DON’T LET IT GET THROWN OUT ON A TECHNICALITY.
by Pastor Roger Gallup
Are you planning to ask your congregation, circuit forum, or church worker conference to submit an overture to the next synodical convention that would make a change to some doctrinal position of the LCMS previously adopted via a doctrinal resolution? For instance, would you like to address the 1989 Wichita resolution allowing laymen to preach the Gospel and administer Holy Communion or the 2004 resolution on the service of women in congregational offices or some other doctrinal resolution? The Synod has a set procedure you must follow, as outlined in Bylaw 1.8.2:
Dissent from doctrinal resolutions and statements is to be expressed first within the fellowship of peers and then brought to the attention of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations before finding expression as an overture to the convention calling for revision or recision. While the conscience of the dissenter shall be respected, the consciences of others, as well as the collective will of the Synod, shall also be respected.
What does this mean? Your congregation, circuit forum, or official District conference (note: not a circuit pastor’s conference or “Winkel”) cannot simply send in an overture to a synodical convention that aims to change a previously adopted doctrinal position of the Synod. Two basic steps that need to be followed before submitting such an overture. The point of dissent must first be A.) “expressed first within the fellowship of peers” and B.) “brought to the attention of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations” (CTCR).
In its recently released minutes (May 11&12, 2012 – Opinion 12-2646) the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) has offered some clarity concerning this Bylaw. Still, questions remain about what it means in practice.
What does it mean to express dissent within the fellowship of peers? Send them a letter? Talk to them? Give a full theological argument? Just say to them “I disagree with this resolution”? The same questions apply to bringing it to the attention of the CTCR. Is the bylaw fulfilled if I simply send a note to the CTCR saying “I express my dissent concerning synodical resolution so and so?” Neither the Bylaws nor the CCM offer much specific guidance here. It would stand to reason that “more is better,” yet there is no specific requirement on the nature of the dissent.
With the 2013 synodical convention in view, overtures can be submitted in various ways. Based on the Bylaw and the recent CCM ruling I offer these suggestions for what you should do to ascertain that your overture makes to the appropriate floor committee for consideration.
- OVERTURES SUBMITTED BY A CONGREGATION – If an entire congregation contemplates submitting an overture to the Synod in convention, the first question would be: Who is the peer of a congregation? Presumably, another congregation. How should one congregation go about expressing its dissent to another congregation? Bringing the issue to the Circuit Forum for discussion is one possibility, since all the congregations of the circuit are represented there. Perhaps a letter notifying neighboring congregations of the dissent could meet this requirement. The dissenting congregation would then have to make the CTCR aware of its dissent before submitting an overture.
- OVERTURES SUBMITTED BY A CIRCUIT FORUM – The member of Synod (individual or congregation) submitting the overture to the Circuit Forum would need to have previously expressed dissent to peers and brought the dissent to the attention of the CTCR.
- OVERTURES SUBMITTED BY AN OFFICIAL DISTRICT PASTORS’ OR TEACHERS’ CONFERENCE – The individual member of the Synod proposing an overture to these official entities would first have to express their dissent within the fellowship of their peers and then to the CTCR before submitting the overture for consideration by the conference.
Note that this procedure does not apply if you desire to reaffirm an existing doctrinal position of synod (i.e. reaffirm closed communion). Also, while you are required to express within the fellowship of peers and to bring to the attention of the CTCR there is nothing that requires you to seek their approval or even wait for their reply to proceed.
However clear or cumbersome Bylaw 1.8 may be, all of us in the Synod have agreed to live under it. You need to do your best to follow it. If you would like to change it, an overture to this effect can certainly be submitted. Changing this Bylaw would not be a matter of doctrine. Any synodical entity eligible to submit overtures to a convention could submit such an overture without going through the procedure in Bylaw 1.8.2.