Saturday, May 3, 2014

A dust up. . .

I had pulled a post scheduled for today because it was a somewhat snarky rant on my part.  It all had to do with the Covenant of Candidates used by Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, at the call day in which the candidates from the sem got their calls (April 29). 

The text of the covenant was public and all over Facebook and the internet.  It has become something of a firestorm, to use the words of some.  I am writing not to add fuel to the fire but to ask why a covenant which sought charity and respectful treatment from brother clergy has become the occasion to call for the discipline of a member of the brotherhood.

Here is the text of the covenant below:

L: Brothers: We have now been called as pastors of Christ’s church to live together, struggle together, rejoice together, forgive one another, and serve His kingdom together, with the assistance of Christ himself. I now ask you before God, each other, and all those here and listening online:
L: Do you promise to treat each other and every brother pastor with respect, patience, and loving care and concern? If so, say “I promise.”
Candidates: I promise.
L: Do you promise to be willing to seek unity, brotherly love, forgiveness, and harmony between brother pastors for the sake of the Gospel? If so, say “I promise.”
Candidates: I promise.
L: Do you promise to seek understanding in conflict, pray for the unity of faith, and explain everything in the kindest possible way? If so, say “I promise.”
Candidates: I promise.
L: Do you promise to live in humility, being willing to be held accountable to this promise by your brothers standing here with you? If so, say “I promise.”
Candidates: I promise.
L: Do you promise to faithfully encourage your brothers standing here to be accountable to this promise? If so, say “I promise, with the help of God.”
Candidates: I promise, with the help of God.
Candidates: God enable us to will and to do this according to His good pleasure.

I have no doubt that the intentions were noble, the problems the covenant seeks to address are real and urgent, and that the leader and candidates making the pledge sincere.  But what disturbs me is that in seeking to address this issue with a covenant (basically a "Law" promise), the end result ends up kind of trivializing the greater pledge and promise of the ordination vows that these same candidates will solemnly make in a few months.  It always troubles me when we add on to the vows and promises of the ordinand because, whether intentional or accidental, it detracts from the unique and solemn "covenant" or promise that is the core and center of what it means to be a Pastor of the Church.

Anyway, I pulled the post because I realized I came off badly and only ratcheted up the whole issue by my comments. But then something else was in my email from several sources. That is a letter by some 32 LCMS Pastors who are petitioning the President of Synod, the Praesidium, and the Council of Presidents to intervene against the Rev. Todd Wilken against the comment he made about the very same covenant on call day. He posted his on Facebook. The letter says that Wilken lit off a firestorm of comments (not true because the firestorm was lit by the covenant and not by Wilken). Now I know Todd and he can have a sharp tongue but he is neither mean spirited nor does he sit on the sidelines simply to take shots at others. He is a respected radio talk show host, he lived through the sacking of his show by the previous Synod President and his crew, and he has provided a tremendous service to the faith and the Church by his stance for the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith and for the Lutheran Confessions. I have great respect for him. His comment was not, however, sharp or mean. It was a serious question.

Here is the Facebook comment:

Here is part of the response.  You can read the whole thing here.

a concern arises regarding the First Commandment. Our love for God ought to be matched by a strong advocacy for unity in the church. Rev. Wilken shows little such commitment. Without qualification, Rev. Wilken discredits the very intention of these seminarians to honor Christ who is the singular head of the body. Beyond putting the worst construction on their words, Rev. Wilken violates the very heart of Christ who prays in the hour of His death for the singularity of heart among those for whom He dies. (John 17)

I will attribute the same high motives to the signers of that letter as to Pr. Todd Wilken.  However, I wonder how this whole thing could end up in such a fuss, such a dust up, and such serious charges leveled against one who asked only a question?  This is a good example of just what the covenant sought to address -- charity and respect and the best construction on everything.  If that covenant means none of us are open to question for what we say or do, then that is a far different thing than the respect and charitable treatment of other brother clergy.  All I want to say is that the comment of Pr. Wilken was restrained, a simple question, but the response is clearly ramping up the issue by calling for intervention by his ecclesiastical supervises.  Maybe it is time for those pushing for discipline to reread the covenant.  And that is all I plan to say on the issue. . .


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

Wow. That *is* restrained, especially for Brother Todd. Such a reaponse is overdone, to put the best construction on it.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like the same old left vs. right debate. It also sounds like the promotion of unity over truth.

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Todd Wilken's Bare Bulb column, "Well, That Escalated Quickly," has the details including a link to the the new "Pinky-Swear Covenant for Candidates for the Ministry," appears to be part of the Call Day 2014 Ceremonies at Concordia Seminary, which is conducted as required by LCMS Bylaw 2.9.

The "Pinky-Swear Covenant for Candidates for the Ministry," which was written by Seminarian Matthew Warmbier, who will become a pastor in the Northwest District, is included in the Service of Praise with Assignment of Calls" Folder, p.8. There's no indication that a candidate's qualification was dependent on publicly committing to the verbage of the Covenant itself.

Rev. Wilken's entire Facebook question asked, "Why are we extracting promises from newly called men in addition to the ordination vows?"

And for that question 32 LCMS pastors wrote to the President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the LCMS Presidium, and all the District Presidents of the LCMS with accusations that Rev. Willken:

1. "impugned the character of these men and undermined the churchmanship they sought to nurture."
2. "shows little such commitment"
3. "discredits the very intention of these seminarians to honor Christ who is the singular head of the body."
4. "put[s] the worst construction on their words"
5. "violates the very heart of Christ who prays in the hour of His death for the singularity of heart among those for whom He dies."

And then these 32 pastors close with the statement, "We must be careful how we speak, for we are called to speak nothing less than the Word of God and the gospel of Christ – the holy Christian and apostolic faith."

Anonymous said...

I was listening to an old podcast of Issuesetc the other day. I don't know how old it was, but Mike Horton was the guest. Horten said that the constitution was holding some Presbyterian denomination together. Wilken answered that the Concordia plan was holding the LCMS together. Horten rejoined, "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One Insurance Plan."

So, yeah, they have to extract promises from them to stay in the synod.

Anonymous said...

I am thinking that some of those who signed the letter asking for Todd to be investigated are some of the same who believe that CoWo is the way to go; that the liturgy is too old to attract people to worship. I speak from having heard several of them speak at pastors' conferences.

Anonymous said...

For sure, " is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies, instituted by men, should be alike everywhere." (AC 7) However, how does one interpret/apply that "everywhere"? Does it apply to an individual congregation, a circuit, a district, our colleges, our seminaries, our synod? Also, what is permissible and what is beneficial are not always the same. What is a doctrinal 'adiaphora' may not necessarily always a practical or beneficial one when it comes to promoting a spirit of unity in the bond of peace. Without questioning the best intentions, is it wise for one of our seminaries, apart from the other, to publicly innovate and employ such an additional ceremony of human origin, which lacks the official recognition and acceptance of us all, you know, as ones who claim to be walking together as 'synod'? In short, quite aside from adding to our official ordination rite (thereby running the risk of subtracting from what we already have), not to mention 'covenant' language and rationale with all its potential freight of bad theology, just the fact that such a ceremony pertaining to the ordering of the church's ministry was publicly employed, is not the way of synod, at least one that is being true to the meaning of the word. No different than if one were to add or subtract from one of our creeds, for one to question the benefit of such--even if it could be shown to be doctrinally correct and practically beneficial to all-- should not be condemned but commended.

Anonymous said...

The seminarian who added this promise stuff had to be supported by the higher ups. He is just the front man so that any criticism looks like critics are picking on a nice young man.

Carl Vehse said...

Will this "Pinky-Swear Covenant for Candidates for the Ministry" be repeated next year at the CSL Service of Praise with Assignment of Calls?

Will the officials at CTS be pressured to include a "Pinky-Swear Covenant for Candidates for the Ministry" at their Service of Praise with Assignment of Calls?

Will next year's candidates at each of the seminaries be allowed to write their own Pinky-Swear Covenant and then vote on the one they like best?

Inquiring Schwarmerei will want to know.

Anonymous said...

One does not have to give a written contract to ones parents to make up the bed every morning and pick up ones toys if one is already doing that.
This leads to the assumption that if a single class at a single seminary had to add an additional Covenant to all get along nicely to their ordination vows that a significant percentage of that class must have had greet difficult getting along nicely.