Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Should the Synod Do?

Rumor has it that Synodical-types lurk on Gottesdienst. That may or may not be true. But let's play a little game for them. Instead of our normal Gottesdienst bomb throwing complaints about what the Synod is doing, what could the Synod do to support, encourage, and help congregations and pastors?

The synod's restructuring offers an opportunity to not only streamline the Synod's corporate functions but also make the synod useful to congregations. So if you had the chance to reform synod, humanly speaking, what would you do?

Let's take the international question in another post. For now, what should the synod be doing in the United States? How should it do it?

Here is some stuff to get you started, with the caveats that these are my own ideas, not those of Gottesdienst, and that I don't claim to have thought all these through. I am willing to be talked out of them. So if you find them insulting, outrageous, etc, please explain what the problem is and understand that I my intent is not to hurt but to really consider not only what we ought to do but we might actually be capable of pulling off.

1. The President needs to continue, even amp up, his presence as the Synod's Theological teacher through writing, youtube videos, etc. His bit with the Litany last Lent was spot on. More like that.

2. The Lutheran Witness needs to continue, even amp up, its current effort at honesty and transparency. The October "issues" issue was the best LW issue of my lifetime. Don't tell us we're all united and everything is happy. Face reality. Give us Theological resources for addressing disunity and division. Etc.

3. CPH needs to rethink its mission. It should be taken back as a non-profit subsidized by synod. Hymnals and Catechisms should be "sold" at as near cost as possible. Grants should be created to help CPH give away hymnals and catechisms at less than cost. The point of the hymnal should be to unite the Synod in doctrine and practice not to underwrite a terrible VBS program that promotes contemporary worship. CPH execs should not be paid at the same rate as Zondervan execs but at district scale. The Catechism translation should be owned by the synod not CPH. It should be made available for reproduction, without cost, to anyone who is using it piously, without modifying it.

4. The Seminaries should be the main focus of synodical education and receive a  percentage of unrestricted gifts.As they are more fully funded, the seminaries should be asked to do more.

5. CUS should be re-evaluated. Perhaps they should be cut loose and take on their own debt. Perhaps the synod could operate one or two colleges. But teacher certification and continuing ed, as well as advanced degrees, could be taken over by the seminaries. Not only would this increase the depth of theological training of the teachers but it would also help re-establish camaradery between pastors and teachers.

6. Pastors need evaluation - the same as teachers. They should be visited by their circuit counselors on site twice a year. They should respond to a standardized test on doctrine and practice developed by the seminaries. The seminaries should also develop a large reading list. The pastors should report to the circuit counselor what they are reading from that list. Finally, they should report they number of visits they have made by category: evangelism, hospital/shut-in, and member.  

7. The CTCR should be de-funded and its work passed to the seminaries.

8. Campus Ministry needs support: money, materials, and manpower. This should be a priority - especially if CUS is cut loose.

9. Rural, small town, and urban congregations need support. In particular the synod needs to play the heavy. Some of these congregations need to combine as dual and triple parishes or into new congregations. Some of them need to close. Congregations have lifespans. There is no shame in dying. Rebirth only happens in those who have died. The synod needs to help these congregations get full-time, fully competent, fully trained pastors. They deserve that.

10. The synod needs to cut loose all forms of lay ministry and half-training of pastors. Those who are currently working in these ways should receive the training needed and be ordained. Ethnic minorities and poor people need solid, well-trained pastors just as surely as wealthy suburbanites. The racism of the LC-MS should be confessed and repented of. Ethnic minorities are not genetically predisposed to false doctrine or too weak for the rigors of serious theological education.

11. The districts are not needed. They are a level of bureaucracy that provides very little service for the money. The synod should be divided into four geographic regions. Each region should have approximately 30 "districts" of approximately 50 congregations each. Those districts would be served by volunteer district presidents, full-time pastors. The pastor's study or front porch would become the district office. He would provide oversight for 5 circuit counselors who would provide, as volunteers, not compensated, oversight over 10 pastors. The regional office would oversee the 30 district presidents and take care of paperwork, etc. They would be served by paid staff and a paid vice president of synod. These regional staffs would function very much the way that district staffs currently function but more closely tied to the national office, less territorial.

12. Discipline should be reinstituted. The synod cannot remove pastors from Office. But they must protect and guard the synod's name and reputation. They can remove men and congregations from the roster. They should remove those who teach false doctrine, refuse discipline, etc.

13. The Synod must establish boundaries for worship. The hymnal -as human as it is - is the obvious place to start. Regional VPs or district presidents could allow local customs. But local customs should be deliberate and well-thought out, established practices, not changing week to week. Local customs should be exceptions made for pastoral reasons. Human rite should not be mistaken for Divine rite but should be honored and obeyed for the sake of good order and unity. This one would "hurt" me. But I think it is the right thing.


  1. My thoughts:

    4 - This one needs to be the priority, I think. I have four new guys in my circuit in the last two years, and the debt loads they are carrying are terrible -- and they aren't debt loads from irresponsibility on their part. They are debt loads from the simple fact that we don't support our Seminarians.

    5 - If we do this, then at least one of the CUS schools should be turned into a Seminary as well. Three or four regional Seminaries would be able to handle the pastoral and auxiliary education demands.

    11 - In Oklahoma we have almost that, as everything here is volunteer. We are around 80 congregations and 9 circuits - that still is manageable. We could do 5 regions, each with 12 "districts" of around 100 congregations and accomplish the same thing, still dovetailing into the current structure.

    13 - I think simply using the old boundaries of "use Synodically approved materials" would work -- as for approving local usage, let that be settled on a circuit level. If your local custom does not cause problems to your neighbors, then it is fine. If it causes harm to your neighbor, then pull back. That would be more in line with our... slightly more independent streak.

    And as for 9 and 12 - well, it's not even that the Synod needs to play the heavy, it's simply the Synod needs to maintain standards of membership. We cannot force anyone to close or what have you -- but we can say, "You are no longer one of us." We present options - you may do this and be with us, or you may do as you will - farewell and Godspeed.

    Interesting list.

    1. The old boundaries were "use of doctrinally pure" not "Synodically approved." The proposed 13 would be a real change.

    2. Sean, not quite, that is the current language, however, this is from the first constitution:

      14. Synod holds in accordance with the 7th article of the Augsburg Confession that uniformity in ceremonies is not essential; yet on the other hand Synod deems such a uniformity wholesome and useful, namely for the following reasons:

      a. because a total difference in outward ceremonies would cause those who are weak in the unity of doctrine to stumble;

      b. because in dropping heretofore preserved usages the Church is to avoid the appearance of and desire for innovations; Furthermore Synod deems it necessary for the purification of the Lutheran Church in America, that the emptiness and the poverty in the externals of the service be opposed, which, having been introduced here by the false spirit of the Reformed, is now rampant.

      All pastors and congregations that wish to be recognized as orthodox by Synod are prohibited from adopting or retaining any ceremony which might weaken the confession of the truth or condone or strengthen a heresy, especially if heretics insist upon the continuation or the abolishing of such ceremonies. Where private confession is in use, it is to be kept according to Article 11 of the Augsburg Confession. Where it is not in use, the pastor is to strive through teaching and instruction to introduce it. Yet in congregations where the total abolishing of general confession and absolution is hindered by unsurmountable obstacles, general confession may be kept along with private confession. The desired uniformity in the ceremonies is to be brought about especially by the adoption of sound Lutheran agendas (church books).

    3. This is the one that was not ultimately accepted, right? (I like this one a lot, especially regarding confession/absolution.)

      What's the not quite? This still doesn't specify "Synodically approved," which is to say, they did not specify who is to determine what constitutes an agenda to be a "sound Lutheran" one. There are many Lutheran church books, and I think arguments could be made that there are many sound Lutheran church books outside of the Synodically approved ones. Adjusting "sound Lutheran agendas/church books" and "doctrinally pure" to "Synodically approved" removes the possibility of gleaning any useful hymns or liturgical items from pre-America, pre-LCMS sources unless they are brought to a hymnal committee and published. Maybe that's not that big a deal, but it is a real change.

  2. Many thumbs-ups (I only have two but wish I had more) to # 3. I was under no illusion that all would be perfect in the LCMS, but since joining the synod, I've been shocked at how CPH is allowed to be run. It's seems to be a complete missing of the point of why it should exist.

    Don't get me wrong though, I absolutely love many of the resources they've produced lately.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. great list! Let's also change the language of Circuit Counselor to Circuit Visitor to emphasize the fact that he is to be visiting the congregations and the Concordia System definitely needs to be reevaluated to help bring Lutheran teaching back into some of our schools that have watered it down.

  5. 3b: The Liturgy should also be administered by the Synod, to be also be given away free to the Church, not sold for profit. Like the Lutheran Church in Australia does. Or the Church of England. Or indeed any churchly institution would.

  6. Didn't we all talk about this stuff over at the synod office building last week? These ideas look very familiar to me.

  7. The only one I don't like is #9 - chiefly because the Districts are already trying this. They want the small places to close shop and give the property to the district as almost all of our constitutions stipulate. This is a clear case of a conflict of interest.

    The proper way to achieve the goal you desire is simply to insist that every pastor in active service be paid a living wage. That would force the smaller parishes to become multiple point parishes or come up with other creative ways to share a minister without the district-as-vulture routine.


  8. Re #11, there seems to be plenty of excess space at churches and schools in the districts.. District could "rent" it and ditch their ofc buildings. Might want separate outside entrance to maintain appearance of independence.

  9. A lot of this is well and good, but without "12. Discipline should be reinstituted. The synod cannot remove pastors from Office. But they must protect and guard the synod's name and reputation. They can remove men and congregations from the roster. They should remove those who teach false doctrine, refuse discipline, etc." none of it will matter.

  10. Great thoughts all. Re Point 6, Evaluation of Pastors: I would readily submit to regular evaluation by a circuit counselor or fellow pastors, men who by definition know (or at least should know) Lutheran doctrine. In the current model, most of us are probably being evaluated by our own elders or directors, lay people who very often have little to no knowledge whatsoever of Lutheran or even basic Christian doctrine.

  11. I was invited by Pastor Beane to comment on this post. As always, Dave writes an interesting, thought-provoking, provocative, just-controversial-enough-to-be-interesting type of blog post. Just the kind I like myself.

    I'll start off first by declining to comment on some aspects of #3, for obvious reasons, since no matter what I may say would appear self-serving or defensive.

    But having said that, here are some of my thoughts, FWIW in the YMMV category.

    1. I believe Pastor Harrison has been doing a magnifcent job leading the Synod in a genuine pastoral/episcopal sense, let the reader understand. I'm all for "amping" up whatever is good, right and salutary in this regard, but I do have to say, I think Pastor Harrison's messages, comments, posts, letters, publications and YouTube videos have demonstrated the commitment of his office to using all possible avenues to communicate. More along these lines can not be anything but better, of course.

    2. The LW has really hit a high point in its modern history. Given that the periodical is the Synod's primary communication piece to laity, I believe the present mix of articles, style and approach is spot-on. I could not be more proud of the fine work the LW team is doing!

    3. A few comments here.

    "It should be taken back as a non-profit subsidized by synod." CPH never was subsidized by the Synod in any point in its history. It has always been non-profit. The Synod did, when officially forming it, give it around $25,000 in printing equipment and sent it on its merry way.

    "Hymnals and Catechisms should be "sold" at as near cost as possible."

    Interesting comment, and in fact, they are sold "as near cost as possible." If, on the other hand, The LCMS were to subsidize the printing of certain books, series or projects the prices could be even lower. If The LCMS in convention decides to do that, great!

    "Grants should be created to help CPH give away hymnals and catechisms at less than cost."


    "The point of the hymnal should be to unite the Synod in doctrine and practice not to underwrite a terrible VBS program that promotes contemporary worship."

    Obviously, I do not concur with this broadly negative view of our VBS program.

    "The Catechism translation should be owned by the synod not CPH. It should be made available for reproduction, without cost, to anyone who is using it piously, without modifying it."

    The LCMS chooses to entrust its official publishing arm with the protection of, publication of, and distribution of, the Catechism and other such materials. There is great wisdom here.

    There is no restriction on the use of the SC and Explanation by Lutheran parishes as they carry out their respective ministry. CPH even has the SC online for such legitimate uses.

    People who want to use the Synod's text to generate revenue outside of/beyond/in addition to legitimate intra-congregational ministry are referred to the Synod's publisher, which alone has this charge from the Synod.

    Again, I see great wisdom here as well.

    continued .....

  12. Continuing from last...

    4. I would add here also institutions for the preparation of church workers. It remains a matter of legitimate discussion whether the Synod needs ten colleges/universities and even two seminaries.

    More funding for any/all such worth enterprises requires commitment from the Synod's Districts to distribute more funds to The LCMS, and since the "Districts" are simply groupings of pastors and congregations in them, this really is a matter for pastors and congregations to support/discuss and act on.

    5. See response to 4. Interesting concept to have a "teacher's seminary" which is what Concordia University River Forest was once called in its long, long distant past! Look at how well it works to have Deaconess training on the seminary campuses. Interesting thoughts here. We certainly have the room in Fort Wayne for a much larger operation.

    6. It seems this idea, though one that is excellent, causes a lot of concern. Americans by nature are fiercely jealous of their "independence." In other professions: medicine and law, you are not permitted to retrain your
    "active" status without continuing education. I think there is something to be learned by us in this.

    Visitation? Sure, if we can reinstitute that noble task once more.

    7. I can't disagree with this idea.

    8. Yup.

    9. Yes. It is a radical proposal in even saying some congregations need to close. But, it is simply reality. Pr. Petersen states the reasons very eloquently and truthfully.

    10. Reforming existing programs for preparing pastors and others for full time devoted service to Christ and His people remains a real "hot button" issue. I have seen the Synod take huge strides away from the "wide open" days of the Wichita abridgement of the Augsburg Confession. We have more work to do. We all want the very finest men with the best possible education serving as pastors. We all need and appreciate EMT's during emergencies, but we all also love to have the best trained doctors attending our 'case' in an emergency. A lesson for us here, no doubt.

    " The racism of the LC-MS should be confessed and repented of. Ethnic minorities are not genetically predisposed to false doctrine or too weak for the rigors of serious theological education."

    Amen, and I have heard this said more loudly by the very groups that are often assumed to not want this to be the case. Listen to our brothers and sisters in the Black and Hispanic and Asian and XYZ communities and you will learn all you need to learn on this issue!

    11. I do not agree that the districts are not needed. In fact, they are needed. How they are formulated, what they should be doing, needs serious attention. I regret the abusive tone people take toward our district presidents as a group. From my past experience reviewing annual reports from Synod DPs, I can say that to a man they all wish they had the time to do more than be "firemen" rushing from one wildfire to the next trying to deal with crises in congregations and in various ministries. I tend to think smaller would be better, that's been my belief for some time now. I think it nearly cruel to expect a man to be effective over hundreds of congregations or even one hundred!

    The districts are not needed. They are a level of bureaucracy that provides very little service for the money. The synod should be divided into four geographic regions.

    12. Agree.

    13. Totally...agree. We must all surrender a bit of freedom for the sake of unity. Pr. Petersen and I have disagreed with one another, and no doubt still will, on matters liturgical, but I join him in this call, whole heartedly.

    OK, there are my thoughts.

  13. Clarification: the final two sentences under point 11 are Dave's original words, which I did not delete when commenting. I do not agree, as per the comments I made on 11.

  14. Dave,

    Regarding Districts...

    The first problem with Districts is that the larger ones have become minisynods, duplicating effort, personel and cost.

    The second problem isn't the Districts per se, but the Council of Presidents. If you read everything the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws say about the Council of Presidents, it's function is mostly roster-keeping, with some protocols for removing a Synodical president thrown in.

    The unwritten power of the CoP collectively and the DPs as individuals is money. The DPs and their respective boards of directors decide how much money passes from congregation to synod.

    Obviously, the two problems go together, giving the CoP a power not enumerated in our Constitution and Bylaws. In church government, as in civil government, unenumerated powers are always a bad idea.

    Purse strings and police are the ultimate power in left-handed matters. Since the many of our DPs have largely abandoned the "police" function (discipline), we are left with a group of purse string-pullers. Take the strings from their hands, and see what happens.


  15. An earlier contribution, to the matter of right cerebral hemisperes impactiong on sinister hands, demands a pass at a more serious, a more staid, and a shorter thread.

    The Lutherans could do far worse, than to muse on the musings of a Mr. Adam Smith, which at times apply as famously to the economy of the servants of God, as to the economy of capitalists. He famously wrote in The Wealth of Nations that “[p]eople of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."

    Our dear, dear public. I like being led to green pastures and still waters; and I firmly think the Lord's Blood is worthy of a decent chalice to hold the greatest medicine ever. But it seems inevitable, looking at Church history, that we the public are kosherly strangled by the princes' prices and their purse strings.

    Come Lord Jesus. Give us another inevitable.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

  16. POST ~ "The point of the hymnal should be to unite the Synod in doctrine and practice not to underwrite a terrible VBS program that promotes contemporary worship."

    RIPOSTE ~ "Obviously, I do not concur with this broadly negative view of our VBS program."

    Re: RIPOSTE ~ Any program which leans towards packaging the Gospel message of God's crucifixion, for us, in the guise of a safari, a space odyssey or maybe a dude ranch ... can be legitmately perceived as desperately confusing the hard work of learning with smoothly orchestrated entertainment, as baldly and as dubiously as Sesame Street's own Oscar the Grouch, or even Elmo the Whatever.

    Such stuff bows, and bows deeply (however unwittingly, apparently), to the anxious psyche of contemporary worship. It encourages a re-writing of the catechismal injunction of the blessed Martin, thusly: "We should fun, and love God..."

    Your (unworthy) grouch,
    Herr Doktor

  17. As usual, Dr. Anderson's comment is fun to read, regardless of whether or not it correct, in this case, he has a point, but only to a point.

    Now, as for having fun at VBS...not sure that is wrong. Not sure that singing fun songs means the end of the liturgy either.

    And, as for fanciful characters, here is how one Christian father wrote to his son. Was he bowing deeply to the anxious psyche of a desire to entertain? You be the judge.

    My beloved Son:

    I am pleased to learn that you are doing well in your studies and that you are praying diligently. Continue to do so, my son, and when I return home I shall bring you a present from the fair.

    I know of a pretty, gay, and beautiful garden where there are many children wearing golden robes. They pick up fine apples, pears, cherries, and plums under the trees, and they sing, jump, and are happy all the time. They also have nice ponies with golden reins and silver saddles.

    I asked the owner of the garden who the children were. He replied: "These are the children who love to pray, learn their lessons, and be good." Then I said: "Dear sir, I also have a son. His name is Hans Luther. May he too enter the garden, eat of the fine apples and pears, ride on these pretty pones, and play with the other children?" The man answered: "If he likes to pray and study and is good, he may enter the garden, and also Lippus and Jost. And when they are all together there, they shall get whistles, drums, lutes and other musical instruments, and they shall dance and shoot with little crossbows."

    And he showed me a lovely lawn in the garden, all ready for dancing, and many gold whistles and drums and fine silver crossbows were hanging there. But it was still so early in the morning that the children had not yet eaten, and so I could not wait for the dancing. I said to the man: "Dear sir, I must hurry away and write about all this to my dear little son Hans and tell him to pray, study, and be good in order that he may get into this garden. He has an Aunt Lena, and he must bring her along." "By all means," said the man, "go and write him accordingly."

    Therefore, dear Hans, continue to learn your lessons and pray, and tell Lippus and Jost to pray too, so that all of you may get into the garden together.

    Herewith I commit you to the dear Lord's keeping. Greet Aunt Lena, and give her a kiss from me.

    Your loving father,
    Martin Luther

  18. I thank the Revs. McCain and Luther for their delightful comments, as always, and do look forward to receiving that spirited pony and the cool crossbow one glorious day. Especially the fine silver crossbow. Of course, I'm trusting that the accompanying arrows will be as golden as Chrysostom's mouth, and as pointed. That said, the glories of the new earth and the new heaven are not to be confused with the rigors which necessarily come with the school desk, in the environs of this dying wilderness. Learning is hard work, sorry, and the fast quips can only get you so far. Moreover, there is no Biblical evidence that the Trinity resorted to whistles, drums, lutes and other musical instruments to reinforce His teaching to Adam about the Tree of Knowledge. Or that any such didactic interventions would have better forestalled a tragedy of epic proportions.

    To clarify further: I'm not against funnin.' No, indeed! I do believe that the good Lord Himself was not above the occasional humorous/playful verbal nudge to the ribs, as a skillful and personable means to correcting the straying (cf. Jn 4:17).

    Still and again, there is no mention of the scribes and teachers of the Law resorting to making things fun, or the youthful Christ doing a stand-up comedy routine, in order to make things more palatably relevant as He went about doing His Father's business in the Temple, for three days or so (Lk 2:41-49).

    I guess we live in a different age, one in which entertainment is deemed essential, by even the churchmen, to the noble solidifying of tender synapses. But do we really have to be of it?

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

  19. Oh. Almost forgot. It wasn't a lute, to be sure, but I fully recognize that the "noise of the trumpet" was employed to reinforce the Sinaitic teachings (Ex 20:18).

    But the kids (young and old) were not entertained by the angels, or set to dancing or merrily shooting their crossbows by such means.

    The people instead became very afraid, and stood afar off from the mountain; they entreated Moses the servant of God to intervene on their behalf, much as good Lutherans who fear and love God rooutinely entreat, endorse and bless their pastor to act in the holy chancel in God's stead and to "record [God's] Name" (20:14, AV), on their behalf ("the Lord ... be with your spirit.").

    ... And so God forgives His people. Joy!

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

  20. I knew you wouldn't have a good response for that, Dr. A.

    : )

    But you have set me to thinking about a Sodom and Gomorrah VBS program, complete with fire and brimstone from heaven.

    May have to bend a few fire codes, here and there.

    But hey, all in good fun.


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