September 2023

From the pastor…

The 68th regular convention of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod was held in Milwaukee, WI from July 29 to August 3, 2023. Frank Lehmann, of St. Andrew, Pekin was our Niagara Circuit lay delegate and I was the pastoral delegate.  This is not an LCMS-certified report of the proceedings.  It’s my own report as your delegate, complete with my own interpretation of the results and events of the gathering.

This was my third time serving as a synod convention delegate and I’ve learned that there are many things that are common to these gatherings. 

  • There is a lot of very meaningful worship, led by some very impressive liturgists and preachers. 
  • There is a lot of Christian fellowship among the participants, who come from all around the world. 
  • And there is a lot of detailed parliamentary procedure that governs the desires of people to talk with and against each other.

Here are the actions of the convention that I found to be the most newsworthy:

Elections

The job of every convention is to elect people to fill the Synod vice-presidencies, the many boards of directors and the many Concordia University boards of regents.  Suffice it to say that this convention re-elected many incumbents to continuing terms of service.

Altar and Pulpit Fellowship

The most joyful highlight of this convention was the day in which we voted to extend altar and pulpit fellowship to several Lutheran church bodies around the globe.  It was inspiring to see how Christians persevere and rise up under persecution that is sometimes political and sometimes violent. 

  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Sudan and Sudan persists in a place that exists under civil war and perpetually ineffective government.
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine ministers to a people who are besieged by war.  The Ukrainian bishop displayed a badly dented helmet that he and other pastors have worn as they’ve visited their people while bombs were falling.
  • The Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sri Lanka was begun by LCMS missionaries and is now being recognized as a self-governing church body in a land that is largely non-Christian and dominated by Muslim and Hindu populations.
  • The Lutheran Church of Uganda has grown to 50,000 members since its humble beginnings thirty years ago.
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland fights a tough battle to proclaim orthodox Christianity in a county where political correctness is the order of the day.  Despite having a Lutheran state church, the Finnish government has arrested both pastors and lay people for teaching God’s order of creation and sexuality.
  • Sadly, we voted to sever fellowship with a longtime partner church – the Japan Lutheran Church – over the issue of women’s ordination.  Despite many years of collegial dialogue, they have refused to return to a Biblical understanding of the pastoral office.  Doing so reveals their liberal interpretation of Scripture as human and amendable.  This is only the second time the LCMS has severed altar and pulpit fellowship with a partner church.  The first was over the same issue, with the American Lutheran Church (now part of the ELCA), in 1981.

Concordia University System

Another sad story is the declining state of the Concordia University System.  Not long ago there were nine colleges and universities that were governed by the LCMS. Concordia schools in Selma, Alabama, Portland, Oregon and Bronxville, New York have closed due to low enrollments and financial problems.  Concordia University in Austin, Texas declared last fall that it was going to elect its own board of regents and operate independently of the LCMS.  They can’t legally do that, so the regents elected by this convention are sure to have a frosty welcome ahead of them.  (Update: the existing board of Concordia, Austin told the newly elected members to not even come to the meeting.  They’re not wanted!)  The convention passed a resolution urging them to repent of their divisive action and to submit to synod governance. 

In connection with this problem, the convention voted to revise the bylaws of the Concordia University System to strengthen their fellowship with the synod. All five presidents of the remaining Concordia schools endorsed this resolution as beneficial.

Word and Sacrament

The convention delegates reaffirmed the synod’s teaching on closed communion, by an 89% affirmative vote.  Whether you call it “close” communion or “closed” communion, the Biblical principle is that participation in the Lord’s Supper is a confession of common faith and doctrine where the sacrament is administered and received. Other resolutions affirmed in-person reception of the Lord’s Supper, as opposed to the practice of “over the internet” fellowship and encouraged all members to come back to in-person worship. There was a resolution regarding Church and State that seemed to be preparing for us to push back against health mandates prohibiting group worship.

Pastoral Ministry

The decline in seminary graduates and the increase of men taking alternate routes to ministry was a concern to this convention.  There were resolutions to encourage more men to attend residential seminaries and to endorse that as the preferred road to ordained ministry.  The concern over congregations raising up men to be Specific Ministry Pastors is that it will, over time, reduce the knowledge level of clergy.

Resolutions were passed to allow congregations to speak with seminary students before placing calls.  Ordained but inactive pastors on “candidate status” were allowed a longer period before being dropped from the roster.

Congregational Life

A resolutions was passed in support of planting more churches, while the needs of smaller congregations and multi-congregation parishes were recognized.  No actual resources were allocated for their needs, however.

Church in Society

Resolutions regarding the Church and society encouraged a culture of life and respect for human dignity.  Racism in any form was condemned, and ministry to all ethnic groups was supported.  The convention reaffirmed the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death.  In this post-Christian age of unrestrained sexuality and gender confusion we also reaffirmed the Biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality.  The practice of regular family devotions was encouraged, and fathers were encouraged to be the leaders of these.  The convention affirmed the authority of mothers and fathers to raise their children as they deem best.  Proper use of social media was endorsed, while the possibility of the government implementing a mandatory registration of women for the military draft was decried. (Some people had perceived that as something Congress was considering recently).

Missions, Mercy and Human Care

An initiative called the Alliance Missionary Program was commended for its work in overseas missions.  The convention resolved to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking around the world.  The work of the LCMS and its registered service organizations in disaster response around the world was commended.  Thanks was given to God for delivering us through the COVID-19 pandemic as well.

  • As with any convention, peoples’ voices were heard and the process of turning ideas into substance was – at least on paper – put into action.

In Christ, who works through His Church,

Pastor Bauch

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