This is Part 5 of a continuing series analyzing the final report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance (BRTFSG).
Here is the text of Recommendation #2:
Recommendation #2: Clarify the Congregational Principle
In order to advance Christ’s mission and clarify who we are by underscoring the essentially congregational character of the Synod, the role of the ordained and commissioned members (all associate members), and the participation of the laity in the life and work of the Synod, we recommend revising and clarifying Article V of the Synod’s Constitution into more contemporary and clarifying language. (Appendix 1, Pages 1.4 – 1.5, 1.12)
Considering the title of this section, Clarify the Congregational Principle, makes me scratch my head in wonderment. The proposed change to the constitution does not clarify the congregational principle. What it does is change the historic mix of pastoral and lay delegates. It should be titled Changing Who Gets to Vote at a Synodical Convention.
For the record, the “congregational principle” is the Waltherian teaching that the congregation is the basic building block of the church. Denominations are not the building block (Rome) nor are individuals (Pentecostals). The local congregation is where the word and sacrament are administered and so all that is needed for salvation is present in the local parish making it the basic building block of the church. The Task Force keeps telling us that one of the main goals of their proposals is to strengthen the congregational principle but that comes off more as an Alinsky-like tactic on their part rather than the actual fact of the matter. (Saul Alinsky is the community organizer noteworthy for tactics such as repeating something over and over until people believed it.) There is certainly nothing that strengthens or clarifies the “congregational principle” in this recommendation.
The real meat of this recommendation is in its proposed change to the LCMS constitution. What the proposed change to the constitution (Appendix 1, p. 1.4) does in this recommendation is to consolidate the historical grouping of three types of synod delegates into two. Historically there were the pastoral delegates, the lay delegates and the advisory delegates. The category of advisory delegate consisted of associate pastors, teachers, retired pastors and teachers, etc. It is being proposed that advisory delegates be lumped in with the pastoral delegates and the category be renamed “associate delegate.” This is not a clarification of the congregational principle. This is a reworking of who is allowed to vote at the convention. Here is a simple chart of the changes.
Current Categories of Synod Convention Delegates
- Pastoral – senior or sole pastor of a congregation; able to vote
- Lay – layman; able to vote
- Advisory – Associate pastor, retired pastor, commissioned workers (e.g. days school teacher, DCE, etc.); not able to vote
- Associate – any pastor or commissioned worker; able to vote
- Lay – layman, able to vote
The upside to this proposal is that now commissioned church workers (teachers. DCE’s, etc.) will be allowed to be delegates. The down side is that the 50/50 mix of pastor and layman, designed by the synod’s founder C. F. W. Walther over a century and a half ago and used ever since is now being cast aside. Since commissioned workers could represent a circuit in place of a pastor we stand to lose as many pastors at the convention as there are circuits with commissioned workers or retired commissioned ministers. Conceivably you could lose just about every pastoral delegate since there is a commissioned minister in nearly every circuit of the synod. This is highly unlikely but it is possible and it leaves me scratching my head as to why we would want such a potentially drastic change.
It is unwise and careless of the Task Force to propose such a new structure that could greatly diminish the role of pastors at the synodical convention. It is also not a matter of clarifying the congregational principle as they describe it. This has nothing to do with “the congregational principle” unless of course you think that having less pastoral input at synodical conventions clarifies and strengthens the congregation’s role in synod matters.
This also makes it clear that President Kieschnick and the Task Force are rushing this process. To radically change the ratio of pastors to laity is a huge consideration. President Kieschnick and the Task Force should have had more sensitivity to the synod than to force it through all of these changes in less than a year and with only one convention to think them through.
What is even more disturbing, speaking of delegates at convention, is that the proposed constitution no longer has circuits electing delegates. Instead, each district is allowed to pick its delegates in whatever fashion it desires. This actually limits the congregation instead of increasing it as the Task Force claims. But that comes up in Recommendation #10 so we will have to wait to review that example of the Task Force taking authority away from the congregation and giving it to the district and synod.