I have been reviewing the recent convention of the LC-MS with others by telephone and emails. Some of the things that were proposed for our Synod did not happen, and I think that is good. There is reason to hope for good things in our Synod, mostly because we have a gracious Lord and I expect good from Him. The elections at the convention also cheered me, but not as much as they cheered others. I have seen good men elected before, and when they are gone, the Synod is found to have deteriorated step by step during their tenure, in spite of their very fine work. The forces that want to see our confession altered never rest, and sometimes the warriors for the truth relax their guard when good men are in place, expecting them to do all the heavy lifting. That expectation is not always met.
I understand why warriors relax at times. They get tired of doing battle without relief. They face the accusations of being negative and cranky and critical all of the time. I know because I have been hearing that about myself since I was ordained. It does get tiresome. I have also seen good men, comrades in arms in this great effort, turn suddenly and abandon the battle, sometimes turning to the "dark side", to use a Star Wars analogy. It is always amazing, and disappointing, and sobering, and sorrowful when that happens. From time to time we all long for a break in the battle, but the truth is that the break in the battle comes at the casket, not at the election of the 'right man' to the office. God will tell each of us when it is time to relax and set aside our vigilance.
I remember the days after the Seminex thing and the supposed ascendancy of the conservatives under Jack Preus. I heard many an old war-horse say that we had finally won and now we could rest and get back to "gospel ministry". I heard a lot of young, new to the battle pastors saying the same thing -- as though contending for the faith and confessing Christ were something other than gospel ministry. Of course, Jack Preus changed a bit, apparently concerned that too rigorous a stand would split the Synod, and he was not about to have that happen on his watch! Then he pointed out his chosen successor, the meek and mild Ralph Bohlmann, and we were off to the races again. One can never set aside vigilance without setting aside faithfulness.
Now we are being treated to criticism of the vigilance of one element of the conservative coalition by another, and some talk of optimism, cautious, of course. I have been in this Synod and in the struggle for faithful confession of Christ within her ranks for just over thirty years. I have watched how things go, and have studied our history a little, going back to the days of Walther and Pieper and Pfotehauer, and I have found absolutely no cause for optimism. As I said, I have hope, but that is because of our gracious God, but optimism seems a little out of touch.
I expect good things from President Harrison. He is a good and sincere man and a Christian. He seems like the sort who is not the least ashamed of being Lutheran -- a sort of theologian and leader that has been in short supply in our midst for a long time. I am praying for him and his team and our Synod daily.
I am also aware that the men and women of Jesus First, and similar organizations in our Synod, have not given up and thrown in the towel. They have a vision for the future of our Synod that will not be set aside by them or easily denied by the Synod. Their sympathizers still hold many positions in our Synod, and they often sit in the seats of education where they can recruit new supporters and foot-soldiers. We are way too far down the path described by Krauth (on the progress of error in the church) for this battle to be done with quickly, and those who stand on the other side of the divide from me have come too close to dominance to give up and go away.
No, history shows us that almost never does the tide of error and tolerance with false doctrine get turned back. Some people praised our Synod in the seventies that we had done it, but that victory was only in one skirmish, and those who despise God's Word came back with a vengeance. The problem is that they always come as wolves in sheep's clothing and when we are too clear about identifying them, they cry out in feigned pain and hypocritical piety and take two steps forward for every one step back they were forced to endure. They move forward because the optimists consider too clear a confession to be unnecessarily offensive, and they want to appear reasonable.
I am not optimistic about the long term. The devil never sleeps or grows tired, but good men sometimes do. I have a hope that God will bless our Synod that for a time we may continue to be a voice for the Gospel, but no church body anywhere has ever stood faithful for very long. I have read how even during the days of Walther, some men were chomping at the bit, eagerly waiting for that good man to die and get out of their way so they could make the necessary improvements and modernizations in the Church. They were eager to see Pieper die and relieve them of the oppressive control of that good man. There is always a team of men and women just waiting for the opening to push their agenda forward, and patiently tilling the soil (so to speak) preparing for their opportunity to harvest their crop of change.
So, let us lighten up on the Optimism, and set aside the critique of those whose zeal for faithful confession is somewhat more strident than our own. May God bless President-elect Harrison, and our beloved Synod through him and his team and their work. But let us not forget which side of the great divide we are on and which "team" we want to see win.