President Matthew Harrison taught and wowed the delegates at the Northern Illinois District (NID) convention Friday afternoon. He started his presentation with an insightful study of Scriptures that taught the Biblical basis for the Witness, Mercy, Life Together emphasis for synod.
The Bible study was peppered with Greek (which he translated for the laity) and was not done in some dialogical, small-group fashion (like the convention devotion earlier in the day), but in a straight-forward fashion, with conviction and with authority. But that is not to say the presentation was impersonal. Far from it. According to the several delegates I heard from, who represented all sorts of perspectives in the synod, Harrison was engaging, personal and warm. I did not sense a single ounce of synodocrat in him despite the fact that the first half of his term has been consumed by the laborious task of figuring out exactly what the Blue Ribbon structural changes are all about and reorganizing the synod on the basis of those sweeping changes wrought by the synod convention in 2010.
This was a nice change from the past three cycles of conventions when the president’s presentations were clear and engaging but lacking in spontaneity and sincerity and overloaded with bureaucracy and programing. Harrison’s presentation lived and breathed Lutheran distinctives such as Law/Gospel, Christ crucified, the forgiveness of sins rather than past presidential presentations that seemed to have a little Lutheranism sprinkled on top of bureaucratic schemes and blueprints.
Harrison taught the delegates with Scripture and wowed them with his warmth, charm, humor and self-deprecation. Part of the warmth and sincerity came from his many references to contemporary culture. For instance, at one point he said “We have the technology” (a reference to the seventies show “The Six Million Dollar Man”) and then quickly added, – “Actually I should say we have the theology.”
At one point Harrison mentioned his trip to Washington D. C. in passing but the delegates would not let the historic moment slip by them in a quick reference and so they interrupted him with a round of applause, reflecting the pride that all of us felt in the LCMS that day because of the way Harrison carried himself in that intimidating environment.
The topic of Washington D. C. led to some more refreshing silliness in reference to the little fish Harrison keeps in his office in a cramped little fish bowl. He said the fish’s cramped quarters were like the narrow space into which the U. S. Health and Human Services department has put our synod’s health plan. He said he likes his little fish because he has figured out that when you become President of the Synod you sometimes have to look to lower forms of life for whatever friendship and support you can muster. Based on the love he was feeling from the delegates that was unnecessary but certainly sincere self-deprecation.
My favorite line of the day was President Harrison’s reference to our squeaky clean first vice president. Harrison said of him: “Herb Mueller has so little guile in him, when I am around him he sucks up some of mine.”
Right after Harrison’s presentation it was really disappointing to see a “district ministry” video about all the funky start-ups our district is sponsoring. I believe the Northern Illinois District is slowly morphing in a positive, confessional way but I couldn’t have proved it based on at least one member of our district staff who led this part of the convention and seems to be out of step with that metamorphosis. He seems bound to a now passé modern approach that tries to force the Gospel through the funnel of the latest fads from the evangelicals. There was a stark contrast between Harrison’s organically Lutheran way of speaking and the faddish and decision-theology based jargon of the pastors and laymen on the video. The video was filled with words like “passion,” “seeking the direction of the Holy Spirit,” “missional,” etc. The essential justification I heard given for all of the funky new measures was that “the world is drastically changing.” Has it ever dawned on the synodocrats that the answer for a changing world is the constant and eternal Gospel?
Rev. 14:6 – Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.
Thanks to President Harrison it was a great day for authentic, real, traditional and confessional Lutheranism. This was only the third of thirty-five districts President Harrison will be teaching and wowing. It looks like there is a wonderful spring awaiting the LCMS.