November 27, 2017 - Milwaukee, Can Anything Good Come Out of Milwaukee? (Part 3 of?)
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Milwaukee? Can Anything Good
Come from Milwaukee? (Part 3 of ?)
[To review Part 1, click here. To review Part 2, click here.]

Christ alone is both the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19- 21) and the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23), and His Word alone – as delivered to us by the Holy Spirit through the prophets and apostles, who are the God-ordained foundation built upon the chief cornerstone – is the authority which presides over and governs the Church. Any effort by the Church to establish an office called Ecclesiastical Supervisor is done not de jure divino (by divine right), but de jure humano (by human right). Whether by divine or human right, any attempt on the part of such office to ignore, reject, alter, nullify, or use God's Word contrary to its intended meaning and purpose is to be rejected by the Church.

In light of the 2016 LCMS convention, it seems we have a two-part question before us: “Is LCMS church polity regarding Ecclesiastical Supervision in complete conformity with Scripture; and is said Ecclesiastical Supervision being practiced in the LCMS in accord with our own agreed to polity?”

Part 3 of President Harrison’s report to the Synod listed “a number of outstanding issues to be addressed by the convention,” and the second item on that list, right after “lay deacon ministry,” was “ecclesiastical supervision” (LCMS Convention Minutes). Four times during the nine sessions of the convention, Committee 12: Ecclesiastical Supervision and Dispute Resolution, was brought forward to present their resolutions (this was once more than the original schedule called for). From these facts we can reasonably conclude that Ecclesiastical Supervision and Dispute Resolution is a matter of high importance to the Administration, and the ACELC commends them for their prioritization and their efforts.

Going back to the convention’s minutes, we learn that the topic “ecclesiastical supervision” is brought up a second time in President Harrison’s report. The last item of “outstanding issues to be addressed” is listed as: “movement toward a confederacy of districts and the role of ecclesiastical supervision.” Thus we see that this matter of “ecclesiastical supervision” in Synod is a multilevel problem compounded by a common element between the two: District Presidents (DPs). Not only are DPs to be subject to the supervision of the Synod President, but among the DPs primary responsibilities is to serve as Ecclesiastical Supervisor for the individual members of his district. The key in both cases is that DPs are always to act as Synod in that place, as Synod’s Bylaws attest: “A district is the Synod itself performing the functions of the Synod” (p. 187). Hence any movement of the districts to become some sort of “confederacy” is completely bogus, and this is especially true when it comes to the Ecclesiastical Supervisory responsibilities. Yet this is precisely one place in particular where the rubber meets the road today in the LCMS, and the question is, did this get cleared up by the 2016 LCMS Convention actions?

The first time Committee 12 approached the podium they presented to the assembly Resolution 12-01A, “To Restore Right of Accuser to Appeal When a District President Fails to Act or Declines to Suspend” (TB, p. 362–Part 2, Sunday issue). This resolution was specifically designed to restore a constitutional authority of the President of Synod “to promote and maintain unity of doctrine and practice in all the districts of the Synod” (Constitution Art. XI B 3) when a District President failed to act on an accusation brought against a member of the Synod. The fact that it was the first resolution brought forward substantiates the importance this matter of Ecclesiastical Supervision has in the eyes of the Administration (again the ACELC commends them for prioritizing this critical matter). The fact that there is serious disagreement among us in Synod on this matter was clearly revealed when Committee 12’s entire time at the podium was used up debating this resolution (or motions to refer it to the COP), and in the end the President called the Orders of the Day, thereby leaving Resolution 12-01A unresolved. In Committee 12’s third time before the assembly, they brought forward Res. 12-14 “Regarding the Right of an Accuser to Appeal When a District President Fails to Act or Declines to Suspend” (actually listed as Substitute Resolution 12-01B in TB, p. 467–Wednesday issue), intended to take the place of Res. 12-01A already before the convention. Subsequent to the passage of 12-14, the Committee introduced a motion to postpone indefinitely Resolution 12-01A, and it passed handily.
What exactly did Resolution 12-14 provide for in the way of solving our Ecclesiastical Supervision problem? It assigned the Board of Directors (BOD) of Synod to resolve the matter within 6 months. And, although it actually took a few months longer, the good news is that the BOD by over 2/3 majority did indeed “implement clear bylaw procedures regarding this aspect of ecclesiastical supervision” (Res. 12-14). What that means is essentially everything in the original Resolution 12-01A to bring Synod’s Bylaws into conformity with our Constitution was accomplished. Thanks be to God for that, as it closes a loop-hole whereby a District President could essentially protect a pastor or congregation espousing and promoting false doctrine, and there are cases on record where just such a thing had been happening.

But remember, we had a two part question to deal with on this matter of ecclesiastical supervision, and President Harrison mentioned two different ways in which these matters manifest themselves in Synod. So I leave you with two obvious questions. First, with the changes in our Bylaws now affirmed, will “Ecclesiastical Supervision [be] practiced in the LCMS in accord with our own agreed to polity?” Second, has the “movement toward a confederacy of districts and the role of ecclesiastical supervision” been addressed by Synod, or has that one been left sitting on the table?

While the 2016 convention took positive steps to clear up some of the muddy waters in Synod by “Reaffirm[ing] Biblical Teaching on Man and Woman in the Church” (Res. 5-14); “Regulariz[ing] Status of Licensed Lay Deacons in Word and Sacrament Ministry” (Res. 13-02A); and even some clarification and improvements to the Dispute Resolution process, there is ever and always present the looming question: Will the District Presidents, the Ecclesiastical Supervisors, those who have been given or garnered an inordinate amount of power and control over the past 40 or so years, actually seek to faithfully administer the changes in their districts? If nothing else, this shows again just how important it is that those we elect to represent us in these key positions be cognizant of and willing to carry out their responsibility to act as “Synod itself performing the functions of the Synod.” Will it happen? Even as I pray it does, the reality is that only time will tell us for sure.

Pastor Bruce G. Ley
Documents Chairman, ACELC


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