The Synod President – A Man Under Orders

LCMS_corporate_sealIt is well known that BJS has often supported President Matthew Harrison (especially in the 2010 effort to elect him), and that at times we have also been critical of him.  In considering the situations and persons involved, it is important to realize some things about this office of President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

The President of Synod is under orders.  First, there are the orders of Scripture which govern all of the baptized.  Second, since we have ordained men serve in this office they are under orders to the same Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.  These two are very obvious to most folks in the LCMS.  They should be.  If we are a Lutheran Church then these ought to be the orders we are all under.

There is a third set of orders to which the Office of Synod President is beholden, the orders of the Synod’s Handbook – the legal operating documents of the Synod, its Articles of Incorporation, Constitution, and Bylaws.  Yes, for some this means that eye rolls can happen right now, but this is the reality.  Besides this there are policies and guidelines which must also be followed.  All of this I am sure creates a giant legal mess which can at times have the potential to cause a conflict in the different orders the man in the office is under.

We are coming up on a District Convention year (2015) in the LCMS and much politicking for candidates will be done.  Hopefully many will heed the wisdom of Pr. Hull in his call to a fat and lazy church to renew their study of the Scriptures and Confessions.  That said, those legal things of this world like bylaws can be changed to reflect more and more the foundations of our Lutheran Church – the Scriptures and Confessions.  This process can be worked through the Districts to garner more support at the Synod Convention the following year.

Now would be a good time to reflect upon the current legal things in relation to the Scriptures and Confessions and consider improvements.  It might be wise to consider the past years events and our Synodical President’s actions in regards to them and see whether there may be better or more faithful orders to give him, as the office is subject to the orders it has.  It may be good to consider if there are any of these bylaws which can cause a conflict of conscience for the President of the Synod in his attempts to remain faithful to Scripture and Confessions and yet also be obedient to the bylaws.

 

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Associate Editor of the Brothers of John the Steadfast. He manages the work of BJS in cooperation with KFUO and is a regular host of Concord Matters (and is also the regular guest on His Time to discuss BJS articles each week). He also oversees the great work done for Steadfast Throwdown. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.

Comments

The Synod President – A Man Under Orders — 26 Comments

  1. A good series of observations, Pr. Scheer.

    Would perhaps BJS, or another collection of knowledgible folks, mind starting a draft of things to be re-considered? I, for one, am curious how we might even get such things discussed at the Convention, without them being buried in committee before they see the light of day.

  2. Since LCMS Inc. is a political entity, I believe there are eyes watching this site daily. If things begin to get discussed here in light of upcoming District Conventions then I am sure that will indeed lead them to being buried in committee.

    Circuits can bring up items up through memorializing their Convention. I believe this is where it starts. We, the pastors, speak up and share where we believe a conflict may need to be addressed and address it.

  3. Dear Pastor Scheer,

    Thanks for your excellent observations. They apply to many situations in our church.

    Dear BJS Bloggers,

    In many cases, when people have complained about an action of a synodical or district official, I have had to point them to a bylaw and say, “See, this is what he had to do. He had no choice in this particular case.” Usually the complainer just ignored what I said, sometimes I have been rebuffed, or worse. Whatever . . .

    It is part of the work of our church to refine our bylaws (sometimes to reform them), so that the doctrine of the Gospel is not opposed and the mission of the church is not hindered. Circuits can memorialize their districts, through the Circuit Forums, and the districts can and should do the same for the synod. Mr. Pase has good counsel.

    All of this work is overseen by the Commission on Handbook and the Commission on Constitutional Matters (for the latter, see: http://www.lcms.org/ccm ). We have some of the best people on those commissions we have had in many years, so now is the time to “make hay while the sun shines,” as the farmers in Iowa say. :)

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  4. Here’s a suggestion for Synod Leadership: Public rebuke for public heterodox teaching and practices is biblical, confessional, and your job. Failure to do so is harmful to all involved and dereliction of duty.

  5. @Randy #5
    The trick is to find the relevant bylaws and make sure they do not limit the ability of the Synod President to do just that.

    We want the bylaws to line up not necessarily with corporate practices as much as faithful and proper use of Law and Gospel. The trick is to figure out where and how to do that.

  6. Well put Rev. Scheer. I’m prone to impatience in such matters, but you are right. It is “our” system. However,I do become frustrated when an individual raises his hand to serve, but lacks the conviction to do so without a consensus. Yes, we should work to help facilitate our leaders, but when sola scriptura is deemed insufficient, I shake my head in bewilderment. We are all sinful, but it seems to me that we treat some of our heterodox pastors and congregations as if they are without error.

  7. I confess to being a bit suspicious as to what “memorializing” actually accomplishes.

    Perhaps I’m just prejudiced by my reading of the old Councils, but it seems that the Synod ought to be able to discuss and work toward resolution on any doctrine or practice issue that the pastors (bishops) put on the table. If we can’t do that, what value is a Synodical Convention, anyway?

    All I’ve really seen, are re-organizations, commemorations, motherhood and apple pie, studies and commissions. Without trying to sound too persnickety, a change I would suggest, is that if we don’t have anything to discuss regarding doctrine and practice, and no decisions to be made regarding ongoing controversies, we shouldn’t have Conventions until we do. Save the money and the politicking for when we have something meaningful to talk about, and are willing to resolve it. If we have to keep all these revolving elections, make the funding for them as anemic as possible, and be done with them quickly. End the campaigning by immediately making any candidate ineligible who attempts to campaign for any ecclesiastical office. Let the Church’s representatives consider the written resumes, make their decisions, and move on. No stump speeches.

    These conventions sound to me, like too many bureaucrats praising the bureaucracy, in hopes of ascending ever higher into it. If it can’t deal with doctrine and practice anymore, it is no longer of the Church, and does not deserve our time or money.

  8. @Brad #9

    These conventions sound to me, like too many bureaucrats praising the bureaucracy, in hopes of ascending ever higher into it. If it can’t deal with doctrine and practice anymore, it is no longer of the Church, and does not deserve our time or money.

    Amen.

    Rather than piling up more “by-laws” and CCM dictates, the sole business of one or more conventions should be to decide which of the ones we have contradict Scripture and the Confessions.
    Further, I suggest that at such discussions, bureaucracy might talk but have no vote, as parties with a conflict of interest.
    Would it also help if someone other than DP’s chaired floor committees?
    I think that it might.

  9. Pastor Scheer,

    In the OP you continually used the word “legal.” I’m not opposed to this usage and I think it’s accurate.

    Would you comment on how the LC-MS “legal” system is or is not like another “legal” system known as “canon law”?

    Could you also comment on “legal” as a concept in church history or the reformation?

    I’m trying to learn how to think about these things. Thanks in advance.

  10. @diesirae #11
    I think the legal system is very close to canon law, however canon law is maybe not as easy to change and comprises a few more volumes than the LCMS Handbook.

    The Reformation brought with certain laws, many of which were used to protect the Lutherans (Luther was brought to Wurms and not further because of German Law). The Augsburg Confession became a legal document as well, allowed to stand for rulers of territories to swear allegiance to (at one time there was only Roman Catholic and Lutheran as legal religions, that’s why Calvinists tried to fit into the Augsburg Confession, see Crypto-Calvinists).
    The Lutherans also had laws right away, things like regulations of the provincial churches, church order books, visitation articles and such.

    “Legal” for the LCMS has a different meaning in that we do not have a national government aligned with our theology (supposedly it is religious-neutral, but not really). So, since the LCMS is incorporated in the State of Missouri as a corporation, it has to have laws and will be held accountable to those law by the government of Missouri (and the United States). This is why bylaws take on a certain importance for our church body – if they do not allow faithful Church work, then they must be changed to allow it. The real difficulty happens because of corporate laws and opening the LCMS up to lawsuits which would rob the Synod of resources it uses for the sake of the Gospel. This is a fine line, which obviously can make many (including myself) very angry at times (for instance when public matters have to be dealt with privately and the curbing effect of the Law is not allowed to the wider Synod).

  11. Rev Scheer,

    I ran across a post on another site that referenced the CCM’s response to Rev. Dr. Harrison’s question last year regarding “Constitutional Questions re Advocacy of Doctrinal Positions Contrary to the Synod’s Stated Positions (13-2694)” in which Rev. Dr. Harrison asked the commission if open and repeated advocacy of theological positions contrary to the Synod’s stated positions were violations of Article II and Article VI 1 of the Synod’s Constitution. He also posed specific questions about the public rejection of “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” (1973) and about the filing of formal dissent from such theological positions.

    I believe I just read the CCM’s response and it seems to reinforce the ability and authority for the synod to insist all members teach and practice in accordance with scripture and our confessions. It further seemed to elaborate on ramifications for those who refused to do so.

    Have you seen the opinion and what sort of clout does such an opinion hold? Is this a small step towards more resolutions at the next convention, or does this opinion have immediate effects and consequences?

    Much thanks ahead of time for any information that you may be able to offer.

    Randy

  12. I agree with Randy. I may be naive but I do not think there is a by-law that prevents the president from speaking out against false practice and teaching.

    There is nothing stopping him at every stop from:
    1) Showing from Scripture why contemporary worship is harmful.
    2) Showing from Scripture why open communion is harmful.
    3) Why promoting false teachers in our parishes is harmful.

    And so forth and so on.

    Our current president would concur with 90% plus of the concerns voiced on this website. He can readily speak and write against the errors in our synod. It is his job. He is the chief defender of pure doctrine and practice according to the by-laws and yet he does not do it.

    The reason he does not do it is two-fold.

    The first reason is this. In my estimation he does not have the courage to do it. He has built his entire career around his wonderful charm. His charm is a blessing to the church but it can also be a curse.

    The second reason is this. He and his staff have chosen to fight this war politically. That means not rocking the boat but instead working behind the scenes to change the vote count in convention and on the various boards around the synod.

    This is wise to a degree but at a key point it fails. When a pastor enters a new field and there is work to be done to fix false doctrine and practice he does indeed need to move slowly. It is a good idea to get a solid board of lay elders before moving out too far.

    However, all the while you are working behind the scenes, you also need to be teaching the truth. This is what is missing at the top. There is little if any bold, prophetic teaching from the top layers of synod. At some point, the clear teaching needs to out pace the politicking or otherwise you will remain mired in the charm land nice appearances because you never risked getting thrown in the cistern like Jeremiah.

  13. Martin R. Noland :
    All of this work is overseen by the Commission on Handbook and the Commission on Constitutional Matters (for the latter, see: http://www.lcms.org/ccm ). We have some of the best people on those commissions we have had in many years, so now is the time to “make hay while the sun shines,” as the farmers in Iowa say.

    Pastor Joshua Scheer The trick is to find the relevant bylaws and make sure they do not limit the ability of the Synod President to do just that.
    We want the bylaws to line up not necessarily with corporate practices as much as faithful and proper use of Law and Gospel. The trick is to figure out where and how to do that.

    Rev. Noland and Rev. Scheer,

    I may also be naïve, but the very recent opinion (13-2694) by the CCM that was referenced above used clear and concise language. The language indicated that the Synod not only has all the authority it needs to uphold our Doctrine and Practices, but is in fact obligated to do so. Perhaps we need to tweak a few bylaws here and there, but I think all the authority is there, it just isn’t being utilized.

    Furthermore, Rev. Dr. Rossow is unfortunately 100% correct. What on Earth would prevent Synod Leadership from “at the very least” openly, publically, and decisively speaking out against “SPECIFIC” instances of unorthodox teaching and practice within the Synod? Failure is not an option. The longer that the leadership neglects their responsibility the more “we” allow the flock to be harmed. If any synod leadership is within earshot, hear me out: The burden of delay, appeasement, and political stalling is NOT a burden that’s yours to assume. –Randy Yovanovich

    (Acts 20:26-32 ESV)
    [26] Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, [27] for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. [28] Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. [29] I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; [30] and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. [31] Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. [32] And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

  14. Randy :
    Furthermore, Rev. Dr. Rossow is unfortunately 100% correct. What on Earth would prevent Synod Leadership from “at the very least” openly, publicly, and decisively speaking out against “SPECIFIC” instances of unorthodox teaching and practice within the Synod?

    Indeed, what would prevent what the Word requires, as clearly exposed in the Large Catechism (in the Confessions): “For where the sin is public, the reproof also must be public, that every one may learn to guard against it.”

    (Note well that it MUST be public.)

  15. Pr. Crandall,

    Disciplinary actions concerning LCMS Constitution Article XIII are handled under bylaw 2.14. Reference to bylaw 2.14.3(c) adds an additional requirement to public sins as mentioned in Large Catechism exposition of the Eighth Commandment. Bylaw 2.14.3(c) requires a Matt. 18 meeting between accuses and accused. It would seem that the bylaw nullifies the Large Catechism teaching on public sin, thereby violating Constitution Article II.

  16. @LaMarr Blecker #19
    Which is why there was a rather long line of delegates at the 2004 convention who registered their names as opposing Res. 8-01a. My dad filed a formal complaint later on with the CTCR, which danced around it, by suggesting that 8-01a doesn’t have to do with the question of “excommunication”, but with membership in the synod. But that tacitly admits that membership in the synod and membership in the O, H, C, and A Church have *no* connection to each other.

    2004 Res. 8-01a (and its encrusted Handbook provisions) need rescinsion and replacement.

    (There was another 2004 res., I think 3-04a or b–not sure about the number–which allowed for women as “presidents” and “Elders”, to which a long line of delegates registered their “nay” votes.) We might refer to that convention as our own “Robber Synod”. :/

  17. @Rev. David Mueller #23
    We might refer to that convention as our own “Robber Synod”. :/

    Especially as confessional Pastors lost their congregations over declining to allow that women Presidents/Elders thing.

  18. Rev. David Mueller,

    Actually the first “Robber Synod” might have been the 1989 convention. This convention began nullification of the BOC by trashing Augustana XIV.

  19. @Martin R. Noland #3
    ““See, this is what he had to do. He had no choice in this particular case.” Usually the complainer just ignored what I said, sometimes I have been rebuffed, or worse. Whatever . . .”

    The frustration comes from those who remember, “we must obey God rather than men.”

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