Of Winkels, Sermon Recordings and Church Polity

Here in northern Oregon, our few ELS churches have had the pleasure of starting a “local” winkel (small pastor’s conference). So far, it has only taken a maximum of 2.5 hours to travel to the winkel, making it much easier for me to budget my time than when I was traveling to Tacoma. That was usually about 4 hours each way. We’ve also had the pleasure of several pastors from outside our synod attending with us. I consider this an important aspect of church activity: that we always seek others with whom we may agree in doctrine, and thus eventually might recognize the existence of outward fellowship.

Besides our ELS attendees, we have had one pastor from the Association of Confessional Lutheran Churches attending and two pastors in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Our ELS pastors have been encouraged (by the ACLC pastor) to attend the Wisconsin Synod winkels in Portland too, but as beneficial as it might be, I can’t justify taking another day every month away from my parish.

We recently rejoiced to hear that the ACLC has recognized fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America. Both of those organizations are relatively young. The ACLC was formed mainly by congregations removed from the ELS over a matter tangential to the adoption of a doctrinal statement on the Office of the Ministry. (For those who want to know, they took issue with the way another ELS pastor was deposed from his congregation, attempting to treat the matter as a case of church discipline by invoking the “lesser ban” against a synod official. This was deemed to be “selective fellowship,” and thus contrary to the ELS doctrinal position on fellowship, notwithstanding that their action was not meant as a declaration of church fellowship.)

This winkel has been a blessing for those involved, though at times we have wondered how best to engage our fellow Christian brothers with whom we do not (yet) recognize outward fellowship. With the outward fellowship now recognized between ACLC and ELDoNA, the time has probably come to look more closely at ELDoNA’s doctrine. While our winkel discussions seem to show that fundamental agreement still exists between our pastors and the ACLC (and at least some LCMS pastors), the ELDoNA has an origin mostly separate from the ELS. It’s possible that even though the ELS has a much different background than the ELDoNA, we might be in agreement on the substance of our doctrine. Both subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions because (quia) they accurately confess the doctrine of Holy Scripture, so the possibility of finding further agreement is high. In addition, the exercise of examining the doctrine of another church body will force us to a better understanding of our own, and perhaps put a finer point on it.

Apparently, ELDoNA has existed since 2006. The most outstanding distinction between ELDoNA and the ELS is not in doctrine, but in the polity (outward organization) of the church body. There is much on their web site describing the reasons for organizing as a diocese, and explaining what that means. In our ELS seminary, I recall learning that polity is not something divisive of fellowship, and usually determined by the historical roots of the particular denomination in question.

The ELDoNA subscribes to two sets of theses, not intended wholly as doctrinal statements, but also statements of good practice and mutual understanding. They are meant to address various controverted issues among Lutherans in our day. There are many things to consider from these statements, but I’ll just mention one here as an example. In the “Malone Theses,” Thesis number 3, on the “Office of the Ministry,” says:

Laymen ought not preach or read sermons at the divine service. Laymen are not to administer the sacraments of the Church. Emergency baptism is the only exception to this rule. (AC 14)

In ELDoNA’s response to questions from the ACLC, this was expounded a bit. After citing several relevant passages from the Book of Concord, the response says:

“Necessity” must not be confused with “convenience.” In our age of technological conveniences (such as CDs and tape recorders) and relatively inexpensive, fast transportation, circumstances such as pastoral vacations and vacancies can be dealt with in a means which is consistent with our Lutheran Confessions.

A pastor being gone for a Sunday or two may be considered “inconvenient,” but it does not become a matter of “necessity.” It would certainly be the preferable practice that the pastor leave a recorded message, if no other orthodox Lutheran pastor is available on that occasion. The congregation could also consider gathering for singing hymns on such an occasion, without having a sermon on that particular Sunday.

While this seems not to be considered so much a doctrinal matter as a matter of good practice, it’s still interesting, because we have had the practice of an “elder” (a lay position assisting the pastor) or designee reading the sermon when the pastor cannot be present on Sunday. My only observation is that a message from the pastor might be recorded on tape or CD, or on paper. I don’t see a lot of difference between a layman pressing “play” and a layman reading the pastor’s words. Neither is ideal. What did our Lutheran fathers do in remote parishes?

Important Observations in Busy Times

The United States is not unique among nations, insofar as it is a sovereign country on the earth. Everyone can agree about that, I think. Yet the United States is at least somewhat unique among nations, insofar as its government is based upon, as our President has described it, a “charter of negative rights.” Other nations have copied the US to various degrees in that regard, but this country was really the first to go all the way with this idea.

What does our President mean by “a charter of negative rights?” He means that our constitution limits the powers of the federal government, protecting the liberties of states and citizens. It forbids any notion that the government has the right to, for example, prohibit the free exercise of religion. While this frustrates our current President and his associates, it should be a comfort for other Americans. It’s what makes the United States a free country.

I’ve had a busy start to the school year, and the busy-ness will continue for a while. We’re starting a series of classes for anyone 10 and older, called “Getting Into God’s Word,” as well as several confirmation classes. Together with other things, I’m left pretty wiped out at the end of many days, without much impetus for addressing other things on my list. Blogging comes about last. But today is my weekend, and I think these observations are rather important for us all to keep in mind as election day draws closer.

Notice how concerned I am about freedom, or liberty. A hundred or more years ago, that might easily earn me the label “liberal,” but today it most likely earns me the label “conservative.” Isn’t that odd? To be “liberal” these days (or at least during this presidential administration) is to oppose the kind of protections our Constitution affords for individual liberty. To put it bluntly: a “liberal” today opposes liberty, while a “conservative” seeks to protect it. Amazingly ironic.

I realize that there are issues, and there are issues. Some “liberals” or “conservatives” may seek to protect certain liberties, while neglecting the protection of others. The free “speech” of sacrilegious art comes to mind. Examples of neglect abound. This presidential administration’s approach to implementing the newly-adopted national health care regime is one of them. The President’s secretary for health and human services responded to an announcement from certain health companies in which they explained to their customers that the new law would increase their costs. Here’s how Michael Barone summarizes this “liberal” neglect of free speech:

“Congress shall make no law,” reads the First Amendment, “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

Sebelius’ approach is different: “zero tolerance” for dissent.

I don’t mean this to be primarily a criticism of our current President’s administration. Instead, I want anyone reading this to realize that even though we may be exceedingly busy, it behooves us as citizens to pay attention to our government and its political process. Yes, it can be very boring, repetitious, and even depressing. Yes, the signal-to-noise ratio can be extremely low. But if nobody pays attention to these things, then whatever remains unique, special, or even comforting about the way the US is governed will surely disappear. Maybe we will enjoy some of those blessings, but we’ll have lost them for our children. The present administration only reminds us that this has always been true.

Labels like “conservative” and “liberal” don’t really matter. They are just labels, and their meanings change over time. Party loyalties only matter as far as your conscience permits you to affiliate with the whole platform of either party. That’s a personal political decision, though it should be based upon objective reality instead of hype or feelings. So if the labels and the parties don’t matter much, then what does matter?

The principles matter. The Christian worldview, based upon the Bible, matters, because it’s not only a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of faith, and a matter of fact. Truth matters. These things matter to Christians because we are Christians.

Don’t get so busy that you neglect the responsibility common to every American citizen: inform yourself, vote, and participate in the peaceful process of governing this republic. There is evil in the world. It’s in our neighbors, including those in public office, and it’s in us. Let’s not neglect to work against it. Especially in busy times.