Christ Lutheran Church in Harrow, Ontario has released its assessment of LCC’s restructuring plan. This is the second of two installments with Christ Harrow’s view of the situation, published on its website.
This entry is longer than usual, but we didn’t want to break up the ideas. They are stated so succinctly and elegantly that they deserve to be presented with as much integrity as possible.
1. Procedure: The Synod has been at this for 24 years. The first serious effort at restructuring involved the work of the Task Force under the chairmanship of Mr. Walter Seehagel. The Task Force report, which bears careful review, emphasizes above all the necessity of preserving the Gospel of Christ and the confession of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in every aspect of our synodical work. The Task Force began its work in 1993 and reported to the Synod in 1996. The Synod approved changes in structure in 1999 and the specific Handbook amendments were approved in 2002. In stark contrast, the present restructuring effort was initiated at the District level in 2015 with a direct appeal to the CCMS, rejecting the need for a task force, and setting a mere 2 years to formulate a new Handbook for approval at the 2017 Synodical Convention.
2. Rejection of the Task Force Report: The 2011 Overture 3.03 suggested that the 1996 Task Force Report had been largely ignored and that the Synod dropped the ball, so to speak, when it declined the feasibility study called for in 2002 (see the whereas statements of 2011 Overture 3.03). That is a misrepresentation. The Synodical Board of Directors, which had initially appointed the Task Force and to which the Task Force was accountable, brought about many of the changes recommended by the Task Force with the full approval of successive conventions of Synod. A more comprehensive acceptance of the Task Force report was repeatedly rejected by the Board and the Synod, because the model recommended by the report was not a suitable alternative to the status quo (cf. Task Force recommendations above).
3. Need: The fact that the call for restructuring to address more satisfactorily the concerns raised already in 1996 continues is evidence that the Synod must revisit this issue despite its continued refusal in the past to reexamine the feasibility of its current structure. Past changes have not addressed the fundamental structural challenges that have been exacerbated by the ABC District CEF crisis and the general decline in membership and offerings. One now reads the 1996 Task Force Report as uncanny prophecy:
“The present organization should function through the Synod. However, in reality, any given district makes its own plans for development of missions, elementary/secondary school, ethnic ministry, fund raising, and borrowing. District projects may become financially so great that they are unable to send funds to Synod. There is a danger of a district undertaking projects for which financing is not in place. All such decisions can be made without synodical input even though such decision can effect the entire Synod. The offerings of the congregation presently flow through the district to the Synod. If any one district financially over extends itself, it will affect the entire Synod.”
The problem was clearly recognized long ago. Missing from the 2015 overture’s rationale, however, is the primary objective of maintaining the Confession of LCC, that is, purity of doctrine and effective ecclesiastical supervision. That the CCMS has declared that LCC currently enjoys full unanimity of confession and doctrinal agreement and that any difficulties the Synod is experiencing are solely a result of its unwieldy structure and not a result of either confessional unfaithfulness or incompetence is not in keeping with the truth. The ABC debacle was about not “helping one’s neighbour to improve and protect his property and income” (Small Catechism, 7th Commandment). People did not lose their savings only because of structure, but because of sin, and no change in structure will bring about repentance and amendment of life, if the Word of God itself does not bring it about. But LCC is not united in confession. We do not agree. We have divisions. We do not have the same mind or judgement. (2 Cor. 1:10). Therefore, restructuring is not the answer to every problem faced by Lutheran Church-Canada, and not the answer to the most serious problem of all.
4. Urgency: A certain sense of urgency, however, has established a timetable that is far too ambitious and has empowered a Commission (CCMS) to exceed its mandate by doing away with the very thing the CCMS is to oversee and protect: The Constitution of Lutheran Church-Canada. The 2011 Synodical Resolution 11.3.03 had it right when it argued for the importance of the Constitution “which reflects those matters which are of utmost significance to LCC, namely the Confession and Objectives of LCC; the primacy of Conventions; the commitment involved in and consequences of membership in LCC; the ecclesiastical responsibility of the President; and the fundamental principles to be adhered to by the Districts.” The Confession and Objectives of the Synod are fundamental and may not be subsumed under micro-headings in the minutiae of the Bylaws.
5. Irony: It is ironic that the impetus for this renewed consideration of the Synod’s structure did not come out of the administrative structure of the Synod or even an action of the Synod in convention, but from the other three administrative structures (Districts) that would be done away with under the CCMS proposal. The one administrative structure was unable to accomplish what the three have brought about in 24 months. The Synodical administration has responded to what it perceives as cries for help with support, when as little as 6 years ago the Synod (Convention Committee 3) had slammed the door shut. There is now much agreement among the members of Synod with restructuring as a strategy to address many of Synod’s problems.
Christ Lutheran Church, Harrow, and its pastor are not opposed to restructuring in principle, for these are matters neither commanded nor forbidden in the Word of God, insofar as the proposed Handbook contains or promotes nothing contrary to the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions. Indeed, the arguments for restructuring put forward by the 1996 Task Force, the district resolutions, and current Synodical officers are compelling. The question now, however, is not about the need for restructuring per se, but whether the current proposal of the CCMS is an acceptable replacement for the 2014 Handbook of LCC!
1. Proposal: The CCMS restructuring proposal did not suddenly fall into the hands of the members of Synod in the early part of 2017. It has come to us in increments and in three forms: 1) the written recommendations, guidelines, and decisions of the CCMS; 2) the verbal and media presentations of the CCMS representatives and their consultant; and 3) the final Handbook draft. These were produced through a process of consultation with the members of congregations, the ministerium of Synod, board and committees, the faculties of the seminaries, and through much use of technology. It will not be within the scope of this evaluation to consider everything, but only the draft Handbook and the explanation and defense of it provided by the CCMS.
2. Essence: The heart of the proposal is the reconfiguration of the Synod into one administrative structure, under the governance of the Board of the Directors through the authority of the Synodical President extending out to 8 regions administered by 8 (4 for now) Regional Pastors with their respective Regional Mission and Ministry Councils through the Circuit Counsellors to the pastors, deacons and congregations of the Synod, with the financial affairs of the Synod in the hands of an administrator. While the specific cost savings of such a structure over the current configuration is debatable, there is nothing particularly sinister in such a governance model, which may prove much more effective in serving the needs of the members of Synod. Again, these are matters neither commanded nor forbidden, so long as the confession of the one true Faith, the evangelical freedom of congregations, and the furthering of the Kingdom of God by the preaching of the pure Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments of Christ, are maintained.
3. A Different Animal: The Handbook proposal, however, is not merely a rewriting of the current Handbook to reflect this single administrative structure in every facet of the Synod’s organization. It is a complete re-imagining of the Handbook and of the Synod itself. The CCMS freely admits that it has been trying to write the safest, most legally air-tight, so-called left-hand kingdom Handbook possible, in order to mitigate any left-hand kingdom risk. In other words, the CCMS is trying to make the Handbook a legal firewall to protect the Synod. The CCMS is determined not to touch doctrine or confession, even to leave out any mention of it, apart from those places where it is necessary to declare what confessional qualifications are required of members. It is not possible to write such a document and have it remain orthodox; it is not possible to keep such a document from changing the nature of LCC. The 1996 Task Force report, at the very least, declared that the Word of God must stand at the head and inform and shape every aspect of who we say we are, what we are about, and how we will do things: “Structure is to flow out of theology.” The Handbook must be Confessional through and through, even where it describes our legal or corporate nature. The CCMS claims it is not changing the confession of LCC, but since the Handbook’s provisions are not developed from the Word of God and the Synod’s confession, but are in conflict with the one true Faith (cf. Limitations on Authority), then the CCMS has changed Synod’s confession, denials notwithstanding!
4. Concerning Constitutions: It is particularly disturbing to hear again and again that the specific phraseology and nomenclature of the Handbook proposal are not derived from our Confession or heritage, but from the lawyers. So the lawyers will have written the proposed Handbook for the lawyers to protect LCC from the lawyers. That is the fundamental flaw in the proposal. It is not the Handbook of the members of Lutheran Church-Canada. It is no longer the members’ pledge and promise to each other of what we are and what we are about. Indeed, the pledge and promise (the Constitution) has been removed. It is said that bylaws direct the state; constitutions protect the citizens. A constitution is a statement of existence and purpose; a bylaw elaborates rules of governance. A constitution, for instance, ensures that the organization creates no bylaws in conflict with the nature and objectives of the organization. Until now LCC has needed a Constitution. No one has made any compelling case for not having one, except that the lawyers say that constitutions are passé, which is sheer post-modernism, since post-modern thinking finds any appeal to truth or principle burdensome and irrelevant. Is it really the case that the restructuring of LCC is not possible without scuttling the Constitution? The 2016 CCMS Discussion Guide, under the heading of “Foundational Structural Elements – Things That Won’t Change” reads, “Membership in Lutheran Church Canada consists of member congregations, and pastors and deacons who have signed the Constitution of LCC. There are no changes to this membership structure contemplated by the CCMS.” And again: “The Constitution in the Handbook contains the original objectives of Lutheran Church–Canada. . . .The CCMS is not contemplating any recommendations for change to them in this revision of structure.” And again: “The name of the CCMS may change (because the Constitution may be renamed).” The CCMS Guide declared that the Constitution may be renamed, but not that it would be done away with. The Handbook proposal, then, does not harmonize with those declarations.
5. Fundamental Change: The removal of the Constitution is no incidental change; it is fundamental. There is no provision in the current Constitution to do away with the Constitution! Amendments are possible that do not conflict with Articles II and VI ( which then presupposes that Articles II and VI will never cease to exist). The Synod is constituted of its members, who become members by their signing the Constitution. Members of LCC signed the Constitution never imagining that the document would one day be taken away. Even the CCMS Discussion Guide (Definitions) describes the Constitution as “the primary document defining Lutheran Church-Canada . . . Changes to this document require the approval of two-thirds of the congregations of LCC because it contains the Statement of Faith.” The Guide declares: “The CCMS anticipates that the contents of the Constitution and the Synodical Bylaws will be distributed among the (Statutory) Bylaws, new Memoranda of Understanding, and a new Governance Manual for the Board of Directors. The former names of these two documents (Constitution and Synodical Bylaws) will no longer be used. The CCMS wishes to emphasize that no changes will be made to the Doctrine and Practice of the Synod, which is documented in the Constitution in Article II Confessions.” Again, those declarations are misleading.
6. Reformulation without a Statement of Faith: What the CCMS described as renaming is a complete reformulation. In the current LCC Constitution the statement of faith (II. Confession) stands alone. In the Handbook proposal there is no statement of faith as such. Bylaw 1 is not Article II, but “Membership Structure and Processes.” Article II of the current Constitution reads, “The Synod, and every member of the Synod, accepts without reservation the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and of practice and all the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God.” Bylaw 18.104.22.168 does not declare that the Synod, as such, accepts the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions, only that members of Synod must do so to qualify for membership. Under this new Handbook proposal Lutheran Church-Canada as such will have no actual confession of faith!! The contents of Article II are now a subcategory of “5. Members of congregations and all pastors and deacons may hold elected and appointed positions as prescribed in these Bylaws,” which is a subcategory of Bylaw 1.1.1 Authority. 1.1.4 is nonsense: “All members of Lutheran Church-Canada shall abide by these Bylaws and shall subscribe to the confessional position of Synod.” Members of Synod do not subscribe to a position. They subscribe a confession. However, as was already pointed out, under this Handbook proposal Lutheran Church-Canada will have no confession or statement of faith, only membership requirements that include the acceptance of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. 1.2.1 stipulates the conditions of membership: “Membership in Lutheran Church-Canada is restricted to congregations, pastors and deacons who confess and accept the confessional basis of Article 1.” Again, LCC members do not confess a confessional basis, but a creed. But there is no confessional basis, as it were, spelled out for the Synod, only for its members. This is no minor difference. What will be the confession of Lutheran Church-Canada under the new Act and Bylaws? Now it is Article II. Then it will be nothing! That is a clever way of the Synod’s protecting itself from any legal liability should any one of its members come into legal conflict with Canada or one of its jurisdictions for faithfully adhering to the Word of God and the Book of Concord. This Handbook proposal is a sea change.
7. Theological Error: Bylaw 1.1.2, Limitations on Authority, is a confessional statement, for it declares: “Members of Synod may not individually or collectively violate the Laws of God, Canada, and legal jurisdictions in which members reside and work.” Which Laws of God must not be violated? The moral, ceremonial, political? The whole of the Old Testament? What of the Laws of God as other faiths understand them? Jewish Law? Islamic Laws? What Laws of Canada? What legal jurisdictions? What if the Laws of God, rightly defined, and the Laws of Canada conflict? After declaring that the corporate authority of LCC comes from the Queen, proposed Bylaw 22.214.171.124 reads, “The primary source of authority within Lutheran Church-Canada is the voting membership of Lutheran Church-Canada.” That statement does not exist is the current Handbook and is patently false. The primary source of authority within Lutheran Church-Canada is and must remain the Word of God, for the Bible teaches that “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) In contrast to the proposed Bylaws, the current Constitution states in Article IV: “A Convention shall be the paramount decision-making authority of Lutheran Church-Canada, subject to the provisions set out in the Statutory Bylaws, the Constitution, and the Synodical Bylaws.” Even a Convention cannot set aside the Handbook, especially Articles II and VI, and any and all decisions of the Synod that are in conflict with the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions must be regarded as null and void (Constitution, Art. VII). The inclusion of the worldly notion of “values” as opposed to beliefs in the preamble to the Bylaws is also objectionable. The CCMS Handbook proposal introduces elements that are in error theologically, that is, in conflict with Article II of the LCC Constitution.
8. Impermissible Changes: The current Constitution declares that Articles II and VI remain the standard against which all proposed amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws must conform. No Handbook change is currently possible, even with 2/3 majority, that does not conform to Articles II and VI, which logically demands the retention of Articles II and VI, making them effectively unalterable (despite the fact that the lawyers argue that no article is legally unalterable). The CCMS guide (Definitions) states that the current Constitution is subject to a 2/3 majority for amendment, “because it contains the Statement of Faith.” It fails to mention, however, that the Statement of Faith (Article II) is not subject to change at all. The current Handbook, therefore, prohibits the reformulation of Articles II and VI into new Bylaw 1, that would render the former Articles II and VI alterable. Bylaw 126.96.36.199, which includes an acceptance of the Scriptures and the Confessions as qualifications for membership, is no longer a standard against which all Handbook changes must be judged and is no statement of faith, as argued above. After all, how could changes to Bylaw 1 have to remain true to Bylaw 1, if Bylaw 1 itself can be changed? The argument has been made that the Synod would never achieve the 2/3 majority needed to do away with the confessional requirement for membership. But the CCMS hopes to receive the 2/3 majority it considers necessary to do away with the Constitution altogether (an equally drastic action), which the current Constitution prohibits.
9. Inadequate Representation: The Synod was founded by a plenary convention of its prospective members, where all subscribed the constituting documents. The October 2017 convention will be attended by no more than 1/5 of the members, 2/3 of whom must carry the day for this new Handbook to be approved in principle. 2/15s of the membership is no true expression of the Synod’s will, and no compelling reason for congregations and pastors Synod-wide to ratify this misguided proposal and replace the current Handbook, including the Constitution. By this proposal the CCMS is breaking faith with every member of Synod who signed the present Constitution. Those members who vote against it or refuse to ratify it for reasons of conscience actually remain faithful to the current Constitution of LCC. There is not reason for them to leave LCC or be expelled, especially since structure is an adiaphoron.
10. Ecclesiastical Supervision and Refuge from the World: It has been argued by Synodical officers that the CCMS proposal will bring greater unity and make it easier to carry out ecclesiastical supervision, since there will be one chain of command. But ecclesiastical supervision is not a matter of structure. St. Paul needed no Handbook change to oppose the apostle Peter to his face (Gal. 2:11-14). The Word of God, however, does not have free course in LCC. There are few prophets any longer, little admonition, and even less repentance. More than that, if the world is coming to get us, no amount of Handbook revision will stop it. The early Christians standing in the Roman arenas, ready to be eaten by wild beasts, were not saying to one another, “We should have written a better Handbook.” The doom and gloom declarations, if we should fail to approve the proposal, sound like fear-mongering even to informed lay people. Alliances with the world and its principles will never save us from the world (Isaiah 30). Neither do ends justify means.
Therefore, the congregation and pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, Harrow, cannot and will not accept the CCMS Handbook proposal precisely because we signed the present Constitution of Lutheran Church-Canada. We are not looking for perfection, but we cannot accept what betrays the Synod’s founding principles. We cannot have an open mind about these matters. We do not have such freedom, for we are bound by the Word of God and conscience. To do otherwise would be sin.
“The duties of an Evangelical-Lutheran Synod:
Its primary duty is to be faithful to the Confessions in word and deed.
Its second major duty is that it treats its congregations in an evangelical way.
Its third major duty is that it supports its pastors and teachers.
A fourth major duty is that it promote the growth of its members in the knowledge of the truth in every possible way.
A fifth major duty is that it strives for peace and unity in the truth in its midst.
A sixth major duty is that is seeks not its own glory, but only the glory of God, is intent not on its own growth, but rather on the growth of Christ’s kingdom and the salvation of souls.”
– C. F. W. Walther, First Iowa District Convention, 1879
Andreas Schwabe is editor and publisher of SolaGratia.ca, and an Edmonton-based multimedia & communication strategist and producer. His focus for SolaGratia is on administration, governance, and issues of faith. For clients, he writes or produces just about anything.