“Among You It Will Be Different”
It was a simple request. A mother asking for positions of power and influence for her sons. Then it all broke loose. “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. The other disciples became indignant with James and John. And the Master settles the issue with these words:
25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (NLT)
Jesus does not need political posturing. He needs His disciples to witness to the salvation of God’s creation, the redemption of the world and the resurrection to eternal life of all who believe in Christ. Six words help end the posturing: “Among you it will be different.” Jesus gives His disciples (and us) a simple truth to live: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.”
Power Brokers in the LCMS
Two thousand years later, politics and political posturing are alive and well in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. As in most organizations, the LCMS has written and unwritten rules about politics. Perhaps we should all heed the words of our Lord, “Among you it will be different.” Jesus calls us to live beyond the rules of our Synod, living into His rule of love.
Mother Salome just wanted the best for her boys. James and John were just following the rules of their time. They saw how other leaders act, how people sought and used influence and control.
Jesus turned this political behavior on its head. He asks His followers to be His servants of love to one another. He asks that of us, too.
For years the LCMS has watched a small group of people create political power and influence for themselves. Words like “conservative” and “confessional” have been misused to disguise political machinations. Backed by groups using words like “balance,” “consensus,” “affirm,” “concern” and “united,” President Harrison and Secretary Sias were elected to office. As with Salome, these groups just wanted was was best for “their boys.” Now, it seems, President Harrison and Secretary Sias have joined the political posturing and shenanigans. Our synodical officers are not acting as servants of the Synod, but those acting in power over the Synod.
Power and Politics in the President’s and Synod Secretary’s Office
Elections have consequences. We’ve learned that from U.S. politics. But in U.S. politic, elections mean someone is in power and control. In Christ’s Church, however, it means we elect people to become the “servants of all.”
That’s not what is happening now in the LCMS. During our last convention, President Harrison was asked to work with the Council of Presidents on an issue of “Ecclesiastical Supervision.” It began with our last convention’s Resolution 12-01, a long and technical resolution with a simple objective: to give a person accusing a church worker or congregation the right to ask the Synodical President to step into a dispute if the decision of the District President on the matter did not go their way. The resolution was backed by President Harrison and the floor committee he appointed.
There’s just one problem. It runs counter to the LCMS Constitution and our historic limitations of the office of the Synodical President.
And more. This was done without consultation with the Council of Presidents, a requirement of our bylaws. In fact, the District Presidents were ignored and kept from speaking to the convention by President Harrison until delegates demanded to hear from them.
The Convention Spoke — Their Words Are Now Ignored
As a result, a compromise was reached. The convention passed 12-14, asking for a consultation process to be completed by the Council of Presidents with Secretary of Synod in order to keep the proposed process constitutional. If six months were not enough, the Synodical President and the Chairman of the Council of Presidents could extend the time.
Evidently “time’s up.” Recent negotiations ended unsuccessfully — a consensus was not reached. Secretary Sias will be presenting what President Harrison tried to get passed Synod in the Milwaukee Convention of 2016. He couldn’t get it passed there — but using Bylaw 7.1.2, President Harrison is bypassing the majority of our District Presidents and grabbing the power to reach into local congregations to deal with what he perceives as “problems” your District President — your local, constitutional, ecclesiastical supervisor — has determined are not outside the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions.
In other words, if we are not able to stop this, using a political process, President Harrison and Secretary Sias ignore the will of our delegates’ expressed in Convention and will present a bylaw change to the Synod Board of Directors for their approval without the agreement of the Council of Presidents.
Again, our Synodical President — and now our Synodical Secretary — are proving by their actions that they believe congregations don’t matter.
A Call to the Board of Directors
We call upon our Synod Board of Directors to oppose this effort to remove District Presidents as our congregations’ immediate and final supervisors of doctrine and practice. Our congregations don’t need a Synodical President to skirt our elected leaders in this task. Our history, our constitution, and our bylaws clearly limit the office of Synodical President from this work by design. We have always feared the centralization of power in St. Louis and consistently have avoided a Lutheran Pope. If the Board of Directors accepts this proposed bylaw change without the agreement of the Council of Presidents, we will have what we have feared.
What is at Stake?
In contrast to the political posturing of President Harrison and Secretary Sias, Congregations Matter affirms the precious words of Jesus, “But among you it will be different.” We do NOT ask elected officers of the church at a national level to get involved in the supervision of the doctrine and practice of local congregations. To do so would harm the diversity of our church’s witness together as Synod. We need to focus on winning souls for Jesus, not living in fear of what this (or the next) Synodical President will determine what is and what is not to be allowed in the local congregation.
What can you do? Write to the Board of Directors of Synod, to President Harrison, and to the Secretary of Synod. Call the headquarters of Synod. We need to follow our constitution and history. We need no centralization of power in St. Louis. We need no Pope.