by Rev. Jerry Kieschnick
At one convention … I got a question I don’t recall having been asked before: ‘If you could change one thing in the LCMS, what would it be?’
Beginning with North Dakota in January and ending in July with Central Illinois, the Synod’s 35 districts met in convention this year, as they do every three years. Please allow me to share some reflections on these gatherings.
I like to kid about going to North Dakota in January, but the weather was rather pleasant this time around. Instead of being 40 below zero, which it was the week before the convention, I was greeted there with a balmy 30 degrees above zero—yet with snow piled high and deep everywhere! (It was even balmier in Springfield, Ill., in July, but not all that bad. It was only in the 80s.)
One of the highlights of the convention season for me is the opportunity to worship with the pastors, commissioned ministers, and lay leaders of our congregations. There is great joy in worshiping together with several hundred Christian brothers and sisters who so exuberantly praise our gracious God in word and song.
My joy is compounded when I join those hundreds of fellow Christians at the table of our Lord, being fed with His true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and expressing the unity in Christ and the unity of confession that we share with one another. These truly are gifts of our gracious God for which we constantly and joyfully thank Him!
Interesting, though not surprising, is the variety of liturgical formats, instruments, choral presentations, and hymns or songs used in convention worship. Some services were beautifully traditional. Others were less traditional and included contemporary elements. In all of these services, however, the spirit of God was evident in the exuberant singing, fervent praying, and powerful preaching that were the order of the day.
Another highlight of district conventions for me is the question-and-answer session held at each gathering. While the questions submitted by delegates are gathered in writing by the district president or his designee, I insist on not seeing them in advance or having any hint at their content. This presents me with the opportunity—and challenge—of being prepared to respond extemporaneously to a wide variety of questions about our Synod’s positions, perspectives, challenges, opportunities, and relationships.
Typically, I receive questions about the financial condition of the Synod, higher education, the Synod’s work in missions and human care, inter-Christian relationships, Communion administration, the role of women in the church, and the pros and cons of alternative worship styles. At one convention, though, I got a question I don’t recall having been asked before: “If you could change one thing in the LCMS, what would it be?”
After a few seconds of reflection, I answered something like this: If I could change anything in the LCMS, it would be the climate of distrust that that has existed among us for many years.
While Holy Scripture does not address directly the matter of trust between human beings, it does teach us, as Martin Luther explained, to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. This leads us down a path of love, respect, and, dare I say, trust of others whom He also has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified.
Luther wrote in his explanation to the Eighth Commandment that we should defend and speak well of our neighbor and put the best construction on everything. It grieves my spirit when I hear or read words that at best misrepresent the words or actions of others or, at worst, are slanderous toward others—either way, dishonoring the Eighth Commandment. Many of these words are harmful to the reputation of individual pastors, teachers, or lay people. To say the least, a spirit of distrust also conveys a non-helpful perception of our Synod, internally and externally.
There is a strong relationship between trust and Christian unity. The greater our unity, the greater our trust. I read often the words of Eph. 4:1–6, where Paul writes, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
As the Spirit of God moves and works among us through Word and Sacrament, may our love for one another and our confidence in His Word result in a growing spirit of trust in our Synod.
John 3:16 –17
Lives Transformed through Christ, in Time . . . for Eternity!
Web page: www.lcms.org/president