SAN DIEGO — Open and robust discussion marked the fall meeting of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Council of Presidents, Nov. 12–15, 2018, in San Diego.
The COP heard from the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), presidents of both seminaries and members of the LCMS Northwest District.
The group discussed the Office of the Holy Ministry and the priesthood of all believers, focusing on how best to fill pulpits with qualified pastors while remaining faithful to Scripture and the confessions.
The Rev. Larry Vogel, associate director of the CTCR, provided an overview of the recent CTCR report, The Royal Priesthood: Identity and Mission. Vogel emphasized, “Purity of doctrine is of the greatest importance because it is about the Gospel itself: life and salvation for the world.”
Representatives from the LCMS Northwest District (NWD), including District President Rev. Paul Linnemann, shared how these doctrines are lived out in their district. The Rev. Michael T. Von Behren, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Spokane, Wash., presented a paper, “The Embodied Ministry of the Word,” walking the group through select quotes from the confessions, Luther and Holy Scripture.
The Rev. Jonathan Dinger, pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, Pocatello, Idaho, spoke to the ways congregations seek to walk together with the Synod while finding faithful solutions at the local level. The presentations were followed by small- and large-group discussions.
The day concluded with a panel composed of the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the CTCR; the Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast, president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.; the Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis; the Rev. Dr. David P.E. Maier, chairman of the COP; and the Rev. Herbert Mueller, LCMS first vice-president. Vogel served as moderator.
Questions raised included:
- Should we establish what would in effect be an auxiliary office of preaching?
- What roles do the seminaries have?
- How do we teach and model the relationship between the Office of the Ministry and the priesthood of believers?
Mueller reflected on his work as chairman of the Colloquy Committee for the Pastoral Ministry and the process to bring those Licensed Lay Deacons (LLD) who function as pastors onto the Synod’s roster of Specific Ministry Pastors, per 2016 Resolution 13-02A.
“Since the first of October we have interviewed 52 LLDs in various regional colloquy committees,” said Mueller, “men who presently are waiting for action from the Synod Colloquy Committee. As of Nov. 15, we’ve received a total of 107 applications. So far, 35 have been certified, 13 declined, seven not yet interviewed, but more applications are coming.”
Mueller shared his conviction that Res. 13-02A was the right approach for a Licensed Lay Deacon who is preaching on a consistent basis. “If the church sends a man to do pastoral work, the church needs to make the man a pastor,” said Mueller.
Seminary presidents Rast and Meyer noted the increasing costs of pastoral formation along with changes in the culture. Rast expressed “thanks to God’s gracious and generous provision … which has now allowed tuition expenses for the pastoral and diaconal students on campus to be covered 100 percent” at both seminaries. He further noted “that this would not be possible without the continued support and partnership of our congregations.”
Among his remarks, Meyer said, “These are practical issues that deserve theological consideration.” He noted the issues are money and people, reminding the group of past challenges faced by the Synod.
“We’re going to turn this around quicker than other denominations would,” Meyer said, noting that this is the first time in history “that people don’t think we need God.” Meyer asked the group to consider how society’s “idolatry of ‘me’ ” influences the way people look at the visible church and the problems it faces.
Sharing the Gospel with all
“We are called to share the Gospel with all people as Jesus says in Matthew 28,” said Harrison at the start of his report to the COP. “This includes ethnic groups, urban and rural communities.
“To do that we must have strong suburban congregations who are able to support work in cities and into the rural areas where it continues to be challenging for small congregations to sustain themselves. We have mapped the location of many places where there are growing communities. … In many of these growing suburbs and exurbs, we have few or no LCMS churches.
“Retention, evangelism and discipleship — it’s about cradle-to-grave Christianity … [helping our people] to be followers of Jesus, knowing the Bible, serving neighbors, and speaking Jesus to their families.”
The president reported on a group that will bring an operating plan to the convention.
“Every congregation will be able to grab hold of it,” said Harrison, who expressed his commitment to support, lead and encourage the Synod as it wrestles locally with “what we are doing to disciple the young, the millennials and the elderly as we work to hold on to them. … We’re going to do everything we can from our corner to help you raise up disciples.”
A fuller account of the president’s report can be found in Reporter coverage of the LCMS Board of Directors meeting.
Future of CUS
Harrison and LCMS Secretary Rev. Dr. John W. Sias addressed the public release of an internal memo written by Sias that reviewed proposed bylaw changes and referenced the possibility of future consolidations within the Concordia University System (CUS). Both pointed out that the conversation about greater unity or possible unification along the lines of the Ann Arbor/Wisconsin model began among the presidents themselves in recent years.
The CUS presidents are requesting time to work on the details of such a plan, and Harrison is supportive of allowing that process to proceed naturally. Sias pointed out that the memo simply expressed the desire that bylaws accommodate organic coordination and consolidation, while maintaining focus on the mission and the governance mechanisms set out by Synod’s congregations.
Harrison said that some schools are interested in coming together and others are less so, observing that “the future for small, modestly endowed institutions is not bright” as he cited examples of recent legislation that has challenged faith-based institutions of higher learning.
Regarding the closing of Concordia College Alabama, Harrison described the effort to make “every possible attempt, millions of dollars [spent], including a visiting delegation of CUS financial experts.”
The team, noted Harrison, was led by Concordia, St. Paul President Rev. Dr. Tom Ries and went on site “to determine what might be needed to keep the school open. In its report, the financial team praised the efforts of the school in raising a record $6 million the previous year but noted that the school would have to raise $10 million externally every year just to maintain existing programs which were not sustaining the school financially.”
“Everyone did their best,” Harrison said.
Res. 7-02B task force
LCMS Southern Illinois District President Rev. Timothy J. Scharr spoke as a member of a task force formed at the 2013 convention and extended at the 2016 convention by Resolution 7-02B, “To Preserve Concordia Colleges and Universities as Institutions of the Church and Strengthen Their Structural Bonds with Synod.”
“At our meetings we’ve struggled with what direction to go in. We are still in process,” said Scharr. “This idea [to possibly consolidate the CUS schools] has come from the CUS presidents who serve on the committee.”
In an unscheduled visit, the CUS administration, board chairman and presidents and/or representatives of the universities were brought before the COP by Harrison, who requested time for them to address the council.
“I want to compliment the presidents on their daily labors in a very challenging context of higher education,” said CUS President Rev. Dr. Dean Wenthe. “Christian Lutheran higher education requires both fidelity and agility.
“Fidelity to sacred Scriptures is to be expressed in witness that is Christ-centered, charitable and winsome. Agility requires a nuanced knowledge of the culture of higher education as well as of the surrounding culture, the ability to provide a sustainable fiscal platform, intellectual rigor in academic offerings and consecrated imagination.”
Speaking for the university presidents, Dr. Kurt Krueger, interim president of Concordia University, Irvine, Calif., addressed the assembly. “My colleagues and I, for the last many months, and particularly for the last couple of hours, have been working on a plan to deal with the issues … raised by the 7-02B task force on higher education.”
Krueger explained that the task force deals with issues related to doctrinal and ethical positions of the LCMS and how all CUS schools should affirm those positions.
“The task force also deals with issues allowing our CUS institutions to be agile, to respond to the marketplace,” said Krueger. “We have all kinds of financial, … accreditation … and governance challenges, so we presidents believe there has to be a balanced approach.”
Krueger offered assurance that none of the university presidents wants to separate from the church. “We want to remain faithful to our doctrine and ethical positions. … We also want to make it clear to the church that we stand for educational excellence.”
Noting that only “5 to 6 percent of our LCMS kids choose to go to a Concordia,” Krueger added, “we really want to have the ability to work at raising that percentage. You do that by remaining faithful but also by offering scholarships and programs that we currently don’t offer and by working on our collective reputation in the higher education market.”
Krueger said the group would be “asking the task force for a time to work on a bigger plan. We hope to present a … big vision of what the CUS system could do together.”
“I support this effort,” Harrison said.
As the meeting wrapped up, NWD President Linnemann said, “We have a big job. There aren’t easy solutions.”
Linnemann continued: “No one from our district is suggesting that we diminish the Office of the Holy Ministry. We aren’t seeking to water it down. We are seeking ways to build it up and work with the whole Synod.
“It is not our intent to be the rebels of the LCMS. We are working within decisions of the Synod in convention in our part of the kingdom and have sought to do that as best we can. Where we’ve failed, we ask for your forgiveness. We want to walk with you as we face this challenge together.
“As leaders in the church, we have an obligation to create room for the gifts of God to be made available to the people He loves. The objects of His love aren’t just the people already a part of our churches. They also include the many who don’t know Him or even turn away from His love.”
Departing San Diego, Harrison said that the meeting offered “some of the best dialogue over the issues of spiritual priesthood, Office of the Ministry and the church’s needs that we’ve ever had.
“It was excellent to have the Northwest District present. We gave them an opportunity to express their thoughts and concerns on the Licensed Lay Deacon issue, and their presentation was forward-looking in saying, ‘How can we make sure the church is served in these very remote or challenged situations?’”
Posted Jan. 9, 2019