In the first six months of the existence of the Brothers of John the Steadfast website I have spent more time in the synodical handbook than in all my previous twenty years of service in the pastorate combined. (Please pray for my sanity.) The situation at Bethlehem – Renton, Washington makes one ponder what the official role of the district and synodical presidents is, in such a matter.
Before getting to that specifically, let me offer some general impressions of the Synodical Handbook. For my doctorate I did some work with the original constitution of the LCMS and I am struck by two things with our current constitution and handbook. Over the years it has become unduly complex and it has become less rooted in Scripture and more beholding to rules and procedure. This is one of the reasons Pastor Wilken and others have taken to referring to the LCMS as LCMS Inc. The original constitution of the synod was simple and clearly based on the authority of Scripture. Over the years the old, simple, straight-speaking LCMS constitution has been slowly eroded with language that is simultaneously more bureaucratized and legalistic while being more mushy and tolerant. Despite this new complexity and tolerance, there is still plenty of clear guidance holding the district president and synodical president accountable to address a situation such as Bethlehem, Renton.
Let me do one more bit of preparatory work before turning to the handbook itself. We need to be clear on exactly what the situation is at Bethlehem, Renton and what needs to be done. Here is the situation. Bethlehem Lutheran Church, a congregation of the LCMS has included on its website in the biography of its music director the fact that he is the former artistic director of the gay and lesbian choir of Seattle. There was also a link from the congregation website to the music director’s personal website which includes more gay and lesbian promotion. (This link was removed after we broke this story.)
There are two problems here. One is that an LCMS website is promoting this sinful behavior. As one of our readers commented, it would be like having a parish nurse list in her experience, work at an abortion clinic. Now of course, if this experience was portrayed as former activity that has been repented of then great but that is not the case on the Bethlehem website. We can think of no reason why artisitc direction of a gay and lesbian choir should ever be touted on an LCMS website.
The second problem is that we now have a sister congregation that has a promoter of sexual immorality conducting the music for the Divine Service. St. Paul says:
11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindlerâ€”not even to eat with such a one. I Corinthians 5:11
If this had never become public then there would not be a church issue. Of course there are people serving in the ministry and in other positions that lead secret lives of sin. There is nothing we can do about this unless they become public. But when such a sin becomes public, then it must be dealt with by the church. The situation in Renton, Washington is such a situation. Of course I am a sinner and you are a sinner, but we have repented of our sins and seek to forsake them. That is different than someone who, as in this case, openly and continually promotes the sinful behavior.
Now to the notion of supervision in our synod. Here is what the synodical handbook says about District Presidents (p. 17).
7. The district presidents shall, moreover, especially exercise supervision
over the doctrine, life, and administration of office of the
ordained and commissioned ministers of their district and acquaint
themselves with the religious conditions of the congregations of
their district. To this end they shall visit and, according as they
deem it necessary, hold investigations in the congregations. Their
assistants in this work are the circuit counselors, who therefore
shall regularly make their reports to the district president.
So it looks as though President Schumacher of the Northwest District needs to be a “visitor” and make a call on Bethlehem, Renton.
And here is what the handbook says about the duty of the synodical president (p. 15).
1. The President has the supervision regarding the doctrine and the administration of
a. All officers of the Synod;
b. All such as are employed by the Synod;
c. The individual districts of the Synod;
d. All district presidents.
2. It is the President’s duty to see to it that all the aforementioned act in accordance with the Synod’s Constitution, to admonish all who in any way depart from it, and, if such admonition is not heeded, to report such cases to the Synod.
3. The President has and always shall have the power to advise, admonish, and reprove. He shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote and maintain unity of doctrine and practice in all the districts of the Synod.
So President Kieschnick has a duty to step in and restore the unity of doctrine and practice in the Northwest District.
We have a crisis of supervision in the synod. We can do all the restructuring we want but if we do not maintain the unity of doctrine and practice in the synod then we have nothing. District Presidents and the Synodical President are responsible for maintaining Scriptural doctrine and practice amongst us. May presidents Schumacher and Kieschnick do just that.