(Why groups like the ACELC aren’t helpful: Part Three)
So let’s get to the point. I am going to make a couple presumptions here from my reading of the ACELC, its documents and stated goals. If I have misunderstood or misrepresented those goals, I will gladly receive correction.
As I read the stated intents of the ACELC, it is to fraternally point out and exhort the LCMS and its leadership to A) recognize the errors in doctrine and practice in our midst and B) to correct these errors.
The presumption that the ACELC then makes is that the divisions in theology and practice may be addressed using our current structure. The problem as they have structured it is A) ignorance of what the errors are, hence the evidence of errors and the teaching materials; B) Disagreement over what actually are errors (hence the ACELC fraternal admonition and other supporting documents); or C) We don’t have elected officials who will follow through with questions of discipline over either pastors/church workers or congregations.
The way that Lutherans in the twentieth century sought reform (at least in the Missouri Synod) is two-fold. The first is more or less what the ACELC seeks to do. That is, draw a line in the sand, demonstrate the errors, condemn false doctrine, and set oneself up more or less against the institutional status quo. We can see this in The Confessional Lutheran, the formation of the Orthodox Lutheran Conference (and similar groups after it), in Christian News, in Affirm, Consensus, and many other groups big or small.
The second way basically has been to seek to elect godly and faithful men (and women) to various offices in the church, the goal being that if the right people are elected, then the right things will start to happen. We saw this leading up to the election of JAO Preus II, the election of A.L. Barry, and most recently with the election of Matthew Harrison. It has also happened on a much smaller scale at the district or even the circuit level.
Certainly to a certain degree I recognize and agree with both of these approaches. We should recognize the wea
knesses and errors in our midst, repent of them, receive absolution and move forward as a church body. We should also seek to elect godly and faithful people to work. I have no qualms whatsoever with anyone in the LCMS who wants to agitate to elect this or that candidate. This is our structure, and if that doesn’t happen, then we are simply agreeing with the status quo.
But this is the heart of the problem. Our structure and system is broken. Maybe it never really worked in the first place.
This is why.
As long as we elect district president, synodical president, and various other positions of leadership in the church, and most importantly, reelect them on a regular cycle, it is impossible for our church body to exercise church discipline of any sort.
The reason is very simple. A district president (or synodical president) is always 3 years away from another election. He is elected and reelected by the very people whom he has been called to exercise discipline over. That is what we might call “biting the hand that feeds you.” This approach can’t work, for the very same reason that Walther and others have rejected temporary calls. If I as a pastor have to constantly worry about whether my pastoral care and discipline of my sheep is going to be up for review/renewal, and that my ability to remain as the pastor is dependent upon my sheep either liking me or even agreeing with me, then my ability to serve them is compromised. I don’t see how I can reject the temporary call of pastors and at the same time assent to the temporary call (election, whatever term you want to use) of district presidents that are then expected to exercise pastoral discipline.
If we as a church body want to act like a church and receive discipline, then we must have pastors who are able to exercise that discipline. Yes, I am talking about bishops. But if we as a church are unwilling to accept that authority, then I don’t see how we can accept our “leaders” to exercise that authority.
I am not trying to be a hyper-Euro-Lutheran, or suggest that the way of bishops is without its dangers. I fully recognize that as long as we are dealing with fallible men as pastors/bishops, abuse will happen. But the way we are currently structured in my opinion makes it pretty much impossible for any kind of discipline to actually happen at either the pastoral, congregational, or district level.
I am happy to be convinced otherwise here. Please do so. But after looking at our own history for some time, I don’t see any other conclusion.
Pastor Todd A. Peperkorn
Messiah Lutheran Church (LCMS)