By Cheryl Magness and Megan Mertz
About 13 hours before the beginning of business on Sunday, July 30, at the 68th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in Milwaukee, convention delegates, Synod leaders, special guests, volunteers and visitors assembled to receive the Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament during Divine Service on Saturday evening, July 29.
Preaching for the service on the Old Testament reading, Hosea 6:1–6, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison recalled Martin Luther’s words about Hosea: “God does strange things. He has Hosea pick a harlot for a wife … to invite people to repentance, [to invite] adulterous Israel to repentance.
“You have gone astray. You have forsaken the Lord. You have transgressed His Law. You have gone after other gods. You know it’s true, of every one of you. Me too.”
Harrison echoed St. Paul’s words that what the world deems foolish is the wisdom of God. “[He] makes the wisdom of the world nothing. … No matter who calls it folly … we preach Christ crucified. … Christ forgiving you, Christ hanging on the cross for you, Christ taking His last breath for you, Christ paying for your sins.”
The next morning at 8:35 a.m., Concordia Historical Institute (CHI) Executive Director Rev. Dr. Daniel Harmelink stood before the convention with the historic Walther-Luther gavel, which has opened every regular Synod convention since 1911. The gavel, carved from wood taken from a rafter of the old Log Cabin College in Perry County, Mo., was made in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Synod.
In addition to likenesses of Walther and Luther, the gavel holds the words of Romans 3:28: “Thus, we conclude that a man is justified without the deeds of the law through faith alone.” Harmelink presented the gavel to Harrison, who used it to signal the convention officially in session.
Delegates study, learn, work
In addition to daily worship, the convention included time for delegates to elect members of various board and leadership positions, vote on resolutions, hear essays and special presentations, study Luther’s Small Catechism, and learn more about the national and international work of the church.
The resolutions adopted this year passed by wide margins. They:
- Affirm in-person and closed Communion (Res. 5-09, 89%);
- Affirm residential seminary education (Res. 6-03A, 90%); and
- Revise the bylaws of the Concordia universities (Res. 7-04B, 88%).
They also raise awareness of the problem of human trafficking, condemn racism and other harmful ideologies, call for a uniform set of Lutheran education standards, and address church worker wellness and student debt. In addition, for the first time ever, LCMS Church Relations held a concurrent event for the convention’s international guests, who numbered around 40. A few highlights of the convention follow.
- On July 30, the convention recognized altar and pulpit fellowship with five church bodies:
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Sudan/Sudan (ELCSS/S);
- The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF);
- The Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU);
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (ELCU); and
- The Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC) in Sri Lanka.
Life Match expanded
Also on July 30, Deaconess Dr. Tiffany Manor, managing director of Human Care and Ministerial Support for the LCMS Office of National Mission, announced the expansion of the Million Dollar Life Match into the next triennium. This program, established in 2022, has helped congregations and LCMS Recognized Service Organizations care for their neighbors, especially those experiencing challenges at the beginning of life. More information on the expansion will be available later this year.
End of fellowship
On July 31, by a vote of 94% on Res. 5–07, delegates recognized the end of fellowship with the Japan Lutheran Church (JLC) due to that church body’s false doctrine and practice. This move, which came after “ten years of formal and informal doctrinal discussions” between the JLC and the LCMS, is only the second time in the history of the LCMS that fellowship has been ended with a former partner church.
On Aug. 1, delegates adopted Res. 7-03, which affirmed the LCMS Commission on Constitutional Matters opinion that actions taken by Concordia University Texas (CTX), Austin, Texas, to change its governing documents are in direct conflict with the Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws and are thus null and void.
Res. 7-03 also called upon the CTX president, those CTX administrators who advocated for and supported CTX’s purported separation, and the CTX Board of Regents (BOR) to submit to the governance of the Synod, repent, and seek reconciliation and restoration by rescinding their actions. The resolution, which further asked the LCMS Board of Directors (BOD) and others to act to address the situation, was adopted with 716 votes in favor out of 999 cast (71.67%).
On Aug. 3, delegates adopted by voice vote Res. 4-07, “To Give Thanks for Preservation of the Gospel in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod,” at the upcoming 50th anniversary of the 1974 “Walkout” from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. At the time of the walkout, the controversy centered on the authority of Holy Scripture and the Gospel, and, as noted in the resolution, caused division in “families, congregations, and every institution of Synod.”
Adjournment and Godspeed
At noon on Aug. 3, delegates prayed together one last time, hearing the text of Luke 1:68–79 (the Benedictus) before departing for home. But first, Harrison thanked key individuals who helped organize the convention as well as “all the great people of the LCMS” who served, volunteered and made “decisions that mattered.” He expressed the “great desire” that the delegates would come away refreshed, “knowing that the Missouri Synod is an amazing thing, despite our weaknesses.” He then blessed the assembly with the apostolic benediction.
Posted Sept. 1, 2023