Lay Deacons: Kicking the Can Down the Road? (by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

(This post follows up on my previous one, about Committee 4, as it deals in more depth with Resolution 4-06. This article appears in the July 2013 edition of The Lutheran Clarion, CH)

Lay Deacons: Kicking the Can Down the Road?

“Therefore an overseer must be . . . able to teach. . .” (1 Timothy 3:2).

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

“Our churches teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church, or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call” (Augsburg Confession, Article XIV).

In spite of Scripture and Confessions, the 1989 convention at Wichita authorized the licensure of lay ministers to do Word and Sacrament ministry in place of pastors (1989 Res. 3-05B). In the years following, measures were adopted to try to alleviate this problem (DELTO, Distance Education Leading To Ordination; SMP, Specific Ministry Pastor). So you would think that by now we would have seen the end of Wichita-style lay ministers.

Wrong. The Wichita laymen are still on the line. How so? In the form of district “lay deacon” programs. When SMP was passed in 2007, what was left undone was the “sunsetting” of those district programs. So some districts are still using their own programs to license their own “lay deacons” (now more than 600) to do pastoral ministry in place of pastors. This ought to stop.

Many overtures were submitted by congregations, circuits, and districts to the 2013 Convention Workbook to deal with this issue. Most of them include a “Resolved” that calls for the discontinuation or phasing out of district lay deacon programs (e.g., 4-29, 4-30. 4-31, 4-32, 4-33, 4-34, 4-37, 4-38, 4-41, 4-45, L4-74). A few of them are in favor of the district programs (e.g., 4-36, 4-39, 4-40). And a couple of overtures (e.g., 4-22, 4-35) call for further study before possible action at the 2016 convention.

Floor Committee 4, Theology and Church Relations, has taken this last approach, proposing a resolution that some would say only “kicks the can down the road.” Resolution 4-06, “To Address Questions re Service Apart from AC XIV” (Today’s Business, pp. 90-92), calls for the Synod President to develop resources for study and discussion and to establish a task force to develop a plan to resolve this issue and to bring a report to the 2016 convention.

As one who authored an overture to bring an end to the district lay deacon programs (Overture 4-45), I am a bit disappointed that the committee did not go further than that. Of course, if this summer’s convention delegates decide we’re ready to take action now and thus vote to phase out (or at least limit) the district lay deacon programs, they may do so. Picking up on President Harrison’s thought (TB, p. 22, lines 25-27), and simply to put things “on hold,” Resolution 4-06 could be amended by adding a final “Resolved” such as this: “Resolved, That no new persons be admitted into district lay deacon programs between now and the 2016 convention.”

I understand the floor committee’s desire to try to bring more people along in a unified way before acting on the matter. That approach may work, and we may indeed finally be ready to “sunset” Wichita in 2016. But kicking the same can down the road for so many years can get a little tiresome.


Lay Deacons: Kicking the Can Down the Road? (by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 8 Comments

  1. 24 years is a long time. Not sure it every ends. Deacons are popular in the Mid-South district. I believe it is one of the districts that wants it expanded. In reality you can end this and lay people can still preach. I know of 4 DCE’s that have preached. Ending it will slow it down greatly, but it won’t stop non-pastors preaching. It’s a total lack of education within the synod. One Deacon stated “I will keep doing what I’m doing”.

  2. @Michael #1
    Ending it will slow it down greatly, but it won’t stop non-pastors preaching.

    If there are no more of them, that’s a start toward ending it. In too many places, unqualified men are an end run around Lutheran preaching and practice.

    In the next three years, I hope we’ll see a little more emphasis on Lutheran education “at home.”
    I’m sure flying around the world is more glamorous than slogging through the mud of our own problems, but if our own problems aren’t solved, Synod will have nothing to offer others.

  3. @helen #2

    Spot on, Helen. I know we’re marketing our seminaries agressively overseas, but if we can’t settle our own house, it makes a hard argument for us to help engineer someone else’s. What are we going to export? The same confused theology of the pastoral office, a tension between traditional and Enthusiast worship/theology/practice, and a go-along-to-get-along ecclesiology that shuns resolving any seriously debated issue by burying it in endless committees and commissions?

    One of the things I find sad about this abuse of the Office, is that it takes an entirely legitimate and Biblical office (Deacon) and corrupts it into something ugly and malformed. Why not actually use Deacons for what they established for in Scripture, focussing them on tending the practical needs of the people, so that the pastors might better focus on Word and Sacrament? Amazing what we could resolve, if we would just sit under the Scriptures again.

    Ah, well…

  4. Can anyone explain to me exactly how the 2001 convention rescinded the 1995 convention Res. 3-07A which required licensed laymen to enter a seminary program for ordination?

    My understanding is that at the 2001 convention a substitute resolution was brought forth from the floor resolving to rescind the adopted resolution from 1995. The chair then informed the assembly that a two-thirds majority was needed to rescind a previous overture. The vote was taken and failed to reach the required two-thirds (yes: 586; no:526). Then a motion to reconsider the substitute resolution without rescinding the adopted 1995 resolution was received. But for some strange reason the chair then decided that a two-thirds majority was not needed to rescind a previously adopted synodical resolution. Thus, the substitute motion had already passed with the rescinding of Res. 3-07A from the 1995 convention by a simple majority.

    My question is whether or not a two-thirds majority was needed? Why did the chair say one thing and then change his mind? Was the 1995 resolution legitimately adopted?

    Does anyone have a better grasp on what took place?

  5. @Rev. Brian L. Kachelmeier #4,

    From the 2001 Convention Proceedings, p. 40 [CV: reformatted into paragraphs for clarity]:

    Discussion resumed on Substitute Resolution 3-08B (TB, p. 193) in place of the committee’s Res. 3-08B on page 235 of Tuesday’s Today’s Business. The committee spoke against the substitute resolution and in favor of its own resolution. After discussion and upon request of the Chair, debate was ended on the substitute motion (Y:928; N:177).

    The Chair clarified that a two-thirds vote would be necessary since the fourth Resolve rescinds a previous convention action and a simple majority would require “notice” of the intention to rescind. The substitute motion was declared failed due to a lack of a two-thirds majority (Y:586; N:526).

    Discussion continued regarding the requirement for notice and the need for a two-thirds vote to rescind. A motion was made and seconded to reconsider the substitute motion, given the new information (Y:646; N:465).

    After further discussion, a motion was made and seconded to remove the fourth Resolve from the substitute resolution. Question was called on the amendment (Y:997; N:116) and the amendment carried (Y:584; N:539).

    After the amended resolution was again debated, it was determined that notice had been given in the original resolution provided by the floor committee and that the substitute resolution did not require a two-thirds majority vote.

    The Chair ruled that the substitute motion had therefore been adopted and that all subsequent actions were null and void. From a point of order it became clear that confusion existed at the time of the vote. The Chair asked that the assembly revote on Substitute Resolution 3-08B. The earlier decision to adopt the resolution was sustained (Y:603; N:533).

    The decision follows from Robert’s Rules of Order, Article VI, Section 37, Rescind, Repeal, or Annul: “Any vote taken by an assembly, except those mentioned further on, may be rescinded by a majority vote, provided notice of the motion has been given at the previous meeting or in the call for this meeting; or it may be rescinded without notice by a two-thirds vote, or by a vote of a majority of the entire membership.”

  6. In Alaska we currently have a NoW District LC-MS licensed “Lay Minister” serving as a vacancy pastor providing word and sacrament ministry for an Episcopalian congregation. As the military advisors in Iraq used to say “you just can’t make this stuff up!” (OK, we didn’t say “stuff.”)

    Here’s Luther:
    “If a layman should perform all the outward functions of a priest, celebrating Mass, confirming, absolving, administering the sacraments, dedicating altars, churches, vestments, vessels, etc., it is certain that these actions would in all respects be similar to those of a true priest, in fact, they might be performed more reverently and properly than the real ones. But because he has not been consecrated and ordained and sanctified, he performs nothing at all, but is only playing church and deceiving himself and his followers.”
    7. AE 25: 234

    -Matt Mills

  7. @Rev. Brian L. Kachelmeier #4
    If memory serves, an Alaskan lay women got up to speak in favor of “Lay Ministry” and cried publically. End of story, “Lay Ministry” was “saved” and “rite vocatus” was overturned by the Synod in convention.

    -Matt Mills

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