A closer look at part of the PMW document

As the fit takes me, I’m going to include an explanation of my view on various part of the PMW document from time to time. “PMW” is shorthand for [the newest doctrinal statement][pmw] of the ELS, now a mere 18 months into adoption. It’s fair to say that this document is still mostly untested in “real life.” Sure, we’ve argued about the doctrine for a long time, and sure, a majority of delegates voted for it 18 months ago, but neither of those facts can be called a test of the doctrinal statement.

Unless, maybe, you’re talking about the part that touches upon the authority of a synod president. That is still in the midst of a serious test, pertinent questions being:

[pmw]: http://www.evangelicallutheransynod.org/believe/els/publicministry1. Does a synod president have authority from God to supervise the doctrine of our entire synod?

  1. … leading us to ask, Just what and where is the synod? Is it (A) a collection of churches across the United States, of equal standing, united in doctrinal confession, voluntarily walking together in cooperation, or (B) an organization in Mankato, Minnesota with the final authority to decide which churches or pastors are “in” and which are “out?”

If the answer to the second question is (B), then question 1 is moot, because the authority would be purely administrative. If the answer is (A), then it would seem that question 1 finds an answer in the Treatise beginning with paragraph 7.

Anyway, the PMW has this to say, touching upon the office of synod president:

The church is free to divide the labors of the pastoral office among qualified men (1 Corinthians 1:17, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6). While every incumbent of this office must be qualified for a full use of the keys, not every incumbent must be responsible for full use of the keys. Missionary, assistant pastor, professor of theology, synod president (who supervises doctrine in the church), and chaplain are some examples of this.

The context of this statement includes the following doctrinal statement of the ELS, from 1862. (It should be safe to say that there has been sufficient time for the weaknesses of this statement to have been corrected by now.)

  1. God has instituted the public ministerial office for the public edification of the Christians unto salvation by the Word of God.

  2. God has not instituted any other office for the public edification of the Christians to be used along-side of the public ministerial office.

  3. When a man assumes the direction of the public edification of the Christians by the Word, he thereby assumes and exercises the public ministerial office.

  4. It is a sin when a person assumes this (office) without a call or without need.

So the PMW is saying that a synod president is in the public ministerial office, the one instituted by God for the public edification of the Christians unto salvation by the Word of God. Another term used generically in the PMW for this office is the “pastoral office.” It says “a presiding office whether it is called that of pastor, shepherd, bishop, presbyter, elder or by any other name, is indispensable for the church.” The essential work of this office is given in a quotation from the Treatise:

The Gospel requires of those who preside over the churches that they preach the Gospel, remit sins, administer the sacraments, and, in addition, exercise jurisdiction, that is, excommunicate those who are guilty of notorious crimes and absolve those who repent. … [T]his power belongs by divine right to all who preside over the churches, whether they are called pastors, presbyters or bishops

So the essential work, or to say it another way, the work composing the essence of this office, is preaching the Gospel, remitting sins, administering the sacraments, and excommunication. All other work associated with the office is not of the essence. If the other work were all eliminated, and only these things remained, it would still be the “pastoral office.” If an office does not perform this essential work, then it is not the “pastoral office.”

The PMW includes a parenthetical remark to show why a synod president should be regarded as part of the pastoral office. The reason is that he “supervises doctrine in the church.” Is that included in the essential work? Hmm. It may be implied, but a mere implication is not certain, is it?

Well anyway, the PMW usually calls the pastoral office the “presiding office.” The president must be in the presiding office, right? It’s part of his title! Yet that doesn’t get us there either. The presiding of a president may be entirely administrative, as the definition from WordNet (August, 2003) shows:

v : act as president; “preside over companies and corporations”

Such a president would not include any preaching of the Gospel, remitting of sin, administering of sacraments, or exercising of jurisdiction. Though his essential duties would be administrative, such a president would still be able to act contrary to God’s Word at times, and would have to be prevented from this, and even corrected.

Must I cut to the chase? What’s my answer? Where do I stand?

I believe that Jesus’ admonition to His disciples applies, when they were speculating about which of them was the greatest. See Luke 22:24-30.

I believe that the Treatise and AC XVIII are biblically accurate. Especially apropos are paragraphs 8-20 in the Treatise and paragraphs 53-60, and 76 in AC XVIII. Maybe other passages too.

This is what I wrote about this about a year ago:

When the statement includes the titles “professor of theology” and “synod president” in a list of those which fall into the pastoral office, it assumes that such vocations are defined in accordance with AC articles V, XIV, and XXVIII, and the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. That is, the duties of these vocations are primarily the administration of the external means of grace, and any distinction between them and other titles for the pastoral office is purely by human arrangement, not from God’s Word. If such a title is found to be defined in conflict with these principles, then the doctrinal statement’s categorization does not apply: it is not part of the pastoral office.

In a fuller explanation, I wrote concerning the PMW sentence at issue:


Missionary, assistant pastor, professor of theology, synod president (who supervises doctrine in the church), and chaplain are some examples of this.

This sentence also provides no scriptural support. Instead, it seeks to establish our use of certain terms, claiming that they should be categorized as being part of the pastoral office. This is not a doctrinal claim, but a linguistic or logical one, and should be assessed on that basis. There is no doctrinal reason to object to these categorizations, except perhaps in certain circumstances that may or may not exist in the ELS. In particular, professors of theology might not be in the pastoral office. One well-known example is Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther’s good friend. Also, the synod’s bylaws would have to define the president as a kind of pastor in order for that position to be categorized in the pastoral office. A sentence in this doctrinal statement is not sufficient, by itself, to make such a categorization. Furthermore, anyone who fills the pastoral office (whatever his title may be) must be called to that office permanently in such a way that does not detract from the divine will extending the call.

It has often been observed that doctrine and practice are inseperably joined to one another. Change your doctrine, and it will show up in your practice. Change your practice, and it will affect your doctrine. It should be noted that our synod’s current practice regarding the office of synod president began in the early 1980’s. From the founding of the Old Norwegian Synod in 1853 until that time, the synod president was always a part-time president, also serving as a pastor of some congregation. It was in that context that president H.A. Preus wrote his address to the 1865 convention, which also touches upon the present question (find the words “Fourth Commandment”). It is certainly possible that we have moved away not only from the practice of our fathers, but also from their doctrine. As far as I know, it remains to be proven or disproven whether this is the case.

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