With a letter to the congregations and rostered members of his district, District President (DP) John Denninger of the Southeastern District joined the growing number of LCMS leaders voicing their opposition to recent and unconstitutional bylaw changes giving final ecclesiastical supervision to President Harrison.
At President Harrison’s request and Secretary Sias’ hand, the United List majority of the Synod Board of Directors (BOD) wrested the constitutional, historic responsibility of ecclesiastical supervision from District Presidents. Without vote or action of the Milwaukee Convention, the BOD gave this responsibility to one man.
The President of Synod now is the de facto ecclesiastical supervisor of the LCMS. Harrison has taken ecclesiastical supervisory decisions away from our 35 District Presidents. He relocated those life-changing decisions to his own desk inside the secretive International Center in St. Louis.
Wrested Power Over Congregations
First, Council of Presidents Chair, Texas DP Hennings stood his ground against this dangerous development in Synod. DP Hennings was voted by a majority of the Council of 35 District Presidents, the Synodical President and the Regional Vice Presidents as their trusted leader. He did just that. He led. When something was wrong, DP Hennings was the first to speak. You can read the Congregations Matter article about Hennings’ letter here.
Now others are taking their stand against the centralization of power in the LCMS, too. We should all applaud their leadership in opposing this drastic change of direction for our Synod. DP Denninger explained the change in his letter this way:
“In the May meeting, the LCMS Board of Directors adopted bylaws changes authored by the Secretary of Synod that gives the ultimate responsibility for you and your congregation’s ecclesiastical supervision to the Synod President (SP).
The changing role of the Synod President in ecclesiastical supervision — Up until now the District President (DP) has been the sole ecclesiastical supervisor of the rostered workers and congregations in his respective district. While the Synod President (SP) has always exercised supervision over the DPs even while they were making decisions on how to exercise supervision in a certain situation, the DP was still able to make appropriate decisions based on God’s Word, our Confessions, the church worker and the specific context.”
Broken Promises — No Real Consultation
This unprecedented power grab happened because the convention trusted that President Harrison would do what he promised: to work with the Council of Presidents (COP) to conclude the issue of ecclesiastical supervision when a District President “fails to act” to discipline a member of his district.
DP Denninger notes the problem in his letter — there was no real consultation with the COP.
“At the last Synod Convention, Resolution 12-14 was adopted. Since then, the Council of Presidents (COP) has been in consultation with the Secretary of Synod about the way these bylaw changes would be put in place. Obviously, these discussions have not impacted the final decision. (emphasis added)
Centralization of Power Is Redefining Our LCMS Identity
Denninger wants his readers to see that this bylaw change alters the historic LCMS polity from bottom-up to top-down. Grabbing power from district presidents locally elected by congregations changes our LCMS identity. He writes to his district:
“How significant is this decision? You will read articles and hear opinions that declare the SP has always had this responsibility for every member of the Synod. People will tell you there is nothing new about this, but in my opinion, that is not true. This decision is significant because:
- In my understanding (along with other DPs and former members of the Commission on Constitutional Matters) the bylaw change is unconstitutional. It changes the constitutionally defined role of the SP and the DPs, and centralizes power in the office of the SP. It would seem that these changes should require a constitutional revision first.
- This decision has the potential of changing our LCMS identity. With bylaw changes like this, we are moving from a congregational to a hierarchical model. Our church body has historically been congregationally based since the time of C.F.W. Walther, our first LCMS President.”
It Is Time to Act
Concluding his letter, Denninger calls for talk — lots of it — and action — lots of it — and keeping the perspective that in all of this, Jesus is still the Lord of the Church.
In our church body decisions like this need to be discussed as rostered workers and lay leaders. We can talk together through our usual gatherings and webcasts leading up to the next District Convention in May 2018. Possibly you will choose to offer new overtures coming to our District Convention and ultimately to the 2019 Synod Convention. I still believe our SED values the historical practice that congregations come first in our Synod. You and your congregations are at the front lines of ministry, while the District and Synod’s task is to support you in your mission and ministry.
Finally, keep all of this in perspective – We are recipients of Jesus’ incredible love displayed on a cross. You have been called and gifted by the Lord to equip the baptized for their ministry of sharing the Good News of Jesus with their neighbors in deed and word. I pray that all of us are filled with the fullness of God in Christ Jesus, the Lord of the Church.
Congregations Matter© couldn’t agree more. We applaud the leadership of President Denninger, President Hennings, and others who stand for the historic, constitutional and Confessional understanding of the LCMS. All of us need to remember the task of Synod is to support congregations in their local mission and ministry.
Change Is Necessary — But Not This Change
President Harrison and Secretary Sias’ actions speak otherwise. It doesn’t seem that our current administration desires to support the work of local congregations. Their actions suggest a top-down control is their desire. Centralization of power in the LCMS will only hurt our work for God’s Kingdom in the field He planted us.
We believe it is time for our elected leaders to change the way that they are acting – or time for us to change our elected leaders.
If you would like to join the movement, here are some things to do:
- Sign up for our email list and receive new posts from this site to become more informed on the issues.
- Make sure your congregation passes resolutions to district conventions and national conventions that support this effort. Especially important are resolutions to overrule CCM Opinion 16-2791. We must turn our LCMS leadership back to its historic role.
- Elect local delegates to the District and National conventions who will vote for the primacy of congregations, not the primacy of the Synodical President and his administration.
And one more thing. You have the responsibility to nominate men and women to serve as our leaders in Synod. When it’s time to nominate a Synod President and others in 2019, let’s choose leadership that will support congregations, not use congregations to support them.