I tuned in to watch the streaming video of the opening worship of the LCMS convention tonight. I was truly impressed. I was not sure I watching anything Lutheran, but it was impressive.
First, I have to confess I tuned in late. I came in at the middle of the sermon by our beloved President. I have a problem, and it is mine, personally, with the man. He does things that make no sense for a man in his position in a Christian church body, so I have trouble listening to him -- and I didn't do much listening. I found something else to do, as he was telling the gripping story of the frantic attempt to save someone's life so his daughter could be reconciled with him. It was a gripping, tear-jerking story. He told it well. I would rather have heard solid Word of God preaching, but I guess that is just me.
Then I watched the communion service. Now, I must confess, I do not believe that conventions and conferences have any business having communion services. There can be no proper exercise of pastoral discipline at the altar. I was raised to believe that closed communion was proper, and Missouri Synod polity said that such things (you know, communion services) belonged in the context of the congregation at worship. Still I watched, riveted by what was happening like someone might be as they watched a tragic accident unfold.
The service planning committee decided the issue of the Eucharistic Prayer. They used one. I would not have been able to commune for that reason alone, if I were minded to commune at conferences (which I believe is contrary to our Missouri Synod theology in this regard), because I believe that the Eucharistic Prayer is not appropriate for Lutheran services. I know I am not in agreement with many of my brothers on this topic, but that is where I stand, and I was disappointed to see that we had that issue resolved for the convention with the wrong answer.
I noticed that they practiced the showy but un-Lutheran practice of the fraction of the host - breaking the huge piece of bread - during the consecration. I had been taught that Lutherans did not do that because the Reformed insisted, contrary to sound doctrine, that it was essential to the proper practice and of the essence of the Supper. We avoided the fraction, not by law but by confession, just as we avoid Baptism by immersion because so many among the Reformed say it isn't a 'valid' baptism without total immersion. So they offended sound Lutheran practice, in my opinion, by breaking the host in the speaking of the Words of Institution.
Then I noticed that none of the elements on the altar during the consecration were used in the distribution. When all was said and done, those elements remained on the altar. The elements that were distributed were behind the officiant in the hands of the assisting ministers throughout the consecration - and the officiant never made any move to identify them or recognize them as present while he was speaking the words of institution. My judgment at that point was that they had no communion to distribute, just common cookies and Kool-aide, like the Reformed they seemed so eager to emulate. I had never seen a symbolic consecration like that before, at least not in a Lutheran Church.
Then the songs sung during the distribution - I hesitate to call them hymns - were, with one exception, '7-11' type praise songs. Some of them did not actually name the Lord of whom, presumably, they spoke. One of the songs mentioned the name of Jesus only once. Another kept singing about "my Jesus Christ", as though He were their personal possession and someone else might validly have another Jesus Christ? Clearly, the service was intended for someone who had not grown up in a traditional Missouri Synod congregation.
I found it all troubling. But that is just me, and I am a newcomer to Lutheranism. I was only Baptized about 60 years ago and raised in the LCMS, and attended one of the Missouri Synod's seminaries for four years. I only have 30 years experience in the parish ministry as an active advocate for true and confessional Lutheranism, so I probably misjudged much of what I saw due to my recent entrance into Lutheranism.
I also found the prayers in the service disquieting. Paul says that hearing the Word of God in a "tongue" and not knowing what is being said is a judgment of God (see 1 Cor. 14) on unbelief. The exception is when someone interprets. Unfortunately when the prayers were offered in Korean (I think) and some African Tongue, Spanish, and even our beloved German, there were no subtitles explaining what was being prayed. As Paul says, how can we add the "Amen" if we do not know what is being said (1 Cor 14:16)? Call me a fuddy-duddy, but 1 Cor 14:21 & 22 seem to speak to this situation, too.
I often have issues with convention service planners, like the year we had a preacher at our Synodical Convention wearing a yarmulke as he preached, which seemed to disregard God's Word about praying and prophesying with one's head covered. I stubbornly think that God's Word remains valid and true and we ought to respect it. This year just struck me as flying in the face of Lutheranism. I am sure I will be told that I am wrong, and that we have learned to understand those passages differently - or disregard them - but it was hard to believe that what I was watching streaming over the internet was Lutheran. Even harder to believe it was the LCMS. I guess this is not my grandfather's church any longer, after all!