Invited Guests from Around the Synod Take the BRTFSSG Survey and Share their Responses with Commentary ““ Today’s Guest: Rev Thomas C. Messer

We have invited over thirty people from around the synod to take the BRTFSSG survey and share with us their responses and comments. (You can take the survey yourself by clicking here.) Our list of invitees includes seminary professors, congregation chairs, lay elders, men, women, and even the top positions in the synod (yes, all the way to the top). The responses are starting to come in. We do not know how many will take us up on the invitation but hope it will be a good sampling of LCMS notables and regular folks. If you are interested in sharing your responses with commentary please e-mail me. We may not be able to post all responses but we would love to hear from you.

Today’s guest is Pastor Thomas Messer  from Alma, Michigan.

The Survey on
The Blue Ribbon Task Force’s Proposals

Rev. Thomas C. Messer
Peace Lutheran Church Alma, MI

1) Affirm in our governing documents the mission and purpose of Synod     Strongly Disagree
This is simply unnecessary. The mission and purpose of Synod is already vividly clear in our governing documents. Additionally, the Constitutional amendments being proposed go beyond affirming our mission and purpose, and actually contain language (subtle as it may be) that give this confessional Lutheran much pause.
2.1) Doctrinal resolutions of special significance and doctrinal statements will require a two-thirds vote at Synod convention.     Strongly Disagree
While this proposal seems to make the requirements for adopting “doctrinal resolutions” and “doctrinal statements” more difficult, it actually opens the door to something we should never be doing, i.e., voting on doctrine. Doctrine is revealed to us by the Word of God. Period. Members of our synod bind themselves unconditionally to the doctrines revealed in God’s Word and faithfully, correctly exposited by our Lutheran Confessions, NOT to doctrinal resolutions or statements passed by either a simple or super majority of convention delegates.
2.2) Reaffirm, clarify, amplify and strengthen constitution (Art VIII) and bylaws to enhance doctrinal unity.     Strongly Disagree
Amending Article VIII.C would result in increased doctrinal disunity, not enhanced doctrinal unity, since it presupposes that there is, or will be, disagreements among members of synod concerning what the Word of God teaches, and that those disagreements will be solved by a 23 majority vote. The biggest problem in our synod, in my humble opinion, is that we have, at least since 1945, allowed an “agree to disagree” mentality to become entrenched in our midst. This proposed Constitutional amendment would put that mentality right into our governing document. What we should be doing is working at getting rid of this mentality among us, for we must never agree to disagree on doctrine.
3.1) Congregations are the voting members of the Synod.     Agree
Initially, I agreed with this proposal, but I changed my response to “Not Sure” because there is mention of a revision to Article V, but the wording of the revision has not yet been supplied. So, I don’t know what to make of this yet. I do agree that clarification of the categories of synodical membership would be beneficial. There is a lot of confusion out there about this. But, until I see the wording of the proposed revision, I can’t know for sure whether I agree or not.
3.2) Ministers of Religion (ordained and commissioned) are members of the Synod who are eligible to serve as delegates of congregations to conventions of the Synod and in districts.     Strongly Disagree
I’m not a big fan of the whole “Ministers of Religion” category employed by our synod. I think it distorts the distinction between the Office of the Holy Ministry and the Priesthood of All Believers. Not only that, but it seems deceptive and dishonest. Plus, the list of different categories of “commissioned ministers” keeps on growing. Having professional church workers is wonderful, but calling them “Ministers of Religion (commissioned)” is wrong. So, as things currently stand, I strongly disagree with taking votes away from laypeople who are not labeled “Ministers of Religion (commissioned)” in order to allow the laypeople who are labeled such to vote. I’d gladly agree to allowing professional church workers the opportunity of being elected to serve as lay delegates at Convention if the synod would eliminate the “Ministers of Religion (commissioned)” category.
3.3) Lay people, though not rostered members of the Synod itself, are closely linked to the Synod through their affiliation with member congregations of the Synod.     Agree
Again, while this seems like a harmless, no-brainer, I can’t be sure whether I agree with it or not until I see the wording of the revision to Article V.
4) Consider a New Name for Our Synod     Strongly Disagree
I like my “grandfather’s synod” – and its name! Plus, this is not the time to even think about changing our name (or our structure and governance, for that matter), when there is such deep division within our ranks.
5) Voting delegates at conventions shall be one of the called pastors of the congregation and one lay person or minister of religion- commissioned of the congregation.     Disagree
See comments under 3.2.
6.1) Multiple-congregation parishes being served by one or more pastors are entitled to one pastoral vote, with each congregation in the parish having one non-ordained vote.     Strongly Disagree
This has the potential of resulting in far more lay delegates than ordained delegates at Convention, especially since multi-congregation parishes are increasing in number.
6.2) Congregations with a pastoral vacancy are entitled to a vote by the vacancy pastor and one non-ordained vote.     Not Sure
Not enough information to come to a decision on this one.
6.3) Congregations with more than 1000 confirmed members are entitled to two additional votes, at least one being a lay person.     Strongly Disagree
This is nothing more than a power play and simply cannot be allowed to pass! A congregation with 50 confirmed members is no less a congregation than one with 1000 confirmed members. God is not into numbers, but faithfulness. Only leaders who have forgotten what the church is and have fallen prey to the “market-driven” principles of “Americanized Evangelicals” would propose something like this. This does not even come remotely close to agreeing with our theology.
7.1) Establish a fixed number of total voting delegates to the national convention at approximately 650.     Strongly Disagree
I’d much rather see broader representation than increased “personal engagement” of the delegates at Convention.
7.2) Amend the bylaws to delete the “advisory delegate” category from national conventions and reduce the number of “advisory representatives”.     Strongly Disagree
Advisory delegates have often been a blessing to the Synod in Convention. Plus, this provides an avenue for professional church workers to have their voices heard, since they cannot currently serve as lay delegates. Can’t we figure out a better way to save money? I can think of a great many things the synod could do in that regard.
8.1) Determine each district’s number of delegates according to that district’s percentage of the total number of congregations and confirmed members in Synod.     Strongly Disagree
You know, these proposals keep using phrases like “fair and equitable,” but, in reality, they’re promoting unfair and inequitable solutions. It is far more “fair and equitable” to allow a smaller group (circuit) to elect delegates than it would be for a larger group (district) to do so. This is just absurd, and another example of consolidating power. Can you imagine the potential political maneuvering and abuse that could result from adopting this proposal? Scary stuff! This must not be allowed to pass!
8.2) Allow each district to determine how delegates would be selected.     Strongly Disagree
Again, this is scary stuff! Giving more power to the district takes power away from the congregations. Again, imagine the abuses that could result from this. So much for the synod (and its districts) being advisory!
8.3) Whichever method or system a district uses to choose its delegates, it would choose an equal number of ordained and non-ordained delegates.     Strongly Disagree
Moot point! A district must not be allowed to determine who should be elected or how they are elected to serve as delegates. That decision must remain in the hands of the congregations.
9.1) Encourage the submission of overtures from congregations to their district conventions through circuit forums.     Strongly Disagree
What if a congregation has something very important to say, but that congregation finds herself in a circuit full of “church-growth” liberals? I know, that’s hard to believe, right? But, let’s just say that such an unbelievable scenario did occur. I guess the voice of that congregation just wouldn’t be heard. Hmm, seems to me like that might be exactly the intent of this proposal. Drowning out the voices of congregations should not be allowed! Each congregation is a member of synod. And, each congregation deserves to have her voice heard. This is just another attempt to consolidate power and remove it from where it should reside – within the congregations.
9.2) Encourage the submission of overtures from congregations to the national convention through their district conventions.     Strongly Disagree
See comments under 9.1. Congregations deserve to have their voices heard. Their overtures might not make it to the floor, but must be allowed to be submitted.
9.3) While all overtures submitted would still be considered, resolutions from circuit forums and district conventions would receive priority at district and Synod conventions, respectively.     Strongly Disagree
Yeah, because we all know that circuit forums and district conventions are far more important than individual congregations – who came up with this nonsense, anyway?!
10) Hold district and national conventions in a four year cycle.     Disagree
While this is much better than the original six year cycle that was proposed, it is unnecessary and is just another attempt at grabbing after power. If it’s about saving money, again, I think we could come up with a whole bunch of other ways of doing so.
11) Allow Flexibility of Circuit Structure     Strongly Disagree
This would only serve to deepen the divide that already exists in our synod. The current way circuits are aligned (geographically) forces those who may have strong disagreements about things to try to work together. By adopting this proposal, we would be further cementing the “agree to disagree” mentality that plagues us. Bad, bad idea!
12) Consider future district configurations (give the job to the COP to report to the 2013 convention)     Disagree
Again, this has the potential of resulting in further political abuse through the consolidation of power. There are some districts in our synod that are strong voices for confessional Lutheranism and I would hate to see those voices drowned out by a new configuration of districts. Besides, there are historical circumstances that need to be taken into consideration. This is another bad idea.
13) Establish Five Regions in Our Synod     Disagree
We’re complaining about money and we want to establish another level of bureaucracy? Seriously?
14.1) Implement process for quadrennial Synod Priorities     Not Sure
On the surface, this doesn’t sound half bad (except that I’d rather see it happen triennially), since it seems to suggest that congregations (represented by delegates at Convention) would set the agenda for how the synod would prioritize the work it has been given to do, but there are too many unanswered questions I have about it to agree with it.
14.2) Realign national Synod ministries into two Mission Advisory Councils     Disagree
While I’m in favor of reducing synodical bureaucracy, this would eliminate many ministries that must be permitted to stand on their own, and would give more power to the synodical president than he should have.
14.21) International Missionary Advisory Council and National Mission Advisory Council.     Disagree
See comment under 14.2.
14.22) Council staff execs report to Synod President     Strongly Disagree
More power to the president? Um, no!
14.3) Provide coordination with districts for certain ministries.     Not Sure
What does this mean? Not enough information. Plus, isn’t this already being done?
14.4) Transfer some responsibilities to districts     Not Sure
What does this mean? What responsibilities?
14.5) Transfer most BUE and BPE responsibilities to regents and BOD (CUS would continue with certain responsiblities) .     Strongly Disagree
More centralization of power. The responsibilities of the BUE and BPE should remain their responsibilities.
15.1) Involve the totality of congregations in selecting candidates for the Synod President and First Vice President     Strongly Disagree
This proposal is just insane! First of all, all congregations are currently permitted to participate in the nominations of SP and 1VP. Whether they want to involve themselves in that process is their business. Secondly, how can they make a proposal like this one without providing the details for how they would “involve the totality of congregations.” How utterly absurd! Thirdly, what’s the point of all the talk about voting delegates in the other proposals if voting for the two highest synodical offices may be so drastically changed? Who in the world is coming up with this stuff?
15.2) President and First Vice President elected as a team.     Strongly Disagree
More centralization of power. The 1VP should be elected independently, not as the President’s “running mate.”
16) Election of Synod Vice-Presidents Regionally     Strongly Disagree
This is a horrible idea. VPs should be elected regardless of geography. Perhaps I’m being overly suspicious, but this smells like a big, fat rat to me; like an attempt to assure that certain regions, which are more liberal in nature, are assured of holding office.
17.1) The Board of Directors composed of 17 voting members, as defined in the presentation.     Strongly Disagree
Geography need not play a factor in the election of BOD members. And, I am very strongly against having the BOD appoint 5 of the 17 voting members. The potential is there for more centralization of power.
17.2) First Vice President, Secretary and VP-Finance/Treasure are non-voting members.     Strongly Disagree
What is the rationale for taking the Secretary’s voting privilege away?
18.1) Elect or appoint all Synod and district officers and board members to four year terms.     Strongly Disagree
I’m against moving from three to four-year cycles, so I’m against this, too.
18.2) Have no term limits for district presidents     Strongly Disagree
Rather than moving to no term limits for DPs (some have them now, some don’t), I think we should be moving to having term limits for all DPs. Districts would be much better served with changes in leadership from time to time.
18.3) Have no term limits for any national board and commission members.     Strongly Disagree
I’d rather see term limits in place.
19) Expand the certification process for pastoral candidates.     Strongly Disagree
I can’t even believe they are putting forth this proposal. So, we’re going to produce “trial pastors,” who will only be fully certified (whatever that means!) after their congregations, circuit counselors, and DPs tell the COP that they’re ready? This is simply absurd! It’s bad enough that we have lay ministers pretending to be pastors and a new program that allows guys to take a few correspondence courses and become ordained. Now we’re going to make those guys who actually commit themselves to going to seminary (often uprooting families and leaving jobs), and complete their theological education (including uprooting themselves and families for a year to go on vicarage), jump through a few extra hoops, having their future of serving as a pastor determined by how well they please people? Are they serious about this?
In sum, none of these proposals are worthy of adopting at this time. Many would drastically change who we are and how we relate with one another as a synod. Many have theological problems. Many do not provide enough information. Taken as a whole, these proposals would result in transferring a great amount of power away from our congregations and into the hands of the synodical president and his appointees. Our synod has already made the mistake of passing a few recent resolutions, which have already given the synodical president more power than he should have. I hope and pray we do not add to that mistake by adopting these proposals.
But, most importantly, we should not even be talking about changing our synod’s structure and governance at a time when we are so deeply divided. Doing so will only lead to further and deeper divisions. What we should be doing is addressing our divisions and working toward unity in doctrine and practice. “It’s Time” to be doing that. I think someone wrote a paper about that very thing. We should listen to that guy; he actually sounds like a theologian, instead of a C.E.O. or politician.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Invited Guests from Around the Synod Take the BRTFSSG Survey and Share their Responses with Commentary ““ Today’s Guest: Rev Thomas C. Messer — 4 Comments

  1. The great wisdom of the Formula of Concord X – commonly referred to as adiaphora – is that in a time of controversy the Christian mandate is to do as little as possible to change anything until the theology is restored to concordia. Except in cases when the Gospel itself is at stake, the Christian and Churchmen must withhold their preferences (even their good ones) for the sake of not stirring a pot that’s already boiling.

    Oh, that we would even think upon that wisdom from time to time!

  2. Actually, Pr. Fisk, I have thought about that very point. Some of these proposals are “neutral”–e.g., the number of districts, how often national conventions are held–and in another setting I might consider them. But in the current context–where we cannot trust President Kieschnick and his crew to do the right thing, where so many of these proposals would lead to a consolidation of power in the SP’s and DPs’ direction, and where we are given so few specifics and even those, so late–in this current climate, I say scuttle the whole thing.

  3. I tend to agree with all of the above comments concerning the survey, but there is an issue that I seem to have either missed or is missing.

    Has there been any serious consideration of structuring the Synod and District offices with a Bishop and a President, similar to the way many of our congregations are organized?

    It seems to me that mixing the Pastoral office with the administration, or executive office makes it almost impossible for the President to truely operate as a Pastor to the congregations, parish Pastors or to the District Presidents. As an executive, the office holder is required to carry out the law, as dictated by the resolves passed in convention.

    This has probably been argued adnauseam by those in power, but I think we should consider the division of tasks stated by Peter in Acts where he directs the Apostles to give themselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. A separate Bishop and President would seem to meet this objective.

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