The Ministry Controversy: Status Controversiae

(Or: The view from 1,669 miles.)

There are three different perspectives on the ministry controversy in the ELS. Generally speaking, they are:

  1. One group professes allegiance to the doctrinal statement that was adopted in 2005. They are characterized by one thing in particular: when asked to defend or explain the doctrine, the most they will do is repeat the formulations and citations in the adopted statement itself, claiming that they are sufficiently clear and obvious.

  2. A second group considers the adopted statement to be acceptable on a practical level, though it must be read in the best possible light. For many of them, this is a conditional acceptance of the document, the condition being the particular understanding that they have. Some admit that the document allows itself to be understood in several conflicting ways, while others insist that it does not. Most wish to repair the document’s deficiencies.

  3. A third group considers the adopted document to be teaching things not proven by holy scripture as articles of faith. This group considers the document to be fatally flawed in those areas, though adequate in other areas. They refuse to accept the document until their rooted objections are met.

The document was adopted by 62% of delegates and pastors, most likely coming from groups one and two. Yet a number of those in groups two and three agree that the document was adopted in an immature form, not allowing the public revision process to complete. Nobody knows how long it would have taken to complete the revision process, yet most of those in groups two and three believe that process would have been preferable to the mechanical implementation and enforcement of the document that has been manifest since its adoption.

In November, 2006, there was significant agreement on nearly all points of a shorter study document that had been submitted to the 2006 synod convention. A collection of people representative of all three groups was asked to review the shorter document, to help determine where there may be disagreements. Some in group one, in keeping with their typical behavior, refused to participate, wishing to maintain the official character of the adopted statement. Some in group three expressed concern about a doctrinal point attributing a “divine” character to offices that the church creates, that it could be misconstrued as saying that those offices are divinely instituted. Except for those somewhat negative responses, all responses to the shorter statement were positive or inquisitive.

This exercise demonstrated that there is much agreement between all three groups on nearly all of those particular points of doctrine.

It demonstrated that group one does not trust the others enough to engage an open evaluation of the merits of the adopted doctrinal statement. It will neither honor nor tolerate such a discussion.

It also demonstrated that group three is suspicious of language that might possibly be understood in more than one way. The group is exacting about the quality and integrity of a doctrinal statement, both internally and in relation to the accepted Lutheran confession.

Group two is hopeful that the adopted statement might be improved through the efforts of all to examine and fairly evaluate its merits. It is trying to find common ground between the three groups. Its efforts are hindered mostly by group one’s refusal to countenance any discussion that could finally alter the adopted statement, or their point of view.

Complicating the issue is the appropriation of power to remove pastors or churches from the synod when they are deemed to be significantly opposed to the adopted doctrinal statement. This has already taken place and is apparently also still in process. It fits the priorities of group one, but not groups two or three. By all appearances, it is an unintentionally sectarian policy designed to safeguard the official status of the adopted statement.

This use of power in favor of group one shows that it would rather break fellowship and split away from group three, than work to achieve a better consensus in the synod. This may be due to a conviction that changes to the present form of the adopted statement would be sinful. That conviction alone could justify the opinion that rooted dissent should be treated as false doctrine. Therefore, group one may consider the newly adopted statement to have the same status as the confessions in the 1580 Book of Concord. If that is the case, then group one’s agenda will require group two to either accept the adopted document fully or leave the synod. There would be no possibility to change the document. It is uncertain how quickly group two would have to make their decision. Some of this paragraph is speculative.

2 thoughts on “The Ministry Controversy: Status Controversiae

  1. I’m not sure if lack of comments here means that there is general malaise about the whole discussion, but I found your comments interesting and informative. If I were a member of group one (You know who you are, heheh), I’d probably think I was getting a short shrift. In any case, your depiction of that group is pretty indicative that you don’t include yourself there. I’d love to here a thoughtful, clear, honest response from a “group one” member that says something other than “The theses stand as they are, end of discussion”.

    I would say, judging by my observations of the whole process of the passage of the PMW statement, that group one gave as much as they could stand in allowing changes from the first draft of the PCM to the final draft. And at that point, they may have just decided, “Enough! This is as far as we go!”. And then their superior political position allowed them to gloss the process. I say “superior political position” because I think it is clear that the president is and has been a part of the first group. That is not to disparage him, but he clearly took steps (among them the naming of the floor doctrine committee members so that the committee was clearly tilted toward passage of the statement as it was presented to the convention, etc) to apply political pressure to get the thing done.

    Group two is clearly the least political of the three groups–and in fact shrinks from using political means to acheive their objectives. To say that this is the group that is willing to compromise is I think a correct characterization. I had one member of this group (I knew he was a member, because he was wearing a button saying, “I’m a card-carrying member of Group Two!”) tell me just before the vote on the PMW document at the convention, “Listen. This is about as good as we are going to get it. There is no way we’ll get complete agreement in the synod on this statement. Let’s pass it the way it is.” Or something like that.

    Group three is of course political, which is what is causing the squishing sound (That would be group two being squeezed between one and three). Squishy, squishy, squishy. This is the sound of group two. Oops! I was talking about group three! Well shoot, the political thing isn’t gonna work, guys. You’re leaving the synod or you’re going to eat crow, politically speakin’, for years. Get used to being treated like the black sheep of the family. Or just move to Texas.

  2. Yeah, “malaise” is a good word to describe why I’m not replying. …as in “weariness” or “fatigue” (which is slightly different from “apathy,” which is, I think, the pejorative you were looking for). I don’t think that any good will come at this point from defining the “groups.” I am certain that ill-defining them will do even less good.

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