Guest Post: Rev Matthew Rueger on Equity or Christological Equality?

Rev. Dr. Matt Rueger of the Iowa East district has written the following: I think it is well considered, well expressed and certainly very timely.

Klemet Preus


Equity or Christological Equality?

By Rev. Matthew Rueger, Ph.D.
July 1, 2010

A new word is being used in the report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force that is going virtually unnoticed. It is a word that seems harmless and perhaps even “fair” but which introduces a concept that takes our Lutheran understanding of church and ministry in a whole new (and I would argue un-lutheran) direction. The word is “equity.” The Task Force writes:

“Because the practice of representation by one pastor and one layperson is not mandated by the Word of God and is not essential to underlying theological principles, the Synod may in Christian liberty employ a different approach in achieving its representation at district conventions if it believes another approach to be equitable, representative and cost effective.” (Today’s Business, pg. 135, ln. 38-41)

It then goes on to speak about three areas of “inequitable representation,” namely, commissioned ministers not being allowed to vote, multi-point parishes being allowed only one lay vote and large congregations having the same number of votes as small congregations.

“Equity” as the Task Force understands it, means a. allowing commissioned ministers (teachers, DCEs, DCOs, etc.) to be substituted in place of pastors if congregations vote to do so; b. giving each congregation in multi-point parishes a vote at district conventions; and c. giving larger congregations more votes than smaller ones.

Each one of these suggestions increases the lay vote and tips the balance of voting further away from the one pastor / one layperson model. Thus a system established by Synod in its first constitution, wherein equal representation was given to pastors and laity, would be undone.1

Someone might ask, “Is that such a big deal?” Consider the following:

  1. The original (and current) structure of equality is built on the biblical teaching that all congregations are equal under Christ. All bear the same gifts, the same message, the same Savior, Holy Spirit, and grace. Larger congregations are not “better” or “more important” because they are larger. Even a congregation consisting of a handful of people is just as precious to God as a congregation of several thousand.
    This “Christological equality” is the principle behind a polity of each congregation having an equal voice at conventions. It is a principle that has guided church polity since the apostles. Granted, in the councils (or meetings) of the early church only pastors voted not the laity. Even then, a model of one vote per one represented congregation was followed. The “great” churches at Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome and Antioch, were not given more votes because they were larger and more powerful than the other congregations. Christological equality meant all parishes were given equal votes.
    When the first constitution of the LC-MS introduced a system wherein laity shared the vote with the clergy, the biblical principle of Christological equality was upheld. Each parish regardless of size was seen as equally important, because biblically and christologically they were. So each received the same voice and vote.
  2. Christological Equality is an objective principle that can be consistently applied. “Equity” is a subjective principle that can be easily manipulated. As an example: at the Task Force meeting in St. Louis I attended, a delegate from the Iowa East district asked the Task Force if other criteria could be applied that would further change how many votes a congregation receives. He cited those congregations that have special ministries like parochial schools or preaching stations and asked if additional votes could be considered for those congregations. The chairman of the Task Force answered the question by saying, “Yes,” the new polity could grant additional votes to those special situations. He further suggested that the delegate submit his idea to the convention.

    One can claim inequity for any reason and changes would be constantly attempted to make the system more and more “equitable,” seeking to accommodate every possible special situation. What is equitable to one congregation may in fact seem unfair to another. And the standard for what is actually equitable cannot be defined. Equitable is what this or that group says is equitable at that time. Instead of bringing harmony and “fairness” to the district conventions, the subjective principle of “equity” would bring hard feelings and suspicions of manipulation.

  3. A system wherein numbers of votes are based on size will created problems for certain individuals within congregations when dealing with the congregation’s roster. It is not unlikely (in fact it is practically guaranteed) that the following situation will arise: A congregation of slightly over 750 members (the proposed cut off for extra votes) wants to address its delinquent members and possibly remove some members who no longer worship at their altar. However, that action would drop the congregation below the 750 member mark thereby losing them a vote at convention. Human nature being what it is, there will some who will strenuously object to dealing with the delinquents on the grounds that it will affect their vote. Care of souls and what is best for the eternal life of the individuals will be clouded by issues of keeping votes at convention.

    The suggested model of “equity” would actually encourage congregations to pad their numbers. The current model based on principals of Christological equality avoids such problems.

  4. Historically the LC-MS (and one might argue Christendom in general) has understood Church as including both pastor and laity. As the apostles established congregations throughout Europe and Middle East they appointed pastors over them. The vision of the Church that was taught to the apostles by Jesus was that every flock would have a shepherd to feed them. So pastor and people together formed “congregation.” A multi-point parish, which involves several church buildings and different groups of people gathered in different towns who nonetheless share a pastor, were still considered one parish, because of the biblical understanding of church as a pastor and lay people forming a single unit (or altar).

    That is, the church (and Synod’s constitution) was not formed on democratic principles of equity, where votes were given out based on congregation size or numbers of separate congregations. Instead, a polity was followed based on the biblical principle that churches or “congregations” are a kind of a marriage between pastor and people where the two became one. Giving votes to individual congregations in a multi-point parish represents a different understanding of church. It is an individualistic and strictly democratic understanding that holds each group should get its say. It is not the Christological understanding under which our Synod has been operating, which sees pastor and people as forming a single entity.

  5. Finally, there is the issue of allowing the pastor’s vote to be supplanted in certain instances with a commissioned minister’s vote. This is very troubling because it shows a misunderstanding of the pastoral office.

    The pastoral office is a unique office in the Church in that it is specifically commanded and created by God. A pastor must, in the exercise of his duties, speak in the place of and by the command of God. He has both special training and special responsibilities given to no one else in the church. The LC-MS has always recognized the uniqueness of the pastoral office and the need for the decisions of the Synod to be balanced equally – with pastoral and lay representation.

    To allow those who are not called into the pastoral office to take the place of pastors in convention devalues the office of the holy ministry. Simply put parochial school teachers, DCEs, DCOs, and other offices within the church do not have the same training, responsibilities, or vantage point as those called to the office of pastor. I am sympathetic to the fact that commissioned ministers have not been allowed to vote at conventions. I would certainly not object if they were allowed to vote as lay delegates. However, to allow them to supplant the voice of pastors because they are listed on the roster of the LC-MS as “ministers of religion – commissioned” is grossly to misunderstand the divinely established office of the holy ministry. This is not a small matter but involves the very heart of what our Synod has always confessed the pastoral office to be. Namely, that the pastoral office is of God’s design and creation and there is no other office within the Church that carries the same character, responsibility or divinely given direction. It is not interchangeable with any other office in the church.

Please refer back to the quotation of the Task Force on page one, that claims “the practice of representation by one pastor and one layperson is not mandated by the Word of God and is not essential to underlying theological principles.” I would argue that this is not entirely accurate. There is in fact a biblical principle upon which our polity of one pastoral vote / one layperson vote has been based. That principle is one of “Christological equality.”

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Eph 4:4-6

That oneness that is ours in Christ means that we are all equally loved and equally important in God’s eyes. Little congregations or big, congregations that give more money to Synod or congregations that can barely pay their own bills, are all equal before Christ. The polity of the LC-MS since its beginning has reflected this Christological equality by granting congregations equal voice and vote. Abandoning this equality in favor of “equity” is to move away from an important biblical principle. It is to say, “We might all be equal, but some are more equal than others.” In addition, it compromises our doctrine of church and ministry [the pastoral office]. The biblically based principle of Christological equality has served our Synod well since its inception. The Task Force’s principle of “equity” promises to bring more division and accusations of unfairness at a time when our Synod needs to return a biblically based peace.

1 At a Ft. Wayne Preachers Conference in 1847 a group of pastors and Doctors of the Church responded to criticisms by W. Loehe about a polity of equal representation between clergy and laity. Loehe argued that only clergy should have the vote. This conference voiced the opinion of Synod’s leaders concluding, “the existing system of sending delegates to our synod rests in no way in the congregation’s mistrust of the clergy, but rather we find grounds for it in: 1) the example of the apostolic church. Acts 15:2, where the ‘others’ were hardly elders; 2) the essence of the Christian congregation, which does not consist of a teaching office alone, nor a group of listeners alone, but rather of the fellowship and connection of both, each according to their order. It must follow that when several congregations come together in a synod, both the teaching office and the listening body are to be represented.” (CHI quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 3, pg. 187. ) The representation of which they spoke is clearly equal representation which they understood as addressing the very “essence of the Christian congregation” which is a “fellowship and connection of both.”

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