Churchliness of Synod Continued

I was going to address how synod and congregation differ regarding their use of the means of grace and regarding their context, but we need to finish something else first, namely, how they differ regarding their shepherds.

Based upon feedback, I need to clarify something. I appreciate the thoughtful email responses I receive to these posts, but since they are private communications, I don’t think I should publish who the sender is. He wanted to explain what the Treatise says in association with AC XVIII, in response to what I wrote here:

So if presiding is pastoral ministry, then the president must be a shepherd to someone else. Is it the pastors of the synod or missionaries? No, because a formal relationship like that would violate Treatise paragraphs 7 and following, with the accompanying scriptural passages.

My email responder distinguishes the authority to set up the synod president as the pastors’ pastor from his authority to act as the minister of the synod’s pastors. The first authority is acknowledged to be done by human right, and the latter by divine right. This distinction echoes what’s written in the PMW: “But it is by divine right that one exercises that work on behalf of the Christians through whom the call has come.” (That’s written about the wider sense of “public ministry.”) By making this distinction, it is supposed that having a synod president as the pastors’ pastor does not violate Treatise 7ff, because we have a synod president by human right. But when he “supervises” his “flock” by teaching them (that is, correcting their doctrine, and presumably suspending those who disagree with what he teaches), he does this by divine right.

This would mean that a suspension from the ELS is an exercise of the binding key. Since it removes the “offender” from our synod body and fellowship, it would be tantamount to excommunication. That doesn’t seem right, for several reasons. Unfortunately, it goes beyond the scope of this post to list them.

It would also mean that a synod holds authority over its congregations and pastors by divine right, authority to teach God’s Word, and even exercise the binding key. If the synod doesn’t hold such authority over congregations and pastors by divine right, then what’s the use of saying that its president teaches by divine right? (Is it the same as merely saying that God wants His Word to be taught publicly?) But wouldn’t that mean that it’s sinful for a congregation not to join a synod, just as it’s sinful for an individual Christian to remain aloof from every congregation of believers when there is no other impediment to fellowship? Yet we also hold that the synod is a voluntary association of congregations, and that the synod is only advisory.

Here’s an accepted translation of what the Treatise says in paragraph 7, which introduces the subsequent paragraphs in the Treatise:

In the first place, therefore, let us show from the holy Gospel that the Roman bishop cannot arrogate to himself any supremacy whatever over other bishops and pastors.

In that quotation, I have intentionally used only one of the two English translations that appears in the Triglotta, because it provides some insight to what is meant by the other way it’s translated:

In the first place, therefore, let us show from the Gospel that the Roman bishop is not by divine right above other bishops and pastors.

What does it mean to have supremacy? Paragraph 8 shows that it means lordship over the others, as the “vicar of Christ.” In other words, supremacy means than when he teaches God’s Word to the other pastors or “presides” over their doctrine, the other pastors should regard his interpretation and teaching as authoritative because of his status as their pastor. That’s supremacy.

It has been acknowledged that our arrangement of synod president (that the president is the pastors’ pastor) exists by human right and authority, with the caveat that he carries out the duty of “presiding” by divine right, because it’s an essential part of the indispensable presiding office that he holds. He “presides” by divine right, because he holds the office of presiding. But we must say that he holds that office by human right, in order not to violate Treatise 7ff.

This means that the president’s “presiding” has supremacy over the other pastors and missionaries of the synod, though his office itself does not. This is slightly different from what Treatise 7ff argues against. The Treatise denies that the Roman bishop is by divine right above other bishops and pastors. In our synod arrangement, the president himself is seen as above the other pastors only by human right, but his presiding is above them by divine right.

So tell me. Is that splitting hairs, or is it straining gnats? I’m fine with either. I just want to avoid swallowing the Roman camel, but I’m not convinced that we haven’t already. If nothing else, such fine hairsplitting means we have to carefully, oh so carefully, explain the difference between what God has established and the human traditions that we establish. How much of the the synod president’s authority exists by necessity, according to God’s Word? How much of that authority is a matter of our own tradition, voluntarily accepted, but only for convenience and order?

One more difference in respect to shepherds: our practice concerning the Call of the shepherds is very different in the synod’s case. It would be scandalous in a congregation to call a pastor the way we elect a synod president, particularly for a limited term. I’m not sure what this proves, if anything, but it’s a serious contrast.

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