But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.Galatians 1
One of the objections the Reformers made to the Papal church was that the pope and councils bound consciences where the word of God was silent, and worse, bound consciences against the Word of God. In contrast, the Reformers insisted the Word of God be the only rule and norm for faith and life. The confessions themselves stand under the word of God. They guide us because they agree with the Word of God.
In the early days of the synod, when theological opinions were needed, the seminaries would offer a Gutachten. These were opinion papers to guide the synod, based on careful study of the Word of God, but they bound no one. In the lead up to Seminex, the synod realized that the opinions of the faculty were no longer faithful. Rather than cleanse the faculty, it was easier to set up a competing body that would offer faithful opinions. The CTCR was born. Initially, the CTCR issued study documents (non-binding). At critical moments, the synod would carefully consider these documents, and if they were found in accord with the word of God, the synod would declare this to be the case – based not on the reputation or say so of the CTCR, but based on careful study of the Word of God.
Eventually, most documents that came out of the CTCR would be “commended for study and use”. This had the effect of making them semi-binding without careful study. Then, the great leap forward was made. Instead of careful study of the Word of God deciding disputes, the CTCR would issue rulings that “must be followed.” The same power regarding bylaws was given to the CCM.
The authority to bind consciences with rulings that “must be followed” even if they violate the word of God, places the CCM and CTCR as well as the bylaws of synod above the Word of God itself. This can not continue. We have out-poped the pope, and we must repent of this transgression. The seminaries can once again be asked to issue gutachten when questions arise. The CCM must return to interpreting the bylaws as they exist. A separate group can handle requests to clarify the bylaws, as the Commission on Structure used to do.
But what if one of our seminaries again turns to unfaithfulness? If the seminaries are unfaithful, we have bigger problems. These men train our pastors. Making sure they are and remain faithful must be our #1 priority. (See more on this in the section on seminaries.)
Who will settle disputes? In the past, panels were appointed to make decisions case by case. Theological opinions could be sought, but the answers were always found in the Word of God alone. It can be a messy method. It can be a long and painful process. It requires great commitment to the Scriptures on the part of all. But that’s what we should be aiming for anyway. It can and does work if we commit ourselves to the Word of God and our Lutheran confessions. If we need a church commission to decide matters of doctrine, instead of the Word of God and careful study, we have problems that will not be solved by instituting church councils.
Luther’s standard is helpful here: if members of synod are not convinced by scripture and clear reason, it will do no good to bind them under the bylaws. If a commission errs, we must allow for others to correct the error, instead of requiring synod officers become complicit in false teaching and practice. It we are not committed first, foremost, and only to the Word of God, we will find no salvation in the bylaws and their increasing complexity. That is a god that can not save. And scripture teaches clearly that such an approach leads to legalism and pharasaism.
Concrete Proposal :
Living by the Word of God, not bylaws and procedures
Boards and Commissions
All members of The Commission on Constitutional Matters will be elected by the synod in convention.
Their opinions will be binding only insofar as they do not conflict with the Word of God, and then only until the next session of the synod convention, when each decision must be ratified by the convention. This ratification may be done by means of an omnibus resolution, with the following exception : A circuit forum, District pastor’s conference, District Convention, or the synod president may call for individual action on any specific decision of the CCM. Any opinions called up for review by those groups must be voted on individually by the synod in convention. The CCM may not alter opinions once called up for review. The opinion will either stand or fall as written.
Any decisions which are not ratified by a majority of delegates at the convention will be considered overturned, and may not be reissued. If a worker is removed because of a decision that is later overturned, he will have thirty days from the close of the convention to request, in writing, rehearing or reinstatement. Such a request will return the proceedings to the point where the opinion was originally sought.
The Commission On Structure will be reinstituted. The CCM may forward proposed changes in the bylaws to the Commission on Structure, but may not propose any changes in the bylaws to the convention. The CCM may only interpret the bylaws as they exist. In the absence of clear bylaws, they may not rule as to what should or must happen.
The CTCR will be disbanded. Its duties will be returned to the seminaries, or to various other church officers. (In recognition of their theological work, the staff of the CTCR would be offered available teaching positions at the seminaries, if any positions are open.)
The Office of National Mission will be restructured as follows: All executives under this board must serve in a congregational or mission setting which relates to any synod office which they hold (i.e. A campus ministry for the Campus Ministry Coordinator, a small town/rural parish for Small Town & Rural Ministry, etc.) The synod position will be no more than a 1/4 time position. They may have assistants to help them fulfill their duties, provided the assistants meet the same criteria as the executive for ministry service and time commitment (1/4 time for synod, 3/4 time for congregation.)