Praesidium responds to concerns posed by former CCM members

lcms-letterhead-cropAn open letter to the Synod by three former members of the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) has recently been widely disseminated. These are brothers in Christ, respected fellow members of the Synod, who are entitled to their opinions regarding the election of the President—as is every member of the Synod. However, we also ask that all the members of the Synod prayerfully and with open minds consider the following information.
 


 
What precipitated the need for taking a look at the dispute resolution process as it currently exists in our Bylaws?

The suggestion to examine the current Bylaws on dispute resolution came from President Harrison when the system had exonerated a pastor who was publicly and aggressively teaching that the Bible has errors, that women should be ordained, that homosexual activity is not sinful, and that evolution is true. Prior to all of this, President Harrison had patiently arranged for this man’s dissent regarding A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles (which rejected the errors of Seminex and was adopted by convention as official Synod doctrine in 1973) to be considered by the CTCR. After the CTCR unanimously rejected the dissent, President Harrison—in a spirit of patience, and hoping to win the brother—requested that the CTCR staff (the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer and the Rev. Larry Vogel) and two seminary professors serving on the CTCR (one from each seminary) meet privately to try again to win the brother. All efforts failed. After the brother’s exoneration by a panel, a new case was filed regarding his teachings on evolution. As a result of this last case, however, the individual in question was removed from the Synod. It was in this context, after some five years dealing with the problem, that President Harrison appointed a task force to examine the current Bylaws and make recommendations for improvement.

 
Does President Harrison, then, prefer a wholesale revision of the Bylaws regarding dispute resolution?

No. In his report to the Synod, President Harrison stated: “I am not in favor of wholesale revision of our dispute resolution and ecclesiastical supervision processes. Our current system has many valuable attributes. I did, however, appoint a task force to evaluate the system and make some suggestions, which they have done” (Workbook, pp. 297ff.).

 
After the task force completed its work, did President Harrison recommend that all of the conclusions of the task force report be adopted?

No. In examining the report of the task force, President Harrison made a single suggestion that, should Floor Committee 12 adopt the task force recommendation to restore the right of an appeal by an accuser, the authority for action should rest with the entire Praesidium and not the Synod president alone.

 
Why, then, are there mistaken conclusions and confusion regarding all of this?

The letter circulated by former CCM members apparently was based on the task force report alone, and not on President Harrison’s modest request for change, nor on the actual proposal to go before Synod in convention. Floor Committee 12 (Ecclesiastical Supervision and Dispute Resolution) has examined all sides of this issue and has prepared Resolution 12-01 (Today’s Business, p. 153f), which is very clear and well worth reading in order to clear up any confusion.

 
What does Resolution 12-01 actually propose?

Resolution 12-01 proposes to restore the right of an accuser to appeal to the Praesidium, if the district president declines to act. This, in fact, was the arrangement that Synod had for decades, from before 1956 up to 2004, based on the President’s general responsibilities articulated in Article XI of the constitution. During the time this option for appeal was available, it was actually used quite rarely.

 
If Resolution 12-01 is passed, will it take away from district presidents the ability to exercise ecclesiastical supervision of individual members in their districts and concentrate it instead in the Office of the President or the Praesidium?

No. The district president still has full ecclesiastical supervision over all of the congregations and rostered church workers of his district, as well as the full authority to take appropriate action. If, however, a district president fails to take action in a matter involving doctrine, the accuser then would have the right to appeal to the full Praesidium (not the President). The Praesidium would then decide whether the case should be closed or should move forward.

 
What about the president’s role in the new structure of Synod?

A fair evaluation of the past six years will show that President Harrison continues to be very judicious and careful in the exercise of presidential responsibility under the 2010 restructuring of Synod. As evidence, please note how well the Offices of National Mission and International Mission are functioning on our behalf.

Note also the evangelical visitation of the districts carried out by President Harrison and the Synod vice-presidents in the triennium just ending. This was not done to prescribe, but rather to listen, to learn, and to provide Christ-centered encouragement from Holy Scripture. In point of fact, this visitation was received exceptionally well in every district.

 
Does President Harrison seek to restrict congregations, districts and others in mission efforts?

Again, the plain and simple answer is no. Concerns over Bylaw 3.8.3 have arisen regarding the need for coordination and collaboration in the foreign mission fields, all for the sake of our partners and for the sake of the mission. The Board for International Mission (BIM) has developed careful policies that do not restrict but enhance the mission.

A very helpful FAQ has also been prepared.

In fact, the CCM opinion on Bylaw 3.8.3 clarified that mission societies, auxiliaries (LWML, LLL), and Recognized Service Organizations (RSOs) are in no way restricted by the bylaw. The CCM also requested that the BIM develop appropriate policies. Those policies allow for dual calls by the BIM and districts or congregations. The net result is that opportunities for collaboration between the BIM, districts, congregations, and other entities have been clarified and greatly expanded, while protecting the rights and interests of partner churches.

 
Why is it so important to have a united and coordinated mission effort internationally?

There have been a number of instances where some of our folks have acted in international fields in ways that have severely disrupted our relationships with partner churches. Independent and uncoordinated efforts have also been undertaken with charismatic and other non-Lutheran churches and societies, with seminaries even being planted. Sometimes our folks engaged in joint work with ELCA partner churches while our own partner churches were ignored, causing some offense. Such situations have forced LCMS mission staff to commit significant time and resources to remedy situations and restore appropriate relationships. The assertion that there is some new effort to restrict mission is ironic in light of the fact that our international mission efforts are mushrooming each day, with more congregations and districts partnering in these efforts than ever before. Three years ago some 900 congregations were supporting LCMS missionaries. Now that number is well over 1300.

 
What about those studies of Article VI and Article VII of the Synod’s constitution?

The Office of the President and others are working on those studies, and it is true that they have not been completed. To do a truly thorough job has turned out to be more difficult than it first appeared. Despite the delay in completing the study, a number of resources have been produced to assist members of Synod in the study of Article VI.

http://www.lcms.org/churchfellowship

The Office of the President is working to complete these studies and present them to the Synod during the first year of the next triennium.

 
What is this about some new form of closed communion being imposed?

It is not true that President Harrison has been seeking “to impose a form of ‘closed communion’ inconsistent with Synod’s historical practices.” Under normal circumstances, members of the LCMS and those in fellowship with the LCMS commune in our churches, though we have always also given room for pastoral discretion. President Harrison has simply been asking that congregations and pastors exercise true pastoral discretion in the admission to the Supper—specifically that, at the very least, visitors be encouraged to speak with the pastor or elder prior to approaching the altar. This is Synod’s historic practice, as evidenced by the many resolutions of the Synod over the years. In 2013, the convention by a 77 percent margin referenced resolutions on close(d) communion as passed by previous conventions and asked President Harrison to work with district presidents to ensure better practice on this issue. In 2015, the CTCR released expanded guidelines based upon the 1993 CTCR document on model communion statements. The 2015 Guidelines for Communion Statements provides tools for evaluating and adapting communion statements for the seasonal and local context.

 
Anything else?

The members of the Synod may have honest disagreements over who might best serve as president of the Synod. This is not unusual, since we have three excellent candidates this year. That’s why we have an election. That’s why the Synod’s publications, Reporter andThe Lutheran Witness, both have a set of Q&As from all three men whose names are on the ballot. That’s why we encourage all to pray for the Spirit’s guidance as they vote. Everyone should examine the answers all three have given through these official channels. But let’s also be honest about the actual record. Let’s make up our minds and hearts about this matter on the basis of honest information, not unfounded accusation or innuendo. Regardless of which candidate you support, it is vital that we avoid the devil’s snare.

 

May our gracious God preserve us and, by His Word and Spirit, lead us to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) and mutual love in Christ. We all stand as sinners equal under the cross, called to REPENT of our sin, to CONFESS Christ as the Rock of our Salvation, and to REJOICE in His forgiveness.

 

God’s peace be with you, in Jesus!

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
President

Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller, Jr.
First Vice-President

Rev. Dr. John C. Wohlrabe, Jr.
Second Vice-President, Great Lakes Region

Rev. Dr. Daniel Preus
Third Vice-President, Central Region

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Fourth Vice-President, West-Southwest Region

Rev. Nabil S. Nour
Fifth Vice-President, Great Plains Region

Rev. Christopher S. Esget
Sixth Vice-President, East-Southeast Region


Comments

Praesidium responds to concerns posed by former CCM members — 24 Comments

  1. Could someone kindly post a copy of this letter by the three former CCM members? Thanks!

  2. @GaiusKurios #1

    The three former CCM members are: Rev. Dr. [hon.] Wilbert Sohns, Rev. Philip J. Esala, and Daniel C. Lorenz, Esq. The letter is posted on ALPB.

    Wear your hipwaders.

  3. A usual suspect, a former PLI stalwart and an “Esq.”, nothing new here.

  4. This sounds like sour grapes to me. I did not hear any of these three raise concerns when this was first trotted out by the Blue Ribbon task force. Of course I am sure all three gentleman expected Jerry Kieschnick to will re-election in 2010. Now what was intended for Jerry to wield near unlimited power is being used by someone other than Jerry these gentlemen are all of a sudden “concerned”.

  5. Exactly where were these three when Kieschnick was doing everything in his power to acquire as much power to the POTS as humanly possible?

  6. The above Q&A from the Praesidium states

    … a number of resources have been produced to assist members of Synod in the study of Article VI.
    http://www.lcms.org/churchfellowship

    This website contains a list of documents on church fellowship, one of which, “Policy for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod declaring Altar and Pulpit Fellowship with Another Church Body” [2003; updated 2014], officially adopted by the CTCR, is included in the 2016 Convention Workbook (p. 170ff) and states:

    “Altar and pulpit fellowship is a relationship which signifies agreement not only in a church body’s formal statements but also agreement in the implementation of the formal confessions of a church body in its actual life and practice.” (p. 3)

    “…the President of the Synod, assisted by the CTCR at his request, shall determine whether the requesting church is committed to the full authority of the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God and subscribes without reservation to the Book of Concord (to the extent that it is available in the primary language of the church).” (p. 5) [Emphasis added]

    The Lutheran Church in Norway is not such a quia-subscription-to-the-BOC church, as acknowledged by the LCN on its website and even in the Preamble of Resolution 5-01, which nevertheless claims “complete agreement exists between our two churches in doctrine and practice” and resolves to “endorse the Synod President’s declaration of altar and pulpit fellowship between the LCMS and the LCN.

  7. @Carl Vehse #2

    The letter is posted on ALPB

    Thank you. I don’t read ALPB; and won’t venture there to read a PLI screed.
    Harrison has used very little of the power Jerry would have been throwing around. Maybe too little…then again, there may be more going on than the pew sitter can see.

    Getting dispute resolution out of the exclusive power of the DP sounds like a step in the right direction.

    At least advising close(d) communion (if that’s what I saw) to a synod which is supposed to be built on that principle is a beginning! [Should be a given, but here we are!]

  8. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #6

    Exactly where were these three when Kieschnick was doing everything in his power to acquire as much power to the POTS as humanly possible?

    On the CCM, doing as much as possible to help him (and themselves). It would be more honest to label them …usFirst.
    It might be better for Synod if CCM opinions were expunged to 2001. [Or further?]

  9. Dear BJS bloggers,
    In my opinion, the Praesidium response to the “ALPB 3” was both charitable and to the point. There is no proposal on the floor to circumvent the DPs authority to supervise congregations and church-workers in his district. That has been the DPs job since 1854 in LCMS. But what about the very rare occasion when the DP doesn’t do his job at all—i.e. does not allow a legitimate concern about false doctrine to be “heard” in church court? The proposal allows the complainant one last option—the Pres and VPs of synod to decide whether the case can be “heard,” but again only in doctrine cases. This will bring greater unity in synod, not less. There is always a problem when our DPs deal in adjudicatory matters. Church-workers are reluctant to disagree with DPs, because the DPs control the Call, which is the road to better position and compensation. It would be better to have non-DPs controlling adjudication but that would probably greatly increase the cost. So I see the new proposal as a good compromise that will help keep our DPs true to our doctrinal form.

  10. @Martin R. Noland #10

    “Church-workers are reluctant to disagree with DPs, because the DPs control the Call, which is the road to better position and compensation.”
    With all due respect, we have got to get out of this way of thinking! Congregations are the calling institutions. GOD controls the call. Congregations do not have to use the resources the DPs are supposed to offer to make a call to a church worker. DPs are only there to serve the congregations in their call process – not to control it! Lord have mercy on our synod if everyone believes this.

  11. @LadyL #11

    But they do believe it. 40 (now about 45) years of bad catechesis. Do congregations even know this? Have they ever been told/taught this? Remember, one overture proposed tried to force DP’s into giving PIF’s And SET’s to congregations. The Floor Committee tanked it. (Omnibus or declined for reasons) Of course, maybe congregations should go back to blind calls, trusting the Holy Spirit, in stead of “job interviews” for the divine call. And there are other mechanisms that can allow the DP to absolutely control the fate of called workers in their district. As some have complained that DP’s will can a pastor so as not to lose congregational offerings and membership.

    And that is what I think most of this brouhaha is about: control. Right now the LCMS Bylaws are somewhat structured to give the DP’s and COP a lot of power. Whether it is guiding the call process (call lists and seminary first call appointments), lay deacons, adjudication (reconcilers are supposed to handle reconciliation…), roster status. The Newton school shootings highlight how too large a chunk of the COP wants to neuter the SP. I just keep getting the vineyard tenants parable stuck in my head. All this when there are other parts of our constitution that indicate the SP being overall in charge of the unity and doctrine of our synod.

    Is God in charge of our process? Yes, He is and should be? Are we listening to the Master’s voice? Doesn’t seem like we are doing a good job at that.

  12. @Jason #12

    I agree with Jason, it is all about power and control. That pretty well describes any organization that is not listening to the Master’s voice. Poor catechizes over many decades has taken its toll on the laity who do not understand their rights as a congregation. I know of at least one church in my district that has changed its bylaws to state that it will make the call from a list provided by the district. Need I say more?

  13. @LadyL #11

    Dear LadyL,

    I agree with you 100% that we need to get out of this way of thinking. But it is not unusual, at least in my personal experience, for a District President not only to “bad-mouth” a candidate that a congregation is considering, but also to withhold his PIF and SET forms. Or am I the only one who has received such treatment from some District Presidents?

    Even when control is not that blatant, the DP still gives his list of “preferred candidates” for the call, and if he doesn’t say that a certain man is “preferred” then the laymen think there is good reason and won’t even consider the men/women who are not “preferred.”

    Pastors and teachers and other church-workers know that is how the system works. So if they get on the bad side of some DP, they can expect that they won’t ever get a call in that district. Or, on the other hand, if they “brown-nose” a DP, they can expect to be a “preferred candidate” for many very “desirable” calls.

    You should not think from this description, however, that all DPs are like this. Many, possibly most, are “straight-shooters” and will think of only what is best for a congregation, i.e., they serve the “common good.” May our Lord give us more like them!

    The LC-MS laymen need to know—LOUD AND CLEAR–that they may call anyone who is on the LC-MS roster who is presently in a call or on candidate status. They shall seek the counsel of their DP (bylaw 2.5.1), and normally they should carefully consider it, but they are also free to ignore it after due consideration.

    We have a CONGREGATIONAL POLITY, which means that the congregation decides who will be on their slate of candidates for the call, and the congregation decides to whom the call will be extended. The U.S. civil courts have confirmed that. See the end of my lecture to the ACELC at Nashville in April 2016 for the specific court cases(www.acelc.net ).

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  14. @Jason #12

    Just a thought. You say we need to get away from the “job interview” model in the call. Would not these “interviews” also be considered an “examination”? Does not the calling congregation have the authority to examine their potential pastor?

  15. @Martin R. Noland #14

    I agree with you 100% that we need to get out of this way of thinking. But it is not unusual, at least in my personal experience, for a District President not only to “bad-mouth” a candidate that a congregation is considering, but also to withhold his PIF and SET forms. Or am I the only one who has received such treatment from some District Presidents?

    No. You are not.

  16. 3. We are concerned that President Harrison, having initially expressed concerns about the concentration of power in the Office of the President caused by the structural changes adopted by the Synod in 2010, has now abandoned that position and is actively attempting to aggregate even more power in the Office of the President.

    4. We are concerned about President Harrison’s encouragement of attempts to restrict the right and responsibility of congregations and individual members to engage in mission work without interference, obstruction and even prohibition by the Synod, when the role of the Synod as set forth in our Constitution is to encourage and facilitate such witness.

    I share in these two concerns. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Harrison and his staff have attempted to consolidate power in the President’s office (as much as that can be done), and have undertaken efforts to force a centralization of control over all mission work in St. Louis, both nationally and internationally.

    LCMS “confessionals” see themselves as saviors of world Lutheranism, and that requires marching in lockstep with Holy Mother Synod and the Vicar of Martin Luther.

  17. @Robert C. Baker #18

    Why would there be a problem for anyone in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in following the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions?

    Is this the same Robert C. Baker who avoids Pr. Kevin Vogt’s questions on Lutherquest about what church he is going to now, having apparently left Missouri?
    IF SO, why are you here, carrying water for Kieschnick’s Komrads?

    The continuing complaint on this list has been Harrison’s reluctance to use power to keep Missouri Lutheran!

    [I know what Jerry and the unwholesome 3 designed it for; I’ve lived 45 years in Texas. These are the people who said, when Jerry Kieschnick was in power, that anything the CCM decreed was law, not to be questioned, not even discussed! These are the people worried about “too much power at the top”!??? They put more there than Harrison has ever used.]

  18. @David Hartung #15

    I would greatly appreciate the mindset of examination. Discernment, maybe even stewardship. What is unhealthy is for a congregation to have a hire and fire mentality. Does this pastor look nice, young, relatable, “grows congregations”, “contemporary in worship”. The questions that should be of more importance are: is he faithful to the Word, will he care for us as sheep, can he speak to the issues in a loving Law/Gospel way.

    Part of my push back is when a DP may refuse a qualified candidate. The congregation, if they know about him through another way, should consider the Holy Spirit may be guiding them a certain direction. We don’t HAVE to ONLY accept those men on a DP’s list. And if we can’t get a PIF or SET, is it bad or evil to possibly call a man, even without a face-to-face interview?

    For all those moderate/liberal pastors who want us to think outside the box, what if we think outside the DP’s box? Well, we kind of have an answer, particularly for those who visit a certain other Lutheran site. The east coast has been screaming bloody murder for Pres. Harrison maybe listening to their advise/desires, but going a different direction in picking a new VP. However, the synod in convention picked the only candidate thought of as conservative from the nominees. In a way, Harrison was following the will of the people in keeping the seat conservative. Hmm….

    Anyway, things to think about. But thank you for your question, David, and helping me to better understand and articulate my thoughts better. I hoped I have been able to answer your query. To me it’s a little funny how some DPs really want you to listen to them, when the display an overt disdain to listening to the SP.

  19. I haven’t read the full letter posted by these three former members, and have no intention of waisting time on such an endeavour. I didn’t even know it existed until I saw the Praesidium’s very wise, honest, and (overly) kind response. But I have read the points listed here from the letter, and I am laughing incredibly at the notion that President Harrison has consolidated this power.
    Utter nonsense. That all happened under the previous administration, and was strongly advocated by Kieschnick at the last (thankfully) convention he presided over. When I saw those proposals getting approved, my heart wept as I believed nothing could stop Kieschnick then. But then locally he was voted out. President Harrison has shown the utmost restraint in using this new expanded authority.

  20. @David Hartung #15

    I agree with you that the “short list” candidates should not be subjected to interviews or visits at this point of the call process. In fact they all should have been vetted via other means to have made it to the short list and your congregation could pick any of them. Some now do this by lot rather than vote. Where the discussions with the candidate take place is after the call has been issued to him. This is where the nitty gritty stuff like policies, pay, housing, etc. take place in an open and honest way to make sure each side knows the expectations of the other and he arrives on site ready to be the Godly servant of the congregation without having to go through “discovery” mode.

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