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.”


Guest Post: Rev Matthew Rueger on Equity or Christological Equality? — 9 Comments

  1. And yet again, I feel as though with resolutions such as this we take another step, as a whole church, away from the care of the least of these. Would it not rather make more sense in the Kingdom that the empty, oppressed, shrinking, and hungry gain the votes? As a vicar I sat and listened as representatives, pastors and lay-men, discussed this very point. That they might no longer have a place in the church because of glorified hugeness. “Bad Small Churches, Bad” that seems to be one of the most forceful messages communicated here. I believe it was Thomas Moore who wrote upon the split from the Church in England from Rome, “If I could weep I might weep tears of Blood.” I do not believe He wrote those words because of the split alone, but because when politics motivates the church and worldly wisdom is at her heart rather than Christ, as seems to slightly be the case in the opinion of a nobody as myself with regard to where we might be heading as a church, all kinds of atrocities are bound to follow.

  2. With ‘everyone a minister’ is it no wonder that the Ministry is seen as an appendage and can be redefined according to Reformed thought and practice.

  3. Another case of the current culture inappropriately driving the actions of the church. And perhaps, another case of people trying to change that which they don’t really understand. As a classical conservative in most matters I’ll stand w/ the 2nd Viscount Falkland: “When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”

    -Matt Mills

  4. This would, unfortunately, not be the first time that our Missouri Synod adapted her theology and actions in response to cultural pressures regarding the office of Parochial School Teacher. In the 1940s, the Missouri Synod saw the Selective Services Act requiring men of ages twenty-one to thirty-five to register for the Armed Services. “… For those in the clergy or seminarians studying for the ministry, an exemption for service in the military was granted. In order for the parochial teacher and students studying at Missouri Synod teachers colleges to receive the same exemption, Synodical President John Behnken issued a letter designating teachers ‘a regular minister of religion.'” (Daniel S. Johnson, “The Ministry and the Schoolmaster” Logia VI, no. 3 (1997) Couple that with the fact that we enjoyed getting discount clergy rail passes for our teachers and that probably every one of our congregations with a parochial school has become dependent upon the IRS clergy tax breaks for their teachers and we have an institutionalized lie about what exactly a teacher is and how that office relates to pastor, parent, etc. Unfortunately, this move to replace the pastor’s vote with that of any “commissioned minister” fits in all too well with our practical theology.

  5. “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.” I wrote on my surveys when they thought of limiting the delegates to 600 total that each congregation should get 1 pastor vote and 1 lay vote. Of course that still doesn’t answer the question of multi-point parishes, but how is it equitable beyond the 2 votes per congregation to give more to larger churches, churches with schools….?
    Maybe this is an attempt to answer those who have “permanent” vacancies, intentional interims, and such that have become more widespread in recent years so that they can have representation. If they want representation, they should get their congregation fixed so that it is no longer an issue.
    My thought on giving additional votes (not equitable) to congregations that have been in the Lord’s service for more than 100 years. That seems better than giving more to one that may have started in the last 40 years but has a large membership. In the “olden” days, they would have split and started a daughter congregation and these proposals won’t foster that idea but encourage churches to band together to form LARGER churches.

  6. There is a way larger churches can get more representation. It’s called ‘daughtering’ a congregation. A church does a dis-service to its members when it grows so large that it cannot adequately meet the needs of its members. Forming new congregations from one large one can be a healthy way to give members more intimacy from their pastor, and to be better represented in conventions. Do we seek to grow mega-churches to impress others and awe the media, as though we want to make it in the Guiness Book of World Records, or are we willing to please God by not letting our right hand know what our left hand is doing.

    Jesus gave considerable attention to the small and the insignificant, to the children, to those lower on the social ladder, and he was not too favorable to those like the Pharisees who seemed to think they had it all together. Their worship was for show: It was nothing short of performance. Ye Jesus esteemed women and children and tax-collectors and prostitutes–those who recognized their need for a Savior and Lord.

    Something tells me he would not give preferential treatment to the LCMS mega-churches, over and above the small, “backwards”, out-dated, un-featured congregations which some ecclesiastical gurus would consider a blight on the synod and an embarrasment to the Evangelical movement: All they do is feed sheep, gather for Word and Sacrament, and love their neighbors to Jesus. Where’s the thrill and excitement in that?

  7. “’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.”

    ?? ???????! (May it never be!)

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