Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The District Visitation
The district presidents shall, moreover, especially exercise supervision over the doctrine, life, and administration of office of the ordained and commissioned ministers of their district and acquaint themselves with the religious conditions of the congregations of their district. To this end, they shall visit and, according as they deem it necessary, hold investigations in the congregations. - LCMS Constitution, Art. XII
My District President, upon his first ascending to that office, took in hand a personal visitation of all his pastors. This was a low key affair - a devotion, a prayer, and a brief discussion of "how are things." It was a kind and, knowing the man, a heartfelt gesture. Toward the end he asked what the district could do for me, what I saw as a profitable role for the district in my parish's ministry.
Easy, I said: I need a bad cop. I need the district and the DP to actually stand up for the difficult teachings of the Synod. When long lost cousin Schickelgrueber, who was confirmed here but has since left for the ELCA, shows up on Sunday morning and I won't commune him, and then he complains to all his relatives - I want to be able to tell my elders the next day: Look, my hands are tied. This is what we do in Missouri: ask the DP if you don't believe me.
When somebody asks me to provide him a "non-alcoholic alternative to wine" in the Sacrament, I don't want to get into a long winded discussion of just what that ever-so-mysterious phrase "the fruit of the vine" means in the context of Passover. I just want to say: No. Our Synod doesn't do that, we're on paper on that issue, and I would have hell to pay with my DP if I tried to buck that.
Don't get me wrong - as readers of Gottesdienst Online surely know, I'm happy to talk about my reasons for what I see as the best practice and to do so at length. Yet explanations must finally end in action. And for the angry, the reluctant, the bullies, the hard of heart, those who just want to drag their feet with endless debate, those who really don't want to listen with an open mind - well, for them I just want to have a very simple explanation: I am not allowed to do that, you are barking up the wrong tree, I am a man under authority, that is above my pay grade, even if you could convince me of your position I still could not do it: NO.
I don't need the DP to be winsome, sympathetic, or even particularly pastoral. I just need someone honest and fair-minded who will stand up for the teaching of the Synod, follow the rules, and insist that I and my brethren do the same.
With that in mind, these are the kinds of things I'd like the District Presidents to ask during their visitations of the pastors under their supervision.
* What's the last book of doctrinal theology you read in whole or in part? What is your daily reading plan for keeping your doctrine sharp and true?
* What agenda and hymnbooks do you use in worship? If you are not using an agenda and hymnbook that our Synod has agreed upon as doctrinally pure - for example if you are writing your own agenda and using a CCLI license for songs - what is your process of evaluating them for doctrinal purity? How many weeks in advance can you get your homemade orders of service and song list to me for my evaluation?
* What elements do you use for the Sacrament of the Altar?
* Do you use a chalice, individual cups, or both? If you use individual cups are they the plastic throwaways?
* Explain to me who can serve as an elder in your congregation?
* Role play: I am a visitor on Sunday morning, "Pastor, can I take commune this morning?". . .
* Tell me about your confirmation curriculum.
* Please send me your last five sermons in manuscript, audio/video recording or both. I will provide a pocket recorder if you currently do not write them out in manuscript and are not recording them.
The list could go on, but you get the idea. Questions like these would, I think, make for a very helpful visitation that could go a long way to restoring our unity in doctrine and practice.