Sermons by Pastor Walter Snyder plus announcements, articles, videos, and anything else that doesn’t fit Ask the Pastor or the Luther Library.

20 October 2009

Harrison, History, and Harmony

A Reflection on the LCMS and Its Past, Present, and Promise

I dislike most meetings, especially those deemed mandatory. I particularly dislike long meetings, those keeping me welded to my seat. Imagine my surprise as I look back upon a stimulating, enjoyable two days spent parking my bottom on a folding chair. Such feats of gluteal endurance only happen when I sit at the feet of informed, engaging, and impassioned speakers.

Matt Harrison Montage

Such was my happy lot at the 2009 Western Missouri District Pastors’ Conference. And not mine only — I’ll confidently hazard a guess that a solid majority of my brothers also enjoyed the person and the presentation of the Rev. Matthew Harrison.

The current Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care led us through the highlights of the first hundred or so years in LCMS history, coupling its sound doctrine, orthodox practice, and active works of mercy into a coherent, inspiring presentation. He based much of the conference essay on his new book, At Home in the House of My Fathers (a bargain, BTW, at $20.00 for more than 800 pages).

CFW WaltherThe book bears an unwieldy subtitle: Presidential Sermons, Essays, Letters, and Addresses from the Missouri Synod’s Great Era of Unity and Growth. However, this formidable introduction opens into the heart and soul of the early LCMS, seen through the eyes of Presidents Walther, Wyneken, Schwan, Pieper, and Pfotenhauer.

This exposé unfolds as we become privy to their and passions and compassions, their struggles and celebrations, their head-butting disagreements and deep brotherly love. We see how — despite vastly contrasting personalities, bouts with clinical depression, occasions of false pride, and incredibly poor decision-making — these men demonstrated deep faith in Christ, exercised true charity, and surrendered much of themselves up in order to advance Lutheran unity, doctrinal purity, orthodox worship, and ongoing care for those impoverished in body or in mind, in finances or in faith.

As often happened in days of old, Rev. Harrison assumed the role of family historian, laying out the lives of departed ancestors. These accounts of our fathers in the faith rekindled in many of us our familial love and a longing for a return to what was truly good about the “good old days” — those times that LCMS faux “progressives” derisively dismiss as “our Grandfathers’ Synod.” Dipping his brush into the rich colors of our history, Matt painted a vast mural of a current (and future) Missouri Synod richly profiting from a return to these roots.

Matt HarrisonMatt suggests no harsh, reactionary ecclesiastical primitivism but instead calls for intentional, ongoing, and thorough integration of sound doctrine, orthodox worship, and active works of mercy within The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. He sees us embracing other confessional Lutherans here and abroad while interacting (when salutary) with other Christian bodies yet gently but firmly rebuking (when necessary) their unscriptural words and ways.

At all times, he encourages us to reach out to the lost with a united, Christ-centered message of reconciliation and peace. In practice, this would include the aforementioned reconnection of mission endeavors to church planting, all leading toward full Word and Sacrament ministry, Christian education, and the care of those in need.

During our time together, Pastor Harrison revealed to the assembled pastors a host of wholesome attributes belonging to the early Missouri Synod and its leaders. He provided ample evidence that civil discourse among disagreeing factions, holistic care of pastors by their congregations and of parishioners by their pastors, domestic and world missions leading to church planting, and a true Christian love of of pure doctrine revealed in love of one’s neighbor all existed during Missouri’s improbable formation and incredible growth. At times, many of these beneficial traits seem impossibly buried in our distant past.

Friedrich PfotenhauerMatt, however, didn't set out to instill a melancholy longing for days gone by. Through his lectures as through this new book, by related historical essays, as his other writings, in his stewardship of his current office, and throughout his personal dealings, Matt leads us to a renewed hope that our good past is not forever lost. He encourages us not to sit by, watching and waiting for a miracle to turn back the calendar. Instead, he invites our synod to join wholeheartedly to recover these treasures and then humbly present them at our Lord’s feet for the good of His Church and the glory of His name.

Pastor Harrison is certainly an orthodox, confessional Lutheran. He knows and practices the art of discerning, marking, and avoiding that which is truly harmful to the Church. He recognizes the sad truth that some who are of the church nevertheless advocate theologies and practices contrary to sound doctrine, Christian charity, or both. He also knows that many divisions grow from ill-conceived factionalism and a mindless party spirit. These woes are frequently rooted among the clergy. Knowing our weaknesses, Matt gently and carefully reached behind many of the foolish barriers that we pastors place between one another. Subtly, often indirectly, using self-depreciating humor as well as his keen mind, he invited all of us to open our gates, come out together, and get to know each other better.

Matt HarrisonI think that both instinctively and intellectually, Matt realizes that a restored collegiality is a necessary step in regaining mutual trust. It will, God willing, help us to tear down Missouri’s wrongly erected and divisive internal walls so that we might buttress our necessary outer wall against satanic and worldly assault. Then, God willing, we again truly act as “synod” — both by traveling together under one name and by sticking together on the same road with the same purposes and the same joy in Christ our Lord.

Speaking personally I’ve liked Matt since we first met. Even before that, I respected him as a theologian. Now I’m discovering more fully why so many pastors and lay people are actively working to nominate and elect him as the next president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Daily, more and more Missouri Synod Lutherans are discovering for themselves the threefold strengths of intellect, faith, and heart belonging to Pastor Matthew Harrison.

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