by Rev. Richard A. Bolland, Senior Pastor
Holy Cross Lutheran Church Kansas City, Missouri
The discussion has been going on for some time now between faithful pastors and laymen within the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod regarding whether or not the current direction of the Synodical administration can be changed or if the changes which have been made are irreversible. It is an important discussion because what is actually at the root of the discussion is whether or not the LCMS can be reclaimed as a truly Lutheran (orthodox) Church body, or if the Synod’s head-long rush toward the Pietism, false doctrine, and errant practices of the Church Growth movement will continued unabated.
How has this radical change come about? How could such a solidly Lutheran body whose former hallmarks were faithfulness to the Holy Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions, have gone so far astray? Until 2001, this transformational process was happening, but it was happening incrementally and possibly could have been reversed. Since the election of President Gerald Kieschnick, incrementalism has been abandoned for a pell mell rush toward the tenants, methodologies, and false teachings of the Church Growth movement.
Liturgical worship has either been abandoned or so man-handled as to become virtually unrecognizable in many LCMS congregations. Open communion has been slipped into many congregations in varying degrees with full agreement in all articles of doctrine for admission to the Lord’s Table becoming a rarity. Adult Instruction classes have been abbreviated in some LCMS congregations so that virtual non-Lutherans are welcomed into many an LCMS congregation as members. Ecclesiastical supervision has been turned on its head being used to remove and blacklist faithful pastors who are willing to stand up to erring congregations and the Synod. Now it seems, those who are supposed to protect such pastors turn out to be their adversaries often in league with errant factions within the congregations. As has been the case for some time now, the Synodical administration’s agenda is not open to criticism. The official media of the Synod are no longer forums for discussion, but have become instruments of propaganda.
Now a theological convocation has been called to listen to non-Lutherans and others present the case for a radical change in our Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws. The theological convocation is by invitation only so that the conclusion desired will be achieved without discord. Likewise, despite the fact that the current Constitution of the LCMS requires a 2/3rds majority vote not only of the Synod in convention but also a 2/3rds vote of all responding LCMS congregations following convention action, there will be no vote of the congregations on the entirely new Constitution and Bylaws following the 2010 Synodical convention because they are not proposing "amendments", but an entirely new document. Therefore, our congregations will have no vote whatsoever in the proposed new Constitution and Bylaws. It will all be decided by the delegates in the first 2-3 days of Houston II, and then the elections which follow will be in accord with the newly appointed structure.
A word of encouragement to those of you within driving distance of St. Louis in August. Go to the convocation anyway as observers and make them refuse to admit you, if that be the case. I say this for three reasons: First of all the veil of secrecy with which this entire process has been cloaked is plain wrong and needs to be challenged. Secondly, we need some observers who can report on what actually happened in contrast to the anticipated reports of "harmony" and "unanimity" which will undoubtedly be forth coming from the official media of the LCMS. Thirdly, if you are turned away then it can be rightly reported that this was nothing other than a conventical called for the purpose of shoving the proposed Constitution and Bylaws down the Synod's throat whether we like it or not.
Not long ago an article by Mr. Scott Diekmann on the reality of a third LCMS seminary (Pastoral Leadership Institute) was made available to the Synod at large. In that article Mr. Diekmann commented on the transformational steps written about in John Kotter's book, Leading Change, (Harvard Business School Press) described by Rev. William Cwirla as, "the Bible for change management". Permit me to list them out for you and to comment on each one so as to observe how the LCMS has managed to change so dramatically:
1. Establish a sense of urgency: (Recall the doom and gloom tour by President Kieschnick following his election to virtually every district convention in which he flatly said that if we keep doing things the way we are doing, that the LCMS will die. Remember the passionately stated reason for needing a new Constitution/Bylaws given at the 2007 Houston convention being an impending financial crisis?)
2. Create a guiding coalition: (Do any doubts remain that Jesus First has hooked up with DayStar, and the Synodical Administration to push their agenda? Add to that the various District bureaucracies who's sole purpose these days seems to be to promote anything the Synodical leadership puts out. Of course bolstering all of this is the monopoly on the official media of Synod which will only do the administration's bidding and will truck no viewpoint other than their own.)
3. Have a vision: (The whole reason for the Ablaze!(tm) movement is to provide a justification for bringing about radical change within the LCMS because being "missional", is the reason we must have contemporary worship, lower standards for participation in the Lord's Supper, less demanding adult instruction classes, more Madison Avenue style marketing in order to prop up what is viewed as the inadequate means of grace of mere Word and Sacrament, etc. By the way, have you noticed that the emphasis is now shifting from missions to finances?)
4. Over-Communicate the vision: (Anyone sick to death of the Ablaze! mantra yet?)
5. Remove obstacles to the vision: (Those well-trained seminary grads keep getting in the way of "progress", so let's dumb them down and make them more manageable even though [as Rev. Charles Hendrickson says, it's “SMPly irresponsible”]. Has anyone noticed that Issues, Etc., was terminated? Has anyone noticed that about 45-50 Confessional pastors have been unbiblically removed from office or have left the LCMS because they can no longer be in fellowship with what they consider to be a heterodox church body since 2001? Has anyone noticed that District Presidents have black-listed many Confessional pastors and contained the Confessional "virus" with language in their evaluation forms called “Personal Information Forms” [PIF's] which virtually eliminate a congregation's consideration of a pastor? It would seem that marginalizing those you can't get rid of is a good way to "manage" the situation. I predict that this removal of pastors will only increase as Synodical power grows more consolidated.)
6. Create short term wins: (Election margins of President Kieschnick have been razor thin, but a "win" nonetheless, much more telling was the total sweep of Jesus First endorsed candidates virtually across the board at Houston I, we now have only one Confessional "friendly" voice among the Vice Presidents of the Synod, the Synodical Nominations Committee is controlled by the various District Presidents, the Dispute Resolution Process [DRP] is totally under the control of the District Presidents so that there is no longer any legitimate "due process" in the LCMS and what remains is due process of the District Presidents, by the District President's, and for the District Presidents; the convention floor committees will no longer permit the last step of the DRP to be executed [take your disputed issues before the Synodical Convention], nor will the floor committees permit Confessional concerns to be addressed on the convention floor. There is no Confessional access remaining to the official media of the Synod and those utilizing the unofficial are marginalized as "Liturgical Nazis" or just "Nazis", "Black snakes in the bedroom that need to be thrown out of the house.", or "Ultra-conservatives", or "Ultra-Confessionals", or "Extremists", “Speed bumps”, etc. so that those who do speak up have virtually no credibility. Virtually every one of our Boards of Regents for every college, university, and seminary of the Synod is now in majority liberal hands.)
7. Be patient: (The liberals have been slowly consolidating their plans and their power ever since Ralph Bohlmann was ousted by Al Barry, they have slowly but surely built upon the foundation on the remnant of the Seminex days and added to them those folks who embrace Church Growth. They have managed quite successfully to couch such take over attempts under the guise of being "missional" and caring for the lost, and at the same time, falsely labeled anyone who gets in their way as "unloving" and "uncaring" about the lost.)
8. Anchor the changes in the corporation's culture: (In case you're wondering, this is what the new Constitution and Bylaws are all about! Watch for increased "missional" language in the objectives of the Synod, watch for increasing power for the President of the Synod and the Synodical governance structures, watch for language which equivocates on the "advisory" status of the Synod to the congregation, watch for language which will be coercive of the local congregation which will not be granted the latitude for funding the Synod which we have previously had. Watch for language which may [to begin with when a congregation dissolves or is split by division] require that individual congregational property may well be given to the Synod. Be absolutely certain there will be a tightening of a congregation's ability by restrict the calling of pastors only from synodically approved call lists. To be sure watch for language which gives more voting delegates to larger congregations and thus partially disenfranchises smaller congregations in the Synod. The list could go on, but you get the idea.)
So, where are we in this process now? We are at the end! With the passage of the new Constitution and Bylaws, the process is virtually complete. There will certainly be "clean-up" in the aftermath of the New Constitution/Bylaws, but friends that's all it will be...clean-up. As more and more power is consolidated, more and more of us will be shown the door out of the LCMS. Make no mistake about it, we ARE the obstacles which need to be removed from the liberal perspective, and District Presidents are becoming increasingly bold and brazen in removing us, and why shouldn't they because there is nothing stopping them from doing so. So while the Synodical President keeps crying that there is a shortage of pastors, the District Presidents are ushering the "obstacles" out the door. There is some truth to the claim about pastoral shortages in that there will be a need when we are gone to fill the vacancies we will leave, but never fear, SMP guys will fill the void.
It grieves me to say this, but one of these days we are going to have to deal with the reality that the game is over and move on.