Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Timed Test

Have you ever taken one of those timed tests?  You know the kind, where you have a seemingly endless list of difficult questions, and only a certain number of minutes in which to complete the test, or as much of it as you are able?  I have taken a few in my time, and sometimes the test flies by and you wonder why they have given you so much time.  Other tests are so hard that you could swear that they have shortened the time when you were not looking, and you struggle to finish what you are able to accomplish in the time allotted.  Then, there is the test that seems quite doable, but as you progress in the test, you find it so challenging that you pray for the time to run out so you can simply stop testing.

Life is a timed test.  We have no idea how long it is, or how difficult it can or will be.  Sometimes it seems like you will have all the answers finished long before you run out of time.  Sometimes it seems like you will never be able to answer all of the questions.  But most of the time, life is a difficult test.  Just when you think you have it squared away, you turn the page and new challenges confront you.

I find myself hoping, at times, that the time runs out and I can quit testing.  I miss those who have finished the test ahead of me and are no longer there to kibitz with.  I find some of the questions tiresome, and some of them just too painful to keep answering.  Mostly, I find it frustrating that instead of feeling more competent as time goes on, I feel less capable.

The Gospel is such a wonderful thing.  It tells me that I never was capable, and God knew it.  Sometimes it feels like the point of the test is to run out of gas and finally know that the only passing grade is a gift from the test administrator.  The longer I sit and test, the more certain I am that I have little to offer the testing process.  I cannot quit early, they mark that down as a failure, but I certainly long for the day I can lay down my pencil and turn the test papers in, and go out and join my friends and family who have completed the test before me.  I am sure they are just waiting for me to join them so we can celebrate together.

Oh well.  Back to the test.  It seems I have a few more questions to answer, and who knows how much time yet to get it done.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Don't Start Now!

If you do not normally read your bills while paying them, or someone else handles that chore, don't pick them up and start reading them.  It is like a visit to the Twilight Zone!

I confess.  My wife handles the bill paying -- by her choice and my happy compliance with her desire.  But today I decided to open the bills that arrived and read them.  The electric bill had an assortment of taxes and assessments, and energy charge (for the electricity) and an "availability charge" of $25.

That last one caught my eye.  I actually called to ask them what the item was.  The girl on the other end said it was just what it said it was -- it was the cost of providing the electricity - the buildings, the wires, the poles, and the salaries of various people.  I asked if she was saying that I was paying for the electricity and then also paying them to deliver it -and she said, "Of course!"

Frankly, it strikes me as stealing.  I don't go to grocers and expect to pay for the groceries and then have an additional percentage tacked on to cover the cost of the building and the employees.  I don't expect the gas station in town to charge an extra premium for actually having a station and pumps and such.  I expect that the products purchased are priced to include the cost of doing business.  The electric company, however, is bold enough to charge a pretty premium for the electricity and then charge the customers for their cost of doing business on top of the high cost of their product.

Next, I imagine that they will add a profit surcharge - you know, to cover actually making a profit on top of the cost of the product and their cost of doing business.  You can only get away with these shenanigans when the product is absolutely necessary and there is no real competition.  Utilities and governments - the two really abusive entities.  I wish I had not read my bills.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


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.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's Done!!

The convention is over, for good or for ill.  Some final thoughts:

First, let me give praise where it is due:  President Gerald Kieschnick ran a great convention!  I am addressing the chairing of the thing, not the business, of course.  He was fair and impartial, patient beyond patience and good humored.  If all the President did was chair the convention, he would be a great president.  I thank him for his conduct of the convention.  I was most impressed with his handling of the election of the new president, which must have caused him personal consternation, but he did not show it publicly.  Well done, Rev. President!

What this convention will have done to our Synod waits to evidence itself, but reading the resolutions does not give one a good feeling.  It appears to have changed the nature and polity of the Synod.  It has become a top-down thing, not a congregation-led church body.  The President, any president, has been given too much power.  Any president of the future that is minded to dramatically distort our Synod has that power much more nearly at hand.

The majority of the delegates seemed to grow very tired, and simply passed whatever was given to them.  Only three resolutions failed.  Another three were referred back or withdrawn, and less than a dozen were amended.  Everything else passed, often by huge majorities.  That means that as the week went on, tired delegates simply voted "yes" to get it over with.

Some argued that since these "good men and women" on the committees had worked so hard, we should honor their work by passing it.  But that was not the task of the delegates.  Their task was to be to act as gatekeepers and only admit what was, in fact, beneficial for our church.  Now, their judgment may have differed from mine at times, but the passage of so many resolutions so uncritically - even allowing the question to be called regularly without debate, means that they were not acting as gatekeepers, but as an unguarded gate!

It was troubling to see not just lay delegates, but pastoral delegates approach the microphone and confess that they did not understand parliamentary procedure, had not studied the resolutions they were acting upon, and did not even understand what was happening around them.  When a pastor tries to amend "commend for study" with "encourage the Synod to read and study", he reflects that he had no idea what the language he was trying to amend meant.  A Pastor!   Senseless amendments to add words that were already there in previous resolves of the same resolution seemed to indicate that the amenders (sadly, pastors again) had not carefully read the resolutions, or comprehended them if they had read them.

Saddest of all is that the delegates repeatedly tried to fiddle with the insignificant language of the resolutions while ignoring the real issues.  For example, no one addressed the perpetual gerrymandering of the Synod's regions they were authorizing as they approved that resolution, but they fiddled with - or tried to - relatively unimportant phrases in the whereas-es or the resolves.  Clearly, many of the people who were voting to totally transform our beloved Synod were not serious about the work or even quite aware of what they were doing, in many cases.

One pastor stood up and condemned an overture in the workbook, one seeking to confirm our confession, as "controlling and dysfunctional".  Whether one agrees with the overture -the overture asked the Synod to request those church bodies in altar and pulpit fellowship with our Synod to withdraw from the LWF because the LWF boldly states that membership in it is also altar and pulpit fellowship with all the other members - the judgment that expressing that concern is dysfunctional or controlling is simply outrageous!  I found the dancing and spinning to avoid the issue performed before the convention by the CTCR leadership to be dysfunctional.  But be that as it may, the condescension of the pastor who spoke so harshly should have been called out of order by the chair.

In fact, before I go on to the next thought, it should be noted that if those churches that stand in full fellowship with us can define altar and pulpit fellowship issues so differently that they can belong the the LWF and say that they 'do not consider it to be fellowship' while the LWF proclaims that membership is fellowship, how can we have any confidence that anything they agree to or sign means anything to them that it means to us?  Confessing the same faith while acknowledging that they confess something different elsewhere ought to be a big red flag!  If their traditions tell them that words mean something different to them than they do to us, Dr. Nafzger, how can we honestly have confidence that their confession of the same faith with us means the same things to them as we understand them to mean?  The defense of rejecting Overture 3-16 offered to the convention casts doubt on the entire process of declaring fellowship that was being defended!

On to the next point:  The same faces were seen at the microphones far too often.  There was a convention of twelve hundred people but the same two dozen speakers showed up at the microphones on every issue.  Some of that was doubtlessly an attempt to stall the convention and forestall it business, but they were out-maneuvered and out-planned.  Every single resolution that the committees wanted to bring before the convention were acted upon.  The planners gave the convention too much time to be forestalled, and the chair of the convention was far too able to be denied that victory.

On the bright side, from my perspective, the elections went well, and the convention made the best of the election process that it could have.  The Synod has a new presidium and they will have the opportunity to make the best possible use of the unfortunate changes enacted by the convention.  They will need our prayers.  Only God knows what He has planned for the next few years of our church body, and we must pray and work to see that the best possible results obtain from all of this.

Still, this will not be the "Old Missouri".  Whether that is a good thing or not will depend on the members of the Synod.  I am not optimistic, but I do believe that God is in charge, and He can make wonderful things happen even in circumstances we might consider truly unfortunate.  And what we have in our Synod is not evil, just different, unknown and unpredictable, and spooky to contemplate, knowing the history of the last decades of conflict in our Synod.

May God guide us and bless us, and prosper the Gospel through all of our work.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Let's Pretend!

As happens with most conventions, almost everything is passing --  unfortunately.  Sometimes pious fictions get approved as well.  In the case of resolution 7-02, we had a deliberate white-washing of history.

The resolution, which finally passed with an 83.5% approval, stated that CCM opinion 02-2309 "should not have been and shall never be understood" to grant immunity to any member of Synod in the case of misconduct.  During the debate on the issue, a delegate stood up and read the words of the opinion as published, "The member that acted cannot be charged since he or she acted according to the advice of his or er ecclesiastical supervisor" (emphasis added).  The floor committee, in the person of its chairman, D.P. Lane Seitz, proceeded to say that the opinion did not say what it said and did not mean what it meant because the CCM has had other opinions on the same topic.  That is intentionally misguiding and misinforming the convention.

I believe the assembly passed the thing by the margin it did because the delegates are getting tired of the debate - and the endless amendments, and some people there simply don't want that opinion overturned because it would mean that expulsion the D.P. David Benke, overturned by that CCM opinion, was proper all those years ago.  Regardless of its consequences, or lack of them, the resolution as passed is wrong - and it is not even a 'pious fantasy'.  The argument was made, by a member of "Jesus First", that the problem was so long ago and we should let the past be by-gones.  A lie, however, even when codified and made part of the official history of the Synod by convention, is still a lie.

But, hey, we are church!  This convention is all about unity and forgiveness and such.  So why rock the boat?

Somebody someday will point back at words (not necessarily these, but it will happen) carefully crafted to hide the truth, and say, "See?  They passed it back then!"  It won't matter that people did not know what they were doing, or that they endorsed a dishonest statement.  It will just be fodder for the mill, to promote something else, perhaps dicey and suspect.  But, since it is a convention, and everyone is supposed to be on their toes and paying attention, let's pretend!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Pleasant Surprise

This has been a typical Missouri Synod convention.  The delegates make a mess by choosing policies that are "progressive", and then select a solid, conservative man to handle the mess.  They did it to J.A.O. Preus in the 1960's.  They did it to Alvin Barry in the 1980's.  Now we have done it to Matthew Harrison.

Don't get me wrong, I am delighted that Matthew Harrison was elected -- and on the first ballot!  I praise God that He did not leave Matthew alone, but gave him a good man for first Vice-President in Herbert Mueller.  Three of the four other VP's were also confessional men likely to be of one mind with our new president.  Still, they will have to deal with the unwise re-organization of the Synod chosen by the delegates.

While I am not cheered by the direction of the Synod's votes on polity, I am comforted that we will have good men leading the Synod as it puts it into place.  I must leave the final outcome in the hands of our Lord - nothing else is clear in this jumble.

Thank you, Lord, for the comfort of the election of this Presidium!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Day the Music Died

The song in my title came to mind as I was watching my home burn down.  It wasn't the house I live in, it was the Synod that I had grown up in that burned down.  No matter what else happens, we can mark July 12, 2010 as the day the Missouri Synod died.

It was a close thing -- 51.3% voted to change the Synod structure.  Without seeming to recognize it, the delegates in the slender majority codified the change from Synod as a working-together of congregations, and an assisting organization for that work, into a thing of which congregations are merely sub-units and franchises.  Synod now determines how we congregations will work and what our goals and emphases shall be.  They haven't gotten to them yet, but other Committee Eight resolutions will change the definition of membership, reducing the significance and uniqueness of the pastoral ministry into just one of fourteen brands of "individual membership", and requiring congregational members to get on board, support the programs, and send in their money in order to remain members in good standing.  Quite the change.

How do I know that they will approve this?  They already approved on-going, perpetual gerrymandering of the Synod by the BOD and the COP to make sure that we elect the right sort of Vice Presidents - and BOD and what not.  So, now we have a new structure, a new, top-down organizational polity, a new relationship of pastors to Synod and to other "individual members", and the new idea of congregations as sub-units of synod, instead of the Synod as the creation and tool for the service of the ministry of the congregations.

What is really frustrating, besides the self-serving dishonesty (we call that "spin") of the officials, is that the debate on the floor of the convention has revealed that this slender majority that is enacting all these sweeping changes in our Synod does not seem to understand the polity they are replacing, or parliamentary procedure.  They seem to be in love with their own voices and with pointless amendments and terminating debate over the issues of greatest importance to the life our our Synod.  But they do not appear to understand the issues, or the intended or unintended consequences of their actions.

God is in charge, but I don't think His aim in this convention is as bright and positive as the leaders of our church body would like us to believe.  "My word will not return unto me void, without accomplishing that for which I sent it," does not mean that God always speaks to bless.  Sometimes He speaks to judge.  I weep for the Synod that once was, which nurtured me and so many, and which is very soon to be no longer.

I have always opposed the resolutions to change the name of the Synod.  I think now, it is time.  After all, it is not the Missouri Synod any longer, at least not the Synod of Walther and Wyneken, and Pieper and Pfotenhauer.  More's the pity.

Lord, have mercy upon us!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hard to Believe it is Lutheran

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!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Dog's Life

I was walking my dog the other day when it struck me how a dog could serve as an illustration of human behavior in sin.

My dog is always straining at the leash, and when he is permitted to run free in the yard, he is always testing the limits.  It doesn't seem to matter how large or small the yard is, the only thing the dog is interested in is the edge of the yard - and he is constantly trying to escape to the 'outside'.

My dog is generally responsive to voice commands, so I can walk him around the yard - or sometimes the neighborhood - without a leash, but now and then, he acts as though he is deaf.  I know that he is not deaf; he can hear me open a bag of dog treats (or the container of animal crackers - his favorite!) from three rooms away.  Nevertheless, he acts deaf when he thinks I cannot see him, or I am too far away to grab him.  He is particularly hard of hearing when he is facing something he does not want to do - like take a bath or get a haircut.

Human behavior when facing the will of God is similar.  We tend to always want to go where we ought not to go and to do the forbidden thing.  When our circumstances permit little freedom, we seem driven to disobey in some small way, and take a perverse sort of comfort in doing so.  Where we have no limits -or so it seems- on our conduct, we tend to try to find the limits by doing more and more absurd, foolish, or dangerous things.  We tend not to hear the Word of God unless we are in trouble, or we want something from Him very urgently.

One day, I asked him why he was so contrary (as though he is capable of understanding everything I say) - and it struck me that his conduct was just like sinful man's conduct before God.  That did not make his misbehavior much easier to deal with, but it did make me laugh -- and thank God that He is so much more patient and forgiving that I am often minded to be.

It also put me in mind of the poem by Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, called, "To a Louse", referring to the insect, not to a particular sort of human miscreant.  Anyhow, the first two lines of the last verse are as follows:

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us.