Welcoming seven new presidents elected by delegates to LCMS district conventions this year, the Synod’s Council of Presidents (COP) at its Sept. 19-22 meeting in St. Louis unanimously adopted for use throughout the church a document titled “Theses on Worship” — the result of two years of COP study and discussion about diverse worship practices and styles in the Synod.
The council also agreed to take an in-depth look at “ecclesiastical leadership in a post-church culture” as its main program emphasis over the next three years.
Comprising the COP are the 35 LCMS district presidents, along with the president and five vice presidents of the Synod.
“The council knows how important it is that they work closely together and spent considerable time [at this meeting] building relationships,” said COP Chairman Dr. Larry Stoterau, who is president of the LCMS Pacific Southwest District. “This was an excellent meeting. There is a good spirit among the council members.”
“Theses on Worship” is available for reading and download at http://worship.lcms.org/theses. Synod President Gerald B. Kieschnick also sent it via e-mail Sept. 28 to district presidents for distribution to pastors and other church leaders.
The document presents eight theses on worship and cites Scripture and Lutheran confessional writings that support each one. Those theses are:
- “Worship is not an adiaphoron.”
- “The Scriptures and Confessions give the people of God considerable freedom in choosing those forms, rites, and ceremonies that aid the worship of God.”
- “The liturgy of the Church builds a framework for the worshiper to live the life of faith.”
- “Imposing a certain form, rite or ceremony on the Church burdens men’s consciences, thereby militating against the Gospel.”
- “Great care is necessary in choosing forms, rites, and ceremonies because they either support or hinder true worship. There are no ‘neutral’ forms.”
- “Uniformity in forms, rites, and ceremonies while desirable, is not essential to the unity of the Church.”
- “The polarization that is affecting the Church concerning the issue of forms, rites, and ceremonies is sinful and hinders the proclamation of the Gospel.”
- “The people of God are commanded by God to keep talking with each other, under the Word, so that divisions are healed and the Church is united in doctrine and practice.”
“The Council of Presidents is keenly aware of the diversity of worship practices in LCMS congregations,” Synod President Gerald B. Kieschnick wrote in a cover memo with the e-mailed document. “This diversity in many instances has resulted in disharmony and even polarization. In order to foster God-pleasing harmony in this matter the COP encourages pastors, worship leaders, musicians, and other church leaders to engage in prayerful conversation with one another, in submission to God’s Holy Word and the Lutheran Confessions.
“To that end and to assist with that process,” Kieschnick continued in the memo, “the [COP] presents these succinct but significant ‘Theses on Worship.’
“Please be assured that the Council of Presidents ardently desires to assist our Synod in every way possible to achieve harmony and concord in the theology and practice of worship,” Kieschnick wrote. “We recognize that different affinities in music and worship expressions exist among us. Yet we believe that our future with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ must be firmly grounded in the light of Christ’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy.”
To read Kieschnick’s entire memo, with links to read or download “Theses on Worship,” go to http://worship.lcms.org/thesesonworship.
Along with unanimously adopting “Theses on Worship,” the COP rose in applause after Montana District President Terry Forke presented it for the COP committee that had worked on the document since 2007.
The council approved the placement of 178 Ministers of Religion-Commissioned since its last meeting in April — including teachers, deaconesses, and directors of Christian education, Christian outreach, family life ministry, and parish music. All are graduates of LCMS colleges and universities, or successfully completed colloquy studies.
Also placed at this meeting were 19 pastors, and 38 vicarages received the COP’s approval. Of the vicars placed, 30 are in the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program, which was established by the 2007 Synod convention and began with its first students last fall.
District presidents reported a total of 748 LCMS congregations with pastoral vacancies, after pastor placements at the September meeting. That includes 309 vacancies in calling congregations — with 247 calling for their sole pastors, 31 calling senior pastors, and 31 calling associate or assistant pastors. Among non-calling congregations were 390 permanent and 130 temporary non-calling congregations.
Dr. Robert Newton, president of the LCMS California-Nevada-Hawaii District, continued his council Bible study on mission in the current post-church era and culture.
“We think we are cultural insiders,” he said of most Christian leaders today, including those in the Synod. “But we share that only with ourselves. Unchurched America views us primarily as outsiders and treats us as such.”
“We have a choice to embrace the position of cultural outsidership or reject it,” he said. “Our decision will impact our participation in Christ’s mission and effectiveness as evangelical confessors more than any other single element,” he said.
“As we get at this,” he stated, “it is time for us as leaders to recalculate, to embrace cultural outsidership and recover the mission heart.”
“Our pastors and members have to retool to be faithful witnesses in a post-church world,” he said.
Newton suggested that the way “faithful, confessional Lutheran leaders and pastors do that [is] to put the Gospel in the hearts of our people as co-heirs with Christ. Our call has to be based on doing God’s work for His purposes, not our own — and we need to be accountable for it.”
After Newton’s Bible study, the COP agreed to make “ecclesiastical leadership in a post-church culture” its program emphasis for the next three years.
COP Vice Chairman Dr. Jon Diefenthaler, president of the LCMS Southeastern District, offered an outline that suggests focusing on the unchurched and the churched terrains for that program emphasis.
He said that possible “focal points” in discussing aspects of the unchurched terrain might include connecting congregations with their communities, multicultural opportunities, church planting in districts, and key issues and challenges in revitalizing congregations for mission.
Suggested focal points for discussing the church terrain include “the economy of ministry” (related to stewardship), theological points of disagreement, implementing changes in structure and governance, and church relations.
In other business at its September meeting, the Council of Presidents heard a progress report from Dr. Glen Thomas, executive director of the LCMS Board for Pastoral Education, on work toward carrying out two 2007 Synod convention resolutions: to address licensed lay deacons, and to encourage commitment to continuing education for clergy.
Kieschnick and Rev. Larry Krueger, assistant to the president, outlined plans for the 2010 Synod convention, including its initial business of discussing any proposed resolutions resulting from the report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance.
LCMS First Vice President William Diekelman led the COP discussion and sharing about resolutions of 2009 LCMS district conventions pertaining to the task force’s work.
Dr. Samuel Nafzger, director of church relations for the Synod, reported on the work of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg in carrying out joint ventures of the Synod, its German partner church, and Concordia Publishing House — to establish and nurture a confessional Lutheran presence in Wittenberg.
Orientation for the seven new district presidents took place in the two days prior to the September COP meeting.
Posted Oct. 6, 2009