Great Stuff — The Proper Use and the Inappropriate Abuse of Ecclesiastical Supervision

The latest email from the ACELC

ACELCProperly speaking ecclesiastical (churchly) supervision happens primarily within the context of a Christian congregation. In this fundamental unit of the Church, it is the primary responsibility of the divinely called pastor to be the ecclesiastical supervisor within the congregation. It is the pastor’s first responsibility to supervise himself – his doctrine and life. As a called servant of the Word, the pastor is obligated by his sacred ordination/installation vows to preach or teach nothing that is not in accord with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and to adorn his life with holy living with the help of God.

It is the called pastor’s sacred responsibility to ensure that no false doctrine be presented in any venue within the congregation whether it be in his sermon, the hymns, the choir anthem, the Bible class, and especially in public worship. But what if the pastor (who is also a sinner), fails in this responsibility? Who is to provide churchly supervision for him? Primarily this must fall to the members of the congregation. This is one reason Lutherans have always thoroughly instructed catechumens prior to becoming adult members of a congregation. God’s sheep must be able to know the difference between true and false doctrine and, if necessary, judge the doctrine of their shepherd if he should stray into error.

But doesn’t all this talk about “supervision” and “judging” sound legalistic, loveless, or intolerant? First, there is absolutely nothing loving about error! False doctrine or teaching is simply the most loveless thing that can occur within a congregation. Why? Because false teaching always “profanes the name of God among us” (1st Petition meaning, LP, SC), diminishes the believers’ assurance of his salvation, and always points to something or someone other than Christ crucified and risen for the confidence that our sins are fully forgiven. That is the nature of false teaching (heterodoxy). Therefore, it is the most loving thing to do to help a fellow Christian understand the truth of the Gospel of Christ and to avoid the false teaching that diminishes Christ’s teaching. There is really no virtue in error! There is no benefit to false teaching and it does not deserve to be tolerated within the Church.

As St. Paul says in I Corinthians 13:4-6: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”

A phenomenon that is far too often seen within our beloved Synod is that some folks falsely pit the retention of pure doctrine against Christian “love”. This is a false division. Christian love rejoices and insists in the truth of God’s Word being preserved. Christian love helps a brother or sister see their error clearly so that they may rejoice in the truth and preserve the unity of the one, true faith and the unity of the Church. In reality, false teaching/doctrine divides us and erodes our assurance of forgiveness and salvation. Love rejoices in the truth, and does not rejoice in error!

So, what about ecclesiastical supervision within The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod?

While Synodical ecclesiastical supervision on paper has the very same goal spoken about by St. Paul in the text cited above: Loving correction to prevent losing the assurance of forgiveness and eternal life so as to preserve the unity of the Church; in our day ecclesiastical supervision has evolved into being primarily concerned with maintaining or forfeiting membership in the Synod.

Perhaps it would be well to remember the very first objective of the Synod in our Constitution: “The Synod, under Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, shall – 1. Conserve and promote the unity of the true faith (Ephesians 4:3-6; I Cor. 1:10)…and provide a united defense against schism, sectarianism (Rom. 16:17), and heresy…” (Constitution of the LCMS, Article III – Objectives)

The first objective of the Synod is the first objective because it is the most important objective. After all, a Synod is formed so that those of like mind might gather together to retain and promote biblical, Confessional theology purely so that the fullness of the Gospel is not hindered by error. Therefore, ecclesiastical supervision is most grievously abused when it is not done!

Those who have been elected to serve our Synod as ecclesiastical supervisors have demonstrated rather consistently, that they frequently make their judgments based on the Constitution and Bylaws. The problem with this is that Churchly (ecclesiastical) supervision must be based primarily on Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and if the Constitution – and if the Bylaws do not conform to Scripture and the Confessions, then no judgment contrary to them is to be considered. Time and again we have witnessed our elected ecclesiastical supervisors make determinations on the basis of the best interest of the institution of the Synod, rather than be primarily guided by Holy Scripture and our Confessions. Therefore, ecclesiastical supervision is grievously abused when the institution is given precedence over Scripture and the Confessions.

Case in point: Rev. Dr. Matthew Becker. Rev. Becker is a rostered LCMS clergyman who is also a professor at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana. Dr. Becker is also an outspoken promoter of the ordination of women into the pastoral office and a staunch defender of evolution as an adequate explanation of God’s creative activity. Both these positions are patently unbiblical and at odds with the Lutheran Confessions. Despite repeated publications by Dr. Becker respecting both these errors, inadequate ecclesiastical supervision has left him on our Synod’s clergy roster and eligible for a call to any congregation, university, or seminary of our Synod. Thus, his loveless errors continue to do damage within our Synod by dividing us, lessening our Christian unity, and promoting a “theology” which erodes the authority of the Holy Scriptures.

Case in point: The toleration of open communion in many of our Synodical congregations. In accord with Holy Scripture our Synod officially holds to the practice of Closed Communion in which those who celebrate the Lord’s Supper are in agreement in every article of Christian doctrine and that this agreement is the standard of admission to the Lord’s Table.

Case in point: The continuing practice of using laymen to perform Word and Sacrament ministry within LCMS congregations which is a direct contradiction of Augsburg Confession, Article XIV which says: “Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call.” (Dau/Bente, second edition, p. 39.) Despite clear directions from our Confessions, multiple districts still train and place laymen into Word and Sacrament ministries within their own districts, and our Synod still retains laymen who also serve in these capacities.

The examples noted above are just a few illustrations of the many failures of proper ecclesiastical supervision which are more thoroughly listed out in the ACELC’s “Evidence of Errors” Documents..

Ecclesiastical supervision is essential to maintaining the theological integrity of our congregations and Synod. If not done, or if done based on “Institutional” concerns rather than Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions, then our Synod suffers and is in terrible trouble. If such abuses of ecclesiastical supervision continue unabated, then the only Lutheran Synod still in existence since 1840’s will either crumble or become a church body that has lot its Lutheran character altogether. There is no virtue to being Lutheran in name only.

Please join the congregations of the ACELC in continually praying for those who have been elected as our Synod’s ecclesiastical supervisors: The President of the Synod, Matthew Harrison; our five Synodical Vice Presidents, the 35 District Presidents, and the Circuit Counselors who serve under them. Pray that each of these men may steadfastly prize our doctrine and its practice over the “peace” of the institution – for institutional unity secured with the price of the inclusion of error is simply an illusion of unity. Pray that they will let Holy Scripture speak and that they will act accordingly. And if you share the concerned cited here, please consider joining our cause by becoming a member of the ACELC.

Let the words of C.F.W. Walther in the Fourth Evening Lecture of his great work, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, serve as guidance for us all:

“When a theologian is asked to yield and make concessions in order that peace may at last be established in the Church, but refuses to do so even in a single point of doctrine, such an action looks to human reason like intolerable stubbornness, yea, like down-right malice. That is the reason why such theologians are loved and praised by few men during their lifetime. Most men rather revile them as disturbers of the peace, yea, as destroyers of the kingdom of God. They are regarded as men worthy of contempt. But in the end it becomes manifest that this very determined, inexorable tenacity in clinging to the pure teaching of the divine Word by no means tears down the Church; on the contrary, it is just this which, in the midst of greatest dissension, builds up the Church and ultimately brings about genuine peace. Therefore, woe to the Church which has no men of this stripe, men who stand as watchmen on the walls of Zion, sound the alarm whenever a foe threatens to rush the walls, and rally to the banner of Jesus Christ for a holy war!”…Let us, then, my friends, likewise hold fast the treasure of the pure doctrine. Do not consider it strange if on that account you must bear reproach the same as they did. Consider that the word of Sirach, chap. 4,33: ‘even unto death fight for justice, and God will overthrow thy enemies for thee,’ will come true in our case too. Let this be your slogan: Fight unto death in behalf of the truth, and the Lord will fight for you!” (The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, C. F. W. Walther, page 28.)

Rev. Richard A. Bolland
Assistant Pastor – Emeritus
Gloria Christi Lutheran Church
Greeley, Colorado

Posted in Found on the Web Tagged permalink

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Great Stuff — The Proper Use and the Inappropriate Abuse of Ecclesiastical Supervision — 32 Comments

  1. Excellent article! However, one sentence was accidentally not written in upper case and boldface:


  2. while the dp’s allow abuse of our Lord’s truth and practice—dump them for corporate sin and bring back the faithful shepherds with backbone

  3. Yes. In 1976 LCMS President J.A.O. Preus removed four district presidents for approving unfit men for ordination. Another four DPs were warned. The recalcitrant districts (Atlantic, Eastern, English, New England) should have been merged into other LCMS Districts with more confessional ecclesiastical supervisors.

    But, hey… Woulda, coulda, shoulda. It’s some of today’s DPs that now need to be taken behind the woodshed.

  4. Paul Linnemann is the defender and protector of Matthew Becker, and Linnemann knows *all* of Becker’s positions and views.

  5. Also unmentioned is Becker’s promotion of higher criticism:

    In the third link, Becker refers to “the rather tenuous status of this epistle [2 Peter] within the biblical canon.” He’s not even trying to hide his apostasy. He is brazen and forthright about it.

  6. In addition to his open rejection of the Scriptures, Becker openly rejects the Creeds which he is also sworn to uphold:

    He says: “Pastors who serve churches of the Augsburg Confession are not bound to many items that are taught or asserted in the confessional writings. This includes the concluding paragraph of the Athanasian Creed. That paragraph, literally understood, is contrary to the doctrine of the gospel.”

    Becker denies that the Seminexers were in fact liberals, and puts the word “liberals” in quotation marks throughout this screed:

    One must ask, if Becker and the Seminexers are not liberals, what does Becker think that liberalism is?

  7. The strategy of liberals like Becker is to start dissent and rebellion amongst the laity against the clergy:

    This is one strategy they use when they fail to take over the seminaries, liberalize the clergy, and then liberalize the denomination from the top down (which they’ve done to the ELCA and all the liberal mainline denominations).

    Here’s another example:

  8. This article by Pastor Bolland is certainly a step in the right direction if the President of the Synod and others in positions of ecclesiastical supervision read it and take action.

    Unfortunately, too often, such papers are read and discussed on blogs like this one, ad nauseum, ad infinitem and what happens? Not much, so it seems.

    Does anyone know how long the Synod has allowed Becker and his heresies to remain in the synod?

  9. Well, I suppose that’s about the average of congregations in their discipline of members who should be removed, eh? And we wonder, “Why are we losing so many members?” DUH!

  10. @Nicholas #6: “There is also Karl Wyneken”

    A strange case. I have a copy of Karl Wyneken’s paper from his Concordia Seminary days (1956-63) and it is a good historical account of the early days of the ministry in the Missouri Synod under C.F.W. Walther and F.C.D. Wyneken (who was a younger brother of Karl’s great-great-grandfather). Obviously something happened to Wyneken for him to turn into a DazedStar apparatchik/propagandist.

    Karl hinted about that at one point in a brief autobiographical sketch from a 2006 Concordia Junior College, Ft. Wayne, 50th Anniversary Reunion of the Class of 1956 (p. 7):

    In late summer of 1967 I accepted a call to Grace, Santa Maria, where we remained until early 1978. These were years of blessing and happiness with a young family. But this was also a period of societal ferment/foment—the racial revolution, the Vietnam conflict (Santa Maria is a bedroom community for many workers at Vandenberg AFB). It was a time of professional, intellectual, and theological growth and some change for me.

    Maybe there was something in the California water.

  11. Be careful of these ACELC people though, they have an agenda, just look at what they say of the pastoral office:

    (from their ACELC site, pdf on pastoral office)
    While there may be different routes to prepare a man to serve in the pastoral office, this
    violation of Augustana XIV was furthered by the establishment of Distance Education Leading
    to Ordination (DELTO) in which laymen not properly called and ordained continue to provide
    Word and Sacrament Ministry to LCMS congregations. We reject this error.

    Please note, ALL pastors are laymen at first, then called by God to be Pastors, ordained by pastors by hands laid on, all under the guide and by the Holy Spirit into their office. They (as I) are “properly” called, if not, then they and others doubt the Holy Spirit, and we should shun them.

    But, I just pray they misspoke, mis-typed, and must cleanup the wording.

  12. Dear Pr. Prentice,

    Of course all pastors were laymen to begin with, but once they are called to the office, they are laymen no longer. Laymen without such a call are simply not pastors and ought not be serving congregations with Word and Sacrament ministry. There is no secret agenda here but simply a defense of Augustana XIV that such men should not serve as our Synod has said they may. If there is any group within our Synod that has not engaged in secret, or covert actions it is the ACELC. Everything we have done is completely public and above board.

  13. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #16
    OK, apologies, I have a bit of a little defensive reaction when DELTO and alternate routes are “put down” a bit. Perhaps a little rewording, eh? We DELTO and alternate routes, yes, when done correctly hold up a portion of the Church by shepherding small flocks, flocks that cannot and really should not call men without proper pay, etc. Yet look over the wording, we are pastors now, rightly ordained and truly know our place in God’s Church. And yes, even this alternate route guy knows there are abuses in alternate routes, improper use of emeritus men, etc.

    If you truly feel I am in violation of Augustana XIV, and DELTO is a violation, I cannot change that, but hope to chat about it. You may call me, email me on the side.

    In fact, at my Church, we have called an emeritus pastor to be assistant, so the greater Church knows when he preaches and administers the Sacraments, he has that call and is installed in good order.

  14. Rev. Prentice,

    I have no bone to pick with you if, in fact, you have been ordained and called into your position. I would have had a bone to pick with you had you remained in Word and Sacrament ministry without the benefit of ordination and call. However, there are still some DELTO guys out there who are not yet ordained and yet serve in Word and Sacrament ministry. Additionally, there are graduates of various district “Deacon Schools) who currently engage in Word and Sacrament ministry in violation of our Confessions and without so much as even a Synodical certification in our Synod. Such men, (however well-intended), are in violation of Augustana XIV and I do have a bone to pick with them and with those who approve of such arrangements.

    David Hartung,

    The church has long understood the term in our Symbols (“proper” or “regular” call) to mean someone who has been rightly extended a divine call from the Lord (through the agency of the congregation), to serve as pastors. But also included is the on-going tradition of the Church of ordination (which is essentially the certification of the church at large respecting the recognition of the divine call.) Yes, ordination is adiaphora, but that does not mean that it is not part and parcel of a “regular” or “proper” call. A Vicar is not a pastor but an understudy or intern under one who is a pastor. A Vicar (SMP or otherwise) does not have a proper call to serve the congregation in Word and Sacrament but only does so under the call of the one who is the pastor of the congregation. Properly, the Vicar should not ever preside at Holy Communion but only assist in distribution of the elements under the supervision of the pastor. There is a whole lot of foolishness going on during vicarages (SMP or otherwise) that should not be occurring. Neither should a vicar preside at any other official act of the parish (marriages, baptisms, etc.)

  15. Matthew Becker :
    Some here may like to read about what I have actually been doing pastorally in an LCMS congregation for the past 2.5 years.
    Go to:
    Warm regards,
    Matt Becker

    I cited your blog five times, as well as other comments and articles written by you. Your latest post is a rather feeble defense of your heretical career. Also, interim pastorships usually don’t last 2.5 years. Will the next pastor of Immanuel Lutheran also be a supporter of higher criticism, pastrixes, “committed” homosexual relationships, and homosexual ordination? I’m sure we’ll find out.

  16. I forgot to post yet another, heretical, anti-Biblical comment from Becker:

    Becker says: “Actually, from what I can tell, there are NO passages in the entire NT that directly address the practice of ordination to any office in the church. If I had the time, I think I could demonstrate that what we call “ordination to the pastoral office” is a later development within early Christianity, one that was undoubtedly affected by anti-Montanist, anti-female prophetess, and anti-Gnostic sentiments and attitudes in second- and third-century Christian communities.”

    This is the same historical falsehood and deconstructionist anti-ecclesiology being promoted by heretics like George Barna and Frank Viola (emergent and “organic church”) in their book “Pagan Christianity”, in which they attack the sacraments, the liturgy, the sermon, the pastorate, etc. and argue that they should all be replaced by spontaneous group meetings in the home. The argue that ordination to the pastoral office is “pagan” and unbiblical, using the exact same arguments that Becker is parroting here. Here’s some reviews of the book:

    Advocating this heresy alone would be enough to warrant a defrocking and excommunication.

  17. Here is a thought about all this, especially with what Pastor Becker has stated. We can debate liturgies, style, all sorts of things, that are part of our heritage, confessional stance, gleaned from a view of Scripture, but some things are just rock solid dogma. We can still stay LCMS Lutheran as we bicker, other things, time to go.

    Women’s ordination, abortion, view of Creation via Scripture, homosexuality, etc., much of what Pastor Becker views as OK, then why not just move to the ELCA and take on a contrary viewpoint Why stay with us?

    I may have a struggle with a doctrine, but I must keep it silent at best and work it out, I should not and must not share it with my flock. What is then next? A Baptist view of Holy Communion, no infant Baptism?

    I do believe these things do cause harm to a saving and sustaining faith of the people I would serve.

  18. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #20
    OK, no bones, and yes, there are abuses. Tough thing is, when you call out an abuse, you sometimes get backlash from fellow confessional guys. The only way to really fix it is with DPs, CCs, all on the same page. Only men with a proper call should preach, period. OK, in emergency reasons, under pastoral oversight, some exceptions occur.

  19. Rev. Prentice,

    What you describe as getting everyone on the same page is precisely the goal of the ACELC. Hopefully, you’ve read our documents. Unfortunately, most of those who criticize us have not done so.

  20. Perhaps the only true way is the “old school” way. Prepare your comments, call out the abuse publicly, and then prepare for the consequences. At the same time, as a shepherd, we only have so much time, time we should first devote to the flock. In a congregational system, we must protect fiercely the flock we have been appointed to shepherd. Hard to find the right time to fix the “system.”

  21. Rev. Prentice,

    The ACELC has done it exactly as you describe. If we don’t speak out, who will? Besides it is our obligation to speak the truth and call out error for the sake of our people and our Synod.

  22. And I have yet another Becker quote. Like all liberals, he is a universalist (or inclusivist, as they call themselves today). He believes that people who die rejecting Christ can be saved:

    Becker says: “How can any evangelical preacher proclaim that any one specific person who has died is in hell? What arrogance! What idolatry! That is not “rude,” that is blasphemy! What an uncaring, hard-hearted, mean-spirited mindset. It makes the death of Jesus cheap, it limits his atonement, it denies the promise that Paul proclaims in Rom. 11:32 and several other places (1 Cor. 15:22-28, etc.), it rejects the hope that Peter gives in Acts 3:21, it ignores the central affirmation in John 3:16-17. Christian Gottlieb Barth (d. 1862) once said, “Anyone who does not believe in the universal restoration is an ox, but anyone who teaches it is an ass.” Those same labels should be applied to anyone who preaches, in whatever setting, that specific people and groups of people are definitely going to hell or are in fact in hell.”

    This is Becker’s answer to HRC who asked him whether or not Muslims who die rejecting Christ will go to hell. And it is in the comments section of this very same post that Becker claims that the Athanasian Creed is in error.

  23. @Nicholas #28
    Wow, I hope you are kidding. I guess from a debate standpoint, God can do what He wants, but we only can go on what He Gives us, the Bible. So “if” Pastor Becker truly goes on to speak heresy like this, and it rubs off into the flock, not just a debate with fellow theologians, I think it is time for the DP or SP to step in.

  24. @rev. david l. prentice jr. #26

    Here’s a quote from Herman Sasse:

    What is to be done? What are we to do, dear brethren, who have been entrusted with the ministerial office of the Lutheran Church in times so decisive for the Church and the world? Nothing would be more wrong than if we were to wait for others to act. The Word Conference will take its course in accordance with the law by which it was guided at the outset. We cannot expect it to know what the church of the Formula of Concord is and to act accordingly. … From it we can expect an inner renewal of Lutheranism as little as from any other ecclesiastical organization, including that of our own church. Nor can we expect anything at all, from our bishops, synods, church presidents, and faculties.

    Herman Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors, Volume I. CPH 2013, 15.

  25. Sasse again:

    What should we do, in this situation of our church? And that means all of us, dear brothers, every pastor, every teacher of theology, who knows about the responsibility which he bears. We must first free ourselves of the superstition that what is to be done must and will be done by others, as those who are called to do something. The bishops and the great church presidents will do nothing. None of them before Hanover (when the meeting is commenced) will stand up and state a simple and clear profession of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper of the Lutheran Confessions, or profess its ecclesiastical consequences. Not one. At the meetings of the old World Convention, such a thing could still happen. Today there is no longer a Hein or a Reu. Even the great theologians will, when it comes to this question, grow very quiet. The times in which the professors were confessors are gone… So we must all speak, and in advance!

    Herman Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors, Volume I. CPH 2013, 427.

  26. rev. david l. prentice jr. :
    @Nicholas #28
    Wow, I hope you are kidding. I guess from a debate standpoint, God can do what He wants, but we only can go on what He Gives us, the Bible. So “if” Pastor Becker truly goes on to speak heresy like this, and it rubs off into the flock, not just a debate with fellow theologians, I think it is time for the DP or SP to step in.

    I am not kidding. I reproduced an entire quote from his blog, and included the link so that you can read it on his blog for yourself. His DP Paul Linnemann has known Becker’s positions for a long time now but continues to protect him. The SP needs to step in.

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