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American Lutheran Bishops?

by Paul Sauer April 22, 2011

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in its wisdom established a Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) to serve as the supreme court interpreter of Synod’s constitution and bylaws until such time as the Synod in convention gives their official opinion on matters. Their quarterly plus special meetings reports are “must reading” for aspiring church bureaucrats everywhere. Occasionally, they even make decisions that actually impact the average everyday life of those few remaining Lutherans who still seem to care about church bureaucracy and authority. The recently posted minutes of the CCM meeting over February 18-20, 2011 are one such example. Buried in their comments regarding the revision of the constitution and bylaws of the English District of the LCMS (10-2578), the CCM referenced back to its previous opinions 00-2202 and 00-2215 which affirmed that although the LCMS constitution and bylaws refer to “district presidents” as “district presidents”, it is ok for them to be referred to as “bishops” in the everyday usage of everyday Christians, with the exclusive “district president” being reserved for constitution and bylaw usage...

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in its wisdom established a Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) to serve as the supreme court interpreter of Synod’s constitution and bylaws until such time as the Synod in convention gives their official opinion on matters. Their quarterly plus special meetings reports are “must reading” for aspiring church bureaucrats everywhere. Occasionally, they even make decisions that actually impact the average everyday life of those few remaining Lutherans who still seem to care about church bureaucracy and authority.

The recently posted minutes of the CCM meeting over February 18-20, 2011 are one such example. Buried in their comments regarding the revision of the constitution and bylaws of the English District of the LCMS (10-2578), the CCM referenced back to its previous opinions 00-2202 and 00-2215 which affirmed that although the LCMS constitution and bylaws refer to “district presidents” as “district presidents”, it is ok for them to be referred to as “bishops” in the everyday usage of everyday Christians, with the exclusive “district president” being reserved for constitution and bylaw usage.

This is good news for those who felt hamstrung when trying to describe to outsiders what or who exactly a “district president” is and does within the church. Say “district president” in most circles that I run, and you will have folks expecting it to be followed by quarterly sales figures and corporate slogans. Say ‘Bishop” and well, unless they are an aspiring church bureaucrat you will likely get a different answer.

It is also, presumably good news for those who prefer the shorter term “pastor” to the constitution and bylaw term “minister of religion-ordained.” Also helpful for deaconesses, teachers, directors of Christian education, directors of church music, directors of Christian outreach, principals, professors, and others who get to use colloquial titles instead of the equally corporate designation “minister of religion-commissioned.”

All of this makes for fun speculation, but the reality is the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod seems no closer to embracing the term Bishop, to say nothing of what having an actual Bishop would entail, than in the previous decades.

For a historical-theological perspective, Arthur Carl Piepkorn, back in 1972 gave his opinion on bishops, at the request of a seminarian. His response taken from the July 28, 1972 letter to Mr. Robert C. Johnson:

As to the restoration of the episcopate, I feel like this:

1.       Episcopacy is the form of church polity that the Lutheran symbolical books repeatedly indicate that they prefer.

2.       The “historic episcopate” is a valuable symbol of Catholic continuity, but not part of the necesse, the esse, or even, to any great extent, the bene esse of the church. I am persuaded—and so are an increasing number of Roman Catholics and Anglicans—that the “presbyteral” succession that our clergy have bestows all the spiritual power that ordination by a bishop could have imparted to them.

3.       The crucial element in the Episcopal office, episcope or “oversight,” has been retained in varying degrees in the Lutheran communities in this country. It is substantially absent in none of them.

4.       The Episcopal office might be restored as far as the name is concerned among some Lutherans in order to create an atmosphere of greater ecumenical readiness for intercommunion with episcopally administered church-bodies. At the moment, I see this as unlikely. In the American Lutheran Chruch the designation “bishop’ does not seem to have taken very firm hold. The Lutheran Church in America overruled its own ad hoc commission in rejecting an episcopacy in name. I do not think that there is widespread enthusiasm for it in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

5.       I think that episcopacy is most likely to reenter our tradition (a) in missionary areas (India and the Philippines) or (b) in the event that we move toward intercommunion or organic union with an episcopally administered denomination like the Protestant Episcopal Church or the Roman Catholic Church. Even limited intercommunion on an official basis seems not in immediate prospect in either case; organic union is apparently much farther away.

6.       In the absence of an early likelihood of the restoration of the historic episcopate in the Lutheran churches of North America, it would be idle to speculate on how it might be brought about.

boc1580@gmail.com

Posted by Rev. Paul T. McCain at May 08, 2011 06:35
The pining over bishops is kind of quaint, but unfortunately naive.

Bishops are no more more security against heresy and schism as any other church polity. Just look at how well bishops have worked out for the liberal gay-friendly agendas across Lutheranism in Europe and the USA.

I even know of a bishop who indulged in an adulterous affair while on his vicarage year, but yet has gone on to that lofty title.

So much for bishops.

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