Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review of the Ohio District Convention

The first order of business before the convention was the election of the District President. There were basically two nominations: current president Terry Cripe and first VP Jack Davidson. Jack withdrew his name and as a show of support recommended that the convention elect President Cripe by acclamation. This was a nice show of support for a man who has done an excellent job as DP. President Cripe is not simply a politician. He is a man who meets with district winkles to lead them in studying theology. Our districts need more leaders willing and able to do this very thing. It is good that he was re-elected and with such support.

The overall tone of the convention was very positive. There was a good deal of discussion on several topics with several view points represented. Yet there were few attempts at power grabs or political positioning. Viewpoints were offered with gentleness and respect. This was good.

There were only a handful of resolutions for the convention to consider. The first had to do with the further dividing up of the district from three regions to five. I did not see a down side to this. The geographic distance and number of congregations in certain regions made them a bit unwieldy for the vice presidents. The division simply makes the division of congregational oversight more equitable among the v.p.'s.

This got tricky, however, when repositioning the District Board of Directors. With the previous arrangement there was equal clergy and lay representation. The new configuration swayed the number to the side of the ordained. There were some who proposed different methods to re-arrange this, no practical arrangement was found so the discrepancy carried.

The elections to the various positions went well. The reviewer is only 2 1/2 years to the district and has yet to learn who's who so it is difficult to offer much comment other than that there seem to be willing servants at the various positions.

Other resolutions were also before the convention. Of significance was a series of resolutions that had to do with allowing a vote in convention to commissioned ministers as well as ordained ministers serving a non congregational call (such as an RSO, a mission at large, a seminary, etc.). These resolutions were significant because they represented a shift in the way we conceive of the synod.

Representation at conventions has historically been granted to congregations; one vote to the pastor and one to a lay person as representation of the relationship between the office of the ministry and the priesthood of the baptized. The resolutions before the convention were designed to give a vote to constituencies of voting blocks according to what is "fair". The language of the resolutions stated that it is not "fair" that commissioned ministers not be granted a vote, that it is not "fair" that ordained ministers serving a call other than a congregation not be granted a vote. These are theological issues that need to be considered theologically and not according to fairness. They need to be sorted out by our theologians before they are turned over to our policy makers. Theology works according to the Word of God, not according to what is fair (i.e. women's ordination & closed communion to name a few).

The series of resolutions were divided into 4 separate resolutions to recommend a change to the BRTFSSG. The first two passed before the convention realized the theological shift that was occurring but then it turned down the second two. It is good that not all were passed. It is however somewhat unusual and ironic that the convention decided to grant a vote to commissioned ministers yet not to seminary professors.

A resolution was presented from the floor to memorialize the Synodical convention to refrain from voting on the recommendations of the BRTFSSG until 2013. This was accepted by a 2/3 majority and reflects a hesitancy on the part of the convention to rush in to radical changes in the structure and governance of the synod. This was good.

The convention also viewed the video presentation from President Kieschnick. I have read comments on the presentation, many present a high degree of criticism. I did not personally take any offense to the presentation, but at the same time was not moved by it in any significant way, especially to the extent that the changes of the BRTFSSG would appear to be a necessity. Much to the contrary.

The presentation of the BRTFSSG was given by Robert Greene. He did a fine job of presenting and answering questions. There was an extended time given to Rev Greene for his presentation. This was helpful. There were a lot of questions that were asked. The three hours of time were fully utilized.

President Kieschnick was not able to attend the Ohio Convention . In his place was Rev Dean Nadasdy, the fourth vice president of Synod. Pastor Nadasdy talked very positively about the condition of synod, mentioning many new developments as a cause for celebration and an indication of the unity within synod. During a question and answer session, one of the pastors in the district asked about the financial condition of synod, wanting to know specific numbers in the interest of transparency and accurate information. Mentioned in the question was the rumor that the seminaries might be sold. Pastor Nadasdy's response was of some concern.

Pastor Nadasdy emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not officially for any synodical entity, but he opined that this might be a good idea. He said that perhaps the seminaries could be sold and a few of the Concordias could be turned into divinity schools. His proposed benefit was that we might be "better equipped to engage the world."

I am not sure what he meant by this. I do not know what he intends when he says "divinity schools". Nor do I understand what he means when he talks about better engaging the world. I can only assume that he intends to say that through the study of theology along side other disciplines we will have broadened areas of expertise.

As I said, this was of concern. Pastor Nadasdy mentioned our unity of confession. I don't know that such unity exists. With the system as it is, our synod already demonstrates too great a disparity in practice in terms of worship practice and communion fellowship, even the ordination of women. To juxtapose our theological education alongside other disciplines would mean less study of theology. This could only further undermine the current (dis)unity of confession. Again, Pastor Nadasdy did not further elaborate on the particulars of this idea, but the fact that this idea exists among those in positions of authority and influence in our synod is of concern.

Overall, the convention was positive. The tone and discussion was conciliatory. A few good things were accomplished and few things were lost.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Scientists are the modern day false prophets

I spent some time last night watching the special on ABC Earth 2100, that supposedly chronicles the disasters that will converge on the human race over the next 100 years. "Scientists" interviewed on the program were predicting that the earth would run out of fresh water, food would be scarce, a global pandemic would wipe out at least half the world population, ocean levels would rise and much of modern day society would become a wasteland. These days we have raised the vocation of "scientist" to that of a prophet.

Scientist love to make predictions; they love to make their predictions scary. After all, who would buy your book if all you predicted was that everything will stay the same. You've got to predict something big and bad if you want to make any money. Unfortunately the track record of these doomsday predictions isn't very convincing. Over the years these doomsday predictions have come up short and just been flat wrong. Deuteronomy 18:22 tells us that prophets who are wrong are no prophets at all.

That said, Christians can listen to the point of view of the "prophets" and hear the flap about climate change and take away one or two valuable points. Modern societies are not always the best stewards of God's creation. They should be. Christians especially should be. God gave us this world. He likes it. He thinks it's good. (Genesis 1:31) Therefore Christians should be concerned to take care of it. This is part of the Christian's vocation to serve his neighbor. After all, it's not serving your neighbor if your neighbor has to clean up all the trash that you threw out your window as you were driving by.

While Christians are conscious to be conscientious stewards of God's good world, that does not mean that we think of it as our salvation. ABC news promised us that if we change our behavior and started living a greener lifestyle we could look forward to a Utopian world where there is lots of food and clean air and clean water for everyone. Environmentalism is our means to self salvation.

This is not the world as the Bible describes it. A quick read through Revelation 8:8-12 is helpful. Because God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth he will send natural disasters. Crops will burn up and be destroyed. (Revelation 8:7) The oceans will be disrupted and the living things in them will die. (Revelation 8:9) Our clean drinking water will be polluted. (Revelation 8:11) The sun will be darkened. (Revelation 8:12)

This is good prophecy. This is true prophecy. All we need to do is think back over the headlines from the past few years to see that God has done this very thing. Remember the floods in Iowa and Indiana? Remember the devastation to the farmland? Remember the polluted drinking water? Remember the loss of life? Remember Katrina? The tsunami? Remember the devastation to local commerce and maritime trade? All these disasters were predicted right there in Revelation. God said he would send them. But these disasters won't be the end of us. God limits these disasters. Revelation tells us they come in thirds. (Revelation 8:7, 8:9, 8:12) Natural disasters are not intended to destroy all of God's world, only part, because He wants sinners to know that the Judgment is coming and they must repent.

Our own modern day false prophets tell us the world is ending. They are correct. The world is ending. But the salvation they proclaim is self salvation. "No Jesus? No Repentance? No Problem! Just use less gas. Buy new light bulbs. You can save yourself and your children." The thing is, it's that sin, that self-worshipping and self-saving sin, that got us here in the first place.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Jesus: A Man's Man

Whoever cast Daniel Craig as James Bond did the franchise a huge favor. After all, the guy plays Bond like a man. Yeah, he gets beat up. Yeah, he gets bloody. But he’s tough. He can take a punch. He’s forceful. And a Daniel Craig Bond powers himself through the plot on the sheer force of his will. Perhaps the Christian Church USA should stand up and take notice.

They, after all, are still stuck in the Pierce Brosnan era. Think about it. Your average CCUSA Jesus is a Pierce Brosnan Jesus. He looks good. He’s got great hair. He has a quick wit and always just the right thing to say. And he’s got just the right tricks up his sleeve to get him out of a pinch. Do you ever see Brosnan’s Bond beat up and bloody? No. Do you ever see a CCUSA Jesus beat up and bloody? No! (But you sure see him with a wink and twinkle in his eye and smile on his handsome finely-groomed face). Perhaps we could cast Jesus in the sequel to Mama Mia. He could sing his own praise songs.

This is not the Jesus of the Bible. Take a read through the gospel of Mark. You’ll see. You’ll see a man’s man. He’s powerful. (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25) He commands respect. (Mark 1:16-20; Mark 1:27; Mark 15:5) He’s in control. (Mk 6:50) He stands up to and doesn’t run from confrontation. (Mark 2:23-28, Mark 3:22-30; Mark 11:27-33; Mark 14:62) He knows how to take a beating. (Mark 15:19-20) He’s got a firm handle on his mission and purpose and he won’t let anyone set him off track. (Mark 1:15; Mark 8:31-34; Mark 9:30-32; Mark 10:33)

In short, the Jesus of the Bible is a man. A man with a purpose. A man who had put his mind to the job he came to do and let nothing stand in his way ‘till the job was done. That job was your salvation. Thank God in heaven that Jesus is a man. Thank God in heaven that Jesus is not a wus.