Analysis of Appeals Commission Report

The commission’s report comes in the form of a resolution, like the memorials I have previously posted on this weblog. This is convenient for analysis, because we can easily distinguish between the two resolutions (in the “be it resolved” parts) and the reasoning behind them (in the “whereas” parts).

Here is my analysis. Comments are welcome.

> The commission on appeals, elected at the 2007 convention of the Evangelical

Lutheran Synod, having met several times to consider the appeal of Rev. Karl Heck and the St. Timothy, Williamsburg, Iowa congregation, passed the following resolution by unanimous vote on October 22, 2007:

It’s good to know that the commission undertook their work seriously, by meeting several times. We can only guess, but “several” must mean at least three different meetings.

Whereas, the Synod’s constitution, its bylaws and guidelines have been adopted by the voters at various synod conventions, such eligible voters being the pastors and authorized delegates of each congregation. And,

So begins the reasoning behind the resolutions. The only relevance I can see here is that Pastor Heck and his congregation are definitely aware of the synod’s bylaws and guidelines.

Whereas, the Articles of Incorporation of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod state that, “Between meetings of the corporate membership, the general management and control of the corporation shall be vested in a board of nine (9) trustees, two (2) of whom shall be the president and secretary elected at the corporation’s annual meeting.” (Articles of Incorporation of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Article VIII)

The relevance here is that the trustees are authorized to make decisions relating to management and control of the synod. We should note that management and control of the synod does not include anything that would contradict the Articles of Incorporation, nor the synod’s bylaws. In particular, the management and control of the synod may only include actions that are in accord with the gospel, with holy scripture in general, and with the Lutheran Confessions. The confessional standard of the synod is unalterable, and is meant to norm the management and control of the synod.

and, between conventions and meetings of the Board of Trustees, the president of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, as chairman of the board, must, in special and urgent cases, make decisions and take actions that cannot await formal meetings. And,

It’s unclear whether this is a summary of material from the Articles of Incorporation or an observation from the appeals commission. It must be one or the other, and either way, it makes sense. It is relevant because the appeal concerns an action of the synod president.

Whereas Pastor Heck and the St. Timothy congregation agreed to accept the constitution and its bylaws of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod when they became members of the synod. (see 1998 Synod Report, pp. 25-26 and the Bylaws of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Chapter II, Paragraphs 1 and 2) And,

This may be considered relevant for two reasons. The appeals commission may have only had one of the reasons in mind. That is, Pastor Heck and his congregation should have understood that the synod president was empowered to manage and control the synod between meetings of the trustees and the convention.

The other reason this is relevant is because the constitution and bylaws of the synod establish the confessional standard that norms the management and control of the synod. The appeals commission may not have had this reason in mind.

Whereas, this commission has found that the president has followed guidelines in this matter, And,

The synod guidelines show how the management and control of the synod should occur in various situations. The situation considered by the appeals commission is synodical discipline. What the appeals commission did not address is that Pastor Heck and his congregation, in their writings (listed below), were attepting to initiate a case of synodical discipline against the president. This situation is not covered in the synod’s guidelines.

So the statement above is true, as far as it goes. However, it leaves out the fact that the synod guidelines provide no guidance for cases where the synod president might be brought under church discipline.

Note also that there may be a distinction between church discipline and synodical discipline. The former is always theologically based, while the latter may often be purely administrative or bureaucratic in nature.

Whereas, the withholding of the Lord’s Supper to fellow members of the synod, as stated by the appelants in the letters referenced below is, by definition, a severing of church fellowship and is self-exclusion. And,

The appeals commission apparently needed a few more meetings, because here its members overlooked another reason for withholding the Lord’s Supper (or withholding communion fellowship): church discipline.

For example: we observe closed communion with respect to visiting Christians who belong to heterodox congregations. However, this does not mean that all of our own communicant members are always welcome to receive the Lord’s Supper. Some of our communicant members may be struggling with impenitence, and the pastor may have asked them not to commune for a time. Some may even be undergoing church discipline. Excommunication does not remove an impenitent person from the flock, but officially bans him from receiving the Lord’s Supper until he repents. (There’s no such thing as “ex-baptismilation.”) This is for his own protection, and to emphasize the dire consequences of his impenitence. Thus, there can be a difference between communion fellowship and church fellowship. Both are spiritual/theological matters intimately connected with the Gospel.

The appeals commission has included this “whereas” in support of its resolutions, yet this “whereas” itself is in dire need of support. Since none is provided, the soundness of the entire argument is in question.

Whereas, Pastor Karl Heck and the St. Timothy congregation of Williamsburg, Iowa, have filed notice of an appeal of suspension of their membership from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Therefore,

This is the reason the appeals commission was appointed, and is the basis for their work.

Be it resolved, that because of the serious nature and the wide distribution of the declaration of Pastor Heck and the St. Timothy congregation, the Commission on Appeals finds that it was necessary for President Moldstad to act expeditiously. And, therefore,

This resolution is true, though the phrase “serious nature” is undermined by the questionable “whereas” above. Yet even though the writings of Pastor Heck and his congregation (listed below) are not necessarily a self-exclusion from the church fellowship of the synod, they certainly raise a serious charge against past actions of the synod president. Hence, the declaration indeed has a “serious nature,” no matter how you look at it.

Be it further resolved, that the Commission on Appeals finds that, because of their statements documented in letters dated September 27, 2006 and January 24, 2007 and the “Statement of Confession” dated January 21, 2007, Pastor Karl Heck and the St. Timothy congregation have withdrawn themselves from membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

This part of the resolution is logically invalid, since the key supporting “whereas” above requires further support that is not provided. Technically, I think one would say that it relies upon a “fallacy of presumption”, but if we were to grant the premise (which I don’t), then the argument would be valid. I’ll just call the whole thing invalid logic, but according to this, the proper way to say it is that the argument is unsound.

I have shown above that there is another possible (and likely) explanation for discontinuing communion fellowship, beside a break in church fellowship. That the synod guidelines do not address such a circumstance by no means excuses the appeals commission for omitting the possibility in this case.

And as a result of such withdrawal, the name of Pastor Heck has been removed from the clergy roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the name of the St. Timothy congregation has been removed from the listing of synodical member congregations, the commission finds that, because of their withdrawal, no suspension has taken place. And, finally,

This part of the resolution depends upon the foregoing part, and becomes logically invalid (or unsound) together with it.

Be it resolved, that the Commission on Appeals finds no basis for an appeal.

This resolution is simply descriptive of the commission’s findings. It’s a convenient and tidy end to the appeals process. It would be neither convenient nor tidy to address the weakness in the synod’s guidelines and to recognize the real intent of Pastor Heck and his congregation.

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