Ecclesiastical Supervision in the LCMS

I’ve written a fair bit about LCC’s various issues – however it’s not the only church with problems decisively dealing with unresolved issues. LCC’s parent Synod – the LCMS – has a history littered with examples of issues and controversies that were allowed to fester and grow before being dealt with. The pattern I’ve seen is one of personnel in the organization (a) refusing to discharge their duty, (b) meeting calls to scripturally resolve an issue with never-ending calls to follow a “process” or for “patience” that never gets anywhere instead restoring an erring member to right and proper doctrine and practice, (c) using a ruling from the CCMS to address a theological issue thereby putting the constitution over scripture, (d) the adjudication process inappropriately absolves a defendant of the charges against them, and (e) an abject failure to even give lip service to enforcing the ‘no public comment on an issue under adjudication’ rule.

We can see a current example of this in the manner the LCMS has addressed it’s most recent controversy over LCMS’s understanding of how creation took place:

  • Professor: Writes and publishes an article  (page 64) that contradicts Synod’s official teaching on creation,
  • Wyoming District and South Wisconsin District: Publicly identifies the article’s error, calls for the author’s repentance and the article’s retraction,
  • Seminary Faculty: You broke the 8th commandment and didn’t understand the nuances of the article,
  • Wyoming District President: This is a public issue, it isn’t an 8th commandment issue, what was written was clear, and it’s still wrong,
  • LCMS President: This is what we believe ,
  • Seminary Faculty / Wyoming District: Yay for the LCMS President!
  • Professor: “I made a mistake – forgive me?”
  • Synod: Absolutely!
  • Seminary Faculty: “We accept [the professor’s] decision and, accordingly, will refrain from further commentary on his article.” Missing from this statement is an apology for accusing the Wyoming and South Wisconsin District and other pastors of sinning or for defending heterodoxy.

People make mistakes which is part and parcel of being sinners in this sin-sick world. When we see our siblings in the faith using frank and blunt language to confront one of their number that’s wandering from the straight-and-narrow-path, remember this:

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Proverbs 27:6

The actions of the two Districts and others identified the professor’s error, the President of Synod clearly elucidated Synod’s position on the question, the professor accepted correction and apologized, the periodical confessed that their review process had failed, all was restored and settled, and the periodical staff will work to change their processes to prevent something like this from happening again.

What isn’t settled is that the entire seminary faculty sinned by

  • falsely accusing their brother pastors of sinning in respect to the 8th Commandment,
  • inferring the clear text of the article wasn’t what it said it was and that the district pastors were not able to discern that,
  • giving aid, comfort, and cover to clear heterodoxy.

This is a Very Big Deal because the seminaries are supposed to be the church’s intellectual engine charged with training and equipping the next generation of Synod’s pastors. They are also charged with rightly dividing the Word of God and being a resource the church can learn from on how to respond to the thorny questions the church faces daily. This position puts the seminaries at the center of the church’s current and future health. That an entire faculty could err in such a manner and potentially teach the next generation of pastors to “go forth and do likewise” should raise significant concerns because “where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

Public statements such as those made by the Concordia St-Louis faculty don’t come from out of the blue – they reflect the beliefs and doctrine of the staff members that signed the document. From this observer’s perspective the Concordia St-Louis faculty needs to publicly and successfully defend their position or fully retract it. Having made such a public, definitive stance on an issue “We won’t talk about this any more” is not an acceptable answer.

And if the seminary faculty persists in “not talking about it” then they should be subject to a comprehensive doctrinal review to see what they believe and what’s being taught in the seminary classrooms. As a caution against letting something like this go – this isn’t the first time this has happened in the LCMS. In years past the seminary faculty published a heterodox statement, got called on it, and retracted it without admitting error or recanting what they wrote. Because the ideas behind that document continued to be the position and belief of the signatories, these beliefs eventually found their way into the seminary classrooms and taught as right doctrine.

Years later the LCMS found itself with a huge thorny mess to clean up because it didn’t decisively address the issue when it first arose.

As Christ told His disciples:

How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew 16:11-12

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