This is Part 4 of a continuing series analyzing the final report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance (BRTFSG).
Recommendation #1: the Constitutional Amendments to the Preamble and Articles II, III, VI and VII
The first recommendation from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance (BRTFSG) includes proposed amendments to four of the articles of the LCMS constitution. (For the text of these proposed amendments see above for a link to the final report with appendices.)
Proposed changes to The Preamble
Here is the current preamble to the LCMS constitution.
Reason for the Forming of a Synodical Union
- The example of the apostolic church. Acts 15:1–31.
- Our Lord’s will that the diversities of gifts should be for the common profit. 1 Cor. 12:4–31.
Notice the simplicity here. The first point simply gives a scriptural example of how the first century Christians came together for the common cause. The second point seeks to demonstrate from scripture that when congregations come together for joint activities such as training pastors and sending out missionaries they are able to benefit from the diversity of gifts given to the church at large. Several congregations committed to a given missionary cause can be more effective and efficient than a single congregation.
The proposed amendments from the Task Force lose the simplicity of the original preamble. They also introduce us to the incessant use of the word “mission” by the Task Force. The word “mission” is used three times just in the proposed new preamble. Why is this a problem? It is a problem because it demonstrates the Task Force’s attempt to make evangelism the primary work of the church. Why is that a problem? It is a problem because it paves the way for changing the church so that it is more appealing to the culture in an attempt to attract people out of the culture and into the church. This has been a hallmark of President Kieschnick’s administration and those he picked for the Task Force. It is foolish for us to change the simple words of the current preamble to reflect the trendy and transitory vision of the current administration.
Not only is this a trendy move it is also not supported in Scripture. Nowhere in the ESV translation of the Bible is there a mention of the “church’s mission” or “God’s mission” or any evangelistic “mission.” This is just not a Biblical way to speak. It is the way businesses and corporations speak. It is the way non-Lutheran church consultants speak. It is not the way the Bible speaks.
Article II – Confession
The proposed changes to this article have been reviewed by Klemet Preus and can be found here.
Article III – Objectives
This section adds a lot verbiage that is unnecessary. It changes the order of the objectives of synod in order to add in the “mission” statement of the synod and to make sure that evangelism is placed first in priority. (See our comments on the Preamble for critique.) The new Point 1 also gives to the synod a duty that it has never had before. In the current Article II, 2 the synod “strengthens congregations…in giving bold witness…into all the world.” As noted above this now becomes Part 1 and instead of strengthening congregations to so the witnessing, the synod is actually doing the witnessing. This is a radical change in the nature of synod that we will see time and time again in these proposals. The synod is no longer a group that the congregations formed to help them make use of the diversity of gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the BRTGSG proposals the synod becomes more of a stand alone institution that works on its own, independent of the congregations.
The first part of the current Pt. 7 is simply done away with in the amended constitution. The current Point. 7 says that congregations are to strive for uniformity of practice. The proposed Section II. 8 that replaces it says that we ought to seek to understand each other and the wide variety of practices and customs amongst us. This is a radical departure which basically undoes the notion of synod. “Synod” means walking together. It does not mean “seeking to understand why one church has a radically different worship practice than another.”
Article VI – Conditions of Membership
By the time you finish reading the proposed changes to Article VI you really begin to suspect that the modus operandi of the Task Force was in part to reorganize parts of the constitution in order to slip in subtle but significant changes that would be less noticeable. When you look at the existing Article VI you see a straightforward list of seven items that a congregation must do to join and remain in the LCMS. The proposed form does not follow that list nor that straight-forward approach. We ask why? It makes it very hard to compare the old to the new and it does not clarify things. It actually muddies things.
For instance, the proposed change breaks things down into two lists: 1) requirements for acquiring membership and 2) requirements for retaining membership. Why would that be two different lists? What changes after someone joins? According to the proposed article, section B. 2, to join the synod you do not have to use worship materials that are consistent with the Lutheran Confessions but to continue as a member you must. That makes no sense. Will we allow congregations into the synod that do not practice sound Lutheran and Biblical worship and then expect them to change once they join?
Since the Task Force provides no documentation anywhere as to why they are proposing these changes we are left to figure it out on our own. Here is a likely scenario that explains the annoying change to two parts here. Someone from the Task Force suggests that if the requirements for joining the synod are looser than those for remaining in the synod we will be able to get more congregations into the synod from a non-Lutheran background and with non-traditional pracitces. (Subsequently, because there is little or no congregational supervision in the synod today, those congregations with looser worship styles – see below – will get in and be allowed to stay in and over time will help to eradicate our grandfather’s church from our midst.)
There is something more troubling in the section on worship materials. The current wording for pt. 4 is this:
4. Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school.
The proposed wording is this:
2. Use of worship and catechetical resources that are in harmony with the confessional basis of the synod;
Instead of “doctrinally pure” worship materials congregations will now only have to use materials that “are in harmony” with the confessional basis of the synod. The former is a higher and more Biblical standard whereas the latter is a looser standard.
There is also a disconcerting change in how parish constitutions are viewed. In the current constitution a parish is admitted to the synod if there is nothing in their constitution that contradicts scripture. That allows the congregation independence and freedom as long as it holds nothing that contradicts scripture. In the proposed constitution the language of “contradicting scripture” is missing. The only test is that the parish constitution must be accepted by the district. This restricts congregational freedom to whatever the district will allow. This is another clear example of how authority is shifted from the congregation to the synod and district.
A closing example from Article VI shows how sloppy the Task Force was in their work. In both A. 1. and B. 1. the Task Force proposes that congregations will “subscribe” to the constitution of synod. As others have pointed out, it is silly to ask people to subscribe to a document that can be amended. Subscription ought to be retained for abiding documents such as the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and not for structural documents susceptible to amendment.
Article VII – Relation of the Synod to its Members
The proposed additions to this article reveal more clearly than others how the Task Force seeks to speak out of two sides of its bureaucratic mouth. It retains all of the language of the current Article VI which asserts that the synod is only advisory. But then, what it gave with the right hand, it takes away with the left hand by adding totally new language that makes the synod out to be more than advisory.
Before we get into the text of the additions it is good to remember where we started. The current constitution cites Acts 15 as an example of why we formed a synodical union. The early Christian congregations and pastors got together in Jerusalem to join together to solve problems that called for this larger group to convene. They were not dictatorial or institutional. They were evangelical and suggestive in their approach to the churches. This gave us the model for a synodical union. The synod was never intended to be an institution. It was a practical means for right-teaching congregations to develop a means by which they could use the diversity of the Holy Spirit’s gifts to the church in order to more effectively send out missionaries, train pastors and produce godly resources for the parish (hymnbooks and the like). In this model the local parish is the church, because it has the authority to administer word and sacrament. In the LCMS according to the proposed changes the synod becomes institutionalized as a free standing entity over and above the congregations.
I am a synod man. I love the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. But I love it for what it was originally created to be – a synod of congregations and pastors that join together to hold each other accountable to the purity of God’s word, train pastors and other church workers in that Word of God, send out missionaries with the truth of that same Word of God and publish common resources for worship and piety that are based on that same pure Word of God. In the new proposals the synod becomes much more than that.
In Part B. of the proposal synod members are now asked to make a “joint commitment to God’s mission” as carried out by the synod. In the past there was no joint commitment to a mission sponsored by a larger institution. There were congregations that administered God’s word and sacraments and for the sake of effectiveness they joined in with other congregations for tasks better done in synod. What held the congregations together was not synod but a commitment to the purity of God’s word and uniform expressions of piety (e.g. hymnal and catechism). In the new proposals the authority of synod increases as a means of holding the congregations together. There is nothing wrong with institutionalism in and of itself but in the church the center of gravity is not in the institution. It is in the congregation, through the pastor where God does His work. When there is an over-arching institution the tendency is to move away from the purity of the Word as the unifying principle and towards a human rule and organization. This was the primary institutional lesson learned in the Reformation. Christ and His Word rule the church, not institutionalism.
There is a new and haunting phrase in the new proposals: “the collective will of the synod.” This is not the language of Scripture but is actually the language of socialism and fascism. We do not subscribe to any collective will but to the Word of God. This is why the original Article VI is so wonderful. It does not reject parish constitutions because they do not pass the test of the collective will of the district but only if they contradict Scripture. The proposed Article VII goes beyond parish constitutions and says that in all things parishes must submit to the collective will of synod. Let me say again, synod is not a gathering of congregations that has agreed to bind themselves to each other and an institutional collective will. Synod is a collection of congregations gathered together to make use of the diversity of gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The one area that would benefit from more institutional supervision is in the area of doctrinal supervision but the new proposals have little to say about that. You might protest – but doesn’t doctrinal supervision from a circuit visitor, district president (bishop) or synodical president (bishop) fail the test as just another example of overarching collective will? No it does not because we have never held that an individual nor a group of people can determine Scriptural truth. The Scriptures themselves are the authority, not the collective will of the people. The check and balance is this: if any of the the supervisors, all the way from pastor to synodical president, contradict Scripture then they are to be rebuked with Scripture and if they persist in error are to be removed from office.
More of this new institutionalism can be seen in the proposed Section B. 3. According to it members of synod are to pledge their support to the synod’s efforts. The problem with this is that the synod really does not have efforts per se. The congregations have joint efforts. In the past the synod served the congregations by training pastors, sending missionaries, etc. In the new proposals the congregations serve the synod by committing to support the synod’s efforts.
In the last generation there has been a proliferation of synod “efforts” such as His Love Our Response, Forward in Remembrance, and now the ill-fated Ablaze Movement. In the last generation the synod has also shrunk. That is because synodical identification is not about submitting to synod but about congregations of synod uniting around a commitment to pure Scriptural doctrine and practice.