Only those who have been living in a cave for several months are unaware of the remarkable distinctions among the candidates eager to occupy the Oval Office in the White House. Areas of disagreement exist, both within major political parties and across party lines. These differences include positions on everything from the economy to immigration to Supreme Court appointees to foreign policy and more. Some differences are minor. Others are vitally significant.
Perhaps not quite so obvious to some are similar distinctions in the ecclesiastical world, particularly that of my own church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Nominees for the office of national president to be elected in the coming months have been announced. All three candidates are clergymen in good standing on the Synod’s roster of ordained ministers of the Gospel. They all also strongly profess allegiance to the authority of Holy Scripture and to the Lutheran Confessions as a correct interpretation of Scripture. We would expect and accept nothing less.
That commitment works well where basic matters of faith and life are concerned but not so well for issues on which Holy Scripture and the Confessions may be silent or non-conclusive or on which varying interpretations simply are not in agreement. Basic general commitment to these important documents does not necessarily imply concurrence among these men on matters of importance for the future of the LCMS. Here are some topics on which LCMS nominees might differ:
- View of the role of the church in society.
- Flexibility or rigidity in worship style and content.
- Interpretation of the biblical doctrine of eternal election.
- Attitude toward clergy participation in public civic events.
- Application of biblical principles of inter-Christian relationships.
- Understanding and commitment to the mission of Christ’s Church.
- Approach to biblical interpretation of the role of women in the church.
- Evangelical or stringent attitude toward administration of the Sacraments.
In addition to that list, other important considerations differentiate candidates from one another in both the political and ecclesiastical arenas. These include personal integrity, courage, management style, leadership effectiveness, ability to work well with others, trustworthiness, collaborative spirit, loyalty and moderation in all things. A basic question many people ask is whether they would be proud to be represented by the person elected to the office of president of the nation or the church.
In the political arena, personal attacks and ad hominem criticisms prevail. In the ecclesiastical arena of the LCMS, what used to be a highly politicized process for electing a national president prior to and during the triennial national convention has been replaced by an electronic balloting process several weeks prior to the convention. More than any other factor, that new process has contributed greatly to the peaceful climate of recent national conventions.
My prayer is for that kind of spirit to prevail, both politically and ecclesiastically, and for the leader selected in each realm to lead and govern faithfully, responsibly and effectively!