Tuesday, July 8, 2014
An Arbitrary Confessional Basis in the LCMS (Pt. 1)
According to the minutes of the latest meeting of the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the President of the LCMS, Matthew Harrison, sent the CCM an email (dated 12.6.13) in which he asked the CCM to address three questions:
Question 1: Is the open and repeated advocacy of theological positions contrary to Synod’s stated positions on (a) the ordination of women or women carrying out the functions of the pastoral office; (b) theistic evolution; (c) the inerrancy and/or the inspiration of the Scriptures; (d) church fellowship; and (e) same-sex relationships violations of Article II and Article VI 1 of the Synod’s Constitution?
Question 2: Is the public rejection of “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” (1973) a violation of Articles II and VI 1 of Synod’s Constitution?
Question 3: Does the filing of a dissent from such theological positions of the Synod prevent action from being commenced against such a member of the Synod, which may result in removal of such a member of the Synod?
It would seem that Pres. Harrison continues to be troubled by my dissent on two issues, namely, the synod’s practice of restricting the office of pastor only to men and the synod’s exegetical decision that the first chapters of Genesis must be understood to support young-earth creationism. My public critique of “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles,” which was prompted by an invitation to prepare “talking points” about “A Statement” that could be discussed with a small committee of the synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), also seems to have created some consternation.
I will not rehearse the content of my dissent, since that is available online at the Daystar Journal (http://www.thedaystarjournal.com) and in previous posts on this blog.
I would like to draw attention, though, to the “opinions” of the current CCM in response to these three questions from Harrison.
The CCM rightly notes that “unity of doctrine and practice were primary reasons for the formation of the Synod and are key to its continued existence. This unity is expressed internally as we walk together and externally in witness to those outside the Synod. Subscription to the stated confessional position of the Synod is both a precondition for acquiring membership in the Synod and a requirement of those who wish to continue to hold membership in the Synod (individuals and congregations) (Constitution Art. II; III 1; XIII 1; Bylaw 1.6.1).”
All the members of the synod agree with this paragraph in order to be members of the synod.
The CCM continues: “The object of the Synod, as stated in Article III 1 of the Constitution, is (1) to conserve and promote a unity in which all are ‘united in the same mind and the same judgment’ (1 Cor. 1:10), and (2) to avoid schism caused by contrary doctrine (Rom. 16:17).”
The thrust of this paragraph is also self-evident for anyone who has vowed to teach in accord with Article II of the synod’s constitution.
Moreover, according to the CCM, “this purpose of the Synod is defeated when individuals are permitted to teach in accordance with their private views, for then there can be no such thing as a synodical position, and a meaningful corporate confessional commitment is impossible. Formal commitment of the Synod to a confessional base is pointless unless the Synod has the right as a synod to apply its confessional base definitively to current issues and thus conserve and promote unity and resist an individualism which breeds schism. [1971 Res. 2-21]”
Here the confusion begins. The CCM cannot envision that individuals who share the same “corporate confessional commitment,” as given in Article II of the synod’s constitution, could come to different conclusions about how the explicit teaching of the Scriptures and confessional writings ought to be applied to “current issues” about which the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions are silent or ambiguous.
Against the CCM’s reading of matters, the purpose of the synod is defeated when individuals, even a majority of them at a synodical convention (hardly a useful venue for serious theological discussion and resolution), insist on exegetical and theological opinions that go well beyond the explicit teaching of the gospel and all its articles that are exhibited in the Lutheran Confessions.
Contrary to the CCM, the Lutheran Confessions are “exhaustive” in their confession of biblical doctrine, since they provide a complete and faithful summary of the doctrine of the gospel and all its articles. According to the Confessions themselves, unity of faith is grounded in agreement with the gospel and the administration of the sacraments in accord with the gospel. Unity of faith is undermined when majorities at synodical conventions insist upon matters that are ambiguously treated in the Scriptures, that are not treated explicitly in the Lutheran Confessions, and that are exegetically and theologically unsupportable.
The way the CCM speaks of “the Synod” is no different from how some medieval Roman Catholic prelates spoke of the Roman Catholic Church. Against Luther some of them essentially said, “The Catholic Church has always expected and required that its theologians teach and practice in accord with the canon laws that state its public position regarding the teaching and practice of the Scriptures.” That professor of theology actually had the gall to burn his synod Handbook and the collection of statements and resolutions that formed the content of medieval canon law!