I have a number of thoughts I’d like to share on this recent Supreme Court decision about the Lutheran teacher and the Lutheran church.
(1) First, it is a tremendous victory for First Amendment freedom and protection in this nation. It is a great blessing to be in a country that does NOT try to interfere in matters of the Church and we should thank God for this fact.
(2) The Church is where the Church should deal with and sort out its disputes and troubles among itself. St. Paul is quite clear that going to the civil authorities is a lose-lose situation. Some have brought up a situation in our church body’s relatively recent past when a prominent seminary president sued and went to civil court when he was removed from his position. This incident has been cited in order to assert that church workers can, and should, sue in civil courts when their positions are eliminated. I think the text of Scripture is remarkably clear that it is an offense to the Gospel when Christians drag one another into courts: “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.” 1 Cor. 6:1-8.
(3) As for speculations about the precise details of this situation, such speculations are not founded/grounded in knowledge of the situation at the church. The media reports on the situation are not reliable sources of information, so it is unwise to try to delve into the specifics of the case we all know very little, to nothing, about. As one wag put it, “No matter how flat the pancake, there are always two sides.”
(4) Without commenting on details about this specific situation, about which none of us have all the facts, in general I think we may be forgetting that incapacity and inability to discharge the duties of one’s call is grounds for having that call rescinded. There is nothing radical about this idea, it has long been one of the grounds for removal from a call.
(5) The idea that we should “appeal to Caesar” in these matters is extremely dangerous. The sad history of the Lutheran Church in Germany shows precisely what happens the moment an unbelieving, wicked, or heterodox ruler is suddenly put in charge of the Church in his territory. This happened quickly after Luther’s death when Maurice of Saxony betrayed the Lutheran Church. It happened when the Elector of Brandenburg went Calvinist. The Consistory system in which the ruler of the land ultimately had control over the church in his territory was a fatal error in the Lutheran church’s history in Germany. Luther’s appeal to the local territorial ruler to guard him from death by sword from the Pope and Emperor was one thing, we thank God for the protection granted him, but when Luther went as far as to call the Electors “emergency bishops” there the ball was sent rolling down the slippery slope that finally led to the union of 1817, which was directly responsibly, by the way for the formation of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, here in this country, in 1844, by refugees from that dreadful government-imposed union of Calvinism and Lutheranism by the Prussian ruler.
(6) As to the issue of the word “ministry” and “minister.” Here I think we are over-reacting just a tad. While my choice when it comes to nomenclature is name the person by the office they hold: pastor, teacher, etc. – the fact that The LCMS chose to use IRS language to classify its rostered/professional/full time church workers/servants, call them whatever you will. They are persons who are charged by the Synod with discharging essential functions of the one divinely instituted office of the ministry, for that reason, they are rightly called and put into their office in an ordered, churchly manner. This is not a new concept. Walther clearly asserts that in the Church, there are “helping offices” that support and aid the pastor in his ministry. And before we go and get too twisted up over the word “ministry” and “minister” let’s keep in mind it means, simply, “servant” … the old German was so helpful. We had the Predigtamt “preaching office” into which men were placed, who performed various functions, not only/merely being a “parish pastor” – we have the Lehramt … the teaching office. We had Kirchendiener … church servants…a wide variety of offices, but all understood to be persons who were trained and placed into specific full-time/lifelong positions of service in and to the Church and her people. I think it is unfortunate when we start squabbling over who has the “right” to be termed a servant, a ministry and who is the only one can say to be have a “ministry” or work of service in the church. I can’t help but be reminded of the argument the disciples had one day over who was the leader among them, who was the greatest. Jesus kind of settled that one by washing their stinking dirty feet.
(7) And finally, I’m disturbed by comments that are speaking of the “government” in the United States in such a way that it is regarded as something apart from we, the people. In fact, we need to remember that we, the people, are the government. Those who serve in the government are servants of us, the people. The rights affirmed again by our Supreme Court are those rights that we, the people, decided were inalienable rights afforded us by the Creator and as such the government has no business involving itself in the internal affairs of the Church. That is a wonderful blessing! Let’s not forget that in this country, we, the people, are those who choose how to organize our life together.
The main point in this case has been stipulated above, but bears repeating: the court has clearly affirmed the First Amendment and the right in this country for the Church to govern itself free from the interference of the state. Somebody should write a book on that subject!
Oh, wait…somebody did already.
The Proper Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Local Congregation Independent of the State.
On sale now…bound together with The True Visible Church on Earth, from your favorite Lutheran publishing house, for only $12.99