Visitation — A good thing for a Synod united, a hard thing for a Synod divided.

Recently there has been much renewed discussion of the historic practice of visitation.  This practice involves District Presidents, District Vice-Presidents or Circuit Visitors (counselors) visiting congregations to ascertain how they are doing in terms of teaching and practice.  Recently I received word that my own congregation will be visited sometime in the coming year.  The Wyoming District has had a triennial visit program in use for a long time, and it has generally yielded very positive results.  For instance, I noted that at our last District Convention a number of unanimous votes on particularly hot topic issues (returning to AC XIV in congregational practices for example).

So here is how my congregation’s visit will go:  The Circuit Visitor (vote yes to the LCMS Constitutional change to restore the use of the good title!) will begin his visit by meeting with my family and I on Saturday night.  This visit is to help see how we are doing.  It is meant to be about the worker and his family’s health.

Following this, Sunday morning will mean the Visitor attending services and seeing with his own eyes and hearing with his own ears what is going on in the parish.  The goal, to make sure that the  people are being cared for and that we are actually abiding by our voluntary pledge to be a part of the LCMS and practice accordingly (aberrations to these practices drawn from Scripture and Confessions do not care for people as Lutherans do).  The Visitor will also attend Bible Studies and have time to talk with the congregation to bring greetings from the District and also answer questions.  There is a good amount of give/take expected for this.  The Visitor also meets with the pastor to discuss what is being done for Catechesis and other programs of the congregation.  He will also give comment on the sermon which he heard.  He will write this into a report to be given the congregation and the pastor.  This is all meant to be constructive in nature, to help the pastor serve the congregation better and encourage the congregation to care for their pastor and the faith that has been handed down to them.

That is how it goes in a District united.  I have also had the privilege of serving in a District that was not so united.  In that case, I am not so sure about how visitations will go.  I still commend the practice of visitation, but I wonder what will be the feedback when the one visiting is devoted to non-Lutheran teachings and practices (or how it will go with a faithful visitor and a parish/pastor of different variety).  I suppose a level of patience and teaching will have to go with the first rounds of visits.  Like it or not, we are a Synod divided (how is that for paradox), and this division will hurt the visitation process.

There are some guys who have expressed worry about a possible inquisition type of visitation.  I wonder where the underlying issues of conscience lie in such comments.  On the one hand, I understand being visited by someone who is of a different “party spirit” in the LCMS.  That could be nerve racking.  On the other hand, if you are doing something in your parish, especially publicly, you should not be ashamed to share your practice of it with others.  If there is any sense of keeping it hidden, then perhaps your practice is not in line with what is faithful Gospel ministry and should be curtailed and stopped.  If you need such help, maybe your visitor can help with that.

We are a Synod divided which must start coming back together.  The process of Visitation can help do that.  I am happy to see the renewed focus and thankful for President Harrison’s efforts to renew it.  I am thankful for my own District’s ongoing practice and how this has been “exported” to the Synod at large.  Hopefully it can be done in such a way as to foster faithfulness to God’s Word and encouragement to be Lutherans.  In the end, it is a hard thing for a Synod divided, but hard things are often the things worth doing.

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.

Comments

Visitation — A good thing for a Synod united, a hard thing for a Synod divided. — 61 Comments

  1. @Mrs. Hume #48
    Speaking from a conflict point of view. Yes, perhaps not a “want to hurt them level”, but from my BJS travels and what I see on the street:

    01) A CONFLIT sees a COWO as a pastor who makes a mockery of the Gospel (you know what I mean), they toss out the Lutheran Confessions to do their work.

    02) The COWO sees a CONFLIT as a pastor who is way too pietistic, etc., and gets in the way of the love of Christ through the Gospel.

    OK, many others ways to put it, and BJS has said it all in the past.

    Perhaps “disdain” is strong, maybe “suspicious of”…but when there is division, people line up on the side of the dividers (sad to say).

  2. rev. david l. prentice jr. :
    Reality, I simply long of late for a phone call, a “what’s up brother.” How about a Circuit that can hang up their differences for a time and come together for a Winkel of joint support and casuistry?

    AMEN!!!

  3. @John Rixe #50 (writing for Pr. Prentice)
    Was “Lutheran” judged to be an overly pejorative descriptive label for “worshiping like Lutherans?”

    KE+,
    -Matt Mills

  4. COWOs and CONFLITs in general both worship like Lutherans although there are a few fringe exceptions 🙂

    “In other words, we want to make full use of the worship treasures of the past, present and future.” Pr Matt Harrison

  5. @John Rixe #5
    If by COWO you mean retaining the ordinaries and propers of the Lutheran Mass as written in our hymnals, and “updating” the music, then you’ve got a leg to stand on. (To be honest though, I haven’t seen at attempt at that since the “Chicago Folk Mass” early 80’s.) If by COWO you mean replacing the ordinaries and propers of the Lutheran Mass w/ other stuff (which is what I’ve generally seen presented as COWO recently) then that’s not how Lutherans worship. Apology XV: 51 & 52 sum up how Lutherans worship and why. It’s really not a point that’s open to debate.

    And nevertheless we teach that in these matters the use of liberty is to be so controlled that the inexperienced may not be offended, and, on account of the abuse of liberty, may not become more hostile to the true doctrine of the Gospel, or that without a reasonable cause nothing in customary rites be changed, but that, in order to cherish harmony, such old customs be observed as can be observed without sin or without great inconvenience. And in this very assembly we have shown sufficiently that for love’s sake we do not refuse to observe adiaphora with others, even though they should have some disadvantage; but we have judged that such public harmony as could indeed be produced without offense to consciences ought to be preferred to all other advantages.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  6. @Matthew Mills #6

    Your point is well taken, Matt. Pr Harrison agrees with you.

    “……The shape of the Western Mass (the traditional order of the Divine Service, which is rooted in the very beginning of Christianity, and affirmed repeatedly in the Lutheran Confessions) should be maintained (i.e., Confession/absolution, Scripture, Creed, Sermon, Lord’s Supper, Dismissal). Music fluctuates and changes, but Lutherans should keep to the basic order. We want to encourage and foster every move toward the full use and appreciation of the historical treasures we have been given and whatever good things the Lord sees fit to add from the gifts and talents of His people in this day. We want to encourage reconsideration on the part of those who would treat the liturgical deposits as a finished work. We want to encourage reconsideration on the part of those who would replace entirely the voices of the past with the voice of the present. In other words, we want to make full use of the worship treasures of the past, present, and future.” – Pr Matt Harrison, Today’s Business, Issue 1, May 2013

  7. John Rixe :@Matthew Mills #6
    Your point is well taken, Matt. Pr Harrison agrees with you.

    “……The shape of the Western Mass (the traditional order of the Divine Service, which is rooted in the very beginning of Christianity, and affirmed repeatedly in the Lutheran Confessions) should be maintained (i.e., Confession/absolution, Scripture, Creed, Sermon, Lord’s Supper, Dismissal). Music fluctuates and changes, but Lutherans should keep to the basic order. We want to encourage and foster every move toward the full use and appreciation of the historical treasures we have been given and whatever good things the Lord sees fit to add from the gifts and talents of His people in this day. We want to encourage reconsideration on the part of those who would treat the liturgical deposits as a finished work. We want to encourage reconsideration on the part of those who would replace entirely the voices of the past with the voice of the present. In other words, we want to make full use of the worship treasures of the past, present, and future.” – Pr Matt Harrison, Today’s Business, Issue 1, May 2013

    It’s reassuring to know that Pastor Harrison agrees with the Confessions:

    “And nevertheless we teach that in these matters the use of liberty is to be so controlled that the inexperienced may not be offended, and, on account of the abuse of liberty, may not become more hostile to the true doctrine of the Gospel, or that without a reasonable cause nothing in customary rites be changed, but that, in order to cherish harmony, such old customs be observed as can be observed without sin or without great inconvenience. And in this very assembly we have shown sufficiently that for love’s sake we do not refuse to observe adiaphora with others, even though they should have some disadvantage; but we have judged that such public harmony as could indeed be produced without offense to consciences ought to be preferred to all other advantages [all other less important matters].” (Apology XV: 51 & 52)

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