Statements Concerning Ecclesiastical Supervision: Resolution 12-0111 min read

As a candidate for President of the Synod, I’ve been asked a plethora of times from many across The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) about my opinion of President Emeritus Rev. Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick’s mailing regarding Ecclesiastical Supervision. It proved to be a well-written reaction to the recommendations and overtures put forward by a committee or task force assembled by our Synodical President, Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. Concordia Seminary President, Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, also a candidate for the President of Synod, shared his thoughts on this issue in his response to questions from the Southeastern District (response posted below). I agree with both Dr. Kieschnick’s comments and Dr. Meyer’s responses.

Since the first edition of Today’s Business (link downloads full edition) for this summer’s LCMS convention is now out, I will share my views by making some remarks on Resolution 12-01 “To Restore Right of Accuser to Appeal When a District President Declines or Fails to Act,” found on page 153. (Download only Resolution 12-01)

Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier’s Response to Resolution 12-01

This proposed resolution is not a “minor tweak” but rather seeks to amend the bylaws of the Synod by permitting an accuser to make an appeal to the Praesidium of the Synod, should a district president decline to suspend the member of the Synod against whom the complaint has been made. I do not favor this proposal.

First, as has been pointed out elsewhere, it is biblically questionable. The spirit of Matthew 18 dictates that disputes be dealt with fraternally and, quite frankly, locally, by those who would know the situation best. Disputes should not be resolved by a centralized and small group of men far removed from the situation.

It should also be noted that as the Synod grew and codified its process of ecclesiastical supervision, it specifically remanded the supervision of individual and congregational members of the Synod to the district presidents (LCMS Constitution, Article XII – Link to Handbook). The President of the Synod is given supervision of the officers, employees, districts, and district presidents (Article XI), thereby empowering him to act should a district president fail in his responsibilities. Nowhere in the Constitution of the Synod or the bylaws is the Praesidium of the Synod given the responsibility for ecclesiastical supervision. In fact, the bylaws require the vice-presidents of the Synod to “be responsible to the President at all times for the performance of (their) duties” (Bylaws and, obviating a conflict of interest should a vice-president disagree with the President regarding a matter brought to the Praesidium.

Finally, the Synod exists, in part, to “provide protection for congregations … and … church workers in the performance of their official duties and the maintenance of their rights” (LCMS Constitution, Article III). It is fundamentally unfair, requiring an unconscionable amount of emotional energy, time, and financial expense, for a member of the Synod to be subject to a second proceeding after a district president has determined not to suspend that member.

It is my prayer that decisions with respect to this matter—and indeed all our life together in the LCMS—would reflect the Holy Scriptures, especially the words of the psalmist: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133 ESV).

The LCMS Praesidium’s Response to Resolution 12-01

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.

Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer’s Response to Resolution 12-01

About ecclesiastical supervision: A task force has proposed “To replace referral panels by restoring the right of accusers to appeal district president decisions to the president of synod” (Workbook, page 301).

I was privileged to serve as a synodical vice president under President A.L. Barry. A similar bylaw was in place at that time, as the task force correctly reports, and I can tell you from experience that the praesidium spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with intractable issues that were referred to us from the people in the districts. Who were we, sitting in a room in St. Louis, to judge generally local issues? It was highly frustrating and the removal of this bylaw in 2004 was definitely the right thing to do. My experience aside, there are serious reasons why passage of this bylaw will harm our Synod.

This proposal is biblically questionable. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us that one Christian should talk privately with his accuser. That may involve many conversations over a period of time, and private means that it shouldn’t be spread abroad on the internet. It should be enough at this stage for third parties to know it’s being addressed in the way Jesus directs. However, should there be no resolution, “take one or two others along with you” (18:16). If that fails, again it may well require several conversations over time, “then tell it to the church” (18:17). Now we have moved from closed door attempts at reconciliation to public knowing that reconciliation has failed thus far. But who is the “church?” Because the district president is the ecclesiastical supervisor of the area from which the situation arose, the district president represents the church, the Synod, in his area. The district president is not a sole actor. “Church” implies he consults with circuit visitors and others. Should the district president’s decision be received as unsatisfactory, the task force notes the current provision of a panel for appeal. God willing, all this will bring a positive conclusion to the matter, but “If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (18:17). Our Lord did not say, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, take it to the synodical president.” As the final ecclesiastical supervisor, the synodical president should see that the processes are being followed, not give every judgment himself. What fallible human could get that right? This proposal would change the very nature of our “walking together.” Jesus’ prescription keeps issues as local as possible, and so should we.

This resolution would be divisive. The Council of Presidents would inevitably form groups who agree or disagree with the synodical president’s interposed actions. Our colleges, universities, and seminaries, with their regents, administrations, and faculties would know that the president can intrude in any matter on their campus, effectively disrespecting the governance of those institutions already spelled out in other bylaws in the Handbook. And imagine the fear of a pastor who knows that an informant in the area can bring heavy muscle to a situation that most needs fraternal talk among local brothers. Again, this changes the nature of our “walking together.”

This is not to cut the president out. A president of the synod should have a relationship with all district presidents individually and with the Council of Presidents collectively that leads them to feel safe speaking with him about a troubled situation and he feels free to talk with them about concerns he has. That’s the collegiality that has been a hallmark of the Synod for many decades, a fraternal “walking together” that is enshrined in various ways in the Handbook, and should be modeled by any president.

Finally to this question, I return to the book “The Fractured Republic” by Yuval Levin. Remember, he’s writing about America’s present dysfunction; he’s not writing about the church. However, the church, our Synod, reflects American culture more than we like to admit. While we are not of the world, we are very much in the world (John 17:15). Levin writes, “As individualism further erodes the bonds that hold civil society together, people conclude that only a central authority can pick up the slack. That dangerous feedback loop keeps us from seeing the possibility of other sorts of solutions to the problems we face” (186f.). I believe this task force proposal for our church is “a dangerous feedback loop.” The only “central authority” in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is supposed to be the Word of God as we subscribe to the Word in the Lutheran Confessions. Doctrine and practice should be decided by fraternal talk under obedience to the Word, not under compelled obedience to a person. Walther noted in his “Law and Gospel” that forced obedience is no obedience. Yes indeed, there are issues of doctrine and practice that need attention. They’ll always exist. The best way to address them is patient and prayerful attempts at persuasion by brothers and sisters who are ever careful about the church and ever conscious of the fear and love of God. To repeat Luther, “Arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work” (1518 Heidelberg Disputation – the Book of Concord).

In conclusion, I have written longer than I intended, and if you’ve read this far, thank you. God’s will be done. St. Paul speaks about church workers in 1 Corinthians 3:11-13. “No one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. If someone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it.” At this stage of my life I know the Judge is imminent, and I’m desperately looking to Him, to Jesus, as my only Savior. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). That’s where I’m at.

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About the Author

Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier is president emeritus of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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