Opening my June 2010 Reporter to its centerfold (Vol. 36 #6; pp. 6-7) this morning, I read the article “President’s office nominees address issues in Synod.” Delegates to the 2010 convention of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod need to read that article and ponder what it means before they push the button that will elect the next president of synod.
The article’s author posed four questions to the five candidates for synod president. They are good and pertinent questions: Q1 “How would you judge the health of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?”; Q2 “In today’s ‘whatever-works-for-you’ culture, how can you reach out to people with the Good News of Jesus and testify to the truth of God’s Word?”; Q3 “During this year’s convention, delegates will consider proposals to restructure the way the Synod is organized. What is your opinion of the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance?”; and Q4 “In our present economic environment, money and resources seem tight everywhere. As president, how would you lead the Synod (nationally and locally) in stewarding its resources and people?”
I first need to say that I was impressed with all the candidates and their responses. We are really blessed as a church-body to have such competent leaders at our national and district offices and seminaries. At the same time, delegates have to pick one man for president. Hopefully, that will be the man who is most qualified for the job and the most willing to carry out its primary duties.
What is the synodical president’s job? The LCMS Constitution (Article XI.B) says that he has “the supervision regarding the doctrine and administration” of all synod officers, employees, districts, and district presidents; that he sees to it that all these “act in accordance with the Synod’s Constitution”; and that he “shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote and maintain unity of doctrine and practice in all the districts of the Synod.” Thus “unity of doctrine and practice” as defined by Synod’s Constitution is Job Number One.
For most people these days, “unity of doctrine and practice” seems to be a nebulous idea and even rather stifling to some. But four out of the five candidates for synod president are concerned about our increasing disunity as a church-body (see ibid., Answer A1 for Mueller, Fickenscher, and Gard; Answer A3 for Harrison, Mueller, and Fickenscher). I agree with their assessment and am convinced that continued inattention to this problem from the President’s office will eventually lead to serious decline and fracturing of our church-body.
Why in practical terms does the president needs to attend to “unity of doctrine and practice”? In my current circuit, Evansville West and Evansville East, Indiana District, we have great unity of doctrine and practice among all our pastors and congregations. The result of this unity is not only harmonious and productive circuit pastor meetings, which should never be taken for granted, but also a number of joint projects.
Chief among these joint projects is our inter-parish elementary Lutheran school in Evansville, “Evansville Lutheran School”(ELS), with its principal Tony Shull. Although not all the congregations are members of the school association, all support the school in one way or another. This is a great school with great teachers, smart leadership, and effective outreach into the community.
Second in line is the Lutheran Missionary Action Council (LMAC), which dates back to 1928. Its most recent, and impressive, project is the Lutheran Community Outreach Center. This center houses a food pantry in one of the most depressed neighborhoods of our city, offices for the Evansville Lutheran Family Counseling and Bethesda Lutheran Communities-Indiana South, and facilities for use by all LCMS churches in the area. I can brag about ELS and LMAC, because I just moved here and can’t take credit for the hard work that has gone into these joint works by the pastors and congregations of our circuits. I also need to mention Evansville Lutheran Cemetery, which has an important ministry to Lutheran families.
In other areas of ministry, my wife has attended a weekday Bible Class at neighboring Saint Paul Lutheran Church, conducted by the wise and genial Pastor Walter Ullman; and we have enrolled our oldest daughter in the confirmation class at neighboring Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, conducted by the talented Pastor Thomas Wenig. I have already received permission from both pastors for the youth of our congregation to participate in their youth programs and activities. Our family and congregation would not participate elsewhere if I did not have full confidence in the doctrine and practice of these pastors and their congregations.
The bad news is that not all synodical circuits have this sort of doctrinal unity and its resulting good will and cooperation. My guess is that a good 50% of our circuits are seriously fractured. And because there is no doctrinal unity in those circuits, inter-parish schools cannot be started, or they decline and die; inter-parish charitable work cannot be started, or it declines and dies; inter-parish youth and young adult work cannot be started, or it declines and dies; and inter-parish outreach, new mission starts, and evangelism cannot be started, or it declines and dies.
Our synod throughout its history has grown at the local level through the cooperation of neighboring congregations and their pastors. Our synod’s numerical decline today is directly caused by the lack of local cooperation, which is ultimately caused by distrust due to doctrinal disunity. If we want to grow again as a church, we have to address this problem of doctrinal disunity, and address it in a theological way.
What has the current synodical president done, himself, to address this serious and church-life-threatening problem? Very little, I am sad to say, after nine years in office. Publishing books shortly before the convention that explain specific areas of agreement (see “This We Believe: Selected Topics of Faith and Practice in the LCMS” and “Waking the Sleeping Giant”) does not help us address those troubled areas where pastors and congregations have valid and serious disagreements. All the other candidates for president recognize that this matter of doctrinal disunity is a serious problem, and one candidate, Pastor Matthew Harrison, has a concrete proposal for fixing it (see “It’s Time”).
Even though he has other duties on his plate, the main duty of the synodical president is still theological.