Synod in Convention: What? And Why?

By: Rev. Danny Mackey, pastor of Grace, Muncie and secretary of the Indiana District—LCMS

Every three years pastors and laypeople in the LCMS regularly gather in convention. This year about 2,500 people will gather in Milwaukee, July 29–August 3, 2023 for the 68th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Both pastors and laypeople, who were elected to represent their circuits (along with some advisory delegates), will be synod in its fullest sense, where we “walk together” by studying God’s Word, electing synod officers, and considering the business of the synod.

The following is a brief explanation of the basis for synod and the purposes of our upcoming synod convention.

What is the Church?

In order to understand what synod is, we need to first understand the Church.

Every Sunday we confess belief in the “one holy Christian and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed). This Church is both universal (Mt 16:18) and local (1Co 1:2, 16:19). The Church is divinely instituted by Christ. And each congregation possesses all things in Him, having all authority to exercise Christ’s gifts for the benefit of the believers and in proclamation to the world (i.e., calling pastors, owning and maintaining property, church discipline, etc.). The local congregation is the Church in its place. As our Lord Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them” (Mt 18:20).

Because we confess the Church, we recognize both our own congregation and fellow local congregations as the Church. Indeed, the Church has spread, resulting in many local churches throughout the world (Ac 1:8). It is the Christian duty of a congregation to seek fellowship with other Christians, with whom we have common confession and cause. This is where the synod comes in.

What is synod? And what is its purpose?

While we sometimes speak of synod as “church,” it is really an association of congregations and ministers. The congregations and ministers that have joined the LCMS have done so voluntarily, following the example of apostolic Church (Ac 15:1–31). This is because we can accomplish more together than we can separately. In particular, as the synod we train pastors, teachers, deaconesses, and other church workers. We send out missionaries and seek fellowship with other Christians. We promote unity of doctrine and practice within our congregations and aid reconciliation when there are issues among the synod’s members (i.e., its congregations and ministers). In short, as synod we seek to carry out our Lord’s will that the various gifts He’s given us be used for the common good (1Co 12:4–31).

Having voluntarily joined the synod, both congregations and ministers surrender some of their rights. For example, because we seek unity in doctrine and practice, a congregation—if it wishes to remain in synod—can only Call pastors and other ministers who have been approved by our synod and its institutions. Also, when a dispute arises between members, synod has a process in place to resolve that dispute. As members of the synod, we make a solemn commitment to the synod as an association, as well as to every other member of the synod (e.g. Gal 3:15).

What is a resolution?

Resolutions are the main thing our representative pastors and laypeople will be acting on at convention. Most commonly, a resolution is a result of one or more overtures submitted by LCMS congregations, circuits, or districts. The LCMS president reviews those overtures and either accepts or rejects them. If the overture is accepted, it goes to a floor committee which takes the overture and others like it (because many of our congregations, circuits, and districts are concerned about the same things and also recognize the same needs) and they to turn it into a resolution. Floor committees will receive input from delegates and interested parties to improve the resolutions. The final resolution is then presented to the convention, where it is read, debated, amended, and voted on. The resolutions give direction to the officers and agencies of synod, which are carried out over the next three years.

What overtures did the Indiana District submit?

While others within our district also submitted overtures, the Indiana District itself sent three for the synod’s action. Our first overture is To Reject the Practice of “Online or Virtual Communion” in response to some pastors and congregations within synod starting this novel practice. The second overture is To Love Our Neighbor by Rebuking False Doctrine, which attempts to address the ideology of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, especially within our synod’s agencies and institutions. And our third overture is To Amend LCMS Bylaw, which seeks to better care for “candidate” members of synod (i.e., pastors and teachers currently without a Call).

What do we ask of you?

Pray for your synod and her officers, especially as they prepare for the 68th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Pray for the Indiana District, as well as the other 34 districts, that we stay faithful to Christ and His Word. Pray for the voting delegates, both pastors and laypeople, that the Holy Spirit grant them wisdom and discernment as they consider the business of synod. Pray for our advisory delegates, that God’s Word govern their hearts and mouths. And pray for all the other people—synod and district staff, those at the Wisconsin Center, and the city of Milwaukee—working to make this convention a success.