05 August 2007

Floor Committee 5: Seminary and University Education

A few of the more significant actions taken by the Convention were brought to the floor by this committee, dealing with Seminary and University Education. Given the fact that one of the primary purposes of our synodical fellowship is the preparation of pastors and other church workers, it is appropriate that careful attention be given to these areas.

It is worth noting that all of these resolutions were adopted with more than 75% of the vote in the affirmative. In fact, that tended to be the case with most of the resolutions throughout the Convention, which represents a marked contrast to much of what happened in 2004. Some would suggest that the administration simply steamrolled the Convention. Perhaps. I am more inclined to think that, by comparison to the previous Convention, there was actually more give and take this time around, more compromise (in the best sense of the word), and a greater effort to achieve consensus. Of course there were exceptions to this, and anyway, the administration could afford to be magnanimous because it obviously had a huge advantage going into it. I guess it couldn't be called a "home court advantage," since we were convened in Houston (not St. Louis), but incumbency is surely an even bigger plus than playing at home. Nevertheless, the resolutions overall were less contentious and generally more positive (in my estimation) than they were in 2004.

5-01B To Establish Specific Ministry Pastor Program (908 pro; 287 against; 76%). This was certainly one of the more contentious resolutions in Houston this summer, and I understand why, but the end result bespeaks the fact that it genuinely managed to carry the vote. There were a lot of people very concerned, if not convinced, that the Specific Ministry Pastor Program would amount to a dumbing-down of the pastoral office. I was one of those who were skeptical about the proposal, but I honestly found the rationale for it to be sound and convincing. The introductory and explanatory comments by my friend and colleague, Dr. Larry Rast, were particularly helpful and persuasive. Not simply because I know and respect Dr. Rast; although that did encourage me to give this resolution a more objective hearing than I would have done. But mainly because of the historical and theological arguments he set forth, which frankly made a lot of sense to me. Truth be told, I do have concerns that this program may be misused and abused, and I certainly don't believe that it is perfect or ideal. However, it does address and offer a potential solution to the present bad practice of licensing laymen to preach and administer the Sacraments (also dealt with in Res. 5-02 below). Although we rightly prize the blessing and benefit of a classically well-educated clergy, we have not always insisted upon that one sort of preparation for the Office of the Ministry as a necessity. Historically, future pastors were often trained by apprenticeship, under the tutelage of a man already in the Office. For a long time, the Fort Wayne (or Springfield) Seminary was more practically driven and contoured, in contrast to the classical curriculum of the St. Louis Seminary, and each of those institutions served a good purpose. I don't buy the plea of a desperate shortage of pastors in our day, but I don't regard it as inherently flawed or wrong for some pastors to be trained more quickly and less thoroughly than most. It isn't finally the education or training that makes a man a pastor, but the entire scope of rite vocatus, involving preparation, certification, call and ordination. Our confessional position is that pastors are equal in the Office, though they differ in gifts (including education) and in the "jurisdiction" to which they are called within the good order of the Church on earth. There is a freedom within which these things may be arranged, without despising or dumbing-down the Office of the Ministry. As far as the specific jurisdiction to which a man with less training may be assigned, this strikes me as analagous to the ordination of deacons or even parish priests in the harmonious hierarchy of the early church. For the sake of clarification, I make that as a positive comparison. The LCMS has resisted the historic grades of clergy, but maybe we wouldn't have such widespread confusion in the theology and practice of the Ministry if we had a better grasp of the Church's historic ordering of the one pastoral office into several different particular grades (bishops, priests, presbyters and deacons). At any rate, this Specific Ministry Pastor Program appears to be contiguous with the limited service of ordained deacons and parish priests in the early church. The long and short of it is, that I believe this resolution has as much or more potential for good than bad, which is why I voted in favor of it.

5-02 To Address Licensed Lay Deacons (948 pro; 202 against; 82.4%). This isn't exactly a strong resolution, but it is a step in the right direction. It calls for a study of "the situations currently served by licensed lay deacons to determine whether there continues to be a genuine need for this program within the Synod." The practice began with the "Wichita Amendment to the Augusburg Confession," as the action of the 1989 Convention was dubbed. Especially with the adoption of the Specific Ministry Pastor Program (Res. 5-01B above), it may be hoped that the licensing of laymen to preach and administer the Sacraments will be phased out altogether. That won't happen overnight, and it hasn't even been specified that it will necessarily happen at all, but at least this resolution provides the opportunity for a grave mistake to be corrected.

5-03A To Strengthen Seminary Boards of Regents (742 pro; 214 against; 77.6%). This resolution (pertaining to the seminaries) and the next one (Res. 5-04, pertaining to the colleges) ostensibly "strengthen" the boards of regents by increasing the number of voting members on those boards. In this case, up to four additional lay members may be appointed by the board, for the sake of meeting particular needs with particular skills. I would have preferred to see at least some of these additional members elected by the Synod in Convention, rather than having all of them appointed by the board itself. However, it is true that a solid majority of the voting members on the seminary boards are elected. It makes me uncomfortable, nonetheless, that the appointed members may be chosen for the sake of their deep pockets, and not only for their expertise. Caution had best be exercised in all of this, lest we cross the line into outright simony.

5-04 To Strengthen College and University Boards of Regents (Rising Vote). This resolution was adopted, by a "rising vote" (because the electronic voting boxes were not working at the time), prior to consideration of the previous resolution (5-03A). In this case, regrettably, up to eight laypersons (and no less than four) "shall be appointed as voting members by the board of regents." That makes for as many members appointed by the board itself as there are elected altogether by the Synod in Convention and the geographical district in which the institution is located. I regard that as an ill-conceived and unfortunate development, though I don't wish to suggest that it was ill-intentioned or devious. My fear, actually, is that such a move is driven by a quest for money, moreso than a genuine strengthening of the boards of regents. If there must be more members on the board, why not elect them by the Synod in Convention. We certainly hear a lot about the brilliance and competence of the nominating committee, so I should think it would be no great difficulty for it to assemble an adequate ballot of qualified nominees to fill out the needs of the board. What's done is done, for now, but I still believe that it was unwise, and I would prefer to see the configuration of the boards of regents revisited in the future.

5-05 To Encourage Commitment to Continuing Education for Clergy (1084 pro; 132 against; 89.1%). Continuing education is a positive thing, and encouragement to that end is beneficial. On the surface of it, therefore, this resolution is all fine and good. I only hope that encouraging pastors to pursue ongoing studies does not become a means of pressuring them into this or that ideological (or political) agenda. I'm sure the intentions are wholesome and not sinister, but good intentions do not prevent the abuse of the process. In the meantime, the encouragement and support of a pastor's continuing education is to be commended.

5-06 To Clarify Membership on the Board for Pastoral Education and the Board for University Education (1123 pro; 78 against; 93.5%). Basic housekeeping.

5-07A To Change CUS Membership Structure (611 pro; 78 against; 88.7%). More basic housekeeping (in conformity with Missouri state law).

5-08 To Clarify Responsibility of Board for Pastoral Education re Recognized Service Organizations (1108 pro; 97 against; 92%). More basic housekeeping (assigning to the Board for Pastoral Education the responsibility to monitor RSOs to which it has granted RSO status).

1 comment:

jerseyboy7 said...

You said: "The LCMS has resisted the historic grades of clergy, but maybe we wouldn't have such widespread confusion in the theology and practice of the Ministry if we had a better grasp of the Church's historic ordering of the one pastoral office into several different particular grades (bishops, priests, presbyters and deacons). "

Bingo!!! Sometimes I think I'm the only member of synod who isn't a fan of Walther. I blame him for a lot of the problems that exist today. We have had several of our clergy switch to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic faiths because of the low view of church and ministry. There are times when I think I'm about ready to do the same.