“Sound Bite Ecclesiology” by Pr. Klemet Preus

Apparently some have taken umbrage at my claim that people at the MNS convention “took rather complex issues and turned them into simplistic, if inaccurate sound bites.”

 

You be the judge.

 

Less than a month before the MNS convention an Email was sent to all the delegates by a group calling itself “Mission Vision Group” which included two members of minority of the board. Here’s what our side was accused of:

 

We have found ourselves in strong disagreement with some of the recent decisions made by the “majority” members of our District Board of Directors; specifically the following:

 

Denial of membership to The Alley Lutheran Church after first voting to approve their acceptance; and against the recommendation and support of the Constitution Committee and the assurances of our District President. (Emphasis theirs.)

 

So that’s the sound-bite. “Denial after first approving their acceptance.”

 

Here’s what really happened. You be the judge.

 

On the first day of the convention President Seitz gave to all the delegates a two page document entitled: “A Primer regarding Membership in the LCMS.” The document was also signed by the secretary of the synod, Rev Ray Hartwig. It begins:

 

“In recent weeks a great deal of inaccurate information has been circulating within the district regarding the process of applying for membership in the Synod and the roles of the Board of Directors and the district president.”

 

The paper then outlines the process by citing Articles II and VI of the synod’s constitution and Bylaws 1.3.4 and 1.8.1. On page two of that document President Seitz says,

 

“The first step in the application process is for a congregation to submit its constitution and bylaws to the appropriate district president who in turn refers the document to the standing constitution committee of the district for review….Only after the district Constitution Committee has reviewed the congregation’s governing documents…and recommends approval of them can the application process move forward. Its application for membership, submitted to the district president can now be presented by him to the district board of directors for action.

 

The district board of directors, acting on behalf of the Synod can either:

1.           Deny the application for membership, this possibility demonstrated by Bylaw 2.3.1 (a) or

2.           Approve the application for membership as provided by Bylaw 2’3’1 (b).”  

 

So there are two steps in the process of a congregation gaining membership into the synod. The first is the approval the congregation’s documents and the second is to decide upon the congregation’s application for membership. The decision on the application for membership is an action distinct from and separate from the approval of the congregation’s Constitution.

 

The criteria for granting membership are listed in the Seitz/Hartwig paper and there are many of them. The Seitz/Hartwig document includes the requirements to: “agree with the synod’s confessional position,” “accept the conditions of membership,” “Obligate itself to…. promote the purposes of synod,” “Agree to assist in carrying out the objectives of the synod,” “Commit itself to act in accordance with the Constitution and Bylaws of the synod,” and “agree to honor and uphold the resolutions of the Synod (bylaw 1.8.1).” Of these criteria a congregation’s Constitution and Bylaws, which must be approved before the process can to the second step, typically only commit a congregation to accept the synod’s confessional position. They do not address matters such as promoting the purposes of the synod or carrying out the objectives of the synod to say nothing of honoring synodical resolutions.

 

Yet the board must act on the basis of all these criteria in making a decision. The bylaws further assert that “membership in the synod is an important asset to be carefully monitored and managed. In order for this to occur it is necessary for standards to be developed and maintained for the benefit of all members so that its value is not diminished or destroyed.” (Bylaw 2.1.1)

 

This rather intricate process was followed by the MNS Board of Directors which approved the Constitution and Bylaws of The Alley in May of 2008 based on the recommendation of the Constitution Committee, but at the same meeting postponed a decision to act on the congregation’s application for membership in the synod. This postponement was based on the Board’s perception that The Alley did not “agree to honor and uphold the resolutions of the synod” which had to do with using the LSB, practicing closed communion and using the name Lutheran. The decision was postponed again in September of 2008 since the board still was uncomfortable in saying “no” but could not in good conscience say “yes.” Finally in December of 2008 the board felt constraint to give an answer and said “no” because it was apparent that on two of the three issues the Alley was not going to follow the resolutions of the synod.    

 

So it was a rather complex series of events.  

 

Questions which were discussed either at the board meetings themselves or by various members of the board in coffee clutch meetings along the way were:

 

  1. How does a board analyze a congregation according to the requirements of the bylaws?
  2. What amount of board scrutiny of a congregation seeking membership in the synod, if any, usurps the responsibility of the district president who is the ecclesiastical supervisor of the district?
  3. Can it be said that the District President has ecclesiastical supervision over a congregation which as yet is not a member of the synod? At what point does his ecclesiastical supervision begin?  
  4. What processes or policies are in place by which to interview key congregational leaders?  
  5. Does the district president’s assurance that the pastor is orthodox necessarily mean that the congregation is ready to enter the synod?  
  6. Are the criteria used for the discipline of pastors and congregations the same as those that should be applied in welcoming a congregation into the synod? (This issue was discussed extensively at the Board level.)

 

So this was a very difficult process. It was complex.

 

Now let’s get back to the sound bite. Those who opposed the board, a group called the Mission Vision group, took this rather complex process and, to repeat, said the following:

 

We have found ourselves in strong disagreement with some of the recent decisions made by the “majority” members of our District Board of Directors; specifically the following:

 

Denial of membership to The Alley Lutheran Church after first voting to approve their acceptance; and against the recommendation and support of the Constitution Committee and the assurances of our District President.

 

You judge.

 

Did the board vote to approve accepting the Alley? No.

Does the Mission Vision statement say that it did? Yes.

Does this statement suggest that the board changed its mind or was inconsistent? Yes.

Is that the case? No.

Did the Constitution Committee recommend accepting the Alley into the synod? No. That’s not their job.

Did they recommend approving the church’s Constitution which is only one criterion of many which must be met. Yes.

 

Did the Mission Vision Group statement deceive the delegates with simplistic sound bites? You tell me.    

 

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Administrative Pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church and School in Naperville, Illinois. He is the founder of the Brothers of John the Steadfast. He is also a partner in Wittenberg Church Consultants. He enjoys watercolor painting, gardening, and watching college football and basketball. He has an M Div from Concordia, St. Louis, an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a Doctorate of Ministry from Concordia, Ft. Wayne.

Comments

“Sound Bite Ecclesiology” by Pr. Klemet Preus — 9 Comments

  1. So Klemet what was to be expected. Since the ’70’s sound bite theology has been used to ,move the masses to make decisions without giving them the full amount of information. I see the same thing happening whenever a synodical official comes to a district convention and is asked questions. They have taken well to heart the former AAL’s sessions on how to speak to the media–just like a politician. Say you understand the questions, repeat the questions and then don’t answer the questions. They give the people in convention a sound bite which may or may not apply to the questions. At the recent IDE convention the 1st VP was given a rather simply question which in truth required only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It took him over 4 minutes to not answer the question at all.

    I have never understood in this LCMS body which is supposedly Christian why we are never able to just be honest in the answer to our questions. Maybe that is just not the way things will ever happen.

  2. “The criteria for granting membership are listed in the Seitz/Hartwig paper and there are many of them.”

    This statement about the many criteria for granting membership contradicts the statements contained in the Sept. 9, 2008, MNS BOD minutes:

    “Dr. Seitz shared with the Board a copy of the bylaws of the Synod regarding the Eligibility of Congregations (Bylaw 2.2) and the Application by Congregations (Bylaw 2.3) for membership in the Synod. He pointed out to the Board that the one requirement for receiving a congregation into membership in the Synod is that the congregation has an approved constitution and bylaws (Bylaw 2.2.1). The Board approved the constitution and bylaws of The Alley Lutheran Church at its May 2008 meeting. By their constitution and bylaws and their application for membership, the Alley indicates its intention to uphold the teaching and practices of the Synod. Therefore, he sees no reason why the congregation should not be accepted into membership at this time.

    “Dr. Seitz expressed concern that the Board is involving itself in the area of ecclesiastical supervision, which is the sole responsibility of the District President.” [Emphasis added]

    Is there an explanation for such a contradiction within the MNS BOD in the understanding of the criteria to be met before membership is granted to a congregation?

    BTW is the elected MNS VP Larry Griffin related to The Alley pastor, Ben Griffin?

  3. Carl Vehse – “BTW is the elected MNS VP Larry Griffin related to The Alley pastor, Ben Griffin?”

    No – at the “majority”-led BOD pre-convention meetings, Larry said he was NOT related to Ben.

  4. Carl,

    My guess is that according to the following quotations:

    “By their constitution and bylaws and their application for membership, the Alley indicates its intention to uphold the teaching and practices of the Synod.” from the MNS BOD Minutes

    “This postponement was based on the Board’s perception that The Alley did not “agree to honor and uphold the resolutions of the synod” which had to do with using the LSB, practicing closed communion and using the name Lutheran.” from the article above

    Although the actions of the Alley indicated an intention to uphold the practices and teachings of Synod there were those on the board who did not see such intention being followed completely in practice.

  5. Mr. Vehse,

    The September 2008 minutes of the BoD reflect the report that President Seitz gave to the Board and not necesarily the BoD’s opinion. The Minority of the BoD used his understanding of September 2008 to circulate throughout the district that the Majority was trying usurp his role. At that time he seemed to believe that the Board should simply take his word for it that the congregation was Lutheran and their willingness to confess the Authority of the Scriptures and subscrbe to the Lutheran Confessions was sufficient.

    The majority held that the board itslef had the responsibility to ascertain the congregation’s orthodoxy.

    President Seitz’s view appears to have changed over the months so that by the time he issued a report to the delegates in early May of 2009 he was able to assert that the Board may have had a justifiable reason to reject the application of the Alley for membership. At the open hearings of early May when asked directlyh if he believed that the Board’s approval of the Consitution and Bylaws was in effect an approval of the congregation’s application for membership in the synod he replied, No.” And on the first day of the convnention he handed out the “Primer” document prepared by himself upon consulation with the secretary of the synod which clearly shows that there are more criteria than simply accepting a congregation’s consitituion and Bylaws.

    By then it should have been obvious to all the the Board Majority was acting with prudent responsibility when it insisted on more than a formal subscription to the confession. It shoujld have been equally obviosu that the minority was acting irrespoinsiblyh by deferring to the judgement of the president of the district when the decision was not his to make.

    Of course no one can read minds and hearts in these matters but, anecdotally, when I asked people why they voted to accept the Alley into the synod the common answer was that the president of the district had assured us that they were Lutheran.

    To me this is very unfortunate becasue it was simply not the president’s job to make such assurances or recommendatiions. It was the constitutionaly obligation of the board of Directors.

    By replacing a board which was jealous to protect its duties with one that was willing to hand over its responsibilties to the president of the district the district, in effect, has taken authority from a committee made up of pastors and laymen elected by the district and given it to the president.

    To me that is unfortuante.

    Klemet Preus

  6. Monte,

    A few questions.

    1) Were you at any of the preconvention meetings?

    2) Could you explan to the viewers how the meetings were
    “majority” led? Were not there presenters from both sides?

    Finally, your signature on the “Mission Vision” documents was unforunate, especially since they contained libel.

  7. Nathan,

    I was at Windom’s pre-convention meeting.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it the guys on the majority who pushed for these meetings? That’s why I labeled them as such. If I’m wrong Klemet, please let me know and I’ll edit my thoughts.

    As far as your last comments goes, I’m sorry you feel that way, but I disagree with you. Mission Vision went to great lengths to be fair – even posting a link to this site and telling the readers to check this out – because there was an continues to be a lot of great information and theology discussed here.

    It’s time to work together as best as we can. There is a lot that both sides of the issues can bring to the discussion and direction of the MNS district.

    Monte

  8. Monte,

    Be honest. Tell the readers why the majority asked for the meetings. You had members of the board who were on the minority going to circuit meetings and other gatherings relaying things that were not accurate or simply distorted.

    Further, you had a Mission Vision Group writing things that clearly contained libel therein. You are part of that group.

    On top of this, you have a district president who was not neutral in the matter of theAlley, but took the lead in writing an individual letter to voting delegates of the district that clearly was one sided and even said things that were not in order.

    There are three reasons to have meetings, Monte.

    Finally, in regards to the Mission Vision Group. Do not lie! You were never fair, never showed any signs of being fair and even had various members of your group stand, speak and act obnoxiously at these preconvention meetings.

    The speakers put forth either poor theology or no theology and resorted to feelings.

    Not one of your letters was fair. They all made assumptions about the other side that were simply wrong and misleading.

    The charge of libel stands. You need to repent.

    When you win, then there is talk of working together. How convenient.

  9. Nathan, I disagree with your conclusions. I may come back later to reply publicly to your accusations, but as for now, I am done discussing this in public. It’s best that we handle this in another manner, which I am pursuing.

    As I stated earlier, we need to work together. My call is sincere.

    Monte

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