Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Texas Overture

No, this isn't about a stirring anthem to commemorate the Alamo, but rather a call to write an "addendum" to the 1580 Formula of Concord that was sent as an overture to the Texas District. The convention decided to send it over to the CTCR (Committee on Theology and Church Relations) for that body's consideration.

While I realize that any "member of synod" (pastor, teacher, or congregation) can propose just about anything as an overture, and that sending this to the CTCR is probably the parliamentary equivalent of Limbo, I can't help but be bothered by this.

First of all, what makes anyone think the Formula of Concord belongs only to the Missouri Synod? What gives us the right to unilaterally change it any more than we have the right to start putting addenda on the end of the Apostles Creed? Can you imagine if a town in Louisiana decided to vote to amend the Mayflower Compact?

Second, this doesn't take into consideration the 40+ church bodies with whom we share fellowship. Such unilateralism would only create disunity with those bodies with whom we currently have Concord! For it even to be considered could only be received with concern by our partner churches. We would certsainly be outraged if the Lutheran Church - Canada decided to add to one of our historical confessional documents.

Third, it also further fractures World Lutheranism by not even consulting the many Lutheran bodies with whom we do not share fellowship.

Fourth, the Formula of Concord was not subject to 21st century democratic politics. One can only imagine the Frankenstein monster that would emerge from a plethora of committees and a synodical convention - which would then, by a vote of the majority, be binding by fiat upon the members of synod.

Finally, this would be an example of a "post facto" vow made by pastors and teachers in our synod - whose ordination and installation vows would be retroactively changed, not allowing these individuals the opportunity to either accept or reject the addendum. It would be like passing a law that retroactively changes the wedding vows in your state. How can you be bound to a promise that you never made?

This whole change-happy approach to our Tradition (as manifested in the Book of Concord), that it is something we can simply unilaterally amend at will by a show of hands, illustrates our synod's approach to history, as though the Church exists in a historical vacuum, that we are the only people who count (which doesn't speak well of our belief in the Church Triumphant!). This is a terribly sectarian approach to the Church - which we formally (unless it is amended) confess to be "Catholic."

I suspect we will see more calls for things like this, but I also suspect to see continued agonized manipulation of the interpretations of the texts in smoke-filled rooms (to achieve some desired outcome, rather than submitting to the traditional interpretations which may now be considered "inconvenient" to our time) rather than a real effort to openly alter the historical documents themselves.

Nevertheless, I think it problematic that this was even proposed by a congregation with whom we share fellowship. It's almost Orwellian. And I surmise that Big Brother is indeed watching!

OVERTURE 03-02-06


WHEREAS, Lutherans in the 21st Century are often finding themselves in disagreement over many teachings and aspects of what it means to be "Lutheran" (such as authority of the Scriptures, office of public ministry, fellowship, etc.), resulting in a variety of doctrines and practices; and,

WHEREAS, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is finding disagreements among its members becoming increasingly divisive and counter-productive to effective Gospel ministry; and,

WHEREAS, the Formula of Concord was the result of dialog and debate among the various Lutheran factions to declare a common position on the issues that divided them (see the Editor's Introduction to the Formula of Concord, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, c. 2000 by Augsburg Fortress, pp. 481ff); and,

WHEREAS, the Formula of Concord of 1580 addressed only those issues that divided the Lutheran Church of that time; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the Texas District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, gathered in convention, memorialize the 63rd Convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to call for the preparation of an "Addendum" to the Formula of Concord of 1580; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that this "Addendum" to the Formula of Concord of 1580 seek to address the additional questions of doctrine and practice that currently divide the Evangelical Lutheran Church such as (but not limited to):

To what extent are the Scriptures authoritative and efficacious regarding the faith and life of God's people?

What is meant by "pure teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments in harmony with the gospel of Christ" (Apology, VI & VII, 5)?

What is the role of God's people in terms of the ministry of the gospel as preachers, teachers, and the priesthood of all believers (and subsequent questions such as the ordination of women, auxiliary offices, etc.)?

What are the biblical definitions of marriage and family, and what do those definitions teach regarding such things as divorce, homosexuality, abortion, etc.?

What is meant by the church universal, the mutual consolation of the saints, and fellowship among Lutherans, fellowship among Christians, and relationships of people of other religions?

RESOLVED, that the Synodical Convention call upon the Presidium of Synod, in consultation with the faculties of the Seminaries of Synod, to appoint a select group of theologians to begin the initial development of a draft formula addendum; and be it further

RESOLVED, that each District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod appoint two pastors, two commissioned ministers of the gospel, four lay members, and (where applicable) two members of the faculty of any higher educational institution located within the district, to be a part of a Synod-wide convocation to be convened prior to the 65th Convention of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (2011) to adapt and recommend this addendum to the Formula of Concord for adoption by the Synod; and, be it finally

RESOLVED, that The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod present this Addendum to the various Lutheran church bodies in America and throughout the world for discussion, debate, and dissemination among their various congregations and institutions.

Family of Faith Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas.
Trevor Coleman, Chairman
Marvin Miller, Secretary


Chris Jones said...

The Church has, from time to time, made new dogmatic definitions when the circumstances called for it. Such dogmatic definitions clarify the Church's rule of faith, and so become part of that rule of faith. The Nicene Creed, the definition of Chalcedon, and the Formula of Concord itself are examples of such dogmatic definitions.

So there is nothing wrong, in principle, with the idea of making a further dogmatic definition. The question is whether the errors of our time are of such a character and severity that a further dogmatic definition is clearly necessary.

There's nothing in the "overture" that clearly states that a new dogmatic definition is needed to deal with heresy -- that is, teachings that are not only false, but false in a way that destroys the integrity of the Gospel. That is the only kind of issue that properly calls for a dogmatic definition.

I suspect that the authors of this "overture" would not think of themselves as proposing a new definition of dogma, but merely proposing a "clarification" to improve the doctrinal discipline of our denomination. But by proposing that their clarification be understood as an addendum to the Book of Concord, they are in fact adding another confession to the long line of public confessions of the Church that goes back to Nicaea and beyond.

I disagree, BTW, with your idea that the problem with this is that it would be a "unilateral" action of the Missouri Synod. The dogmatic definitions of the Church are rarely characterized by consensus before-the-fact. The definition comes first, and the consensus (that is, the reception by the whole Church) works itself out over the following decades or centuries. Certainly the Augsburg Confession and the other Lutheran Confessions were nothing if not "unilateral"; our Lutheran fathers did not wait for the Romans and the Reformed to come to consensus with them before defining what they believed the Catholic faith to be.

Father Hollywood said...


I hear what you're saying, but there are a couple of crucial differences.

1) The Lutheran confessors wrote a new document, they did not claim the authority to tamper with historically older creeds. For example, they did not propose additions to the Nicene Creed, or insert a paragraph on justification into the Athanasian Creed.

When Melanchthon tried to alter the Augsburg Confession, he was sternly rebuked. To this day, many churches subscribe to the "unaltered" Augusburg Confession as a result. We ought to learn from history.

If the LCMS amends the Formula of Concord, I guarantee you that there would be churches that subscribe only to the "unaltered" Formula of Concord. In the end, this would be a Formula of Discord. It would also mean we'd have to republish the Book of Concord every time a convention votes to amend it. Changes put forth by this administration would be rolled back when the political pendulum comes back the other way. It would be chaos.

2) The Lutheran confessions were written with the entire communion in mind. The AC was not the product of one man's musing, but evolved out of years of earlier "drafts" that had input from theologians across the Lutheran communion. The AC was a source of unity for Lutherans. This is a very different matter than the LCMS making changes on its own. Would the Lutheran Church - Canada and the Latvian Lutheran Church be required to accept these changes? Would we if their churches made changes to our mutual confessions?

The real problem is our lack of tradition. For crying out loud, we've been the Church for 2,000 years, and we STILL don't know whether pastors are to be ordained? Do we need another couple millennia to figure it out? Maybe a Blue Ribbon Task Force can find out for us. Maybe CPH can publish a Bible study... The solution is not to basically canonize CTCR documents into the Book of Concord, but rather we need to open our eyes and ears.

We have a history, and we have partner churches around the world that can help us rediscover what the Lutheran Confessions mean. We don't need more confessions, we need to understand the ones we already have. We need pastors who can read German and Latin, and we need more contact with our partner churches - which is the opposite tack of having pastors and laity who can't read Latin and German come up with new confessional statements, and to do so apart from the rest of the churches with whom we share pulpits and altars.

I'm sure the intention of this church was good, but there's an old saying about good intentions (not to mention the skulls of priests).

Der Bettler said...

There's something else here I noticed, and I've noticed it elsewhere as well:

Whenever a group is put together to study something or to create a recommendation for a district or Synod, there are these same guidelines about its makeup. Specifically, they feel the need to make sure that an equal amount of pastors and laymen are represented on the board. This smacks of American democracy, and can be useful in situations where two groups of people have different agendas and goals (such as the various states do in the Senate). Are pastors and laymen really working toward different goals? I hope not. If they're not, then why feel the need to make sure both are equally represented (and now we also have to throw in the "Commissioned Ministers" as well)? Laymen shouldn't feel left out, especially if the matter being discussed could affect orthodoxy or orthopraxy. If, however, they are working toward different goals, then we may have a bigger problem.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Der Bettler:

This is a very good observation. I think you're completely right about it. We treat the Church and her doctrine like the U.S. Congress - with a delicate balance of equality and proportionality. Of course, politics requires a certain amount of checks and balances, and the U.S. Constitution itself is cobbled together by compromises.

But in matters of doctrine, the Church shouldn't structure itself around politics or compromise, but rather about what is true.

The Council of Nicea, for example, was comprised of bishops. Of course, the chairman (Constantine) was not a bishop, but he was vastly outnumbered by "clergy delegates" and I don't think the emperor technically had a vote. ;-)

In our current model, we have created a "congressional" system of Church governance, and we've created a third category of Christian (which is nowhere found in Scripture). In addition to the pastors and the laity, we've created "commissioned ministers" as a third species of believer.

Can you just imagine what the Nicene Creed would be today if the LCMS method of representation and convention would have been in force at Nicea?

Der Bettler said...

Can you just imagine what the Nicene Creed would be today if the LCMS method of representation and convention would have been in force at Nicea?

Vaguely. It would be seventeen pages long and non-binding. It would narrowly pass after either five minutes of discussion or three days of discussion, depending on which district you're in.

Chris said...

By what authority is this done? What gives us the right to alter the works of historical Lutheranism by adding to it? If we seek to ammend as many issues as that brings up.....why even call ourselves Lutheran? All it will do is separate the Confessional from the non-Confessional.

As to divisions within Confessional and non-Confessional groups....all I can say is that these differences are due to human error and sin. Just adding an addendum only seems to minimize the size of the problem at hand.

I agree that the debate should be between all of those bodies calling themselves Lutheran, not as a minor fix within one synod. We're not the only Lutheran synod undergoing a schism.