Tuesday, July 8, 2014

An Arbitrary Confessional Basis in the LCMS (Pt. 3)

What about the CCM’s response to Pres. Harrison’s second question?

The “opinion” of the CCM to this question further underscores that the synod is infallible: “Since ‘A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles’ (1973) was adopted by the Synod (1973 Res. 3-01) ‘to be Scriptural and in accord with the Lutheran Confessions,’ it expresses the doctrinal position of the Synod. It derives its doctrinal authority not from the vote of the convention but from the Word of God, which it sets forth. Public contradiction to ‘A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles is, therefore, in essence a violation of Scripture and thus Articles II and VI 1 of the Synod’s Constitution.’”

In other words: The synod adopted “A Statement.” “A Statement” sets forth the word of God. To be critical of “A Statement” is to violate Scripture and undermine the confessional basis of the synod.

Nevertheless, the CCM (again, rather grudgingly) acknowledges: “With the adoption of ‘A Statement,’ the Synod required ‘that those who disagree with these formulations in part or in whole be held to present their objections formally to those who have immediate supervision of their doctrine’ (1971 Res 5-24). Any dissent from the stated theological position of the Synod is to be brought to the Commission on Theology and Church Relations in accord with Bylaw 1.8.”

And that is what I have done. I met with a committee of the CTCR and shared my critique of “A Statement” with it. I’m not alone. Several hundred delegates to the 1973 synod convention registered their dissent from “A Statement,” as did several hundred (thousand?) more in subsequent weeks.

And the CCM’s opinion regarding Pres. Harrison’s third question?

“While the filing of dissent does not constitute a case for removal, the member is required to teach and practice in accord with Synod’s stated confessional position during the dissent process. If the member fails to honor and uphold the stated confessional position of Synod during the dissent process, the member becomes subject to disciplinary action due both to the violation of the doctrinal position of Synod and the offense against the other members of Synod created by such failure (Constitution Art. XIII 1). In such case it is incumbent upon the ecclesiastical supervisor of the member to exercise disciplinary action against the member who fails to teach and act within Synod’s stated confessional position, whether apart from or during the dissent process (Bylaws 2.14.4; 2.15.4; 2.16.4).  The dissent process only allows a person to bring forth a contrary view to the stated position of Synod which the dissenter believes is supported by the Word of God (Bylaw 1.8.2). Those expressing dissent ‘are expected as part of the life together within the fellowship of the Synod to honor and uphold the resolutions of the Synod’ (Bylaw 1.8.1) and ‘to honor and uphold publicly the [doctrinal] statement[s] as the position of the Synod…’ (Bylaw 1.6.2 [b] [10]). The CTCR and ultimately the Synod in convention shall consider the dissent and shall render final judgment as to whether or not the doctrinal statement is in accord with the Word of God. While the dissent is being considered by the CTCR or the Synod in convention, ‘the consciences of others, as well as the collective will of the Synod, shall also be respected’ by the dissenter (Bylaw 1.8.2). The individual member does not have the freedom to decide what of Synod’s stated confessional position is to be honored and upheld and what is not. Once the dissent process has been concluded and if the stated confessional position of the Synod is not changed by the Synod in convention, the member is bound to teach and practice in accord with the stated confessional position of the Synod. If the member expressing dissent cannot or will not teach and practice according to the confessional position of the Synod, the only recourse left to the member is to resign from the Synod. Continuing to teach and practice in conflict with the position of Synod subjects the member to ecclesiastical discipline and finally expulsion from Synod.”

Out of the smaller corner of its mouth the CCM rather grudgingly acknowledges that the synod isn't infallible. But out of the much larger side of its mouth, the CCM speaks strongly against any kind of public dissent from the synod's majority decisions. Can't the CCM see the obvious contradiction at the center of its opinion? 

If a member of the synod is convinced that some resolutions and statements of the synod need to be annulled or at least rethought and reformed, how could a member of the synod ever legitimately attempt to convince the synod to do so, if the CCM has now opined that any persistent public disagreement with a synod's resolution or statement is a violation of the confessional basis of the Synod? 

While the CCM rather grudgingly acknowledges that dissent is allowed in the synod, it views dissent as an evil, since the decisions that the synod has made are the infallible Scriptural position. "The synod's resolutions and statements are the Scriptural position. They are to be obeyed unconditionally because they are the Scriptural position." Any attempt at convincing synodical members to rethink a theological issue or set of issues (that is, any attempt to follow the dissent process, as the synod allows, at least in principle), is now to be interpreted as a violation of the synod's confessional basis and an attack on Article II. An attack on the synod's resolutions and statements is an attack on Scripture itself.

Despite what the CCM opines here, this is merely a further example of how leaders in the synod view the infallible authority of the synod itself. This strikes me as idolatry.

Even if members of the synod disagree with me on the two issues of my dissent, I would think a large number (a majority?) of members would be troubled by these three opinions of the CCM. Do they not amount to a significant change to the nature of confessional subscription, one that is now quite arbitrary and subject to change? Do they not contribute to the idolization of the synod?


  1. It would seem that CCM's unstated conclusion is that "A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles" trumps both Scripture and the Confessions. Therefore, A Statement violates Articles II and VI

  2. Matt, honestly, the only person you are fooling is yourself with all this logomachy over what is so self-evidently the case; namely, that The LCMS has an established doctrinal position and may speak as a body to issues to which it then holds as binding on all its voluntary members.

    You are in favor of the ordination of women.

    You are in favor of communion fellowship with the ELCA and other church bodies.

    You are in favor of the marriage of and ordination of homosexual persons in the church.

    You consequently reject the doctrinal position of The LCMS on these issues which is quite perfectly clear.

    It is time for you to do the right thing and exercise personal integrity and leave The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and join the ELCA where your points of views are welcome, encouraged and entirely supported.

    1. Paul,
      You would like to fool people into thinking that the essential content of our faith and teaching is established by majority votes at synodical conventions and that once the synod has adopted a majority decision on a controversial issue that the issue is settled for all time and binding upon all members. The fact of the matter is, the synod has changed its collective will on a whole host of controverted topics, and it will likely do so again. At its best, the synod has not acted coercively against its members when they have dissented from controversial, divisive convention resolutions and statements.

      So I will continue to resist your efforts and those of others to make the synod even more fundamentalistic, anti-scientific, misogynistic, and coercive than it has been.

    2. Paul - just what is the doctrinal position of the LCMS? Is it Article II or is it the dogma that you articulated in this post? The two are not congruent.

  3. Matt, you would like to fool people into thinking that somehow you have "discovered" things that nobody has considered before, thought through before, or otherwise considered.

    The CCM make perfectly clear that members of our Synod, such as yourself, have no right to continue to teach contrary to our Synod's doctrinal positions. Period.

    Women's ordination.
    The nature and authority of Scripture.

    These issues are not at issue among us. You are simply kicking against the goads here.

    Again, as a matter of personal integrity, you need to leave and join the ELCA where your views are welcome with open arms.

    You are in the wrong church body, Matt.

  4. Paul,
    By insisting on six-day creationism the LCMS has not "thought through" the nature and purpose of the early chapters of Genesis nor has it come to a proper articulation of the confessional doctrine of creation, i.e., what that doctrine entails and what it doesn't entail.

    The Scriptures are ambiguous with respect to the practice of ordination, a practice that is not clearly taught in the Scriptures. The Scriptures are ambiguous with respect to the practical service of women in the contemporary church. The synod itself has changed its practices with respect to women in just the past century. I hope it will eventually allow qualified women to serve as ministers of the word and sacraments. The Scriptures, properly understood, do not prohibit such a practice.

    I am not teaching contrary to the synod's doctrinal position, since the synod's doctrinal position is limited to the scriptural articles of faith that are exhibited in the confessional writings themselves. Last time I checked, the confessions do not insist on six-day creationism as an article of faith nor do they explicitly restrict the office of pastor only to men.

    If women's ordination and creationism are not at issue among "us," then why are you so troubled by my little dissent? Could it be that you know that large numbers of people who belong to LCMS congregations agree that the Scriptures do not teach six-day creationism or clearly teach that women cannot serve as pastors? I detect more than a little worry on your part that over time the synod might actually and correctly move away from insisting on creationism and a male-only pastorate.

    I also find it rather interesting that you keep lobbing the term "homosexuality" in my direction, when that issue is not an aspect of my dissent. You can't even make an argument about it, but just type the word "homosexuality," as if the word itself stands for something the synod opposes. That in itself is quite revealing, it seems to me. Why the fixation on homosexuality, Paul? What are you afraid of?

    The synod is not and ought not be a fascist organization, but you are certainly trying your best to make it one. There should be room in the synod for people to discuss and deliberate theologically on these issues. The synod should not be the ecclesial equivalent to a political party, say, something akin to the Republican Party (wherein you have Tea Party individuals calling upon "moderates" to leave the Party because they don't agree with this or that Tea Party "essential.")

    Synods err. They change their collective minds over time. (In that sense, they ARE like political parties, but unlike political parties our synodical platform remains the Scriptures and how they are understood and applied over time, in changing circumstances.) Synods are not above the Scriptures. They cannot take the place of the Scriptures themselves or our collective effort to understand and apply them correctly, faithfully.

    If my ecclesiastical supervisor is convinced that I am persistently teaching against the doctrine of the gospel and all its articles, then he certainly can take action to remove me from the roster of ordained ministers in the LCMS. But you, Paul, are not my ecclesiastical supervisor, and for that I am grateful to God.

  5. Of course, resigning from synod is always an option. In recent decades, many have left in response to synod's theological mischief. However, suppose an individual, having been baptized in a Missouri congregation, attended synodical schools, served in a LCMS ministry, was thankful for the blessings received through that affiliation and felt compelled to correct the errors into which that church body had fallen. Rather than bailing out, the individual sought reformation, not release from membership. That's another option. I speak from experience.
    Bill Oehlkers

  6. For those interested in reading the complete minutes from the June CCM meeting, a pdf copy is available at the following link:


  7. Continue to resist those who would make the synod even more fundamentalistic, anti-scientific, misogynistic, and coercive than it has been. They stole from me the faith of my fathers and my childhood. I love the people of the LCMS. I cannot abide the leaders. Bless you, Pastor Becker.

  8. I applaud and agree with your principled and confessional stand, Dr. Becker.