I’m so old, I remember reading CCM minutes that are no longer on the synod’s website. For all our preening about our return to confessional leadership in 2010, no minutes exist online from the Barry administration. Perhaps it is not intentional – just an oversight. But back in my early days as a pastor, there was a decidedly different attitude about the role of the CCM. That changed after September 23, 2001. Which, by a very strange coincidence, also marks the first minutes to be found online.
In my early days, the CCM minutes were amusing for number of times they refused to answer the questions they were asked. Anything that touched theology was referred to the CTCR without further comment. Anything that was unclear in the bylaws was referred to the Commission on Handbook – without a ruling. Anything that was not the constitution or bylaws of synod (Board procedures, etc.) was referred to the Board that created it, again without further comment. All of this was for a very good reason: The CCM had the limited function of interpreting the synod’s constitution and bylaws. They were not tasked with interpreting theology – that was the CTCR. They were not tasked with writing bylaws – that was the Commission on Handbook. They were not tasked with interpreting the Procedures manual for LCEF – that was the Board of LCEF.
And so, meeting after meeting, people would appeal to them, as if they were some sort of Supreme Court of the LCMS, and meeting after meeting, people would be reminded that the LCMS had no Supreme Court. It was messy. But people had to deal with problems themselves. Matters had to be worked through. The Word of God decided doctrinal matters, not popes and councils.
Things have changed quite a bit. After Yankee Stadium, the synod needed a reason to pardon someone who had clearly committed idolatry. The CCM was called upon to deliver the fatal blow. They did not disappoint. Suddenly, the bylaws of synod could not conceive of personal responsibility. If you had permission from an Ecclesiastical Supervisor, you could not be charged with false doctrine or practice. This was plainly hogwash, and demonic hogwash at that. But, something was needed to justify our idolatry and get this off the front page. It worked. Thanks to the CCM abruptly finding powers they never knew they had, the idolater justified himself in true Pharisaic fashion, and now, when it is brought up at all, pastors are told, “what can be done after all this time?” (For the record, The Lord waited 210 years to punish the Northern Kingdom of Israel for the sins of Jeroboam, her first king. His memory is longer than 17 years.)
The record since then has been… uneven. It is hard to match outright idolatry. But we are doing our best. And there is significant evidence that we are succeeding. Now, to be clear, I think that the men who serve on the CCM are honest, upright men. They want to do a good job. And they are only doing as they believe they have been instructed by the bylaws. But therein lies the problem.
During the previous administration, the CCM and the BoD were weaponized against each other in a proxy fight between the President and his opponents. As is usual, the convention sided with the President. As a side effect, the CCM’s absolute authority was established. Then the convention went further. The bylaws were changed so that, in cases where pastors could be removed from office, the opinion of the CCM or CTCR “must be followed.” Rome reserves that level of authority only for ex cathedra proclamations – a power rarely used, and then with fear and trembling. The CCM and CTCR have and use that authority as a matter of course. We are trying to out Rome Rome. And we are succeeding.
At one point, about a decade ago, the CTCR was told by the synod in convention to provide further guidance about a report they issued that encouraged idolatry. They refused to answer the synod in convention. The CCM meanwhile, has taken it upon itself to not only interpret the bylaws of the synod in light of the constitution, but then to tell the synod in convention what those bylaws must be. Now the cart is driving the horse. No more does the CCM merely interpret the bylaws. They get to write them, and then interpret them as well. The potential for mischief is so great in such an arrangement that the danger should be self-evident.
For the most part, I can ignore what happens at 1333 S. Kirkwood. I have it on good authority that their influence only extends about a half-mile or so. But I do attend the district convention in Wyoming. Every three years, the CCM reviews all district bylaws. Twice. Before the convention, they tell the District what changes need to be made. After the convention, they look at what changes were made, and tell the BoD what changes to be made to those changes. Last time, they told the BoD what changes to make, even though there were no changes. It matters not that the our District Board of Directors can only make those changes “upon the express direction of the district in convention.” The CCM, fulfilling their duty to review the bylaws, told them to make changes. The BoD, fulfilling their responsibility to the synod, made the changes in violation of the bylaws they were attempting to uphold. Three years on (today) the Floor Committee is tasked with presenting those changes to the convention for ratification. And the convention has the responsibility to ratify them.
You see, we are all just doing our jobs. Fulfilling our constitutional duty. No one is at fault for any of this. (See above re: idolatry.)
But three years ago, something strange happened. I wrote my tri-ennial rant against the CCM. I got a phone call from a member of that august body. We had a cordial conversation in which I heard good logical arguments for why the bylaws, having created confusion, required us to move further away from scriptural words in order to clear up the confusion. I argued, quite irrationally, that it mattered not what the bylaws said, it mattered not how little sense they made sense as they were written. We had to stick with scriptural terminology. And then, a strange thing happened. The convention agreed with me. The change was voted down. The District in Convention looked at their duties under the bylaws, looked at the logic of the request (which logic was ironclad), and said, “No.”
The CCM responded by ordering the Board of Directors to delete the entire offending section, which they did. They also added something about the convention acknowledging that they could not tell officers what to do if it conflicted with the bylaws of synod. The BoD dutifully submitted that change to the floor committee for this convention. The floor committee has (so far at least) dutifully submitted that to the delegates for consideration.
But once again, a little no-account country parson will stand up to say “No.” It doesn’t matter what the bylaws demand. It matters not that, from a legal perspective they have us dead to rights. It matters not that, legally we may be yielding needed legal protections. The bylaws of synod require our DP to follow judgments of the CCM and CTCR in his extra-district duties. Our district – on more than 20 occasions – has declared the bylaws of synod to be in error against the Word of God, and we have admonished the DP that he must follow God’s Word, not synod bylaws, as he carries out his office. And agreeing to the CCM-ordered change would be to agree that we can not speak the truth to him any more. It’s just a few words. Merely a pittance. As easy as picking up some incense and tossing it in the fire. As easy as raising the hand in salute.
Last night, I sent my comments to the Floor Committee. I told them that we could not agree to this change. They are now considering their course of action. I do not expect them to change course. After all, they are required to present it to us. The Bylaws demand it. And, because the CCM is not the federal government, they can require that board and committees say certain things, even if those statements are offensive to the Word of God. Even if those statements offend the conscience of the members of the committee in question. Everyone here is just doing their duty.
And (assuming they do their duty) one little parson will stand up and say “No.” Will the convention once again be the final check against ignoring and violating the Word of God? I pray they will be if called upon. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things in our synod? Probably not. The few words will not change anyone’s course of action in the slightest. It will not change how the synod views our ongoing Quixotic crusade of declaring bylaws void for the sole reason that they violate God’s Word. It will not change our habit of doing so.
But this little parson refuses to concede that he does not have the authority, under the word of God, to call the synod to repent. And he refuses to concede that the District in Convention is not only able, but bound by God’s Word to do the same, and to instruct or officials that they are not to follow bylaws that violate that word. And he thinks its important that the district continue to do so, and refuse to admit it is wrong to do so. And so, once again, with lance in hand, he rides against the windmill.
But maybe, just maybe, this time the floor committee will also say “No.” Maybe next time the Board of Directors will say “No.” Maybe eventually the CCM will see that they may be carrying out their duties, but that is no defense. The Word of God must reign supreme. And as long as they are constitutionally obligated to work against that Word, and as long as their word can be used to bind consciences against that Word, they are a part of the problem, not the solution.
“There must be a final authority,” I am told. That is true. But that authority is the Word of God, not popes and councils. It makes for a messy church life. We can’t just appeal and say, “What is the official answer?” We have to dig and struggle. It looks like anarchy to the outside world. But it’s all we have. And making the CTCR or CCM a replacement for that struggle does not help. It leads to idolatry – in our case, early, often, and rather obviously. At some point, men have to stand up and speak for themselves. I know I am fighting against windmills. I am told it is useless to resist. Perhaps that is why I do it. But when we get to the judgment, and have to give answer for whether we followed the laws of God or the traditions of men, I know which one my record will point to.