Home > The Church > One of the Very Best Things The Missouri Synod Did Not Do Last Week

One of the Very Best Things The Missouri Synod Did Not Do Last Week

July 19th, 2010
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Last week, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, held its national convention. I won’t bore you with all the details, they are widely available elsewhere. There was the usual election dramas, the votes on resolutions, the motions amended, the questions called, the amendments to the amendments made and seconded, and pro/con speeches, lots of videos of various work our Synod is doing, etc. All very important things, to be sure, but in my opinion, one of the most important things my church did not do last week is fundamentally change how it understands what is it to be church, that is, to be that group of believers called, gathered and enlightened by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments, gathered by the Good Shepherd, to hear his voice and follow him, in a specific place, in a Christian congregation.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod had before it a series of proposals prepared by a task force on structure. One of the proposals was that our church should change the way we send delegates to a national convention. The task force proposed we cut the number of delegates at national assemblies in half, but what was even more  significant than that, the delegates would be chosen on the basis of a system that would give more voice and vote to congregations with more members. Now this sounds perfectly equitable, in fact, that was one of the terms used to describe the reason for it.

But what  may be “equitable” in the eyes of political democracy, has quite nothing to do with it, at all when it comes to the Christian congregation. The point that was apparently lost on those proposing this change is that one Christian congregation is equal to any other Christian congregation. There is nothing to be considered when it comes to how many members it has.

Why? Because the Christian congregation is the visible manifestation of the body of Christ, and our Lord’s body is beautiful no matter how large or how small. There is no essential difference between any congregation, be it a congregation of 1,000 members, or 50 members. I am very glad that we did not change this around. The proposal was effectively tabled. Here is a blog post I read today that beautifully explains why the notion that a large church is somehow more deserving of more “votes” than a small congregation is so wrong.

“Oh, it’s so cute.”

The photo is of the building in which Middletown Springs Community Church, the church I pastor, gathers each week.

The quote is something I’ve heard several times — that or something like it — typically from friends and family hailing from some steamy portion of Six Flags Over Jesus where church buildings are indistinguishable from office parks or the galleria.

Our church is “cute.” Because it’s small, old, traditional. “Cute” is the backhanded compliment for those who’d never go to a “cute” church, but want you to know they admire it and perhaps even those who aren’t privileged enough to go to a church “successful” enough for a building that is big, impressive, full-service. You know, not cute, but rather “awesome.”

But our church isn’t “cute.” It’s beautiful like a bride both blemished and perfect.

Our building is just a building, but it has stood for over 200 years on the stony soil of the oldest part of our nation, the land of Christian pillars Whitefield and Edwards, of the Great Awakenings, of Puritans and patriots, of Green Mountain Boys and hundreds-of-years-old family farms. The building is just a building but it has weathered over 200 years of harsh Vermont winters, not to mention pastors strong and weak, congregations passionate and passive, spiritual ebbs and flows of Old Testament proportions. Once upon a time the church kicked out Joseph Smith’s secretary for heresy.

Our building is just a building, but it’s not just a building. It’s a symbol of the enduring evangelical presence, small but hearty, in this least-churched state in the nation, and of the endurance of the great salt-of-the-earth people who are the church that gathers in the building for which they’re called.

The gates of hell will prevail against espresso bars and KidzTowns. But not our church.

Our church is not cute. It is epic.

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Categories: The Church
  1. Sue
    July 19th, 2010 at 19:43 | #1

    Amen!

    And when you see this building, you KNOW it’s a church! It’s beautiful…

  2. Randy Keyes
    July 19th, 2010 at 21:39 | #2

    I absolutely love this post. Thank you for noting this very important facet of our synod. I, too, am glad it did not change.

    BTW, we have a church here that advertises themselves as “the church with all the flags.” On of my karate compatriots first described that to me as “six flags over Jesus” so when I read it here in your post I gave quite the belly laugh.

    Grace and Peace,
    Randy Keyes

  3. Mike Baker
    July 20th, 2010 at 11:28 | #3

    The crass view of congregations as mundane assemblies that can be determined by population really seems to reveal a fundamental misunderstanding about where the church is and how it is defined, don’t you think?

    The church is not a human assembly like other organizations. It is the mystical Body of Christ. It cannot be evaluated based merely on the number of warm bodies in one location using human systems of measurement. This is why church growth methodologies are such a fallacious endeavor. The church is the assembly of believers where the gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are rightly administered in accordance with the gospel (AC VII).

    So you could have a hypothetical situation where a group of people assembled around a damning amount of false doctrine and horrid sacramental practices can grow to be 250,000 in weekly membership, but it is actually a smaller, uglier expression of the church (or even no church at all) when compared a faithful congregation of 10 that humbly receives the Lord’s gifts by faith week after week. We do not define the church. The presence of the Christ does. When we see voting blocks and hotbeds for various political movements, Jesus sees his beloved sheep coming to him for protection and every need.

  4. Ron Hobbie
    July 21st, 2010 at 16:26 | #4

    Not to disagree with your main point regarding congregations, but we do not allow every congregation equal vote under the present structure. Multi-point parishes average only 1/2 or 1/3 laity and 1/2 or 1/3 pastoral vote per congregation and each of the congregations may often exceed 100 members. If there are more than three congregations in a parish an even smaller percentage vote is effected. Size has long been allowed as a limiter of votes. The convention merely declined the opposite imbalance.

    • July 21st, 2010 at 18:50 | #5

      The multiple-point parish served by one pastor is, effectively, one parish, in my opinion.

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