November 18, 2015 - "Christ, Ecclesiastical Supervision, and the Church"
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Christ, Ecclesiastical Supervision,
and the Church
 
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits.” (NKJV Matthew 7:15f).
 
“But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (NKJV II Thessalonians 3:6).
 
“I testify to you this day that … I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” (NKJV Acts 20:26-31).
 
Christ appointed none of His Apostles as an ecclesiastical supervisor, for the Church has but one head: Christ! St. Paul clearly understood this in writing to the saints and faithful brethren in Colosse: And He [Christ] is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). Christ alone is head of the Church and He is to have first place in all things, for He alone is the Word made flesh (John 1:14), without whom nothing was made that was made (John 1:3), and His Word is truth (John 17:17). And lest we forget the power of this Word, St. James reminds us: “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
 
Since Christ gives no Apostle preeminence over another, it is clear from the onset that an office of ecclesiastical supervisor, by definition, cannot be de jure divino (by divine right), and must be classified as de jure humano (by human right). The Church has freedom to establish such a human office, but neither the office nor the one who holds it is at liberty to ignore, reject, alter, nullify, or use God's Word contrary to its intended meaning and purpose. And this holds true whether we speak of the divine office as pastor, or the human office as ecclesiastical supervisor. Hence Jesus' warning to His Church in Matthew's gospel: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (7:15f). The fruit of a prophet is the word he speaks and sets forth as the Word of God. Because congregations are made up of sinners, both pastor and laity, the temptation to ignore, reject, alter, nullify, or use God's Word contrary to its intended meaning and purpose is always there, and the role of an office of ecclesiastical supervisor is to ensure such misuse is not ignored, but investigated and dealt with if it proves to be true. And in our Synod, the standard of such investigation and proof is Scripture, The Lutheran Confessions, and the Constitution and Bylaws of the LCMS. To do less is to be in danger of fearing man rather than God, “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
 
While the office of ecclesiastical supervisor is nowhere found in Scripture, the idea of maintaining pure doctrine and practice in the Church is clearly evident, as St. Paul writes: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (NKJV II Thessalonians 3:6). Here we are commanded to withdraw or keep away from certain brothers. Namely, those walking “disorderly” – which comes from the word “unruly” – and those who are not walking in accord with “the tradition” which they have received from the Apostles.
 
One more thing before we talk about the problem in the LCMS. When St. Paul met with his fellow elders (pastors) from Ephesus while in Miletus, he said to them: “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” (NKJV Acts 20:27-31).
 
His warning is good for us to hear in our day, for we live in a time where such “savage wolves” have infiltrated many congregations in the Church visible. And the ACELC is contending that such is the case in many congregations of our Synod who are walking disorderly (unruly) among us and/or rejecting the traditions passed on to us.
 
And that brings us to the problem in the LCMS today. It seems to be threefold. 1) Synod is not united in its understanding and use of ecclesiastical supervisors, and thus, in many districts, district presidents do nothing to uphold Scripture’s teaching of closed communion or other doctrinal aberrations. 2) Synod has administratively and theologically confused the matter of moral responsibility in cases where someone has his or her ecclesiastical supervisor’s permission for something they have done, which prevents holding them accountable for their actions. 3) Synod district presidents, based on a CCM binding opinion (04-4387), have wrongly inserted their ecclesiastical supervision into congregations, even bypassing pastors, duly elected boards, and voters’ assemblies. [For the full story and documentation on this, visit our ACELC website.]
 
What is to be done about this misuse and abuse of ecclesiastical supervisors? For the ACELC, we will continue to speak out against these abuses in our email blasts and blog, but we also see a very close correlation between this and the Dispute Resolution Process (DRP), which is the topic for our upcoming Sixth Annual 2016 Free Conference in Nashville, TN (April 26-28, 2016). The speakers and topics will be available soon at our website. As for the Synod, it is, first of all, up to each pastor to maintain proper doctrine and practice in his own congregation; but, it is incumbent for Synod’s ecclesiastical supervisors – beginning with the president of Synod and filtering down to the district presidents and circuit visitors – to address each matter in their own jurisdiction. When these things are happening, then Synod is truly being Synod, but until then, we are simply ignoring the warnings of Scripture to our detriment, and to the harm of the body of Christ.
 
On behalf of the entire ACELC Board, let me be so bold as to invite all ecclesiastical supervisors in Synod to join us at our 2016 Free Conference to take part in the conversation which is intended to address the important related matter of our Dispute Resolution Process scripturally and confessionally with a deep awareness of the necessity to have and uphold an orderly, Christ-centered polity among us.
 
Pastor Bruce G. Ley
Documents Chairman, ACELC
pastorley@leychalet.com
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