We have a situation in the LCMS in which a retired LCMS Pastor married an ELCA woman (maybe even a Pastoress but I am not sure here). He worships regularly, at least part of the time, with her at an ELCA parish and receives Holy Communion there. Now the LCMS declared in Convention that the ELCA no longer deserves to be called Lutheran. Everyone on all sides acknowledges that the LCMS and ELCA are not in fellowship (though that statement is largely meaningless for communion reception at an ELCA congregation). So, when the LCMS District President suspends the retired (emeritus) Pastor for communing regularly at an ELCA congregation, he uses the rule that forbids rostered LCMS clergy from "a. Serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church; b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession;" and that was that, right?
Well, not so fast. The CCM (Commission on Constitutional Matters) has determined that this is not what the Synod's constitution means. It means, according to them, official taking part (vested, for example, taking part in a leadership role) and not sitting in the pew, praying, singing, or even communing. So the suspension is undone.
Is this not the problem in addressing doctrinal issues with by-laws and constitutional articles? What we end up with is NOT a discussion of what is right or wrong but what the words in the constitution and by-laws really mean and how they may or may not be interpreted. Not exactly bad information but hardly the issue.
Now, I do not know the guy and expect that he is a decent and likable fellow with years of credible service to the Synod. I do not mean to play out the case in public or to demean his reputation (I have not named him). My point is this. How do those given responsibility for oversight of doctrine and practice do their episcope if the constitution and by-laws are vague enough to preclude this very oversight? So we all agree that this is not inappropriate but that is not the same as saying it is wrong. The legalese of constitution and by-law discussions make it hard to know simply and plainly whether something is right or wrong. (Recall when an LCMS Pastor put his voice on CD or DVD and sent it home so that people could consecrate the Eucharist in their homes to the sound of his voice. There again we found it hard to say something was wrong but we all agree it was inappropriate. Although, this time, the offender was the CTCR or Commission on Theology and Church Relations.)
I have some mixed feelings about this case and do not know enough about the details of the retired Pastor's regular communing at an ELCA parish to render judgment (which is not my place, anyhow). However, I do have something to say when the best we can muster in such things is the dense debate of constitution and by-law instead of the very theology of the issue at hand. This use of Lutheran canon law precludes the open debate over whether such things are right or wrong (which is where the discussion should have been). The whole discussion is murkier than a long passage from Aquinas or Calvin and, for that matter, much less satisfying. Surely we can do better. Both this man and our church body deserve more than a tedious exercise of constitutional obscurity and by-law interpretation.