Quo Vadis, LCMS?


That’s the title of a presentation I offered this past week at the Best Practices for Ministry Conference in Phoenix. Hosted by Christ Church Lutheran (that’s their correct name), this conference is now the largest single conference in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Christ Church provides the venue, meals, atmosphere, and opportunity for over 2,200 people, pastors and educators to gather and to share ideas and best practices for mission and ministry.

My presentation, subtitled: Wine, Women, Worship, Witness, Warfare, was based on the question “Where are you going, LCMS?” Here are a few excerpts:

Introduction: During the past 52 years I’ve served The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in numerous capacities. Throughout those years I’ve experienced its strength, beauty, and weakness. Today I share my heartfelt perspectives on matters that hinder the health and growth of our beloved synod. I pray this offering will stimulate healthy, responsible, evangelical conversation among us, to the glory of God and the building of his Church on earth.

Wine: [In our Synod] the Lord’s Supper has become a source of division and offense rather than the expression of unity and powerful force for conversion and spiritual sustenance it is intended to be. Unless and until we resolve the issue of what is called “close” or “closed” communion among us, the LCMS will continue to be seen as a group of separatistic sectarians and will continue to bring unnecessary offense to repentant Christian sinners who hunger and thirst after the miraculous and life giving blessings offered in this precious gift of God.

Women: I’m not arguing for a de facto reversal of our Synod’s position against ordination of women. I’m simply saying that women in Holy Scripture appear to have been entrusted with greater responsibility than our Synod has given to women today, e.g., the role of prophetess. We cannot ignore the exodus from our church body of spiritually gifted women who see our position of limiting the role of women as, at best, not clearly supported by Scripture and, at worst, misogynistic.

Worship: Some in our Synod maintain that the only true and pure worship must come exclusively from officially approved Synod hymnals. Others obviously disagree. Congregations utilizing a variety of worship formats are experiencing an amazingly high percentage of all new adult confirmations in the Synod. The implications of such objective facts cannot be ignored.

Witness: There must be no compromise, no apology, no confusion about our Christian witness whenever we have the opportunity to share it by “offering prayers, speaking, and reading Scripture” in public gatherings. Unless and until we in the LCMS get over our reticence and reluctance to give witness to Christ anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance, using testimony, dialog, prayer, preaching, or any other means of communication, we will fail to demonstrate the boldness and compassion so desperately needed by people in our country and world who live in darkness, desperation, and despair.

Warfare: When the unbelieving world sees and hears how disrespectfully we treat one another, they want nothing to do with us. All the insistence in the world about pure doctrine pales into insignificance when outsiders fail to see what we proclaim … that we love one another.

My Best Practices presentation was a slightly revised version of an article published by Lutheran Society for Missiology in the May 2017 edition of Lutheran Mission Matters, available at https://www.lsfm.global/LMM-5-17.html.


Divisions Among Us

divided-churchA couple millennia ago the apostle Paul wrote a special letter to some new Christians in the city of Corinth. He had started a new church there, a church that subsequently became sorely divided.

One portion of his letter says: “In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you …” (1 Cor. 11:17-18)

He went on to address the particular matter of their improper understanding and observance of the Lord’s Supper. Other portions of his letter spoke to additional conflict, including immorality, adultery, idolatry, lawsuits, etc. Some of the Corinthian problems still divide the church today.

Divisions in the church and in the world are fairly epidemic. Of course, that’s nothing new. Divisions have existed since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. Recognition of that truth makes divisions no less serious, hurtful, or divisive.

Divisions almost always have their root in the basic nature of human beings to want things “my way.” Often people are so focused on achieving their objectives that they disregard ethical, moral, and legal considerations to accomplish their desires. They may feel the end justifies the means.

Divisions in the national political arena produce protests, riots, flag burning, and death threats. Divisions around the world catalyze civil war, terrorism, and ethnic “cleansing.” Divisions in the church result in disenchanted new Christians, bruised impressions of fellow Christians, and tarnished images of Christian churches in the public eye.

On a prior occasion, described in Acts 15, Paul was involved in another dispute among believers. The resolution of that dispute included the statement: “… we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

Therein lies the real problem with disputes among Christians. Non-believers understand the truth of the song “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” and quickly turn away when that love is obviously absent from Christians they observe. It should not be so among us.

Remember Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesus: “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.” (Eph. 4:1-3)

Wise words for healing the divisions among us!