Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Ecclesiastical Supervision. . .

The internet is abuzz with comments from former CCM members, from those nominated for Synodical President, and the Praesidium of the LCMS regarding proposed changes in the bylaws dealing with ecclesiastical supervision of doctrine and practice and visitation.  For those outside Missouri, this is the language of episcopacy (OVERSIGHT) -- those who exercise the responsibility for supervision/oversight of doctrine and practice in our church body and how they do this.  Over the course of weeks missives have been issued warning, clarifying, accusing, and defending not simply the changes proposed by the Floor Committee for our Convention but also the very idea that we are accountable at all.  I do not choose to enter the fray and deal with the Task Force's proposals or the recommendations of the Floor Committee on Ecclesiastical Supervision and Dispute Resolution.  What I do want to address is visitation and oversight in general.

I write as one who has been charged and brought through both Dispute Resolution for a non-doctrinal charge and for a doctrinal charge.  I have experienced the processes from the inside and not simply as an impartial observer.  While I would not suggest that the process was without pain or angst, if the bylaws are followed (always a tedious but essential task to bring things to a credible conclusion), the process does work as well as any dispute resolution process can working with sinful people.  I also believe that those who are charged with the responsibility of acting as Reconcilers are well-intentioned and pious people who have a heart for unity and peace among the people and parishes that make up our Synod.  These are the rules by which we have chosen to operate when it comes to disputes (although there are significant differences between non-doctrinal and doctrinal issues).  I am not saying that they are perfect but that they afford us the opportunity to act both with integrity and the good will of Christian character (if we will also act with integrity and Christian purpose).

One might expect that my experiences might make me wary of ecclesiastical supervision and oversight.  That is not the case at all.  I for one welcome the regular visitation of our parish by both the Circuit Visitor and by the District President (who is charged with this episcopal responsibility both historically and by bylaw).  I believe that the regular visitation of our parishes and pastors will prevent things from escalating to the point where the dispute resolution process or more serious doctrinal review is necessary.  I welcome the opportunity both to explain my practice and to confess my doctrine and I believe it is good for our people to know that their pastors and their parishes are accountable.

This is about integrity -- the integrity of the faith believed, taught, and confessed.  We live in a time in which diversity threatens to stretch the fabric of our unity to the breaking point (in church, culture, and nation).  Our people need to know that their pastors are held accountable.  Our parishes need to know that they do not act as isolated islands but walk together in this thing we call the Synod.  I am confident that the more we are known and the more we know of one another the stronger we will be as a church body, the greater the integrity of our confession both within the community of faith and outside to the world, and that this will encourage our outreach and growth in witness and even in numbers.

We already have supervision over statistics.  I expect that I am not alone in being asked to report to our District Office our attendance, number of new members, adult confirmations, baptisms, etc... on a quarterly basis.  If supervision of statistics is important, is not supervision of doctrine and practice even more so?

In my first parish my District President visited me at least every six months, ate in our home, spoke with my wife, and visited the leaders of my parish.  Without this visitation and the resulting support, my first years would have far more difficult for me as a young pastor and for the people of my parish.  I was privileged to have the wisdom, encouragement, and regular visitation of one of the best ecclesiastical supervisors in our church body.  Now sainted, the man and his model of pastoral care for the pastors and parishes under his charge remain the gold standard for me and my family.

I do not wish to enter the debate over specific proposals on the how this is done but I do want to speak openly and passionately for the importance of visitation and faithful ecclesiastical supervision both of pastors and parishes.  It is key to our integrity of teaching and witness, it is important for the confidence we have in each other and our trust in the pastoral judgement and parish choices made throughout the Synod, and it is vital to the overall health and vitality of our life and walk together as Synod.  Do not fear this oversight and supervision.  Welcome it.  If you are doing things that cannot be defended according to Scripture and our Confessions, then you need to be held accountable and change.  If you are doing things that are right but not popular, your people need to know that the church stands with you as pastor.  If your people travel (and they do), they need to know that the parish a hundred or a thousand miles down the road believes, confesses, and teaches with one accord and that the pastor there, different in gifts, is the same in faith.  Ecclesiastical supervision is no bogey man to be feared but an important but often overlooked means to assuring that we are truly one in faith and faithful in practice everywhere and that the differences in the way we work this out by congregational self-government and pastoral discretion does not become different confessions within the same church body.

Do not give into fear.  Our church body and our leaders have little desire to or capability of micromanaging things from a centralized office.  The desire and goal of this aspect of our life together is so that we may confidently, with integrity, and in unity stand together for the sake of those within the household of the faith and in witness to those not yet of the kingdom.


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

As one who has been burnt by ecclesiastical overseers concerning things that have little to do with Scripture and the Confessions, I find it difficult not to feel a certain trepidation concerning ecclesiastical oversight, even though I now have a solid district president. In the LCMS we have a DP who endorses and indeed is heavily involved in FiveTwo. Others endorse PLI and TCN. Who is overseeing that? And how can they oversee orthodoxy?

There isn't true unity n the LCMS, and the appearance of oversight will not change that.

Anonymous said...

Your article is fine and good, but what about the supervision of District Presidents? This problem of supervision must start at the top with our leaders. They need to be disciplined when they believe and act contrary to Scripture. Pres. Harrison has his hands full, no doubt.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@ Pr K & Anonymous: I have been in 2 congregations and have seen 2 DP's - I refuse to dignify them with the title of bishop - sit around with their thumbs in rectal defilade whie fine pastors were run out by cabals who were allowed to act with impunity.

Let's take supervision a step further: given public nuisances like Mr Kieschnick in the presidential office, who will discipline wayward presidents? Given heretics like Becker, what mechanism doe we have in place to oversee or semiaries? Ah, the wonders of congregationalism.

Finally, what of regular pastoral visitation at the level of the congregation? That really hits a nerve!

Jason Kiefer said...

To previous posters:

Reading across the internet, your concerns are what most of the brouhaha is about. Liberals, former CCM, and certain DP's are complaining to high heaven about ecclesiastical oversight. Our current bylaws and DRP really try to neuter the synodical president. The complaints are about whether the SP and synod presidium can be an appeal for when a DP fails to act. And the prime example is Matthew Becker. Pres. Linnemann has repeatedly refused to correct/condemn Becker's public dissent of LCMS positions. Some have argued he was only raising concerns, but in his public blogging he has at times talked about teaching his Valpo students, indicating he has helped LCMS women bail to the ELCA to become ordained.

It finally took a DP (Forke, Montana) who had a stature the Linnemann could not blow off, and Becker finally resigned. The liberal voices complain how the synod is libel in still naming Becker in overtures and resolutions, claiming the problem no longer exists. But it does exist, because the STRUCTURE still allows DP's to act without effective oversight off their own actions, but the SP.

In my opinion, much of the underlying pushback is about control, and who has it. Certain DP's do not want a boss, so that they can still act upon their novelties. They wish to force the camel's nose into the tent, and do not want to be held accountable to corrections for their terrible ideas.

After reading various blogs for 6 years now, and its facebook, and even a few personal contacts, to me it is pretty much the usual suspects. The concerns raised here are not new or isolated. Even the times I have gotten involved and dealt with an issue or two, it is sad that I knew the blowback was coming, and completely expected it from the sources whence it came.