The school does not require students to adopt a particular position or creed, but expects that students will remain in touch with and develop their own distinct faith tradition. Students take responsibility for articulating their own convictions, yet remain in dialogue with those of other faiths and with Christians who may think and believe differently. Students find many persons who share their faith experience and learn from persons who challenge them with their differences. In a world where diversity is often an excuse for hatred and a trigger for violence, Drew students learn to use diversity as a key to unlock the mysteries of a God beyond individual understanding, who is revealed more fully through our shared faith and experience.
Does it seem odd to you that at a convocation where we are considering fundamental changes to the synod’s structure (President K charged the Blue Ribbon Committee to do a zero-based study, i.e. throw everything out and assume nothing is sacred) has a person with this theological background making one of the four major presentations? Could you imagine the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther or C.F.W. Walther ever asking a person who teaches at such a seminary to address the church in order to help it understand its purpose?
One of the other major speakers was Dr. Robert Newton. I actually had the opportunity to hear his presentation a few weeks ago at a Northern Illinois District theological convocation. Many thanks go to our District President Dan Gilbert for calling for such a convocation which has not happened in our district in the fifteen years I have been in Northern Illinois. However, in the end, the choice of speakers was a big disappointment and I am puzzled that Dr. Newton would be chosen to address such a profound gathering as the synodical convocation on structure. (Now before you pietists out there get all hot and bothered about my criticism of Dr. Newton, please know that I have spoken to him directly about the things I am writing here. However, if that does not satisfy you and you still feel a burning desire to quote Matthew 18 against me, it will please you to know end that I have never met Dr. Sweet in person, nor spoken to him on the phone nor even e-mailed him and yet I have the audacity to criticize his theology!)
Actually it should not surprise me that Dr. Newton was invited to speak to the convocation. The purpose of his paper is to expand the definition of the church’s mission. This is in keeping with the questionable moves made in the Blue Ribbon Task Force’s paper called “Basic Theological Principles Underlying LCMS Structure and Governance“. They too seek to expand the church’s purpose/mission. A detailed critique of this will have to wait until later but for now let me try to explain the problem with this in summary fashion.
The Augsburg Confession, Article VII describes the church as that place where “the Gospel is preached in its purity and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s command.” I do not recommend that you use the word “mission” to describe the duties of the church (“mission” is a non-biblical word that comes out of the corporate world of the late 1980’s), but if you insist on it, there it is in plain English from the Augusburg Confession. The church is to be about preaching the Gospel (and making sure it is preached in its purity) and administering the sacraments (and making sure that they are administered the way Christ commanded and not in some sort of Bapticostal way which does the liturgy in an informal way that belies a lack of belief in the real presence). Thus, the church is about forgiving sins because that is what the Gospel and the sacraments do. Once you talk about the “mission” of the church apart from these words of Augusburg VII you will tend to get away from the confessional and Scriptural emphasis on the Gospel and Sacraments and their purity and proper administration. An emphasis on the concept of “mission” also leads one to overemphasize evangelism and an overemphasis on evangelism leads one to place too much emphasis on sociology and psychology and not let the word do its thing, for example, restructuring the liturgy in such a way that the culture finds relevant and meaningful. Both Dr. Newton and Dr. Sweet do not properly appreciate the power of God’s word. Simple words of law (you are a sinner and have fallen short of the glory of God) and Gospel (Christ has shed his blood to forgive you of your sins) are what the church is about. One does not need to understand the culture in order to preach law and Gospel. Preaching law and Gospel to a postmodern in words, concepts and visuals that they understand and appreciate does not make the Word of God any more effective. I hope to post a more thorough study of the “Basic Theological Principles…” document and the proposals themselves, but for now will limit myself to this review of the conference in general.
The conference also included presentations by former CTCR director Dr. Sam Nafzger as well as the presidents of our two seminaries.
As described above, the final session of the convocation was the presentation of the proposals. They were simply read word for word to the group. The pastor in attendance commented that this seemed to be a waste of time. The proposals could have been emailed to everyone and the few hundred thousand it cost to hold the convocation could have been saved. I am not opposed to spending money on convocations but if we are to spend that kind of money it should be invested in an agenda that leads us deeper into scripture and the confessions and not into psycholgy and sociology.
If any one reading this was in attendance I would appreciate your comments. As always, all other comments are welcome also.
More to come…