By David Strand
SANDESTIN, Fla. — The LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) held its quarterly meeting here Feb. 9-13.
A significant portion of the meeting was devoted to several concerns occasioned by a recent decision of a Referral Panel assembled under Synod’s Bylaws not to proceed in a particular disciplinary case. Members of the COP were engaged in impassioned but fraternal discussion several times during the meeting.
Various overlapping issues are involved: how the Synod’s Bylaws work when an individual member of the Synod is accused of false teaching, the role of the district presidents and that of the Synod president in these cases, what should or should not be made public, as well as specific questions and doctrinal concerns related to the particular case.
Synod Bylaw 2.14 sets forth the procedures for the expulsion of individual members of the Synod who have acted contrary to the confession laid down in Article II of the Synod Constitution. According to this Bylaw, “The action to commence expulsion of a congregation or individual from membership in the Synod is the sole responsibility of the district president who has the responsibility for ecclesiastical supervision of such member.”
The Bylaw goes on to say that the district president of the accused “ … shall thoroughly investigate the matter … to determine whether the facts learned from his investigation form a basis for expulsion of the member under Article XIII of the Constitution.” And, “In the determination whether or not to initiate formal proceedings, the district president may form a Referral Panel consisting of three circuit visitors of the district … who shall make the determination whether or not to initiate formal proceedings.” If the determination of the Referral Panel is not to initiate formal proceedings, “the district president shall in writing so inform the accuser, any other district president involved, and the involved member, which shall terminate the matter.”
In the case under discussion by the COP, the district president with ecclesiastical supervision over the accused member referred the determination to a Referral Panel, and the Referral Panel issued a final decision that no formal proceedings for expulsion would be initiated. The reasoning behind the Panel’s determination is treated as confidential and, therefore, is not a matter of public record.
The Council discussed the reasoning behind the procedures described in Bylaw 2.14 related to expulsion as well as whether the current process is adequate to preserve the integrity of the Synod’s commitment to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.
Various district presidents expressed concern about the “Internet chatter” in the aftermath of the Referral Panel’s decision, including a statement Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison posted via social media expressing his general concern that the Synod needs to be able more effectively to call its members to repentance for false teaching.
At the meeting, Harrison repeatedly reminded the Council that it is not acceptable for a false teacher to remain on the roster for more than a decade and to continue to teach falsely in the church. He also pointed out that the president has the responsibility of calling up for review any action that, in his view, may be in violation of the Constitution, Bylaws and resolutions of the Synod (Bylaw 184.108.40.206C).
These issues are being brought to the attention of several district conventions, and the district presidents together with Harrison sought to give each other collegial counsel on how to respond. The spirited but fraternal discourse, grounded in the Council’s expressed unity of purpose, focused on how to uphold the doctrinal position of the Synod, how to honor the Bylaws of the Synod (including those on the confidentiality of the disciplinary process), and whether the process needs to be reviewed and revised in ways that might both improve due process for the accused and the person bringing a complaint, as well as enable the Synod better to maintain its commitment to Scripture and the Confessions.
After spending several hours on the topic during the first day of their meeting and periodically throughout the remaining days of the week, the district presidents and the Praesidium unanimously adopted “A Statement of Assurance Regarding Ecclesiastical Supervision.”
The statement affirms the doctrinal integrity of the COP as it carries out its role of ecclesiastical supervision. It recognizes the need, in the Synod’s current process of discipline, to follow the existing Bylaws of the Synod. And it expresses an openness to review the current process to determine if it can be improved.
(The full statement can be seen below, at the end of this story.)
On Tuesday morning, Nebraska District President Rev. Dr. Russ Sommerfeld, chairman of the COP’s Clergy Call and Roster Committee, reported on the development of a policy requiring pastors to be installed before beginning service at their called location. Also in development are various guidelines to assist district presidents in giving counsel to congregations 1) who find they have registered sex offenders as church members, 2) who wish to grant paid leaves of absence to ordained or commissioned workers, and 3) who are calling retired pastors to active part-time ministry. Suggested search categories for making background checks also were considered, as were different vendors for securing background checks for colloquy and reinstatement applicants. The COP Manual is undergoing its annual revision with updates available in April.
Synod Secretary Rev. Dr. Raymond Hartwig spoke of the importance of implementing 2013 Convention Resolution 5-05B, which seeks to strengthen the qualifications of those serving on the Concordia University System (CUS) Board of Directors as well as on the boards of regents of CUS schools.
“The schools themselves wanted this resolution,” Hartwig said.
According to the rationale of the resolution, “Because of the increasing complexity of oversight and governance of higher education programs and facilities, individuals who serve as board members should be required to possess appropriate specialized qualifications.”
Such qualifications for future and incumbent board members and regents will include possessing at least two of the following: theological acumen, an advanced degree, expertise in higher education administration, finance, law, investments, technology, human resources, facilities management or fund development.
“These are rather stringent requirements,” said Hartwig, “but there’s a really good reason to have these bylaws.”
Texas District President Rev. Ken Hennings agreed. It’s “very critical” to do this, he said. “We need qualified people who can work well with these boards.”
Noting a history of lax reporting on congregational statistics (baptized membership, communicant membership, average weekly attendance, etc.), Hartwig described efforts to make the process more convenient for congregations. Going forward, he said, “A lot of this can be done electronically.” His office already has sent out letters explaining the new procedures, and “some congregations have responded saying, ‘This is easy.’ ”
Last year only 57 percent of congregations submitted statistical reports. This year, said Hartwig, “we want 100 percent participation.”
Accurate numbers are essential for such things as appropriate convention-delegate representation. “We need good numbers from our congregations so we know what we’re dealing with in our church,” Hartwig said. April 15 is the deadline for submitting reports.
At the close of his report, Hartwig announced his intention not to seek re-election as Synod secretary in 2016. He has served in that office since 1998.
On Tuesday night, Rich Robertson, president and CEO of Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF), hosted a reception for the COP. He reported on excellent results of late, including the fact that LCEF made loans in excess of $215 million during the first six months of the current fiscal year. Meanwhile, over the past 12 months, LCEF has seen a significant increase — 4 to 5 percent — in the number of LCEF investors.
“We’re putting ministry in motion,” he said.
He also repeated the recent news that, after almost three years of work and collaboration between LCEF and partnering agencies, the National Credit Union Administration has granted a charter for a forthcoming LCMS-focused credit union.
The new Lutheran Federal Credit Union (LFCU), a separate entity from LCEF, will offer auto, credit, home and home-equity loans along with an array of other financial services to “a great field of membership” including LCMS rostered workers, congregations, members of congregations and LCMS elementary schools.
Up till now, LCEF has been able to offer home-mortgage loans to church workers in just 16 states. But now, thanks to the new credit union, such loans will be available in all 50 states.
“We’re setting up Internet capabilities,” said Robertson. “We’re finding the latest and greatest [technologies] to help you along the way in managing your money.”
Robertson said that after a period of testing and “getting systems into place,” the credit union aims to open in May or June. He also announced that Tom Buuck, formerly LCEF’s chief credit officer, will serve as president of the LFCU.
“The credit union is another way we hope to show … our love for the church,” said Buuck.
At the close of the evening, COP Chairman Rev. Dr. Larry Stoterau, president of the Pacific Southwest District, thanked Robertson, Buuck and LCEF “for all you do to support ministry in our districts.”
(For more information on the LFCU, click here.)
The COP invited the Rev. Arthur Umbach, regional facilitator and director of Spiritual Life for the Southeastern District, to speak on the theme of the “spiritual formation” of pastors, particularly in terms of what it means for a pastor to be “above reproach.”
Much of what Umbach said was pegged to the importance of a pastor adhering to a healthy prayer and devotional life.
“Being above reproach has to do with our spiritual health,” he said. “Bad things can happen when we are weak in our prayer life.” Pastors can feel “vulnerable and helpless. But we have the power to do battle. We have the full armor of God from Ephesians 6,” and we have the knowledge that “our spirit and prayer are intimately connected to the Word.”
Some pastors, he said, believe that their preparation of sermons and Bible studies takes care of their personal devotions. “But this is not so. Pastors must model these things.”
As goes the spiritual health of a pastor, he said, “so goes [the spiritual health] of a congregation.”
“Growing congregations building the Kingdom in their communities are in prayer,” he said. “Evangelism and prayer are two sides of the same coin. The two go hand in hand.”
Umbach encourages pastors to have a “spiritual director, like Luther had Staupitz.” The two should meet once a month, where the spiritual director “can challenge the pastor, encourage him and pray for him.”
But, warned Umbach, “just because you pray doesn’t mean everything will be glory and bright.” Temptations, “dark nights of the soul” and other tough times will continue. That being said, however, “the healthiest pastors have a deep and disciplined prayer life.”
If our lives are not centered on Jesus, he said, they can “go awry like a badly thrown pot on a potter’s wheel. It’s hard to remain above reproach when you’re not spiritually centered.”
And remember, he concluded, “God will give you the next step. He won’t always give you the full answer right away, but He’ll give you the next step, like walking on stones across a river.”
Continuing the theme of “above reproach,” North Dakota District President Rev. Dr. James Baneck presented an hourlong Bible study in which he put examples of being above reproach into their biblical contexts.
He noted that some examples, such as 1 Cor. 1:8, are “passive” in that they pertain to the whole church already being above reproach in the eyes of God thanks to the work of Christ, while others, such as 1 Tim. 3:10, are more “active” in that they pertain to the need of the “overseer” — the pastor or deacon — staying above reproach in his active behavior.
“The pastoral office is a high calling,” Baneck said. It involves “the integrity of Christ and the eternal life of souls.” When a pastor is not above reproach, “he scandalizes the Gospel and, in the eyes of his people, he scandalizes Christ.”
He cited a quote from former Minnesota South District President Rev. Dr. Lane Seitz: “The occupant of the pastoral office is a person who exhibits the mind of Christ in his public and private behavior. His behavior must be exemplary.”
Baneck followed that with a quote from St. Augustine: “There are no bad bishops. If bishops are bad, they aren’t bishops.”
Pastors are held to a higher standard, said Baneck. “Being forgiven for a certain sin in the [pastoral] office and being fit for the office are two different things.”
He offered a listing of traits that constitute a pastor being “below reproach” — teaching false doctrine and living an immoral life leading the list — and said it was up to district presidents to supervise the doctrine of pastors, see to it that pastors are above reproach, and judge who is fit to hold the pastoral office.
Pastors, said Baneck, “put the words of Christ into people’s ears. They pour Christ over the head in Baptism. And they put the body and blood of Christ into people’s mouths.
“The pastor is the steward of the mysteries of God,” he said. “He handles God and delivers God to God’s people.”
In his president’s report, Harrison reviewed the duties of the president as per the Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws. He mentioned in particular his responsibility to carry out the resolutions of the Synod convention — “a daunting task” — and to spend time with CUS presidents, the latter effort, he believed, leading to the enhancement of the Lutheran identity of LCMS colleges and universities. “I’m proud of our schools,” he said, “but we need more LCMS kids to develop more LCMS church workers.”
He spoke of progress being made in calling a new, permanent chief mission officer for the Synod.
On the mission front, Harrison said “we’re doing extremely well,” noting that, by May, the Synod likely will have doubled the number of missionaries it had at the time of the last convention. But with all this new mission personnel comes the challenge of having the capacity to take care of them. “We will work on that,” he said.
He noted that ongoing visits to districts have been “terrific. I’m learning so much. It’s all very positive. I’m getting to spend hours with district board members.”
The theme of the Synod’s celebration of the 2017 500th anniversary of the Reformation, said Harrison, will be “It’s Still All About Jesus.” He told the COP of the Synod receiving $1 million from Thrivent Financial to help with the celebration, noting that the Synod gave back $250,000 to assist Thrivent in producing a documentary on Luther, which Harrison described as “a chance for Lutherans to tell their own story.”
More information about the Reformation celebration, including plans to offer funds to districts to underwrite “mercy activities” in their communities, will be provided at the COP’s April meeting by the Rev. Randall Golter who, on behalf of the President’s Office, is coordinating celebration plans with districts, the seminaries and others.
Finally, Harrison said that Concordia Publishing House will build a website that will be “the go-to place — packed with resources on the Reformation” — to help people learn about this history-changing event.
On Thursday morning, the Rev. John Fale, LCMS associate executive director of Mercy Operations, and the Rev. Joel Hempel, manager of LCMS Specialized Pastoral Ministry, provided an update on the processes involved in endorsing emergency-service chaplains — namely, local law-enforcement chaplains and rescue- and fire-agency chaplains.
One concern has been that district presidents sometimes didn’t know that a pastor was serving in this part-time capacity, or that his own congregation didn’t know, and this caused some tensions concerning the pastor’s original call.
Thus, the need arose for a policy stipulating that anyone serving in a governmental chaplaincy needed to be endorsed by his district president and had to have the support of his congregation to do this work.
To that end, Fale and Hempel brought together a team of experts, a task force, to create such a policy, and it is this policy the COP was asked to critique and eventually endorse.
Part of the policy includes the rigorous requirements — classroom work, in-service hours, critical-incident and stress-management training, etc. — applicants must meet to qualify as emergency-service chaplains. They also must meet once a year with their district presidents.
These men “spend many hours in the parish each week plus 10 to 15 hours more to serve their communities,” said Fale. “We have the greatest respect and admiration for our emergency-service chaplains.”
The final session of the meeting featured the Rev. Jason Scheler, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., describing the philosophy and multifaceted ministry of his congregation.
Scheler is a big believer in investing in his community. “A lot of people take a call to a church rather than to the city where the church resides,” he said. “If you’re going to do outreach, you have to love the city you’re called to.” Beyond that, “your people have to trust you and know you love them if they’re going to follow you.”
The people of Hope, said Scheler, have “mobilized.” They are all about “networking” and “leveraging the resources” of their surroundings. They help drug addicts get clean. They prepare layettes for hospitals and collect bicycles for the homeless. They engage in everything from “VBS in the Park,” to building wheelchair ramps, to holding treasure hunts, to cleaning and repairing the homes of the elderly, and “they don’t worry about immediate results,” said Scheler. “You don’t invest in things if your only goal is to realize a return. You just make investments in people. … When your heart is right and your church is prepared, God will send the people to you.”
Scheler, a Rotarian, said it’s important for pastors to get out of the office. He prays at schools, nursing homes and the local fire department, and he encourages his people to develop relationships and share in responsibilities.
“The measurement of a great church is not its size, buildings or budget,” he said, “but what happens when the people leave the church — how they live the next six days.”
The vacancy report for this meeting read as follows: congregations calling sole pastors: 315, senior pastors: 46, associate/assistant pastors: 81, and part-time pastors: 279. Since last February, there have been eight new ministry starts and nine congregational closings.
The COP’s next meeting, under the theme “Worker Care,” will be April 24-29 in Fort Wayne, Ind.
David Strand (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive director of LCMS Communications.
A Statement of Assurance Regarding Ecclesiastical Supervision
“Sanctify them by Your truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
In response to recently expressed concerns over maintaining sound doctrine in our Synod as well as our need to follow the prescribed process for ecclesiastical supervision in our Synod’s Bylaws, we, the Council of Presidents (comprised of the synodical president, vice-presidents and 35 district presidents of the LCMS), offer the following assurances:
- We remain committed to the authority of the inspired, inerrant Scriptures as the only source and norm for our doctrine and practice and the Lutheran Confessions as a true exposition of the Scriptures. That commitment includes our solid affirmation of our Synod’s stances on such biblical teachings as these:
- In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth by the power of his Word, in six natural days. We reject the evolutionary hypothesis, including “theistic macroevolution.” (Genesis 1; John 1:1ff.; Matthew 19:4-6).
- Holy Scriptures elevate the dignity and equality of both men and women in the sight of God (Galatians 3:27-28; Ephesians 5:21-33). The Scriptures also teach that men and women have distinct and complementary vocations. The Scriptures limit the office of pastor to qualified men, while inviting sanctified women to serve in many capacities (1 Timothy 2; 1 Corinthians 14).
- Marriage, instituted by God, is only between a man and a woman. Homosexual behavior, like all adulterous behavior, is sin against the Sixth Commandment (Matthew 19:4-6).
- We pledge our ongoing due diligence in maintaining sound doctrine and practice in our respective districts.
- We promise to abide by and uphold the Synod’s Bylaws guiding ecclesiastical discipline.
- Along the way of doctrinal supervision, we will continue to seek restoration and repentance in a process which honors our Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws.
Responding to concerns in the Synod regarding the present process of ecclesiastical supervision and discipline, we, the members of the Council of Presidents, unanimously affirm the following:
- The doctrinal integrity of our Council of Presidents as we carry out our role of ecclesiastical supervision;
- The need for our present process of discipline to follow the existing Bylaws of the Synod;
- Our desire to evaluate the current procedure of discipline, leading to a more effective process.
The Council of Presidents also cautions that members of the Synod be careful in their analysis of matters of ecclesiastical supervision, especially in social media and blogs, lest we sin against the Eighth Commandment, marring reputations and making public what is required to be private.
Finally, the Council of Presidents requests members of the Synod to pray for us as we carry out our role of ecclesiastical supervisors in accordance with the Scriptures, the Confessions and our Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws.
Posted March 3, 2015