I would like to state that I share in the sadness over the
dismissal of Pastor Preus from the clergy roster of our Evangelical Lutheran
Synod. I say this even as I
prayerfully felt compelled to make the very difficult decision to issue a
suspension. He is a man with many
talents and he also has a conscience that moves him to act according to his firm
Permit me to explain, however, the dilemma that I faced in
this matter as the president of our church body. Our synod’s By-Laws state that each pastor who joins the
synod makes “a declaration of unconditional subscription to the synod’s
confessions and teachings” (Chapter II, Application for Membership, Paragraph
2). At our 2005 convention we
passed a resolution on doctrine that included these important words:
“Whereas, ‘The Public Ministry of the Word’ clearly and faithfully
states the doctrine of the public ministry as drawn from Holy Scripture and as
reflected in the Lutheran Confessions, therefore, A. Be it resolved, That the
synod adopt ‘The Public Ministry of the Word’ as its official position
concerning the Public Ministry of the Word…”
In a widely distributed (via web connections, etc.) paper written by Pastor Rolf Preus entitled “Clarifying the Issues,” certain statements were made that were equivalent to charging the synod with false doctrine. Specifically, I refer to these remarks by Pastor Preus that serve as examples of his charges:
I cannot accept the PCM document.
This failure to distinguish between what is divine and
what is human confuses the Spirit with the flesh. This is why I cannot accept the PCM document.
I will not permit it to be a standard for my teaching and I do not
acknowledge it as having any authority over me whatsoever.
It confuses what God says with what man says.
It takes human inventions and calls them divine.
What it says about the divine institution of a limited public use of the
keys is unscriptural. When
it talks about being “in” the office of divine institution to this or to
that “extent” it is not presenting the biblical and confessional
doctrine, but the “representative ministry” notion for which there
isn’t any support in the Scriptures or the Lutheran Confessions.
It falsely claims that a synod president by virtue of being a
synod president is an incumbent of the pastoral office.
It does not make a clear confession of our historic biblical and
confessional teaching. …
[The PCM document] is devoted to the
representative ministry model invented in the 20th Century, a model
that breaks with the clear teaching of God’s Word and the pattern of sound
words set forth in the Lutheran Confessions.
I have underlined particular words in the above citations
to have you better understand why I felt the need to ask him to retract what he
had written. Pastor Preus’ paper
was inflammatory and caused many in the synod to assume he was making the charge
of false doctrine. It seemed
reasonable to expect him to retract what he had written.
On January 19, 2006, a meeting
was held with Pastor Rolf Preus to help me as president of the synod determine
if a charge of false doctrine had been made by him against our Evangelical
Lutheran Synod. Also in attendance at the meeting at Gloria Dei in Cold Spring,
MN, were Vice President Obenberger, Secretary Craig Ferkenstad, Rev. Joseph
Abrahamson and Rev. Shawn Stafford.
Pastor Preus stated that it was
not his intention to charge false doctrine against the synod. But he also
repeated his charge that the synod’s adopted statement on the public ministry,
“The Public Ministry of the Word,” was not in keeping with sound doctrine,
and was unscriptural and unconfessional. Furthermore,
he reiterated a remark made in his paper that the adopted statement “had no
authority over him whatsoever.”
When asked if he would be willing
to retract his paper, “Clarifying the Issues” (December 6, 2005), in order
to give the assurance that he was not accusing the synod of false doctrine, he
stated that he would not be willing to do so. The plea was made to Pastor Preus
that, for the sake of unity in the synod, he should be willing to retract this
particular paper. Vice President Obenberger added that he felt the president’s
request of Pastor Preus to retract his paper was a reasonable one. He offered
that Pastor Preus could do so even with the understanding that his questions and
concerns about the adopted document could remain while seeking in a brotherly
way to have his questions answered. But Pastor Preus replied that for him to
remove or retract his paper would be to go against his conscience.
Even to this day, the president has expressed a willingness to lift the
suspension of Pastor Preus if and when he retracts his “Clarifying the
At the close of the meeting, the
president informed Pastor Preus that a suspension from membership was likely but
that a little more time would be granted in order for him to reconsider his
reply to the request made by both the president and vice president.
No such retraction was forthcoming.
As a result, I regretfully had to
inform the members of our synod that as of February 1, 2006, Pastor Rolf D.
Preus was suspended from the clergy roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
For a synod to be a confessional
Lutheran church body, “walking together” (as the word synod means) in professing and adhering to the truth, charges of
false doctrine must be taken seriously. This
is especially true when the synod has desired to resolve a controversy by
officially adopting a doctrinal statement expressing faithfully what Scripture
says on a subject.
Some have questions and concerns about the adopted
statement, “The Public Ministry of the Word.”
That is entirely appropriate. But
it is a different matter publicly to berate and to denounce what the synod has
adopted by labeling it “unscriptural,” “unconfessional,” “not in
keeping with sound doctrine,” and to state boldly that the adopted document
has no authority over a pastor in so far as he is a voluntary member of the
Evangelical Lutheran Synod. To make
such a charge is “sowing seeds of discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:19).
The suspension of Pastor Preus did not occur in a vacuum.
An enclosed timetable of correspondence can be found at the end of this
written explanation. Please observe
how the president felt the need to follow up on the verbal exchange that
occurred at the 2005 convention. The
president suggested to Pastor Preus that the same six-month period of time
granted congregations to register an objection would also serve as sufficient
time to ascertain whether or not Pastor Preus was in actuality charging the
synod with false doctrine. In an
effort to be charitable and to clear the air, the president in November sent an
email notice that stated: “It is
my understanding as president that there is no charge of false doctrine on the
table against our synod by Pastor Preus.”
Only one month later Pastor Preus issued his “Clarifying the Issues”
paper where he essentially raised the charge of false doctrine against the
synod’s adopted document on the doctrine of the public ministry.
Does the president of
the synod have the authority to issue a suspension if and when he deems the
situation necessary to do so? There
are certain primary, foundational sentences from the Bylaws and Guidelines that
establish the obligation of the president, together with the elected boards and
committees under his supervision, to supervise the doctrine and practice of the
members of synod. [The Handbook of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod consists of the
Constitution, the Bylaws and the Guidelines of our synod.]
6-C, Bylaws, Chapter III, Activities
“The synod shall through its elected boards and committees under the supervision and coordination of the president… c) be watchful concerning unity of doctrine (Ephesians 4;3-16; 1 Corinthians 1:10) by studying doctrinal questions which are in special need of study and discussion, trying the spirits (1 John 4:1), and warning against encroaching sets, as well as against errors and unchristian trends (1 Timothy 4:16), in accordance with the Holy Scriptures. . . i) exercise supervision over the synod’s institutions and the work of its pastors and the practice of its members (cf. paragraph c above).”
Guidelines for the Synod’s relationship to Its Executive Officers
Article I: the Office of the President
B. 2. “He shall supervise the activities of the boards and committees of the synod so that the goals and objectives adopted by the synod in convention are achieved insofar as practicable. He shall NOT be advisory to a commission on an appeal.”
Guidelines for Synodical Discipline and Appeals
Article I: General Cases
F. “In special and urgent cases where no resolution is reached, the president shall exercise the power of suspension from synodical membership. He shall report his action to the convention.”
Another guideline in this same
section implies the right of the president, in
special cases, to enact disciplinary action (e.g., suspension). It is letter
A. under the heading "Article V: Guidelines for Appeals to the Synod":
Guidelines for Synodical Discipline and Appeals
Article V: Guidelines for Appeals to the Synod
“A. Any individual member of the synod who has undergone disciplinary action by a congregation, or a circuit visitor, or a synodical board or the synod's president shall have the right to appeal to the synod.”
Furthermore, it is important to be reminded once again of a
basic requirement listed for members of our ELS clergy at the time of acceptance
into our synod:
6-C, Bylaws, Chapter II, Application for Membership, Paragraph 2
“An individual wishing to join the synod shall make application to the president. The application shall be accompanied by a declaration of unconditional subscription to the synod’s confessions and teachings, and to its constitution and bylaws.”
There is another question that has arisen and deserves a
thorough answer. Should not the
president have followed the specific steps of our “Guidelines for Synodical
Discipline and Appeals, Article I: General Cases” (Handbook, Guidelines of Synodical Discipline, 22-A)?
In other words, why were not letters A through E followed before invoking
the emergency clause in letter F?
The introduction to this section reveals that the procedure
for appeal presumes the circumstance of a charge of false doctrine or other
neglect or abuse of office leveled against a pastor, teacher, or congregation.
Thus paragraphs A – E lay out a procedure that protects the accused by
ensuring that charges must be properly presented and adequately supported
through due process. This section primarily addresses pastor—congregation
As with all the Bylaws or Guidelines, this section also
must be understood in the context of Scripture, which requires that any charge
would have to be substantiated by two or more witnesses (Deut 19:15).
It is assumed that the first purpose and task of the visitor, who has
original jurisdiction, is to judge whether sufficient and legitimate evidence
exists to support the charge raised. Paragraph D, which calls for the appointing
of a review committee, is charged again with the responsibility of carefully
establishing the legitimacy of the charge:
“The committee shall investigate the charges and decisions…”
The implication is that in the absence of sufficient and unimpeachable
witnesses or evidence, the charge will die for lack of support and the case must
be closed with no judgment against the accused.
It is self evident that where one has admitted the charge,
no further investigation or efforts at establishing witnesses and evidence is
necessary. Such is the case with
Pastor Preus. A complaint from some
quarters is that no charge of false doctrine or wicked life or negligence of
duty has been raised against Pastor Preus.
But that misses the point. Pastor
Preus has himself, by his own words and publications, confessed that he is in
violation of the requirements of membership set forth in the bylaws (Chapter
II). In particular, Pastor Preus publicly and repeatedly has declared that our
synod’s adopted statement on the Ministry is contrary to the Scriptures and
the Lutheran Confessions and not in keeping with sound doctrine.
There is no further need for witnesses and presentation of evidence.
In the Preus case the articles preceding F were not applicable for a number of reasons. First, as was noted earlier, this case did not arise from the vantage point of the local congregation but involved a pastor’s public remarks toward an officially adopted doctrinal statement of our synod. Second, Pastor Preus himself served as the visitor for Circuit #8. Therefore, it was impossible to employ the assistance of the circuit visitor in this case. The procedure relying on the jurisdiction of the visitor was rendered inapplicable by the very nature of the case. Third and most important, this case required no investigation of evidence or witnesses to any charges. Pastor Preus himself admitted he stood in opposition to and violation of the standards of membership in synod. “An individual wishing to join the synod shall make application to the president. The application shall be accompanied by a declaration of unconditional subscription to the synod’s confessions and teachings, and to its constitution and bylaws.” (Bylaws, Chapter II)
Pastor Preus, a synod
visitor, obligated by his office to represent the synod president and to
encourage the synod’s goals and programs upon the congregations and pastors of
his circuit, instead set about berating the decisions of the synod and
discouraging pastors and congregations from accepting and fulfilling the
resolution of the synod. From this, it ought to be evident to all that this case
was correctly judged as urgent and without any other avenue for resolution,
especially because it involved an elected visitor of the synod.
Please allow me to
restate the scriptural testimony on which our synod’s doctrinal confession,
“The Public Ministry of the Word”, is based. We can look at passages such as
1 Corinthians 12:5 & 28, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8-10 and 1 Timothy
5:17. We also can consult Ephesians 4:11–12.
The 1 Corinthian verses
(12:5 & 28) show that God has indicated teachers as one of the offices he
has given to the church. The Greek
term (DIDASKALOUS) used here appears wider than the expression “pastors,”
especially when considered with other terms in close proximity, e.g., helpers
and leaders. The terms here
indicate different offices given by God with their respective responsibilities.
The passage from
Philippians (1:1) shows that presbyters and deacons are addressed in similar
fashion as being the recipients of Paul’s letter. This indicates strongly that the deacons also were spiritual
helpers for the Philippian church.
In I Timothy 3:8 we find
reference made of deacons who were to be tested or examined in order to serve.
This testing appears to have been of a spiritual nature (vv. 9 & 10)
in light of the duties they were called to perform.
The 1 Timothy 5:17
reference ascribes double honor to those laboring in connection with Word and
teaching, while showing at the same time that there are other elders with
different responsibilities, all part of the one public ministry of the church.
Martin Chemnitz, the chief author of the Formula of Concord, states:
“And in 1 Timothy :17 [Paul] mentions two kinds of presbyters, of
whom some labored in preaching and teaching, while others had been placed in
charge of ecclesiastical discipline. . . This about completes the list of ranks
into which we read that the ecclesiastical ministry was divided at the time of
the apostles” (Chemnitz, Examen
Part 2, p. 684).
The adopted statement says with certainty that God allows
offices that have a limited public use of the Means of Grace.
There are indications in Scripture of other offices of public ministry
existing than simply that of the office of overseer/bishop/presbyter.
These offices (deacons, teachers, evangelists, etc.) included certain
spiritual duties that involved public ministry (e.g., using the Word to minister
to souls on behalf of the church; 1 Timothy 3:8f).
Ephesians 4 includes a list of offices not confined only to
the pastoral office: “It was he
who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and
some to be pastors and teachers…” Chemnitz gives this interpretation of the
Ephesians passage regarding the forms, or ranks, of the public ministry where he
describes “pastors as those placed over a certain flock, as Peter shows (I
Peter 5:2-3) and who not only taught but administered the sacraments and had the
oversight over their hearers.” Chemnitz
goes on to describe the teachers as “teachers, to whom the chief governance or
oversight of the church was not entrusted but who only set the doctrine before
the people in a simple manner, such as catechists were later:
thus Paul (Rom. 2:20) speaks of ‘a teacher of children,’ and the word
‘teach’ is expressly used in this sense in Hebrews 5:12”
(Chemnitz, Examen, Part 2, p. 684). It
is also worthy of note that the Ephesians citation lists “evangelists” as a
separate office/form, even if one were to call into question the separate terms
of “pastors” and “teachers.” Clearly
not only the pastoral office is mentioned.
In light of the foregoing, our synod’s adopted doctrinal
statement on the public ministry rightfully rejects the teaching that “only
those qualified to carry out a full use of the keys are in the public
ministry” (Antithesis #8). Our
synod’s statement definitely upholds the presiding office of oversight that we
call pastor (I Peter 5:1,2), but it rejects the teaching that “the Public
Ministry is limited to any one divinely fixed form, that is limited to the
pastoral office to the exclusion of other teachers of the Word” (Antithesis
Responsibility of the synod
The president has been entrusted with the responsibility of
overseeing the doctrine and practice in the synod. Can he refuse to suspend a pastor who not only repeatedly
charges the synod with adopting a doctrinal statement that he claims is flawed
and unscriptural and not in accord with sound doctrine, but who contends that
the adopted statement has “no authority over him whatsoever?”
For the sake of all who want to contend for the biblical truth that we
confess as a synod and who also want to live in peace and harmony, the
unsubstantiated public charges and/or insinuations of false doctrine must be
On Wednesday, February 8, 2006, an email message was sent
to my office from the River Heights Lutheran Church Board of Directors.
The email reads as follows:
The Board of Directors for River Heights Lutheran Church would like to make a few comments in response to the letter Rolf Preus sent out to the Pastors in the ELS.
We supported Pastor Preus in the debate over the PCM document leading up to the Synod Convention last summer. After the convention, we were glad to have the debate and controversy behind us so we could move on.
Much of our frustration is due to the fact that we had no knowledge of the Dec.6 paper being written, or that it was being posted on the church’s website, especially after he told us that he would be quiet on the issue. He assured us many times that he would never allow this issue to effect the congregation. We have asked him repeatedly to retract the Dec.6 paper for the good of the congregation and synod. When the Synod Officers met with Pastor Preus and asked him to retract the Dec.6 paper, we thought that was a very reasonable request.
We love being part of the ELS and want to cooperate with our synod and not be a source of controversy. We want unity, not division.
RHLC Board of Directors
Let us pray that God blesses our synod with true unity of
doctrine based only and always on the pure Word of God.
At the heart and center of that Word is the message we eagerly proclaim
through God’s institution of the Public Ministry.
That message is stated so well in the words of Paul, “Christ Jesus came
into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).
John A. Moldstad, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod
February 15, 2006
of communications between President Moldstad and Pastor Rolf Preus:
June 23 (Thursday), 2005—Suspension and striking of “three minutes”.
June 25, 2005—Memo from Pres. M. indicating that time would be needed to determine if false doctrine charged.
July 20, 2005—Letter from Pres. M. indicates that the question pertaining to false doctrine still needed to be answered.
July 25, 2005—Rev. Preus responded that there is no basis for asking him the question, since the three minutes were to be removed from the record and that it is Pres. M. who should repent of his actions.
August 6, 2005—Pres. M. suggests waiting until after “Response to Circuit 8” and suggests the six month period of time as allowed congregations.
August 13, 2005—A brief letter was received from Rev. Preus indicating he would be willing to meet after September 21.
September 21, 2005—PCM met in Apple Valley and approved answer to Circuit 8.
October 15, 2005—Pres. M. sent out the “Response to Circuit 8.”
November 10, 2005—Pres. M., in consultation with VP Obenberger, decided to send out an email that would simply state no false doctrine charge appeared to be on the table vs. the synod by Rev. Preus.
November 15, 2005—Email memo sent to all the pastors reflecting the gist of the above.
December 6, 2005—Rev. Preus sent “Clarification…” to ELSministry listserv, Lutherquest, and posted on website (Christforus.org).
December 14, 2005—Pres. M. sent another memo stating that he is no longer sure that Rev. Preus is not charging the synod with false doctrine.
December 21, 2005—Pres. M. suggests to Rev. Preus a January meeting in Cold Spring, MN, with two representatives each.
December 21, 2005—Rev. Preus agreed to meeting.
December 22, 2005—Pres. M. emailed and clarified the purpose of the meeting.
December 23, 2005—Rev. Preus agreed to meet on January 19 at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Cold Spring, MN.
December 29, 2005—Pres. M. confirms the meeting date.
January 19, 2006—See minutes of the meeting at Cold Spring taken by our synod’s secretary.
January 26, 2006—Pres. M. called Rev. Preus to inform him that he would be suspended as of the date of February 1, 2005.
January 26, 2006—The suspension notice was sent out via email to all ELS pastors around 11:45 a.m. This was followed by a hard copy mailed to the same. RHLC Chairman Dan Schmidt received a faxed copy on this day.
January 29, 2006—River Heights Lutheran Church held a special voters’ meeting. Three motions were passed: 1) To grant Pastor Preus a two week paid leave of absence (10-9); 2) To ask a synod representative to explain the suspension of Rev. Preus; 3) To inform the synod that the congregation does not agree with the PCM document (13-4).
January 31, 2006—Rev. Preus and 15 voters sent an email to my office entitled “Plea from Pastor Preus.”February 1, 2006—The suspension of Rev. Preus went into effect.