Over Reaching, by Klemet Preus

Someone said:

The MNS BOD resolution to require that mission congregations use LSB to receive funding was an overreach. It galvanized the left and polarized the mushy middle. That’s why you got your lunch handed to you. Years of work, all down the drain.

I tend to agree with this assessment. Although I take issue with the last sentence. The Board’s resolution was an overreach. Here’s what happened.

We know that you cannot legislate the liturgy. You can’t force people to use the hymnal. As a board member I noticed that more and more mission starts initiated by the district Missions Committee were churches which did not use any hymnal or liturgy or hymns at all ever. It bugged me. The Alley was by no means the first. I tried to talk to the Missions committee about it but they made it obvious that were not interested in any dialog.

So we passed a resolution which offered four pages of whereases proving that the church’s historic position was to strive for uniformity of worship and then we resolved the following:

Resolved that the MNS district give English speaking subsidized congregations of the Minnesota South District sufficient numbers of the LSB for use in their congregational services, and be it further

Resolved that the funding for this gift be reflected in the mission budget of the district, and be it further

Resolved that all new congregations be asked to assure the district that the LSB is being used consistently in the services of the congregation, and be it finally

Resolved that all district BoD members thank God for His work among us through the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament.

Notice that all we asked for was assurances from new congregations that the LSB was being used consistently. We didn’t define “consistently.” We didn’t define “used.”

Our intent, obviously, was to force the missions committee to start the type of congregations that everyone in the district would be happy to support. We reasoned that not everyone wants to spend mission money on churches which refuse to use the hymnal. At the same time no one has expressed a reluctance to support those churches which do. As a board we were responsible for spending other people’s money. So let’s spend it in a manner that all the people want.

This was perceived as forcing the use of the hymnal and it was characterized this way as well.

I am convinced that had we done nothing the lion’s share of the new missions in our district would use no hymnal since the expressed view of the missions committee was that hymnals and the liturgy slow down growth in mission starts. As it turns out that is precisely what is going to happen and now the Missions committee has a convention resolution to back its unlutheran predilections. I am very sorry about that.

In retrospect we should not made a policy but instead simply not funded these starts which don’t use the hymnal. The effect would have been the same and we would not have given the left their hill to die on.

There is no doubt that this issue galvanized the left. I think it is also true that it polarized the middle. I anticipated that the left would be galvanized. I did not anticipate that the middle would be swayed so completely. So that was a big mistake. I am sorry for that mistake.

Our convention faced two big issues. If we had simply been confronted with the Alley with no discussion before us on worship or LSB use I think we could have made our points much more fruitfully and with a better showing although I do not think we would have won. By allowing the issue of worship to be brought to the floor we made things too complicated and the sound bite approach worked well against us.

But let me tell you what is galling. We try to teach the church about the divine service, the liturgy, our use of hymns etc. We use God’s Word, the confessions, our heritage and history to attempt to show the surpassing greatness of the divine service. The bureaucracy sings our praises gives us a plethora of “ataboys” and proceeds to start mission congregation after mission congregation which will never use any hymnal.

So I can understand the frustration of the person who felt we overreached on the LSB thing and I am sorry that we did it. At the same time I hope that he can understand the frustration we felt on the board as year after year we spent money on stuff that most congregations would never have spent.

I also do not think that years of work are down the drain. Politically we have experienced a set back. But catechetically we did get to confess the truth and that is never work down the drain. Further, there is little doubt in my mind that the other side will overreach and we will back at a convention arguing the same thing.

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