Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The problems of church conventions. . .

We have heard it all before in Missouri -- those attending church conventions and voting may or may not reflect the position of the people in the pews, we don't vote on doctrine, convention delegates may be unduly moved by emotion to contradict reason and truth, conventions are controlled by the dais, etc...  In fact, due to the expense and the time and energy involved in conventions, the LCMS moved from conventions every two years to conventions every three years.  Whether this move is good or bad, we will wait to see but the fact is that conventions are here to stay for us.

For some within Lutheran circles, the fact that Rome or Constantinople is not governed by a biennial or triennial convention cycle is part of the attraction -- along with the fact that those who oversee doctrine and practice are not subject to elections every couple of years or so.  Now it seems that for Rome, at least, a synodical style of government is an appeal.  In fact, there are voices who are suggesting that annual synods be held to review doctrine and practice and to make changes to update the church's teaching and structure and practice. 

The archbishop of Milan at the time, a Jesuit and the undisputed leader of the “liberal” wing of the hierarchy, said that he “had a dream”: that of a Church capable of getting into a permanent synodal state, with a “collegial and authoritative exchange among all the bishops on some key issues.”

While I am neither expert on nor part of the decisions of Rome, I do possess a passing curiosity that the very thing that seems sometimes to be our thorn in the flesh (conventions that shift from one opinion to another) is now become the idea in fashion among those fomenting for change in the Roman Catholic Church.  Perhaps ballots could be distributed so that individual parishes or dioceses could vote on their own perspective on controversial issues.  Maybe there should be a performance evaluation committee to weigh in on the effectiveness or success of the pontiff.  Maybe the Catechism of the Catholic Church could be reviewed a few chapters at a time and voted on by those who think they should be retained or omitted.  Wow, the list of possibilities is endless.

Conventions in the LCMS have been asked to make their way through thorny issues of what we believe, how we confess it, and what practices are in conformity with that belief.  Sometimes it has appeared we are simply voting on the Word of God (which we all know requires a 2/3 majority vote to be overturned).  Sometimes it has been very successful and other times it has merely reflected the closeness of the majority/minority positions within the church.  Sometimes we have had to go back and change our minds because what seemed good at the moment was not good to the Holy Spirit.  And sometimes we have merely rearranged the deck chairs on a listing ship rather than deal with the trouble facing us.  All of these are true enough and yet our church body has continued pretty much in official step with our past confessions.  We have turned back a liberal tide now and again.  We have made hard decisions among passionate voices pleading with us from several corners.  I am not much of a fan of votes by delegates at church conventions but we have done better than many of those who do not vote.  It is our structure.

What remains to be seen is how Rome intends to remain in solidarity with its past while, it seems, conceding to the voices who want to review, adapt, change, and do something new with respect to long held positions.  I am not one to believe that a married priesthood would in and of itself destroy the Roman Catholic Church but it does not seem that those in favor of a synodical structure are willing to stop at much of anything in their endeavor to modernize what Roman Catholics believe and how they live it out.  This will not end well.


Carl Vehse said...

"Sometimes it has appeared we are simply voting on the Word of God (which we all know requires a 2/3 majority vote to be overturned)."

Sometime it has appeared difficult to know how much of a statement that uses "appeared" was meant to be sarcastic, agenda-driven, taken out of context, or presented as clear fact. The parenthetical phrase did refer to the required synodical convention two-thirds vote for a doctrinal statement (Bylaw 1.6.2 (b)(4)).

However that is only part of the full facts in the Bylaws for such doctrinal statements, which must:

1. Agree with the confessional position of the Synod is set forth in Article II of
its Constitution.
2. Be submitted by one of a limited set of specified synodical organizations, of which at least half of the members are ordained.
3. Be sent out by the CTCR for review and comments from Synodical members
4. Be further reviewed, along with any received comments, by the CTCR.
5. If approved by 2/3 convention vote, be submitted to synodical congregations for a 2/3 vote within a 6-month time limit.

Furthermore, per Bylaw (c), even the President of the Synod, if he believes the proposed doctrinal statement overture "contains information which is materially in error, or contains any apparent misrepresentation of truth or of character" shall not approve including the overture in the Workbook for consideration by the convention.

Only if this lengthy process of approval is successful, are such doctrinal statements "accepted and used as helpful expositions and explanations” (FC SD Rules and Norm 10), and regarded as the position of the Missouri Synod, until the statement is amended or repealed.

But even after approval, per Bylaw 1.8.2, "[d]issent from doctrinal resolutions and statements is to be expressed first within the fellowship of peers and then brought to the attention of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations before finding
expression as an overture to the convention calling for revision or recision."

Carl Vehse said...

Thus bad doctrinal statements which overturn the Word of God (or the confessional position of the Synod in Article II) are the shameful fault not just of a convention, but also the fault of the CTCR, other synodical organizations and ordained members, member congregations, and the President of the Synod, all of whom violated their ordination and/or confirmation vows in which they promised to continue steadfast in the confessional doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.

Sadly, there is an example of a bad doctrinal resolution that was approved in the past and was not stopped by any of these synodical entities or officials, nor was an overture to repeal it made later by succeeding CTCRs, other synodical organizations, districts, or synodical presidents. At the 1973 synodical convention the Board for Parish Education recommended communing children at the end of the fifth grade, prior to Confirmation. The CTCR recommended the Synod retain its apostolic and Lutheran practice of communing children after they are confirmed. The convention adopted a resolution that basically left up to individual congregations whether to follow an open communion practice promoted by "early communion" Schwärmerei, or to continue the Lutheran closed communion practice.