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16 Simple Reasons to Defeat CCM

Dr. Michael Rogness

December 31, 1998

A person asked why many of us oppose CCM, adding that he wanted reasons he "could understand, not something in Latin or German." My reply is the following. Michael Rogness, December 31, 1998. [Editor's note: Rogness is Professor of Homiletics at Luther Seminar, Saint Paul, Minnesota.]

(1) Bad for the ELCA.

Obviously there are many ELCA people opposed to the CCM. Does it make any sense to make a move toward unity with another church body and destroy the unity within your own? Would any sensible pastor or layperson push a proposal in his/her congregation which had such substantial opposition? From a purely pastoral point of view it's not good for the ELCA.

(2) Unfair procedure.

The role of the ELCA national church office in Chicago should be to present the issue so that people can make up their own minds. Instead ELCA officers have become resolute advocates of the CCM with little regard for what the grassroots think. The publicity and materials from the national office have been one-sided, and CCM advocates have been sent to meetings around the country. At how many synod conventions did the representative from Chicago, at considerable cost, argue for the Concordat and how many against?

The decision of the church following the 1997 vote against the Concordat was to organize a 3-person panel to draft a new document. Before the panel met, presiding Bishop H. George Anderson announced that the historic episcopacy must be part of the new proposal. That eliminated any possibility for the panel to explore other options.

(I particularly like the story of Fredrick Schiotz sending my father and Rudy Ofstedal to ELC district conventions in the late 1950s to present both sides of the WCC issue.)

(3) An unequal and unbalanced proposal.

The Episcopalian Church is willing to suspend its rule and recognize our clergy, but only on the condition that we adopt their form of episcopal ministry. (This is not an unreasonable position on the Episcopalian part. They are simply following their own policy.) In 50-80 years, when all our bishops and clergy are episcopally ordained and installed, the ELCA will have radically changed its ministry and the Episcopalian Church will remain the same with no changes. With adoption of the CCM, the ELCA would declare full communion with the Episcopalian Church, but the Episcopalians can only say that full communion is "begun...will not be fully realized until...there is a shared ministry of bishops in the historic episcopate" (CCM 14), which would not be completed for years.

Is it a healthy marriage where one partner says, 'I'll marry you if you change, but I don't have to," and "we won't really be fully married until you've changed"? Wouldn't it have been more fair to establish those areas on which we can agree and cooperate in mission together, without one side surrendering its ministry structure to another?

(On the other hand, with the "Formula of Agreement" adopted by the ELCA with Presbyterians and Reformed in 1997, neither side had to change its theology, practice or constitution. Whether one agreed with the "Formula" or not, it was at least fair in that regard.)

(4) Unnecessary for ecumenical mission.

Whatever we can do in service and mission with the Episcopalian Church we can do without the CCM, and in many cases are doing so enthusiastically now. Where clergy or laypersons from one church are needed and available to fill vacancies in the other church, we have provisions or can make provisions for accomplishing that. For all the CCM talk about "availability and interchangeability" of clergy, it would not change the present policy that a clergy person of one church called to serve in the other church is subject to the discipline and doctrinal agreements of the other church. That is the case now and would remain so.

The reasons for opposing the CCM are not ecumenical -- people on both sides urge closer cooperation. The issue is the differing understanding of ministry, structure and hierarchy.

(5) Lutherans have never held that matters of church structure are essential to ecumenical unity

Lutherans have never considered organizational matters on the same level as Bible, Sacraments and creeds. Episcopalians treasure the Bible, Sacraments and creeds as much as we do. However, for full communion they add a 4th essential requirement, that of the historic episcopacy (the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886-1888). That is, for them the structure of ministry, namely the historic episcopate, is an essential requirement for full communion with another church body. By adopting the CCM we would, in effect, be agreeing that structure and the historic episcopate are on the same level as the Bible, Sacraments and creeds, because we would agree never to allow exceptions within the ELCA in the Episcopal practice of the historic episcopate, even with those who cannot accept it.

(6) It is not true to say, "Adopting the CCM won't really change much."

CCM proponents argue that adopting the historic episcopate would not change our theology or the way we function as a church. The truth is that adopting the CCM will (a)reverse our 1993 ELCA decision on one office of ordained ministry, (b)change our constitution to conform to Episcopal practice, (c)adopt the practice of historic episcopacy with no exceptions ever allowed even for people who in conscience cannot accept it, (d)adopt the liturgical rites of the historic episcopate and (e)unite our ministry with the Episcopal Church (mutual availability and exchangeability). Can anyone really say that all these changes won't inevitably effect our understanding of the office of bishop, i.e., that it is a more exalted office than at present?

(7) The choice between one pastoral office or hierarchical levels of office.

The theology of the historic episcopate is: Bishops are essential to the existence of the clergy and therefore to the existence of the church. That is, you cannot have pastors without bishops to make them. Only bishops can ordain pastors.

The Lutheran view: Pastors are created by the God's gifts of Word and Sacrament. What makes a pastor is the vow to do ministry faithfully, that is, preach and administer the Sacraments. Who administers the vow is not what creates a pastor. Any pastor can do it, that is, anybody who has himself/herself taken the vows of ordination. In an emergency, if there were no pastors, laypersons can ordain. The Episcopal Church is inflexible on this point: Only bishops can ordain clergy.

Right now in the ELCA any one of 17,316 pastors can ordain another pastor, such ordinations authorized by a bishop for good Order. The CCM would reduce that number to the 66 bishops.

The CCM would establish us as a church where bishops are the "chief pastors: the Episcopalian term acknowledged by the ELCA (CCM 21). Lutherans in the USA have consistently opposed this move since the earliest Lutheran immigration to this country.

(8) More centralized authority.

Traditionally in American Lutheran churches a newly elected bishop was installed by his or her own pastors. That role has now been assumed (with no discussion or theological rationale) by bishops. Even now one bishop can install a newly elected bishop into office. The CCM requires three bishops, all of whom must be in the line of the historic episcopate (plus other non-Episcopal bishops, as might be invited).

One of the strongest trends in the secular world in all areas of human enterprise---business, education, military, government, etc.--has been the decentralization of authority. While the CCM does not give bishops more actual authority, it does approve and adopt a system where bishops are the chief clergy. The trend toward more centralized identity of the church in its bishops would be unavoidable.

The office of bishop evolved in the Roman and medieval ages of monarchy and feudalism, where authority was always centered at the top. It is basically a medieval institution, quite at odds with the New Testament pattern of leadership, as well as with the modern world, where we are learning the strengths of more decentralized leadership, authority and structure.

(9) Centrality of Word and Sacrament.

The traditional view in Lutheran churches is that the central ministry of the church is the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. It is vitally important that Word and. Sacrament are available. Where Word and Sacraments are needed, and if there is no pastor available, laypersons can be authorized to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. It is better to have Word and Sacraments from laypersons than to withhold them from people who need them because a pastor is lacking.

We believe that God instituted the Sacraments and that it is God's Word and promise which makes them effective, and that a duly authorized layperson can read the Order of Service effectively. The Word and Sacraments take precedent over the person or office officiating.

The Episcopal Church forbids laypersons to administer Sacraments. For them the existence of an episcopally ordained pastor is necessary for the administration of the Sacraments. We believe that such a view elevates the presence of clergy above the availability of Word and Sacraments. While the CCM does not expressly forbid the ELCA to authorize laypersons for localized Word and Sacrament ministry in the absence of clergy, the agreement states that the Episcopalian ordinal, "no persons are allowed to exercise the offices of bishops, priest, or deacon...unless they are so ordained" (CCM16), is only temporarily suspended, and the agreement looks toward "future implementation of the ordinals' same principle in the sharing of ordained ministries" (CCM 16), i.e., the ordinal will be eventually reinstated and required in both churches.

(10) To say that the Lutheran Confessions intend to maintain the historic episcopate is misleading (an argument usually based on the Augsburg Confession Article 28 and the Apology Art. 14).

The Lutheran Confessional writings state that we intend to maintain the office of bishop. This we have done in the ELCA. The "historic episcopate" is not mentioned at all in any of the Confessions. These documents speak of a bishop in the same terms as we speak of a pastor. (Augsburg Confession Art. 28, Paragraph 21; Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Para. 60-62.) Luther himself refers to the practice of the "ancient 'Church and Fathers" that churches can ordain their own candidates. (Smalcald Articles, Art. 10, Para. 3) He even adds, "St. Jerome, too, wrote concerning the church in Alexandria that it was originally governed without bishops by priests and preachers in common." The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope states, "But since the distinction between bishop and pastor is not by divine right, it is manifest that ordination administered by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine right." (Para. 65)

To those who argue that the Confessions mandate a return to the medieval office and practice of the bishops one needs only to note that in the decades and centuries following the. adoption of the Confessions in 1580 not one Lutheran church in Germany or Scandinavia changed its orders or constitution to re-install either the practice or theology of the historic episcopate. (The Church of Sweden never discontinued their bishops, so they didn't need to reinstall their Episcopal orders.)

(11) Consistent American Lutheran practice.

From Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1700s, in very strong language!) down to the present day, whenever anybody has proposed Episcopal church government or the historic episcopacy, it has been rejected by all Lutheran church bodies in the USA. Considering the variety of Lutheran immigrant backgrounds and nationalities coming to this country, this is a rather astonishing consensus. The CCM gives it up.

(12) Symbolism of the church.

In those churches with the historic episcopate there is always much pomp and ceremony surrounding the installation, functioning and office of bishop. Since the theology of the historic episcopate is that bishops are the central persons in the church, their presence and activity are inevitably accompanied by more ostentation.

People who are poor, people who are despairing, people who are suffering - are they likely to be impressed by splendidly robed clergy in pretentious assemblies?

Isn't it time for the church to present an appearance to the world which is just the opposite? If we are truly concerned for laity and for mission to a needy world, why are we moving in this direction?

Doesn't the real future of the church in the 21st century center in the faith and vigor of the laity? Why are we so preoccupied with clergy orders and church structure? Has a church constitution ever saved anybody? Someone said that a mark of a declining church is a fussy attention to nonessential matters of organization.

(13) The historic episcopate is not a symbol of unity,

The three large church bodies which claim the historic episcopate are the Roman Catholics, the Orthodox and the Episcopalians/Anglicans. They do not recognize each others' bishops/clergy, nor has the historic episcopate contributed anything to unity among them.

(14) The historic episcopate does not serve to maintain the historical faith of the church.

American Episcopalian bishops James Pike and John Spong and English bishop J.A.T. Robinson are three examples of Episcopalian/Anglican bishops who have questioned basic beliefs of the Christian faith. They were criticized, but none was disciplined or reprimanded in any way.

(15) The inaccurate description of the historic episcopate as a "gift."

A gift is something which gladdens the heart of the recipient. The CCM has only caused dissension and strife within the ELCA.

(16) Cost.

With the CCM the installation of new bishops would obviously be more expensive. It will take three bishops, all in the historic episcopacy, rather than one. (Including bishops not in the historic episcopacy would add even more pomp, circumstance and cost.) Furthermore, since only bishops can ordain, they will incur travel costs to ordinations, whereas now they can delegate a local pastor to ordain.

P.S. - In my conversations I notice that there are two distinct groups arguing for the CCM:

  • (1) Those who argue for the sake of unity with the Episcopalians. The general argument from Chicago is: It is urgent to establish unity with the Episcopalians, so we need to accept the historic episcopacy. The primary issue of this argument is ecumenism with the Episcopalians, not the theological issues of the historic episcopacy. My reply to this is (4), plus other paragraphs above.
  • (2) Quite different are others, whose primary interest is not ecumenism with the Episcopalian Church. They wish to adopt the historic episcopate because the majority of Christians world-wide are in churches which have it, and they believe it would be a step toward closer ties and ultimate reunion, particularly with the Roman Catholic Church. The appeal is also that bishops with more authority would provide a theological magisterium, within our church. My reply is that adopting the Episcopalian version of the historic episcopate would not bring us closer to any of these future goals and isn't even the most effective way toward them.