When I heard President Harrison state at the Emmaus Conference in 2011 that the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod was a confessional Lutheran church body I raised an eyebrow. I no longer, and you no longer, need raise that eyebrow. My hesitation to agree with President Harrison was because of our continued and purposeful licensing of laymen to practice Word and Sacrament Ministry, a domain that our Confessions and Holy Scripture reserve for called and ordained pastors. On Tuesday, the LCMS in convention resolved to end that practice, begun in 1989. Resolution 13-02A, To Regularize Status of Licensed Lay Deacons, was adopted, 809 to 277.
Judging from the vocal opposition of a few delegates employing delaying tactics spanning two days, one might have expected a much closer vote. It was suggested from the convention floor in a variety of ways that there was such a minimal amount of time for delegates to digest such an important issue that we should refer the matter to the District Presidents for their measured (and thus postponed) response, though the delegates were being barraged by a full spread of opinionated salvos from some DPs for weeks prior to the convention. At one point on Monday, there were around eight DPs lined up in their own queue, expecting their chance to speak, but the delegates never granted them the opportunity. Thankfully, the large margin by which this resolution passed reveals a Synod that is moving in a much more confessional direction. This is, however, no time to gloat. It is rather, a time to pray. This will be a great time of stress for those men whose lives have just been involuntarily altered. We need to offer them our prayers and financial support as we move forward as a Synod.
This resolution has been a long time in coming. There are plenty of thanks to go around, including to the 2013 Resolution 4-06A Task Force, Floor Committee 13, the patient industry of President Harrison, multiple District Presidents, and the teaching of parish pastors who faithfully catechize their flocks. One well-known person, as a goad to coerce the delegates to vote against the resolution, mentioned that we’ll be talking about this again at the next convention. Indeed we will, because that’s what liberals do. The only problem with their plan is that they’re shooting with blanks. Pragmatic arguments lack one thing, the Word of God. Without that, they’ve got no argument. AC XIV is alive and well in the LCMS.
Here are the Resolveds from Resolution 13-02A. You can find the entire Resolution on the LCMS website in Part 2 of the July 10 Today’s Business, page 373, here.
Resolved, That the LCMS recognize that “emergency knows no rule” and that no Synod action can or should prevent a congregation from taking reasonable and scripturally faithful steps necessary to provide for the Word to be proclaimed in time of emergency, while at the same time, every congregation of the Synod is required to address matters involving the Office of the Public Ministry in a way that is consistent with its subscription to Scripture and the Confessions, as well as its agreement to abide by the Synod’s Constitution; and be it further
Resolved, That the LCMS affirm and give thanks for the men who have recognized the needs of the church and its mission, serving as licensed lay deacons, preaching and administering the Sacraments in keeping with 1989 Res. 3-05B, often without remuneration and at personal cost, lest congregations be deprived of the means of grace; and be it further
Resolved, That the LCMS, while mindful of the need for continued conversation within the church, affirm the theological framework of the “2013 Resolution 4-06A Task Force Report,” namely, that a right calling to the office of public ministry requires that a man be properly prepared and examined regarding doctrine and life, be called by the congregation (or ministry) where he is to serve, and publicly appointed in a way so that the entire church fellowship recognizes the validity of his service (Acts 13:1–3; 14:21–23; 2 Tim. 2:24–26; Titus 1:5); and be it further
Resolved, That the Colloquy Committee for the Pastoral Ministry establish and implement an expanded regional colloquy program (with appropriate regional colloquy committees) to regularize the status of current licensed lay deacons (LLDs) who are 50 years of age or older and who have been preaching the Gospel and/or administering the Sacraments publicly on behalf of the church for the past 2 years (de facto pastors), so that these servants of Christ can be called and ordained according to the order of the LCMS and be rostered as pastors with SMP status; and be it further
Resolved, That exceptions to the SMP colloquy requirements with respect to age and years of service for LLDs may be granted by the appropriate regional colloquy committee with the approval of the respective district president and the plenary of the Council of Presidents; and be it further
Resolved, That nothing in this resolution shall be construed as impeding the training, recognition, credentialing or service of deacons who do not publicly preach or administer the sacraments, namely, those who serve in ministries of mercy, education, or visitation, and so forth, or in an outreach role, assisting in evangelism and church planting (but not in public preaching and administration of the sacraments); and be it further
Resolved, That district presidents may continue to recruit, train, and credential new deacons for general varieties of service in the church that do not include public preaching and administration of the sacraments; and be it further
Resolved, That until January 1, 2018, district presidents may train and annually license lay deacons to preach publicly and to administer the Sacraments. Beyond that date in exceptional cases, as defined in (1) and (2) below, the appropriate district president may annually grant licensure with the consent of the plenary of the Council of Presidents and the Colloquy Committee for the Pastoral Ministry.
(1) the deacon serves under the direct supervision of an ordained pastor and is currently enrolled in or preparing for one of the LCMS training tracks for the office of public ministry and participates in the public ministry as an aspect of his training, e.g., in preparation for SMP, EIIT, etc.); or
(2) the deacon serves in distinctive aspects of the office of public ministry (that is, preaching or administration of the sacraments) only during times of emergency or extraordinary need (when there is no ordained pastor available or able to serve), only on a temporary or occasional basis, and under the direct supervision of an ordained pastor; and be it further
Resolved, That those deacons currently licensed for and serving in Word and Sacrament Ministry (that is, publicly preaching and administering the sacraments) shall have until July 1, 2018, to:
(1) apply to one of our seminaries for admission into an alternate route program,
(2) apply for entrance into an SMP program, or
(3) apply to the regional colloquy committee for admission to the SMP roster, unless granted a waiver by his district president, the plenary of the Council of Presidents, and the appropriate regional colloquy committee, and be it further
Resolved, That the district president, the plenary of the Council of Presidents and the regional colloquy committees, in making decisions related to the three resolves above, shall do so in a fashion that no congregation or current ministry will be forced to close or discontinue; and be it further
Resolved, That lay deacons licensed for Word and Sacrament Ministry who have applied for colloquy to the SMP roster prior to July 1, 2018, shall continue to serve under their current district licensure until the colloquy process is complete and certification is given by the Colloquy Committee; and be it further
Resolved, That upon the certification of the Colloquy Committee, the licensed lay deacons will be eligible to be called by the congregations where they have been serving, ordained into the Office of the Public Ministry, and placed on the roster of SMP pastors; and be it further
Resolved, That as recommended by the Res. 4-06A Task Force, the LCMS, in partnership with districts, congregations, and individuals, provide funding to ensure that financial constraints will not prevent any eligible licensed lay deacon from participating in an LCMS seminary ordination-track program; and be it further
Resolved, That the First Vice-President of the Synod and three members of the Council of Presidents appointed by the Council be directed to draft by June 1, 2017, necessary policies and procedures for the implementation of this resolution, such policies and procedures to be finalized and approved by the Colloquy Committee for the Pastoral Ministry; and be it finally
Resolved, That the LCMS thank and commend the Res. 4-06A Task Force for its work on the question of licensed lay deacons.