President distressed with ‘unauthorised communication’

29 Mar

Screen Shot 2013-03-30 at 11.04.48 AMOn Maundy Thursday of this Easter season, the following epistle arrived from Pr Mike Semmler, the President of the LCA.  Despite having apologised to representatives from St Stephen’s for his previous epistle, the reprimanding continues.   One can presume that this letter is intended to intimidate Synod delegates into submitting to Pr Mike’s direction from the Synod Chair.

We wonder what his reference to “have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22) would look like in a democratic Church?  For us, it would look like respect, tolerance of diversity, understanding, and lifting each other up in our difference.

Further comments will follow in a later post.

Dear Pastors, Parishioners and Synod Delegates,

At the instigation of the College of Presidents I communicate this pre-convention letter to you.

Our Synod meets in Convention under the theme ‘Where Love Comes to Life’. ‘Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth, so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart’ (1 Peter 1:22)

We have the best news ever to tell the world. It is the gospel of salvation. It is the love of God in Christ.

God in Christ who has enacted our redemption has also in his abundant graciousness given us means to spread this good news. We have communication media not dreamed of 175 years ago when Lutherans first organized worship and mission in Australia. As an example our Media Ministry now reaches a million people each week with the gospel.

It is to be regretted that unauthorised communication using the same God given technology has given rise to false expectation in regards to matters on the Convention of Synod agenda. Groundless expectation can only lead to disappointment and even anger. I refer both to the matters themselves and the constitutional process in place for synod to maintain its unity while difficult issues are under discussion.

The status of the Thesis of Agreement, the ordination of both genders and the standing of the LCA in the Lutheran World Federation will all be processed according to the ways of the Church, which accepts that Scripture is the only norm for its teaching and upon which its unity is drawn.

The Lutheran Church of Australia is a community of God’s children, not an entity reliant on legal argumentation, culture, electioneering, politics, or populist pressure, which if used to settle issues of teaching may demean the very issue being addressed. We fear God rather than people. Our unity is a gift to be celebrated. The Church studies Scripture and the pastors who are called to speak to and for the Church need to be able to give guidance to the synod on matters of theology. This is how the Thesis of Agreement came into being to bring us together. What brought us together keeps us together.

Our commitment and accountability to each other in Synod shows through in our respect, understanding and compassion for each other especially when we recognize hurt. Loving each other is a witness to our culture and society. The apostle Paul spoke to the people of Ephesus and said (Eph 1:15, 16) ‘I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers’.

For a change of teaching the synod, seeking to preserve its integrity, points us toward finding consensus. Biblical studies are required for the constitutional requirement that pastors guide delegates, in decision making. Our previous papers for the study on the ordination of male and female have not satisfied the Church. The Church has put in place an Ordination Dialogue Group which will report to the convention. The General Church Council will offer a proposal to the Synod to progress what has already begun with the Dialogue Group.

There is every reason to be positive about all serious study of the inspired Word of God.

We are charged to speak into the culture in every era, as culture does not determine the interpreting of God’s Word. It is a matter of fearing God rather than culture (1st Commandment).

The importance of how we hear God’s Word is being addressed with a beginning at a symposium (Oct 2011) with presentations from across the Lutheran world. One booklet to help understand our Lutheran approach to interpretation has been produced. Interpretation itself is not a gender issue. We have also looked at what consensus means for the LCA which for pragmatic reasons uses the minimalist constitutional requirement of at least a two thirds majority vote at synod but which does not itself guarantee consensus. What is our understanding of consensus in a confessional church? Both the matters of ‘interpretation’ and ‘consensus’ need further study and discussion. These are vital in establishing teaching in the Church.

The Church has not been preparing for the major theological issues mentioned above. What is presented for possible discussion and direction does not make it ready for decision on the subject itself.

There has been no study before the Church in this synodical period for decision on ordination. The last Convention of Synod requested the following, ‘… the General Church Council to establish a dialogue group with balanced representation from all sides of the issue, to work toward consensus within the group itself and across the Church…’. To shortcut the process would adversely affect the integrity of the Church and set an unwanted precedent for the handling of future sensitive issues.

It is recognized that divided opinion on the ordination matter is a reality and that some particularly with entrenched stances feel threatened, upset and even intimidated when addressing this teaching of our Church. In Synod we understand and have compassion for deep feelings as we continue to pray for and support each other. No-one likes protracted discussion, but it takes patience to achieve consensus across a diverse church.

We have looked to a newer generation of pastors to give their attention to this matter so that the unity of the Church may be strengthened and we can walk together informed by God’s will. That involves consensus in the Church and most importantly how we are hearing and therefore interpreting Scripture.

To demand God’s will according to us, to be enacted on our time schedule, is an approach which finds a better home in sectarianism, rather than synod. Our Synod guards against that. Lobbying also falls short of the ideals of synod as it does not provide the substance of reformation and renewal.

The Church has a teaching on the issue of ordination (Thesis of Agreement: Thesis on the Office of the Ministry VI.II) and we are studying if there is biblical permission for a change with regard to gender.

The Christian church on earth has a future. A future which waits on the Lord and his will. All things are according to his timeline. Patience finds its home in trusting him. Let Scripture teach us the patience we need to move forward together.

Looking to God’s Word when facing these issues provides an opportunity to strengthen our unity. It is not that the inspired Scriptures are unclear, but rather it is we who suffer from unclear understanding.

As we celebrate this Easter we will see once more that Love comes to life in the sacrifice of Christ. We live under his cross with his open tomb providing our path to life eternal.


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16 responses to “President distressed with ‘unauthorised communication’

  1. Barney Christian P.J. Bahnerth

    March 30, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    To serve God, we must also obey the Son.

    • Katie and Martin

      March 31, 2013 at 3:56 pm

      No problem there Barney, however, there are different understandings of what Jesus would have us do. The brochure with comments from senior Lutheran leaders and theologians makes clear that women’s ordination cannot be dismissed as not obeying the Son. The solution is to embrace each other in our difference and live together in that creative tension.

      • Barney - Christian P.J. Bahnerth MTh. PhD

        March 31, 2013 at 5:27 pm

        I can only go by our Lutheran doctrine, i.e. The requirements of our Confession as accepted by the LCA in Article II of our Confession, both sub articles, the only rule and norm is the Word of God, I cannot accept secular deviations from the Word of God. If God says – through His chosen instrument – that women are to be silent in the church, and then follows this by saying this is a command of the Lord, I have no choice but to obey this, do you? We cannot serve God by disobeying His Son the Resurrected Christ Jesus.

        • Katie and Martin

          March 31, 2013 at 8:53 pm

          Barney, we need more than such anti-intellectualism after years of study on the matter.. By now you are seeing that serious leaders and theologians in the LCA treat Scripture as more than a series of proof texts.

          • Barney

            April 1, 2013 at 6:20 am

            None are so blind as those who do not open their eyes.
            C.f. Article II.1 of the Constitution of the LCA.

  2. Marg

    March 30, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    “We have the best news ever to tell the world. It is the gospel of salvation. It is the love of God in Christ.”

    I agree! If women were encouraged to share the gospel with as much freedom as men in the same contexts as men – now that would be good news.

  3. heleng

    March 30, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    What is this booklet to which he refers? Surely not an attempt at lobbying against the ordination of women. It appears he also hints at redefining consensus on the issue – to more than a 2/3 majority perhaps? This is very alarming.

    • Katie and Martin

      March 31, 2013 at 11:18 am

      Who knows? It could be the booklet studied in the 1990s by congregations. It could be the essay produced by a group of 3 clergy to ‘advise’ the President. Obscurity perhaps more weight than reality. It raises a smile to hear the President claim that, “To shortcut the process would adversely affect the integrity of the Church…” Of course he’s talking about the group of 4 clergy who meet in closed session, but to suggest that anything will shortcut a process that has been in train for decades is laughable.
      The President has hinted a number of times that a 2/3 majority might still be problematic. If he had his way he would be looking for a much larger majority, however, a genuine process of consensus is designed to assist people live with decisions that initially they may have been against. In that way a much larger majority would be achieved.

  4. John Miller

    March 31, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    The Mandy Rice Davies defence, and a sanctimonious one at that.

    Members of a voluntary association (in this case the LCA) have the right to bring to a General Meeting of the Association (in this case the Synod of the LCA) a motion seeking to change the asociation’s Constitution.

    President, which part of that right don’t you understand? Which part of the LCA Constitution don’t you understand? What you think about an issue is no more important than what any one of the members of the LCA think about an issue. It’s for members to decide.

    To delay discussion of a motion, to seek to intimidate the proposers of a motion is completely out of order, particularly by you, Mr President.

    But it’s par for the course. It’s how theocrats have always acted.

    The truth that sets women free is the truth that some men don’t want to hear.

    • Katie and Martin

      March 31, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      Thanks John. Sadly, the President has lost perspective in his role of Chair of General Synod, which is to facilitate the will of Synod, whatever that may be. He is constitutionally out of line if he attempts to impose his will on delegates.

  5. Tapman

    April 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    I have always questioned why I blog, am I right in stirring the pot – when Mike Semmler talked about unauthorized communication it did make me think. But then if no-one says anything……
    anyways here is part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter out of prison – he was getting hassled for unauthorised communications as well.

    You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

  6. Graham Semmler

    April 18, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    The only way that bad decisions or Dictators can prevail is if good people fail to act and voice their dis-approval. Graham Semmler


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