Great Stuff — Bylaws vs. the Word of God

Another Great article found over on Pastor Lincoln Winter’s blog, Musings of a Country Parson:


spqr_eagle_standardThere are not a lot of pending resolutions for the Wyoming District convention. That’s not unusual. With a small district, we have a pretty lean structure, so there are not usually a lot of changes that need to be made. And, in the past we’ve spoken to pretty much every conceivable doctrinal issue, so we don’t need to say too much along those lines. There are a few specific things we’ll be tackling next week. Some of them are very important (more on those later), but others are picayune items required by various bylaw changes or CCM rulings. One of them is very interesting to me, for a very specific reason. For the sake of bylaw clarity, we have been instructed to muddy our terminology. Now, this isn’t something that is directly against the Word of God, like the Wichita Amendment to the Augsburg Confession, or the Bylaws that would bind the consciences of synod officials (Binding Consciences: Not just for Rome anymore!) But it is instructive of how far we have come from our roots, and of the general sense of confusion that exists regarding what we claim to believe.

According to what our synod has always believed, there is but one divinely instituted office in the church: That of Pastor (The Office of the Holy Ministry). This office exists to give the Word and Sacraments to the church. It is not an optional office. A church (the body) without a someone standing in the place of Christ (the head) would be as ridiculous as someone standing in the place of Christ (the head) without a church to hear the word (the body). Heads and bodies go together. Some may try and conduct chicken-egg arguments about whether the church arises from The Office of the Holy Ministry, or the Office of the Holy Ministry arises from the church. But those arguments are fundamentally wrong-headed from the start. The head and body go together. One without the other is not a living thing. A church with no ministry is a body flopping on the ground, the blind leading the blind until both fall into a pit. The ministry without the people is a disembodied head, the stuff of B-grade horror films, and results in abominations like private masses, and all manner of other abuses (for which, we must remember, donations are customary).

Now, our confessions do say that we “do not object to calling ordination a sacrament if it is understood in relation to the ministry of the word.” Loosely translated, this means “Ordination is not a sacrament.” Of course, you can call it one, but there is no dominical mandate to ordain, as there is with Baptism, Absolution, or the Lord’s Supper. It is an apostolic custom, a ratification of the call, according to our official doctrinal statements.

So, to review: Pastor = Mandated by God. Ordination = Apostolic Custom & Ratification of Call to be pastor.

Now, some have suggested over the years, much to the consternation of our synod leadership, that Ordination is a Divine Ordinance, not a human rite. But such folks never understand ordination apart from the call to serve as a pastor in the church. That is, no matter what end of the “sacerdotalism” scale you fall on in the LCMS, we pretty much all agree that ordination goes with, and only with, the pastoral office. It is tied to a pulpit and an altar.

But apparently, the CCM didn’t get the memo that we aren’t Roman Catholic.

The Wyoming District has been directed to change her bylaws. At one point, when talking about electing vice presidents, it says “inactive ordained ministers (pastors)”. Now, that makes sense theologically. There is no ordination apart from the pastoral office in a congregation. One can not be an ordained minister in the abstract.

I will concede that roster status is difference than office. It makes sense that, although one may have been previously called and ordained, but no longer serving in that capacity, the roster status continues for various reasons: Retirement, unresolved health issues, etc. One may be inactive for a period without immediately being removed from the roster. The official status of the person is “Ordained Minister”, even though that person is not currently connected to a pulpit and altar. Fine. It’s easier than immediately removing and then having to readmit to that status when a call is received. It marks those who are (at least in theory) eligible to receive a call. No complaints regarding the rather awkward theology of the bylaw for the sake of saving thousands man hours on needless paperwork (to say nothing of all the trees that are saved).

But the CCM says that the parenthetical “Pastor” must go. I would argue that it acts more as theological commentary than roster status. Does not matter, says the CCM. Pastor is a specific office held in the moment. And our bylaws allow all manor of non-pastoral offices to be held by ordained ministers(!), or even no office at all. According to this ruling of the CCM, the pastoral office is merely incidental to, and a sub-category of “Ordained Minister.” The CCM thinks you can exist as a head, with no body. They are not merely saying that there may be an abstract officeholder, with no office held. They are saying that this reality is the reality of life in the LCMS, and such must be acknowledged by our district.

Given the absolute authority of the CCM, which requires that every district, officer, pastor, and congregation of the synod follow each ruling of the CCM, according to the covenant of love we enter into via the bylaws bylaws, unless and until that ruling is overturned by the synod in convention, I say, vote “no” on this one. I think that keeping our theological head screwed on straight is more important than making sure the “i”s are dotted, and the “t”s are crossed according the Romanist interpretations of the CCM.

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