With common consent

The very first article in the Augsburg Confession begins “Our churches teach with common consent…” This is the translation of these descriptive and normative words: “Ecclesiae magno consensu apud nos docent.” It appears to my untrained eye that “magno consensu” has been translated “with common consent.” This appears to be closely related to our concept of consensus, in English.

There are some interesting points in the Wikipedia article on consensus. For example:

The role of a facilitator in a consensus decision-making process can be much more difficult than that of a simple-majority-party leader if group members distrust each other or unconsciously use manipulative techniques. For a proponent of any given alternative, reducing objections to their plan by eliciting information or preferences from proponents of other alternatives is difficult if people distrust each other. Manipulative opponents can find it advantageous to misrepresent their concerns or refuse to negotiate – an analogous problem to that of strategic voting. For these reasons, consensus processes usually require trust among participants and skilled, patient facilitators able to synthesise the state of a proposal.

An argument against consensus decision is that few motivated facilitators are willing to assign themselves a role guiding processes rather than pursuing and promoting specific measures empowering themselves. Dee Hock said of his role at Visa International – an organisation focused on making profit – that it was something that anyone could do, but almost no one learned to do well, and which was largely thankless. Similar sentiments have been echoed by many “leaders” of organizations committed to peace, ecology, and social justice, which tend to have diffuse benefits, and concentrated costs (an instance of the tragedy of the commons issue in political economy, and of the public good problem).

I think that this paragraph describes the current state of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod:

Some organizations have abandoned consensus decision-making for simple majority, judging that the difficulty of building a process to formally weigh all of these factors is not worth it, and that these factors can be handled better informally (i.e. in offline discussions before and after debate) than through the process of consensus itself, at the risk of creating a de facto clique that makes the real decisions.

In many organizations, with most decisions, this is not a problem. However, in a body of churches seeking to confess doctrine, a policy of simple majority rule can easily, even unintentionally, deny the normative authority of holy scripture. Historically, Lutherans have emphatically condemned majority rule as a determination of doctrine.

The danger is especially real when the body allows a few both to interpret doctrine for them and to make executive decisions on their behalf. In effect, what results is a papistic rule over the body, essentially trumping holy scripture. This may become apparent by a misapplication of the fourth commandment to eliminate the individual’s right to judge doctrine. In other words, “Obey your Papa in all things, because he knows better than you do.” This easily-repeatable situation was recognized by Martin Luther, with a little help from Eck.

The forefathers of the ELS were sensitive to these issues, having experienced certain abuses first-hand. I will try to post links to or portions of our ELS fathers’ writings about pitfalls they recognized.

Proper for good pastors

The churches are not asking the bishops to restore concord at the expense of their honor, even though it would be proper for good pastors to do this. They ask only that the bishops release unjust burdens that are new and have been received contrary to the custom of the universal Church.

AC XXVIII, 71-72

Oversight in the PMW

The word “oversight” is used thrice in the ELS document on the public ministry, in a consistent way. Yet no definition or explanation is offered of that or most of the other technical terms in the document. I’d like to know what, exactly, is meant by “oversight.” What does the duty entail? What privilege does it require? What are the consequences, and what is the purpose of “oversight?” I think I have some idea, but I’ve recently read that a college president exercises pastoral oversight, and that confuses me. Can anyone enlighten me? Anyone? Anyone?

Selective Fellowship

Selective fellowship is what we in the ELS call a situation where three or more public groups of Christians have an inconsistent fellowship relationship between them. To understand this, you must first know what is meant by fellowship. That’s what we call a relationship between two groups of Christians who officially recognize that they both believe, teach, and confess according to the doctrine of the Bible. They express their shared fellowship through acts of public worship, such as public prayer and joint services.

Fellowship becomes more complicated when a third group of Christians is added to the mix. Now, each of the others must decide whether they share fellowship with the third group. If one does and the other does not, then the situation is called “triangular fellowship,” and either of the two original groups might accuse the other of “selective fellowship.”

I have just described one way that the situation of triangular fellowship might come to pass: when a third group is added to the fellowship relationship between two other groups of Christians. Practically speaking, this is unavoidable, because it takes some time for any group of Christians to come to a decision about fellowship, and when two groups are aiming to reach the same conclusion, they will probably not do so at the same time. Though it’s unavoidable, this situation should always be temporary, because it compromises the teaching or confession of the groups involved. Jesus told His disciples to hold to His Word. If we persistently compromise our teaching, then we are not holding to much of anything. Such compromise is sinful, and we have a name for it: unionism. See the Triple-U.

In recent weeks, the congregations and pastors of the ELS have been warned against forming a triangular or selective fellowship situation. I’ll describe that warning momentarily. First, allow me to point out that there is a second way that such a situation can develop. Let’s begin with a single grouping of Christians. If some within that group decide to break fellowship with some of the others, then those who remain are automatically faced with a decision. They can join the breakers of fellowship, or they can join the opposite party, or they can continue to recognize fellowship with both parties. In that case, a triangular fellowship situation has developed.

Whether selective fellowship develops from three separate groups coming together, or from a division within a single group, there are two serious and related questions that must be addressed. The answer to one will often provide an answer to the other. First, is the group wishing to maintain fellowship with both of the opposing groups guilty of unionism?
Second, is one or both of the opposing groups guilty of separatism? Unionism and separatism are equally wrong and sinful. Again, see the Triple-U.

In the ELS, a party has formed within the synod which has broken fellowship with several churches and at least one pastor. It is seeking to break fellowship with other like-minded churches and pastors. The method of breaking fellowship has loosely followed the synod guidelines for discipline. They were not followed literally. (In fact, if the discipline stands, then the ELS probably ought to amend the guidelines to include the new reason for suspension that was recently used.) The explanation given for this discipline is that those under discipline have refused to accept the normative authority of our synod’s newest doctrinal statement, officially adopted in 2005 by a simple majority of 62%.

Meanwhile, those under discipline have insisted that they do not regard their position as a break of fellowship, but rather as one step among many toward reaching a common expression and understanding of our doctrine. They have emphatically stated that they do not charge the synod or any individual with adhering to false doctrine.

Automatically, a third party has been created from those who are unconvinced that the discipline and break of fellowship is biblically or even procedurally correct. They are the ones who have been warned against practicing selective fellowship. If they continue to recognize fellowship with those who are (or will be) under discipline, then the first party will regard that as selective fellowship. Those in the third party have had a choice forced upon them. They can join with the first party, join with the party under discipline, or try to continue in fellowship with both parties. Their choice will have to be informed by the two questions that must be addressed.

Would it be unionism to remain in fellowship with both conflicting parties? Would it be separatism to join with the first party? The second question may be easier to answer fairly, because we can examine the theological reasons for the actions of the first party to see if they have already become separatistic. Since this is a theological issue, it is important to resolve it theologically. In other words, we must identify the biblical doctrine that pertains to our situation and follow it. To “fix” the problem with procedural or administrative reasoning would be to neglect or even compromise our doctrine. Yet in all of this, every individual conscience must reach its conclusion and act in keeping with God’s Word, so we must have great patience and charity toward one another.

So in the ELS at present, the choices before those in the third party would either (1) recognize the discipline as scripturally sound and legitimate, (2) recognize the discipline as wrong in some way, or (3) recognize that discipline is warranted, though not as a breach of fellowship. It seems 3 is unlikely, but you can make that call for yourself.

A Respected Lutheran Pastor on Church Customs (Adiaphora? Perhaps)

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse of being Roman Catholic! Indeed!

Read the rest, and discover the source, at Cyberbrethren. Go ahead, click the link and read the rest. It’s worth your time.

Kristen Lawson Defense

Kristen Lawson is the wife of a friend and fellow pastor in Escondido, California. After calling 911 for help, she was arrested, arraigned, and charged. The charges were lessened since the arrest, but they have never seemed to have much factual support at all, if any, and seem contrary to Kristen’s character. I don’t think I’ve met Kristen yet, but I believe the descriptions of her character that I’ve heard from her family and through their church, which supports her fully.

Kristen’s lawyer seems to have some confidence of a positive outcome, but the Lawsons need money at this point to continue the defense. You can find more information at Norman Teigen’s blog. Norman has posted several updates, and I trust will continue to do so.

Ministry Papers from the 2006 ELS General Pastoral Conference

I have either uploaded or linked to two of the papers from here. There was one other ministry paper delivered, and if it becomes available, I will post it there as well.

That link page is part of a little project to document our ministry controversy. There hasn’t really been enough time for me to keep up on updates. So, if anyone happens to have something or notices that I don’t have a link to something important, please call or send a message about it.

Reason to Terminate a Pastor’s Call: Pastor too old?

Norman Teigen calls attention to a sad case where a congregation (ELCA) decided to get rid of its pastor because he is too old. Thankfully, the synod has informed the congregation that this is not an acceptable reason to dismiss its pastor.

I wonder what the ELCA does consider to be an acceptable reason? I would be surprised if it were the exact same reasons listed by our pastoral theology books, such as The Shepherd Under Christ by Habeck and Schuetze, Pastoral Theology by Fritz, and Walther’s Pastorale. I could look up those reasons and list them here (again), but it would be more interesting to leave that exercise to the reader.

Good papers at the GPC (We’re finally studying the doctrine!)

I missed one of the main papers delivered at the GPC, and one that I was eagerly anticipating was removed from the agenda at the eleventh hour. The remaining three papers were very good, and all of them were significant contributions toward a common understanding and confession of the doctrine of the ministry.

Three of the papers originally on the agenda were meant to contribute to our common study of the ministry. One of them, as I mentioned, was removed. I wish I could explain why, but it will have to be enough to say that the presenter is not under discipline in the synod right now, but has made a public confession that he does not accept the theological basis for a break in fellowship between the synod and Rolf Preus.

In hindsight, it seems that our synod has managed to end our controversy on the ministry before genuine, corporate study began. In other words, we have already produced a doctrinal statement (and imparted to it a normative character in our midst). Only now have we begun the study that may result in a common understanding of what we mean. Since we seem to be following the normal path in reverse, we may soon discover the question that started our controversy! Seriously, we need to take a break from our recent “fellowship” actions so that we can return together to a more reasonable timeline and sequence of study and debate.