A District President Responds: Doctrinal Supervision Revisited

On May 11 BJS reprinted an article published in The Lutheran Clarion titled “Doctrinal Supervision and the Becker Case” by Rev. Dr. Martin Noland. Subsequently, an article of response was published in the July Clarion written by Montana District President Terry Forke. Here is President Forke’s article, titled “A District President Responds: Doctrinal Supervision Revisited”:

In the May 2015 issue Dr. Martin Noland addressed the need for the Synod to revisit the manner in which it conducts doctrinal supervision. I wish to commend him for his measured approach and affirm most of his recommendations. We are at a crucial point in the history of our Synod. We should not underestimate the need for determined doctrinal supervision lest the Synodical Union perish through its inability to preserve its confession. What follows are further recommendations from one who has been in the trenches for some time now.

The most difficult times of my life have been when I have had to say (all too frequently), “Brother (sister), because you continue to hold this position, or because you continue to behave in this way, you can no longer be a member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.” The human toll of those words weighs heavily on anyone who has to say them and they must not be taken lightly. They must be spoken only when the evidence is overwhelming and all opportunities for repentance have been exhausted. Add to all that the personal cost meted out by someone, somewhere in the Synod who is sure to write that the only reason the District President (DP) removed Pastor XXX is because the Pastor held to closed communion.

This reality is the reason I must disagree with Dr. Noland’s fifth recommendation. The human cost is real, and it will impact judgments that must be made. Substituting one set of humans (DPs) for another set of humans (independent judiciaries) cannot control for this human element. The only control for the human element lies in the congregations, which should be encouraged to elect to the position of District President not the flashiest, the most cutting edge, or the most business-minded man, but the man who is most capable of upholding the confession of the faith.

Another possible solution for the problem before the Synod should be considered. Presently the reconciliation process does not distinguish between conflict grounded in behavior and conflict grounded in the teaching of false doctrine. These are fundamentally different cases. In the case of behaviorally driven conflict, most situations will call for reconciliation to take place through mutual confession and absolution. In the case of doctrinal conflict one party may be guilty of teaching false doctrine and the other party completely innocent. While both circumstances will ultimately have bearing on the confession of the Synod, certainly false doctrine is the more dangerous, for its seeds quickly spread.

The Synod should discuss adding a section of bylaw dealing specifically with false doctrine. I propose that bylaw 2.18 (now titled “Reinstatement of Individuals into Membership”) be retitled “Expulsion of Individuals from Membership in the Synod as a Result of Persistent Adherence to False Doctrine.” (The current 2.18 would become 2.19.) The praesidium might be the gate keeper, determining whether this were the proper bylaw for each case filed with it. A committee should be appointed at the Synodical Convention to deal specifically with this issue.

In addition, Article XI. B.1 (the President’s supervision regarding doctrine and administration) of the Constitution should be strengthened to clarify that the President of the Synod has the duty to uphold the confession of the Synodical Union by bringing charges against District Presidents for failure to perform the duties of their office.

One final recommendation is in order. The Synod should carefully examine bylaws 2.14—2.17 (expulsion of Congregations or Individuals, expulsion of a District Presidents, expulsion of a President, expulsion of Individuals as a Result of Sexual Misconduct or Criminal Behavior) by asking whether it is proper for a case to be thrown out as a result of technical error in following the bylaws or procedures. This point of bylaw has the potential of allowing workers who, in fact, hold to false doctrine, or who are behaving badly, to remain on the roster of the Synod, for no other reason than that someone missed a detail of a procedure. Perhaps there is a better way.

These three recommendations deal with circumstances where the institutional inertia of the Synod hinders the proclamation of the Gospel. The Synodical Union that cannot uphold its confession is no Synodical Union at all. The 2016 convention may be the time when holding fast to the confession of the faith can be elevated to its rightful prominence.

Rev. Terry Forke
Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, Harlowton, MT
President, Montana District LCMS

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