A Tale of Two Synods

I don’t know if I saw that title somewhere before or not, but it is rather fitting for our days.

Here are some observations about our present synod and its future in the wake of the recent Higher Things conference in Colorado Springs (which I unfortunately could not attend). Higher Things Youth Conferences represent the very best of historic, confessional Lutheranism. The National Youth Gathering, on the other hand, represents the very worst of American Lutheranism. Just compare the websites. Look at who the speakers are. Higher Things Conferences are led by orthodox Lutheran pastors. The worship is planned and conducted by LC-MS pastors. Private Confession/Absolution is offered several of the evenings, and daily Matins, Vespers, and Compline are offered. Each day the attendees are challenged in sectionals, Bible Studies, and plenary sessions. They are exposed to solid, Biblical and Confessional teaching regarding the nature and benefits of the Sacraments, the value of traditional ceremony and liturgical usage, the meaning of the Divine Service, and many other things. Some will no doubt say, “The kids must really love that! NOT!” And they are dead wrong. The kids LOVE it. They want to eat the solid food of the Word of God, not the tasteless fluff that so often passes for Christianity.

The main speakers at the National Youth Gathering are “Caitlin, Blake, Julie, Gustavo, eric, and nikki.” Where are the prominent Lutheran theologians of our age? Where are the faithful Lutheran pastors? And yet, which conference do you suppose is advertised and supported by the Synod? The one that is characterized by purity of doctrine and reverent worship? Think again.

These two gatherings, Higher Things and the National Youth Gathering, are also illustrative of the two churches that exist in our Synod currently. They are, to be honest, two different spirits, two completely different ways of thinking about Christianity. At the center of the one (HT) is Christology, and its various manifestations in the life of the Church such as preaching, Baptism, Eucharist, and Absolution (Hence, Divine Service). At the center of the other is Dynamism, the goal of which is to “wow” kids into taking their faith more seriously. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a “wow” factor at Higher Things Conferences. But the “wow” is for a completely different reason. The “wow” factor is centered in the Holy Word and the content of the presentations. The two churches represented by these two youth conferences grow farther and farther apart as the days and years drag on. It actually reminds me of the “two churches” theory that Luther used when speaking of Church of Rome and the Church of the Reformers. One was like Abel, despised, considered worthless, outwardly unimpressive. The other (Rome) was like Cain, proud, impressive, and outwardly glorious. The true church, of course, was that which maintained the christological center: Word and Sacrament. The false church, having grown proud of its birthright, sells it for a pot of stew like Esau and Jacob. It is given to another. Today the false church is represented by the National Youth Gathering, and the true church, the one that is truly Abel, despised, unimpressive, is represented by the Higher Things conference. Although its glory is hidden, it is nevertheless filled with the Holy Spirit because it is rooted in the pure doctrine of God’s Word. And it has not sold its liturgical birthright for a pot of church growth stew.

What does this mean for the future of our Synod? I think (and I am not a prophet) that it will mean that eventually the Synod will *have* to go its separate ways. Those who want to have a Church without doctrinal or liturgical boundaries will go the way of the National Youth Gathering whereas those who value such boundaries because they value Christ will go the way of Higher Things. It is coming folks. Some will say that if the Synod splits, the confessional wing will fracture into several different pieces. I’m not so sure. Those who value Higher Things and attend it represent a wide spectrum of liturgical practices, within commonly accepted boundaries, mind you. And this does not disrupt the unity of this confessional body. Neither does the fact that we have a variety of different opinions on any number of topics (such as whether or not Jesus is speaking sacramentally in John 6). This is the tale of two Synods.


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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5 Responses to A Tale of Two Synods

  1. Christopher Gillespie says:

    Isn’t a ironic that the NYGs are revivalism… one of the very things the LC-MS has resisted since the beginning?

  2. FatherDMJ says:

    Further, those who support the NYG are calling those who support HT “schismatic” and “not supportive of Synod”.

    I’ve been to both. NYG was like attending a pep rally for Pietism. HT was like going to church.

    Hmmm. Which one is the schismatic one?

  3. Father Hollywood says:


    Brilliant insights. We really are basically two religions trying to operate as one under a synodical umbrella. There are likewise two solutions to the ever-increasing “gap.”

    1) An American sort of “reconciled diversity” that expects us all to “get along” and not be “judgmental” against one another since we “all love Jesus.” This is the sentiment that leads to open communion and anything-goes worship. It also leads to a false sense of unity.

    2) A call for a revisitation of our Lutheran confesions as a source of Concordia (harmony) – a true unity rather than a contrived unity out of a n overriding desire to remain in the top ten largest “denominations.”

    In short, there are those who see Lutheranism as a “denomination” with certain rules (Roberts) and a desire to affirm everyone’s “rightness” – while others see Lutheranism as a “confession” with a commonly-shared creed (the Book of Concord) and a desire to confess the Truth regardless of size, stature, or popularity.

    It is painful that we are in a state of de facto excommunication from one another, but this is the state of affairs. It can’t be denied or swept under the rug.

    All there is left to do is confess, and teach the young people to discern the Truth from the synodical peer pressure to compromise in order to achieve a false sense of peace and large numbers – hence the blessing of Higher Things.

    Paul, this is yet another fine post that should be considered by all thoughtful Lutherans regardless of which “camp” he belongs to. Can we simply continue as we are? Or should an “amicable divorce” a la Professor Marquart’s suggestion be negotiated? I suspect there will be no negotiation, and we will, in the end, find ourselves like the early church with the holy apostolic faith but no buildings and no property.

    Confession may lead us to material poverty. We must pray for strength and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and for Him to give us courage.

  4. Higgins says:

    At HT in Seattle, Pr Petersen commented about how impressive (and perhaps “moving”) it had been to hear 700+ people singing “We All Believe in One True God” (or whatever the hymn had been). With fairness, he added that, since most of us were from congregations of less than 200 people, we would have had a similar emotional experience from hearing so many voices sing “Kum ba yah”. (He went on and said more, but that’s all that I remember of what he said.)

    Having been to both the NYG and to HT, I agree with Pr Beisel that the synodically sponsored event is lacking. I wish that there was an HT equivalent of LWML and LLL.

  5. saxoniae says:

    Higgins: I wish that there was an HT equivalent of LWML and LLL.

    That is a VERY good idea!

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