The Natural Progression of Human Institutions by District President Terry Forke


Editor’s Note – Included below are some excellent thinking and discussion points for the clergy and laity of the Lutheran Church –  Missouri Synod.  They actually apply to all human institutions, not just the human institution of synod.

The Natural Progression of Human Institutions

Why You Should Keep an Eye on the Synodical Union

by Rev. Terry Forke, District President, Montana District


Theory – Every human institution will seek to make itself essential to its constituents.

Corollary # 1  Human institutions will seek to make themselves essential by assuming an increasing number of responsibilities that had previously been accomplished by the constituents themselves.

Corollary # 2  The attempt to remain essential by assuming more responsibilities will drive administrative expenditures of human institutions to increase to the point that they impede the mission.

Corollary # 3  The accretion of duties and the drive for self-preservation will cause the authoritative documents of every human institution to grow in length and degree of detail to the point that they impede the mission.

Corollary # 4 Early in their existence, human institutions will be focused on their stated mission, but a larger percentage in the duration of their existence will be focused on the survival of the institution.

Corollary # 5 The drive for survival will cause every human institution to compromise its original confession.



The Natural Progression of Human Institutions by District President Terry Forke — 14 Comments

  1. An excerpt from an old Logia article by Erling Teigen:

    Conservatism can also stand for a mind-set that tends to value the status quo most highly, so that one can only be moved in a different direction by bulldozer or cataclysm, never by theological study or intellectual honesty. Adherence to the Reformation spirit would seem rather to dictate that the Reformation is not static but dynamic, and always stands ready to reevaluate itself and to make midcourse corrections. That does not mean that the Confessions as the Lutheran understanding of Scripture need to be “reinterpreted” for a new age, but it means that the teaching and the teachers of our churches need to be reevaluated always to see whether or not their teaching is in accord with the Lutheran Confessions[…].

    While conservatism can be construed as a desire to preserve that which is good, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. The fundamental nature of conservatism is to preserve power structures and status quo. That, in fact, is the fundamental nature of bureaucracy, and not any less of church bureaucracies.

    The “chureaucrat” has to preserve the power structure within which he intends to function, for without the trappings of power he is lost. Business and bureaucracy are fundamentally conservative in that sense, and the more our church leaderships pattern themselves after the business world, the more conservative they will become. To think of ourselves in terms of “conservative” strikes me, then, as dangerous, and a stance that has taken us down the wrong path. Not only is it a stance which identifies us with stances that belong to the kingdom of the left hand, but it is a stance that locks us into a mode that is unhealthy.

    Erling Teigen. “Confessional Lutheranism versus Philippistic Conservatism,” Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology
    Reformation/October – Vol. 2, No. 4, Pages 32-37

  2. I see this most clearly in both governmental and educational institutions. The government, in particular, the federal government departed from it’s original constitution long ago and I see no path for it to return to the original implementation.

    As for education, I would point to the ever increasing tuition costs which burden our collegiate environment. These tuition increases were, and are, totally divorced from the overall economic climate of the country. They are not driven by the professor’s desire for increased salary nor are the rising costs a reflection of increased opportunity for student endeavors. The cost are primarily (and in most cases completely) driven by the administration costs used to substantiate and grow the college or university so they can suck up more funding and larger salaries. I say cut off the funds from the Federal and State governments and see how many of these “higher education” institutions survive on their merit. In case this gives certain alumni coronary papilations, the football teams can be properly formed into a farm league (where the players and not the institution are the recipients of the gate receipts). This certainly would be more honest than the sham that exists in collegiate sports today. Just my rant on a topic which burrs my saddle.

  3. Excellent post. But I would suggest that there is a deeper truth underlying all these points. The progression of human institutions is the result of actions, decisions, and choices made by the humans who run those institutions. The institutions don’t drift or change or become corrupted on their own any more than they created themselves in the first place. In general I agree with this post but I worry that for many pointing to the failings of institutions can be as much of a cop-out as blaming “the politicians” or “the special interests”.

    Thinking of institutions as anthropomorphized entities that make decisions, have motivations, and pursue agendas can be a useful intellectual exercise. But we should always come back to the reality that it is the nature of real human beings (ourselves and our neighbors) that is actually at work here.

  4. Another excerpt, from Sasse, this time:

    How the congregation organizes itself, for this no prescriptions are given, just as there are none for how the church’s ministry is to be organized. The apostles came to recognize that it would be helpful for their ministry if they were relieved of the work of caring for the poor and attending to money matters. So the office of the deacons was created as an auxiliary office. But the church was the church already before this office was created. So the church can at any time create auxiliary offices to meet the needs of the time. Examples of this in the history of the church are the office of an episcopate, or superintendency, or any other offices, whatever they may be called. But all these offices have their right of existence only insofar as they serve the one great office of the preaching of the Gospel and the administering of the sacraments. A bishop may be entrusted with the task of seeing to the running of a great diocese. But the meaning of such an assignment can only consist in this, that he thereby gives room and support to the church’s ministry. His actual office is the office of pastor, also when he is a pastor for pastors. By human arrangement he may have the work of superintendency. By divine mandate he has solely the office of preaching the forgiveness and justification of sinners for Christ’s sake.26

    …Lutheranism did not remain wholly true to the glorious freedom of the Reformation. If everywhere the question was being urged as to what is the authentic way of organizing the church, the way prescribed by Christ, the way required by the Bible, then our church was caught in the danger of wanting to give answer to this question. With all their faithfulness to the Lutheran Confessions, neither Walther nor Löhe (to name just these two) succeeded in escaping this danger. It is similar to what happened with our classical dogmaticians in the Age of Orthodoxy. They were drawn into answering questions which came from Calvinism or Roman Catholicism, without recognizing that these were falsely put. Take for example the question of the visible and invisible church, which still continues to plague us. The fathers in the Age of Orthodoxy, as well as the fathers in the 19th century were drawn into Reformed terminology on this question. They failed to recognize that Luther’s ecclesia abscondita [cf. “The Church is hidden” (WA 18, 652; American Edition 33, 89)] is not quite the same as the ecclesia invisibilis [“invisible church”] of the Reformed. The Lutheran dogmaticians would therefore have done better to have kept to the expressions used in the Confessions and by Luther.

    Hermann Sasse. “Ministry and Congregation” (1949) in We Confess the Church. Trans. Norman E. Nagel. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986); pp 71,72, 73

  5. Excellent article, and it brings to mind O’Sullivan’s First Law: “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing… at which point Michels’s Iron Law of Oligarchy takes over.”

    The Iron Law of Oligarchy is, roughly stated: “Michels (1911) came to the conclusion that the formal organization of bureaucracies inevitably leads to oligarchy, under which organizations originally idealistic and democratic eventually come to be dominated by a small, self-serving group of people who achieved positions of power and responsibility. This can occur in large organizations because it becomes physically impossible for everyone to get together every time a decision has to be made. Consequently, a small group is given the responsibility of making decisions. Michels believed that the people in this group would become enthralled with their elite positions and more and more inclined to make decisions that protect their power rather than represent the will of the group they are supposed to serve. In effect Michels was saying that bureaucracy and democracy do not mix. Despite any protestations and promises that they would not become like all the rest, those placed in positions of responsibility and power often come to believe that they too are indispensable, and more knowledgeable than those they serve. As time goes on, they become further removed from the rank and file…”

    O’Sullivan remarked in his 1989 article that Conquest’s Second Law was appropriate to understand the future: “The behavior of an organization can best be predicted by assuming it to be controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.

  6. A proper attribution is missing above; these concepts did not originate with Rev. Forke. My recollection of the related sources that I read in college is a bit fuzzy, but the theory and its corollaries resemble what Robert Merton, C. Northcote Parkinson and others have written about the tendencies of bureaucracies.

    Recognizing these tendencies, how can a conscientious Christian best respond?

    The subtitle above says only, “You Should Keep an Eye on the Synodical Union.”

  7. @Carl H #6

    A proper attribution is not missing. These concepts did originate with me. My recollection is not fuzzy. I have not read Merton or Parkinson, or any other bureaucratic theorists. I would attribute any resemblance to the fact that the theory is no sign of genius, but is, in fact, rather self-evident.

    The theory and its corollaries were presented to the congregations as part of my official visits to the congregations of the Montana District during my second triennium. The theory originated when I pondered the source of the pressure to abandon an original confession. I used examples from the Federal government and the Synodical Union. (Thus the subtitle.) The text of the presentation was Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful.”

    The response that I suggested to the Pastors and congregations of the Montana District was twofold: 1. Trust Him who is faithful to maintain the true confession. 2. Work hard against the natural progression of the human institution that we know as the Synodical Union.

    I did not make the original post. The editors asked only if they could post the theory, which they had been supplied by one of my guys.

  8. First of all, to describe the LCMS as a “Synodical Union” is a misnomer. Our unity in doctrine and practice was lost long ago and is not getting any better. That said, DP Forke is spot on in describing the nature of human institutions. The ACELC has been making a valiant effort to publicly address the errors in doctrine and practice on multiple fronts for the last 6 years. To date, we have failed to achieve even the most bland of acknowledgement of a single concern.

    The so-called “peace” of the institution of the Synod has been deemed of greater importance than the maintenance of pure doctrine and biblical practice, thus Forke’s point is well made. For the life of me I can think of no churchly human institution that has ever fully corrected itself in history. (Yes, the Battle of the Bible was a victory, but it was an incomplete victory leaving the heresies identified and those who supported them in tact in our Synod.)

    On page 175 of E. Clifford Nelson’s book, “The Lutherans in North America”, is a listing of 58 Lutheran church bodies that existed between 1840 – 1875. Of the 58 only one remains today..the LCMS. All of the others are simply gone. Either they merged with other bodies or ceased to exist. Synods simply come and go with time. They also go away when they lose their doctrinal grounding. The ELCA today is a remarkable example of church bodies that attempt to grow by becoming a bigger “tent” through doctrinal compromise and socially adjusting to the surrounding culture. And what has been the result? Dramatic shrinkage of numbers. Part of that is simply the secularization of our culture, but is was the abandonment of doctrine that contributed toward that secularization.

    As soon as numerical shrinkage begins to become noticeable, then the institution goes into “What do we have to do to grow?”, mode. Often, the assumption is that in order to save the institution a pragmatism of “Whatever works” begins to take hold and the theological soul of the church body is compromised. When the doctrine and practice of a church body is compromised, then it gives little, if any reason, for rank and file members to be denominationally “loyal”, and they leave for the church that has a better praise band or youth program regardless of the theology of the church selected. Some just abandon the church altogether seeing no reason to continue since the church no longer teaches God’s Word rightly.

    What DP Forke has not done in his essay, is to make any application to the LCMS. If all institutions end up corrupt, and only newly formed and principled institutions remain vital, then…..?????

  9. Thank you Rev. Bolland. I was hoping we would actually be able to discuss the text. First, a word on language. The preamble to the constitution is titled, “Reason for the forming of a Synodical Union. Our common use of language has betrayed us. When we speak of the “Synod,” the institution of the Synod is the subject and a subtle focus is placed on the institution. When we speak of the “Synodical Union” our common confession becomes the subject (noun). The word synodical becomes an adjective describing what kind of union we have. This is one simple application toward stemming the natural progression.

    Now, if the theory, and its corollaries, are true then one must be very careful about investing too much energy in the survival of human institutions. This is fine balancing act, and requires a measured humility. For if, on the other hand, the institution is beneficial to the proclamation of the Gospel, and if God can counted on to keep us in the true confession, it may be worthwhile to seek to extend the fight. This is where I think we are now. I think I can demonstrate the effect of each of the corollaries in the life of this Synodical Union. But wouldn’t it be a grand experiment to see if the human institution of this Synodical Union could turn back the clock? Can we reject what we have become, a Federation of Districts, each struggling for survival, and once again be a Synodical Union in the one true faith and practice? God be merciful and make it so.

    But as an earlier comment noted, we dare not think only in terms of institutions. While an institution, according to this theory, does create its own inertia, its basic building blocks are still people, and in this case, people of faith. God uses His Word and Sacraments acting in His people to confess the truth. So, I am excited to be alive at this point in history. We may just see a very slow turning of the ship.

    I would look for two signs as indicators of which direction we are headed: 1. It is possible, unlikely, but possible, that the Union could cut back on its assumed responsibilities and put the congregation in the driver’s seat. This would mean a smaller administrative overhead, fewer duties etc. 2. It is possible, unlikely, but possible, that the governing documents could be vastly simplified. The alternative is what I call death by accretion. Enough/too much for now.

  10. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    I used to quote Michel’s Iron Law, then I found out that: “At the time Michels formulated his Law, he was an anarcho-syndicalist.[4] He later became an important ideologue of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy, teaching economics at the University of Perugia” (see ).

    So basically, Michels was arguing that all democratic organizations are corrupt or being corrupted, so we had better get rid of them in favor of fascist organizations which are pure. I guess.

    I don’t think that is what President Forke is saying. I agree with what DP Forke is saying. If democracy is going to work, you are going to have work at it as an active participant. Which is precisely what we try to do here at BJS! So thanks to all for your participation! 🙂

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  11. Rev. Forke,

    In terms of language I was simply questioning the use of the term “union” as an accurate descriptor of our present day Synod. I think that is a bit of a stretch of the imagination to apply the term union (meaning the common confession we are supposed to share) to the LCMS. Sadly, that is a union that we currently do not enjoy however much it would be nice to do so.

    I certainly agree with you that we should not place too much confidence in institutions of human origin and that includes the churchly institutions of Synods. To do so may result in the sacrificing of what truly is the Church (where the marks of the Church are seen) giving deference to the man-made institution.

    I also agree that it would be a grand experiment to see if the LCMS could slowly be turned around and I have spent much time, prayer, and energy to contribute to such an experiment myself. I do wonder if our Synod has the will to do what you suggest. It has been 71 years since the errors in the “Statement of the 44” with its misguided ecumenism was released on our Synod and to date no correction of those errors has been offered. It has been 47 years since (in my opinion) the LCMS changed its doctrine of the Order of Creation to embrace women’s suffrage and all the errors that have flowed from it. As I approach my 70th birthday, I have come to a lack of confidence that these and the other errors identified by the ACELC will be corrected. Indeed the efforts of 31 of the Synod’s congregations have been met with nothing but silence and indifference. Others have been far more concerned about process rather than correcting false doctrine and unbiblical practice. This was also the argument that the Pharisees used against Christ Himself. Unfortunately, the LCMS has engineered processes that are designed to make bringing legitimate concerns respecting doctrine and practice far more difficult, convoluted, and discouraging. They have consolidated power into the COP and taken influence away from the members of the Synod.

    One must conclude that thus far the grand experiment is simply not working. I wish it were, but I do not see any realistic evidence that it is. You have chosen the path of the optimist and that is honorable. It was in optimism that the ACELC began its work, but we have been summarily dismissed and the Synod leadership has chosen to simply pretend we don’t exist. That is not a way to encourage optimism.

    What I have said is that history is not on the side of reform and renewal. It is on the side of decline and corruption of doctrine and practice. Perhaps the LCMS can swim against the tide and I pray that it will, but in order for it to do so, it needs to treat concerns of even one member as important.

  12. Corollary(ies) 1-5. I couldn’t agree with these more, Rev. Forke, as I have often observed these same insights at work in families. When I read the phrase “human institutions,” I inserted the phrase “Herd Families.” These are families in which the primary aim of the family is the preservation of the herd, i.e. the family name, legacy, reputation, set of core beliefs, etc. These families are often hard to marry into, and when someone does, it’s difficult to be accepted – particularly if that triggers change in the herd member. Mostly, the stress of that change shows up in the more traditional or ritualistic times of the year, in which most herd families become rather rigid about what is “the right way to do Christmas Eve,” as an example! Sometimes, herd members are shunned, excommunicated, or just gossiped about. The upside of herd families is that they appear to offer a kind of intimacy and closeness, as long as the herd members are willing to sacrifice individualistic thinking. It’s my personal theory that LCMS has been a herd most of its existence, and every few decades or so, it reaches its threshold for how much individualistic thinking it can tolerate. The downside of the herd is that it has difficulty tolerating impurities within itself. After a while, it turns on itself – dividing itself with labels, which start out as adjectives but eventually become the names of the sub-divided mini-herds, i.e. “conservative,” “faithful,” “distinctively faithful,” “confessional,” and “missional.” Rev. Forke, thank you for thinking this through. You’ve given me more to chew my cud on!

  13. “Corollary #3 The accretion of duties and the drive for self-preservation will cause the authoritative documents of every human institution to grow in length and degree of detail to the point that they impede the mission.”

    Here is Exhibit A for Corollary #3:
    2010 Convention Workbook: 354 pages
    2013 Convention Workbook: 478 pages
    2016 Convention Workbook: 509 pages

    God’s Blessings,
    Ginny Valleau

  14. The size of the Workbook depends on the number of overtures submitted by congregations, circuits, districts, etc. as well as proposes changes in Bylaws and texts of CTCR documents submitted, even if many of them never make it to the convention floor as resolutions or are combined with other overtures.

    Here are the sizes of the final Convention Proceedings over the past few years:

    2013 Convention Proceedings: 204 pages
    2010 Convention Proceedings: 208 pages
    2007 Convention Proceedings: 199 pages
    2004 Convention Proceedings: 199 pages
    2001 Convention Proceedings: 213 pages
    1998 Convention Proceedings: 184 pages

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