Tuesday, July 8, 2014

An Arbitrary Confessional Basis in the LCMS (Pt. 2)

Interestingly, the CCM acknowledges that “doctrinal resolutions and statements both have binding force on all congregational and individual members of Synod until it can be shown that such are not in keeping with the Word of God or the Lutheran Confessions, not as an individual judgment but when the Synod in convention by overture is convinced from the Word of God to overturn or amend them (1959 Res. 3-09; 1962 Res. 3-17; 1973 Res. 2-12 and 3-01; 1977 Res 3-07).” The CCM also rather grudgingly acknowledges that “the Synod is not infallible and has established a formal dissent process for doctrinal statements when challenge arises (Bylaw section 1.8).”

But the CCM immediately qualifies the above by stressing: “Such formal dissent, however, cannot be used as a substitute for the Synod’s stated confessional position and does not permit a member to teach or practice contrary to the position of the Synod. It does not free one from the responsibility to ‘honor and uphold’ doctrinal resolutions or ‘to abide by, act, and teach in accordance with’ doctrinal statements until such time as Synod ‘amends or repeals them’ (Bylaw 1.6.2). This also includes doctrinal positions adopted by the Synod prior to 1977 (cf. CCM Opinion 13-2677). The burden of proof lies upon the dissenter to convince the Synod in convention that it has erred and that a statement is in violation of Synod’s own confessional position. The Bylaws maintain the right of the Synod to interpret its own confessional article (Bylaw 1.6.2 [b]).”

But I ask: how can a dissenter “convince the synod… that it has erred and that a statement is in violation of synod’s own confessional position,” if a member of the synod is not permitted “to teach or practice contrary to the position of the synod”? My online essay about “A Statement” is meant to show that it “does not keep with the word of God and the Lutheran Confessions” and to convince the synod to overturn or amend that document. It is a seriously flawed document, to say the least.

The CCM bends over backwards to state, “Doctrinal resolutions and statements, including positions adopted prior to 1977, do not alter the Synod’s confessional position nor do they add new confessions which must be subscribed. Rather, they elaborate, clarify, set forth in greater detail, and apply that confessional position. As has been true throughout its history, controversy and challenge sharpen the pen for the Synod to clarify its theological position without altering the confessional article of its constitution.”

But in reality the synod has acted in conventions (starting in 1959) to alter the confessional article of its constitution by insisting that members “abide by, act, and teach in accord” with the doctrinal resolutions and statements of the synod. The synod had tried to do so with Pieper’s “Brief Statement” in 1959, but thankfully the synod realized its error in 1962 and clearly stated then that the “Brief Statement” was not a part of the synod’s doctrinal basis.

Lost to the current CCM and, frankly, to synod conventions over the past forty years, are the key words from Article VIII of the LCMS Constitution:

All matters of doctrine and of conscience shall be decided only by the Word of God. All other matters shall be decided by a majority vote. In case of a tie vote the President may cast the deciding vote.

Please read that Article three more times before turning to the CCM’s response to Pres. Harrison’s three questions below.

The CCM “opinion” to the first question is quite revealing. According to the CCM, “open and repeated advocacy of theological positions contrary to the Synod’s stated theological positions is ultimately a challenge to and a violation of the very confessional basis of Synod expressed in Articles II and VI 1 of the Synod’s Constitution, as are all teachings and practices which contradict Scripture and the Confessions. Doctrinal resolutions and statements, including those adopted prior to 1977, have binding force on individual as well as congregational members of Synod. Members of the Synod are required to honor and uphold the stated theological position of Synod, which is defined by the confessional articles of the Constitution and any doctrinal positions adopted by the Synod to amplify, clarify, and apply its theological position in time of question, challenge, and conflict (Bylaw 1.6.2 [a] and [b]). Acting or teaching contrary to such is therefore a rejection of the stated confessional position of the Synod and ultimately of Article II itself. This does not mean that doctrinal resolutions and statements, including those adopted prior to 1977, are equal to, or that members of the Synod are required to subscribe to them in addition to, the Scriptures and Confessions. Rather, they are adopted because they are in harmony with Scripture and the Confessions (Bylaw 1.6.2 [b] [7]).”

If you read this first “opinion” carefully, the implication is clear: the synod cannot err. Advocacy of theological positions against the synod’s stated theological positions is an attack on “the very confessional basis of the synod.” There can be no question that the synod’s position is “the scriptural and confessional position.” Whatever the synod decides in convention is the scriptural and confessional position. To raise critical questions against a decision of the synod is tantamount to questioning the scriptures and confessions themselves!

The CCM simply assumes that when a synod convention approves a doctrinal resolution or statement (by majority vote, it needs to be stressed, which is the only way for a convention to approve anything) it has confessional standing because it is in conformity with the word of God. Why else would the synod approve it?! No discussion is allowed as to whether or not the word of God actually supports the resolution or statement, because such a discussion or debate is predicated on the assumption that the synod's position is not always correct when, by the CCM’s circular reasoning, it has to be, because the synod has found it to be in accord with the word of God. As a retired LCMS pastor recently wrote to me, the CCM’s “concessive statement that the synod's doctrinal positions are not infallible is patently false, given the CCM’s reasoning as expressed in this opinion.” 

This pastor went on to write: “Tragically, this is not a new position. It is more formally, officially stated in this opinion, but is the same old Missouri arrogance which Jack Preus reinstated as the synod's guiding spirit after the brief period of gospel ascendancy in the mid-20th century. This is what a seminary professor said at Walther's funeral in 1887: ‘Because of Walther, [the Synod] was in possession of the truth -- the entire, unvarnished truth,’ and that ‘as certain as Holy Scripture is God's Word -- which it is -- so certain is it that our doctrinal position is correct. . . . Whoever contests our doctrinal position contends against the divine truth.’”

Bottom line: This CCM opinion in fact gives confessional status to doctrinal resolutions and statements adopted by synod conventions. The synod’s decision in 1962 regarding the “Brief Statement” is null and void.

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