ï»¿(Why groups like the ACELC aren’t helpful: Part Three)
So let’s get to the point. Â I am going to make a couple presumptions here from my reading of the ACELC, its documents and stated goals. Â 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. Â 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.
TheÂ way that Lutherans inÂ the twentieth century sought reform (at least in the Missouri Synod) is two-fold. Â The first is more or less what the ACELC seeks to do. Â 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. Â We can see this in The Confessional Lutheran, the formation of the Orthodox Lutheran Conference (andÂ 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â We should recognize the wea
knesses and errors in our midst, repent of them, receive absolution and move forward as a church body. Â We should also seek to elect godly and faithful people to work. Â I have no qualms whatsoever with anyone in the LCMS who wants to agitate to elect this or that candidate. Â 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. Â Our structure and system is broken. Â 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. Â A district president (or synodical president) is always 3 years away from another election. Â He is elected and reelected by the very people whom he has been called to exercise discipline over. Â That is what we might call “biting the hand that feeds you.” Â This approach can’t work, for the very same reason that Walther and others have rejected temporary calls. Â 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 isÂ dependent upon my sheep either liking me or even agreeing with me, then my ability to serve them is compromised. Â 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. Â Yes, I am talking about bishops. Â 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. Â I fully recognize that as long as we are dealing with fallible men as pastors/bishops, abuse will happen. Â But the way we are currently structured in myÂ 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 convincedÂ otherwise here. Â Please do so. Â But after looking at our own history for some time, I don’t see any other conclusion.
Pastor Todd A.Â Peperkorn
Messiah Lutheran Church (LCMS)
13 thoughts on “Why the LCMS can’t exercise church discipline”
While we can’t expect sinners to quit being sinners, we can remove obstacles to their faithful fulfilling of their duties. That’s why calls are for life… not three years.
Let us not forget that District Presidents have a fiduciary responsibility to both Synod and to the Board of Directors. They are, in a sense, fundraisers. Witness my district (Northern Illinois), where we have transitioned from a “goods and services” model to a “missionary” model. The District is here to help congregation with new ministries to make new believers. If you want the District’s help, you have to play their game. That is why some congregations here are considering a mission society (with the District’s blessing) to support missions that want to be faithful rather than wanting to play by the District’s rules.
Perhaps this is why the rod of discipline never is used. When the District President must discipline a pastor because of an unrepentant sin, there might be a fear of backlash by a particular congregation. Maybe it could be leaving Synod, maybe it could be no longer sending money to District and Synod, or another “punishment”. We see the rod these days almost exclusively used in moral matters but not so much in theological matters. There’s another problem that could be fiduciary in nature. Moral matters, yes, use the rod. Theological matters? A congregation might get mad.
Well done, brother. Keep speaking the Truth in love.
“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.”
Todd you have absolutely nailed it! As a member of the U.S. military, I wonder how effective our base operations would be if the base commander had to be elected by the men and women under him or her.
The system is broken. It has been from the start of the LCMS. Every attempt to "fix" things has only made it worse. (Remember, the CTCR was suppose to be a temporary thing until CSL could be "trusted" again.)
The games that are played and the deals that are made at conventions is quite ungodly. It is a sad state of affairs when "voter's guides" show up trying to tell me who the "good guys" are to vote for. (I'm waiting for the day when those up for election come with an NRA, Right To Life, LWML, or some other group's endorsement.)
You bring up a very valid point. As soon as a DP gets elected, they are running for re-election. It is not much different than being a U.S. Representative serving a two-year term. The only difference is, a DP doesn't host fundraisers. (At least I don't think they do.) It makes it hard to do one's job and make those "hard decisions" when you are up for re-election every three years. It also drags out certain controversies for decades, instead of years (e.g. RIM).
" It is a sad state of affairs when "voter's guides" show up trying to tell me who the "good guys" are to vote for. "
I must strongly disagree with this sentiment. On the surface it sounds admirable. However, as a first time delegate, I was not acquainted with 95% of the nominees for all the boards, commissions, offices, etc. that I was charged to vote on. I looked over all the voter's guides and suggestions, determined where they stood on the candidates that I was familiar with, then used their suggestions as a starting point to make up my own "list".
The candidates own autobiographies in the convention handbook were basically identical and meant very little to me (mom. apple pie and the flag). So I had to rely on someone else for my advice. I was still free to vote for whomever I wanted – to "split my ticket", so to speak, but I felt better having advice and input from the "lists".
As long as we are having elections, and not drawing lots, I see no better way to help delegates like me who have no way to get to really know the hundreds of nominees, but still want to make a somewhat informed decision.
Another problem with District/Synod officials exercising any kind of ecclesiastical discipline on matters where there are already existing/tolerated divisions is that they have no power to do so in their "advisory" role. The moment the synod tolerates a given teaching or practice (be it a right or wrong one), the powers that be have their hands tied unless the synod itself makes a very clear statement that such a teaching/practice is not to be tolerated. But this is also why it is necessary that the remedy for errant teaching/practice not be coercion but God's Word, which is why I found the ACELC's letter to be both inappropriate and poorly timed.
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.
This is simply Loeheist claptrap. The district presidents have no authority to exercise pastoral discipline as district presidents (although a couple of district presidents also serve as called pastors of congregations.) The synod and district presidents are executive positions in a corporation with a congregational polity.
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.
The Synod is not a church despite the Loeheists’ erroneous claim that it is; it is a corporation of individual and congregational members. The synodical president has no authority from any regular pastoral call to preach the Gospel or administer the sacraments to individual or congegational members of Synod. In fact, Article X.B.3 of the synodi constitution states that the synodical president (or any other officer or board member) must be a member of a congregation affiliated with the Synod or he ceases to be the synodical president! Since, he is in a fulltime position, the SP cannot be the pastor of a congregation; he must then be a non-pastoral member (even though the SP has been ordained and is eligible for a pastoral call). The synod president is not a bishop, although his pastor is a bishop.
TLCMS, Inc. can exercise discipline of its members by suspending them while an investigation is conducted on whether their membership should be revoked. As a corporate advisory body to its individual and congregational members, TLCMS, Inc. has no authority to excommunicate or apply the imperial ban to individuals or congregations, or confiscate congregational property.
Sadly the synodical disciplinary process, formerly an adjudication process, was badly subverted by the 1992 synodical convention delegates approving a Dispute Resolution Panel process. Obviously the burden of proof must be with a complainant. But the DRP system adds additional financial, time and administrative burdens (including intimidations) onto any complainant(s), especially if the defendent is part of the synodical bureaucracy, as documented here.
Certainly I agree with many of your assessments here. My basic point is that given our structure, it is not possible for there to be church discipline. We may disagree on whether that SHOULD happen at the synodical level or not. But the reality is that it CAN'T happen at the synodical level.
My basic point is that given our structure, it is not possible for there to be church discipline."
Likewise, it not possible for the Missouri Synod to fly through the air given the structure of the Synod is not that of an airplane.
However, Walther did not set up the structure of the Missouri Synod in order for it to act like a church with the Missouri Synod president acting like an archbishop. Church discipline (e.g, excommunication of individuals, confiscation of an errant congregation's property) cannot occur at the synodical or district level. This is one of the reason Wilhelm Loehe broke relations with Walther and the Missouri Synod, including many pastors who were Loehe's Sendlinge but had come to agree with the Missouri Synod's understanding of the doctrine of Church and Ministry.
Individual and congregational members from the synod who refuse to stop their practice of false doctrine (e.g., syncretism, open communion, heterodox worship, or Loeheist notions of church and ministry) need to be removed from the synod. Synodical and district presidents who are not willing to carry out such synodical discipline should be disciplined themselves, if necessary by the synodical convention, and removed from synodical membership, according to Art. XIII.1.