From Convention to Conference

It’s good to be home again. After a week of rain, humidity, and heat in Tampa, FL at the synodical convention, it’s good to be home. I’ll be home just long enough to wash my clothes, prepare a sermon, and head down to Irvine for the last of the Higher Things Concordia conferences. All things considered, I’d rather be at a youth conference than a synodical convention any week of days.

The convention was much the same experience as the last time I was a pastoral delegate in 2001. Lots of political maneuvering, parliamentary tactics, power plays, and behavior more appropriate to the floor of Congress or a political convention than a synod of churches. But we are all simul justus et peccator, simultaneously righteous and sinful, so that is to be expected. That’s why, for good and for ill, we have constitutions, bylaws, and Roberts Rules of Order. Sad to say, we still have the tendency to reach for the left-handed tools of power to achieve conformity instead of seeking the true unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. I think we all need to resolve to pray and listen more, speak less, and use the left-handed tools of power as little as possible.

As a delegate, the most inspiring part of the convention were the mission presentations from around the world. I hope to be able to show them to you at some point. It’s amazing what God is doing through the efforts of our synod’s missionaries and partnerships. The highlight for me was an essay delivered by Pr. Gottfried Martens of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK). He spoke about the amazing work among Syrian refugees who have sought asylum in Germany and how the Spirit has brought many Muslims to faith in Jesus Christ, the true Merciful One. I was deeply moved to tears by the courage and sacrifice of these new Christians who have lost goods, fame, child, and spouse for the sake of Christ. It reminded me that our little inconveniences and social snubs are nothing compared with the persecutions our brothers and sisters in Christ face in other parts of the world. It also showed how God works His good in, with, and under the most dire of circumstances.

This coming week, I will be the presiding chaplain for the last of the Higher Things “Concordia” conferences on the beautiful campus of Concordia-Irvine. We have a great group of kids going this year, some bringing their instruments for use in worship, and I know it will be a week of beautiful worship, solid teaching, and just plain fun being together.

I like the conference theme “Concordia.” It’s not just the name of our synodical schools, but it’s also the name of the book that contains our Lutheran Confessions – The Book of Concord (1580). It comes from the Formula of Concord, the last of our Lutheran confessional documents, which settled potentially divisive differences among Lutherans after the death of Martin Luther, when the Reformation was threatened by strong differences of opinion and perspective. To the credit of Martin Chemnitz and Jacob AndreƤ and the other theologians and pastors involved, the Lutherans did not use power to coerce conformity to a majority, but through a careful process of constructive dialogue and discernment, they achieved clarity and true concord.

We could learn much from the method by which they achieved concord: Definition, delineation, dialogue, clear confession and rejection. They defined their terms, delineated the issues, dialogued, and confessed clearly what they believed and rejected what they did not believe. They were exceedingly careful not to go beyond what the Scriptures clearly taught or add to the universal doctrine of the church catholic. They rigorously avoided party politics, name-calling, and power tactics. We would do well to imitate this in our own day whenever we disagree. Concord is a work of the Holy Spirit through the Word; conformity is the outcome of power to coerce others. The church body, our congregation, each and every Christian, should always work toward concord over conformity.

I’m looking forward to a week of concord at Concordia. It’s a chance to spend some quality time with our youth, see old friends from Higher Things, gather around around Word and Supper singing the hymns of our tradition, and rejoice in the true unity of the Spirit that we share in concord. After a week in convention, a week at Concordia will be a time of healing and refreshment. Please pray for our group, our leaders, and for me.

In Jesus,