How Does Poor Ecclesiastical Supervision Rob Us of the Gospel?
I typed "ecclesiastical" and "supervision" into an online thesaurus and so I decided to choose "churchly" and "care" as the title for this note. (It thought it sounded better than "sectarian control" or "pontifical surveillance.") So this note is all about "Ecclesiastical Supervision" and how poor supervision is really a sinful lack of care.
The following story is true and happened in a Nebraska town when I was in middle school. I mention my age for two reasons. First, it explains why I don't know everything that happened (e.g., was Matthew 18 followed?) Second, we should be reminded that 10-year-olds have a scary awareness of what their adults are doing.
The area around this particular town has 4 or 5 LCMS congregations, but one of them, let's call her First Lutheran, was always in turmoil. Once a year, a fight would break out at First Lutheran and then the next Sunday, a dozen or so of her members would show up at my congregation (call it Second Lutheran) and act like nothing had happened. They acted as if they weren't furious at the other faction at First Lutheran. They acted as if they hadn't been slandering the pastors there. They acted as if they weren't being eaten up inside by unChristian hatred of their Christian brothers. They acted, I'm saying, like there should be no problem with them taking Holy Communion with us at Second Lutheran. They acted like they'd never heard the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Sunday School. They were willing to accept God's gracious forgiveness in the Sacrament, while harboring abiding hatred for their brothers.
And year after year, we, at Second Lutheran, welcomed them with open arms and an open altar – you know, to avoid confrontation and to be kind and pastoral and so on. The pastors at First Lutheran eventually complained to the District. (I am unaware of what intermediate steps might have been taken, and I don't know much about how that complaint was handled, but the complaint itself is the real point of this note.) The First Lutheran pastors were unable to affect any sort of reconciliation between the two factions as long as Second Lutheran was telling their perennial visitors that they were forgiven, despite their unrepentance.
Repentance was needed so that absolution could be given so that reconciliation could happen. My congregation, good old, beloved Second Lutheran, was hindering that process, that is, she was blocking the Gospel from doing its work. As I said, I don't know what action Nebraska District took, but I believe the consequences of this laxity were explained to the Second Lutheran pastor and the problem was solved. The angry visitors had their hiding place taken away and were sent back to face the conflict in God-pleasing fashion. But if the Nebraska District had done nothing, the angry souls from First Lutheran would have been left on track for damnation – as if no one cared.
If you click on this link, you will find a well-researched, Scripture-and-Confessions based study of the errors concerning Ecclesiastical Supervision which have crept into the Missouri Synod, and which threaten to rob our children and grandchildren of the comfort of reconciliation in the Gospel.
Dr. Bart Goddard
Technology and Media Chairman, ACELC