The nominations have been calculated and Rev. Matt Harrison has received 75% more nominations than his closest rival. Never, in synodical history has an incumbent president received so many fewer nominations than other nominees. What do these numbers indicate?
First of all these numbers indicate a widespread frustration with the current administration. Second they indicate an optimistic groundswell of support for Pastor Harrison.
Let’s look first at the dissatisfaction with President Kieschnick. In my opinion President Kieschnick made four crucial mistakes in his presidency which have left the synod poorer for his leadership.
First, he downplayed our theological differences. President Kieschnick has long maintained that we are united in doctrine and divided merely in practice. Our differences, he has suggested, are relatively insignificant.
Robert Preus wrote about this almost 20 years ago, “Luther does not distinguish between doctrine and practice…doctrine and practice cannot really be separated. Doctrine must result in practice. This, as we shall see is really the function of confession and preaching…So, doctrine and practice are totally intertwined according to the theology of Luther. Practice is the doing and application of the gospel or the doctrine. The moment that doctrine is taught or articulated in any way, practice is taking place” The views of Robert Preus are held by an increasing number of people in the church today and even by those holding conflicting theological perspectives. We are, frankly, beyond the point at which we can continue to say that we are united in doctrine but divided in practice. We are divided in both. We see our theological divisions by our divisions in church practice. Many among us kind of suspect, and just as many are quite positive, that there is a relationship between many of the deviations from the historic liturgy and an openness to Reformed Evangelical theological influences. Everyone has an inkling that singing highly emotional songs while holding your hands in the air in a swaying motion might possibly reflect a different understanding of the theology of worship, the purpose of singing and even of prayer than has traditionally been held by Lutherans. Most Missourians don’t think that it is just their “comfort zone” making them grimace. Faithful Missourians at least feel, and many are certain, that there is more to the discussion about closed communion than mere pastoral judgment on difficult cases of casuistry. The differences in practice reflect doctrinal problems.
Yet, President Kieschnick continued throughout his presidency and continues to assert today that there is theological unity among us but at the same time concedes that we have division or disagreements about matters of practice. The result has been that almost nothing has been attempted really to establish at least a process which might bring resolution to disagreements. And we are divided as ever. The synod wants peace and unity. This we do not have.
Imagine a married couple which goes to a counselor. The wife says, “I think that we are hopelessly divided in our understanding of what marriage is.” Her husband minimizes her fears, “Honey, we just do things a bit differently. We just have differences in style.” What does the counselor say in his desire to bring peace to this couple? He will not accomplish peace by siding with the man in this case and saying, “Well, I guess there are no real divisions – we need to accept each other more.” Even if that is true it will not bring peace. Either the man must be convinced that they are divided or the woman must be convinced that her perceptions are wrong. If one of these does not happen the marriage is seriously in jeopardy.
Similarly, the synod wants and needs peace. And we are farther from it than we were nine years ago. Either President Kieschnick needs to be persuaded that we are seriously divided on doctrinal matters or he needs to convince me and others like me that our differences in practice do not reflect doctrinal differences. In all candor, neither of these persuasive attempts was made. I’m sure that he still thinks that it is all just a matter of style. But the group of impatient theologians who hold the other view have not been persuaded at all in the last decade. So we continue to bicker. Unless the president of the synod realizes and articulates the reasons for continued strife this strife will go on.
The first reason that President Kieschnick’s leadership is failing is that he refuses to articulate and address the real theological challenges before the synod.
The second mistake President Kieschnick has made is to have theology take a back seat to administrative goals. We save that for next time.