Is The Long Synodical Nightmare Over? By Pastor David Oberdieck

Pastor David Oberdieck, Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lebanon, MO, submitted this piece to us — a reflection of where we in the LCMS stand at this point, a few months after the convention. He wrote this “to give my perspective on finding a measure of peace in troubled times. I have not arrived at a point where I am serene through all turmoil by far, but I have found some peace knowing that this world is always running to Hell. It always has, and it always will. I can expect no more from this world. My home is in the Jerusalem above.”

Pastor Oberdieck previously wrote our series on the Liturgy, a series of bulletin inserts to help the laity understand the various parts of the service. These inserts can be seen at



Ever since the election of Rev. Matthew Harrison as Synod President, I have been mulling over the question, “Is the long synodical nightmare over?” The nightmare I refer to was the intensifying of the division in the LC-MS after the death of Synod President Rev Al Barry.

Fiery fissures cracked open over the joint Christian/non-Christian prayer service at Yankee stadium and the ensuing issues of ecclesiastical supervision. Added to these two factors were also non-Lutheran influences in worship practice, evangelism, and revitalization of congregations.

Is the nightmare over? I would like to give a resounding “yes!” Instead I give a heartfelt, “I sure hope so.” Conservatives and liberals alike have put a lot of sweat and ink into electing their ideal candidates, but the answer is not found in elections as important as those are.

The divergence of method and practice among churches of the Synod is far too great to be harmonized in one election cycle (God save us from flipping back and forth!). If we expect Harrison to straighten out the Synod in the next three years we have made him into our idol. He doesn’t have that power.

Not only are there current issues in the Synod that divide us, but old issues are not entirely put to rest (E.G.: Battle for the Bible). They never are in fact. Ideas don’t really die. They wax and wane in popularity. They also get repackaged.

Thus, the Arianism of the fourth century is living in a new heretical package called the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They both deny Jesus’ true, eternal deity. So also, the spirit of Rome that desires to place the official edicts of the Pope above question are also manifest in some evangelical churches where the supposed God given vision/goals of a particular pastor become sacrosanct.

The church must be ever vigilant and militant in regard to false doctrine and practice. However, we do need to be careful how we treat each other. St. Paul exhorted the Ephesians to be, “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We have not guarded that unity as we should (myself included).

We are the church militant because we must always contend against the schemes of Satan, the oppression of worldly philosophy, and the sin in each one of us that would drive us to false doctrine and unrepentance. We will always be the church militant this side of heaven. Nobody’s election to church office will ever change that.

Yet, we do rejoice in the selection of Harrison. He is a good gift from God. We thank Him for this fine theologian. Certainly, we bless the LORD for all His benefits to us. Chiefly we praise Him for giving us His Son over to death for our sins.

As difficult as the battle of the church militant can be, perhaps it need not be a nightmare when we rest in God’s grace. Perhaps the issues are easier to address when we apply a simple trust in God’s providence.

Moreover, there is a measure of peace to be had when we realize that we have no lasting kingdom of this world. Not even the “kingdom” of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod will survive. Our hope is beyond this mortal plain.

All will give way to the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ at the end of time. His kingdom is eternal and incorruptible. When this happens, “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4 NASB).

Pastor David Oberdieck
Trinity Lutheran Church
Lebanon, MO

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Is The Long Synodical Nightmare Over? By Pastor David Oberdieck — 21 Comments

  1. Is the long synodical nightmare over?” The nightmare I refer to was the intensifying of the division in the LC-MS after the death of Synod President Rev Al Barry.

    Whether it was a nightmare or all too real, the problems have been going on well before Kieschnick was elected. And does anyone know if ‘UsFirst and DazedStar have seen the light and disbanded? The last I saw was that ‘Usfirst had put out a list of things they cannot accept, one of which was ACELC’s list of things they cannot accept. The Concordias seem to be a little slow in correcting their academic vehicle’s steering alignment to return to the center of the orthodox Lutheran road. And recently there was some strange enthusiasm over the announcement of a new church body, the NALC, which was little more than a new paint job on an old rusting Edsel.

    So maybe we better wait just a little bit before we tap into the celebratory Missouri Synod keg.

    Oh, and there are a couple of constitutional amendments from the past convention still floating out there to be shot down and put out of their misery.

  2. Check out the history of the ALPB and you will see the start of the modern era’s problems. They were the first ones to promote “relevant” in the early 1900’s. I’m beginning to think the Otten’s overture to separate peacefully might be a logical alternative.

  3. “. . . there are a couple of constitutional amendments from the past convention still floating out there to be shot down and put out of their misery.” (C. Vehse)
    Aaaay -MEN!

  4. @John E #2
    Whenever I see Otten’s name mentioned on an orthodox Lutheran website I cringe. How can anyone have any association with a holocaust denier? Keep your faithfulness to old Missouri but certainly that doesn’t mean endorsing Luther’s essay, “Against the Jews and their Lies” or modern day equivalents.

  5. The short answer is no. One election doesn’t change everything. But it is a good step.
    As we see with the St. Louis seminary, they are still trying to go the Anglican broad church route with Pietism featured prominently. PLI still has its fingers into both seminaries. SMP is another trouble factory. We still have troubles from recent conventions that need to be withdrawn – such as 2004 resolutions 8-01a, 3-08a, and others. The dispute resolution process is very troubling. We still have issues with fellowship, liturgy, sacramental practice, AC XIV violations, order of creation, temporary calls (interim ministry), charismatic movement, etc. The ACELC has identified many of the core issues, but differing theological assumptions underlie those topics.

    I don’t envy President Harrison’s task. Pray for him.

    But another issue is that really for reform to take place we need the corresponding change in the 35 district offices, which is harder to achieve. Think about the influence of district offices in call processes, discipline or its misapplication or lack thereof, the character of mission starts, use of funding, etc. That more directly affects parishes and unity. We need to elect theologians in our district offices and let DPs remain parish pastors at the same time (or require it!).

  6. @Bruce Foster #4 Otten doesn’t deny the holocaust. He denies the exorbitant count the Jews claim. They were only a small percentage of the total. Find the articles and get your facts straight. They are available on the web.

  7. @John E #6

    > Otten doesn’t deny the holocaust.

    Correct. I don’t think he agrees with the use of the term.

    What I question is his making it such a huge issue.

    The number of words you use on a topic is indicative of your priorities.

    Why is it such a priority with him?

    His answer: It is a sin to tell a lie.

    But there are a lot of lies out there, and almost everyone who sees someone questioning the numbers of victims will come to the wrong conclusion, especially when it’s coupled with generally touting things Germanic, and some degree of casual association with atheistic / Nazi / Muslim revisionists.

    Nonetheless, the synod shows cowardice and smallness in not trying harder to get him certified at this late date. Before most people were on the Internet, CN was about the only place to find out the other side. CN warned us in the mid-nineties, for example, about church politicians from TX.

  8. To John E and mbw

    I got my information from the web. From Otten’s own essay. Here is the reference.
    In this you will see that he denies the existence of gas chambers. That makes him a holocaust denier and a fool. Of course the Jews were only a small percentage of Nazi victims, the Russians lost 25-30 million. But Hitler did systematically and intentionally kill millions of Jews

    This is, of course, only a side issue, but then maybe not. If LCMS confessionalists support Otten’s position, then maybe the liberals are right. I hope not.

    This conversation is better carried on man to man. My email is [email protected]

  9. From where I sit as a “lay theologian” I find the so called learned men in our leadership fail to exercise doctrinal and practical discipline on their errant brothers. From what I have seen they do not have the stomach for it at all. We need more men of integrity and tenacity for God’s Word so that even their friends can be “spanked” on occasion without undue concern for whether they will be liked or not for doing so. It is in fact very simple, either you adhere to LCMS Doctrine and practice or go somewhere that is more in alignment with your independent posture.

  10. The fact is, we have reason to hope.
    Our hope comes, not from Pastor Harrison, but from the Lord.
    However, I am thrilled that Pastor Harrison is our synodical president. He asked for daily prayers, and he has them from me. I hope that he will be able to do the good that he has hoped for, and that he will stay in office for a good long time. I refuse to feel badly about the possibility of flipping back and forth or about Pastor Harrison possibly not being able to accomplish his goals in just one three year term. I choose to focus on the great and amazing fact that he was elected at all, and to rejoice.

  11. @Bruce Foster #4
    i didn’t read otten or his guest writer in those years but i will deny that the ‘holocaust’ was limited to Elie Wiesel’s 6 million Jews as we even taught [wrongly] in cph ss leaflets then
    6 M were only a fraction… and hitler started with the ‘defective’ young and the ‘useless’ old…………which should sound a bit familiar!

    the fire next time will be for the ‘christians’ who aren’t stopping its beginning here


  12. The battle will continue until the Lord Returns. As Paul tells us in Romans 7, the Christian life is a constant struggle. Reformation must be continuous in this world because while we are saints, we are also sinners. The only rest comes when the angels carry us to Abraham’s side.

  13. The nightmare began in the 40’s, perhaps before then. The teaching at St. Louis was the most obvious, but there was more going on. After the walkout and restaffing at CSL, too many of the seminex grads and other liberals were let off the hook, and were let back into the synod. The election of Ralph Bohlmann accelerated the church growth and evangelicalist influence in the synod. As “Kebas” and others here have noted, Barry’s tenure was marked by constant and intransigent opposition. Gerald Kieschnick campaigned openly against Barry and against church discipline–I heard him do both at our district convention in 2000. By this time the synod was deeply divided (see “Three Missouri’s” by David Adams). Pietism was running rampant, the liturgy was devalued, and the great commission had become the material principle, in effect. Some friends of ours recently moved to a good sized midwest city, where there is a good supply of LCMS churches. After visits to half-dozen, they were very disappointed: “What’s happened to the LCMS?” they asked me. To expect Harrison to right things is unrealistic. The best we can say is that things are looking up, and he has a great opportunity to effect some shifts. But it’s a long road. And I’m willing to bet that he will encounter opposition.


    p.s. The argument that Herman Otten’s position on the holoucast makes him unreliable in all other areas is full of logical flaws. I’m not defending that position nor some others that he has taken, but we ought to be able to do better than that. The LCMS itself has many friends in other denominations who do not believe as we do in certain points of doctrine, however their voices are valuable and they need to be heard and heeded. Listen to “IssuesEtc.” and you’ll see what I mean.

  14. @Bruce Foster #4

    I don’t know who Otten is or what he has written, but I am alarmed when people are ostracized for even daring to discuss certain topics. How many people in the ELCA can now speak against women’s ordination without people cringing? Or speak against abortion or homosexuality? The enforcers of the new positions are far less tolerant of discussion than the enforcers of the old order. I am not saying that there would be agreement on abortion and homosexuality in an ELCA group, but can it still be discussed? Or do the abortion and homosexuality sympathizers just roll their eyes and dismiss those who are concerned about these issues? Who is teaching the youth? Are the youth encouraged to look to the Bible or trust ELCA leadership on such issues? The old style of discussion was to go to the Bible to support a position. The new style is to ridicule the traditional view and cite public opinion as support. Do we really believe popular opinion is a suitable measure of truth? Does it rival our trust in God’s Word?

  15. Johannes @#14
    “too many of the seminex grads and other liberals were let off the hook, and let back into the synod” Exactly!!! Great point!

    Look at JesusFirst and a number of the DP’s. They are the ones who were “let off the hook, and let back into the synod.” JAO Preus should have never let them back in and should have removed a number of the DPs.

    The election of Harrison is a first hopeful step. But that needs to be followed up with the election of orthodox DPs who have a back bone for discipline.

  16. @Mrs. Hume #15
    Or do the abortion and homosexuality sympathizers just roll their eyes and dismiss those who are concerned about these issues?

    an e__a relative told me that i “see things too black and white”. so did she, once.

  17. All I can say is that because of people ignoring Otten these last 40 years is why the synod is in such shambles. He was the ONLY voice of reason that was vocal enough for people to hear and many people choose to ignore him. He was literally the only voice of opposition to be distributed widely. Congregations and pastors were warned but they choose to ignored it.

    Instead of taking some of his articles with a grain of salt you choose to ignore completely and then libel him behind his back and tell other people that he was a fool. Shame!

  18. 8-08A. How will this be dealt with? This resolution could spell disaster the next time a JF SP gets elected, as in massive power grab.

    As far as Luther, he was not angry with Jews as a race, but was very frustrated that the people from whom our Savior came persisted in stubborn rejection of him? This blog is often an illustration of people speaking harshly (of whom I am chief).

    Yes, Johannes, I agree that the “Statement of the Forty-Four” was the start of this mess, although earlier could certainly be argued with validity. When the mantra is, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree,” and everyone goes home happy without resolving the problem, trouble is on the horizon. A review of conflict resolution from Acts 15 might be in order. “Anatomy of an Explosion” by Prof. Marquart is also a good read.

    Here’s an interesting article I just stumbled upon. Although I won’t guarantee its accuracy, it is illustrative that this is way pre-Seminex:

  19. @GaiusKurios #16
    We have to remember that the authority of the Synodical President to remove men from office last only as long as that district does not re-elect them to office. The SP cannot deny any district the right to choose whom they desire. however, he could have and should have removed more but JAO was concerned that such would tear apart the Synod. That lack of doing so, has done just that!!!

  20. If a DP is removed from synodical membership, he cannot be re-elected no matter how theologically flat-line the district convention delegates are.

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