It seems we are of the world, after all.

Pastor Preus (the ELS one) has publicized an appendix to his appeal and also the presentation he made to the appeals commission. They are archived at, where you can also find the appeal itself and other documents leading up to the present tragic circumstances in the ELS. I will include both the appendix and presentation below, for your information.

While I was on vacation, on 9/11 to be exact, the announcement came out that the appeals commission decided to uphold the suspension. Since the ELS has no codified process after this, it may be the final official word on the suspension issue. This is unspeakably tragic, because the decision means more than an official confirmation of a particular judgment call on the part of the president. (To understand this, you should certainly inform yourself by reading the documents archived at It also means:

  1. That it is acceptable in the ELS for the president to “minister” (I prefer “interfere”) in the congregations of the ELS without the knowledge of their pastors.

  2. That pastors may be suspended from the ELS for reasons not included in [the ELS Guidelines][] on synodical discipline. This leads immediately to the question: what can a pastor be suspended for? It currently has no definitive answer, so speculation is well justified. From the 2006 Convention, it would seem that if the president should deem a pastor or congregation “unteachable,” the result could be immediate and unilateral suspension.

  3. That a suspension from the ELS (for whatever reason) places the suspended party outside of ELS fellowship.

  4. That it is acceptable for a congregation to fire its pastor (rescind his call) for the reason that he has been suspended from the ELS clergy roster. This is not the same as showing that he has persistently taught false doctrine, lived an ungodly life, or been wilfully negligent in his duties, or even that he has become incompetent as a pastor. (Check your church’s constitution to see what reasons are allowed there.)

It is sinful to practice fellowship with someone who persistently teaches false doctrine. False doctrine is defined as that which contradicts the scripture (the norma normans of Christian doctrine) and the Lutheran Confessions (our norma normata of doctrine). It is equally sinful to deny fellowship to someone who does not teach false doctrine. Fellowship is a matter of doctrine. It is a purely theological question, to be decided on the basis of doctrine, not on the basis of politics or human favor. Romans 16:17 says that we are to mark and avoid false teachers. Part of “marking” or identifying a false teacher is to identify the false teaching in which he persists. That has not been done in any part of this whole suspension controversy. Instead, it has been skipped over. Pastor Preus has been impugned and maligned as a false teacher without any doctrinal reason for it. (The reason for his suspension was that he has accused the ELS of persisting in false doctrine, an accusation which he has not made and has specifically denied making. Even if it were true, such an accusation is not the same thing as teaching false doctrine himself, a fact which should be obvious to everyone but has now been contradicted by both the president and the commission on appeals.)

So now, ELS pastors and churches are told by the synod that we are to regard Pastor Preus as a false teacher outside our fellowship. Yet no doctrinal reason has been given to do so, neither an accusation nor proof of persistent false teaching. So it seems that we are being told that we must break fellowship with someone who still teaches and confesses the doctrine of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions, and that if we do not, we are sinning. Yet it is certain that to break fellowship with such a brother in Christ is also sinful. Should we obey God, or men?

Or, should someone at some point show a little bit of Christian love, patience, and humility? Have we forgotten 1 Corinthians 13?

[the ELS Guidelines]: Appendix to Pastor Rolf Preus’ Appeal of his Suspension from the ELS by President John Moldstad

July 24, 2006

I wrote my appeal on March 31 and sent it to the president of the synod as required by synodical bylaws. Subsequent events make this appendix necessary.

Synodical bylaws give the Board of Trustees the responsibility of nominating a slate of candidates for a Commission on Appeals. The synod in convention is given the responsibility of electing candidates from the list of nominees chosen by the Board of Trustees. The convention may, if it chooses, reject a slate of nominees, in which case the

Board of Trustees is required to prepare another list for consideration by the convention. The matter of choosing or rejecting a slate is a debatable matter. The president did not treat this as debatable, however, when it came to the floor at the convention. He ruled out of order every attempt on the part of voting pastors and delegates to address it. When the president’s parliamentarian was asked for his opinion on whether the motion to accept the slate of nominees offered by the Board of Trustees was debatable, he ruled that it was but that it was too late to do so because the voting had already begun. Whether the president’s refusal to permit discussion on this matter was a deliberate effort to deny me due process or was rather a simple matter of parliamentary incompetence, the fact remains that the rules were broken in such a way as to compromise the integrity of the judicial process of the ELS.

Two of the clergymen nominated by the Board of Trustees to serve on the Commission to hear my appeal were already publicly on record in saying that anyone who disagreed with the synodically adopted doctrinal statement on the ministry should leave the ELS. I speak of the Rev. Kincaid Smith and Professor William Kessel. Rev. Smith expressed this opinion on the floor of the 2005 convention after the “Public Ministry of the Word” was adopted. Professor Kessel expressed the same opinion publicly at the 2005 General Pastoral Conference a few months later. Both of these men are well known members of the ELS. For this reason both would be expected to stand a good chance of being elected. Both were elected. Both were elected to hear my appeal after both expressed publicly their opinion that a man of my views should leave the ELS.

Kincaid Smith has publicly shown personal bias against me in the past. During the 2001 ELS convention the DC Theses were debated on the convention floor. I spoke against adopting them. A motion to adopt them was tabled by a narrow margin. Shortly after the convention, Kincaid Smith called me on the phone. He accused me of acting in a political manner at the convention and I repeatedly assured him that I was concerned with theology, not politics. During the conversation he said to me, “I rue the day you joined our synod.” When I asked him what I should do, he said I should leave.

Shortly after that telephone conversation he sent out a letter to the ministerium of the ELS in which he quoted me as saying to a number of people at the convention: “You’re with us aren’t you? We’ve got to defeat these theses.” I said no such thing. He put into my mouth words that depicted me in a way that I had explicitly and repeatedly disavowed during our telephone conversation. When I corrected him he stood behind his false allegation. Later, he acknowledged to me privately that he should not have sent out the letter, but he did not say so publicly and he did not retract the false witness that he bore against me.

After Rev. Smith was elected to serve on the Commission to hear my appeal during the convention in June of this year, I went to him and reminded him of what he said to me in 2001, “I rue the day that you joined our synod.” I asked him to recuse himself. He walked away from me as I was speaking to him.

The same Board of Trustees that nominated the slate that included Prof. Kessel and Rev. Smith went on public record at the convention in support of my suspension.

There is disagreement within the synod on the nature of the authority of synodically adopted doctrinal statements. As I point out in my written Appeal, President Moldstad claims that synodically adopted doctrinal statements require unconditional acceptance on the part of pastors of the synod. I disagree with him. Both Revs. Smith and Kessel, on the other hand, have publicly expressed their views that a man who does not agree with the PCM document should leave the ELS. I do not see how men can hold to this opinion and give a fair consideration to my case. Critical to my defense is my right to dissent from a synodically adopted doctrinal statement. I have done so, making my arguments on the basis of God’s word.

During the recent convention, President Moldstad ruled out of order every attempt to address my case on the floor. Congregational memorials were rejected out of hand as President Moldstad’s parliamentarian ruled that the convention did not have the authority to act on my case. The president of the synod claimed that he had the authority to lift my suspension while denying that the synod in convention had the authority to do so. His adamant refusal to permit any discussion of my case on the floor of the convention has put my appeal entirely in the hands of a commission of five men, two of whom have already publicly stated where they stand on my right to dissent from synodically adopted doctrinal statements. President Moldstad expelled me from the synod for exercising this right. Revs. Smith and Kessel have already taken the position that a man who believes as I do should leave the synod.

The Commission elected to hear my appeal should lift my suspension and restore me as a pastor of the ELS. They should do so because I have done nothing wrong. The paper that the president demanded I retract was the truth. Surely if I have written anything untrue or contrary to God’s word the synodical president would have been able to discover it by now. The fact that he has not even attempted to show me where I have spoken falsely proves that he cannot do so. He has relied on raw political power, not on the word of God. This cannot be tolerated in a confessional Lutheran synod.

The Commission on Appeals should lift my suspension because this may lead to the repentance and restoration of brothers in Christ who have fallen into sin. President Moldstad led members of my former congregation into sin by requiring that they remove me as their pastor or be thrown out of the synod. They had no biblical grounds to remove me. President Moldstad placed himself above the Holy Scriptures, requiring that they obey him instead of God’s word or be excluded from the fellowship of their synod. Jesus issues stern warning against those who offend one of “these little ones” who believe in Him. By ruling against President Moldstad’s sinful and unscriptural suspension of me, these brothers who have been led into sin might, by God’s grace, be restored. Should the Commission on Appeals fail to overturn Moldstad’s suspension, I fear that the men of River Heights Lutheran Church who have committed the public sin of temple robbery by their unbiblical removal of their faithful pastor will be confirmed in their sin.

The Commission on Appeals should restore me to membership in good standing in the ELS because any other decision will be suspect on the basis of the facts I present above. Neither Rev. Smith nor Professor Kessel should have been nominated. The clergy members of that Board knew or should have known that these men had already taken a public stance against me. In the case of Rev. Smith it was specifically and personally against me. In the case of Prof. Kessel it was against anyone who cannot accept the PCM document. In either case, the Board of Trustees has failed to act in an impartial manner. Any pretence of impartiality was lost when it was announced at the convention that the Board of Trustees supported my suspension. The Board of Trustees should have remained neutral. President Moldstad should have permitted debate on the proposal to approve the slate of nominees. Rev. Smith should have recused himself. These are not minor technical violations. The process itself has been fatally compromised. The only honorable course of action for the Commission on Appeals is to reject my expulsion from the ELS by executive fiat and to require President Moldstad to show me where I have written anything that is false or contrary to God’s word.

Presentation to the Commission on Appeals

Rolf Preus

August 22, 2006

My case is very simple. The issue before this Commission is clear. Is the written Word of God “the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated” as we confess in the Formula of Concord? Or may we set aside the Holy Scriptures and judge pastors by another standard of doctrine? The president of the ELS has expelled me from the Synod. He has done so without showing or even attempting to show that I have done or said anything wrong. He has not even tried to show that I have committed a sin that disqualifies me from the pastoral office. He has not even tried to show that my teaching is contrary to the Holy Scriptures on any point. He has not even tried to show that I am unable or unwilling to do the work of the ministry. On the basis of a claim to authority that God has not given him, the president of the Synod expelled me from the Synod and required that my congregation rescind – without cause – my divine call or be excluded from the fellowship of the ELS and become an independent congregation. That the president of the ELS has the power to do this is a scandal in the biblical sense of the word. He has expelled me from the ELS without showing that I have done or said anything wrong. Indeed, he has expelled me because I wrote the truth and would not retract the truth that I wrote. I am asking that this Commission rule that the president sinned in expelling me from the ELS and that I be restored as a member of the ELS in good standing.

The fact that the process of adjudication has been corrupted makes it imperative that the Commission on Appeals overturn my expulsion from the synod. That the process has been corrupted cannot be denied in light of these facts already provided to the Commission on Appeals:

  1. The synodical president has steadfastly refused to follow either the Scriptures or the bylaws of the Synod in his dealings with me as I show in my written Appeal.

  2. The synodical president denied the convention’s right to debate the debatable motion of approving the slate of nominees for this Commission on Appeals nominated by the Board of Trustees.

  3. Two of the three clergy members of this Commission on Appeals have publicly expressed their view that those who disagree with the PCM document should leave the ELS, thus calling into question my right to dissent from the adopted statement on the basis of God’s word, a right that is crucial to my defense.

  4. Rev. Smith refused to recuse himself after I asked him to do so.

  5. The Board of Trustees, which is supposed to be impartial on account of its responsibility of nominating an impartial slate of candidates for the Commission on Appeals, nevertheless went on public record at the convention in support of my suspension.

When I argue that the process has been corrupted, I am not passing judgment on the integrity of the men who comprise the Commission on Appeals. Indeed, it will require a rare integrity indeed for the men of this Commission to rise to the occasion and do their Christian duty. Their Christian duty is to overturn President Moldstad’s expulsion of me from the ELS. My expulsion from the ELS was the only reason given for the revocation of my divine call by the voters of RHLC. To remove a faithful minister of the word from office in defiance of biblical principles of due process is an intolerable offense of which the synod itself would become guilty should the offense not be removed. It is the duty of the Commission on Appeals to do just that.

More serious than the corruption of a synodical adjudicatory process is the assault on the office of the holy ministry perpetrated by President John Moldstad. By requiring the voters of River Heights Lutheran Church to dismiss me from my divine call without cause or to be expelled from the Synod the synodical president has denied the divine institution of and the divine call into the pastoral office; he has rejected the Holy Scriptures as the only rule and norm of doctrine and practice for the church; he has defied elementary standards of justice and due process acknowledged even by the unregenerate.

He has denied the divine institution of and the divine call into the pastoral office. These two go together. That the Holy Spirit made me overseer of RHLC is inseparable from the divine institution of that office of oversight that God entrusted to me. By invading the flock that the Lord placed under my oversight, President Moldstad denied by his actions that God established that office of oversight. I told those men that God had placed under my spiritual care that they could not remove me as their pastor without showing from the Holy Scriptures that God wanted me removed. I urged them to listen to the Holy Scriptures and not to a man in Mankato when considering rescinding the call of their faithful pastor. The acting chairman of the Voters Assembly responded by saying, “The man in Mankato has a divine call.” For most of the members of the RHLC Voters’ Assembly, it was a debate between two pastors and the president of the synod had more authority than their own pastor. As the acting chairman’s father said at the same meeting, “Synod is the final authority.” The president of the synod misled the leaders of my congregation. He led them to reject the divinely established oversight of their own pastor and to substitute for it the human authority of a synodical president. In requiring them to submit to his human authority or be excluded from the fellowship, the president led them into disobedience. This was quite deliberate. President John Moldstad has, in effect, denied the divine institution of the pastoral office and the divine call into the pastoral office by stealing from me the pastoral oversight of RHLC given to me by the Holy Spirit.

The president has rejected the Holy Scriptures as the only rule and norm of doctrine and practice for the church. The president had accused me of no sin and no false teaching. He was perfectly aware of the fact that no one at RHLC had accused me of any sin or false doctrine. He was aware of the fact that there were no biblical grounds for my removal as pastor of RHLC. He nevertheless insisted that RHLC depose me as their pastor as a condition for remaining in fellowship with the ELS. By rejecting the Holy Scriptures as the norm for judging a pastor, he required the men of RHLC to sin against God as the condition for remaining a congregation of the ELS.

The president has defied elementary standards of justice and due process acknowledged even by the unregenerate. He writes in An Explanation of the Suspension of Rev. Rolf Preus: “It is self evident that where one has admitted the charge, no further investigation or efforts at establishing witnesses and evidence is necessary. Such is the case with Pastor Preus.” President Moldstad says I have admitted the charge. That’s false and President Moldstad knows it is false. I have repeatedly denied the charge to his face. As the minutes of our January 19, 2006 meeting in Cold Spring make clear, he himself acknowledged that he believed me when I said that I was not charging the synod with false doctrine. When he subsequently argues that he is not required to follow the bylaws because I have purportedly admitted to his charge, he argues against what he knows to be true. He accuses, tries, convicts, and sentences me to be excluded from the synodical fellowship by bare presidential fiat, without any pretence at following the rules he promised he would follow when he was installed. In his judgment he doesn’t need to follow the bylaws because in his judgment I have admitted to a charge that I deny. In this way his judgment replaces the rules. Any heathen can see that this is tyrannical and unjust. To tolerate such behavior on the part of its president would bring our beloved synod into disrepute from which it would be difficult to recover.

Yes, but is it not true that I have indeed accused the ELS of false doctrine and that by so doing I have ipso facto excluded myself from her fellowship (inasmuch as one may not express fellowship with purveyors of false doctrine)? This appears to be the president’s argument in his Explanation. But it ignores a crucial distinction. There is a difference between the casual intrusion of error and the persistent advocacy of false doctrine. There is therefore a difference between pointing out error and leveling charges of false doctrine. A synod can err. An orthodox synod can err. To deny this is to deny the Lutheran Reformation. The right to dissent from officially adopted doctrinal statements is fundamental to the sola Scriptura principle as set forth in FC SD Rule and Norm, paragraph 3 as I have repeatedly argued throughout this entire process. For Moldstad to argue that I have excluded myself from the fellowship of the ELS on account of my dissent from a single doctrinal resolution that was strongly opposed by a significant minority of the synod is to elevate the authority of an ongoing and incomplete synodical process above the authority of God’s word. Surely, a pastor in an orthodox synod must have the right to dissent from doctrinal statements without automatically forfeiting all rights of membership. If brotherly correction is intolerable, casual error will necessarily become persistent adherence to false doctrine.

I criticized a poorly written document that President Moldstad (against much brotherly advice to the contrary) rushed for adoption. He has taken my criticism of that document and claimed that it is criticism of the ELS. Ignoring every other document to which the ELS subscribes, he judges my view of the ELS solely on the basis of my view of the controversial document that he knows a significant portion of the synod cannot accept and this despite the fact that I conclude my paper with a brotherly acknowledgment of the great consensus we in the ELS enjoy on the doctrine of the ministry of the word. And he accuses me of sowing seeds of discord among brethren!

President Moldstad claims that I use words that are inflammatory and constitute sowing seeds of discord. Here are the portions he cites as particularly objectionable. I write: “I cannot accept the PCM document.” At the 2005 GPC over twenty pastors of the ELS signed a “Statement of Opposition to the PCM Document” that states, “We cannot accept the document for the following reasons.” Why hasn’t he suspended them?

I write: “This failure to distinguish between what is divine and what is human confuses the Spirit with the flesh. This is why I cannot accept the PCM document. I will not permit it to be a standard for my teaching and I do not acknowledge it as having any authority over me whatsoever.” (Emphasis added by JAM) How can it have authority over me if I am not persuaded that everything it says is in complete agreement with the word of God? We’re not talking about submitting to human rules out of love for the brethren. We can acknowledge the authority of rules with which we disagree. We regularly do so and teach our children and our parishioners to do the same. But no Lutheran may submit to a doctrinal authority that is not that of the Holy Scriptures.

I write: “It confuses what God says with what man says. It takes human inventions and calls them divine. What it says about the divine institution of a limited public use of the keys is unscriptural.” (Emphasis added by JAM) For saying this, the president throws me out of the synod. On May 17, 2005, I wrote a letter to President Moldstad in which I said: “If you can show me from the Holy Scriptures that the divinely instituted ministry of the word includes offices with a limited public use of the keys I will confess this with you.” Enclosed in that letter was my paper, “Does the Bible Teach a Limited Public Use of the Keys?” in which I argued that the PCM document presented human traditions as divine doctrine without providing biblical support for those traditions. The president ignored my letter and the enclosed paper. Then, after the PCM document obtained synodical status, he immediately appealed to its authority to suspend me from the synod. He demanded submission to the doctrinal authority of a synodical document while refusing to respond to my biblically grounded objections to it. This is to reject the authority of the Holy Scriptures.

I write: “When it [the PCM document] talks about being ‘in’ the office of divine institution to this or to that ‘extent’ it is not presenting the biblical and confessional doctrine, but the ‘representative ministry’ notion for which there isn’t any support in the Scriptures or the Lutheran Confessions. (Emphasis added by JAM) Instead of throwing me out of the synod for saying this, President Moldstad should show me where God’s word teaches this representative ministry model that is assumed throughout the adopted document but never scripturally demonstrated.

I write: “It falsely claims that a synod president by virtue of being a synod president is an incumbent of the pastoral office. It does not make a clear confession of our historic biblical and confessional teaching. .” Once again, he assumes no responsibility for showing my criticism to be in error. He presumes rather to expel me from the Synod for making it.

I write: “[The PCM document] is devoted to the representative ministry model invented in the 20th Century, a model that breaks with the clear teaching of God’s Word and the pattern of sound words set forth in the Lutheran Confessions.” Note, that I am criticizing a model or paradigm into which the doctrine has been placed. Note as well that I conclude in my paper that we have great consensus in our synod on this topic. My criticism of a poorly written and poorly conceived document does not constitute a charge of false doctrine against the ELS.

By transferring my legitimate criticism of a document that was rushed to adoption without adequate discussion into an assault on the ELS itself John Moldstad has distorted the facts to support his predetermined objective, namely, to expel me from the ELS. In the process he has led brothers into grievous sin, caused scandalous division within the synod, and promoted false teaching with respect to the divine institution of the pastoral office and the divine call into the same. I believe, on the basis of the clear teaching of God’s word and the indisputable facts of this case, that it is the Christian duty of the Commission on Appeals to rebuke President Moldstad for his public sin and to declare me reinstated as a pastor of the ELS in good standing.

One thought on “It seems we are of the world, after all.

  1. I am going to assume that a lot of folks who are in the middle of the road on this complex of issues–be it because they are tired of the issues, that they don’t care, or that they haven’t been told–will eventually come to the conclusion that “getting all of this behind us” is the best course of action.
    It is interesting that, given another set of issues, many members of the PCUSA have been taking the same tack. Regarding the recent innovations in that sect allowing for local and regional bodies to ordain gays into the church’s ministries (that clause alone is fraught with problems!), one member of the presiding committee put her position this way: “I am against homosexual ordination”. But she said she nevertheless supported the proposal. “I’m willing to compromise if it will get us back to being the church. I love this church, but please, let us get on.” (Quoted from CHRISTIAN NEWS, JUNE 06, P 11).
    Of course, the ELS isn’t anywhere near embracing the issues that the Presbyterians are embracing. But the attitude of this woman is the same as too many in our synod–just let’s let the wounds scab over, let’s get on to the real business of the synod.
    The other major difference is: the Presbyterians aren’t interested in getting rid of the troublemakers. We clearly as a synod are in that business.

    Bruce Gee

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