Monday, July 7, 2008

The Purpose and Meaning of Synodical Structures

In following a thread on the ALPB site I read a comment by Pastor Weedon on the purpose and role of the Synod that caused me to pause and think. He wrote:

"The difficulty, as I see it, is that in these parts we were always told that we contribute to Synod to support work together that we can't do alone so well: training pastors and missionaries; training teachers; providing published materials. Now, the problem with this argument became apparent some years back: the Synod doesn't give funds for those things anymore. The seminaries and colleges are on their own; the missionaries raise their own money; CPH gives money TO the Synod. So what ARE we giving the money for? That's the challenge. I think the tightened financial times for Synod can only be healthy. We've got a bloated bureaucracy at the top, and it can be pared down - especially in this age of the internet! Time to do some serious rethinking."

A debate has raged for some time now within LCMS circles, at least, on the overall purpose, direction and meaning of the synodical structure. One of those debates regards the fundamental question of whether "Synod" is "church" is the technical sense of the term, or whether it is just a political structure or man-made affiliation of churches. Dr. Marquart, as I remember it, believed that Synod was Church. Others disagree. Those who disagree see the true church only in the manifestation of the local congregation. Thus, synodical officers are simply corporate bureaucrats. And the practice of the Eucharist at large synodical gatherings is simply inappropriate if it is not directly hosted by a local congregation. I struggle with this. Did Paul view the churches of Asia only individually, or collectively? Were letters, such as the one written to the church in Corinth, written only to one local congregation, or was this a letter written to several under the title of the "church of Corinth"? The same with Rome, for we know that in the early church there were several churches in the greater Roman metropolis.

At any rate, the more immediate question raised by Weedon is very timely, especially as congregations consider how to appropriate their giving in light of a tighter economy. Why exactly do we give to Synod if it no longer directly supports many of the ministries it once did? Is the structure in need of some serious pruning? His point bears more thinking: "I think the tightened financial times for Synod can only be healthy. We've got a bloated bureaucracy at the top, and it can be pared down - especially in this age of the internet! Time to do some serious rethinking." What are your thoughts?

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