Task Force For Synodical Harmony

The task force was formed when the Chairman of the LCMS Board of Directors and the Council of Presidents each nominated three people to the task force.  Each of these nominees picked one additional person to make twelve members.    Thus it was from the outset a small collection of handpicked people.   This group can and will have an impact.   Even if that impact is not the actual goal of some or all of the members of it.    They are very likely well meaning sincere people.

The task force solicited verbal testimony from 29 people and written testimony from others.   What those people said has been sealed for the next 25 years.   This presumably was to allow them to speak freely without fear of retribution.    Thus it can be assumed that at least some of the things said were things in contradiction to the current positions.

The task force mandate was formed in 2007 in the national convention as resolution 4-01A.  The taskforce itself was formed later in 2007.   Its preliminary report was referred to the 2010 convention in the Convention Workbook and was encouraged by resolution 7-01 to develop strategies to implement the report.   The report was presented to the Board of Directors and the Council of Presidents.   It is now published on the LCMS website under the Office of the President as a prominent part of the flagship Kononia project of current president Matthew Harrison.   It was published in its final form in March of 2011.

The point of the above being that the contents of this document are very important.  They have the authority of conventions, the approval of the board of directors and the council of presidents and the full support of the current president.   They are being acted upon.

Looking at the document what is noticed is a fuller detail what appears to be the same ideas expressed in the “It Is Time” document.   The focus of the Task Force document seems to be that the synod does not allow diversity of doctrine and practice.   Historically the synod enforced the resolutions that it votes in convention.   If a national convention declared something to be condemned then those promoting that idea were no longer allowed to teach it openly.    Due to the poster child event of the charges of Unionism filed after a LCMS pastor participated in the post 9/11 prayer session at Yankee stadium there has been a push to curtail the power of those from the extreme conservative side.   The damage to the entire conservative side however is inevitable.

The clergy are seen as the ones chiefly seeing to it that the doctrines taught comply with what the synod has voted.   In the document this appears to be seen as a problem, non christian, a sin even and this must be changed.   Opinions condemned at national Synod must still be allowed, indeed are going to be required, to be presented along side of the official positions at all levels from parish to national.

Pastors must be held accountable for saying to forcefully and directly that some peoples ideas are wrong,  they must not be allowed to state that some people are not being honest and pointing out their true intentions as doing so is sinful.   A code of conduct will be developed that will effectively silence those who are guilty of silencing in an unchristian manner those who have lost at the national convention.

Following are some excerpts from the task force final report with external comments added in parenthesis.

(The report is ) a specific plan for the sake of the whole church to restore harmony in our synod.

While disharmony in the synod is nothing new, in recent years it has deepend to the point of being destructive of both our unity in Christ and our concord in doctrine and practice.

Aspects of the present disharmony

Inability to Deal with Diversity : …such issues as; admission to Holy Communion, worship substance and style, the Office of Public Ministry and the role of laity, and the service of women in the church. … we have not learned how to address diversity among us — whether it is perceived to  be “doctrinal” or “non-doctrinal.”  
A Lack of Civility :  Simple Christian values like kindness and gentleness are often lacking in our dialouge, especially among LCMS clergy.
A Politicized Culture : National and some district conventions have become more politically charged than ever.  … the parties in power are perceived to proceed with a “scorched earth” policy, totally disenfranchising the loosing party.  Rather than valuing all the voices in the LCMS, the “losing” voices are silenced….
Primarily A Clergy Problem : …the problem of disharmony in the LCMS is primarily a clergy problem … While some clergy may contend that “anything goes” when fighting for truth, such an approach ignores both our unity and concord as Christians and as confessional Lutheran.  Is there something in the personality of some of our pastors that brings on an attitude of judgement, criticism, and elitism toward other pastors ?
Poor Communication : …we have lost the ability or the will to listen …
Lack of Accountability : Pastors causing disharmony by sinful attitudes and behaviors must be held accountable.   Currently no code of conduct exists for LCMS pastors, especially as it relates to collegiality and public behavior … there must be consequences for sinful behavior.
Distrust : The product of the above is a deep distrust among clergy.

Strategies (for implementation)

The dialog must include all positions, at every level of the church; within our congregations, circuits, auxiliaries, Synod wide theological convocations and smaller focus groups as well.

Random Quotes from the document….

“There are deep disagreements among us about diversity, what it means, and how to deal with it”
“Ultimately every Synodical entity, and every congregation needs to recognize and celebrate God-pleasing diversity.”
“Uncivil behavior is respectfully and fairly challenged”
“Differing opinions become assets for building the church”
“Greater respect in the Synod for differing points of view.”
“Clergy of the LCMS lead the way in defending others, speaking well of them and taking words and action in the kindest possible way and seek to understand and relate to thers especially in areas of difference”
“Ability to state the others position in a thoughtful, caring, and honest way.”
“Intentionally bring together known opposing parties in the church for open dialouge”
“Even those with opposing views participate in activities”

This is a very dangerous document and approach.   The full impact is not being loudly promoted and it is not on the radar of many people.   This document and approach will destroy the very foundations of the discipline that has kept the LCMS a conservative Christian church.   The national identity will be forever destroyed once everyone is free to march to their own drummer.   It will no longer be able to be said “The LCMS does not believe XYZ”.    Instead every issue will be up for variation at the personal, parish, and regional levels.   Those who take comfort in being identified as LCMS Lutherans instead of ECLA Lutherans will quickly not have that comfort.   They will be reduced to taking comfort that at least their particular parish doesn’t believe something and nothing further.

This requirement of “The dialog must include all positions, at every level of the church; within our congregations, circuits, auxiliaries, Synod wide theological convocations and smaller focus groups as well. ” is very significant.   What it means is that on every controversial issue, no matter what the historic votes have been establishing what the synod believes will be nullified.   The loosing voices promoting heterodoxy or heresy can now no longer be silenced and now have mandate to always be allowed to present their ideas in all discussions.    Those who get upset about the teaching of false [ or diverse ] doctrine will now be guilty of inappropriate and intolerant behavior and will themselves be silenced or disciplined.  This can very quickly lead to a purge of the conservative clergy who are vocal and attempt to rally the synod. 

With respect to the controversies named above much hinges on the understanding of the phrase “admission to Holy Communion”.     If understood as allowing open communion this would remove the only visible seperation between ELCA and LCMS.     While cooperation in externals is continued pulpit and altar communion is not.     Allowing open communion would mean that the ELCA and LCMS would be in defacto altar communion without ever having to say so.   The other manner of understanding the phrase “admission to Holy Communion” centers on who the synod allows to be a fully participating member of the local congregation.   On that point there is really only one one topic of contention today and that is with respect to the admission of alternative life styles as full and communicant members.    Deciding to allow that was the decision that the ELCA first made that sent it on the road it has travelled.

This may not be the intention of the authors of this document, however it remains a very possible outcome when it is implemented.

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