What do the nominations numbers mean? Part I

The nominations have been calculated and Rev. Matt Harrison has received 75% more nominations than his closest rival. Never, in synodical history has an incumbent president received so many fewer nominations than other nominees. What do these numbers indicate?

First of all these numbers indicate a widespread frustration with the current administration. Second they indicate an optimistic groundswell of support for Pastor Harrison.

Let’s look first at the dissatisfaction with President Kieschnick. In my opinion President Kieschnick made four crucial mistakes in his presidency which have left the synod poorer for his leadership.

First, he downplayed our theological differences. President Kieschnick has long maintained that we are united in doctrine and divided merely in practice. Our differences, he has suggested, are relatively insignificant.

Robert Preus wrote about this almost 20 years ago, “Luther does not distinguish between doctrine and practice…doctrine and practice cannot really be separated. Doctrine must result in practice. This, as we shall see is really the function of confession and preaching…So, doctrine and practice are totally intertwined according to the theology of Luther. Practice is the doing and application of the gospel or the doctrine. The moment that doctrine is taught or articulated in any way, practice is taking place” The views of Robert Preus are held by an increasing number of people in the church today and even by those holding conflicting theological perspectives. We are, frankly, beyond the point at which we can continue to say that we are united in doctrine but divided in practice. We are divided in both. We see our theological divisions by our divisions in church practice. Many among us kind of suspect, and just as many are quite positive, that there is a relationship between many of the deviations from the historic liturgy and an openness to Reformed Evangelical theological influences. Everyone has an inkling that singing highly emotional songs while holding your hands in the air in a swaying motion might possibly reflect a different understanding of the theology of worship, the purpose of singing and even of prayer than has traditionally been held by Lutherans. Most Missourians don’t think that it is just their “comfort zone” making them grimace. Faithful Missourians at least feel, and many are certain, that there is more to the discussion about closed communion than mere pastoral judgment on difficult cases of casuistry. The differences in practice reflect doctrinal problems.

Yet, President Kieschnick continued throughout his presidency and continues to assert today that there is theological unity among us but at the same time concedes that we have division or disagreements about matters of practice. The result has been that almost nothing has been attempted really to establish at least a process which might bring resolution to disagreements. And we are divided as ever. The synod wants peace and unity. This we do not have.

Imagine a married couple which goes to a counselor. The wife says, “I think that we are hopelessly divided in our understanding of what marriage is.” Her husband minimizes her fears, “Honey, we just do things a bit differently. We just have differences in style.” What does the counselor say in his desire to bring peace to this couple? He will not accomplish peace by siding with the man in this case and saying, “Well, I guess there are no real divisions – we need to accept each other more.” Even if that is true it will not bring peace. Either the man must be convinced that they are divided or the woman must be convinced that her perceptions are wrong. If one of these does not happen the marriage is seriously in jeopardy.

Similarly, the synod wants and needs peace. And we are farther from it than we were nine years ago. Either President Kieschnick needs to be persuaded that we are seriously divided on doctrinal matters or he needs to convince me and others like me that our differences in practice do not reflect doctrinal differences. In all candor, neither of these persuasive attempts was made. I’m sure that he still thinks that it is all just a matter of style. But the group of impatient theologians who hold the other view have not been persuaded at all in the last decade. So we continue to bicker. Unless the president of the synod realizes and articulates the reasons for continued strife this strife will go on.

The first reason that President Kieschnick’s leadership is failing is that he refuses to articulate and address the real theological challenges before the synod.

The second mistake President Kieschnick has made is to have theology take a back seat to administrative goals. We save that for next time.


What do the nominations numbers mean? Part I — 20 Comments

  1. As one who firmly believes all theology is Christology, I found our Synodical President’s insistance on “downplaying” the theological differences present in the LC-MS during his administration to be offensive and reprehensible. The assertion we could hold “insignificant differences” in our theology in tantamount to saying what our Lord taught could be viewed as “insignificant.’ As members of the LC-MS, we have far too many words and deeds for which we need repent; it does appear our good and gracious Lord may deliver us from this decadent decade.

  2. The case was also wonderfully made in your book Pr Preus, The Fire and the Staff, doctrine and practice both walk in concert, one is not independent of the other. Just as there is no Word without the Spirit, and no Spirit without the Word, doctrine and practice go forth together. Having our elected leaders try to tell us differently or minimize it with a pat on the head telling us to run along like little children does no one any good, and is in fact offensive. Good thing I’m a Christian or I might not put the best construction on all of this.

  3. What do we know about the congregations which did not submit nominations and their relationship to their circuit delegates?

  4. And then there is my grandfathers church, his grandfathers church and on and on and yes there were some changes and we have studied them and still making a few and going back to some of the former changes and see the good that was in them…and I still like and want my grandfathers church!

  5. Perhaps I’m dense in understaning what is really behind our divisions, but it seems
    that historically we’ve always had divisions over doctrine in our synod. What few
    seem to want to do is carry out *any* form of discipline to correct the abberrations
    that arise within congregations, districts, et al.
    While it’s certainly true that the “marks” of the church do not include church discipline, nevertheless, I dont think that it would hurt our synod to do so, would it?

  6. Perhaps I’m dense in understaning what is really behind our divisions,
    but it seems that historically we’ve always had divisions over doctrine
    in our synod. What few seem to want to do is carry out *any* form of
    discipline to correct the abberrations that arise within congregations,
    districts, et al.
    While it’s certainly true that the “marks” of the church do not include
    church discipline, nevertheless, I dont think that it would hurt our
    synod to do so, would it?

  7. What the synod is refusing to see are the churches so divided on issues that they are tearing apart the congregations. Why would I want to bring someone to a church that is so visibly fractured? There are few congregations that I would even consider being a part of in my area. The pastors themselves do not agree on basic theological problems. Lord help us. I hope for some positive leadership, men that stand with the word of God and don’t take anything else for an answer. Walther’s “Church and Ministry” addresses a lot of these problems. Why don’t we look back at history in order to resolve some of these issues? Instead of pushing forward with what people covet?

  8. St. Paul spoke to this problem in 1 Corinthians 11:

    17″Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.”

  9. Dr Marquart wrote a piece on “worship” and practice. In that piece he indicated that we cannot divorce content from any given form. Every form carries with it at the very least a connotative content. “That is why we do not heavy metal worship” , he said. Our litergies were driven by doctrine and purposely fashioned to reflect it. It is possible to have “modern” forms but they must be built from the ground up with the ground being our doctrine. We cannot simply adapt forms used by the evangelicals, Willow Creek or Rick Warren. When one says he is against CG that does not mean he is against growing the kingdom. When Pastors become content with the low numbers in thier membership that is just as big a problem as one who goes off the CG deep end. One is lazy the other ineffective, shallow. Sure there will be numbers gains in the CG fanatics church but like willow creek has admitted, there is little if no Biblical grounding and people leave as fast as they come in. We have the greatest doctrine in Christendom, not because some folks we admire put it together but because it is a systematic, teachable presentation of the doctrines of God’s Word and yet we do little in teaching our children and members about our doctrine, little to equip them to do witnessing, they remain children drinking milk if they drink at all. If the confessionally sound among us would become passionate about spreading God’s Word and equiping our people we would grow in numbers and depth.

    Probably the biggest failure of this era has been a lack of honesty and transperency. PC language is engaged instead of plain talk. Lying is still lying regardless of the language you use. Duplicity is still duplicity regardless of what your lawyer tells you to say. Allowing doctrinal abuse to continue is willful negligence not compassionate discipline. Most of us laymen out here are truly heart broken by the level of lying going on among our clergy and leadership. In this area we have Pastors engaged in annointing with oil at healing services, EPIC church using synod funding, a Pastor acting as circuit counselor even though he was involved sexually with 3 women outside his marriage, a narcissist who has been bullying and abusing his parishoners and professional workers for years in spite of District involvement. You get the picture. These problems and copy cat CG programs have turned off both older christians and those younger ones who desire more depth. Yes we have a “lot of ‘splainin to do” and we need only to return to the doctrine of our grandfathers to clean this up.

  10. I discussed this issue with my brother up in the Milwaukee area. I suggested the Synod needs to start “correcting” wayward pastors and if need be kick them out of the Synod.

    Here is the chief problem according to my brother:

    What do we do with the pensions of the pastors that we let go from the Synod? They have paid into these pension plans and when they retire they are entitled to this. So, who is going to foot the bill? AND this may have to go to a civil court to rule on the whole dissolving of the pension and whatnot. It gets to be very hairy.

  11. It should be possible to have the money accumulated in a pension plan by a ex-synodical member transferred to an IRA the person sets up.

  12. @Peter Sovitzky #10
    Not only what Carl states in #11 but the fact also that once a man is vested he cannot lose what has been put in. What happens is that nothing else is added nor, as I understand it, can it be added to. So once he or she in the case of a teacher, reaches retirement age, they will begin to receive what has been put into the retirement plan.

  13. >> What do we do with the pensions of the pastors that we let go from the Synod?

    With respect, if that’s our biggest concern, we deserve what we get.

  14. I have heard the pension arguments as well. We can however include gross offences in our licenceing that would require a freeze at current level when removed from office or simply freeze anyway. Many Pastors who get into moral trouble do the honorable thing and quit on thier own. A big probem is that we have no comprehensive “rules of the game” for dismissal so that we may have consistency. Maybe our professionals are afraid to think about such contingencies as it is so distasteful, but not to is negligent and harmful to the offender and those he professes to serve. It is always better to face these issues head on rather than reactively. We must be an open and transparent synod in all our dealings. No more politickin’, no more secular spin

    One of my favorite Pastors just entered the church triumphant today. The greatest thing I can say about him is that he was authentic, an honest, open man of God who served Him faithfully. I wish I could say this about most Pastors I meet today. What a tremendous gift of God the honorable Pastors are.

  15. @Peter Sovitzky #10

    It’s a myth that we are Synod united by a common retirement (pension) plan. A pastor or teacher would lose nothing in regards to retirement if they left teaching or the ministry. If they leave before early retirement age (55), they would be receive all that they have accumulated as a lump sum that could then be invested as they see fit. The argument about retirement investments being a reason for staying in Synod just doesn’t hold water.

    Now the argument could be made that losing health insurance is an incentive to staying in the Synod. The prospect of lack of health insurance may lead someone to stay in the Synod when they otherwise would have left.

  16. “What do we do with the pensions of the pastors that we let go from the Synod?”

    This is indeed a myth and a non-issue. Once you are vested (seven years) in the Concordia Retirement Plan (CRP) your benefits are in no way dependent upon remaining on the roster of the LCMS or even in the LCMS. CRP is theologically neutral in that regard, as it should be. We don’t really want people staying LCMS for financial reasons if they no longer agree with the confession. For the last 20 years the listing of new retirees in the “Worker Benefit Plans Bulletin” has been a Who’s Who of the Seminex faculty and others who left with them. I know one man who became a Unitarian minister and receives a retirement check from CRP each month. Likewise there are some who are now Methodists, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, etc. and still on CRP. If they were vested they receive the retirement they earned. CRP is set up so that their benefits were fully funded only by the contributions made on their behalf, and the plan is actually handsomely over funded and does not in any way rely on contributions from the LCMS operating budget to pay benefits, as is the case with many corporate pension plans and Social Security. So this is a total non-issue.

  17. OK so its a myth. Then there’ no reason to use it as an excuse (albeit an illegitimate one).

    Back to the real problem, lack of honesty and clarity. I can have an honest discourse with anyone about anything providing they give me thier honest posisition. Feigning a confessional posistion is lying pure and simple. So, many of our professionals are lying or are just plain incompetent, neither is helpful and they used to be removed quietly and permanently. K acts like an evangelical but professes to be confessional orthodox lutheran. enough.

  18. Personally, I wouldn’t care if Synod fulfilled the retirement pension of a pastor who left or was removed from the LCMS on doctrinal grounds if it meant firming up our ranks a bit, so long as we don’t pay into it once he has left or has been removed.

    It’s more important that we give these guys and gals an honorable exit strategy, or permission to leave, even if there is a financial cost over the next few decades. Other denominations like the ELCS or UCC have health plans they in which they can enroll. By not giving them this option, we’re only punishing ourselves.

  19. The irony is that the Concordia Retirement Plan investments have performed so well and is so overfunded that they could just about give everyone a free pension without ever collecting a contribution again. Except legally they can’t. It was strictly set up so that you can only be paid benefits based upon your contributions. And there is no way for the LCMS to break this piggy bank–which actually is a good thing, since many secular corporations and Social Security have raided their pension funds by replacing them with IOU’s based on future earnings, which is ephemeral in many cases. The ELCA likewise is grossly underfunded in their future pension obligations and is dependent upon “future earnings”–which I dont’ think I’d feel too confident of if I was an ELCA pastor! This is one thing the LCMS has gotten right thanks to those who set our plan up very conservatively and responsibly.

  20. As mentioned above, the CRP is not really even a financial issue for people who think they ought to leave. the C*H*P might be. But thanks to our Pres. and Congress, that won’t be an issue for very long!
    Big government in the nation and Big government in the synod! Bigger is better, right?

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