Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sacerdotalist Taking Over the LCMS

By Jack Cascione 
Christian News, July 1, 2013

“What is a Sacerdotalist?” you ask.  Two definitions are as follows:

Merriam Webster: Sacerdotalism - Religious belief emphasizing the powers of priests as essential mediators between God and humankind. Sacerdotal - Relating to a doctrine that ascribes spiritual or supernatural powers to ordained priests.

“Who believes this false doctrine?” - The Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, and many clergy in the LCMS.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod at its founding rejected this false doctrine and adopted C. F. W. Walther’s book “Church and Ministry” as the official doctrine and practice of the LCMS.  Walther’s “Church and Ministry” quotes the Bible, the Lutheran Confessions, Luther and other church fathers in support of congregational polity and voter supremacy.

After a 5-year struggle the 2001 LCMC Convention reaffirmed Walther’s “Church and Ministry” as the official doctrine and practice of the LCMS in Resolution 7-17A.  After the untimely death of A. L. Barry, the Convention also elected Gerald Kieschnick as president when Christian News exposed Dr. Dean Wenthe’s refusal to endorse Walther’s “Church and Ministry.”

Kieschnick, a District President, was obsessed with the Church-Growth board-of-directors model of congregational government and was theologically incompetent.  The LCMS lost a quarter million members during his presidency.  Board-directed polity disenfranchises voters’ assemblies in the name of corporate efficiency versus sacerdotal clergy who disenfranchise voters’ assemblies in the name of God.  Regrettably Robert Kuhn and Daniel Preus both refused to allow their names to stand for election in 2001.

Now in 2013 the pendulum has swung all the way back from Church-Growth mentality to Sacerdotal-Episcopal hierarchy.

The Rev. William Cwirla is scheduled to be an essayist at the 2013 Convention.  In 2001 Pastor Cwirla testified before Committee 7 that adopting Walther’s “Church and Ministry” was against the Gospel.  He and many other pastors condemned Walther’s book from the Convention floor.

The Convention Chaplain Rev. William Weedon, who once considered joining the Greek Orthodox Church, wrote a glowing review of LCMS Sacerdotalist Rev. Berthold Von Schenk’s biography.  He also likes the tile “Father Weedon.”

You may ask, “What is this attraction to Sacerdotalism? By the late 1980s many LCMS pastors became painfully aware that women suffrage (adopted in 1969) and voter polity do not mix.  LCMS congregational administration was in meltdown.  Difficult decisions often brought voters into conflict with each others’ marriages.  The clergy divided on two solutions.  Many adopted the closed-meeting corporate board-of-directors model for church administration.  Others decided that Walther was wrong and ordination is a sacrament for clergy on the order of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  They follow early church father Ignatius’s dictum as published in the 2007 Fort Wayne Cornerstone, “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”

Now every time a congregation issues a call, they have to ask themselves “Did we get a CEO or Bishop?”  The WELS and ELS have avoided much of the chaos and maintained congregational polity by preserving male suffrage even though the WELS believes Synod is church.

In 2005 LCMS Sacerdotalists rewrote the Lutheran Confessions until the Wisconsin Synod published a scathing expose and CPH was forced to publish 16 pages of corrections as a paste-in addendum.  In the fallout Paul McCain was demoted, Harrison gave Mark Sell a position in LCMS World Relief, and others were no longer asked to work for CPH.

Now, LCMS President Matthew Harrison has retranslated Walther’s “Church and Ministry” before the 2013 Convention to say that the Synod is Church.  In LCMS doctrine [not WELS], if the Synod is Church, Harrison is the Pastor of the LCMS and is the chief administrator of the Office of the Keys in the LCMS.  In other words Harrison has turned the Synod from being an advisory organization to a divine church body.

Now that the 2010 Convention has adopted the District Presidents’ plan to “reorganize” the Synod there isn’t anything the delegates can do to reaffirm congregational polity and voter supremacy.  The delegates can’t vote, they can’t speak at the floor committees, and they can’t bring up “controversial” resolutions from the floor.  The District Presidents have removed the evils of politics from the LCMS Convention by instituting COP dictatorship.  Many Americans may also presumably prefer to remove the politics out of Congress by making the President the supreme leader.  Lazy laypeople have said, “Let the COP do it.”

During the drama, politics, and conflict of the 2001 Convention (this is how real men make decisions) Floor Committee 7 Chairman, Montana District President Doctor George Wollenburg, directed the entire adoption process of 7-17A through two stormy 45-minute sessions, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.  In the midst of heated debate, Wollenburg held up a copy of “Church and Ministry” over his head and shouted, “This is Synod’s Magna Charta.”

Walther’s “Church and Ministry” was adopted 73.1% to 26.9%.

In 1999, at the Fort Wayne Symposium, this writer, after significant resistance from other pastors, including the current LCMS President, asked the sainted LCMS President, A. L. Barry, with some 700 in attendance, “What is the Synod’s official position on Church and Ministry?”  When Barry answered that it was Walther’s “Church and Ministry” no one applauded as they had for his answers to other questions. 

A few months later, a survey was sent to both seminary faculties, asking if they supported Walther’s position that the congregational assembly was the final tribunal in the congregation.  Only six from Fort Wayne and three from St. Louis agreed.  Many from St. Louis would not reply.

In three successive Symposium banquets at Fort Wayne, this writer was the primary subject of derision and humorous ridicule for publicly defending Walther’s “Church and Ministry.”  They were led in song by the current LCMS President and current President of the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne.

In 2008 Harrison apologized for his behavior and said he now supported Walther’s position.  We made him the featured speaker at the Walther Conference.

It appears that Harrison has changed his mind again.

What choice does the Convention have?  Either the Synod will be bled dry by District President-CEOs or led back to Rome by paternalistic Bishops.


  1. Could you post what Harrison's version of K&A where it says that Synod is Church and its location? I haven't bought it but I have the previous translations and the German to compare it to.

  2. See the applicable quote in the Reclaim News article, "Beware WELS When Missouri Says Synod is Church," which is based on a Rev. John Burg's WELS review of Harrison's book.

  3. This is a complete misrepresentation of my testimony before Committee 7 at the 2001 synodical convention and my remarks on the floor of the convention. At no time did I "condemn Walther's book" or imply that adopting his book would be "contrary to the Gospel." This is patently false and slanderous. I demand an immediate an public retraction of this statement. Furthermore, I do not hold to the position labeled "sacerdotalism" as defined in this article. I do not hold that "priests" (presumably pastors) are "essential mediators" between God and humankind. I believe, teach, and confess that there is but one Mediator between God and Man, Christ Jesus. Further, I do not hold that "priests" (presumably pastors) possess any spiritual or supernatural powers. The sole "power" of the Office is the Word of God alone.

    This article and its insinuations are utterly false and reprehensible. Were the author a member of our fellowship, this would be actionable.

  4. Furthermore, to quote Rev. Wollenburg accurately when he held aloft a book before the convention: "This book is the Magna Carta of the laity." Read out of that what you will.

  5. The last two lines of the Epistle reading from the lectionary which I read before the congregation of Redeemer in Gresham this last weekend is from Galations 5:14-15 "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another." This has been a shameful public exercise in polemics, which reflects poorly upon the author and is an embarrassment. From what spirit was this written?

  6. This arises out of the sort of divisive, bitter and vindictive spirit that the apostle Paul warns us of in Romans 16:17-18. I find it significant that it is written by a man who is no longer in the LCMS and published by a man who was never in the LCMS. It is intended to cause division, strife, and enmity in a church body to which they do not belong and to which they have no accountability whatsoever. From whatever spirit this article was written, one can be quite certain that it is not the Holy Spirit.

  7. Rev. WM Cwirla: At no time did I "condemn Walther's book" or imply that adopting his book would be "contrary to the Gospel."

    In response to Pres. Harrison's November 6, 2010, 1:57 PM, Facebook comment, "Just finished the first pass revision of the first half of JT Mueller's translation of Walther's Kirche und Amt. VERY interesting" Rev. William M. Cwirla stated at 2:02 PM,

    "I'm not sure a revision can completely repair it."

    In response to a November 13, 2010, 7:49PM Facebook comment by Pres. Harrison, Rev. Cwirla stated at 8:14 PM:

    "Here's the even more amazing thing: The synod in convention reaffirmed this as doctrine in the LCMS in 2001. Since most of the delegates can't read German, this is the text they adopted. Hehehehehhe. Gotta love it."

    "Even in German, K&A isn't too hot. Sub-confessional in my estimation."

  8. Yup. I wrote all of that. And more. That is not condemnation of Walther's book, only the recognition that there are things in it that are incorrect or that fail to say what the Confessions say. That's far from "condemnation." Of course, none of this was said before Committee 7 or on the floor of the synodical convention. I continue to maintain that it is a mistake to elevate this work, which was written for a specific time and place to the level of binding doctrine in the LCMS. However, adopting the book as the 2001 convention did was not contrary to the Gospel, it was just plain dumb. A highlight of the first session of debate was when the assembly asked that the theses of church and office be copied and distributed because many of the delegates had no idea what was being discussed! So in other words, the 2001 convention adopted the book without ever having read the book!

    Day 3 and still awaiting a retraction.....

  9. I recognize, of course, that Mr. Cascione does not actually refer to me as a "sacerdotalist" in this article. He simply mentions the fact that I'm a critic of Walther's Kirche und Amt. This does not necessarily and automatically make one a "sacerdotalist," according to the definitions cited. In fact, the mention of my name in this article is as irrelevant as the article itself is.

  10. The 2001 Resolution 7-17A stated, in part:
    Resolved, That the LCMS in convention reaffirm the decision of the 1852 convention in recognizing C. F. W. Walther’s book, The Voice of Our Church on the Question of Church and Ministry, as the official position of the LCMS; and be it further
    Resolved, That all pastors, professors, teachers of the church, and congregations honor and uphold the resolutions of the Synod as regards the official position of our Synod on church and ministry and teach in accordance with them.

    Rev. Cwirla: "I continue to maintain that it is a mistake to elevate this work, which was written for a specific time and place to the level of binding doctrine in the LCMS. However, adopting the book as the 2001 convention did was not contrary to the Gospel, it was just plain dumb."

    Well, Rev. Cwirla, I think your current and previous comments, while tapdancing around actually condemning the book, have pretty much displayed your disgust with the book and these Resolveds, along with a few bylaw statements about dissent from doctrinal resolutions and statements, and 160 years of Missouri Synod history.

    And speaking of previous comments, continuing on Facebook, on November 13, 2010, 8:57 PM, Rev. Todd Wilken posted his Facebook comment: "i'm just glad to have an SP who cares to read Walther and take him seriously... maybe we can finally clear up that whole übertragen thingy."

    Rev. William M.Cwirla then responded at 9:11 PM: "Todd- Agreed, but don't count on the uebertragen thingy going away any time soon."

  11. While I'm certainly flattered at having my every FB word recorded for posterity's sake, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the libelous charge of "sacerdotalism."

    Still awaiting a retraction.....

  12. Wait a minute, this completely blows my mind. I had no idea Christian News was still being published!

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Obviously, this article is nothing more than a cheap shot against Pres. Harrison. My name is included just because I'm a convention essayist. The tactic is guilt by association. And when you associate with me, there is more than enough guilt to go around.

  16. Rick Strickert:

    I see nothing wrong with Pr. Cwirla's statements in this thread. If you do, file false doctrine charges against Pr. Cwirla. You may as well include me, for I confess that his findings concerning this matter are correct.

    Pr. David M. Juhl

  17. Cascione and Otten owe Bill a confession of their sins against him.
    If they do, I am certain Bill will exercise that peculiar power entrusted to the Church...

  18. In all seriousness, I think this is a very sad ad hominem attack against very faithful men. It has been proven to be false. If a retraction is not granted, it reflects poorly on CN.

  19. The more I read this article, the more confusing it gets. What does the WELS doctrine of "synod as church" have to do with "sacerdotalism?" What does disagreement with Walther's Kirche u. Amt have to do with "sacerdotalism?" What does congregational polity, women's suffrage, and voter supremacy have to do with "sacerdotalism?"

    You keep using that word. I don't think that word means what you think it means.

  20. In 1993, I did a Summer Vicarage under Rev. Cwirla. You would not believe the things that went on in that church. For the sake of the 8th commandment, I will not get into any details.
    Let's just say that on the last day, there will be a reckoning.

    1. We're revoking your vicarage ex post facto.

  21. So, who translated "Amt" as "Ministry" instead of office in the first place? I mean, that just seems wishy-washy and opens up all sorts of worms. It leads to an abstract view of "Ministry". If we speak of an "Office" there really can be no discussion of some sort of over-arching power structure because it the... office... and if there is no congregation there is no office to be filled.

    But we can talk about "Ministry" apart from the congregation because "ministry" is such a nebulous term.

    Of course, confusing "voters" with "congregation" also leads to an artificial over-politicized understanding of Church. Things are to be done in one accord - not by political shenanigans like the crazy Democratic gentiles.

    1. Ministry is okay to use in place of Office/Amt as long as you remember that NOT EVERYONE IS A MINISTER. Recall how they are used in European cabinets: Minister of War, Prime Minister, etc. It's both a service and a responsibility.

  22. He's a Nageldotalist. You can't be both.

    1. Ad Homonyms are never appropriate.
      Bang On!

  23. Pr. David M. Juhl: "I confess that his findings concerning this matter are correct."

    To what "findings" concerning what "matter" are you confessing?

    Rev. Brown: "So, who translated 'Amt' as "Ministry" instead of office in the first place?"

    Translations of Amt as "Ministry" have appeared in the title of books, chapters, or articles containing Walther's K&A theses, such as:

    C. F. W. Walther, “The Church and the Ministerial Office,” trans. A. G. Graebner, Theological Quarterly 1 (July 1897): 271-276.

    C. F. W. Walther, “Church and Ministry – Our Church’s Doctrine,” trans. W. H. T. Dau, in Walther and the Church, W. Dallman., W.H.T. Dau, and TH. Engelder, Dallmann, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1938.

    C. F. W. Walther, Church and Ministry, trans. John T. Mueller , St. Louis:Concordia Publishing House, 1962.

    C. F. W. Walther, “Theses on the Church and the Ministry,” in Lutheran Confessional Theology in America, 1840-1880, ed. Theodore G. Tappert, New York:Oxford University Press, 1972.

    C. F. W. Walther, “The Voice of Our Church on the Questions of Church and Ministry,” in Walther on the Church, trans. John Drickamer, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981.

    Walther's theses on the ministry clearly identify the ministry as a divine office instituted by God. The subsequent misuse of "ministry" by Lufauxrans does not negate a correct use by Lutherans.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Rick Strickert:

      The Confessions use the terms Amt, officium, and ministerium interchangeably. However, in popular parlance "ministry" simply refers to any activity of service. So one frequently hears of "Public Ministry" rather than "The Office of the Public Ministry" or better "The Office of the Holy Ministry." "Ministry" is a term of rather low specificity. It means "service" of any sort. The Greek term is "diakonia." KIrche und Amt is rightly translated Church and Office. In your short bibliography of English works, A.G. Graebner gets it most accurately: The Church and the Ministerial Office.

      Day #4 and still no retraction....

    3. So "we can has crappy translations" that are prone to abuse because... what? *I* know better? That's sort of myopic.

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. You know, come to think of it, maybe I am a "sacerdotalist" after all. Sacerdos - Latin for "priest." I believe that Jesus Christ is the sole High Priest and Mediator between God and Man. And I believe that every baptized believer in Christ is a priest to God in the royal priesthood of Christ. I believe in the priestly dignity of every Christian, regardless of vocation, over and against every human institution, be it synod or voters assembly. So yes, in that sense, I am a "sacerdotalist."

    (Sorry about that deletion. Spelling error.)

  26. Rick Strickert:

    See the posts that Pr. Cwirla made about this libelous article before I commented.

  27. So Dau does it as Ministry, and then puts it under the category of "Our Church's Doctrine"... instead of the teaching of the Church.

    Well, there goes the idea that we are confessing the catholic truth =o)

    1. Don't use the word "catholic." That's sacerdotalist code language.

  28. If "Amt" is simply translated "ministry" without any qualifier, the danger is the opposite error of the dreaded "sacerdotalism," namely "functionalism." This error teaches that Christ did not establish an Office of the Keys but only established the authority and function of the Keys. This is what happens when office, authority, and function come apart. I would say that "functionalism" is a much greater threat in Lutheranism today than any perceived "sacerdotalism," real or imagined.

  29. In 1999, at the Fort Wayne Symposium, this writer, after significant resistance from other pastors, including the current LCMS President, asked the sainted LCMS President, A. L. Barry, with some 700 in attendance, "What is the Synod’s official position on Church and Ministry?" When Barry answered that it was Walther’s "Church and Ministry" no one applauded as they had for his answers to other questions.

    Thus it would appear that the Loeheist infection was around at the Fort Wayne Symposium three years after the findings of his official 1996 visitation of Concordia Theological Seminary in which LCMS President A.L. Barry stated:

    "It became apparent to the visitation team that there are certain theological issues that have caused problems in the past. These issues continue to be a concern at the seminary among the faculty and larger seminary family…:

    "1) The relationship between the church and the office of the public pastoral ministry. In such discussions it needs to be recognized that in the matter of church and ministry our Synod and seminaries still stand clearly behind Dr. C.F.W. Walther’s position as he articulated it in his book Kirche und Amt. Because of this, our Synod rejects both the errors in the positions of Loehe and Grabau, as well as the errors in the position of Hoefling."

    But then in 2001, Res. 7-17A resolved: "That all pastors, professors, teachers of the church, and congregations honor and uphold the resolutions of the Synod as regards the official position of our Synod on church and ministry and teach in accordance with them."

    Regarding Loeheists after that, to borrow a cynical line from Tom Lehrer's "MLF Lullaby", "And they've hardly bothered us since then."

  30. My my we have testy Lutherans. It's true Missouri is so close at times to Father this or that and some of the services and liturgy remind me of my Catholic friends Church. LCMS has lost several hundred thousand Members since the 60s. And yet more higher ups make more money than ever before. Goodness sakes and you wonder why so many splits? Ha ha ha