With an article title like this, you might call to mind how in the book of Ezekiel God packs up from the temple and goes off with His people into exile (Ez. 10). Even in unlikely places of punishment and lamentation, we might look for God’s gracious presence, bringing His promised blessings to His people.
But should we really think of the District Convention as a kind of exile? Sometimes I overhear the sighing from brothers and sisters in Christ about the burden of the convention (well, actually only brothers in Christ have ever expressed such feelings to me.) Sure, we’re away from family and home and our regular vocations, but isn’t this also a “home” for us, where we may exercise other, equally God-given vocations? The convention is yet a gathering of God’s people for the purposes of furthering His work among us. While there, we are fellow-workers of Christ, children of the Father, co-heirs of the Kingdom, and, as we sing and pray and receive God’s Word together, royal priests with liturgical duties in the worship of God.
If we go back over a century into the 1800’s, we find a completely different spirit among the early “Missourians.” For them, scattered as they were across the western plains with little fellowship to be found among fellow pastors, conventions were described as moments of “heaven on earth;” the assembly hated to see them come to an end. In those days, synodical conventions were held in the sanctuary of a large church. Local hotels couldn’t be presumed to house the whole of the assembly, so members opened their homes to the arriving delegates. It was a family reunion of the family of God, with old friendships renewed and new friendships formed. Even with the occasional “hot topic” among the daily business, the experience was largely marked with joy and encouragement.
What God Does Among Us
I’d like to encourage us to reconsider what God does among us, even at our conventions. These gatherings of God’s people present the Holy Spirit with sacred opportunities among us. He teaches in the Bible studies. He builds us up through “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.” We will hear God’s Word preached, which we should not despise, but gladly hear and learn. The gifts of Christ will be going to the convention, there to be unpacked and delivered through the means of grace.
Even those hours dedicated to convention resolutions should be valued and treasured. Yes, they require a bit of Sitzfleisch (a soft bottom for hours of sitting—you may want to bring a pillow). But let’s remember the salutary history of such resolutions among the people of God. Acts 15 records the first council, which concluded with a confession that salvation came by grace and did not require observance of the Mosaic Law. In writing the letter of the decision to the church at large, the Apostles noted, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28). They attributed the confession first to the work of the Spirit, who had enlightened them in that truth and strengthened them for that godly confession. Similar godly confessions were made, for example, in the first “synods” which assembled to address the problem of the Montanist heresy in Asia Minor and at the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, which affirmed the full deity of the Son of God. We may hope and pray that the Spirit might yet lead us to make a good confession as we gather in convention this summer. Thus, He will make us witnesses to God’s truth also in this age.
Sometimes as the people of God we fall into bad habits. The practice of disparaging our time together in district and synodical conventions is one such bad habit. Let’s open our eyes of faith to see what our God would do among us, open our ears to hear the Word preached and spoken, open our hearts to welcome one another in love and friendship, open our minds to learn from one another with careful listening, and open our mouths to speak the truth we know and the praise that’s due to our God and Savior. Far from a waste of time, the hours of convention will be sacred moments for God’s work among us.
Photo by Elisa Schulz/Michigan District, LCMS