Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The LCMS Convention - Personal Observations and Concerns
Part of me hesitates to comment on this latest convention. For one thing I wasn't there, although the actions of the assembly are public knowledge. Another reason is that I find myself at cross-purposes with some of the directions of my church body, and I'm not sure how to express my reservations in an edifying manner. So, is that diplomatic, or not?
After reading some of the observations of others and talking with one of our local delegates, here are some of my own thoughts:
1.) Control of the national leadership of Synod seems to be pretty much in the hands of one political group. However, looking at the voting results for the incumbent president with less than 53%, it is obvious that the synod is anything but unified around this leadership.
2.) Along with this control there is another related development as regards the involvement and decision making of the laity of Synod. In 2004 the dispute resolution policy was significantly changed, eliminating the possibility that members of Synod or her churches could actually initiate charges of discipline against those who erred in practice and teaching. This was all essentially transferred to the district presidents and the Council of Presidents. Now, in 2009, there will be a specially called convention for the purpose of changing the very governance structure of Synod. From my understanding it appears that there will be a proposed change to what is commonly referred to as "policy based governance."
Many parishes in the Synod, and some districts, have moved to this structure, replacing much of what used to be decided in larger assemblies (such as voters' meetings), with a more streamlined board of directors. While in the business world this makes a lot of sense, where waiting on critical decisions can make the difference of a company losing a contract or falling behind their competitors,- it does not make sense for a church. The rationale given is that the synod is in financial trouble. That is no doubt true. But taking away our voice will only exasperate relations across synod (which are strained, to say the least), and parishes are likely to give less in the future if they do not feel they are a part of the decision making process.
A decision to change the governing structure of Synod will ultimately have to go to the parishes themselves for a final vote, requiring, I am sure, at least 2/3 to pass. I suspect that it will be a tough sell at this point. It should be remembered that a majority of Synod's churches fall into the 200 or 300 and smaller category. The views of these smaller and oftentimes very rural churches will be significantly different than the bigger city parishes.
3.) A tax on churches? From what I heard there is talk also of requiring a kind of "tax" for synod's churches to bolster the financial support of the church body. This, too, may come up in '09. Again, I don't think that the rank-and-file parishes out there will take too kindly to this. They are already sensitive about tight budgets and the financial strain of keeping their own churches afloat. I can't imagine that such a requirement will in any way endear members to the Synod, especially in the challenged churches of the shrinking rural landscape.
3.) Pulpit and altar fellowship was formalized with the American Association of Lutheran Churches - I commented on this pending action back on January 9 in "Fellowship and the AALC." My concerns remain the same. Although I understand that 'on paper' they look more or less orthodox, the prevailing practice within their synod gives me pause for great angst. It is no secret that there is a traditional of Neo-pentecostalism and open communion within this church body. We have battled both of these practices in our past history, especially over the last 30 years. Now, with a formal fellowship agreement in place, there is little motivation for any of their churches to change, thus legitimizing the practices all the more within the LCMS as well.
These are just a few of the items that transpired last week. As I read and study the decisions further I will certainly have more upon which to comment.
As I reflect on all that transpired at this convention, I remember that often little in the local parish is directly or immediately affected by the decisions made in these national assemblies. Even if the national organization continues to disenfranchise its members from involvement in the day-to-day details of discipline and dollars, parishes will still call the shots at the local level.
For me I'm just going back to work. People still need to be fed the Word. The convention didn't change that.