By Kevin Armbrust
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Council of Presidents (COP) met Sept. 10–13, with some portions of the meeting held at the LCMS International Center (IC) and others held at the Hilton St. Louis Airport hotel.
Outgoing COP Chairman Rev. Dr. David P. E. Maier called the meeting to order. Following an opening devotion on Matthew 22:32–40 led by the Rev. Dr. Lucas Woodford, president of the LCMS Minnesota South District, the COP adopted an agenda and welcomed the nine new district presidents elected in 2022: the Rev. Michael Mohr, Central Illinois; the Rev. John L. Pingel, Eastern; the Rev. James H. Rockey, Florida-Georgia; the Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch, Indiana; the Rev. David A. Davis, Michigan; the Rev. Brady L. Finnern, Minnesota North; the Rev. James Maxwell, Rocky Mountain; the Rev. David R. Nehrenz, Oklahoma; and the Rev. Dr. William A. Harmon, Southeastern.
Throughout the four-day meeting, the council met in small groups to study Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and to discuss theological topics. The council discussed the first two articles of the Augsburg Confession and the Apology, led by the Rev. Dr. Michael Gibson, president of the LCMS Pacific Southwest District. Gibson encouraged the group to consider how the church should talk to “a world that denies sin and calls sinful behavior normal and acceptable.” The concupiscence identified in Article II of the Augsburg Confession mitigates the belief that humanity is basically good.
The Rev. Derek Lecakes, president of the LCMS Atlantic District, and the Rev. Waldemar “Wally” Vinovskis, president of the SELC District, introduced a discussion of LGBTQ+ issues with their presentation, “Ministry to God’s Fallen Creation — Life in a Concupiscent World.” The small groups met again to address real-life situations that people may face in their congregations, wrestling with how best to approach them with pastoral care while continuing to proclaim the truth. LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison commended the council on their collegiality and fraternal work on this topic. He also noted that the church would benefit from further discussion and the development of resources to assist the Synod’s churches and schools as they face this issue. Harrison added that an LGBTQ+ task force will have its initial meeting in September.
The Rev. Terry Forke, president of the LCMS Montana District, led a study of Titus 1:1–9 based on a close reading of the Greek text. Forke emphasized the phrase “knowledge of the truth” in 1:1, noting, “Truth is the most important thing in our society today. Most people are … looking for truth, but don’t even have the category ‘truth.’ ”
The small groups discussed online Communion as addressed in a paper presented by the Rev. John Hill, president of the LCMS Wyoming District. The council then voted “to commend to one another John Hill’s paper for study in our districts as appropriate.”
The small groups also discussed Chapter 1 in Hellmut Lieberg’s book, Office and Ordination, which addresses the foundational role of sola fide and sola gratia for the pastoral office. In its discussion, the COP highlighted the necessity of the proclamation of the Gospel and the intrinsic connection between Article IV of the Augsburg Confession (on justification) and Article V (on the Holy Ministry).
“It’s a pleasure to be with all of you brothers at this time,” said Harrison as he opened his report. Harrison shared his recent reading of Karl Rengsdorf’s Apostolate and Ministry and the implications of the New Testament’s apostolic confession for the church’s apostolic life.
“Jesus’ own mission is to preach repentance and forgiveness. The apostles are given this authority. The church is given Jesus’ own mission. When pastors speak, when the church speaks, when our dear members speak to their friends and neighbors, it is Jesus’ own mission,” Harrison said.
Harrison noted that the Synod continues to work with church bodies throughout the world — presently numbering 96 — in theological education, mission work, shared mercy work and theological conversation. He reported that the Synod continues to be in a good financial position. He gave each member of the COP a copy of the new Spanish Lutheran hymnal. In addition, he noted the Synod’s ongoing work with Ukrainian refugees in Wittenberg and Romania; progress on the 1 John 3 Life Ministry grants; training set to begin in 2023 as part of an overall church-planting initiative; the fall Making Disciples for Life conference (Oct. 10–12) at the IC; the continuing work of the Set Apart to Serve initiative; and Church Worker Appreciation Month in October.
LCMS Secretary Rev. Dr. John Sias updated the COP on the Committee for Constitutional Matters’ Opinion 22-2980 regarding the information that district presidents provide to calling congregations. The resultant discussion highlighted the need for congregations to better understand the call process, including their rights and the role of the district presidents.
Later, Sias updated the council concerning important deadlines leading up to the 2023 Synod convention in Milwaukee. Presidential voter registration and the nomination process for Synod president and vice-presidents begin Oct. 29, both being conducted online this cycle. With voting and advisory delegate selections also to be made by circuits and advisory member groups by Oct. 29, district secretaries must then submit delegate selections by Nov. 4. The Committee for Convention Nominations will meet Jan. 25–28, 2023.
LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Peter Lange reported on the colloquy process, presenting updated numbers and progress on colloquy requests and interviews. Lange noted that according to recent research, 10.5% of all initial general pastoral placements in the last three years came through colloquy. Lange also briefed the council extensively on the state of commissioned colloquy in the LCMS and the significant work that is being done by the Colloquy Committee for Commissioned Ministry and others to address challenges and opportunities.
Elections and other business
The COP elected a new Program Committee. LCMS Missouri District President Rev. Dr. R. Lee Hagan was elected chairman of the COP, with the Rev. Richard Snow, president of the Nebraska District, elected to continue as vice-chairman. The Rev. Justin Panzer, president of the Kansas District, was elected COP secretary. Wyoming District President Hill and the Rev. Dr. Allan Buss, president of the Northern Illinois District, were elected as the two at-large members of the Program Committee. Next, the council elected to the COP Nominating Committee the Rev. Dr. Brian Saunders, Iowa District East; the Rev. Timothy Scharr, Southern Illinois; the Rev. Michael Lange, California/Nevada/Hawaii; the Rev. Benjamin Ball, LCMS sixth vice-president; and Minnesota South President Woodford.
Following the election of Hagan and Snow, the council gave Maier a standing ovation for his work as chairman. “Thank you. It was a privilege,” he said. “May God continue to bless you in the work that lies ahead. The work is certainly not done.” Maier’s term as Michigan District president ended Sept. 30.
Within both executive and open sessions, the council discussed casuistry and administrative concerns, including how it works best to assist the Synod’s congregations, how the council works best together, and how to ensure congregations understand and are prepared for conventions. The council also discussed personnel, roster and other intra- and extra-council considerations.
Posted Oct. 24, 2022