Yet more Good Stuff coming from Pastor Albert Collver over on abc3miscellany. Here is information on how nothing is new — we’ve done it all previously. The 1944 Synodical Convention struggled with the issue of the relationship between Synod and its Congregations.
Recently, I was reading the convention proceedings from 1944. Under section five Constitutional Matters is a report from the “Special Committee re Article VII” of the Synod’s Constitution and an overture opposing the recommendations of the “Special Committee.”
The point of contention was the interpretation of the words Synod is an “advisory body.”
The “Special Committee” held that joining the Synod required every pastor and congregation within Synod to be bound to convention overtures and resolutions, etc. The opposing overture stated that “the right to properly criticize the action of Synod, of its officers and appointees, is the means whereby we preserve our purity of doctrine and correctness of practice.”
Those who opposed the report of the “Special Committee” correctly stated that the Synod has no power other than that of the Word of God, which is the exact same power a pastor or congregation in the Synod has. Likewise, the President of Synod only has the power of the Word of God to persuade the Synod. Those opposed to the “Special Committee” allude to CFW Walther’s “Duties of an Evangelical Synod.”
Thesis II of “Duties of an Evangelical Synod” is most applicable to this discussion.
A second major duty is that it faithfully treat its congregations in an evangelical way, and therefore
a) not assume a dictatorial role over them, but only help them in an advisory way;
b) assist them in acquiring upright [rechtschaffener] pastors and teachers;
c) protect them against pastors who err in doctrine, follow an offensive lifestyle, and are domineering in their office.
Because no one in Synod has any other power than the “Word of God”, Walther concludes that both large and small congregations have the exact same rights and power. In the Duties of an Evangelical Synod, Walther writes, “Yes, even a small rural congregation of seven families has as much power as all the congregations in America combined, because it also has Jesus in its midst, with all His grace and all the rights and merits He won for us on the tree of the cross… Let everyone who is in such a tiny little congregation take note and know that church matters are not like worldly matters. The smallest congregation is just as important as the largest one, and the largest is no more important than the smallest, because every congregation is great only because Christ is present in it.” (At Home in the House of My Fathers, “Duties of an Evangelical Synod,” 265.)
In any case, it seems that Missouri has long struggled with the role of the Synod’s oversight of congregations and pastors, and whether or not large congregations should be granted more influence than that of small congregations. Both sides of the discussion have valid points to make. Indeed, it is frustrating when congregations ignore resolutions that encourage good doctrine and practice. There is a temptation to appeal to the power of the Law and used force to make a congregation or pastor conform. Church discipline has its place in the church, but we must remember that only Calvinists have held that discipline is a mark of the Church, not Lutherans. Walther’s point is that only the Gospel changes lives. Only the preaching of the Gospel and the instruction of the Word of God are the only things that will convince people of a doctrinal position. The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel applies even in Synodical matters. The discussions from 1944 are instructive for us today as is Walther’s “Duties of an Evangelical Synod.” Let the way of the Gospel prevail!
Please note the text was OCR’d so there may be a few typos. Enjoy!
V. CONSTITUTIONAL MATTERS
 Report of Special Committee re Article VII
In 1941 a memorial (No.503) was submitted to Synod at its session in Fort Wayne for the purpose of “establishing the true meaning of Article VII of Synod’s Constitution,” especially giving an interpretation of the words that Synod is “an advisory body.” This matter was turned over to a committee, which herewith respectfully submits the following report:
It is self-evident that any person or group of persons who apply for, and are received into, membership of any organization thereby have declared their willingness to abide by the constitution and by-laws of that organization. That is in the very nature of the case. Otherwise an organization and affiliation therewith would serve no real purpose.
Therefore the fact that Synod states in its Constitution that it is “an advisory body” cannot be interpreted to mean that an individual or a congregation, being a member of Synod and having voluntarily subscribed to its Constitution and By-Laws, is not in duty bound to respect these or any rules and regulations or resolutions that Synod in a democratic way, through the elected representatives of the congregations, may make or pass in any of its lawful sessions or those of its District conventions. It cannot be interpreted to mean that such resolutions have no binding force; they have, unless they are not in accordance with the Word or God or are “inexpedient as far as the condition of a congregation is concerned.”
Article VII of Synod’s Constitution says that Synod is “an advisory body” “with respect to the individual congregation’s right of self-government” concerning its own internal affairs.
It is certainly understood that the synodical Districts, being created by Synod to carry out its work in their respective territory, are held to carry out synodical resolutions affecting them. Over against them Synod is not merely “an advisory body.”
M. F. KRETZMANN . THEO. ECKHART A. W. HUGEA. M. REHWINKEL J. H. C. FRITZ
 Clarification of Constitution, Art. VII
The officers of a certain District submitted to Synod (Proceedings, 1941, p.243) a resolution affecting Art. VII of the synodical Constitution — the relationship of Synod to the congregation.
This resolution was referred to a committee for further study and for further action at Synod’s next meeting in 1944.
This resolution asks Synod to declare that our member congregations are not independent congregations, but are subject to the government of Synod, that the resolutions and decisions of Synod are of binding force.
This resolution asks that the usual provisions of a member church’s constitution be nullified whenever a church affiliates with Synod and whenever such provisions conflict with the resolutions of Synod.
The purpose of such a declaration is that Synod may exercise and enforce disciplinary measures upon pastors and churches in the event of any controversy, that Synod may have the right to decide such controversy and to have civil courts recognize and enforce such decisions of Synod and to foreclose any inquiry into the matter so decided by it — as matters pertaining to rights of property, the rights of a pastor to officiate, the right of a church to retain as its pastor one expelled from Synod, and that Synod shall have greater power than that of advising a congregation.
In opposition to such a resolution we submit:
That Art. VII of our Constitution is very simple and needs no further interpretation. It expressly states that Synod shall not be an ecclesiastical government. Synod shall not have legislative powers passing resolutions having the character of laws. Synod has no power to coerce, to enforce the performance of its resolutions and decisions by its officers nor by recourse to the law-enforcing agencies of the State. The Constitution expressly states that each church shall remain a self-governing body and that the resolutions of Synod have no binding force if they seem inexpedient to the congregation. Synod shall advise. Synod shall have the power to exhort, admonish by the power of the Word of God.
A high court stated relative to this Art. VII: “The defendants stress the fact that the synods are to ‘advise’ as distinguished from ‘command.’ When the spiritual nature of this organization is considered, it is clear that the use of the expression ‘advise’ by the framers of the organic instruments under consideration was intentional and is to be commended and enforced and not belittled. The words selected are easily to be understood and followed.”
The history of this Art. VII shows that the founding fathers were clear in their minds, that they did not want a synodical government, a church government, but that they wanted to be and remain independent, self-governing bodies. Their experience with the tyranny of the church governments made them fearful of svnodical associations, and only after Art. VII was added to the constitution guaranteeing them independence were they willing to affiliate with Synod.
Our synodical reports and proceedings, the essays delivered before the various bodies, .the statements of ranking synodical officials, officially state the same thing. Synodical Proceedings 1896; Nebraska District Report, 1905; South Dakota District Report, 1906; Minnesota District Report, 1933-1939.
Congregations have hesitated to join Synod on the ground that they would become subject to synodical control. Presidents, Visitors, and pastors have repeatedly assured such congregations that that was not the fact; that no congregation would give up any of its rights relative to its pastors, its property, the administration of its affairs, its money matters. Upon such assurances congregations have joined Synod. It would be dishonesty if we would now change our organizational policies and change the Constitution. Every congregation should then be apprised of the facts and be given the opportunity to secede from Synod.
We can also be certain, in the event of such a change, no congregation will join Synod in the future.
Such a change in the Constitution will not avoid controversies or schisms nor eventual recourse to law to adjust difficulties.
Also, our congregations are not ruled by resolutions and decisions, by coercion or enforcement. The congregation, the pastor has no greater power than the power of the Word of God to admonish, exhort, advise. Our Synod and its congregations have grown strong under this principle. And we do not need a change now. Why should Synod have different powers from the God-established congregation itself!
Such supersynodical government wants to deal with force, compulsion. It becomes tyrannical and oppressive. The history of church governments clearly shows this. Free speech, the right to properly criticize the action of Synod, of its officers and appointees, is the means whereby we preserve our purity of doctrine and correctness of practice. This would be destroyed by church government. We have with us already the condition that persons are afraid to voice their honest opinions because of fear of official reprisals.
On these and other grounds we ask that the resolution above referred to be rejected.
SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE OF THE MINNESOTA DISTRICTW. P. HAAK
Secretary CARL A. BRAMSCHER
The same overture was submitted by the
FAIRMONT CONFERENCE, MINNESOTA DISTRICT,
E. KOBERG, Secretary.