Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Back in Town

Hi, I'm back today from a statewide pastors' conference. It started on Sunday and took place in the hilly town of Jefferson City, Missouri.

I am so happy to be home again. I find it hard to get a good night's sleep anywhere else. Nevertheless it was also good to be there. It gave me a chance to see my folks (who were also attending the conference), connect with friends and colleagues I don't get to see often, and consume mass quantities of garlic cheese and Fat Tire.

A pastor from here in St. Louis made an interesting point, in passing, during one of the conference devotions. I wonder if he is aware of the implications of what he said. First he pointed out how certain pastors in our synod refuse to commune with certain other pastors (for example, at the conference's opening worship service). Then he explained that, since Holy Communion unites the whole church at all times and places, this denial of fellowship is really an empty gesture. We're all communing together anyway, whenever we go the Lord's Supper in our local churches.

This is an interesting point, as I said. But it is especially interesting because of its logical consequences. If you carry this thought to its natural conclusion, it basically means that "closed communion" is meaningless. I am sure my colleague from St. Louis didn't mean to reduce the entire Lutheran doctrine of church fellowship to the absurd. With all due respect - and I believe much respect is due to this bright, scholarly, and faithful young pastor - he should be careful not to criticize his brothers' practices in public before discussing them with them, and doing thorough preparation beforehand.

By the way, I communed at the opening service. I'm not arguing for or against the practice of communing at a pastors' conference. I'm just saying this in order to spare a brother future embarrassment. It's a risk that one of the national synod vice presidents took at this past summer's LCMS convention, when he used a plenary-session "devotion" as a bully pulpit for calling those who dissent from a synodical program sinners and charlatans. It's a risk that a congressman regretted taking this week when, to avoid official censure, he had to apologize for making abusive remarks on the floor of Congress. It is a risk that, in my training as a "behavioral health technician," I was taught to consider unprofessional: waging a war with colleagues in a context where you are expected to state objective facts that are relevant to the patient's treatment. Or, in the case of preaching, waging a war of opinion with one group of people instead of addressing God's Word to the entire congregation.

To put this as crassly and concretely as I can and may: it is foolish for a preacher to take pot-shots at a distinctive segment of his audience, especially when he hasn't troubled himself to understand what he's dealing with or to organize his own thoughts about it. All this accomplishes is to permit one part of the congregation to feel smug, another part to feel wronged, and a few people (like me) to feel embarrassed for an ordinarily sound theologian who, on this occasion, seriously put his foot in his mouth.

Of course, by writing this, I'm going against my own advice. But it's my blog, after all. Read it at your own risk!

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