By Kevin Armbrust
The Rev. Dr. R. Lee Hagan, president of the LCMS Missouri District and newly elected chairman of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Council of Presidents (COP), began the COP’s Nov. 14–16 meeting by noting, “Our pastors gather in their circuits to study Scripture and the Confessions. We gather for the same reason. This is the most important thing we can do.” During their meeting, the members of the COP studied Titus, the second article of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, and the priesthood of all believers and the Office of the Holy Ministry.
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, LCMS president, began his report to the COP with a historical review of “confessional” Lutheranism, leading to the essential question, “What is our ecumenical role?” The answer, while simple, is the essence of the LCMS: “It is to bear witness to Christ, to the truth of Scripture, the truth of the Small Catechism. … [It is] to be truly Lutheran,” said Harrison.
Harrison asked the Rev. James Rockey, president of the LCMS Florida-Georgia District, to update the COP regarding the effects of Hurricane Ian, which made landfall in southwest Florida on Sept. 28 and South Carolina on Sept. 30. “We are amazed and rejoice at the limited damage we sustained,” said Rockey. “We are wonderfully blessed … to have [Director of LCMS Disaster Response Rev. Dr.] Ross Johnson down there immediately. … The partnership with the Synod and the district was a tremendous blessing. I am … appreciative of that partnership and … the districts who also helped out. We are tremendously blessed and thankful.”
One of the joys of each Synod convention, explained Harrison, is to recognize full altar and pulpit fellowship with international partner churches. During the upcoming LCMS convention in Milwaukee (July 29–Aug. 3), the Synod will consider officially recognizing fellowship with the Evangelical Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ELCSS/S), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, the Lutheran Church of Uganda, and the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (Sri Lanka).
In his role as the Synod’s chief ecumenical officer, and with the agreement of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), Harrison has declared fellowship with the ELMDF and the ELCSS/S, declarations that the convention will be asked to confirm.
Concordia University Texas
Recent events necessitated discussing the future of the Synod’s universities, especially Concordia University Texas (CTX), Austin, Texas. On Nov. 8, CTX President Don Christian released a letter explaining that the CTX Board of Regents (BOR) had, the day before, “voted to adopt a structure whereby Concordia University Texas will be governed solely by its Board of Regents, rather than the historic governance directed by the bylaws of Synod.” The gravity and implications of this action catalyzed the COP to explore the validity of such action vis-à-vis the Synod’s Bylaws and the impacts of this action on the Synod.
Collegial conversation ensued as the COP sought to understand the CTX BOR’s action. The Rev. Michael Newman, president of the LCMS Texas District and ex officio member of the CTX BOR, responded to several inquiries regarding the BOR’s actions. Newman expressed the desire of CTX to remain aligned with the LCMS and encouraged the COP to understand the recent BOR vote as a desire for further conversation.
Several members of the COP expressed their incredulity at the action of CTX’s BOR. Harrison said that he is concerned with two things. First, there is a theological concern with the direction of CTX, especially in the area of gender and sexuality. Second, the effect of the BOR’s action is not limited to the CUS but involves the whole church, and there is great concern about what the action says to others in the Synod regarding the Synod’s Bylaws. Harrison expressed concern regarding what this kind of action would mean for every other Synod entity. “This is contrary to our pledge to work together as Synod.” Harrison also observed that, in his research, no school that has separated from its parent church body has subsequently remained faithful to that church’s confession of faith. These concerns were echoed by a number of members of the COP. Harrison and Newman both committed to constructive ongoing conversations to seek resolution in the matter.
The COP welcomed the Rev. Dr. Randall Schroeder, who presented on “Care and Support for Families of LGBTQ+ Individuals.” Schroeder led the COP through the six observed reasons for a person to be tempted by homosexuality, steps to build strong parent-child relationships, how to heal a broken parent-child relationship, the path to chastity, and how family members may respond to a person caught in homosexuality and other sexual sins.
The Rev. Dr. Larry Vogel presented an overview of the 2018 CTCR document, The Royal Priesthood: Identity and Mission, and facilitated discussion among the presidents, who are also reading and discussing Office and Ordination in Luther and Melanchthon by Hellmut Lieberg. Throughout the small- and large-group conversations, both the blessed priestly duties of the laity and the divinely instituted Office of the Holy Ministry were held up as treasures that the Lord has graciously given to His church.
The COP conducted its regular business of internal elections and maintenance of the means necessary for them to fulfill their duties. Among the items for consideration and vote were the requests for congregational exception to be served by a licensed lay deacon, according to 2016 Res. 13-02A, as presented by LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Peter K. Lange. LCMS Secretary Rev. Dr. John W. Sias updated the COP on the dates and information for the upcoming presidential election and 2023 Synod convention. The council also received the following vacancy report: 417 congregations calling for sole pastor, 40 calling for senior pastor, and 80 calling for associate or assistant pastor, for a total 537 total calling congregations. In addition, 519 congregations are being served by part-time pastors, and there have been five new congregations started and two congregations closed since the last report.
Posted Jan. 9, 2023