“Sound Bite Ecclesiology” by Pr. Klemet Preus

Apparently some have taken umbrage at my claim that people at the MNS convention “took rather complex issues and turned them into simplistic, if inaccurate sound bites.”

 

You be the judge.

 

Less than a month before the MNS convention an Email was sent to all the delegates by a group calling itself “Mission Vision Group” which included two members of minority of the board. Here’s what our side was accused of:

 

We have found ourselves in strong disagreement with some of the recent decisions made by the “majority” members of our District Board of Directors; specifically the following:

 

Denial of membership to The Alley Lutheran Church after first voting to approve their acceptance; and against the recommendation and support of the Constitution Committee and the assurances of our District President. (Emphasis theirs.)

 

So that’s the sound-bite. “Denial after first approving their acceptance.”

 

Here’s what really happened. You be the judge.

 

On the first day of the convention President Seitz gave to all the delegates a two page document entitled: “A Primer regarding Membership in the LCMS.” The document was also signed by the secretary of the synod, Rev Ray Hartwig. It begins:

 

“In recent weeks a great deal of inaccurate information has been circulating within the district regarding the process of applying for membership in the Synod and the roles of the Board of Directors and the district president.”

 

The paper then outlines the process by citing Articles II and VI of the synod’s constitution and Bylaws 1.3.4 and 1.8.1. On page two of that document President Seitz says,

 

“The first step in the application process is for a congregation to submit its constitution and bylaws to the appropriate district president who in turn refers the document to the standing constitution committee of the district for review….Only after the district Constitution Committee has reviewed the congregation’s governing documents…and recommends approval of them can the application process move forward. Its application for membership, submitted to the district president can now be presented by him to the district board of directors for action.

 

The district board of directors, acting on behalf of the Synod can either:

1.           Deny the application for membership, this possibility demonstrated by Bylaw 2.3.1 (a) or

2.           Approve the application for membership as provided by Bylaw 2’3’1 (b).”  

 

So there are two steps in the process of a congregation gaining membership into the synod. The first is the approval the congregation’s documents and the second is to decide upon the congregation’s application for membership. The decision on the application for membership is an action distinct from and separate from the approval of the congregation’s Constitution.

 

The criteria for granting membership are listed in the Seitz/Hartwig paper and there are many of them. The Seitz/Hartwig document includes the requirements to: “agree with the synod’s confessional position,” “accept the conditions of membership,” “Obligate itself to…. promote the purposes of synod,” “Agree to assist in carrying out the objectives of the synod,” “Commit itself to act in accordance with the Constitution and Bylaws of the synod,” and “agree to honor and uphold the resolutions of the Synod (bylaw 1.8.1).” Of these criteria a congregation’s Constitution and Bylaws, which must be approved before the process can to the second step, typically only commit a congregation to accept the synod’s confessional position. They do not address matters such as promoting the purposes of the synod or carrying out the objectives of the synod to say nothing of honoring synodical resolutions.

 

Yet the board must act on the basis of all these criteria in making a decision. The bylaws further assert that “membership in the synod is an important asset to be carefully monitored and managed. In order for this to occur it is necessary for standards to be developed and maintained for the benefit of all members so that its value is not diminished or destroyed.” (Bylaw 2.1.1)

 

This rather intricate process was followed by the MNS Board of Directors which approved the Constitution and Bylaws of The Alley in May of 2008 based on the recommendation of the Constitution Committee, but at the same meeting postponed a decision to act on the congregation’s application for membership in the synod. This postponement was based on the Board’s perception that The Alley did not “agree to honor and uphold the resolutions of the synod” which had to do with using the LSB, practicing closed communion and using the name Lutheran. The decision was postponed again in September of 2008 since the board still was uncomfortable in saying “no” but could not in good conscience say “yes.” Finally in December of 2008 the board felt constraint to give an answer and said “no” because it was apparent that on two of the three issues the Alley was not going to follow the resolutions of the synod.    

 

So it was a rather complex series of events.  

 

Questions which were discussed either at the board meetings themselves or by various members of the board in coffee clutch meetings along the way were:

 

  1. How does a board analyze a congregation according to the requirements of the bylaws?
  2. What amount of board scrutiny of a congregation seeking membership in the synod, if any, usurps the responsibility of the district president who is the ecclesiastical supervisor of the district?
  3. Can it be said that the District President has ecclesiastical supervision over a congregation which as yet is not a member of the synod? At what point does his ecclesiastical supervision begin?  
  4. What processes or policies are in place by which to interview key congregational leaders?  
  5. Does the district president’s assurance that the pastor is orthodox necessarily mean that the congregation is ready to enter the synod?  
  6. Are the criteria used for the discipline of pastors and congregations the same as those that should be applied in welcoming a congregation into the synod? (This issue was discussed extensively at the Board level.)

 

So this was a very difficult process. It was complex.

 

Now let’s get back to the sound bite. Those who opposed the board, a group called the Mission Vision group, took this rather complex process and, to repeat, said the following:

 

We have found ourselves in strong disagreement with some of the recent decisions made by the “majority” members of our District Board of Directors; specifically the following:

 

Denial of membership to The Alley Lutheran Church after first voting to approve their acceptance; and against the recommendation and support of the Constitution Committee and the assurances of our District President.

 

You judge.

 

Did the board vote to approve accepting the Alley? No.

Does the Mission Vision statement say that it did? Yes.

Does this statement suggest that the board changed its mind or was inconsistent? Yes.

Is that the case? No.

Did the Constitution Committee recommend accepting the Alley into the synod? No. That’s not their job.

Did they recommend approving the church’s Constitution which is only one criterion of many which must be met. Yes.

 

Did the Mission Vision Group statement deceive the delegates with simplistic sound bites? You tell me.    

 

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