Synodical Cowboys and Indians

Cowboys & Indians RichardsonBack in the day, it was impossible to clunk the knob through more than about five channels on your rabbit-ear-adorned monochromatic TV set without coming across a “Cowboys and Indians” shoot-em-up show or movie. Who didn’t love the raging gun battle as the scenery flew by, you sketching yourself into the scene. Horse hooves emphatically pound the soil, you with six-shooter in hand, arrows whooshing past your head, missing you of course, but taking out the befreckled neighbor kid riding next to you whom you didn’t like so much. Wailing Indians ride bareback on their Appaloosas with painted face and war bonnet, intent on you donating your scalp without a suitable recipient having been previously identified. The Western struggle between good and evil might also have been framed within the context of the scurvy gang who repeatedly held up the daily stagecoach or terrorized the local town folk. It was a time when “law and order” was a term loosely applied, justice being accomplished without a whole lot of reference to the “rules,” assuming there were any.

Times have changed since then of course. We’ve now come to a more genteel era where thoughts of cowboys and Indians, at least vocalized, might result in a civil rights investigation by the “Justice” Department. But even in the Wild West, justice did prevail, at least in the movies. The bedraggled guy swinging from the end of a rope was a bank robber or a cattle rustler named Virgil. All of this strained and metaphorical rambling was brought on by my reading of a speech given by then LCMS President Al Barry in 1998. Rev. Dr. Barry’s speech was addressed to a task force formed to study the Synod as it existed and related to itself on the national, district, and circuit levels, as well as other issues. The situations he described are eerily similar to where we’re at today – we’ve just typhlotically ridden further down the dusty trail of a Remington painting. The situations President Barry depicts sound a lot like the days of the American frontier, where the “law” was situational, and “justice” was not always just. Here’s some of what Dr. Barry had to say:

Now here is a wide-open opportunity that can create quite a temptation for an official who knows that his advice is going to be accepted in many cases without question. For example, when I was a district president, it would have been so nice if I could have simply handed each of the district’s vacant congregations a list with the names of 5 or 6 prospective pastors and said, “This is the list I have prepared for you. Call one of these.” Most of the time, they would have. Usually they were not reading the bylaw provision that while vacant congregations should seek the advice of the District President before calling, they can call and be served by a pastor — any pastor — who is a member in good standing of the Synod. It may even be, within a great many congregations, that the unwritten tradition was to take a name suggested by the district president. But I felt that all this made it doubly incumbent upon me to read the Handbook carefully and make congregations aware of their options. It is only fair that they know these things.

Fairness also means that congregations are made aware of their responsibilities as well as their rights. Once again, when I served as a district president, it would have made life so much simpler for me if I could have said to the leaders of a congregation, “If you want to fire your pastor you may certainly do so, and there is nothing I as your district president can do about it.” I knew then, and I know now, that the unwritten understanding of a great many people says exactly this. But our polity, based on Biblical and Confessional considerations in this case, made my life a bit more complicated. For it was incumbent on me to remind the congregation of its responsibilities. I had to say that if it fired its pastor for an improper reason, while I as district president could not prevent the dismissal itself, I would then be obligated to deal with the congregation as a member of the Synod. Quite possibly that congregation would end up being removed from its synodical membership….

· We have said for years that the district is the Synod in a given place. Does it follow that we alter our concept of the Synod by changing the practice of our districts?

· Do our districts view themselves as being the manifestation of the Synod where they are? Or do our districts view themselves as part of a federation, joined together with other districts to constitute what we call The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?

Dr. Barry’s comments certainly hit home. District interference, rather than District aide, in a congregation’s call process still happens. Unscriptural deposing of pastors still happens. The toleration of Dr. Becker’s false doctrine in the Synod might make one wonder if the LCMS is riding into a Synodical “Wild West,” where the rule of law is no longer a given. Our Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws were, loosely put, designed to maintain “order” in the Synod so that the Gospel may be preached and sins forgiven. As Dr. Barry gently warned, the practices of our Districts may fundamentally alter the concept of the Synod, the Synodical version of lex orandi, lex credendiNow would be a good time to ponder these things anew, before we become the Synod our President warned us about, blowing like a tumbleweed in the winds of false doctrine, a byword from a forgotten confessional past.

Photo credit: Peter Richardson on flickr; Creative Commons license 2.0

About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.


Synodical Cowboys and Indians — 20 Comments

  1. Yes. My congregation is currently going through the call process in the PSW district. We had a very confessional pastor who was called to another district, and we have practiced close(d) communion since he came, about 10 years ago. The DP and his man (mission facilitator) have met with us and outright stated that there are other acceptable communion practices within the synod, and that we might consider calling a pastor with a different practice (especially if we want to grow as a congregation). It has created doubt and disunity within the congregation, though blessedly we have good elders and congregational leadership which seem to be staying the course. But this should not be allowed within our synod. I liken them to wolves preying on sheep without a shepherd.

  2. Good post Scott. If the Missouri Synod lets the “outlaws” run rampant among us it will end up being a dead synod, with many bodies laid waste along the way.

    Rev. Pless has a good post about this topic in this Logia Online post:

    In it he quotes Herman Sasse’s statement: “Just as a man whose kidneys no longer eliminate poisons which have accumulated in the body will die, so the church will die which can no longer eliminate heresy.”
    Hermann Sasse, “The Question of the Church’s Unity on the Mission Field” in The Lonely Way, Vol 2 (St. Louis, MO: CPH, 2002), 190. ↩

  3. Dear Heather,

    As a pastor in your district I am saddened and frustrated by your report, but not surprised. God is displeased when untruths are spoken about Himself, His Word, and His ways among His people. Prayers for you ascend.

    +Peace to you and your congregation in Jesus!

  4. @Heather #2
    Peronsally I would tell the DP to retract his statement or you will ask the Synodical President that he be brought up on charges of violating Synodical doctrines and resolutions. It will probably result in nothing, but he still needs to be called on it.

  5. @Heather #2


    I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this. It’s yet another example of heterodox leadership in the LCMS.

    Perhaps Pastor Klinkenberg, an occasional commenter here on BJS, and the current District 2nd Vice-President in the PSW district, can comment on his district’s policy regarding communion practice.

  6. Thanks, all, for your comments, support, and prayers. Thanks especially for the reference to President Harrison’s comments; I had not read it yet. I am looking forward to the CTCR document on communion statements. “Explaining the Lutheran teaching in a bulletin statement and inviting all who believe this to commune without respect to church affiliation, is not consistent with the stated and re-stated position of the Synod.” This is most certainly true. Does anyone have any inside knowledge on when this new CTCR document might come out?

  7. @Randy Yovanovich #7

    Hey Randy thanks for the opportunity. As the District is Synod in it’s specific location, I trust our DP is in alignment with the LCMS Confession and Practice. Communion Statements are interesting in their effect. Our own communion statement at St. John’s which comes right out of the Small Catechism serves both as an invitation and word of warning. Some come forward for the Sacrament, some remain in their seats, some come for a blessing. All are blessed with the gospel.

  8. I have a very difficult time reconciling what Heather said in comment 2 with what Pastor Klinkenberg said in comment 10. The law of non-contradiction seems like it should factor in here somewhere: “For any property F, nothing can be both F and not-F at the same time and in the same way.” Putting the best construction on it, they must be not be talking about Communion in the same way.

  9. Looking at your communion statement, Tim, I’m not clear on the word of warning. Also, it looks like the folks from the ELCA, Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy, and many others will commune at SJLC. Indeed, I’m not sure who wouldn’t commune. Is that your intention? From the St. John’s website:

    Communion – Do I participate? Holy Communion is for those who believe as we do in this Sacrament of the Altar. We believe it is the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, in, with, and under the bread and the wine, given for the forgiveness of our sins.

    That’s it. Perhaps you have something more at the door or in the bulletin?

    ((editor: link to St John’s Orange website))

  10. That statement is not clear. It reminds me of Luther’s comment about the cobbler’s faith, who, when asked what he believes, answered quite vaguely, “I believe what the Church believes.”

  11. While I do not contest anything said thus far, there is a point at which a Seelsorger must err on the side of the Gospel, another thing to which Luther referred. While I in no way advocate the Eucharist as some sort of consummate evangelism tool, I do not rule out the fact that it is pure Gospel.

    What else is the Eucharist but the Gospel?

    And how that works, not one of us knows.

    I in no way advocate anything but closeD Communion (which was what Elert originally wrote in the German in his classic work.). Yet, I must admit pastoral discretion is precisely what it is – pastoral discretion – and that is no one’s business but the Shepherd tending the Altar.

    I, the worst of sinners, was rarely wrong on that one.

    Just saying . . . it’s a fine line, Sports Fans, and unless you have to toe that line . . .

  12. Heather :
    …..and that we might consider calling a pastor with a different practice (especially if we want to grow as a congregation). …… I liken them to wolves preying on sheep without a shepherd.

    I’ll add to that also: One DP told me that if my congregation uses the LSB we’ll never grow as a church. You have to wonder where is the oversight with the DP’s. If the synodical president can’t step in because of bylaws, etc then our synod will continue to be in trouble.

  13. So Heather presents us with evidence that that PSW DP is not in alignment with the Synod’s practice of closed communion and Pr. Klinkenberg replies that “I trust our DP is in alignment with the LCMS Confession and Practice.”

    Scott #11 is right on. This comes across as a simple refusal to deal with the issue. Though I’m glad that Pr. Klinkenberg is willing to engage us in this forum.

  14. @Matt Jamison #19
    Matt, et al.,

    Tim Klinkenberg has been practicing open communion himself for close to two decades now. Let’s dispense with any more pretense about that much, and stop misleading anyone who, even with all the evidence that is and has been right in front of everyone for a long time now, still could possibly be confused about that.

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