(Or: The view from 1,669 miles.)
There are three different perspectives on the ministry controversy in the ELS. Generally speaking, they are:
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.
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.
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.