Friday, November 21, 2014

Having a bishop and/or the exercise of episcopal authority

As many of you may already know, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod does not call anyone bishop -- at least not formally.  Partly from our bad experience with one (Stephan) and partly because of our inherent lean to democratic structures within a national church body designed with limited authority, we are instinctively suspicious of that term.  Some have noted that we shy away from calling a few bishop so that we can all be bishops and do what we darn please.  There is always a measure of truth in a sarcastic comment.  There is some in this one, too.

That said, we do confer episcopal authority to a specific set of ordained men -- both on a national level and within mostly geographic districts.  This ministry of oversight (though I detest our fear of using the term episcopal authority) is essential to any and every church body with integrity of doctrine and practice.  They are not shift supervisors but exercise real episcopal authority over the doctrine and practice within their area of responsibility -- over both clergy and congregations.

Congregations are free to organize themselves as they will (within certain parameters) and to administer their own affairs as they choose (again within broad parameters)  but we believe that doctrine and practice are not congregational or private but the most public expression of who we are as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  Therefore congregations and clergy voluntarily surrender a measure of their independence to live within the common confession and life of a church structure in which certain officers have authority over their doctrine and practice.

I personally think it is a bit of foolishness not to call them bishops.  Others may disagree.  What all agree upon is that having people called bishop is itself no guarantee of orthodoxy or faithfulness in doctrine and practice.  What we should also be able to agree upon is that the episcopal exercise of such authority is essential to maintaining the bond of peace, sustaining the catholic confession, and practicing faithfully who we are.  The problem here is not what you call them but whether or not they will act upon the authority invested in them to oversee the doctrine and practice of those within their responsibility.  Sometimes those with the most hierarchical structure are positively abysmal at this oversight (thinking here the Episcopal Church).  Sometimes those most adverse to calling them bishops act like them (thinking here a few of the most faithful District Presidents in the LCMS).

We have watched the Extraordinary Synod in Rome (which calls them bishops) and found, to our shock, that on some votes (120 to 60) a significant number of their overseers have some very different viewpoints on what is faithful doctrine and practice (the polarities between Cardinals Burke and Kasper are hard to miss).  Indeed, one Roman Catholic commentator has suggested the most basic benefit of that Synod was to find out who is for us and who is against us.  Therein lies the rub.  You do not need to wear the title bishop to think that you have the right to depart from Scripture and the catholic tradition.  It happens all the time.

None of us delights in those who use their authority to chafe and irritate but what the churches need now more than ever are faithful overseers (really, could we not just use the churchly term bishop?) who speak the truth in love to those tempted to surrender the truth for the sake of love.  Rome needs them, Constantinople needs them, Canterbury needs them, and, guess what, St. Louis needs them.  We need more than administrators but teachers and examples of the faith who will challenge us to be the best we can be, living in faithfulness to our confession and in fervent service and submission to the saving will of Christ.  We need men who can say to the stupid stuff, "stop."  We need men who can say to the distracted, "pay attention."  We need men who can say to those who wanna be somebody else, be faithful to your confession.  Period.  We need men who can say to congregations "you cannot do that" and to clergy "enough already."  And we also need men who can speak positively and passionately why we believe, confess, and teach this and why the world needs to hear it.  When you get bishops like that, it matters less what you call them than you listen to them!


Carl Vehse said...

"I personally think it is a bit of foolishness not to call them bishops."

I personally think it is a lot of Stephanistic foolishness to desire having men elected temporarily to a man-made corporate office be called bishops. But instead of what I think, one should be reminded of Luther's statement in the SA, "Therefore the Church can never be better governed and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ, and all the bishops equal in office.

This is especially true for some apparently thicker heads in the English District who had to be repeatedly reminded about the title of a District President in the CCM Opinion 00-2215 recorded in the 2001 Convention Workbook and again as noted in Para 185 (11-2613B) of the Feb. 2013 CCM minutes.

There are other indications that the interest in elevated titles is infecting the LCMS, just as the Treatise's warnings about the misuse and elevation of the title, "bishop," was recognized in the 16th century. This includes the proliferation of titles based solely on some honorary degree.

"It is time" (to use a popular phrase) to recall Luther's warning in the SA about "the child's play and absurdity of long gowns [official insignia], large tonsures, broad cinctures [or sashes], bishops' or cardinals' hats or maces, and like jugglery."

If the episcopal longings are rising because of the wretched dispute resolution process, which the synodical delegates voted to adopt in 2001 and have continued since then, we should be reminded that half the delegates are pastors. Voting to create some kind of episcopal polity in the Synod will only serve to make a bad situation even worse.

The next thing is that synodicrats will want to be called, contrary to Christ's command (Mt.23:9), "Father," and have us kiss their ring or toe.

Anonymous said...


Good to see you back in circulation, and in top form as always.

I think one might one might at least, rather than allowing one's knee to crash into their chin, give a bit of consideration to what Fr. Peters has said.

Since Walther we have, as a Synod, studiously avoided the old concept of the three-fold ministry, in favor of the democratic congregationalism we still have (and about which much in the negative is said at every convention, be it District or Synod). I won't get into the pros and cons of "democracy" nor do I really wish to engage you in an argument, for reasons from last year I think make sus both understand.

However, it is a bit far-fetched to imagine that Missouri would suddenly lurch into a romish mode and start ordering everyone around. Then again, don't we already have that happening with DP'S? I get confused with all the "help" coming our way in the parish, you understand.

In any case, I believe that Peters has some valid points that need more than an immediate dismissal and some sure-fire quote from the Confessions that seems to make him wrong.

Off hand, and I am sure he has thought of them as well, there are quotes that could be invoked to the opposite.

Since Scripture did not specifically outline Church polity beyond mentioning deacons, pastors and bishops, seems like it's an open question left to the individual conscience.

Whatever - the fear of Rome is not our worry - I am much more worried about the legalism of Geneva enveloping us, all in the name of the various and sundry evangelical programmatic a approaches a la Osteen or Warren, than I am a sudden overhead from Rome. Just saying . . .

All the best - Pax tecum

Your friend, jb

David Gray said...

Trying to associate Calvin with Osteen or Warren is bizarre.

Kirk Skeptic said...

Bishop, by. Definition, implies episcopalian polity, which St Louis eschewed. If reconsideration of the historic three office view is in mind, then there ougth to be a good reason and doing it by the book rather than in an ad hic manner. I fail to see the point in changing tphe nomenclature otherwise.

Anonymous said...

DG -

Then you need to study some theology some more.

Pax - jb

Anonymous said...

Pardon my hilarity . . .

Changing the nomenclature???

The reformed parading under the Lutheran banner in the name of evangelicalism and church growth by whatever name, have such a fluid nomenclature one can barely keep up with it all.

We speak of the ages old nomenclature that is centuries old (and mind you, Walther's was indeed a very new nomenclature), and we are to be called to account?

I think not.

Pax - jb

David Gray said...

"Then you need to study some theology some more."

Undoubtedly but I've already identified a gross error on your part so perhaps I'll take a day or two off.

Anonymous said...


Okie Dokes - ante up. This should be interesting.

Pax - jb