What You can Do to Help Improve the LCMS

I was tempted to title this article, “What’s wrong with the LCMS, Inc.?” Then, as I thought about it for awhile, I realized “LCMS, Inc.” is in a whole lot better shape than it has been for a long time. To imply a complaint with that type of title would be a form of ingratitude to God, who has certainly answered my prayers for “better days.” These are better days for the LCMS, so let’s say that!

For one, on a matter that would be close to the heart of many BJS bloggers: While Issues, Etc. remains independent, the show is buying airtime on KFUO in its old afternoon time slot. KFUO has a new manager, the Rev. Rodney Zwonitzer, who accepts Todd and Jeff’s special talents and role in our church. KFUO has a new web-page that is much easier to navigate (see kfuo.org; for “Issues, etc.”, see issuesetc.org). And KFUO will soon be located at the International Center, along with Classic99.

For two, also close to BJS minds and hearts after the sad case of University Lutheran Chapel-Minneapolis, the Revs. Marcus Zill, Ian Pacey, and Jay Winters have been called in part-time capacity to restore the functions of the national campus ministry office. That office was dissolved in 2002 after 62 years of continuous service and support. A conference on campus ministry is planned called “Unwrapped,” for January 3-5, 2013. For more info, see unwrapped2013.org.

For three, the restructuring at the International Center has proceeded pretty smoothly. The Rev. Gregory Williamson is now on task as the Chief Mission Officer; the Rev. Bart Day is on task as the executive for National Mission; and the call process for the executive for International Mission is moving forward. Both Williamson and Day are perfectly suited for their roles. Due to restructuring, managers and executives further down on the “line and staff” chart will be more accountable to these men, the President’s office, and the synod. The national offices thus look pretty good after their recent fiscal and personnel “diet.”

For four, the LCMS is now in partnership with thirty-four churches around the world, and potential partners keep coming. An enormous amount of work and travel is done in this regard by the Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, III, the LCMS director of Church Relations. You can follow his fascinating travel-blog here. Although Dr. Collver has not said so, I think fellowship and partner opportunities are opening up because many post- colonial Lutheran churches have had their fill of Lutheran World Federation attempts to neutralize key Lutheran doctrines (e.g., the 1999 Joint Declaration on Justification) and recent LWF attempts to push the gay agenda.

For five, I know that President Harrison’s “Koinonia Project” is making measured progress. Although I am not involved, I know a few folks that are. It is really about time that the synod comes together on the contested points of doctrine and practice, instead of frittering away morale and good will through endless arguments. I am looking forward to the President’s report on this in the upcoming Convention Workbook.

For six, the LCMS has a new national office chaplain and worship director, the Rev. William Weedon, who brings vast knowledge, many skills and the perfect temperament for that type of work. For examples of what I mean, see Pastor Weedon’s blog.

Ummm . . let’s see, did I forget to give President Harrison credit for using his official authority and/or influence for all of the above? If I didn’t, he does get the credit and my personal thanks for his appointments, selection of personnel, and wise decisions he has made on a daily basis. He has an interesting blog where he reveals what he is studying, finding in archives and old books, and translating (see here).

In the realm of church and state, I will give President Harrison kudos for his stand on the H.H.S. mandate. For more on that topic, see here. The Lutheran Hour Ministries has gotten behind the LCMS President in this matter, as seen in their new video “The Intersection of Church and State“.

If you want to learn more about the present state of the LCMS, see the latest issue of the Lutheran Witness, which is also now available by subscription online. Click here for a free copy.

This sounds like a glowing review, but you might remember my first idea for a title on this article. That idea came because I know there is still plenty of “wrong” in the LCMS. That “wrong,” in my opinion, are the people in LCMS positions who lack integrity.

It is essential that officers, board and commission members, staff, and other persons given authority in the church have integrity, both doctrinal and ethical integrity. I find it interesting that doctrinal and ethical integrity are almost always closely related in individuals. You can have the best doctrine in the world (we do!), sound canon law, and excellent business practices, but if you have officials without integrity, you might as well not have a synod at all!

I remember being at the 1992 convention when President Barry was elected. Shortly after Barry’s election, I saw a lay delegate packing his bags to go home. I asked him why he wasn’t staying for the rest of the convention. He said he had cast his vote for Barry, and the rest didn’t matter. I told him it certainly did matter; because if Barry was the only person in Saint Louis with doctrinal and ethical integrity, he would not be able to accomplish much.

And this is exactly what happened. Barry was frustrated throughout his tenure as President by synodical executives and district presidents who thwarted his every move. Barry was able to bring in two great guys: Paul McCain and Ken Schurb; but that was about it in terms of an effect on the national and district offices.

A lot of people don’t understand how their vote for various synodical positions actually effects what happens in the synod. Here is how it works. If you elect low integrity people to a board, and they form a board majority, those people will do all sorts of underhanded and unethical things contrary to our synod’s doctrinal position and contrary to Christian ethics. The low-integrity-board-majority will find a low-integrity executive officer to run the department (or school), and he/ she will eventually replace the high-integrity staff members with low-integrity staff members.

Then the people of the church start to notice that this department (or school) is saying or doing things contrary to synod’s doctrinal position and the people in that department (or school) are saying or doing things that are just unchristian. The people of the church wring their hands and say, “What can we do?” My response is typically, “If you had paid attention to your board elections several years ago, you wouldn’t have this problem today.”

You can help turn the tide against people of low doctrinal and ethical integrity by nominating and electing people of high integrity to synodical office. If you are an LCMS layman or church-worker, you still have time, up until October 20 th, to nominate people for synodical offices, boards, and commissions. For information on how to do that and the required forms, go to the LCMS nominations page here).

If your congregation is LCMS, it can nominate persons for President, 1st VP, Regional VPs, and Regional Board of Directors when you receive the forms from Secretary Raymond Hartwig later this year. These particular nominations are important, because the five names with the most nominations for each position will become the ballot. For more information about the convention and its procedures, see the synod’s website here.

Don’t just complain about the LCMS on BJS. Do something about it, by nominating and electing people of high integrity to serve your church!


What You can Do to Help Improve the LCMS — 76 Comments

  1. @John Rixe #42

    Prior to WW 1, most of the LCMS congregations conducted services in German. The English and Slovak districts were formed only because they each comprised a cluster of LCMS congregations bonded together by a common language. By the way, why do we still have non-geographical LCMS congregations in Canada? Shouldn’t they, as bilingual English/French speaking people, leave the LCMS and join the Lutheran Church of Canada?

    In the 21st century, it would make more sense to have a these non-geographical districts: a Chinese language district, a Spanish language district, an Arabic district, and a campus religious center district. The English district is redundant (we all speak English now), and who in the USA uses Slovakian as a church language? Perhaps the English and the Slovak districts could reorganize to become Chinese, Spanish, or even Arabic?

  2. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I cannot discern why Pastor Bohler disagrees with me. Perhaps we are using terms in a different way. I will concede to him that he is right, since I don’t understand his position.

    My thinking on all this changed this year when I read through Gerhard’s “On the Ministry, Part One.” It is now available in translation from CPH, Volume 26-1 in his Theological Commonplaces.” Click on this link: http://www.cph.org/p-19255-on-the-ministry-i-theological-commonplaces.aspx?SearchTerm=johann gerhard

    Here are some of the relevant passages:

    “One must also be very careful that no one plots against the function of one who has been appointed to an office through a legitimate call and is experiencing the world’s hatred because of the faithful administration of his office” (ibid., p. 171)

    I can testify that Dr. Schurb has received the “world’s hatred” because of his faithful administration of office under Robert Preus, at Ann Arbor, and under President Barry. This is why I think the treatment of Schurb by the synod has been unjust. The point is not that Schurb wasn’t called to the seminary; the point is that he was removed unjustly from Ann Arbor and has been ill-treated ever since.

    “The question arises If a Papist magistrate removes from their position genuine ministers of the Word because of their zeal in attacking Papist errors and replaces them with other genuine men who are more restrained, and if the church resists both actions, should one really regard the calling of the successors as legitimate and use their ministry? . . . [Answer] that finally is a legitimate call in which those are put in charge who can “reprove those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). But a Papist magistrate will never put up such ministers of the church in charge. Fourth, a legitimate call ought to be aimed at this target; that the Word of God may run. But a Papist magistrate does not set this up as his target.” (ibid., pp. 173-174).

    This is not an exact parallel or application, but it does prove my major points in my last comment, #48 above.

    Finally, in the same volume, Gerhard’s section (XVI) on the Removal of Ministers gives all the rationale and procedures, precedent, Biblical warrant, and patristic evidences you could ask for on this subject (ibid., pp. 252-260). I recommend that you read it.

    Brothers, you need to pick up your own copy of this volume in Gerhard’s dogmatics, and read this section on “Removal of Ministers.” Someday the “world’s hatred” will be aimed at you, and you better have at least something to back you up.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  3. Dear Pastor Crandall,

    I was not aware that Pastor Matzat agreed with that particular claim. That all happened ten years ago. I can’t remember all details of that conflict, and don’t want to attribute to people things that they didn’t say or do.

    I do remember that Pastor Matzat was involved in the adjudication process, or the dispute resolution process, whatever it was called. He served as an advocate or counselor for DP Benke, which is a function provided by the bylaws. So in general, Matzat could be characterized as Benke’s defender, but that doesn’t mean he agreed (or agrees today) with everything Benke said or did.

    In a similar manner, Kurt Marquart served as Herman Otten’s advocate or defender many years ago, when Pastor Otten was trying to obtain certification. That doesn’t mean that Marquart agreed with everything Otten said or did.

    I hope this clarifies the relationship.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  4. @Martin R. Noland #6

    Dear Dr. Noland,

    I did a quick search on the web and refreshed my memory. Not only did Pastor Matzat defend what President Benke did during Oprah’s worship service in Yankee Stadium, but he also defended Benke’s statement that the Muslims worship the true God. Perhaps he, like Benke, has more recently repented (if Benke has), but here is what Matzat wrote:

    “One of the questions that has come to the surface in the Benke matter is whether or not Christians and Muslims believe in the same God. I understand the reality of false gods or other gods when it comes to an idol or graven image. One can behold the idol or image, point to it and say, ‘This is a false god!’ I do not understand the concept of a false god or “other gods” within a theistic context. To claim that non-Christians who believe in one invisible God, the creator of the universe to whom they are responsible, believe in a false god or “other” god raises the question: how many Gods or gods are there?”

    Pastor Otten wasn’t always wrong and Dr. Marquart was right to defend him when he was right. Pastor Matzat was defending President Benke when he was wrong.

    It saddens me when strong leaders in the LCMS wander… It also saddens me when a “little” incident from 10 years ago still leavens our whole synod. I mean, Dave Benke is still an influential District President, pushing the limits of Lutheranism, while Wallace Shulz still has a shadow hanging over his good name from being sinfully fired by the Lutheran Hour Ministries — for doing his job of calling President Benke to repentance. Until the truth is clearly and publicly taught, innocent people in our synod will continue to believe Benke and Matzat were right and Wallace was wrong.

    “For where the sin is public, the reproof also must be public, that every one may learn to guard against it.” (Large Catechism, Eighth Commandment)

    Your brother, saint and sinner,

  5. @Pastor Ted Crandall #7

    Dear Pastor Crandall,

    Thanks for the quotes and research.

    I wonder if Pastor Matzat would still hold to that position today. Sometimes people say (or write) things in the heat of debate that they later regret, after cooler reflection. Saint Augustine did that with his retractions, and Luther did that with his 1545 Preface. It has been ten years, after all, and tempers have cooled.

    I said previously (above in this same post) that Wallace Schulz was done injustice by the LLL. I asked one of the “high up” leaders in the LLL a number of years ago if it wasn’t possible for them to apologize and admit some fault in the matter, even if they couldn’t bring him back on as a Speaker. The answer was “We never apologize.” That’s the type of “low integrity” leadership we have in the LCMS, although there are many, many good people at LLL and LHM, especially at the congregational and district levels. I have hopes for better things with the newer leadership at LLL.

    Regarding the theological issue: The Jews do not worship the same God as Christians, since they don’t worship Jesus–in fact, they reject him entirely! But they still have a peculiar place in God’s plan of salvation, as Paul argues in Romans 9-11.

    The same relationship does not obtain for any other religion. Any religion, or religious person, that does not confess and worship the Triune God does not worship the same God as Christians. You know, “even a fifth grader” can figure that one out!!

    If this is so obvious, many people wonder why the Atlantic District continues to re-elect President Benke. The fact is that, in many other ways, he is a model pastor and Christian leader. He has what is called “street credibility” for his many years of service in Brooklyn.

    Most of Brooklyn, including the parts he served, are what most people would call “inner city.” I know. I lived in New York City for four years, and took the subways and buses to various museums, cultural venues, historic sites, and churches on weekends in the five boroughs. Brooklyn is a hard place to live, and the people are even “harder.” It’s tough work, but Benke loves his people–and provides a good example for pastors who have to serve in these situations–except, of course, for his practice of participating in joint services.

    Here is another thing to think about. Our coastal districts, and metropolitan areas in those districts, are declining in numbers significantly, much more than the “heartland” of the Missouri Synod. See the article “The State of Outreach . . . By the Numbers” in The Lutheran Layman 83 #5 (Sept-Oct 2012), pp. 3-7. Page 5 states “While there are exceptions, the smallest losses [in membership] were in the center of the country, the historic core of Lutheranism. The greatest losses occured along the coasts. Probably contrary to conventional wisdom, districts without large urban centers tended to fare better.” This was based on data provided by LCMS Office on Research (ibid., p. 7)

    You know, I never, ever, have approved of the church growth methodology or its ways of evaluating churches. But it was embraced in toto by almost all of these coastal districts, as well as by most people in the national offices. After thirty years of church growth methodology in the LCMS, the Lutheran Layman’s magazine tells the truth, and it doesn’t look pretty in coastal metropolitan areas. The Missouri Synod, and its way of doing theology and church, is having a hard time in these places.

    You really can’t put the blame for this decline on President Benke, or other pastors and District Presidents in these places. Here I am thinking of the districts dominated by coastal metro areas: Northwest, CA-NV-HI, Pacific Southwest, Atlantic, New Jersey, and New England. They are doing the best they can in a hostile environment. On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense for the national synod to follow their lead, just because they live in a “prestigious area,” when the Lutheran Layman proves that whatever they are doing isn’t working.

    I have great sympathy for work in these coastal metropolitan areas. I am a native of San Francisco and fourth generation LCMS there. Being Missouri Synod is not an easy thing in US Coastal metro areas. The only way we will survive there is by sticking to our theology and learning how to defend it in articulate and reasonable ways, like what Todd Wilken does on Issues, etc.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  6. Dr. Noland,

    I am confused a bit by your last post. You write that the coastal districts embraced church growth (which has largely failed, as you write). Dr. Benke has been president of one of those coastal districts for a couple of decades now. Yet you then write that we cannot blame Dr. Benke or the leaders of these coastal districts. Why not? If church growth is a failure (theologically and numerically), and these men led their districts into embracing its practices, why should they not be blamed?

  7. @Pastor Ted Crandall #8
    Easy now. It is an advertisement. Pastor Benke was doing a promotional piece, so it makes sense to make it look funny. I would be dismayed if such a pastor could not have a little fun with his job once in a while.

    If Pastor Benke or any of the pastors he supervises were to dress sloppy and sing silly rap songs during a divine service, then you may have a point.

    Contrast the Benke ad to the antics of church growth movement preacher Ed Young. Note that he is making the “shark song” a part of his church service. What does this have to do with church?


    @Martin R. Noland #9

    I have always wondered if the LCMS should fortify its position in the Midwest while slowly branching out to neighboring states in other regions. I would like to see more vibrant LCMS congregations in Colorado, for example.

  8. @Lumpenkönig #12

    Easy now? I merely posted what he posted and quoted what he said. In the video he introduces himself as “the presiding Bishop.”

    @Martin R. Noland #9

    Thank you, Dr. Noland. I’m a native Rhode Islander, so I know what you mean about the hostile environment. Didn’t Dr. David Scaer come from Brooklyn, too? He must have a lot in common with… Oh, never mind! (I couldn’t keep a straight face long enough to finish that thought!)

  9. @Rev. Steven W Bohler #10

    Dear Pastor Bohler,

    Why don’t I blame President Benke and other coastal DPs for the decline? I said:

    You know, I never, ever, have approved of the church growth methodology or its ways of evaluating churches. . . . You really can’t put the blame for this decline on President Benke, or other pastors and District Presidents in these places.

    If I don’t agree with the church growth method of evaluating churches and ministers in general, then I am not going to use that method of evaluating for any specific individual: pastor, DP, congregation – whether I agree with their own methods, or not.

    Church populations rise and fall for all sorts of reasons; and they continue to do so in the 21st century. Demographic factors are usually the chief cause. Our US coastal metropolitan areas are also under severe political pressure these days, that makes any type of conservative Christianity difficult to maintain. LCMS Lutherans are not just a minority in those areas, we are a denounced minority because we have many positions in common with the Evangelicals in social issues.

    The church growth methods don’t work. I recently received a study by Evangelicals that concluded “the jury is still out on evangelism programs.” Well, if that is the case, and “the jury has been out” for forty years, then the jury went home and they aren’t coming back.

    American Evangelicals are, slowly, recognizing that evangelism programs and church growth programs don’t work. But “experts” have been selling those programs (and making lots of money on them) with the claim that they work to grow the church.

    As a Lutheran, I understand the nature of the church differently than Evangelicals. Lutherans see the church both in its essence, i.e., true believers in Christ, and in its accidents, i.e., the “mixed-bag” of people that visibly gather around the means of grace. The “mixed-bag” contains both true believers, hypocrites, and open sinners (Augsburg Confession VIII).

    If you put your focus on the “mixed-bag, “as Evangelicals do, then you have given hypocrites and open sinners equal standing in the church with the true believers. That is why the Evangelical Movement will eventually lose its fidelity to Scripture, as Francis Schaeffer (a Calvinist) saw clearly in his book The Great Evangelical Disaster many years ago.

    I am not saying that our leaders have done everything right. I am just saying that the decline in church populations cannot be attributed to one factor, or to one person or set of people–and I have said that here at BJS many times.

    That’s probably all the time I have today for this discussion.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  10. Martin R. Noland :

    The church growth methods don’t work. I recently received a study by Evangelicals that concluded “the jury is still out on evangelism programs.” Well, if that is the case, and “the jury has been out” for forty years, then the jury went home and they aren’t coming back.
    American Evangelicals are, slowly, recognizing that evangelism programs and church growth programs don’t work. But “experts” have been selling those programs (and making lots of money on them) with the claim that they work to grow the church.

    If Evangelicals are slowly recognizing that church growth programs don’t work, then what are they doing as an alternative? Since the LCMS likes to copy what the Evangelicals are doing, and since the LCMS is slow to copy, how many years do we have to wait until the LCMS replaces their church growth programs with something else? We should not be copying the Evangelicals; They should be copying us.

    How does the LCMS market itself as a viable alternative to disillusioned non-denominational church members yearning for real spiritual meat?

  11. @Lumpenkönig #15

    Dear “Lumpenkonig,”

    To your excellent question, how about this slogan: “EAT MO REAL MEAT” 🙂

    Seriously, something could be said for a campaign that tells the truth about conservative Lutherans, namely, that we worship the REAL GOD, preach the REAL JESUS, teach the REAL WORD, and offer the REAL PRESENCE. This has substance and can be verified because:

    1) We worship the Triune God, not the “Lawd”;

    2) We preach the real, historical Jesus and all his benefits for your salvation;

    3) We don’t mess with the Word (like Zwingli, and all the Reformed) or add to it (like the Catholics or Orthodox) or chuck most of it out the back door (like the Liberal Protestants);

    4) and only we offer the true Body and Blood of Christ, not as a sacrifice, but as a gift from God for forgiveness and eternal life.

    There’s lots more, but that’s a good start.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  12. Benke loves his people–and provides a good example for pastors who have to serve in these situations–except, of course, for his practice of participating in joint services.

    This reminds me of the faux pas: “But aside from that, did you enjoy the theater, Mrs. Lincoln?”


  13. please tell us that it is not true-pastors and missionaries being removed for “funding”problems when LCMS leaders in Synod and districts are receiving handsome golden parachute deals? Is this really the case? Please clean it up-NOW!!!!-if this is the case for the Lord’s glory and salvation of souls! PS We need more walk the walk -and not just empty touchy feelly rhetoric which makes us feel like the Lord’s work is faithfully being done-not with lucrative pay and benefits and offers to attend this or that on the LCMS cruise lines-is this what we are? Hang in there missionaries and pastors and families in the trenches,the Lord continues to watch and listen and answer-inspite of ivory tower existence in His church!?!
    Teaching and practice is always priority 1.

  14. Dr. Noland,

    I still don’t get it. If these leaders have pushed theologically questionable AND numerically unsuccesful programs and practices in their districts, why shouldn’t they receive blame? Just because these districts are in “difficult” areas? What does THAT have to do with advocating faulty and failing theology and practice? Is being Lutheran in teaching and practice only for “safe” or “easy” districts? And which are these districts/places anyway?

  15. @ralph luedtke #18
    Years ago, two of my brothers left the LCMS and quit church altogether. They sensed that their offering money was being thrown away on meaningless handouts to steadfast non-Lutherans in the 3rd world and to enhance the cushy pay of the synod and district officials who administered such aid. I am sure you have heard it before: “All the church wants is money.”

    My opinion? I want LCMS church money to help suffering people who will want to join the LCMS or an LCMS-partnered church. Although charities such as the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the Red Cross may be fine organizations, money given to them does not help the LCMS win more converts.

    Can we reform the districts so that each district president is at least an associate pastor of a congregation. Sell all the district offices and let each district president have a home office or work out of an existing church office. I am very happy to see that, as president, Matt Harrison still pastors a congregation. It keeps him connected to the people in the trenches who do the grunt work.

  16. @Lumpekon #20

    I am impressed and inspired that the Synod president still pastors a congregation. Thank-you for sharing that.

  17. @Lumpenkönig #20
    If pastors are in the trenches why is money sent back to headquarters, (ie district/synod), rather than the other way around? How many directors of worship, vice-presidents etc, executive assistants are needed leeching off the back of pastors and their congregations? How many get to know your synod officials articles are necessary when pastoral visitation is suppose to be paramount?

  18. @Rev. Steven W Bohler #19

    Dear Pastor Bohler,

    I think I made it clear I was not excusing the errors of the people you mention. What I was saying is that you cannot “blame,” i.e., attribute directly causal efficacy, to the use or non-use of “church growth” methods when looking at numerical rise or decline. In other words, I do not believe that there is a significant causal correlation between the use or non-use of “church growth” methods and rise or decline of congregational populations. The significant correlation, in almost all cases, is due to demographic factors; secondarily, to social class factors.

    I can understand that you might not understand what I am saying, if you have not had a decent course in sociology, or if the professor did not teach you about significant correlations, multiple causes, etc. I suspect that most of our people have not had such a course, and this is why they are not able to discern the bogus content in church growth methodology.

    Church leaders should be evaluated on the basis of their faithful execution of office, as determined by Scripture, Confessions, and the LCMS Constitution and bylaws; also on the basis of the highest standards of personal and corporate ethics. If you add a numeric outcome evaluation to this mix, one or the other has to go.

    Numeric outcome evaluation is aposteriori. Scripture, Confessions, Constitution, bylaws, and ethics is apriori. The two approaches cannot be harmonized. Evaluation is either apriori or aposteriori.

    Regarding evaluations, I see Todd Wilken has set up a scorecard on his blogpost today. You may want to comment there now, since this post has already fallen off the front page.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  19. I read in your blog a while back. I believe it took place at big meeting in St Louis a few years back. It said that god calls for a pastor not man. We have had three votes for a new pastor, and all 3 times our “PART TIME” pastors name was written in. But district has not accepted this. No names or church I dont want reprocussions to our minister. We were told if he ccepted he not be allowed to serve

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