Friday, May 19, 2017

Where are the bishops?

When Roman Catholics complain about goofiness or worse, the question always raised is "Where are the bishops?"  When the Missouri Synod fights its many battles over goofiness or worse, the question always raised is "Where are the District Presidents (our word for those who exercise ecclesiastical supervision in a certain locale)?"  When the Lutheran Church in Australia reads up on another study designed to lead them into the ordination of women, the question always raised is "Where are the Bishops?"

I have asked that question also.  But there is another question to be asked.  Are we willing to be held accountable?  In Rome Bishops who do hold priests and parishes accountable are almost always vilified as controlling, domineering, or worse.  In the Missouri Synod, District Presidents who do hold pastors and parishes accountable are almost always vilified in the same way, as well as being reminded that they are up for election in a year or two!  I suspect the same is happening in Australia.

Yes, we have a problem with ecclesiastical supervision and those charged with that responsibility.  But we also have another problem.  That is the problem of refusing to have others hold us accountable.  Frankly, it is the bigger problem.  In Rome, the Bishop is often told that those on the ground know better than someone far away in an office.  In Missouri, the District President is often reminded that the structure of our church body is congregational and that congregations are free to determine which synodical resolutions are expedient for the local situation and no DP can take a call away from a pastor (even though he could suspend him and the congregation, but, in reality, that does not happen all that often).  Truth be told, we don't want to be held accountable.  We like living on the edge of chaos which allows us the freedom and flexibility to do what we think is wise and proper in the local situation without having anyone question us or challenge us.

The mega churches built on the personality of one individual have a problem.  I just read where one mega church in Nashville has dropped attendance by over 1,000 and giving is down by half a million and still dropping because their founding pastor has left.  We continually (and rightfully) insist to our people to be wary of such congregations where there is no supervision of doctrine and practice.  But at the same time, we flirt with the same kind of independent attitudes and are loath to be held accountable -- even by those charged with this essential episcopal responsibility.

All I am saying is this.  If we think the bishops or DPs should act, then we must also be willing to be held accountable to them.  We do have a problem with ecclesiastical supervision but it goes both ways.  Those charged with it find it unpleasant and difficult and so often unfruitful and those who are supervised resist anyone looking over their shoulders.

I welcome such supervision.  I know I am not perfect and have failed miserable to live up to the noble calling and sacred trust deposited in me as a pastor and yet supervision of doctrine and practice is a good thing.  It gives integrity not only to the church body but to the individual pastor trying to correct wrong practices and unfaithful teaching and to congregations who think that all problems can be traced to a bad egg of a pastor.  It gives integrity to our identity to the world when who we say we are is not a vague and unspecific answer since our beliefs and practices are all over the page.  It gives integrity to what we do.  I may not like having to explain what I say and do, but I owe it to my parish and to my church body to be accountable for just that.  And if you are a pastor reading this or a member of an LCMS parish, you owe it to your parish and to your pastor and to your church body to be accountable.

We may always have something to complain about when we talk about church leaders.  But let us own up to our part of the problem.  Our confession works only because all who hold that confession are accountable for its public preaching, teaching, and practice.  Otherwise it is all just word games.


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

I've seen this from both sides. As a pastor who has been forced out by a congregation with the collusion of a district president, who subsequently kept me on the "Restricted" list for nearly a year despite finding quickly that I was not guilty of something worthy of my removal from the LCMS clergy roster, and having a number of DPs refuse to give my PIF and SET to congregations requesting my information--one who did so repeatedly--I've seen the side of ecclesiastical supervision that makes me mindful of our Lord's comments about the rulers of the Gentiles who "lord it over" their subjects as well as the Psalmist's caution to "trust not in princes." I've tried to look into how they exercise their oversight, but much of what they do is in executive session, and one of the documents by which they operate--the DP manual--is as closely guarded a secret as the identities of the Illuminati.

On the other hand, as a circuit visitor, I've served with a DP who has gone through the whole process of removing a pastor from the clergy roster and suspending a congregation. I watched him go through every step according to the Constitution and by-laws of Synod, and, indeed, with a pastor heart he has gone above and beyond what our documents require of him in the attempt to avoid doing what became necessary until he had no other option.

My ten months on Restricted Status and subsequent four years as an Inactive Candidate have led me to a rather cynical view of ecclesiastical supervision in our circles. Irony being what it is, I am now, as a CV, a cog in the very machine that chewed me up and attempted to spit me out, and I'm supposed to perform visitation with the pastors in my circuit. (Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!) In our Synod, we have a hard time agreeing to what it means to be faithful to our ordination vows, and God help me and my circuit brethren should we disagree on such matters. (I happen to be in a circuit where I'm not overly worried, but still...)

As for our Synodical and District overlords...Some DPs I would trust if they led me to the very gates of hell and gave me marching orders; some DPs I wouldn't trust to tell me the time of day if I couldn't verify it with my own clock or at least a view of the sun. Insofar as our polity demands it, I see the need for such supervision, but I have a terribly time allowing myself to trust it. I don't know how to build that trust as we work within our polity. Our Synod is too divided over important Scriptural and Confessional matters for such trust to come easily. Lord, have mercy.

Anonymous said...

I have been reminded that behind every DP is a BOD with ultimate power pulling the strings. While the DP may be the face of the District, he, too, is subject to marching orders and carefully navigating between the Scylla of heterodoxy and the Charybdis of papal-like authoritarianism. I see pastors pressured to take the path of least resistance for fear of what Rev. Kornacki has been through and the prospect of going into the abyss of CRM status. I see interests and agendas that are foisted upon pastors and congregations that, in the case of pastors, they go along to get along and, in the case of congregations, they are definitely part of the problem because all they ever needed to know about being Lutheran they learned from Garrison Keillor. Lord have mercy!

Carl Vehse said...

Removing from synod membership those persistantly and stubbornly heterodox congregations, especially large ones with persistantly and stubbornly heterodox pastors, is not considered an option given concerns about declining income, and such actions by DPs, which would affect the buttering of their side of bread.

Anonymous said...

My, my, the inside scoop! Who knew that such things happened in the LCMS! I am shocked, shocked I tell you. Why, this could affect the odor of sanctimony usually associated with the LCMS, the "holier than thou"-ism.


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lutheran Lurker said...

Strickert/Vehse is filled with impatience and disdain for anyone and everyone who disagrees with him. He is the poster child for those in the LCMS who think it should be a purity cult more than a church. He does his cause more harm than good. He is rude and delights in judgment and condemnation.

Carl Vehse said...

Lutheran Lurker, see my response to your replicate comment here.

Pastor Peters said...

Pastor Kornacki, I did not mean to imply that DPs should exercise supervision unfairly, unjustly, or according to any other standard than our Confessions. I am certainly aware of those who have felt the pain of unconfessional criteria used in such ecclesiastical supervision and that is a fair issue but somewhat different from what I was trying to get at. What I was saying is that if we demand that DPs act in their episcopal role as ecclesiastical supervisors, we must be willing to accept that supervision. In a perfect world that would mean both the standards are faithful and faithful pastors are being held to those standards. We do not live in such a perfect world. That said, it does not relieve the supervisors or the supervised from striving for faithfulness under the Scriptures and the Confessions. That is my main point. I am happy that circumstances now find you in a good congregation and your role in supervision as a CV undoubtedly is informed by your experience as it should. God bless you. Pastor Peters