Saturday, July 25, 2009

Close Communion and Extraordinary Situations

Close Communion as a policy in the LCMS ranks high among the most misunderstood, reviled, and abused practices in the church today. The Synod has reaffirmed its support for this practice time and again all the way back to the late 1960's, yet we have still to arrive at a common understanding of how to implement it in the real world. In the LCMS today one can find the spectrum ranging from blatant "open communion" all the way to a faithful upholding of the ancient fellowship practice.

In 1967 Res. 2-19 was passed that instructed that "pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, except in situations of emergency and in special cases of pastoral care, commune individuals of only those synods which are now in fellowship with us." In 1986 in Res. 3-08 further stated "that the pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod continue to abide by the practice of close communion, which includes the necessity of exercising responsible pastoral care in extraordinary situations and circumstances." Res. 3-0 in 1995 further reminded the church that "situations of emergency and special cases of pastoral care' or 'extraordinary situations and circumstances' are, by their nature, relatively rare."

These resolutions, it would seem, define the parameters of the practice sufficiently for all reasonable minded people to understand and faithfully implement. "Extraordinary" limits fellowship in the Sacrament to those situations outside of normal fellowship (i.e. synods with which we are in altar and pulpit fellowship, such as the AALC at present) that are by nature "rare," and often within "emergency" occurrences, such as imminent death. One can imagine few instances where such situations might occur. One possible scenario could be a college student away from home who is a member of a smaller conservative Lutheran denomination for which there is no church available within reasonable driving distance. Or one might have a situation involving someone from another country. Yet all in all such occurrences are going to be rare.

Still, "extraordinary" in many LCMS parishes is defined by their pastors as anything but rare. It is interpreted to be any visitor, first time or not. The charge for clergy to exercise "responsible pastoral care" is often thrown out the window when decisions for fellowship at the altar are reduced to the private answering of a handful of questions in the bulletin that usually are inadequate to define a person's theology as orthodox. Yet members, after visiting these churches, return and query their pastor about how unloving and callous their own practice now seem by comparison. Close Communion, at present, in the LCMS, is anything but a unified practice, and remains terribly confusing for the church-at-large. This confusion, if not remedied by consistent and orthodox practice, will only continue to errode the faithful witness of the LCMS, and cause more division and pain within our fellowship with each passing year.

Featured Blog - BAD VESTMENTS


My daughter alerted me to this very entertaining blog called BAD VESTMENTS. In a day when dignity and reverence is fast disappearing from the sanctuary, it makes sense that liturgical vestments would follow suit. I included his latest entry to whet your appetite. Enjoy!

Friday, July 10, 2009

When a Pastor Resigns His Call

After following part of a thread over on the Luther Quest discussion board regarding the recent resignation of a pastor, I want to offer here something that seemed missing there. The biblical causes for a pastor to be relieved of his Call are clear: persistent teaching of false doctrine, a life unbecoming a Christian (moral failure), inability or unwillingness to perform the functions of the office. Sadly, many pastors are forced out of their parishes for causes far less than these. Even sadder yet, are districts that allow such forced departures for less than biblical cause. The means they use to do this might include as crass a move as to suspend his pay, thus starving him out of office, as it were. Or they may take the route of pressuring him to resign, offering incentives mixed with veiled threats as a way to press the pastor to leave. On the thread mentioned above a comment was offered that made it seem that if a pastor resigned his call by accepting a severance package he was leaving for the wrong reason. Money was placed above principle, or so it sounded to me.

As a pastor of more than two decades service, and a circuit counselor who has had the opportunity to be involved with other parishes, I suggest that the above conclusion is not altogether fair. One point missing (or maybe I should I read the thread further), is the pastor's struggle on how much strife he wishes to cause in the process of defending his Call. Yes, a Call can and often should be defended for the sake of the Office and Christ. Yes, it is shameful if a church would treat this Office with contempt by forcing a servant out simply because of personal distaste with the office-bearer. Yet the means of addressing these concerns with the parish does not always have to be a pitched and entrenched battle. And sometimes such an approach can cause untold pain and harm to the pastor's family and the very fellowship of the given parish. If a pastor resigns and accepts a severance package rather than take the parish down that path, he may indeed be making a choice that spares his family undo harm, and reduces the carnage of a protracted battle that might make further repair all the more difficult. The pastor may also be allowing the existing leadership (and/or district leadership as well) the chance to address larger issues without the interference of personal issues clouding future discussions. Sometimes the rancor of those who feel put out is so loud it drowns out everything else, and there is nothing one can do to quiet it down. Nothing except remove oneself from the discussion.

I suspect there are others who may disagree with this logic, and I respect that. The Office of the Holy Ministry is exceedingly important to me, and I believe that a man should not easily release himself from it. He has taken public vows before the people. But the question that looms before him is always the overall welfare and care of the sheep. He is not the only one who can shepherd this flock. Might another at some future time when matters have been adequately addressed more effectively lead again? It is worth pondering....

Saturday, July 4, 2009

President Kieschnick Warns of Danger in the Now-Passed "Hate Crimes Bill"

On June 23 I reported on concerns regarding the pending "Hate Crimes" bill in congress, which at that point was only in committee. The following is a statement from the LCMS website regarding President Kieschnick's warning against the same bill (now passed in the House) echoing similar concerns of my own:

President calls attention to 'hate crimes' bill

While the free speech implications are not clear in a "hate crimes" bill pending in Congress, LCMS President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick is urging chate-crimes-gbk.gifhurch leaders to contact their congressmen with questions and concerns.

The bill, passed in April by the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, expands the definition of "hate crimes" to include those against individuals based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. The U.S. Senate has not scheduled a hearing on a companion bill, S. 909.

In a statement issued June 23, Kieschnick notes potential effects for pastors and members who speak against homosexuality based on the Word of God. "There has been no legal analysis of the legislation to date, and its definitions of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity have yet to be determined by the courts," he writes.

Kieschnick cites Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., a bill sponsor, who says the proposed law targets only those who participate in violent crimes against homosexuals. Kieschnick says critics of the bill, such as Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, contend that ministers and teachers could face possible prosecution if someone commits a crime claiming to have heard his or her religious leader speak against homosexuality.

Kieschnick and his staff will monitor the outcome of the bill. "Society's values and its laws may change, but thanks be to God, His Word never will," he states.

Districts Differ on How to Proceed with the Blue Ribbon Study

The current Reporter (the "Official Newspaper of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod"), contained a nice summary of 13 district conventions from the month of June. What struck me in particular were the resolutions concerning the Blue Ribbon Report that I began reviewing in my last post. In addition to the four mentioned here with resolutions on the Blue Ribbon Task Force, I will end the post with a reference to the most recent convention in Ohio.

KANSAS
The district in convention asked "the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance to complete its final report to LCMS congregations by October 15 so that congregations will have time to consider the recommendations prior to the 2010 Synod convention."

SOUTH WISCONSIN
This district addressed "concerns about [the] Blue Ribbon Task Force proposals. Memorials to the Synod's 2010 convention included requests to: keep The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod name; make no changes to Synod's structure or bylaws that are not in alignment with Dr. C.F. W. Walther's 'Church and Ministry'; continue the current process of electing circuit counselors by vote of circuit congregations rather than involving the district president in the selection; ask for detailed reasons for task force recommendations and not consider adopting any final recommendations until LCMS congregations have a three-year convention cycle to study and discuss recommendations; retain the current number of districts and ask the task force to present a detailed analysis of the positive and negative points of any proposed changes to district structure at the next Synod convention after 2010."

MISSOURI
This convention memorialized "the LCMS to ask the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance to delay its report until the 2013 LCMS convention so that congregations will have more time to consider its proposals."

MONTANA
This district asked "the Synod president to suspend the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, so that a plan for restructuring would not be presented for action at the 2010 Synod convention. That resolution further requests that the 2010 convention 'consider none of the recommended changes to the synodical Constitution proposed by the [task force]."

OHIO
From blogger Straight Schlueter in his report of the Ohio District Convention:
"Other resolutions were also before the convention. Of significance was a series of resolutions that had to do with allowing a vote in convention to commissioned ministers as well as ordained ministers serving a non congregational call (such as an RSO, a mission at large, a seminary, etc.). These resolutions were significant because they represented a shift in the way we conceive of the synod....The series of resolutions were divided into 4 separate resolutions to recommend a change to the BRTFSSG. The first two passed before the convention realized the theological shift that was occurring but then it turned down the second two. It is good that not all were passed. It is however somewhat unusual and ironic that the convention decided to grant a vote to commissioned ministers yet not to seminary professors.

A resolution was presented from the floor to memorialize the Synodical convention to refrain from voting on the recommendations of the BRTFSSG until 2013. This was accepted by a 2/3 majority and reflects a hesitancy on the part of the convention to rush in to radical changes in the structure and governance of the synod. This was good."

So far it would seem there is some unrest and uneasiness with the BRTFSSG throughout Synod. I hope the national convention next year hears the various concerns of the districts and seriously considers the wisdom of delaying any final action. I fear, as it also appears some throughout Synod share, that the administration and the task force members will present their findings with the message that time cannot wait for another cycle of conventions - Money is short. The mission calls. We need to act now! Yet haste often brings regret. Once changed the Synod will be hard to change back to its original form. The mission can very well continue without any national structure. We don't need districts and Synod ultimately to share the Gospel. This occurs every Sunday from countless pulpits, and more informally from the lips of dedicated people in their God-ordained vocations in the world. Let us hear the clarion call of caution from the districts and slow down. Such matters require much more thought.

President Kieschnick Warns of Danger in the Now-Passed "Hate Crimes Bill"

On June 23 I reported on concerns regarding the pending "Hate Crimes" bill in congress, which at that point was only in committee. The following is a statement from the LCMS website regarding President Kieschnick's warning against the same bill (now passed in the House) echoing similar concerns of my own:

President calls attention to 'hate crimes' bill

While the free speech implications are not clear in a "hate crimes" bill pending in Congress, LCMS President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick is urging chate-crimes-gbk.gifhurch leaders to contact their congressmen with questions and concerns.

The bill, passed in April by the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 1913, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, expands the definition of "hate crimes" to include those against individuals based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. The U.S. Senate has not scheduled a hearing on a companion bill, S. 909.

In a statement issued June 23, Kieschnick notes potential effects for pastors and members who speak against homosexuality based on the Word of God. "There has been no legal analysis of the legislation to date, and its definitions of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity have yet to be determined by the courts," he writes.

Kieschnick cites Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., a bill sponsor, who says the proposed law targets only those who participate in violent crimes against homosexuals. Kieschnick says critics of the bill, such as Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, contend that ministers and teachers could face possible prosecution if someone commits a crime claiming to have heard his or her religious leader speak against homosexuality.

Kieschnick and his staff will monitor the outcome of the bill. "Society's values and its laws may change, but thanks be to God, His Word never will," he states.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Some Initial Reflections on the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance

Since returning from the North Wisconsin District Convention, I now feel I can spend a moment or two reviewing some of the proposals for the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG). As with the other district conventions, a representative from Synod presented a survey form for the delegates to complete reflecting their views on the proposed changes. My initial reaction was not positive, but mainly because I was being asked opinions on matters for which I had not yet spent any time contemplating. The discussion of the points in the BRTFSSG only came after we filled out the survey, not before, which felt backwards and somewhat counterproductive, especially for those just now hearing about these changes (which would mainly involve the laity in this case.) Needless to say, I filled out most of the survey with noncommitted responses.

For what it is worth, here are some of my initial reactions to the proposals. My blog report will probably require more than one post. You can read information on the entire BRTFSSG online at the Synod's website here.

CONGREGATIONS, MEMBERSHIP, AND CONVENTIONS
  • An effort is being made to increase representation while still reducing the overall number of delegates. The reasoning behind the latter is a matter of cost-effeciency. Makes sense to keep costs lower. We encourage faithful stewardship at all levels. However.....
  • My first concern with the change in representation involves skewing it in favor of one group, the "mega churches." The proposal allows for extra delegates from congregations of 1,000 or more members. By increasing delegates from these larger parishes, we will reduce in input of smaller parishes. Right now much of the tension in Synod involving such important matters as worship seems largely concentrated in the move of the mega churches toward an evangelical, non-liturgical model, verses the smaller churches that often hold fast to the hymnal. While tension is not always desired, we need to retain it at this level if the identity and direction of Synod is not to be lost to the evangelical-leaning sectors.
  • Currently the majority of Synod's congregations (and membership?) still remains composed of parishes under 1,000. Thus, would it not make greater sense to keep the structure as is, so as to maintain the balance and more truthfully reflect Synod as it is?
  • While I understand the need to reduce numbers for the sake of cost savings, I am still concerned about the lessening of representation. Should dollars end up trumping our need for adequate input as we discuss the important matters of Synod's teaching and structure?
  • It is proposed to hold Synodical conventions every four years instead of three. The idea here involves a cycle of: Year 1: Circuit convention/forums, Year 2: District convocation/conferences, Year 3: District Conventions, Year 4: Synodcial Conventions. It is hoped that such a cycle would increase and broaden grassroots involvement, as well as allow more time for implimentation of synodical convention actions. Possibly. Not necessarily a bad idea at first brush. My natural concern is the need to wait one additional year to effect change when there is dissatisfaction with the current direction of Synod.
  • It is proposed that we encourage future resolutions to district and synodical conventions to come from larger groups such as circuit forums and conventions instead of the current practice of allowing them from individual congregations. The reasoning here involves the desire to increase grassroots involvement and improve the quality of the resolutions. Again, makes some sense at first brush. Yet once more my natural fear concerns a decrease in representation from the true grassroots of Synod: the individual congregation. It may not always be as effecient or tidey, but is this the top priority over true representation?
  • Regading doctrinal resolutions and statements the BRTFSSG recommends that all such statements require a 2/3 vote for adoption. Considering the weighty nature of such statements and the usual divisness experienced in Synod over the years on these matters, this proposal requires more serious consideration.
CONGREGATIONS AND CIRCUITS
  • It is proposed to discontinue "electoral circuits" and restore the administrative structure of circuits back to their "primary purpose" of visitation.
  • The circuit counselor (CC) would then be appointed by the district president (DP) instead of elected by the circuits themselves.
  • Convention delegates would no longer be chosen at this level either.
  • To be fair the BRTFSSG stresses the involvement of the congregations in this process, even as their official vote is removed.
  • Since the CC works as a direct representative of the DP it seems to make sense that he would have a prominent say in who serves in his stead.
  • However, my concern here is the removal of the direct and binding voice of the churches themselves in choosing the pastors and laity representing their concerns.
  • The balance between electing and appointing would potentially be upset with such a move, allowing, it appears, more centralization of control and power at the administration level. I would vote to leave the circuit alone, retaining both their electoral and visitation functions. Personally, serving now my second term as a CC, I don't see here where the system is broken.
End of Review -Part One.