Do you fear tinkering with the PMW?

As it turns out, the two memorials sent in by Bethany and Concordia churches (both of which I serve) are half of the memorials scheduled to be considered by the 2007 convention! Wow. Maybe that means they’ll receive some serious consideration. I hope they do.

You may fear the effects of the longer memorial, because it calls for a change in the status of the PMW, as a step toward restoring a God-pleasing spirit to our doctrinal conversation. The change would “demote” the PMW from an adopted statement to a study document. You might fear that this would be the first step in dismissing the PMW altogether. That is not my intention, nor even a necessary outcome, in my opinion.

Despite whatever failings the PMW may have, the fact remains acknowledged by an overwhelming majority of the ELS that the PMW is the closest we’ve come to making a solid confession of biblical teaching on the ministry. Even its detractors agree that the PMW is an improvement from the previous statement, which the synod declined to adopt.

On the other hand, demoting the PMW would remove the fear of reprisal that has been cast upon the synod’s discussions. As things currently stand, anyone in the synod who rejects the PMW must be regarded as breaking fellowship with the ELS. This could rightly be called a loveless tyranny of the majority upon the consciences of the minority. Recent history seems to bear out the notion that in 2005, five eighths of the synod was perfectly happy with the possibility that the synod would lose the other three eighths as fellow members. That may sound unfair, and I know it’s not fully true, but that was the appearance.

Demoting the PMW would retain it among us as a study document, so that we don’t lose all of the good work that has gone into it. Yet demoting the PMW would also be a necessary step toward restoring the kind of synod that I joined nearly a decade ago.

I recently read the first two articles in the Lutheran Synod Quarterly, volume 47, No. 1: the 2006 Reformation Lectures. In Lecture Two, Peter Prange (likely a former classmate of mine at NWC) describes the concerns of J.P. Koehler, architect of the Wauwautosa Theology. Anyone who agrees with Koehler that our doctrine should be based upon solid exegesis should wish to demote the PMW to a study document, so that its foundational exegesis might be completed in a fraternal and congenial atmosphere.

I do not claim that the PMW was written without exegesis. Yet the General Pastoral Conference less than a year ago objected to the delivery of a fine exegetical paper which bears directly upon the doctrine in question, and treats the subject in a way we haven’t recently seen. Why the objection? Ultimately, because the doctrine was officially not supposed to be questioned. The PMW was adopted, you see. Superficially, the removal of that paper was based upon the suspension of Rolf Preus from fellowship with the synod. (The author had installed Preus in his new ex-ELS parish, contra Preus’ suspension, which was on appeal at the time.) But trace backwards a bit more, and you’ll see that the whole mess was precipitated by the adoption of the PMW — with its sparse exegetical underpinnings. As things stand, any further exegesis on the subject dare not be critical of the PMW, if its author wishes to gain a hearing in the ELS. This limits the effectiveness of further exegetical study by imposing a de jure bias.

It wouldn’t hurt to demote the PMW, at least temporarily. As the memorial points out, we have plenty of other confessional writings that address the doctrine of the ministry, stating everything that absolutely must be confessed. I don’t want to lose the work that has gone into the PMW, though I can see where it needs some improvement. I also don’t want to lose our precious fellowship with one another over an unfinished doctrinal statement. Our synod is precious to us because of the fellowship in God’s Word that we share as individuals. When schism destroys our fellowship, then the synod’s value is also diminished.

So, for the sake of our fellowship, to avoid schism, and to preserve the fraternal spirit of the ELS, please give the memorial your prayers and serious consideration.

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