You can read it all here. I do not mean to suggest that Pres. Linneman has anything less than the noblest of motives in writing yet his words will not silence the debate.
The letter references the Facebook and LCMS blog posts of President Harrison lamenting the outcome of the doctrinal supervision and procedures that did not discipline the individual for the teaching and which, in essence, found that the individual's teaching was compliant with the published doctrinal statements and doctrinal confession of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. The letter references the helpful letter of the Council of Presidents indicating that these individuals do take seriously their role as ecclesiastical supervisors and desire to uphold the faithful teaching and confession of the LCMS. The letter references the many letters and even a District Resolution which have come in response to the case. Finally, the letter references the need to act charitably and with love in all of this, to adhere to the procedures of Matthew 18, and to be careful about public comments which may be made without knowledge of the facts and without love and charity.
All of this is well, true, and good. The Council of Presidents cautions members of the Synod to exercise care in their evaluation and analysis of matters of ecclesiastical supervision. This is a salutary statement and worthy of some careful thought on the part of those moved to comment -- me included.
But another statement causes me concern. When our Synod was formed, it was founded on the notion that influence would be our commodity rather than authority. While some Christian churches have a hierarchical structure where individual people are given authority, that is not the case in the LCMS. Congregations are the basic unit of authority, and leaders in the church are called upon to stand upon the Word of God and use their voice for influencing one another through conversation and dialogue. This dialogue is healthy for the church and allows each of us to prayerfully consider God’s Word and respond to it faithfully. As we engage in these conversations, careful listening and thoughtful responses are essential for the health of the church and the ministry we share.
Is this true? Is influence the only thing we have to use to respond to challenges to the faith publicly confessed in the Concordia and reaffirmed in doctrinal resolutions of Synod? If the statement is true, then what kind of ecclesiastical supervision can take place? When it comes to clear and public dissension from the clear and public teaching of Synod (not new teaching but the reaffirmation of long held theological statements), is the only thing option open to us conversation and dialogue? Quite apart from the individual case that has sparked so much discussion, the whole issue of ecclesiastical supervision has been raised and it is clear that many of us are not on the same page.
Our Synod has in the past acted with authority to challenge dissent to the clear and public confession of our church and even to remove duly elected individuals from office. Our church has spoken to condemn conflicting positions through convention resolution and the official publications of our Synod. This was not simply about conversation and dialogue but about the public condemnation of teachings that depart from our Confessions and the public statements of our church body and the rebuke of those who refuse to end their dissent and conform their public teaching and practice to the public teaching and practice of the church they represent.
I would remind us that it is not merely a matter of a couple of pastors disagreeing -- the disagreements spoken of here are not personal but a provocative and public challenges to the very confessional standard of our Synod and its fuller witness in the life of the church. Ecclesiastical supervision is not about getting people to play together nicely but about guarding the sacred deposit of doctrine passed down from the apostles. Yes, we must speak lovingly and without harm but such love does not mitigate the supervision of doctrine and practice among us -- just the opposite -- such doctrinal supervision IS love at work in the best sense of the word.
This does not mean we shouldn’t talk about matters such as this one. It does mean that we should do so charitably and with concern for one another – especially those with whom we disagree. We are called to reflect the love of Jesus to each other and to a world that is in need of His love. We are at our best when we make this the priority. I continue to pray for God’s wisdom and His guidance as we seek to negotiate these stormy water s together. Let it be said of us, “See how they love one another.”
I urge all who care for the LCMS to pray for this issue, to pray for those who dissent from Synod's public confession and teaching, to pray for doctrinal harmony and concordia among us, to pray for those who must discharge the role of ecclesiastical supervisors, and to pray that our church body stands steadfast and speaks the truth in love without fear. If we do any less, there is no love among us. When we would choose love for the person over love for the truth faithfully confessed and practiced, we have not chosen love at all.
No one has to be a member of Synod (congregation or clergy). It is a choice. Part of that choice is the willingness to teach and practice in conformity with what our Synod has and still confesses and teaches. Part of that choice is the willingness to be held accountable to those who supervise our doctrine and practice. Part of that choice is to end public dissent when the Church has rejected such dissent and to remain in good standing only by faithfully confessing, teaching, preaching, and practicing in conformity with our church's confession and resolutions delineating and applying that confession. And part of that choice is to be subject to the authority of the Church if and when we refuse the counsel of the church and choose our dissent over our life together under a common confession and as part of a common witness to the truth.