The History, Theology and Practice of Congregational Self-Governance in the LCMS In terms of governance and order, the Missouri Synod has throughout its history balanced power between the baptized and the ordained. We have made our decisions at conventions through votes mediated by an equal representation of clergy and laity. These votes were not to be viewed as mandates, but as carefully crafted and thoroughly dialogued advice. In a fun, tongue-in-cheek essay, the Editorial Staff of Congregations Matter has provided another brief history of the LCMS on one issue: Congregational Self-Governance as opposed to the current Synod trend towards hierarchialism. The essay reviews our history, theology, and the unfortunate, current tendency of our Synod to move from prizing the Priesthood of All Believers and Congregational Polity toward a foreign, non-Lutheran emphasis on maintaining and growing the structure itself and fulfilling its needs at the expense of the our “first love”:
At the 2017 Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) Fall Leadership Conference, President Matthew C. Harrison cast a dark vision for future membership numbers in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. During a conference where attendees hope to hear positive motivation from our Synod President, instead Harrison spent his time attempting to convince attendees that numerical decline is inevitable. His answer to LCMS decline is to focus ministry efforts on areas where Northern Europeans are in the majority in America. Harrison spoke of the prediction that our beloved LCMS will decline over the next 10-15 years by over 500,000 members! A decline of 500,000 members would be a 25% drop in LCMS membership rolls. MEMBERS HAVE FLED IN DROVES SINCE HARRISON BECAME PRESIDENT Harrison delivered the grim prediction after admitting he has presided over the steepest five year membership decline in Synod history. LCMS membership has declined 2% per year during Harrison’s
Missouri Synod history is replete with instances when those who espoused hierarchical control were in conflict with “Missouri’s” understanding of Scripture on the issue of congregational autonomy. We are sad to see the growing attack on the Scripture in our Synod on this principal upon which the Synod was founded! The following article by Pastor Mike Ramey is a comprehensive historical overview of a grave time in our Synod when first and founding President C.F.W. Walther had to fend off attempts by Grabau and Loehe to exert a hierarchical approach to governance at the expense of the local congregation in his day. History Repeats Itself We need to be aware that a full fledged attack on the rights of the local congregation is in full swing in our day. President Walther would have been gravely saddened and moved to pick up the fight should he have lived to see the darkness that is descending upon our beloved Synod in our
Did you send a check to LCMS Disaster Relief in St. Louis and specify you wanted your dollars to go to Hurricane Harvey victims? Do you know what happened to your contributions? The Selfless Work By Our Texas District First, some good news. If you instead sent your contribution to the Texas District of the LCMS and specified your dollars were for Harvey victims, every single dollar you sent to our Texas District is going to Harvey relief. Not a dime will be kept by the district office as it quickly distributes your funds to families with needs. This is selfless of our Texas District since staff time has been heavily used for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. And, this has been a labor of love for them. But, what if you sent your Hurricane Harvey donations to LCMS Disaster Relief at Synod headquarters in St. Louis? St. Louis Disaster Relief Keeps A
Our Concordia’s are asking for support from LCMS congregations. They want Synod to change the governance model of our university system to allow greater flexibility in the selection of members of their Boards of Regents. Congregations Matter also believes our university system will benefit from more regional regent representation. As a result, Congregations Matter proposes two overtures for your District Convention to consider. They address changes to the way members of Boards of Regents are chosen. Both support local governance. Both oppose the current model which gives more centralized control to the Synod President and a St. Louis hierarchy. First, An Overture for Localized Control of Regent Size All nine Concordia University System (CUS) schools endorse these changes to their outdated 1992 governance model. Click here to download the overture “To Modify the Governance of the Colleges and Universities of the Concordia University System.” In November, Congregations Matter introduced an
“The growth and development of our Concordia University System (CUS) is one of the most remarkable stories in all of U. S. higher education,” writes Concordia St. Paul President, Rev. Dr. Tom Ries. (For a full copy of Ries’ article, click here or the link at the bottom.) Our Concordia’s are asking for support from LCMS congregations. They want Synod to change the governance model of our university system to allow greater flexibility in the selection of members of their Boards of Regents. They ask that we pass a CUS overture at 2018 District Conventions and again in Tampa in 2019 (the CUS overture will be the subject of a future Congregations Matter article). As Ries writes: “The greatest need for help from the church at the Concordia institutions today is a change in the governance model, specifically the formation and responsibilities of the boards of regents….Approval by the Synod in convention
Local congregations have been heavily involved in mission work, local and world-wide, for generations. This has been going on without interference from the Synod in St. Louis. Congregations used to be thankful that they belonged to a grouping of like-minded, confessional Lutherans who believed congregational autonomy was Biblical — and important — and who were strenuously opposed to any interference from a Synod hierarchy. Sadly that’s no longer true.
As 2016 drew to a close and Synod President Matt Harrison’s salary ballooned to $252,573 from $210,156, Harrison ended his lucrative year by laying the blame for declining LCMS membership in the laps of what he considers not-pregnant-often-enough LCMS women.
In the past months, several District presidents wrote powerful pastoral letters in opposition to the recent Ecclesiastical Supervision contrived and enacted by the Harrison administration. Use these links to review each of their letters. Council of Presidents Chairman, Rev. Ken Hennings, President of the Texas District. Past Council of Presidents Chair, Rev. Larry Stoterau, Current President of the Pacific Southwest District Rev. John Denninger, President of the Southeastern District Other District Presidents have done the same. More and more LCMS leaders are voicing their opposition to the unconstitutional change to Bylaw 2.14. President Harrison sought this power. But Harrison couldn’t do it alone. With the support of the United List majority of the Synod Board of Directors (BOD), President Harrison and Secretary Sias bypassed the Council of Presidents and the expressed will of the Milwaukee Synodical convention.
Why should congregations, pastors, and church workers care about ecclesiastical supervision? Because a new bylaw put into effect by the Board of Directors of the Synod has a detrimental effect and impact on every congregation, every pastor and every church worker in the Synod now and in the future. It is a demonstration of the trend towards centralization of power with hierarchical governance. Walther: We Must Fight To Preserve Freedom of Congregations In his 1879 essay at the Iowa District convention, CFW Walther stated that a congregation is not a community under clerical control, but a community of members of Christ, united by an evangelical, gentle bond of love. So a Synod is a community of congregations, pastors, and church workers that are not under clerical or hierarchical control. Walther said, “Throughout the existence of the Missouri Synod we have had to battle arduously to preserve freedom of the congregations;