Monday, May 4, 2009

Things That Give Me Pause in North American Lutheranism #1

There are many things that give me pause in North American Lutheranism. What I mean by that is that there are a number of things that make me wonder why they are the way they are. I am not necessarily saying they are wrong or even that I disagree with them - simply that they give me pause and I am currently giving them thought. The first things that gives me pause:

The term President in the LCMS/LCC. We use the term District President and Synod President. Why? I am not aware of any other Lutheran church body in the world that uses the term "President" for the ecclesiastical supervisors. I could be wrong on that - but I think even if I am wrong it is fair to say that the vast majority of Lutheran church bodies around the world refer to their ecclesiastical supervisors as "Bishop." As do Roman Catholics, Anglicans, etc.

So why is the LCMS/LCC adverse to using the term "Bishop?" I don't know. It makes no sense to me. The term Bishop is a wonderful biblical term. Episkopos - overseer. This is what we ask our District Presidents and Synod Presidents to do. Yes, by human arrangement, we ask these men in the Office of the Holy ministry to take this area responsibility - but why do we not call them Bishop? Maybe some don't like the hats...

I don't really understand why not. I have been told that some Lutherans think it sounds "too catholic." Well, that is no reason. I have been told that some Lutherans don't like it because it distinguishes between those in the Office of the Holy Ministry. Well, we do that now but we call the man "President." No, we don't see different orders in the Office of the Ministry - but we do ask men to assume different responsibilities in some cases.

Why would we avoid the use of a biblical term, that has a history of usage in the Church, for a term that matches the business model far better than the picture of the Church? Ask anyone outside the LCMS/LCC and especially from outside Lutheranism or the Church herself what a District President is or a Synod President is and they will have no idea. Ask them what a Bishop is and they know what you are talking about. It is a Church term.

Why don't we use the term Bishop? Anyone have any thoughts? For this gives me pause...


Ian Adnams said...

Check your LCMS history. The term president dates back to the first immigrants from Saxony led by Bishop Stefan, a rascal and dicator. When the group who formed LCMS split from him they wanted nothing to do with the term 'bishop'.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Mike:

Here here!

One district president is fond of trotting out the word "episkope" to describe his work as a DP, but then quickly adds: "I am not a bishop." It's like saying: "I speak English, but I'm not an Anglophone."

The English District DP is, however, officially a bishop. In the LCMS, we sometimes use the b-word to describe overseers of vicars.

I suspect there is a bias against the word "bishop" going back to the suspicious and curious events regarding Bishop Stephan's ouster.

It's like the word "priest."

Typically, in LCMS usage (I don't know about the LCC), it means everyone *except* the clergy. That is, except when we're talking about a pastor who doesn't get a paycheck - then we call him a "worker priest."

I guess every believer is a priest - until he collects a paycheck for serving in the ministry - then he relinquishes his priesthood. And for all the ruckus over the push for women priests in the Roman Catholic Church, I guess it goes without saying that we've had millions of women priests (often spelled "womenpriests") in the LCMS.

And then there is the diaconate.

In the LCMS, this is a female office. One of my classmates quipped that it would really be cool if the LCMS had "male deaconesses." Many make the argument that biblically speaking, there is no distinction between deacon and presbyter (similar to the biblical interchangeability between bishop and presbyter). If this is true, it seems that deaconesses are indistinguishable from pastors (and bishops, that is when we choose to use the biblical term).

I found it interesting that the late Andrew Elisa used to be the "president" of the Church of Sudan. However, the concept of "president" was foreign to African Lutheranism. So President Elisa was consecrated a bishop, and was henceforth referred to by Lutherans around the world as "Bishop Elisa" - with the exception of many LCMS folks who just called him "Pastor Elisa."

So much for "sola scriptura."

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Ian:

You write:

"The term president dates back to the first immigrants from Saxony led by Bishop Stefan, a rascal and dicator. When the group who formed LCMS split from him they wanted nothing to do with the term 'bishop'.

So, if the LCMS were to have a "president" who were a "rascal and dictator," (not that that would ever happen, mind you...), I suppose we could get a new term. Maybe CEO? Maybe Reverend Kahuna? Maybe Kingfish?

I can't wait to see what's next in the LCMS follies...

Mike Keith said...


The reason you mention may very well be true. However, is it a valid reason to cease the use of the term? This I would dispute...

Mike Keith said...


In LCC it is very common to refer to the Vicarage Supervisor as Bishop.

I have also grown weary when speaking to non-LCC Lutherans explaining what our DP or SP is. I usually end up saying - our District President, that is like a Bishop...

Why not just say...Bishop?

As far as the other terms you mention.... perhaps another edition of Things That Give Me Pause in North American Lutheranism!

Mike Keith said...

One thing about the Stefan controversy...

Why do we LCMS/LCC people allow a singular event influence so much of our theology and practice? It just seems so narrow to me. Our congregational policy and practice ultimately stems out of that event and has no connection to what the Church has praticed for 2000 years, nor to what the Confessions have to say.

It seems to me that we have allowed this singular event in our history to inordinately influence us. Because of that event we seem to have lost sight of the rest of the Church - past and present.

Vic M said...

"Maybe some don't like the hats..."

That made my day :)