Suggestions from a district president on the eve of a Synod convention
By Terry R. Forke
As the 63rd Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod nears, we are hearing a lot about politics, voting lists, coalitions, and kingmakers. One word that is conspicuous in its absence is love. When Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another, He also marked love as a sign that they were His followers. That insight might suggest that a synodical convention would be a good time to put His power of love into action.
This was brought home to me during a recent Council of Presidents meeting. One of the presidents objected vehemently to something I had said. Later, during a break, he came to me, apologizing emotionally for how he had expressed his opinion.
Although we might be said to represent opposite ends of the Council’s theological spectrum, there we stood, in the hallway, talking with each other. He did not come to tell me that I was wrong. He came to listen, to persuade, and to love. I was not his enemy, nor he mine. It struck me, what if that is how we did Synod conventions? What if the convention looked like brothers and sisters talking, listening, and loving — loving each other, the kingdom, and the world?
Love is the beginning of the fight
Would loving each other mean that we would all agree to disagree and go our merry ways? Not at all. At the 2004 convention, it seemed every other delegate at the microphone introduced his or her comments with the plaintive cry, “Let’s stop all the fighting.” What, then, would be the point of the convention if we didn’t love each other enough to fight over the truth? Love doesn’t mean letting everyone have his or her own way. Love is God’s power to care for what is best for someone else. Love is the beginning of the fight.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Jesus didn’t come into the world to bring peace, but a sword. He came to fight for us, because we are incapable of that spiritual battle. He came to fight for the truth. Love was the beginning of that fight.
What if the Synod convention looked like that? If all the delegates came to love each other so much that they wanted to fight for what was best for each other and the kingdom of God, there might be a different tone. Love is the beginning of the convention. That is why we come together, because we love the kingdom. Yes, there are false loves that begin many unhealthy fights — the love of winning, of power, of control, of being right, of being noticed. The rulers of the world fight this way. Not so among us! If we win the election but have not loved, we gain nothing.
Love governs the fight
Imagine two good friends meeting on the wrestling mat. They certainly don’t want to hurt each other. They do want to win the varsity position on the team. What tool is given to them to assure that both goals might be met? The rules are the gift that governs the fight.
Love not only begins, but also governs the fight that takes place at a Synod convention. “Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Special-interest groups cannot bind the Synod together. Compromises and influence-brokering cannot bind the Synod together. Love can. Since love is not our innate power, but that which comes from God, one rule for the convention might be to put on love. On top of everything else we wear, we put on the power of God’s love.
Since much of the convention’s business is carried out verbally, that love will be most evident in the manner in which we speak. “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up into Him who is the head, into Christ.” Of course, there are ways to speak the truth in hatred, anger, and jealousy. In fact, it may even happen that the truth is not spoken at all. These unhealthy ways of fighting only hurt our brothers and sisters, as well as the kingdom of God. By God’s power, His people speak the truth in love.
Since God’s Word is truth, it stands to reason that when we speak to each other, we speak from the authority of His Word. To love each other is to let His Word speak and to restrain our own words. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Listening to each other to hear what God’s Word is saying makes it easier to put the best construction on what our brother or sister is saying or doing. In this way we put on love.
You don’t have to be a delegate to participate in this aspect of the convention. Every congregation and every member of every congregation can pray that God’s power of love will govern the convention. You can pray that God’s will is done and that His love is demonstrated to the world in the words that are spoken and the actions that are taken.
Love ends the fight
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” It is highly unlikely that one convention is going to solve all the disagreements in our beloved Synod. Love is able to endure because it never ends. We trust that God’s kingdom will endure, not because we make all the right decisions at a convention, but because He is God, and He loves us, His kingdom.
When the convention ends, no matter how it ends, we will still love each other because God’s love is that powerful. Veterans of conventions gone by tell stories of how delegates used to fight tooth and nail on the convention floor, and then, when all was said and done, would run out and have dinner together. It’s true. I have seen it happen. God’s love gives hope of eventually overcoming all our differences. That is how it ends, as it began. It cannot end in our wisdom, but in the love God has for us in Jesus. Our wisdom can only lead to death because it is tainted by sin. God’s love for us in Jesus leads to forgiveness and the promise of new life. The 63rd Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod will begin, run, and end in love because God is love.
Rev. Terry R. Forke has been president of the LCMS Montana District since 2006.
Posted July 2, 2007