The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate…James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name…Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood…” Then it seemed good to the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. ~ Acts 15: 6-7, 13b-14, 19-20, 22a
That rather lengthy introduction was a portion of the text related to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 (I recommend reading the whole thing), where the question posed was regarding Gentile inclusion in the Church. Some believed that Christ was enough, while others believed that Gentiles needed to be circumcised. After hearing reports from Peter, Paul, and Barnabas, James, who was apparently in a leadership role to make such a decision, came down on not requiring circumcision, but did recommend giving Gentiles advice on living the Christian life in the world. This was based upon the Gospel of Christ, the grace received in baptism, and not a strict adherence to the law. Church leaders got together to debate this, and then determine what was best for the Church, and to do so on the basis of God’s Word to his people – people which Gentiles had been included all along!
This summer, our church, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, will meet together in convention, something that happens, so far, every three years (there is a resolution before the convention to make the conventions every 4 years going forward). At this convention, an electoral body is gathered together, one pastoral delegate and one lay delegate from each circuit (groups of churches in a geographic area comprising 7-18 churches – our circuit has 7), to discuss, vote upon, and implement the business and the mission of the Church. We discuss weighty matters of theology. We celebrate new partnerships with worldwide Lutheran church bodies (this year, I think we are joining up with 7 new groups). We consider what is the best method for bringing the Gospel to the world. And we give thanks to God for servants new and old who represent our synod and Church here and across the globe.
If you are friendly with many Lutheran pastors on social media, you might get the sense that this is a highly politicized and un-enjoyable part of our church’s life. And to some, that is true. For me though, I appreciate the fact that we as a Church body are willing to come together and consider some of these matters in a thoughtful and open way, and not have all the decisions about who we are and what we should be about being decided by a group of well-dressed, cloistered men in a locked room somewhere. While there are politics involved, and while there will be people who will speak passionately about various topics, what I have come to see is that we have much to celebrate in terms of unity that many church bodies do not. Are we perfect – far from it! There is always room to improve because we are a collection of sinners trying to make our way in the world, and the only way we have a shot at it is when we come together under grace of God, in the forgiveness of Christ, and with the guidance of the Spirit.
Like the Jerusalem Council, this 66th convention of the LCMS seeks to discern how to faithfully confess Christ in such a crazy and sometimes irrational world. It is important work, even if at times it can seem unpleasant. The Gospel is at stake here, and how we confess that Gospel matters. Thus, the theme this go around is Built on the Rock, meaning that without Christ as our foundation, anything else we do will be meaningless. And so our convention delegates, which I am one, seek to do just that for our church and world. I ask for your prayers for this convention, for its delegates, and for the resolutions that will come out of it. In all things, the Lord’s will is done, and in the end, as we seek to bring the Gospel to the world, we know that the Spirit’s work will not be hindered when we build upon the rock that is Christ and make him and his salvation known to all.
Built on the Rock the Church shall stand
Even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in ev’ry land;
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the souls distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting. (LSB #65, st. 1)
~ Pastor Noack