Saturday, May 16, 2009

Things That Give Me Pause in North American Lutheranism #2

The next in my list of things that give me pause in North American Lutheranism is: congregational elders. It is not that I dislike elders - in fact I find the Board of Elders at my congregation rather helpful in several ways. The thing that gives me pause is the way in which in LCMS/LCC circles the congregational elders are viewed. Somewhere a long the line the office of the congregational elder began to be seen as part of the Office of the Holy Ministry. I have done an informal and non-scientific poll of several pastors in the LCMS/LCC and in almost every case there was confusion and ignorance over the congregational elder and many expressed some sort of vague understanding that the congregational elder somehow derived its existence and authority from the Pastoral office. This is absolutely false. The CPH book The Caring Elder did nothing to help this and in fact made it worse.

The congregational elder as we have them are a creation of the congregation in its Christian freedom. There is no biblical mandate that a congregation must have elders (as we in North America understand them). In fact, as I understand it, the congregational elder as we have them are an innovation among Lutherans brought about by Walther. The office of congregational elder derives nothing from the Pastoral office. It may be created by the congregation to aid the pastor in carrying out his office - but it derives nothing from it.

This is in no way to denigrate the work of congregational elders. The congregation has the freedom to create such offices as it sees fit. I greatly appreciate the work of the elders in the parishes I serve. However, we need to clear up the confusion regarding this area of duty for the Christian in the congregation. It has led to all sorts of mischief such as lay people presiding over the Sacrament, etc.

I believe that this confusion stems from the LCMS/LCC confusion on the Office of the Holy Ministry. I suppose for me the confusion on the Office of the Holy Ministry could be Things that Give Me Pause in North American Lutheranism #1-5 but I thought I would pick smaller issues. I do believe that if we can get a consistent and orthodox way of viewing the Holy Ministry several of the troubles among us would disappear.

So, any congregational elders reading this, thanks be to God for your service. I just would like us to clarify these things.

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