Is the LCMS Cherry-Picking the Confessions?

Updated: Mar 17

We Need More Workers!

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)




The purpose of this blog is not to condemn the church body and individual churches that formed us through Word and Sacrament. The purpose of this blog is to ask hard questions that speak directly into the church’s present health for the sake of our future together. As an adult convert, I (Jack) am asking questions because I love what Jesus has entrusted to us in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.


Jesus is on a mission to reap a plentiful harvest. In order to carry out this mission, Jesus needs an abundance of workers. Specifically, He needs workers who will proclaim the Gospel to His sheep so that they may hear the Word and receive a new life of faith. Yet as we hear from Christ, “the workers are few.” Let us all earnestly pray now to our Lord, more fervently than ever, to send us new workers and leaders who will be the next generation of proclaimers for the sake of an abundant harvest ready to be gathered!


We pray our hearts would ache with love and compassion for our pre-Christian friends. If we trust that Christ speaks the truth, we must be convinced by the Holy Spirit to immediately abolish every unreasonable barrier that would prevent highly qualified candidates, who share our Lutheran Confessions, from being ordained as LCMS pastors.


Barriers to Ordination

What barriers? We highly value our seminaries as a gift from Jesus for pastoral development. Here is the reality. Our seminaries are not able to raise up the next generation of pastors at a pace that is remotely capable of meeting the demand for workers in a post-Christian, secular America. Furthermore, in the age of Zoom, Google Hangouts, and distance-education technology, it is no longer acceptable to demand that all pastoral candidates quit their jobs, leave their homes, leave local congregations and community context for four years, while often incurring a hefty tuition cost.


We have also created a hierarchy of pastors through lowering and, on occasion, disrespectfully threatening to close the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program. LCMS leaders have called the residential MDiv pathway the “gold standard” of pastoral formation, thus implying other pathways are inferior. This has emotionally hurt many SMP pastors, as well as those who have received training through other ordination pathways (CMC, EIIT, etc.).


Jesus never led out of positions of power. “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35)

Jesus led by sacrifice and service modeled on the cross. During Holy Week, Jesus confronted the positional, prideful authority of the Pharisees by saying to the crowds and His disciples, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” (Matt. 23:8) Jesus is not dismissing the need for teachers and pastors. Leadership roles are essential for the function of a healthy church. Rather, Jesus is attacking the prideful heart of a leader who wants to be pharisaically recognized as the “gold standard” pastor. All ordained pastors, regardless of their certification route, are equal. As brothers, we are one in mission and equally called to lead like Jesus in humble and sacrificial service.


A Better Way



Why does the LCMS not have an online MDiv pathway? We are one of very few U.S. denominations that do not offer a distance MDiv degree. This is not an

indictment against current or former Seminary presidents. Their hands were tied (though they could have more passionately promoted the opportunity given the times). An online MDiv must be voted on every three years at Synod and Convention. We can’t go back in time. Yet if we’d known the world was going online in March of 2020, would we have changed our attitude toward an online MDiv option at the Synod Convention? We’ll never know. What we do know is that Synod leaders have been silent on exploring an online MDiv option in public, and they’ve had two years.


In the meantime, churches suffer. Synod and her institutions exist to serve the local church. It feels the other way around today. This saddens Jesus.


I (Tim) loved my training at the Seminary. I was blessed to learn the riches of our Lutheran teaching from amazing faculty and professors. I would not trade my experience for anything. I am grateful. Yet as mentioned in my blog Why the Church Needs to Deploy Local Leaders (Part 3 of 3), I was never trained to discover, develop and deploy other pastors. I was not trained to multiply shepherds. I was trained to shepherd sheep. Imagine if the Seminary taught residential students to see themselves as pastors who multiply pastors through a variety of contextual training means! (2 Tim. 2:2)


If the LCMS showed more openness to meeting the needs of the local congregation, students desiring residential institutional training would increase. The anxiety for some LCMS leaders is the belief that opening up training would reduce students within our institutions. The opposite would be true. The LCMS would be seen as adaptive, and the desire to interact in person with our amazing faculty would only increase for those desiring full-time ministry. Within one generation, the LCMS could be overflowing with pastors and other leaders, many of them bi-vocational and raised up in their local churches to serve in their local communities, eager to multiply the message of the Gospel. Pray to the Lord of the harvest this happens in the LCMS.


In a future blog, we will be explaining how the U.S. military managed to quadruple its leadership pipeline by embracing a complementary approach in developing high-quality residency students (West Point) and decentralized local leadership development students (ROTC). Could the LCMS explore a similar approach to church leadership development?


An Opportunity

The LCMS should open up colloquy. Let’s say a motivated student, who is a son of the local church, decides to pursue a high-quality, accredited online MDiv degree. This student is fully committed to all of the Lutheran Confessions, they love our biblical theology, and they have been actively mentored by a mature LCMS pastor. Is there any legitimate reason in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions why this man should not be eligible for ordination through the colloquy process if the congregation would like to call him to be their pastor? Unfortunately, the sad reality in the LCMS, this hypothetical story is not a possibility.


Ordination and the Confessions

This is sad and seems unjust, especially given what the Lutheran Confessions say. In Why the Church Needs to Deploy Local Leaders (Part 3 of 3), I (Tim) shared what The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope said. The Smalcald Articles point out that the Roman pope and bishops are using their positional power to withhold ordination from the churches connected to the Reformer's Gospel teaching. The Roman pope and bishops thought they held positional power over the local church. History, Scripture, and the Confessions proved otherwise.



Smalcald Article X: Of Ordination and the Call:


1 If the bishops would be true bishops [would rightly discharge their office], and would devote themselves to the Church and the Gospel, it might be granted to them for the sake of love and unity, but not from necessity, to ordain and confirm us and our preachers; omitting, however, all comedies and spectacular display [deceptions, absurdities, and appearances] of unchristian [heathenish] parade and pomp.


2 But because they neither are, nor wish to be, true bishops, but worldly lords and princes, who will neither preach, nor teach, nor baptize, nor administer the Lord’s Supper, nor perform any work or office of the Church, and, moreover, persecute and condemn those who discharge these functions, having been called to do so, the Church ought not on their account to remain without ministers [to be forsaken by or deprived of ministers].


3 Therefore, as the ancient examples of the Church and the Fathers teach us, we ourselves will and ought to ordain suitable persons to this office; and, even according to their own laws, they have not the right to forbid or prevent us. For their laws say that those ordained even by heretics should be declared [truly] ordained and stay ordained [and that such ordination must not be changed], as St. Jerome writes of the Church at Alexandria, that at first it was governed in common by priests and preachers, without bishops. -1


This is the key question. Who is remaining more true to the Lutheran Confessions? Those who advocate for the local church to ordain through colloquy after a proper review process, or those who wish to keep colloquy closed for the sake of preserving the established educational system? Do institutions take precedence over the preaching of the Gospel within the local church? Please tell us how keeping colloquy closed is not interpreted as institutional preservation and a disregard for the needs of the local church. We would love to hear this argument based on Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.



The Dilemma of the Local Church

Where does this leave the local LCMS church? The governing documents of your local LCMS congregation probably contain language that sounds something like this:


Only such candidates shall be issued a Divine Call who profess acceptance of and pledge faithful adherence to the Confessional Basis of this congregation… of this Constitution and have been certified and endorsed by The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as eligible for a Divine Call as a minister of religion (ordained or commissioned). -2


There is no means for the local church to ordain pastors without LCMS certification as agreed upon in the Constitution and Bylaws of the LCMS and local congregations.


As members of the LCMS, we have no problem with this provision. We want to “walk together” in our valued and shared Confessions, and a robust evaluation process is a great means of maintaining our common Confessions. The problem arises, however, when the sole authority to certify is controlled by LCMS leaders (presidents, presidium) for the sake of preserving institutions, and that heavy-handed control then causes harm to the body of Christ.


We need more called and ordained servants of Word and Sacrament. We cannot wait for a generation for Rev. Baneck’s strategy of discipling the young (baptized through 18 years old)

to fill our institutions and, in time, our pulpits. Bivocational pastors are needed today (more on this in future blogs). When such a case arises and is not quickly remedied, one can clearly make an argument that the LCMS has abandoned the spirit and even the very letter of our Lutheran Confessions by heavy-handedly keeping even colloquy from the local church.


Not every church will share our concerns. Many churches have little vision for multiplying disciples of Jesus and ordaining pastors. Again, many pastors simply don’t know developing pastors is part of their calling (2 Timothy 2:2 “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”). That is okay, we guess. Our church and context is different. We live in an incredibly fast-growing city. We need exponentially more leaders than the LCMS system allows. We need them to stay local. We need the training to be robustly Lutheran and robustly contextual. We need the training to be less expensive. We need to take the Gospel to cross-cultural communities.


Congregations in contexts like ours feel stuck! We are bound by the governing congregational constitutions and LCMS bylaws which prescribe the certification and call process.


Call to Action

Our local congregation is currently drafting an overture commending the LCMS to open up colloquy as one of the pathways toward ordination. Keep in mind, there was no “overture” that effectively “closed” the colloquy route. It simply has not been used as a valid route for LCMS ordination by the LCMS leadership (President and Vice President). You can download a copy of the Overture below.

Christ Greenfield Overture
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.43MB





It All Hangs on the Confessions

We will close with one observation. Pastors are required to adhere to the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws as a part of their initial call process. The local church is required to adhere to the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws if they desire to have LCMS pastors. There is nothing in most local church constitutions and bylaws that bind them to the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws. Thus the ability to call certified LCMS pastors is one of the “control mechanisms” for LCMS leaders (district presidents). We are aware of bylaw 1.6.2(10), which states that those who dissent through overtures “continue to honor and uphold publicly the stated position of the Synod, notwithstanding further study and action by the Synod in convention.” -3 We will honor and uphold what Synod in Convention has said. We simply pray, for the sake of the advancement of the Gospel, that Synod and Convention give due attention to the needs of local churches striving to start new churches.


LCMS churches are largely governed by the constitution and bylaws through the calling of their pastor. In examining our congregational governing documents, it seems that the overriding means of alignment hangs almost exclusively on our shared Lutheran Confessions. For example, if there is a church division, the assets of the church shall remain with those members whom the LCMS has determined are adhering to the Confessions. The LCMS, therefore, is required to act as an impartial arbitrator in such a conflicted situation.


It also seems that, just as the LCMS holds the local church accountable to the Confessions, it is also the responsibility of the local church to do the same for the Synod. In fact, the Confessions are so central to our life together as congregations that a local congregation may have the means to vote to determine whether the Synod has violated, abandoned, or “cherry-picked” the Confession. Here is the specific text from our congregation’s constitution:


ARTICLE 4: SYNODICAL MEMBERSHIP

This congregation shall be a member of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and shall exercise all rights associated with membership as long as the Confessions of said Synod conforms to the congregation’s Confessional Basis set forth in Article 3 of this Constitution. Conformity of the Synod to our Confessional Basis shall be determined, if challenged, by a two-thirds majority vote of the Voting Communicant Members, as defined in the Bylaws, present at a Special Meeting called for that purpose. -4


Finally, the LCMS Constitution says:

Article VII Relation of the Synod to Its Members

1. In its relation to its members the Synod is not an ecclesiastical government exercising legislative or coercive powers, and with respect to the individual congregation’s right of self-government it is but an advisory body. Accordingly, no resolution of the Synod imposing anything upon the individual congregation is of binding force if it is not in accordance with the Word of God or if it appears to be inexpedient as far as the condition of a congregation is concerned. -5



CLOSING

We do not make these claims lightly or flippantly. I (Tim) love the doctrine of our church body. This is not seminex and a battle over the inerrancy of Scripture. I pledged commitment to the Scripture and the Confessions. My ordination vows did not include a statement about subscription to the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws, though I admit I come under their authority. I am simply sad that it appears the Confessions are being “cherry-picked” for institutional preservation.


I could not have led a local congregation the past two years without adapting to meet the changing needs of our community with the Gospel. For example, the church had to bring the Gospel online! Praise be to God! Yet I am saddened that in the midst of an ever-increasingly secular world, LCMS leaders are insisting on doing things the way we’ve always done them. Jesus is calling the local church and denominations to adapt for the sake of the lost.


Finally, we are saddened that LCMS leaders have not creatively explored ways to remedy our pastoral shortfall. The Word of God, the Reformation story, the Lutheran Confessions, and the story of the birth of the LCMS clearly indicate the right of local churches to call and ordain their own pastors. We would truly love to hear from LCMS leaders how they justify in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions using their “coercive powers” to keep local churches feeling “stuck” in multiplying general ordination pastors for Word and Sacrament ministry. We must do better than simply appeal to the current LCMS Constitution and Bylaws.


Paul entrusted young Pastor Timothy to multiply ministers of Word and Sacrament. We should explore doing the same. The harvest is too plentiful to do otherwise. It’s hard to argue with the church planting fruit of the apostle Paul.


“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)


by Jack Kalleberg & Tim Ahlman

 

References


1- Book of Concord Confessions of the Lutheran Evangelical Church published by Kolg & Wengert Cob SA Article 10

2- Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church Constitution

3- Upon this Rock 2016 Handbook 66th Regular Convention The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Milwaukee, Wis | July 9-14 2016 pg 34

4- Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church Constitution

5- Upon this Rock 2016 Handbook 66th Regular Convention The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Milwaukee, Wis | July 9-14 2016 pg 13-14


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