THE PURPOSE OF THE DISTRICT
OHIO DISTRICT BOARD OF DIRECTORS
The recent controversy in the Minnesota South District (MNS) has had an unexpected side effect. People are starting to ask, “What is a district all about?” The suspicion voiced by some bloggers toward MNS District President Rev. Lane Seitz, and the MNS Board of Directors is palpable, and disturbing. The question hangs in the air, unanswered: “What is the purpose of our Districts?” The hostility and indifference towards that entity known simply as “the district” remain:
“Who needs them?”
“What has the district ever done for me?”
“If I ever need the district, I’ll let them know.”
Those questions and comments were not dreamed up—as a member of the Ohio District Board of Directors I’ve heard all of them and a few more. Such comments give us pause—they cause us to question ourselves, and what we as a district are about. A friend asked me to write a paper on the purpose of districts, which he intended to post on his blog. I submit it today for your consideration. It is necessarily brief, and undoubtedly will serve to raise many more questions. It is my hope that is will also foster further discussion.
During the discussions on forming a synod, C.F.W. Walther expressed the opinion “That the chief function of the Synod shall be directed toward the maintenance and furtherance and guarding of the unity and purity of Lutheran doctrine.”1 Not surprisingly, the Synod’s first Constitution of 1847 reflects that view:
“ARTICLE I. Reasons for forming a synodical organization.To this end, the President was to visit every congregation at least once during each triennium, and report his findings to the Synod’s convention.
- The example of the apostolic Church. (Acts 15:1-31.)
- The preservation and furthering of the unity of pure
confession (Eph. 4:3-6; 1 Cor. 1:10) and to provide common
defense against separatism and sectarianism. (Rom. 16:17).
ARTICLE IV. Business of Synod
- To stand guard over the purity and unity of doctrine within
the synodical circle, and to oppose false doctrine.
- Supervision over the performance of the official duties on
the part of the pastors and teachers of Synod.”2
“Why was this doctrinal unity, this unity in the Word, so important to the founders of the Missouri Synod? It was precisely because of the churchly character of the synod. We know that the marks of the church are the Word and the sacraments. According to the Lutheran Confessions, the Word of God and the sacraments are the marks of the Church because they are the only means by which the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith. Synod's commitment to maintaining the right preaching of the gospel and the correct administration of the sacraments arises, therefore, out of a concern for the salvation of those for whom the means of grace are intended. For false doctrine dishonors God's name and endangers salvation by leading people away from God's grace in Christ. Our Lord Himself said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’" (John 8:31-32).3LCMS Historian August Suelflow gives us some background:
“In the Synod’s earliest years there were no districts. Some strongly opposed the idea when it first came up. They feared “splintering” the Synod. However, the rapid growth of the Synod made it impossible for the President to make the required visitations. Friedrich Wyneken gave two eloquent addresses dealing with the issue of division into districts, which you can find in “At Home in the House of My Fathers.” Finally, between 1852 and 1854 the Synod decided to create four regional districts into which its member congregations would be divided. (By 1854, the baptized membership of all these congregations was 10,551.) The Synod acted with these understandings:Suelflow notes that by the mid-twentieth century, one of the primary functions of the district was to bring the synodical program on a personal basis to the district constituency. At the same time, he also notes that growth of districts had increased the distance between congregations and districts, something with which our Board of Directors has been dealing for several years.
• Theological unity throughout the Synod would be preserved by the general president continuing to visit each parish (a provision that lasted until 1864). The 1854 Constitution made the president the greatest coordinating factor in the church body, assigning him total supervision of all synodical work, within constitutional limitations, and supervision of all district and synodical officials.
• The district presidents were to assist the synodical president. They were given basically the rights and duties originally given the general president, including status as CAO of the district and the duty to ordain, install, and suspend.
“The 1854 Constitution set out Synod/District functions and duties, reserving to Synod, among other things:
• General supervision of doctrine and its application in each district, with assistance from the District Presidents, in other words, visitation.
“Districts were to administer their own affairs. The 1854 Constitution said each could adopt bylaws necessary for its own conditions. But the synodical constitution was to be the constitution of each district. District bylaws could not conflict with it.
“Finally in 1866, visitation circuits were established to lessen the duties of district presidents. Circuits were created at the discretion of the districts, and so the office of Circuit Visitor was established—today we use the term circuit counselor.
“Between 1854 and 1874, there was an explosion of districts. Thirty were created or redefined, over one a year on average! It’s interesting to review some reasons for district division given during these years:• Too many pastors and congregations in one district already
• District too big to conduct effective conventions.
• Serve the Kingdom better
• Make “Synod” more personal to congregations and people
• Give more opportunity for involvement in synodical-district matters
• Districts wanted to give more attention to their peculiar problems.”4
What about today? As we know, the Synod’s Constitution is the Ohio District’s Constitution, and so the objectives of Synod which we reviewed earlier today are our objectives—all of them. I’d like to speak to just a few of them:
The Unity of the true faith remains the districts’ first priority. To this end, our Board of Directors has established a “Board-Designated Visitation Account” to assist congregations with the expenses of visitation.5 In response to this resolution, President Terry Cripe has given his whole-hearted support. The circuit counselors are held accountable to visit all our congregations during this triennium, while the members of the presidium are to visit the circuit counselors’ parishes. President Cripe will personally visit the vice-presidents’ congregations.
As noted above, this priority serves the second objective: to strengthen congregations and their members in giving bold witness by word and deed to the love and work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or as Friedrich Wyneken put it, “The purpose of this unity, to the glory of God and for the salvation of the neighbor, was to bring in even more people through the knowledge of the truth, as the Lord commands us to do, and the Spirit of God who dwells within us accomplishes it. All the ordinances and regulations that the Synod had established when it was founded were put in place to that end.”6
I’d like to call your attention to Objective No. 9—“Provide protection for congregations, pastors, teachers, and other church workers in the performance of their duties and maintenance of their rights.”7 As the Board of Directors operates largely in the Kingdom of the Left Hand, we can expect challenges in this area of our governance. The recent Health-Care mandate and the escalating assault upon the Church by the culture will undoubtedly confront the Board in the near future.
And No. 10—Aid in providing for the welfare of our professional church workers. The recession and the current economic climate will certainly bring challenges to the Board in this area, also.
The Board has established its mega-ends policy, which we believe reflects the objectives of Synod and the District. In the future, we will be reviewing those ends to see if indeed they are congruent with our objectives, and we will change and fine tune them if needs be. I encourage all of us to review these ends in the light of our objectives, Scripture, and the Lutheran Confessions.
If I were to summarize the purpose of the District, I’d put it this way:
The Missouri Synod—and all its Districts—exist to enable its members—pastors and congregations—to be the Church—nothing more, but nothing less—that place where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments rightly administered, to the eternal welfare of all people and the glory of God.
I’d like to close with a quote from Henry Hamann’s “On Being a Christian”:
“As the Lutheran Church that is true to its confession carries out its task, it sees itself…in continuity with the apostolic church in its original doctrinal purity. And it carries out its task in view of the last judgment, knowing that however weak and sinful it is in itself and its members, the Gospel it has preached will be acknowledged as the truth by the all-powerful Judge Himself.”8
Soli Deo Gloria!
September 6, 2012
- Meyer, Moving Frontiers, Concordia Heritage Series, CPH, St. Louis, 1964. 143
- W. G. Polack, ed., "Our First Synodical Constitution," CHIQ 16(1943): 5
- Cameron A. Mackenzie, C.F.W. Walther and the Missouri Synod Today, Wyoming District Pastors’ Conference, 43
- Suelflow, August, The District-Synod Relations of the LCMS in Historical Perspective (Summary by Ken Schurb from CHI archives copy of full report), selected excerpts
- See Board of Directors Resolution “To Establish Board-Designated Visitation Account," March 23, 2012
- Harrison, Matthew, At Home in the House of My Fathers ,St. Louis 2009, CPH, pp. 371, 372 : “Friederich Wyneken, Can We Divide and Remain United, 1853 Synodical Address, translated by Elmer Hohle”
- 2010 Synod Handbook, Objectives of Synod, 13
- Hamann, Henry, On Being a Christian, Milwaukee, Northwestern Publishing House 1996, p. 122