Again, I was impressed with the overall demeanor and forthrightness of the Task Force. They have been responsive to questions and criticism and changed much of their recommendations over time. They do appear to be genuine and actively listening to the concerns and needs of those who have responded.
And many of their recommendations are good. I firmly support the change in length of terms, the four-year cycle and the reduction in delegates to Synodical Conventions. These will provide significant cost-savings to the Synod and to the congregations, which are assessed for conventions. In fact, I really find that few of the actual recommendations are bad or dangerous or misguided or anything else that critics have suggested. Since I am not a voting delegate to the Convention, I recommended those at my table vote “yes” for all of them for several reasons: 1) they do seem to hang together well and support one another; 2) it’s worth seeing what and how it will change our synod. Change, after all, is not our enemy.
Having said that, I do have a few serious objections to recommendation #18. The Chief Mission Officer is endued with incredible power and influence and is an unelected position.
The perceived problem the CMO corrects is what they called the “Silo Effect.” Each of the existing Boards and Commissions are somewhat independent of the President, answering only to their elected boards. Each Program Board is able therefore to function independently of each other, and as someone on the panel said, “At times against one another.” The CMO, therefore, would eliminate this problem and provide for a coordinated implementation of the directives of the Convention and the Synodical President.
Basically the CMO would be running the show at the International Center, and in effect by a secondary–unelected–Synodical President. I asked the panel several questions about this which they were gracious enough to answer, yet their answers were unsatisfactory. Their claim is that the CMO is purely administrative, in that he answers to the President and oversees the tasks and responsibilities the President gives him in overseeing the two major offices of the Synod (National and International Mission). They added that since the President is out of the office on trips 40% of the time, it is necessary to have someone there to provide oversight and guidance to the offices and their work. The panel said that the President would retain all ecclesiastical duties, while the CMO would be administrative.
This is naive at best. The work of our current program boards which will be condensed into two offices IS ecclesiastical. It is theological. It is the work of the Gospel…hopefully. The CMO will be directly overseeing the missions, the spending, the establishment of goals and meeting those of Evangelism, Stewardship, Youth, Ethnic ministries and more. This is ecclesiastical. Period.
And the CMO is unelected and does not answer to the Convention. This is the most serious problem of the recommendations per se.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance is not going to “fix” the Synod. It may indeed provide a streamlined method and allow the Synod to financially continue, but it cannot and will not heal the dysfunction and division that we are facing. In some ways it may only serve to cover it up even more.
There was an assumption that the Panel made several times which colored all their work and recommendations, namely, that Scripture does not stipulate polity. That is an exegetical move Lutherans have always made. I won’t argue with that here. But the problem is that the panel used this as a controlling principle and refused to consider implications of what our polity means for those doctrines and practices which are scriptural. For instance, grouping the ordained and non-ordained into one group called “Associate Members of Synod” is fine on the surface. Problems arise though when each order has the equal right to be selected as delegates. The panel said quite clearly that “Scripture does not tell us who should be voting or how it should be ordered.” True enough. But Scripture does, in our Lutheran understanding, divinely establish only one order in the Church–that of the Office of the Holy Ministry. When our actions and polity and human ordering of the system undermines the uniqueness of the office, or wrongly group this with humanly created orders and offices, it undermines Scripture and what we confess about the Office. There are theological implications–big ones–that the Panel and Task Force are ignoring.
Some make the argument that this ignorance is intentional. With SMP, “Lay Pastors” and the frequent abuse of the Office in allowing DCEs and Vicars to administer sacraments, the Office of the Ministry is being undermined and altered right before our eyes. The recommendation to create the “Associate Member” category simply helps in further degrading the divinely established office into something functional.
It may be unchristian to assign nefarious intentions to the Task Force. So I will be as christian as possible: what we are facing in our Synod is not a plot to give us a functional, protestant view of church and ministry but is due to ignorance and foolishness and a complete and total disregard and aversion to think theologically. It is neglect. Of course it is easy and comfortable for us to partition off theology from practice, to ignore the implications of what we say and do. It is a result of sin. Of denial. What I am saying is that the Synod is suffering this sin in epidemic porportions.
Furthermore, there is a distressing change to the constitution in several articles. First, the proposed changes to Article III eliminate the language of III.7. Right now that section reads, “Encourage congregations to strive for uniformity in church practice, but also to develop an appreciation of a variety of responsible practices and customs which are in harmony with our common profession of faith;”. That section is expanded into two in the proposed changes, and it eliminates the language of “uniformity in church practice.”
The panel argued with our 2nd VP David Nehrenz, saying that the proposed changes mean the same thing, and that he has nothing to worry about. They must not have understood the point. The proposed change completely gives up the fact that our current constitution calls for “striving for uniformity” and it always has. Now, one may argue that it is unenforced and virtually ignored for the last 30 years or so. True. Furthermore, the current wording in emphasizing both “uniformity” and “variety” completely undermines one another; in other words, it is impossible to both call for things to be the same and different. That is true as well. The language of “variety” was recently added to the constitution (don’t ask me when). The Synod has called for uniformity of practice since its founding (or at least since 1894). To remove this will only throw in the towel.
Furthermore, under Article VI.4 the current constitution reads, “Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school.” The proposed change (Art. VI.B.2) reads, “Use of worship and catechetical resources that are in harmony with the confessional basis of the Synod.” The panel argued with VP Nehrenz again that these two statements say the same thing. They do not. There is a difference in determining if something is pure and if it is in harmony. What this effects is the practical blessings of using whatever one wants as long as an argument can be sustained that it is somehow “in harmony.”
I’m saving the best for last.
As I sat through hours of talk and rationale and explanation and statements about “getting back to grass roots” and “emphasizing congregations” and “getting back to basics” of our mission in our congregations and our mission together and so forth, it slowly dawned on me that something very important was missing from everything that was being said. Worship.
Christ is head of the church, the ecclesia, those who are called out from the world and placed together around Him as our head and the one who is priest and lamb before us and with us. The ecclesia is the gathering of His people. It is the people who worship and receive Him in the Sacraments. As one delegate said to me privately, “Worship is ground zero for the church.” Worship–Divine Service–is everything. It is our identity, our life. It is what the Body of Christ does, its foundation, its creation, it is the life of the Church. But it was never mentioned. Never spoken of as our basic mission, as our life. Instead it was “missions” and “saving souls” and “doing the work of God” and all kinds of other priorities, some vague, some concrete.
I ask you, especially laity: how do you experience the Church, the Body of Christ, our Confession and Practice, our Mission, our life and identity as LCMS, as Lutherans, as Chrisitans?
I bet it is on Sunday mornings.
This is the problem with our Synod, and has been, probably since its foundation. The BRTFSSG will not fix it. They refused to mention it.
Lord help us.