Comprehensive Analysis on the Blue Ribbon Proposals Part 8 ““ Recommendation #5: The Liberal Bias of the Task Force ““ Pitting Laity against the Clergy, by Pr. Rossow

December 23rd, 2009 Post by

This is Part  8  of a continuing series analyzing the final report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance (BRTFSG). All posts in this series are listed here.

 

DuPage County Illinois is Slowly Growing Liberal and so is the LCMS

DuPage County, Illinois in the western suburbs of Chicago has long been a stronghold of conservative politics but over the last fifteen years it is growing more and more liberal. As the average American grows less and less interested in politics there is a natural slide toward tolerance and this favors liberalism in the polling booth. This same loss of interest in the parochialism that is needed to maintain a confessional synod (loss of interest in thinking about theology) is occurring in the LCMS and the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Structure and Governance (BRTFSG) is banking on and participating  this slide.

Proposal #5 suggests that commissioned “ministers” (teachers, DCE’s, etc.) be allowed to fill the congregational delegate spot normally filled by the pastor. This will upset the ag-old balance of one pastor to one layman at the conventions. This is the partner proposal to proposal #2 which allows commissioned “ministers” to replace pastors at synod conventions as well. This means that there will be fewer pastoral delegates at district and synodical conventions. This is a problematic proposal.

I am not interested in protecting pastoral turf. I am also not interested in keeping the vote from commissioned “ministers.” I think it would be fine if they are allowed to vote. But, they should not be taking the place of the pastors. If they are going to be allowed to vote, it should be as the laymen that they are and not as pastors.

By the way, there is a case that can be made that it is good to leave things just as they are with the commissioned “ministers” as non-voting advisory delegates. I am OK with that. I do not think this is such a big issue. What is troubling is not so much the proposal itself but the liberalism couched in the explanation of the proposal. Let me explain.

Liberalism in the Proposals

The most significant thing about this proposal is the manner in which the Task Force considers the Office of the Holy Ministry. Here is how they explain this change.

While working to formulate this recommendation, the members of the task force first considered suggesting that congregations choose an ordained minister as one of their voting delegates and also choose, as desired, a lay voting delegate OR a commissioned minister as their other voting delegate. However, ultimately, this could decrease the number and percentage of lay delegates at circuit and district gatherings. In a church body whose pastors constitute less than half of 1 percent of its baptized membership but exercise 50 percent of its voting authority, the task force questioned the wisdom of reducing the number of lay delegates, even slightly, especially at a time when the church is striving to increase lay ownership of, and involvement in, mission and ministry. (pp. 25-26, Final Report)

Notice the bias against the clergy and notice how it is the changed is done under the guise of democracy. “The clergy are only one percent of us and yet they get fifty percent of the votes! How terrible are those over-lording clergy. Something must be done about this injustice!” What exactly do they do to fight this so-called 99% misrepresentation by the big bad mean clergy? They give a few votes to the commissioned “ministers.” In the end my guess is that at most 10% of the congregations will elect commissioned “ministers” in place of the clergy so this still leaves the tiny little 1% of clergy amongst us holding 45% of the votes! That still seems like a gross injustice according to the liberal logic of the Task Force. Does this actually solve that problem? No it does not. All that it does is make clear the liberal bias the Task Force has against the clergy. Delegates and other members of the LCMS – this is a huge problem of which you need to mark well. The fact that the synodical president could find so many LCMS leaders to appoint to a task force that would have a bias against the God-given office of the ministry is a huge problem and allowing them to determine the new structure of the synod is not a solution, it is a part of the problem.

Bluntly speaking, when it comes to representation the Task Force has a politically liberal bias against institutionalism and this shows up as a bias against pastors. This is a mild LCMS version of 1960′s style liberalism and we recommend the delegates pay close attention to it. In the 1960′s the battle cry was down with the powers that be. Up with the people. Sadly, President Kieschnick’s Task Force has politicized the structure question n the LCMS. They have pitted clergy dominance against lay popularism. Ironically, when it comes to power structures they have a bias toward control and centralization. Even though they are opposed to the clergy, they support granting all sorts of new powers to the synodical presidency. (See Christian Preus’ article on this.) This too, bluntly speaking, is a liberal bias. Liberals are all about sloganizing “power to the people” but in the end, as we are seeing with the health care debate in the US Senate, when liberals are in control there is often little room for openness and bi-partisanship.

We are not alone in identifying the liberal bias of the Task Force. Rev. Warren Graff from New Mexico has written a fine piece that illustrates the liberal bias of the Task Force based on their use of the term “the voice of the people.” We will be posting that paper here on the BJS website in the next few weeks.

This is also consistent with our assertion that the Task Force is not interested in congregations, as they claim. Instead they are interested in the laity. Laity does not equal congregation. A bias toward the laity is not the same as acknowledging the Congregation Principle. They want us to think that they are all for congregations but actually they are all for laity.

A Bias Toward the Laity is not Acknowledging the Congregational Principle

Here is a newsflash for the Task Force: Pastors are members of the congregation they serve. A congregation consists of preachers and hearers. A congregation is not the laity. The Task Force’s foolish equation of laity and congregation demonstrates their warmed over 1960′s liberal bias. The Task Force wrongly pits the laity against the pastors.

The founder of the LCMS, C. F. W. Walther along with his fellow lay and clergy leaders founded the synod on the principle of what we will call Biblical congregationalism. This is different than political congregationalism which makes the congregation the supreme voice of authority. The supreme voice of authority in the LCMS is not the congregation but is God’s word. This is Biblical congregationalism. The LCMS was founded on the principle, among others, that the synod shall not have any binding authority over congregations to assess them with fees or issue doctrinal decrees that they must follow. The local congregation is bound by the word of God, not by synodical resolutions. The congregation is the place where it all happens. It is the place that the word and sacraments are administered. That is the congregational principle. The Task Force at several points in the proposals changes this congregational principle into a laity principle.

We do not pit pastors against the laity in the LCMS. According to Martin Luther in the Small Catechism, pastors are the preachers and the laymen are the hearers. God has created a nice order and fit between pastors and laity just as He did with wives and husbands. They are not in competition with each other as the Task Force would have it. Instead they live in service to each other and are bound not by democratic principles but by the Word of God.

Pastors are the trained servants of the Word and ought to be welcomed into our conventions. The LCMS founding fathers’ view that we ought to have one lay vote for each clergy vote is a fine mix. If we were to change that mix one way or the other, it ought not to be done for the reasons the Task Force gives which reveal a liberal bias against institutionalism and in favor of populism. We do not oppose giving commissioned “ministers” a vote at district and synodical conventions. If they are to vote they should vote as the layman that they are and not in place of pastors. We need our pastors to guide and lead us in convention because they are the called servants of God to know and teach His Word to us.






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  1. Ryan Fehrmann
    December 23rd, 2009 at 11:38 | #1

    ‘DuPage County Illinois is Slowly Growing Liberal and so is the LCMS’ I’m not sure of that statement about the LCMS in light of this recent Concordia U. political survey: http://www.cuw.edu/departments/lutheransurvey/lcms.html

  2. December 23rd, 2009 at 12:20 | #2

    “However, ultimately, this could decrease the number and percentage of lay delegates at circuit and district gatherings.” True ONLY if “commissioned ministers” are no longer considered Laity, but a form of clergy. We call them “ministers” so they must be on a par with “called and ordained servants of the Word” right? WRONG! This blatant redifinition of terms truly denigrates the office the the Holy Ministry which is not, as you so wisely noted, in competition with the congregation. I wonder ifd the task force would agree with your last statement: “We need our pastors to guide and lead us in convention because they are the called servants of God to know and teach His Word to us.”

  3. December 23rd, 2009 at 13:52 | #3

    Paul,

    I think your hunch is right. I don’t think they would agree.

    TR

  4. December 23rd, 2009 at 13:55 | #4

    Ryan,

    The poll is very interesting and good news if indeed it is true.

    However, just as :stupid is as stupid does,” so too, “conservative is as conserative does.” Not many people that we hang around would ever come close to thinking of themselves as liberal – but I am not always convinced they know themselves. I am not sure they would recognize how they are slumping toward tolerance and liberalism. Clearly the LCMS is markedly less parochial now than it was 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago.

    TR

  5. Dennis Voss
    December 23rd, 2009 at 18:24 | #5

    I for one desire that the members of my congregations get into Holy Scripture and the Confessions. But we all know, the percentage who do that is extremely low, especially the Confessions. I’m not certain the Commissioned Ministers are much better. (Of course, this all begs the question – how about the clergy?) But, if the primary ones watching that the Holy Scriptures and Confessions are upheld, are reduced in their voice at the conventions, then the liberals will have an easier job of pushing through their church growth stuff, and all this other nonsense.

  6. December 23rd, 2009 at 22:15 | #6

    I would characterize the move to reduce the percentage of pastors making decisions about theological matters at district and synod as unlutheran. The God-given role of pastors is to shepherd the flock. The pastor is not just one member among many of the church, but he is the divinely-established preacher and speaker, who has the role of proclaiming God’s Word to the church not just in the worship service but at all times. As a result of this understanding, the LCMS has never given laymen and commissioned ministers more votes than pastors at district and synodical conventions.

    In fact, our sister church in Germany (SELK) gives *more* of a voice to the pastors. They have a two-house legislature, so to speak. Their general pastoral conference has to debate and approve all theological resolutions before they can be considered at their synodical convention, and there, the synodical convention can only vote yes or no, not amend. The Lutheran Church in Australia has the same sort of constitution. The benefit of this kind of government is that it allows the theologically-trained men who have a divinely-given position of responsibility to carry on debate at a high theological level and make appropriate decisions, yet it also does not take away the vote from the laity. This kind of government encourages theological discussion at a high level before any kind of theological resolutions are passed.

    Reducing the percentage of pastors at district and synod would, I predict, further erode the level of theological discourse and responsibility in our midst.

  7. C.S.
    December 23rd, 2009 at 23:38 | #7

    @Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes #6

    I agree. More and more lay leaders or “ministers” are popping up in congregations and in synod agencies and many of them do not know their Lutheran theology. When we don’t have Lutheran pastors shepherding the flocks the flocks cease to be Lutheran. In the same way less Lutheran theologians steering the synod means a less Lutheran synod.

  8. johannes
    December 24th, 2009 at 13:04 | #8

    @C.S. #7
    “Shepherd the flocks?” C’mon, get real! This is the twenty-first century already. We don’t want or need shepherds–they went out with high-button shoes and leisure suits. We need (are you ready?) LEADERS! We need CEO’s. We need missional organizers and brigade-meisters. Shepherds, indeed!

    The message should be, “Jesus saved you, so get to work.” As long as that’s the message, it shouldn’t matter who’s doing the preaching.

    Just kidding, of course.

    j

  9. C.S.
    December 24th, 2009 at 13:17 | #9

    @johannes #8

    Forget the brigade-meister. I want a beer-meister.

  10. Johannes
    December 24th, 2009 at 13:52 | #10

    @C.S. #9
    Well, that should go without saying, but I think just to be sure, we should contact the BRTFSSG–that is the Beverage-Rendering & Tippling Folks on Synodical Slurping and Guzzling, and see what they have to say about it. Put it in the Beer-Laws, maybe, as our constitutions might not be up to the task. I wonder if beer-meisters would be able to vote at synodical and district conventions….

  11. C.S.
    December 25th, 2009 at 15:41 | #11

    I support adding a Lutheran Reinheitsgebot to the synod’s constitution.

    Beer-meisters who hold to strictly keeping beer and doctrinal purity should be given two votes at convention regardless the size of their congregation or number of barrels produced.

  12. Johannes
    December 26th, 2009 at 10:19 | #12

    @C.S. #11
    Your suggestion would make for an interesting convention, I’m sure. Problem is, there are too many teetotalers when it comes to doctrine and heavy imbibers where practice is concerned. They are very fond of Adiaphora Lite, an ersatz near-beer that comes to us from Pasadena. Thing about Adiaphora Lite is, it doesn’t give the buzz that full-bodied, and satisfyingly-filling doctrine-pure beer does. So you have to keep ingesting more and more of the stuff–just doesn’t satisfy. It seems to taste great at the time, but soon its less-filling nature has you gasping for more of the same, and in increasing doses.
    However a hearty draft of Old Doctrine-slosh gives not only comfort, but the assurance of forgiveness, and a foretaste of heaven–and a lingering after-taste of the Heavenly Brew-Meister’s presence in your life. It doesn’t get any better than that.

    I’m not so sure that giving pure-doctrine-guzzling beer-meisters two votes would be enough to swing things. I say, give them three votes, whether lay or ordained.

    I think I’ve wandered about as far down the metaphorical beer-as-ecclesiology path as I dare. Heady stuff (pun intended).

  13. C.S.
    December 27th, 2009 at 14:23 | #13

    @Johannes #12

    You crack me up.

  14. johannes
    December 27th, 2009 at 15:01 | #14

    @C.S. #13
    Thanks. I have to admit, it was fun. I hope it meets the BJS’ high standards as satire or parody. But, enough, already.

    j

  15. Helen
    December 28th, 2009 at 10:06 | #15

    @Dennis Voss #5
    “But, if the primary ones watching that the Holy Scriptures and Confessions are upheld, are reduced in their voice at the conventions, then the liberals will have an easier job of pushing through their church growth stuff, and all this other nonsense.”

    Exactly.
    Add to that: A Pastor should be around 30+ years and in attending conventions regularly be aware of what’s going on. They are more able to organize opposition. (Therefore, to facilitate “change”, reduce their strength.)

    Laity are much more malleable; fewer of them attend regularly or even read about decisions made. The role of “licensed minister” already gives a layman a clergy vote! I doubt “upholding Scripture and the Confessions comes first with the pseudo clergy. (The DP’s license them to uphold the district office, don’t they?)

  16. Eric Ramer
    December 28th, 2009 at 14:28 | #16

    Not to be Captain Obvious, but how exactly do they justify this statement:?

    “However, ultimately, this could decrease the number and percentage of lay delegates at circuit and district gatherings. In a church body whose pastors constitute less than half of 1 percent of its baptized membership but exercise 50 percent of its voting authority, the task force questioned the wisdom of reducing the number of lay delegates, even slightly, especially at a time when the church is striving to increase lay ownership of, and involvement in, mission and ministry. ”

    There are only two forms of membership in the synod: 1) Rostered Clergy and 2) Congregations. The laity aren’t “membership” in the the synod. They represent the congregational members, so by definition, one pastor/one lay person guarentees and even voting representation. What am I missing? Where is the disparity that requires correction. I’m not seeing it.

  17. C.S.
    December 28th, 2009 at 20:03 | #17

    @Eric Ramer #16

    They justify it the same way they justify changing anything in the church. ‘We must change or we will discourage growth. Power and glory are the way to growth, don’t ya know, not meekness and cross bearing. Empowerment is the name of the game.

  18. Rev. Jon Furgeson
    December 31st, 2009 at 14:04 | #18

    The quote Rev. Rossow uses above is followed in the final report by a quote from “The Ministry,” a CTCR document from 1981. The quote says that commissioned ministers are in auxiliary positions to that of ordained ministers. The task force uses this as their basis to say it is okay for them to be interchangable for votes.
    What they DO NOT say is that on THE VERY SAME PAGE of “The Ministry” it expressly forbids this auxiliary capacity to carry over to voting privileges at district and national conventions. See “The Ministry” p. 34 #4 for their quote and pp. 34-5 #5 for the rejection of their solution.

    Rev Furgeson

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