This Synodical restructuring thing is serious business. We’re not just deciding how to route the interoffice mail here. As several fellow LCMS members whom I trust have pointed out, what we decide at the 2010 Synodical Convention may change the structure of our Synod from one which is based on a doctrinal orientation to one which is based on a hierarchical command structure. If that happens, doctrine will take a seat somewhere towards the rear of the airplane, right at a time when one engine has already flamed out, there’s a load of ice on the wings, and we’re headed right for the mountains. Unfortunately, the majority of the passengers are unaware of what’s going on, because it’s dark outside.
In what seems like a different lifetime, I once took an online survey being taken by the “leadership” of the congregation I was a member of at the time. There were several things I’ve never forgotten about that poll. First off, the survey was obviously written by somebody who was not a Lutheran based on the questions that were asked (it was administered by a well known organization in Evangelicalism). Second, it was ridiculously skewed towards finding out just how great the congregational leadership was doing. They asked questions like “What aspects or parts of our church do you particularly like or appreciate and find helpful to you?” I had to leave some of the questions blank, because there was no selection offered which reflected how I felt, and there was nowhere on the form to type in your comments. It was pretty upsetting that they spent church funds on that. I later found out that the results of the survey weren’t quite what they were looking for (the results were never released to the congregation). This particular expensive survey likely found its way to the mouth of the paper shredder. Fast forward to present time.
At the recent North Dakota District Convention the delegates were presented a very brief summary of the twenty proposed Synodical changes recommended by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG) and were then asked to take a survey. (You can view the entire NDD survey form here.) The third “slide” of the Task Force presentationmade the following statement: “The Synod faces significant challenges in accomplishing mission and ministry today in the unchurched culture. Now is the time to find ways to improve support for….” Those of you who are familiar with the steps used by experts to facilitate a paradigm shift may have noted that the presentation’s wording presents two of the classic steps used to facilitate change. First, it creates a sense of “discontent” with the current situation – “The Synod faces significant challenges in accomplishing mission and ministry today…,” implying something is wrong with the way we have previously done our mission and ministry. Then, it creates a sense of urgency, that we must act now to avert our doom, “Now is the time….” Their statement is strategically placed to soften you up for the suggested changes to follow in their presentation.
On the same slide is this 1896 quote of former Synodical President Henry C. Schwan: “…our ecclesiastical polity…arrangements are not means of grace but simple, outward means of assistance….” It would have been preferable for them to have included more of the quote, which continues “…arrangements are not means of grace but simple, outward means of assistance so that the means of grace can be utilized and can be put into operation [emphasis added].” The clear implication is that the Synod is only offering “assistance,” which it is not, and that their proposals are theologically neutral, which they are not. Their presentation is in every way crafted to convince you to buy off on these proposals – without ever once considering any of the negative consequences that might occur from their implementation.
As in the original BRTFSSG document “Congregation – Synod – Church,” they repeat their statement: “Understandably, the Synod considers the local congregation to be the basic unit of synodical polity, whether acting as a single congregation or in association with other congregations.” Yet taking the proposals as a whole, one has to wonder whether these proposals strengthen the position of the individual congregations.
Early last year I had a conversation with one of the more conservative District Presidents. He mentioned that the Synod sent him specific proposed changes to the Constitution, including the wording. He responded back to the Synod, suggesting that nothing be changed in the Constitution unless there was a compelling reason to do so, and that they provide thorough documentation and rationale for any changes if any were ultimately proposed. Again fast forward to present time.
The first proposed change in the current BRTFSSG document reads:
1: Affirming Mission and Purpose of the Synod
Goal: Affirm that the reason for the Synod’s existence is for congregations to walk together in God’s mission and to serve one another for His purpose of saving all people through Jesus Christ (Acts 15 and 1 Corinthians 12).
Challenge: Provide stronger wording to underscore the continuity of the Synod’s commitment to Christ, Scripture, the Confessions, and the mission of God.
Recommended Solution: Update our Constitutional language to clarify our
-Reasons for existence
-Mission and purpose
-Confession of faith
-Affirm and clarify that Christ is the center of our common confession.
-Assure that our confessional basis remains unchanged.
Historically, our Synod has alwaysbeen one whom the whole world knew was strong in both a doctrinal and a missional sense. Why now the need to rewrite the Constitution to make the obvious clearer? The delegates were asked to respond to this proposal in the survey. There was no opportunity for delegates to present objections, thus possibly skewing the results of the survey, since only the “positives” were discussed. All they were presented on the form itself was the statement “Affirming Mission and Purpose of the Synod.” Their response was limited to circling a number which represented “Strongly Agree,” “Agree,” “Not Sure,” “Disagree,” or “Strongly Disagree.” No details were provided on how these mysterious Constitutional amendments would be worded, so who could possibly render an informed opinion? If they could provide a District President with proposed language early last year, why not provide the delegates with proposed wording now? Given our current Synodical path, with a de-emphasis on doctrine combined with a creeping Evangelical mission philosophy and programs, I’d insist on seeing the wording. As they say, the devil is in the details.
At this point, I’m really wrestling with “watching your life and your doctrine closely” and “putting the best constructions on everything.” These two commands are not mutually exclusive, but they sometimes feel that way. It is often difficult to reprove and rebuke, but for the love of Christ’s Church, we must. To allow changes as important as these to be presented at the 2010 Synodical Convention without proper and thorough discussion, amendment, and/or rejection, is unconscionable. Putting the best construction on things does not always equate to giving someone the benefit of the doubt. “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Th. 5:21).
Like the online survey I took in a “previous lifetime,” the results of this delegate survey are unlikely to yield accurate results. Although the intent of the BRTFSSG seems to be to make the proposed restructuring recommendations appear as favorable as possible, I doubt that the pollsters will achieve the desired result. And like the previous poll, we’re unlikely to see the results of this one either. It seems destined for the commercial-grade paper shredder equivalent of the one in that former congregation. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).