Because we know the Gospel of full forgiveness by the blood of Jesus, we also recognize the voice of our Savior in Holy Scripture. “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27). Saying “yes” to the Gospel in faith and to His voice in Holy Scripture, we must also say “no” to what is not true and to what the Scriptures reject (Titus 3:10).
At this moment, I would invite all of you to note what you, the church, expect of all members of the Synod, including review panels, and of the Synod’s President. What follows are excerpts showing how our church has put into practice (however imperfectly) the infallible directions of Scripture (including freedom and love).
Note especially the following words about the president’s duties.
(c) [The President] shall call up for review any action by an individual officer, executive, or agency that, in his view, may be in violation of the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod. [LCMS Bylaw 18.104.22.168 c.]
2. It is the President’s duty to see to it that all the aforementioned [officers, employees, individual districts, and district presidents of Synod] act in accordance with the Synod’s Constitution, to admonish all who in any way depart from it, and, if such admonition is not heeded, to report such cases to the Synod.
3. The President has and always shall have the power to advise, admonish, and reprove. He shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote and maintain unity of doctrine and practice in all the districts of the Synod. [LCMS Constitution, Article XI, B. Duties of the President]
Note also that the bylaw on “dissent” from the doctrine of Synod does not grant any church worker the right to teach contrary to the Synod’s public doctrine.
1.8.1 While retaining the right of brotherly dissent, members of the Synod are expected as part of the life together within the fellowship of the Synod to honor and uphold the resolutions of the Synod.
1.8.2 Dissent from doctrinal resolutions and statements is to be expressed first within the fellowship of peers and then brought to the attention of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations before finding expression as an overture to the convention calling for revision or recision. While the conscience of the dissenter shall be respected, the consciences of others, as well as the collective will of the Synod, shall also be respected. [LCMS Bylaws]
What follows, for your study and consideration, are the pertinent words from our Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws, as they appear within their larger context.
LCMS Constitution, Article II (Confession)
The Synod, and every member of the Synod, accepts without reservation:
- The Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and of practice;
- All the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God, to wit: the three Ecumenical Creeds (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed), the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Large Catechism of Luther, the Small Catechism of Luther, and the Formula of Concord.
LCMS Constitution, Article III (Objectives of Synod)
The Synod, under Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, shall—
- Conserve and promote the unity of the true faith (Eph. 4:3–6; 1 Cor. 1:10), work through its official structure toward fellowship with other Christian church bodies, and provide a united defense against schism, sectarianism (Rom. 16:17), and heresy;
- Strengthen congregations and their members in giving bold witness by word and deed to the love and work of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and extend that Gospel witness into all the world;
- Recruit and train pastors, teachers, and other professional church workers and provide opportunity for their continuing growth;
- Provide opportunities through which its members may express their Christian concern, love, and compassion in meeting human needs;
- Aid congregations to develop processes of thorough Christian education and nurture and to establish agencies of Christian education such as elementary and secondary schools and to support synodical colleges, universities, and seminaries;
- Aid congregations by providing a variety of resources and opportunities for recognizing, promoting, expressing, conserving, and defending their confessional unity in the true faith;
- 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;
- Provide evangelical supervision, counsel, and care for pastors, teachers, and other professional church workers of the Synod in the performance of their official duties;
- Provide protection for congregations, pastors, teachers, and other church workers in the performance of their official duties and the maintenance of their rights;
- Aid in providing for the welfare of pastors, teachers, and other church workers, and their families, in the event of illness, disability, retirement, special need, or death.
LCMS Constitution, Article VI (Conditions of Membership)
Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following:
1. Acceptance of the confessional basis of Article II.
2. Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as:
a. Serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church;
b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession;
c. Participating in heterodox tract and missionary activities.
3. Regular call of pastors, teachers, directors of Christian education, directors of Christian outreach, directors of family life ministry, directors of parish music, deaconesses, certified lay ministers, and parish assistants and regular election of lay delegates by the congregations, as also the blamelessness of the life of such.
4. Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school.
5. A congregation shall be received into membership only after the Synod has convinced itself that the constitution of the congregation, which must be submitted for examination, contains nothing contrary to the Scriptures or the Confessions.
6. Pastors, teachers, directors of Christian education, directors of Christian outreach, directors of family life ministry, directors of parish music, deaconesses, certified lay ministers, or candidates for these offices not coming from recognized orthodox church bodies must submit to a colloquium before being received.
7. Congregations and individuals shall be received into membership at such time and manner, and according to such procedures, as shall be set forth in the bylaws to this Constitution.
LCMS Constitution, Article XIII (Expulsion from the Synod)
- Members who act contrary to the confession laid down in Article II and to the conditions of membership laid down in Article VI or persist in an offensive conduct, shall, after previous futile admonition, be expelled from the Synod.
LCMS Constitution, Article XI. B. (Duties of the President)
The President has the supervision regarding the doctrine and the administration of
a. All officers of the Synod;
b. All such as are employed by the Synod;
c. The individual districts of the Synod;
d. All district presidents.
- It is the President’s duty to see to it that all the aforementioned act in accordance with the Synod’s Constitution, to admonish all who in any way depart from it, and, if such admonition is not heeded, to report such cases to the Synod.
- The President has and always shall have the power to advise, admonish, and reprove. He shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote and maintain unity of doctrine and practice in all the districts of the Synod.
- The President shall see to it that the resolutions of the Synod are carried out.
- When the Synod meets in convention the President shall give a report of his administration. He shall conduct the sessions of the convention so that all things are done in a Christian manner and in accord with the Constitution and Bylaws of the Synod….
LCMS Bylaws on the Duties of the President
22.214.171.124 The President shall oversee the activities of all officers, executives, and agencies of the Synod to see to it that they are acting in accordance with the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.
(a) He shall at regular intervals officially visit or cause to be visited all the educational institutions of the Synod and thereby exercise oversight over their administration as it relates to adherence to the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.
(b) He shall meet regularly with the Council of Presidents and, as deemed necessary, with individual district presidents or small groups of district presidents, to see to it that their administration is in accordance with the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod. He shall receive regular reports on this subject from the district presidents.
(c) He shall call up for review any action by an individual officer, executive, or agency that, in his view, may be in violation of the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.
(1) If he deems appropriate, he shall request that such action be altered or reversed.
(2) If the matter cannot be resolved, he shall refer it to the Synod’s Board of Directors, the Commission on Constitutional Matters, and/or the Synod in convention as he deems appropriate to the issues and party/parties to the matter involved.
(3) This provision in no way alters the President’s constitutional duty to report to the Synod those who do not act in accordance with the Constitution and do not heed his admonition, as prescribed in Constitution Art. XI B 2.
The February 2015 issue of the Journal of Lutheran Mission is out. You can look at the entire issue here. Below is an overview of LCMS career missionaries from 1894 until the present. Many factors go into the increase and decrease of international missionaries including economic, theological reasons, and social reasons. This article examines some of those.
8 February 2015
About 1 year ago, during President Harrison’s visit to Ethiopia, the idea to produce significant quantifies of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus’ (EECMY’s) confessional documents was born. Tsegahun Assefa, the Director of Children and Youth Ministry Department of the EECMY, explained how Lutheran identity, especially among the youth was a challenge. This led to a conversation about the confessional documents which the EECMY subscribes.
According to the EECMY’s Church Constitution in Article II, the confessional basis is as follows:
The Church (EECMY) believes and professes that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and the New Testaments are the Holy Word of God and the only source and infallible norm of all Church doctrines and practice.
The Church adheres to the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, which were formulated by the early Fathers’ and accepted by ancient church.
The Church sees in the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, which was worded by the Church Reformers, as well as in Luther’s Catechisms, as a pure exposition of the Word of God.
Although it may seem strange to many people in the LCMS to subscribe to less than the entire Book of Concord, many churches around the world subscribe to the Ecumenical Creeds, the Augsburg Confession, and Luther’s Catechisms. As every other document in the Book of Concord is a further explanation of the Augsburg Confession and the Catechisms, there is no problem with not subscribing to the entire Book of Concord, provided that the other parts of the Book of Concord are not rejected. On the mission field, a challenge is that many churches that were started by European missionaries were never given the entire Book of Concord. It was only within the past decade that the EECMY had an Amharic translation of the entire Book of Concord, and that effort only provided 900 copies for the entire church. Another challenge for the church has been the lack of copies of these confessional documents. So the project was born to provide 30,000 copies of the EECMY’s confessional documents as an effort to increase awareness and knowledge of these books.
President Wakseyoum and Dr. Albert Collver exchange Catechisms, Creeds and Confessions. The book will be formally presented to the Pastors of the EECMY by Lutheran Heritage Foundation in April 2015. In the meantime, the books are being or will soon be distributed to the synods of the EECMY so that people can begin to use them. When Dr. Wakseyoum say the book he said, “Very good. Thank you. This will be a help to our church in strengthening her Lutheran identity.”
Last year after the LCMS delegation visit to Ethiopia in January / February 2014, discussions began with Dr. Matthew Heise, Executive Director of Lutheran Heritage Foundation (LHF). LHF was very eager to publish Catechisms, Creeds and Confessions. In the preliminary conversation, Rev. Heise explained LHF’s mission is to publish confessional works and he was happy to work with the LCMS to do so. In an email, Heise wrote, “LHF is committed to printing those materials that are most needed for Ethiopia, as well as the Book of Concord by the end of this year.” Catechisms, Creeds and Confessions was published on January 2015. (It is quite possible that I saw a copy of it before Rev. Heise.) The partnerships between the LCMS and her RSOs, like Lutheran Heritage Foundation, and other entities is a great asset and a significant factor in having an impact on worldwide Lutheranism. We look forward to this continued partnership.
7 February 2015
There is tremendous new opportunity for Lutheran Bible Translators in Tanzania and Ethiopia. Dr Mike Rodewald, executive director and Rev. Rich Rudowske, Director of International Programs are spending two weeks connecting with leaders of the two largest Lutheran church bodies in Africa. Lutheran Bible Translators, a recognized service organization of the LCMS, was founded 50 years ago through the vision of a Lutheran missionary who had to leave Nigeria for the health of his family. In the last fifty years, LBT missionaries and partners have translated 40 NT and/or complete Bibles reaching an estimated seven million people with God’s Word through their own language.
Dr. Jim Kaiser, LBT translation consultant arrived in Ethiopia three weeks ago to serve as consultant to five translation projects being accomplished by the EECMY and other partners in southwest Ethiopia. EECMY leaders have formed a translation board to advise and lead the church’s efforts in translation.
Dr. Albert Collver of the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM), Dr. Mike Rodewald and Rev. Rich Rudowske of LBT, discuss areas of cooperation and networking strategy as both organizations seek to work in Ethiopia with the EECMY for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel. They are looking at a Ge’ez document titled, “Aleqa Meseret Sebhat LeAb” which teaches the doctrine of justification by faith and helped lay the foundation of the EECMY at the beginning of the 20th century. It will soon be translated into Amharic and English. The LCMS mission department and Lutheran Bible Translators (LBT) have had a long standing relationship where LCMS rostered workers are called by the Synod and seconded to LBT. Future opportunities in Ethiopia and elsewhere offer new avenues for cooperation.
The Ge’ez document “Aleqa Meseret Sebhat LeAb.” Ethiopia has a history of Lutheran Bible translation efforts going back to the 17th century. Dr. Peter Heyling (1607-1652) in 1647 translated the Gospel of St. John from Ge’ez (pictured above) into Amharic which was the language of the people. In 1652, Dr. Heyling departed Ethiopia and while traveling was captured in Turkey. Faced with the choice of conversion to Islam or death, Peter Heyling did not deny Christ and was martyred for his faith. There is apparently a direct line from Peter Heyling to the founders of the EECMY. Peter Heyling’s translation efforts in the 17th century helped give birth to the worlds largest Lutheran church in the 21st century with 7.2 million members.
To find out more about Lutheran Bible Translators, please visit lbt.org.
“How ya doing?” I’ve been getting that question a great deal lately for some reason. And my response is almost always the same: “I’m doing marvelously. Truly blessed.” And I am. It’s a small handful who have some idea of what it’s like to be president of the LCMS. Four of them are living and breathing on this earth. The LCMS is a very large organization. Its operations and internal relationships are carefully (not perfectly!) governed by its constitution and bylaws. These documents are an imperfect, human attempt of a church body with a confession to govern itself according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. I’ve often quipped that some historical critic needs to do a formgeschichtliche analysis of the bylaws of the Missouri Synod, which would demonstrate the history and polarities at the time of their convention adoption. It would not be difficult to demonstrate that ostensible reasons for their adoption were only half the real story of what was going on behind the scenes. I’ve tried to be honest about what I’m for and why, and will continue to do so.
What’s it like to be president of this great, often unwieldy, church body? First, it’s an enormously humbling reality. It takes a daily emotional, spiritual and physical stamina that pushes one to the limits and beyond. But I must be quick to add, I feel little different than I did struggling with challenging situations in my first little parish in Westgate, Iowa 25 years ago. Whether a portion of the locals are riled up over a pastor’s practice of close(d) communion, or detractors are trying to make national political hay and stir up opposition out of some issue, the stress level is virtually the same. The LCMS is just one big congregation. No pastor can please everyone. I approach all issues pastorally. I am to the core of my being a pastor. I try not to act rashly. I almost never act without some significant forethought and counsel. When I have or do, I make mistakes. When I make mistakes, I own them and apologize for them. Mistakes in this life are inevitable. I am not Jesus. To act pastorally means that change takes time and teaching. I have not been able to teach as much as I had preferred but I am taking steps to change this.
When I moved into the president’s office in the LCMS International Center, I moved most of my books and belongings myself. IC staff were distressed seeing this on several occasions, but I reassured them that I was doing this quite by intention. Some day I and all my books and “stuff” will be rolled out of that office, and it will be quite okay. God is the one carrying the Missouri Synod, and more often in spite of us and through us! And I don’t need to be president of the LCMS to be Matt Harrison. At some point the LCMS will get along quite famously without yours truly.
Joys abound, truly. I love what I do. I am thrilled that we are approaching the doubling the number of called international missionaries. And we won’t stop there. We may have to slow a bit in a few months, to make sure our systems of missionary care are in place, but Lord willing, we will continue to add men and women, lay and clergy, to our worldwide mission team. If our Synod actually focuses on this international work, giving it some priority or simply equal status with all the other mission trips and the dozens if not hundreds of other organizations our congregations support (some good, some less so), we can blow the lid off our all-time-high missionary number. A shout out to the LWML for providing so much help financially, as well as prayers and encouragement, and to CPH for being a marvelous partner in mission.
Since four years ago, we have reduced staffing in the IC by 70. Today we are doing more with less. I am thrilled with what is coming from the Office of National Mission. We are full steam ahead in developing the resources, training etc., for a large national effort at rejuvenating congregations (locally led) and evangelizing the communities around us. We have commissioned the most extensive demographic studies ever done on the LCMS in order to gain a precise understanding of our context(s) and how best to respond to our domestic challenges. I am enjoying this to the hilt. A very significant evangelism tool is now being developed which will help unleash the infinite potential of our marvelous laymen and women. Keep your eyes on Bart Day and the ONM!
Finances are always a challenge, but have also been a blessing. We’ve had the smallest reductions in unrestricted (plate to district to Synod) funding in decades. Thank you!
The Synod will continue to struggle with issues of doctrine and practice. Given the tumultuous events of the 1960s and 70s, it’s frankly amazing we are as united as we are. And things will become calmer still as 1974 fades into the past. I believe a consensus is emerging on issues of worship (though challenges remain to be sure). The penetration of LSB in nearly 90% of our congregations is a great sign. There is a consensus emerging, too, that while specific musical instrumentation is not commanded or forbidden, and a range of music may be acceptable (with appropriate Christological, sacramental provisos), the ordo (order) of the divine service should not be messed with. Confession and Absolution should not be ditched. The Creed should not be altered. The Lord’s Words of Institution are his, not ours to do with as we please. And we must have improved and improving preaching (more on that soon). If one speaks to a number of men involved in local Koinonia Project discussions, one will find that some amazing and stuff is quietly going on. We are at the tip of a new culture where we humbly discuss our differences, seeking truth in Christ and his Word. God help us. We have a long way to go.
Two years ago I requested of the CTCR a document to assist congregations in evaluating and improving their communion statements. We will release that very soon. We all recognize that there is “pastoral discretion” in communion practice—that is, discretion in communing individuals from time to time who, for a variety of reasons, may not be official members of an LCMS congregation or that of one of our partner churches. However, explaining our Lutheran teaching in a bulletin statement and then inviting all who believe this to commune without respect to church affiliation is not consistent with the stated and re-stated position of the Synod. I invite you to read, for instance, Dr. Walther’s, The Church and the Office of the Ministry, especially Thesis VIII on the Church. This is the official doctrinal statement of the Synod. I have been encouraging District Presidents and pastors/congregations to make sure their communion statements at the least require a person to speak with a pastor or elder prior to communing.
Since the restructuring of the Synod, narrowly adopted in 2010 (which I had opposed, ironically), the president has had responsibility for some $50 million worth of personnel and program. That on top of our aggressive effort to seriously visit every district headquarters, board of directors, staff, and circuit counselors forum, has meant that staff is stretched. But it’s good. The visitations have really allowed me and our regional VPs to get to know local challenges and people. What great folks we have! Daily we struggle with schedules. I have to turn down 98% of preaching/speaking requests. But we laugh daily. We laugh at ourselves. We laugh at the “crazy stuff” in Synod at times. And we marvel at the blessings all around.
The international moment unfolding worldwide for the LCMS is astounding, and I won’t rehearse it here. Suffice it to say, requests for our faithful seminary profs and other assistance are expanding exponentially. Lord, help us! Dr. Collver has so many requests from church bodies around the world he can’t even keep track of himself!
What is absolutely necessary for us is to continue to get our house in order. We have reduced internal borrowing for operations from some $16 million four years ago to just over $4 million today. We must get to zero. And we have achieved a three-month cash reserve for operations, the minimum for a responsible non-profit. We must revise our system of ecclesiastical supervision and adjudication. A church that holds to the inerrant scriptures and a quia subscription to the Book of Concord, cannot have public teachers for decade after decade openly rejecting the church’s teachings and or acting against them. There are church bodies where women are pastors, the Bible is not regarded as infallible, sexual preferences are optional, etc. etc. But this is not the LCMS, and to the extent I have anything to say about it, won’t be the LCMS. We must come to reasonable resolution of the issue of licensed lay deacons that has caused so very much dissention among us. Larry Vogel of the CTCR and a small task force have been working very hard on this issue, and there is light breaking at the end of the tunnel.
Well, this little communication written on a cold morning from Bread Co. in Ballwin, Missouri during the early hours of a day off, has gone on long enough.
Thank you! Thank you for your fidelity! Thank you for loving your pastors and people! Thank you for generosity! Thank you for the privilege of serving you!
I covet your prayers, and promise you mine.
Feb. 6, 2015