A Better Way to Discuss the PMW

I’ve been trying to keep before us the possibility that the PMW can be improved over time by suggesting specific improvements to its parts. It cannot be denied that some had sincere and weighty objections to the PCM document before it was adopted, and became known as the PMW. It also cannot be denied that these objections were not all answered before the adoption took place, and that the circumstances of adoption reflected a serious opposition to the document.

Though the point is arguable, I believe that these circumstances were the primary cause of the ensuing controversy that resulted in at least five pastors and more churches being separated from the synod. The objections and opposition to the PCM document that existed before its adoption continued afterward. Though this should not be surprising, it was regarded differently after the adoption than it was before the adoption. After the adoption, opposition to the document (now called the PMW) is regarded as a rejection of the synod’s doctrine, which must place the opposition outside the synod’s doctrinal fellowship. While in some cases this opposition has been treated with a measure of patience, that patience did not extend to those who expressed their conscientious objection to the PMW in the form of a statement, rather than in the form of questions and requests for clarification. Others (myself included) stated that the PMW would only be acceptable on the condition of a particular understanding of its meaning. Thankfully, that position has also been tolerated.

It has been my hope that those with reservations or objections about the PMW would be able to continue discussing it, and finally make changes that would be acceptable to all. This could potentially restore the parts of the synod that have been severed, though the animus that was begotten in the PMW’s adoption has produced other sins on all sides that may render complete healing impossible for some time.

At this point, I will discontinue the thread I’ve been following, in which I have been suggesting for consideration certain changes to the PMW’s wording. For those who have been reading that thread, it has already served its purpose. It should be apparent that further changes are at least possible, and may actually be desirable in some places.

I suggest a different approach. Pastor Jay Webber, who is now on the synod’s Doctrine Committee, has restated the PMW with the intention of changing its format, but not its doctrine. The new format is “thetical.” That is, it is stated as relatively short, numbered statements that carry the thought sequentially from start to finish. This is the same format used by Martin Luther in several works, including the 95 Theses and the Heidelberg Disputation. It has also been used by the ELS in earlier doctrinal statements.

Pastor Webber’s thetical arrangement has some advantages. First, it isolates each point so that further discussion may focus on specific parts of the PMW’s text unambiguously. Second, Pastor Webber has prefaced most of the theses with a statement of the particular context of each one, derived from the heading under which the statement is found in the original formatting of the PMW, and the heading’s explanation in the text of the PMW. This explicit statement of context is invaluable in reading the statements, and may prevent some of the problems of interpretation that arose with the original formatting. Third, the thetical form of the PMW is technically not the PMW itself, so that strong criticism of it need not be regarded as a rejection of the synod’s doctrine.

I suggest that further discussion of the PMW focus upon the thetical form that Pastor Webber has provided. It may be compared and contrasted with the original form, and the theses themselves may be criticized and specified by number.

Please allow me to note several things from my first reading of the thetical format of the PMW. Feel free to comment on these points as you like. My observations are not all of grave importance, but they are nevertheless food for thought. I’m surprised that there are so few. It speaks to the advantages of this thetical format of the PMW.

  1. Theses 6 and 11 use the term “Universal Priesthood of All Believers.” this term is a redundancy. It would be better to use the language of 1 Peter 2:9: “royal priesthood” of all believers, or simply “priesthood” of all believers.

  2. In Thesis 7, the words “when they forgive the sins of those who sin against them” diverge from the definition of the Office of the Keys given in Thesis 1, where it is defined as an authority from Christ. Since it is an authority from Christ, the Office of the Keys applies to sins insofar as they are offenses against God, not insofar as they are offenses against anyone else. Hence, the words “when they forgive the sins of those who sin against them” are ambiguous. They may refer to the Gospel spoken to others, or they may refer to the personal forgiveness between us, which, though based upon the forgiveness of God, is not exactly the same thing. In fact, since this phrase follows a phrase that fully describes the way Christians may confer God’s forgiveness, it would be redundant to say the same thing again. Hence, it probably describes the personal forgiveness between us, and does not really describe the Office of the Keys.

  3. In Thesis 12, the words “they are to beware of false prophets” does not describe the Office of the Keys. It should be dropped. Furthermore, the statement that Christians use the Keys to judge the teaching of their pastors and teachers only applies to circumstances where false teachers are personally confronted with the sin of teaching falsely. This does not necessarily occur when Christians judge the teachings of their pastors and teachers. The statement should be clarified.

  4. In Thesis 15, the words “throughout the New Testament” imply that the divine ordering, establishment, and institution does not occur also in the Old Testament. It does, though not every aspect of the ordering in the Old Testament applies since the death and resurrection of Christ.

  5. In Thesis 19, the words “includes both a narrower sense and a wider sense” imply that both senses are instituted by God in the Public Ministry of the Word. Though I realize that “senses” are simply shades of meaning that are attributed to a term by human beings, and are not required by God, the way this thesis is worded still has the implication I mentioned, mainly because the words “divinely instituted” are joined with the word “includes.”

  6. I noticed that there is some repetition. Theses 27 and 37 are the same, and Theses 22 and 53 also say the same thing. These general statements seem to apply in more than one place.

  7. Thesis 40 has caused a lot of confusion, and serves little purpose in the PMW. Its intent is to define how a person may be said to be “in” the Public Ministry of the Word, but it ends up saying that one may be “in” the Public Ministry of the Word in various degrees. That does not really make any sense. The thesis should be dropped, or possibly replaced with one saying “Only those are in the Public Ministry of the Word who are authorized by the call of the Church to exercise the keys publicly.”

  8. In Thesis 49, the words “but is in accordance” imply that Romans 10:14-17 and AC XIV apply directly to the circumstance of school teachers. While I do not condemn someone who thinks so, this cannot be proven. What we can say is that the spirit of these passages would require that anyone who publicly teaches the Word of God be authorized to do so, and that a rightly-ordered call is the model used by the Church for that authorization.

  9. Thesis 58 only lists Acts 1:15-26 as an example of a mediate call. Other examples could be mentioned, in which pastors receive their specific vocations through the mediation of apostles.

Copyrights on Church-related Works

While I was on vacation, there was a lively little comment discussion at Cyberbrethren about copyright laws. Since the comment period is ended, and since I have my own blog, I’ll add my two cents here.

Pastor McCain and those who left comments expressed one important purpose for copyright laws, and the reason we ought to abide by them. That is, the people who produce works under copyright should be certain that they will receive fair compensation for their efforts. Our society benefits as a whole by their work, so it is in our collective interest to assure creative people that their time and energies will support them and their families.

However, there is another, equally important element in the concept of copyrights. This element was largely left out of the discussion at Cyberbrethren, possibly because it does not apply to the immediate issue of contemporary works from CPH. Yet I think it does apply. The other important element is this: copyrights expire.

The expiration of copyrights is not an afterthought, but an essential part of the way they benefit society. You see, if they did not expire, then society would forever have to pay a premium to benefit from the copywritten works. How would you like to pay $35 today for every copy of Hamlet you might need to use? Or how about $3 per individual license of the lyrics to A Mighty Fortress? But thankfully, Hamlet is now in the public domain, like the Triglotta. Some day, Concordia will also be in the public domain. At that time, its benefits to our society will continue, possibly even increasing due to its expanded availability.

A copyright may be used by those who hold it for more than producing a monetary income. It may also be used to ensure that the copywritten work and its derivative works continue to be available for use by the public as long as the copyright remains in effect. For example, see Copyleft. This is a good thing, which is not to say that the traditional use of copyrights is necessarily a bad thing.