Bright Spots in the 2007 ELS President’s Report

Convention is only 10 days off! Here are a few bright spots I’ve noticed. I’m sure there are more. Please excuse me if I don’t include your favorites. If I have the opportunity, I may touch upon others later.

Membership Applications

We have several new membership requests to the synod. Two congregations in Michigan and Minnesota have requested to join. One is a large (for the ELS) congregation in Frankenmuth, and the other, I think, is in northern Minnesota, probably in Circuit 8 territory. (Is that right?)

Pastors applying for membership are one graduate of our seminary, Rev. Andrew Burmeister, and four others, Revs. Joel Ehlert, Nile Merseth, and Thomas Zeller. The name Joel Ehlert sounds familiar to me. Maybe it’s the similarity to the esteemed author of Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries, Werner Elert.

The applications of these four pastors and two churches will be reviewed by the Synod Membership floor committee, and then acted upon by the synod in full session. That’s always a nice highlight of the convention proceedings. Unfortunately, there’s no similar time for the convention to reflect upon the loss of those churches and pastors that we’ve lost in the recent and present controversy. This year there are five of each to add to the three churches and one pastor we lost last year. In addition, there are two pastors who resigned from the clergy roster this year, as well as others in recent years.

I say “unfortunately” because the synod has a few things to learn from the things that have happened. At the very least, we could think about learning:

  • That we don’t all have the same understanding of what sort of disciplinary actions are available to our congregations when they perceive that synod officials have publicly sinned or engaged in a practice contrary to our doctrine. Some say “None,” others disagree. As we have seen, some see this as the proper time for a “confessional protest.”

  • That we don’t all make a distinction between (a) a refusal to commune on the basis of sin, and (b) a refusal to commune on the basis of church fellowship. (To wit, compare the State of Confession letter — if you can find a copy — to the president’s designation of it as “the selective fellowship filing of protest.”)

  • That we don’t all have the same esteem for the sanctity of a pastor’s divine call, at least when it comes to certain pastors or when we think the pastor has written something inflammatory.

And others, but I don’t want to detract too much from the bright spot I mentioned, so I’ll stop there.

Also, I noted with interest that one of Pastor Zeller’s two congregations decided to remain independent of the ELS, though in recognized doctrinal fellowship. I think I understand some reasons why a congregation might do so. We could address them by publicly studying the relationship between a synod and its member congregations. Perhaps a good place to start would be Herman Amberg Preus’ 1865 Synod Address at Highland Prairie Lutheran Church in Fillmore County, Minnesota

ELS Historical Society

The Historical Society has apparently been doing excellent work. I remember hearing about the DVD Understanding our Heritage the year it was produced. Now, the Concordia Historical Institute has given it an Award of Commendation. I wish I had more time to preserve things for history myself, but other pressing needs in the present keep me occupied. Do you think anyone will remember The Plucked Chicken fifty years from now? I guess that’s the purpose of the Historical Society: not to preserve the memory of this Plucked Chicken, but the original one: the ELS.

The Circuit Visitors Conference

It seems that the circuit visitors spent considerable effort and attention upon advising the president “concerning issues related to the General Pastoral Conference in October.”

I can only guess exactly what those issues were. One guess relates to the paper that Pastor Jay Webber delivered on parsing the PMW in an objective way. At the time, that paper was not received with much enthusiasm. If I recall correctly, only one of the PCM (the initial drafters of the PMW document) offered an endorsement of Pastor Webber’s parsing. The president also demurred.

The other guess would be the paper that took place technically after the conference, written by Pastor Joseph Abrahamson. Perhaps some of the visitors advised the president to suspend the suspensions for a while. Perhaps some of the Circuit Visitors have also advised the president to discourage any responses to the exegetical substance of the paper, since it could remind others of the possibility that the PMW still has some problems to be worked out. In any case, those who disagree with Pastor Abrahamson’s point of view are likely still rejoicing that his paper was not officially on the agenda of the pastoral conference. I wish it had been, but I’m glad it was delivered anyway, and I’m also glad that I’m not the synod president.

It’s not easy to preside in a group of theologians who may be convinced that there is a real doctrinal division among them. Of course, the real solution is to engage in the public exegetical and doctrinal study we’ve been lacking. If the PMW is really scriptural and confessional, then its supporters would be completely vindicated!

Workshop Format at Convention

I’m looking forward to the workshop format on the subject of evangelism. We should have lots of ideas to share on the subject. In particular, I’d love to pick the brains of Pastors Jay Webber (the same), Glenn Obenberger, and perhaps others on their experiences in starting local missions via preaching stations and eventually daughter congregations. Pastor Karl Heck has also done this, but I doubt I’ll see him there, since he’s one of the suspended (er, involuntarily “self-excluded”) pastors.

The workshops should be a beneficial time. I hope they don’t end up emphasizing numbers, because that just seems wrong. Preaching and teaching has little in common with amassing impressive congregational statistics. I guess that’s why I was wryly amused by the report on the Home Missions Seminar that took place in Orlando. The qualification of the special speaker (besides being WELS) was that his 1998 exploratory mission now has over 200 members, and better still, is planning construction on a school. It’s so easy to become side-tracked by numbers into serving them instead of preaching and teaching the Gospel. That was David’s sin when Satan moved him to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21) Numbers are impressive to us, but not to God.

Thoughts of Faith a Synod Entity?

I’m intrigued by the possibility that Thoughts of Faith could become a part of the synod. I’d like to hear more, both from our synod and from those who have served under Thoughts of Faith, about the advantages and disadvantages of such an arrangement.

How does the president understand the PMW?

The president’s report states, “Our beloved Evangelical Lutheran Synod has undergone a difficult period.” I doubt anyone will disagree, yet the perfect tense implies that this difficult period is now a matter of history. That remains to be seen. At this point, we have adopted a doctrinal statement. What does this mean? Only that the ELS as a corporation has committed to a doctrinal statement, much as Jacob committed himself to more than one wife and Solomon committed himself to building the Temple. Commitment alone does not make it a good thing. The time of testing for the PMW was abbreviated and limited before its adoption, and efforts to continue that testing since its adoption have produced schism. Our problems have not been solved, so if the difficult period is truly in the past, then we have become compromisers of the worst kind. I do not believe that this is true.

Yet there is a bright spot. In the same paragraph, our president states, “The Public Ministry of the Word document adopted in 2005 truly is a doctrinal statement in keeping with the pure teaching of Holy Scripture and in accordance with our Lutheran Confessions.” This is encouraging, because it may mean that he has embraced the understanding of the PMW that Pastor Jay Webber enunciated in the paper he delivered to the 2006 General Pastoral Conference. It was clear at the conference that there were conflicting interpretations of the PMW. Some of the PMW’s staunchest defenders were adamantly opposed to Pastor Webber’s parsing! Yet the president has not objected to it, and now affirms that the PMW is thoroughly biblical. Surely he would not endorse a doctrinal statement that allows more than one meaning, so I hope that he has become comfortable with Pastor Webber’s understanding. This would be a fruitful step toward restoring harmony on the doctrine of the ministry. The assertion could also be propaganda, but I hope it means something deeper. Time will tell.

Agreement with WELS on Women Communing Women

In a joint opinion brief on the subject of whether women may commune other women in certain circumstances, the WELS and ELS presidents conclude, “that the practice of women privately or publicly distributing the Lord’s Supper to women is something from which we will refrain.”

I appreciate the sincere effort that has gone into this intermediate resolution, and rejoice that such a troublesome practice will be officially put on hold in the Wisconsin Synod. I also agree with our president’s assessment that “the opinion brief is helpful and shows a common commitment toward good order by both of our synods.” I pray that our synods will be led not only to good order in this matter, but also to the confession of biblically sound doctrine and corresponding practice.

One thought on “Bright Spots in the 2007 ELS President’s Report

Leave a Reply