Commentary on “An Open Letter of Comfort from the LCMS Council of Presidents,” by Pr. Rossow

The LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) met this last week. They have addressed the Newtown matter with an open letter.

Some of our readers may not know who the Council of Presidents is and what they do. Article 3.10 of the Synod Bylaws describes them.

3.10.1 The President, the First Vice-President, the regional vice-presidents, and the district presidents shall comprise the Council of Presidents. The council shall meet three times each year and, in addition, at the call of the President or at the request of one-third of the Council of Presidents. The Council of Presidents shall provide opportunity for the President of the Synod to advise and counsel his representatives in the regions and districts and for the regional vice-presidents and district presidents in turn to give counsel to the President. The Council of Presidents also exists to provide opportunity for the presidents of the districts and the Praesidium of the Synod to counsel with one another on matters regarding the doctrine and administration of the Synod, its regions, and its districts, and to edify and support one another in the work they share. The Council of Presidents shall serve as the Board of Assignments of the Synod. It shall assign first calls to candidates for the offices of ordained and commissioned ministers and handle or assist with placement of other professional church workers. The Council of Presidents shall carry out such assignments as the Synod in convention may give to the council from time to time.

This group is a council. It is not a board. It exists to receive counsel from the President of Synod and to give counsel to him. 

This letter suggests that they have a strong desire to make some sort of unified statement to the world on the Newtown tragedy. That does not appear to be their charge but I don’t think we should begrudge them that.

The good ship LCMS took a blow and is taking on water and listing. They desire to right the ship. This is a good desire. The LCMS has so much good going for it, including one of its most gifted presidents in generations. However, an open letter of comfort that is full of vagaries and addresses only the emotional fall out of the event creates more suspicion of listing division than eliciting confidence that this group has actually done anything to right the ship.

I will offer more on that below. Here is the letter.

An Open Letter of Comfort
from the LCMS Council of Presidents
The following is an open letter of comfort adopted unanimously by the LCMS Council of Presidents on Feb. 21, 2013. It was first delivered to Pastor Rob Morris and Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn., by LCMS New England District President Rev. Timothy Yeadon. The Council of Presidents consists of the 35 district presidents, the five vice-presidents and the president of the Synod. Other documentation may be found at February 21, 2013Brothers and Sisters in Christ,In the name of Jesus Christ by whom God works all comfort.The Council of Presidents of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod expresses God’s love and care for all involved in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Our hearts break for all those who lost loved ones in this unimaginable tragedy. May God continue to work in you His peace even through tears and even amongst things we do not understand.The Council of Presidents affirms our brothers who have worked through this community crisis with humility, repentance and forgiveness for the sake of Christ’s church and the world. The Council also affirms the continued ministry of all who have shown mercy and compassion to those affected by the Newtown tragedy.We encourage all to strive in continued reconciliation in Christ who Himself reconciled us to God by His sacrifice on the cross.

In the shadow of Christ-crucified who overcame the power of sin we commit ourselves under God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions to a study of how better to respond appropriately in a Christ-centered manner to community crises.

We invite the church at large to join us humbly in a study of God’s Word as we struggle against the power of darkness through our merciful God of love.

Thank you and may God bless you as we “look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV).

We remain yours in Christ,
The Council of Presidents
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

One BJS commenter on another thread where this letter was cited said that the letter illustrates how divided the COP is on this matter. This is all they could agree on: sorrow over the tragedy and a call for further study. Those are things that no one would disagree with.

They say that they “affirm those who have worked through the crisis with…repentance.” That seems unusual since President Harrison is the only one who has offered any repentance. I guess they are affirming him. They must not be affirming Pastor Morris because he has not repented of anything. I wish he would. That would close the book on this tragedy once and for all, that is if the COP would accept and support such a confession. Instead Pastor Morris remains stubbornly resolute in his disobedience of the synod president who pleaded with him not to particiapte in the unionistic and syncretistic service, and worse, he stubbornly continues unrepentant in his sins of syncretism and unionism.

He did not repent. He apologized, and that rather weakly. He gave an apology that no right-thinking father would ever accept from his son. “Dad, I know you think it was wrong of me to slander my brother. I apologize if that caused you offense.”

The COP calls for more Scripture study as we struggle against the darkness of this moment. I wish they would just stand on the Scripture that led to the writing of our synod constitution. One LCMS pastor, who came to us from the ELCA, quipped that this is the exact kind of language he heard as the ELCA sank into deep heterodoxy and ultimate apostasy. Rather than standing on the clear voice of Scripture, they called for more Scripture study. Wow!

The Scriptures are clear. Our constitution is clear. Article VI.2 says that one of the conditions of membership in the synod is

Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as:

a. Serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church;

b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession;

c. Participating in heterodox tract and missionary activities.

Pastor Morris’ participation at the Newtown Vigil was unionism and syncretism of some description and so is certainly unionism and syncretism “of every description.” It was clearly taking part in the services of heterodox congregations (Christians who mix false teaching in with true teaching) and even taking part in the rites of pagan congregations. There was one vigil that night that was shared by heterodox, pagans and Pastor Morris. In that one vigil service the heterodox offered prayers and parts of their ceremonies as did the pagans, as did Pastor Morris. This is not just my conclusion. President Harrison in his first public statement on the matter clearly stated that Pastor Morris practiced unionism and syncretism that night.

In terms of a call to study how better to respond to incidents like this, I simply have to say that this is not rocket science. There are countless ways to respond appropriately that keep us from practicing syncretism and unionism. Here are a few off the top of my head.

  1. Do not participate in the syncretistic and unionistic rites of the pagans and the heteredox.
  2. Use God’s word and sacraments as the one thing needful for your members who are hurting. Offer God’s comfort in sermons and Bible classes directly addressing the tragedy if necessary.
  3. We are not asked by God to shepherd the world but that does not mean that we cannot offer God’s words of law and Gospel to them. Tell your members to invite any hurting friends or relatives they know of to come to your orthodox services.
  4. Make yourself available to the community via any number of tactics…
  5. …letters to the editor
  6. …your own Vigil Service open to the community
  7. …open your office for pastoral care for those in need
  8. Go door to door and offer fliers with appropriate Scripture and an invitation to your Sunday School and Church.
  9. Call the local newspaper and offer an interview that invites people to your orthodox Vigil Service and explain why you do not participate in the local unionistic and syncretistic service. (You would be surprised at how interested the local paper is in this. For one thing, they like strong and firm statements. For another, it sells papers – just ask the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I have a great relationship with a local reporter. I am known to  her in jest as the “Old Curmudgeon.” She is not confessional by a long shot but she calls me up a few times each year for an interview and quotes me very fairly.)
  10. And so on and so forth…

The COP counsels us to join them against the powers of darkness. The emotional hurt of this tragedy is certainly a darkness but the scariest darkness of Newtown is the unionism and syncretism practiced at the Vigil Service. That is now followed up by a lacking statement of the COP. Thankfully they are only a council and are empowered only to offer advice.

(If you have not seen the BJS video account of the Vigil Service you can click here to view it at the bottom of the post or click on the right hand column on the BJS Youtube channel button. Hey, I didn’t even know we had a Youtube channel. We are becoming so un-curmudgeonly. )

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Commentary on “An Open Letter of Comfort from the LCMS Council of Presidents,” by Pr. Rossow — 119 Comments

  1. Pastor Tim Rossow :
    David H.,
    I agree. I do not think any pastor owes blind obedience to the Synod President.
    I did not say that. I said that he was resolute in his disobedience of the Synod President. Even though we do not owe the synod president blind obedience, it is rather shocking that a pastor of 6 months in the synod would disobey the SP.

    Thank you for the clarification. Personally I am more than a little bit amazed that the Synod President was involved before the service. From where I sit, this is something which should have been handled by the Circuit Counsellor or the District President.

    Also, in this particular case the SP was asking him to obey God, not man.

    I agree, although given the manner in which this sort of thing has been handled in the past, I can see where Pastor Morris might have felt that he was right.

    In any case, might I respectfully suggest that if a parish pastor does not owe obedience to the Synod’s elected officers, it might be better to use different terminology? Just a thought from a man who is still very new to the parish.

  2. @David Hartung #1: “Personally I am more than a little bit amazed that the Synod President was involved before the service.”

    Don’t be. District President Yeadon was at the Sunday morning service at which Rev. Morris announced his intention to participate that evening in the Newtown interfaith prayer service with heterodox and heathen clerics. It was Pres. Yeadon who made contact by phone with Pres. Harrison. There was also a conference call that afternoon with the various parties present in Newtown and Pres. Harrison.

  3. @David Hartung #1

    Part of the problem could also be how districts “far form St. Louis” have there own way of seeing things. There are distinct differences of flavor geographically around our synod. I had said earlier Pr. Morris may not have had the benefit of a long time discussing theology and practice within his circuit. Maybe he did, and came to the decision to participate by encouragement. This topic is also being debated mostly in the “And So It Begins: 2013 LCMS Politics” thread over at ALPB. What I found interesting was what the NED Secretary had to say, and the implcation that the bulk of the district thinks Newtown was a good idea. In his own words (while responding ot our won Pr. Ted Crandall):

  4. @Scott Diekmann #45

    Paul Linnemann is the same guy protecting Matthew Becker, knowing that Becker is pro-homosexual and embraces higher criticism. I don’t expect Linnemann to take any issue of heresy seriously.

  5. The Northwest District has long been a little hinky, even back in the days of Emil Jaech. Once at the district convention at Concordia-Portland, they tried to push through a “ban the bomb before mankind is wiped out” resolution. At the time I charitably attributed it to the fact there was no air-conditioning in the gymnasium and the temperature that day was 105 (Jaech was the only one still wearing a tie).

  6. @Carl Vehse #50

    So, tell us what you REALLY think! You spelled it out, clear and simple, and very plain-spoken.

    Thanks for spotting the mushy language that sounds sooooo orthodox, but means sooooo much different. Nobody could accuse you of mushy language.

  7. Since a number of synodical letters and articles about actions in response to LCMS participation in the Newtown interfaith prayer service have been posted on BJS, one might want to read the article, “LCMS President Hits New Low in “Confessional Lutheranism,” by Rev. Jack Cascione. The article starts:

    “In accord with LCMS doctrine LCMS President Matthew Harrison asked Rev. Robert Morris to apologize for participating in interfaith worship with non-Christians at the Newtown memorial service. When the media, district presidents, and the past synodical president objected, Harrison apologized for asking Morris to apologize.

    “For such a shameful public retraction of LCMS doctrine it is now time for Harrison to apologize for apologizing.”

  8. @David Hartung #10 ,

    Even if everything you have ever seen published by him were actually designed to kick up a fuss (by whom? about what? and where?), that does not mean that Rev. Cascione has zero credibility… except in your opinion, and with no substantiation provided for your claim. Your post is good example of the “poisoning the well” fallacy.

  9. Carl Vehse :
    @David Hartung #10 ,
    Even if everything you have ever seen published by him were actually designed to kick up a fuss (by whom? about what? and where?), that does not mean that Rev. Cascione has zero credibility… except in your opinion, and with no substantiation provided for your claim. Your post is good example of the “poisoning the well” fallacy.

    Perhaps, but I happen to think my opinion is valid. There are very few people about which I make such statements, Cascione is one of those few.

  10. @David Hartung #10
    Rev, Cascione has zero credibility. Everything I have ever seen him publish seems designed for one thing, and one thing only, to kick up a fuss.

    Some of those “fusses” needed “kicking up”, notably the one in Calif. where the district spent about a million in “missions” money in an attempt to defraud an Oakland congregation of their church property. [Unsuccessful, thanks to Cascione, very likely]

    Then there was the item in which the same synodically paid lawyer was arguing on the west coast that LCMS was heirarchical, like the Anglicans, and therefore district owned the property, while simultaneously, in the east, she was arguing that we were congregational in organization and therefore district/synod had no responsibility for a congregational debt. Very interesting!
    And who would have known, except for Cascione?

    I’m not particularly enamored of his intervention just now, but at least I’m pretty sure he has no reason to be a herald for GK. No love lost there!

  11. Sorry, to interrupt the current topic, LCMS pastors, but I need your help: Should we Christians impose our morals on secular society, and if so, where do we draw the line? I and my readers could use some pastoral instruction on this issue. This is not a liberal ploy. I am LCMS and fully support my Church’s position on sexuality, abortion, and gender issues. I am having a hard time finding an LCMS pastor willing to leave a comment on this tough issue.

    I and my readers would be very grateful for your input! Here is the post:

    God bless!

    Gary Matson, Jr.
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

  12. what about a letter of doctrinal and practice comfort and pledges to Scripture and the BOC and faithful members and pastors who have made sacrifices for truth?

  13. Rev. Rossow

    I am saddened by what has happened in the response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Once again we as Missouri Synod Lutherans have forgotten we are more importantly Christians. No where in the Bible do I find the word Lutheran. How have we reached out to these families and our country to show our Christianity. We are buried in theological argument and politics. No wonder Martin Luther never wanted his followers to call themselves Lutherans he wanted them to be simply called Christians. Can we in our hearts say our behavior is Christian?

  14. Margaret,

    You raise false alternatives. There are countless ways to reach out to this country with the gospel that do not involve worshipping with people who worship false gods (Judaism, Islam) and with those who do not belive what the Bible teaches (Methodists, UCC, etc.). We are doing it all the time.

    I am fine with dropping the name “Lutheran.” I am a Christian first. As a Christian I uphold what the Bible says and just like Martin Luther wa conscience bound to castigate the false doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church and to leave that church, I am conscience bound, as all of us Lutherans/Chsitians are, to flee from false gods and those who do not teach the Bible in its purity.

    Don’t be sad. Be firm like Martin Luther was.

  15. @Margaret H. #16

    The problem is that it was not an inter-Christian event. The other “Christians” that took part were clergy from liberal mainline denominations which deny every cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith, deny the Bible’s inspiration, and teach that many sins are okay. They are not Christians at all, and these liberal clergy said many heretical things at the event. Then there were non-Christian clergy there as well, representing Judaism, Islam, and Bahaism. This was not an ecumenical prayer service but an interfaith prayer service, and it still would have been interfaith if the only other clergy there had been the liberal clergy, because their religion is false.

    You, like other defenders of the event, have deliberately misrepresented the event and what happened there. Several posts on BJS have described in great detail what took place there, and the videos of the entire event are still on YouTube for all to see.

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