Ecclesiastical Supervision

Like hundreds of others (I don’t know how many “hundreds”), I attended the Free Conference at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kearney, MO this past Tuesday and Wednesday (though  I only attended on Tuesday, so I can’t speak for the whole of it; as I’m sure many blogs will do).  I must say, I was impressed.  It wasn’t theologically earth shattering.  There were no deep, awe-inspiring papers (perhaps with the exception of the Rev. Rick Sawyer’s paper on the “Divine Service and Liturgical Offices” – I hope this is posted online somewhere).  But neither was anything pedantic.  There were no pointing fingers except at ourselves.  There was no witch hunt.  And let’s face it, other than bibliolotry, the LCMS is really good at witch hunts.

At one point the Rev. Richard Bolland said – speaking on the hopes that are sometimes placed in President Harrison – “Let’s face it: one man didn’t get us into this mess and one man isn’t going to get us out of it.”  Wise words.  But what’s the mess that we’re in?  The first paper, presented by the Rev. Richard Bolland, was on “Ecclesiastical Supervision/Dispute Resolution”.  This, it seems to me, is by far the biggest issue of the day.  Closed Communion (ala Rev. Brent Kuhlman), the role of women in the Church, even liturgy (as big a topic as this is), are not the real issues.  The real issue is that we have zero accountability with each other.  The reason we have zero accountability with each other is because we have authority.  Well, we do, but we say and act like we don’t.

Rev. Bolland made the distinction between “divine ecclesiastical supervision” and “man-made ecclesiastical supervision”.  Divine ecclesiastical supervision is the parish.  The pastor supervises the laity and the laity supervises the pastor (popular Walther).  This is not wrong. But it’s not complete.  The evidence that it’s not complete is the man-made ecclesiastical supervision, which I argue is not man-made at all.  What Rev. Bolland calls man-made is the agreement of synod.  We have ecclesiastical supervisors (DP’s and the synod president), but they are not such by divine mandate.  I’m not so sure.

I asked Rev. Bolland in the panel discussion if St. Titus was the ecclesiastical supervisor of the churches in Crete by divine or man-made authority.  His answer? Divine.  The Apostle sent Titus for that purpose.  Titus was the chief bishop by apostolic authority.  Rev. Bolland went on to say that he was so, but only so that what remained may be put into order and bishops be appointed in every town.  But still there remained Titus, chief bishop to whom all the other bishops were accountable.

I don’t want to drag this all out here, but it seems to me that this loss of divine ecclesiastical authority among the churches of the LCMS has lead to widespread variant practices (which we confess are ruled by Scripture as much as doctrine), and occasionally variant and false teachings (I recently had an LCMS pastor tell me that he would not insist that the bread that we break is the body of our Lord, but that the body comes “in, with, and under” the bread, but is not the bread itself).  If the LCMS is to remain (become?) an orthodox body of congregations we shall need to submit to the authority of Scripture in doctrine and practice, including the practice of ecclesiastical supervision.

Orthodoxy is self-correcting, leaving off that which is unnecessary or harmful and clinging to that which is divine.

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2 Responses

  1. I would agree with your observations and in fact I have recently written two pieces that precisely with this issue. I recently read Mueller’s piece on “Project Koinonia” in which he says that we have no hierarchy within the LCMS, and with all due respect to him, that’s simply not the truth, and it is a political one as the names of offices clearly demonstrate, and not an ecclesial one. I won’t bore you with the details, if you have nothing to do you can read it on my page. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

    • Ken, I did read your post on “Project Koinonia”. And, yes, we have a hierarchy. It is unfortunate that it is political and not ecclesiastical. Where can I read Muller’s paper?

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