ELS Convention Update

On Sunday, June 17, the 95th annual convention of the ELS began in traditional fashion, with an afternoon Synod Sunday service, following the “Bugenhagen” order of service, also known as the Danish-Norwegian rite of 1685. It was chanted in a vibrato tenor, typical of pastors of Scandinavian descent. This was followed by a picnic, forced indoors by threat of rain. The late afternoon was highlighted by musical performances of Norwegian folk songs and folk dancing at a replica pioneer log cabin.

The proceedings of the convention, starting Monday morning, have brought us out of our idealized past and into these present dark times, addressing threats to our Biblical confession and religious freedom, and following the paths of centralization and synodical restructuring.

Like many Lutheran synods (e.g., LCMS and CLBA), the ELS has sought greater efficiency through restructuring. Last year, all official synodical communication and publishing was placed under the office of the synod president. This meant the replacement of an elected board of publication with a communication committee, half of which is elected and half of which is appointed by the synod president. This year, a Director of Communication position was authorized, a called full-time position that serves under the president. We are told it will be like Paul McCain’s position during Al Barry’s LCMS presidency. The other full-time position is an Evangelism Missions Counselor, who will serve under the authority of the Board for Home Outreach, formerly the separate boards of evangelism and home missions.

Of note perhaps to BJS readers, several issues I have discussed in my blog posts have been addressed during the convention as well as legislation involving moral and church-state issues:

1) “It is Written”: Back in March, I posted an editorial questioning the decision to have the ELS magazine the Lutheran Sentinel published in print only six times per year, with the other six months appearing in an online only edition. Given the aging membership of the ELS, this decision seemed to forget a great number of the Sentinel readers. The synod in convention passed a resolution directing the president of the ELS and the Committee for Communication to “re-examine” the “changes in publication schedule and format of the Lutheran Sentinel and report back to the 2013 convention.”

2) “Confess and Defend”: The president of ELS was encouraged to use the apologetics document, “Confess and Defend,” produced by the ELS doctrine committee, to “assist the membership of the synod to ‘engage others with Jesus.’”

3) “Unity in Worship”: the Committee on ELS Worship (CEW) explanation of the 1986 ELS bylaw was accepted as an answer to the resolution of the 2010 convention.

4) HHS Ruling: The issue that generated the most debate at the convention was the floor committee on doctrine’s resolutions regarding the recent Health and Human Services Ruling. Concerns were raised from the floor regarding how appropriate it is for a church body to address a specific piece of legislation and how doing so might violate a “separation of church and state.” Such concerns were overruled as the following resolution was passed:

WHEREAS, the Doctrine Committee has been instructed to keep the membership of the synod informed about issues in government, law, and society which may encroach on religious freedom, and,
WHEREAS, the recent HHS ruling is an incursion into religious liberty, because it requires that all private health care plans, including those of institutions and individuals who object on religious grounds, must cover sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception, therefore,
A. BE IT RESOLVED, that the delegates of this synod convention be encouraged to inform the membership of their congregations about the issues and challenges of the HHS ruling, and
B. BE IT RESOLVED, that the Synod President be directed to produce a statement about the HHS ruling.

5) Marriage Penalty in the New Health Care Law: The report of the floor committee on doctrine noted that “our ELS members face many challenges pertaining to God’s institution of marriage, including preferential treatment given to those who live together outside of marriage due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).” In response to this challenge to the Biblical teaching on marriage, the ELS convention resolved “that the members of our synod be alerted to this recent challenge and be encouraged to remain steadfast in their commitment to the institution of marriage of one man and one woman as established by God in Holy Scripture and natural law.” The ELS statement reiterated its Scriptural position on marriage found in its statement, “We Believe, Teach, and Confess”: “marriage is the only proper context for the expression of sexual intimacy and for the procreation of children” and that “the divine institution of marriage is to be heterosexual, in which, according to God’s design, a man and a woman may enjoy a life-long companionship in mutual love.”

6) Bible Translations: The ELS doctrine committee recommends against the use of the NIV 2011. It was resolved the convention that “the members of ELS congregations be informed of the weaknesses of this translation and seek pastoral guidance in selecting accurate and understandable translations,” and “that the Doctrine Committee continue its study of various Bible translations and report its findings to the synod.”

Another highlight of the ELS Convention was an address by WELS President Mark Schroeder. One theme that will resonate with BJS readers is what he noted as a renewed confessionalism in the WELS.

For official ELS Convention coverage, see http://www.evangelicallutheransynod.org/convention2012/


ELS Convention Update — 21 Comments

  1. Thank you for the report.

    I am pleased to see that the ELS has now formally spoken out against NIV2011.

    I hope the WELS will heed the warning of its sister Synod and do likewise.

  2. I, too, hope that the WELS will reject the NIV2011. I wish that the WELS used the ELS hymnal, for that matter.

    Has the ELS taken public notice about the transmission of “Loehist” teachings about the Office of the Public Ministry in either the ELS or other Lutheran synods?

  3. I enjoyed watching Vice President Obenberger’s excellent essay, both yesterday and today. It appeared that the discussion was going to be interesting, but I had to miss it due to an appointment.

  4. Just out of curiosity, Pastor Stafford, did WELS President Schroeder DEFINE “confessional” to the ELS convention in his address? I just wanted to know what HE as president of the WELS meant by the word, since it apparently has a number of DIFFERENT meanings, as in this forum.

  5. @Warren Malach #2
    In 2005, the ELS passed the statement “Public Ministry of the Word.” This addresses such issues as who possesses and may exercise the office of the keys, which may be what you are concerned about since you use the term “Loehist.” It may be found here:

    I doubt that Loehe’s views on the ministry have gained any sort of following in the ELS, given that they didn’t really gain traction in the old Synodical Conference. Walther has been much more widely read in the ELS.

  6. @Warren Malach #4
    While President Schroeder did not define how he was using the word “confessional,” he did note that the word is being used more widely in the WELS today than in recent decades. He did however, express a preference of “confessional” over “conservative” (here I cannot remember his exact words- I’m trying to paraphrase what he was saying).

  7. Dear Pastor Stafford: That’s good to hear! Because the ELS and the WELS still practice doctrinal discipline, the “Loehists” have not been permited to gain a foothold in either synod, unlike the LCMS, which does not practice doctrinal disciple.

    I was aware of the PMW Statement and how it led to the departure of several pastors and congregations from the synod. As far as I am aware, the PMW Statement only made it official that the ELS was teaching in agreement with the WELS on the doctrine of the Ministry, a position which would explicitly reject “Loehist” teachings.

    It would be nice if the WELS or ELS would produce a critique of “Loehist” teachings for the benefit of those two synods which by their fellowship uphold orthodox Lutheran doctrine and practice, especially if the LCMS is unable to publicly deal with the “Loehists” by such a critique itself.

  8. @Jack K #3
    If others are interested in reading Pastor Obenberger’s essay, “Created in Christ Jesus for Good Works: How Christian charity serves to engage others with Jesus,” it is available in print at http://www.evangelicallutheransynod.org/download/2012%20Essay.pdf

    This essay emphasizes and explains the doctrine of Christian vocation. He also addresses the burden placed in recent decades upon laity to go out and preach the gospel, which he argues is not specifically commanded in the New Testament to individual Christians. At the same time all Christians are to be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks the reason for the hope they have (1 Peter 3:15).

  9. Thanks, Pastor Stafford. I’d actually downloaded the essay and followed along while VP Obenberger delivered it. I am sorry that I wasn’t able to watch the discussion on line after the presentation of today, as I had to go elsewhere.

  10. Many thanks, Pastor Stafford! I am glad to know that the ELS is dealing with the issue of Sacerdotalism. It totally abandons the Priesthood of All Believers to a Babylonian Captivity of the Church by the clergy, just as the Church was before the Reformation. It is really sad to see how this self-serving teaching appeals to the sinful human natures of seminarians and pastors, how it works to meet a psychological need for ego inflation at the expense of those whom pastors are called to serve. I hope and pray that the laity of the LCMS will be awoken from their theological slumber and cast off the spiritual chains which the Sacerdotalists wish to impose upon them in spite of the fact that the synod long ago rejected this heterodoxy. It’s been said before: We need another Luther!

    I have been told on good authority that President Harrison does NOT agree with the Loehists. Perhaps his new translation of Walther’s CHURCH AND MINISTRY will help in the spiritual struggle in which the LCMS is involved with the Sacerdotalists, a struggle for the very Gospel Itself.

  11. The ELS adoption of the Republican political ideology is greatly to be regretted. The appointment of a communication director modeled after a well-known celebrity Lutheran blogger is also greatly to be regretted.

    This is a sad time for the ELS.

    Norman Teigen, Layman
    Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  12. Mr. (Rev.?) Malach,

    I gather from your comments here that last few days that you have made the eradication of Loehism your crusade. That’s fine but I found your comments @11 attributing any pastors adherence Loehe’s teachings on the office to little more than ego inflation unfortunate.

    There are obviously two different theological positions as to who the Keys were given. If you start from the premise that anyone who disagrees with you is simply feeding their own ego as opposed to having a sincerely held belief, I would imagine that the discussion/debate will not end well. I don’t mean to suggest we can have a “both and” theology, there is right answer. But how we debate each other matters.

    (for myself, I am not sure of the correct answer, but plan to study it)

  13. Joe #13, “Warren” is fine. I WAS an LCMS pastor for 25 years, but I am no longer a pastor nor in the LCMS, so I don’t expect the “honorific” of “Rev.” or “Pastor.”

    I am simply asking questions about what the “Loehists” really believe. I am HARDLY in a position to “crusade” to “eradicate” “Loehist” teachings in the LCMS! That I would LIKE to see the synod alerted to what the “Loehists” teach so that it can be publicly studied and that the synod in convention can render its judgement about it is, of course, true.

    I am only stating my PERSONAL opinion that the “Loehist” teachings about the Ministry, which have NOT been well defended from Scripture in this forum thus far, ultimately find favor among pastors because the teachings are so patently self-serving to the pastors’ sinful human desire to exalt their Office, and with it, themselves, to rob the Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) of its rights and privileges in the Church and turn the Office of the Public Ministry into a “means of grace” with a monopoly on the availability of the Means of Grace in the Church. If you want to try to explain and defend the “Loehist” position from Scripture in such a way as to disprove my opinion, be my guest!

    Do you, yourself, believe in the “Loehist” position on the doctrine of the Ministry, or do you believe in the traditional doctrine of the LCMS, as re-affirmed by the LCMS in convention in 2001 when it re-affirmed Walther’s CHURCH AND MINISTRY as a correct teaching of the synod’s position?

  14. Mr. Teigen, would you please, as specifically as possible, explain what you mean when you write: “The ELS adoption of the Republican political ideology is greatly to be regretted”?

  15. Pastor McCain #15: Thanks for asking that question! I was wondering about that myself.

  16. Warren @ 14. I don’t currently know enough of about the distinctions between Walther’s and Loehe’s teachings to assert that either is the correct position.

  17. Joe Olson #17: Then you have a wonderful opportunity to study the differences for yourself.
    I hope that you will do so, and not simply rely upon what you have heard from others, especially from those who have “the most to gain” from one particular position over another, be it pastors *or* laypeople.

  18. The ELS Convention passed two resolutions after protracted (and sometimes heated) discussion, which some labeled as “political” issues.

    The first one encouraged the delegates of the synod convention to inform their congregations about “the issues and challenges of the HHS ruling.” The prefatory statements to the resolution included: “Whereas the recent HHS ruling is an incursion into religious liberty, because it requires that all private health care plans, including those of institutions and individuals who object on religious grounds, must cover sterilizations, abortifacients, and contraception …”

    The second resolution dealth with the “marriage penalty in the new Health Care Law,” and restated the ELS’ commitment to the divine institution of heterosexual marriage, stated that “preferential treatment is given to those who live together outside of marriage due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” and recommmended that the members of the ELS “be alerted to this recent challenge and be encouraged to remain steadfast in their commitment to the institution of marriage as established by God in Holy Scripture.”

    Oh, and ELS President John Moldstad reported that both he and WELS President Schroeder had joined LCMS President Matthew Harrison in signing the recent letter on religious freedom, standing against the restrictions of this by the HHS mandate.

  19. @Michael #20
    Walther’s theses on church and ministry have been newly translated by Matthew Harrison at

    When one speaks of Walther’s view of the ministry, they are very often speaking one feature of his view, the “transferrence theory,” (übertangungslehre) described in the following theses:
    A. The preaching office [Predigtamt] is conferred [übertragen] by God through the congregation [Gemeinden] as the possessor [Inhaberin] of all ecclesiastical authority [Kirchengewalt], or the power of the keys, by means of its call, which God Himself has prescribed. B. The ordination of those men called by the laying on of hands [Handauflegung] is not a divine institution, but rather an apostolic, ecclesiastical rite [Ordnung], and only a solemn public confirmation [Bestätigung] of that call.

    Thesis VII
    The preaching office [Predigtamt] is the authority [Gewalt], conferred [übertragene] by God through the congregation [Gemeinde] as the possessor of the priesthood and all church authority [Kirchengewalt], to exercise the rights of the spiritual priesthood in public office in behalf of the congregation [von Gemeinschafts wegen].

    A page summarizing Loehe’s teaching is found at http://www.angelfire.com/ny4/djw/lutherantheology.loeheministry.html
    A key quotation to contrast with Walther is this one: “Everywhere in the New Testament we see that the holy office begets the Churches, never that the office is merely a transfer of congregational rights and plenary powers, that the Churches confer the office. The office stands in the midst of the Church like a fruitful tree that has its seed in itself. As long as the examination and ordination remains in the hands of the Presbyterium (the pastors), it is right, and can be maintained that it completes itself and propagates itself from person to person, from generation to generation. Those who hold it pass it along, and he to whom its incumbents transfer it holds it as from God. … The office is a stream of blessing that pours itself from the apostles upon their disciples, and from these onward into future times.” (Aphorismen über die neutestamentlichen Ämter [1849], p. 71; quoted in C. A. Hay, “Article V: The Office of the Ministry,” Lectures on the Augsburg Confession [Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1888], pp. 172-73)

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