Big arm pulling pastor back using Ecclesiastical Supervision

Ecclesiastical Supervision: What’s the Big Deal?

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.

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.

Congregations Matter is proposing an overture, To Overrule and Replace Board of Directors’ May 2017 Resolution 12-14, re: Bylaw 7.1.2, to ask the Synod to reverse this dangerous decision by President Harrison, Secretary Sias and the Synod Board of Directors (BOD).


Why an overture?  If an overture is passed by the Synod in convention, the President, Secretary and Synod BOD must comply.  Overtures such as this is the only way for congregations to pull our Synod back from the centralization of power President Harrison has collected around himself.  Only our national convention can overrule the unconstitutional action of the Synod BOD.  And we need to.  Now.


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 International Center in St. Louis.  This is wrong.

This unconstitutional change means that if the Synod President doesn’t agree with what a local congregation is doing in ministry, he can stop them by threatening expulsion of the pastor and congregation from the LCMS, all the time ignoring the locally-elected District President.  District Presidents have the expressed responsibility in the LCMS Constitution to be the ecclesiastical supervisor of the local congregations and church workers.  Just read Bylaw 4.4.5:

4.4.5 Each district president, in accordance with the Constitution of the Synod, shall supervise the doctrine, the life, and the official administration on the part of the ordained or commissioned ministers who are members through his district or are subject to his ecclesiastical supervision, and shall inquire into the prevailing spiritual conditions of the congregations of his district.

The LCMS Constitution does give a responsibility to the Synod President.  He is responsible for supervision the doctrine and the administration of officers of Synod, Synod employees, districts and district presidents – ONLY.  Article XI.B.1 of the LCMS Constitution is clear:

1.  The President has the supervision regarding the doctrine and the administration of: 

a.  All officers of the Synod;
b.  All such as are employed by the Synod;
c.  The individual districts of the Synod;
d.  All district presidents.


The Constitution gives VERY clear limitations to the Synod President if he is concerned about the doctrine or administration of Synod officers and employees, individual districts and all district presidents – constitutionally, the only people he may supervise.  His only constitutional response is simple:  The Synod President may report to Synod his findings.  Article XI.B.2 of the LCMS Constitution is clear:

2. It is the President’s duty to see to it that all the aforementioned act in accordance with the Synod’s Constitution, to admonish all who in any way depart from it, and, if such admonition is not heeded, to report such cases to the Synod.

Congregations and church workers are concerned with President Harrison’s unconstitutional reach into direct supervision of all members of Synod.  Some Synod leaders say this is impossible – even suggesting people who see the danger in the changes to Bylaw 2.14 as those spreading gossip in the Synod.

However, the majority of District Presidents are as concerned as we are.  That’s why they stood against Milwaukee 12-01 and, in the end, as a compromise between the District Presidents and President Harrison, the Milwaukee convention was asked to pass resolution 12-14.


The unconstitutional changes to Bylaw 2.14 didn’t happen without three partners working together.  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 bylaw change and process should concern every member of Synod who truly believe CONGREGATIONS matter.


In his letter to his district, Pacific Southwest President Stoterau detailed the issue.  He used a simple, plain reading of our Synod Constitution to explain where our current elected leaders have erred.  Quotes from Articles III, XI and XII of the Synod Constitution specifically identify where President Harrison has usurped the constitutional responsibilities given by the Synod forefathers exclusively to District Presidents.  He also recounts how, despite many opportunities, Synod President Harrison kept his plans to do this secret from the Council of Presidents (COP) until the Milwaukee Convention.  Soterau also describes how the newly-appointed Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) – a group appointed by President Harrison – reinterpreted Article XI contrary to previous opinions of the CCM over the past 50 years.


Resolution 12-14 of the 2016 Convention made three things clear.  First, that the Convention directed that the Board of Directors of Synod could affect bylaw changes with a two-thirds majority vote.  Second, that these changes could not contradict the Constitution of Synod.  Finally, that any action must be done in consultation with the Council of Presidents.  Only one of the three things happened.

Here’s the plain evaluation of PSW President Stoterau regarding the process of the “consultation.”

The clear intention of the CONVENTION IN adopting this resolution [Resolution 12-14] that appropriate consultation between the Secretary of the Synod, the CCM and the COP would take place to come to a workable resolution of the issue acceptable to all concerned. While conversation between the Secretary and COP did take place, there was no consensus on how to proceed.

No agreement was reached — Harrison just moved on to the Synod Board of Directors to have them vote on his proposal.  And Harrison’s proposal clearly contradicted our Synod Constitution.   Just read again the plain words from Article XI.B.1:

1.  The President has the supervision regarding the doctrine and the administration of: 

a.  All officers of the Synod;
b.  All such as are employed by the Synod;
c.  The individual districts of the Synod;
d.  All district presidents.

It doesn’t get any plainer than that.  Nowhere does our Constitution give any power to the Synod President to act with regard to the supervision of pastors, churches and church workers.  But that is now the case.


District President Stoterau knows well of what he speaks.  The former Chair of the Council of Presidents, additionally Stoterau was a leader of the “Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance,” who completed an eight-year study and made recommendations to the Synod Convention for delegates to decide.  Instead of the secretive route Harrison conceived, Stoterau’s Task Force led a process with input from District Boards of Directors, convention delegates and others.  They all believed bylaw changes should be done in the light of Synod rather than behind closed doors.

Hidden things almost always bring danger.  The hidden process Harrison used by bypassing and then ignoring the COP and the 2016 Convention now has “members of Synod” (pastors, teachers, church workers and churches) in peril of the Synod President reaching into Districts to directly supervise doctrine and practice.  Our Constitution expressly forbids this.  President Stoterau said it this way:

Previously, when a charge was brought against a member of the Synod that could result in their removal from the roster, according to Article XIII of the constitution, the district president was responsible for investigating and determining if such charges could be substantiated.  If he so determined, the member was suspended. The member had the right to appeal his decision. If the charge stood, the member was removed. If the decision of the district president was overturned by a hearing panel, the member was restored. However, if the district president determined that the charge could not be substantiated, the matter was terminated.  Here is where the substantial change has taken place. 

The new reading of Bylaw 2.14 states that, if charges are brought against a member of the Synod which could result in removal from the Synod, the district president is still responsible to investigate. If the district president determines that the charges cannot be substantiated, the accuser may appeal to the President of the Synod for review and possible suspension, if the accusation involves a matter of doctrine or practice. If the President determines the charges can be substantiated, he suspends the member of the Synod, subject to appeal. (emphasis Stoterau)


This unprecedented power grab happened because the convention trusted that President Harrison would do what he promised.  We believed his promise 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.  Harrison now can reach into the ministry of churches, pastors and church workers and suspend them directly from his office in St. Louis.

Harrison’s centralization of power is redefining our LCMS identity.  This bylaw change alters the historic LCMS polity from bottom-up to top-down.  Our church body has historically been congregationally-based since the time of C.F.W. Walther, our first LCMS President. power from district presidents locally elected by congregations changes our LCMS identity.


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.  You can read the Congregations Matter article about Hennings’ letter here.

Southeastern DP Denninger wrote, too.  You can read the Congregations Matter article and Denninger’s letter hereNow Pacific Southwest DP Stoterau wrote of his concerns.  Others have joined these three with their own letters.

What will you do?

We should all applaud their leadership in opposing this drastic change of direction for our Synod.  It’s time 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.

Congregations Matter© stands with these leaders 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.


President Harrison and Secretary Sias’ actions speak otherwise. 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.

Congregations matter.


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