By Adriane Dorr
Elected by district-convention delegates earlier this summer to his second term in office with 66.26 percent of the vote, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison sat down with Reporter staff following the Synod’s 65th Regular Convention, July 20-25 in St. Louis, to discuss chairing his first convention and the joy a Christian has in Christ. That conversation follows.
Reporter: What were some of the most important things accomplished at this year’s convention?
Harrison: I think the biggest thing accomplished, number one, was really to have a convention that was civil and positive. I don’t know how many hundreds of people came up to me, thanked me and said they’d been at previous conventions that were such rancorous affairs and that this was totally different from anything they’d been to before. That was really important. It showed that we could discuss and debate some issues that were challenging, but I think we’ve turned a corner from debating those issues toward resolving them, even the contentious issues. We’re not there yet, but I think we’ve turned a corner.
What were the biggest surprises for you, coming out of this convention?
I expected our newbie floor-committee chairmen to do well, but some of them had very difficult issues, and I was just delighted at how well they handled very challenging things. They took a lot of input from the floor and made a lot of effort to bring parties together.
I was delighted that the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) decided to suspend its opinion and, by doing that, help us work toward unity both behind the scenes and into the future. I was amazed at the preaching. I thought there was just one after another fantastic preacher. I love to be surprised by preaching and delighted by it and there was no shortage of wonderful preachers.
I thought the essayists were good, and I loved the worship services. They used the familiar orders of the church on the one hand and diverse music on the other. I just heard compliment after compliment about how enjoyable the worship was.
What parts of the convention will most affect the person in the pew?
There are many things that are significant.
Nothing is more significant than the resolution on visitation. We as a church body really need to hold each other accountable, care for one another and encourage one another. Visitation is the way to do that. That is the lynchpin for walking together as a Synod in a real way.
I hope and pray that, in many years hence, people will look back at this convention as the place in which the church, which had been divided for many decades over various issues, really began to coalesce, despite existing in a very antagonistic culture, and move forward in a very determined and united way.
What are your goals for the next triennium?
Last triennium was so intense. Our plate was filled with tasks we didn’t create or ask for, and so this triennium really has to be the teaching triennium. We have to make progress as a church body on some of the issues that have troubled us.
We have to teach, and we also have to make progress on, say, the licensed lay deacon program. My goal is to come to the next convention with a proposal [on that program] that has the backing of both seminaries and the Council of Presidents and the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, so that we can begin to move forward.
We have significant tasks ahead.
We need to evaluate the Concordia University System and how it operates so we can build on its strengths as well as strengthening its ties to the church well into the future.
We need to hold up the Global Seminary Initiative.
And we need to support the Wittenberg Project and really step up for world Lutheranism.
What should members of the LCMS be praying for in the next triennium?
Pray for your pastor. And when Jesus says, “Pray the Lord of the harvest send workers,” that starts with praying for your pastor. And pastors, pray for your people. That also includes our seminaries and our missionaries.
I would ask that people pray that the church continue to grow in strength, faith and unity and that we patiently love one another as we work through those challenges that we face internally.
People noticed and enjoyed your sense of humor at the convention. How does that joy flow from your faith?
“For freedom Christ set us free,” St. Paul says in Galatians. There is a great little book on the humor of Martin Luther by Eric W. Gritsch. He said Luther had such a great sense of humor because you know that in Christ the ultimate is sure. There’s no doubt. We have absolute certainty of salvation. Christ has accomplished it all on the cross. So if the ultimate is sure, the penultimate is no longer so deadly serious. I’m firmly convinced that God has a sense of humor because we’re created in the image of God and people have a sense of humor. My life and the life of the church are in the Lord’s hands, and there is great joy in that.
Scripture tells us that our Lord laughs at the pretensions of both persons and nations, for everything has been, is, and will be in HIs Almighty, ultimate hands…and as Pastor Harrison stated…we are the interim people with penultimate issues…which finally must be let go in HIs Almighty Utlimate hands…we forget that undue attachment to “stuff” of this world can sti
We thank our Triune God for your work, for the Holy Spirit is at work in your life and the life of his people. May our Lord bless and keep you. Jakob Heckert
I would like to ask a question, not asked by the reporter or included in MH’s answers. If 66% voted for your presidency, that means 34% voted against. How do you intend to be the president of that 34%? In what way will they be included in the movement toward the decisions you indicate are needed?
Robert, with all due respect, I have a better question for you – what are you doing on behalf of those who have been elected your leaders, whether you voted for them or not? As God places governments in the civil realm, so also does he for do the same for His Church.
The atmosphere created by President Harrison so far is the finest I have seen in all my years in the LC-MS in terms of trying to transcend the partisan pettiness and bickering that has accompanied too much of our history. But it can only go as far as what the people of our synod, regardless of how they may have (at least previously) aligned themselves politically, are willing to come together and attain our initiatives as one church.
I tired long ago of the we vs. they mentality that is found in way too many corners of our church body through the years – everywhere from differences of opinion in worship styles to different emphases of the perception of the vision and direction of our church.
The enemy is Satan – not those who have a different church political philosophy. The enemy is being strengthened by emptying pews, a generation that cares less and less about church, regardless of who is in charge, and a society that is becoming downright antithetical to the Christian philosophy and roots of our great and free nation.
So I ask again – what are you doing on behalf of those who have been elected as your leaders, whether you voted for them or not? Are you praying for them every day? Are you giving them the respect that comes with the Office of the Presidency of our Church Body? Are you genuinely trying to work in your own little corner at furthering the initiatives of the church, realizing that they are for the ENTIRE church?
In my years, I have gotten to know, to respect, and to seek out the opinions and counsel of Presidents Barry, Kieschnick and Harrison. I am grateful for the service each of them (along with former Presidents Bohlmann and Kuhn, who I did not get to know) have provided to our church.
Questions like yours, which may or may not reflect your own personal view towards our current president, build in a false assumption that things need to be done a certain way or the game of, “He isn’t MY president” will be allowed to commence. Nothing is more harmful to the church, especially as we enter the twenty-teens, as that attitude.
We are all best served both in prayer, finding ways to work together, and leaving behind questions that would seek to divide us.
I also enjoyed the convention and the positive attitude from almost everyone I spoke with and heard talk.
However, I do wish that video from the worship services were posted on the LCMS website. I wanted to relive that part of the convention and share with others who don’t have Internet access.
I’m still humming “Baptised for This Moment’ and replaying in my mind the chanting of the Te Deum Laudamus from the Monday’s Matin service.
Praise God for the amazing things He is doing in Africa!
Robert, my thoughts as a layperson in the church with regards to your question are this: I have observed that the people and leadership of the LCMS church span the spectrum from more liberal progressivists to ultra-conservative Lutherans who think that most of the LCMS churches are being influenced too much by the non-denominational evangelical movement within Christianity. This is probably what caused the split in votes. I am hoping that Pastor Harrison can work to bring together all of these good Lutheran people so that we can accept that we might not agree on some of the details but that we are in agreement on the core non-negotiable principles.