Here's a first stab at some canons for a society of church order in our midst. Where I thought it would be helpful, I've put notes to elucidate my thinking in square brackets. I've sought to keep it short and to just the points we listed in previous discussions. I sort of kept it organized. . .
I hope it proves fruitful for discussion here and maybe at Kewanee as well - but that's up to the Editor - no not him, the other Editor, the hyper-Euro Editor.
Evangelical Rule and Church Order
[Name, Nature, Purpose]
We, the undersigned member congregations and pastors of the Missouri Synod, distressed at the confusing state of churchly life among us, hereby pledge to conduct our ministries within the Missouri Synod under the following Evangelical Rule and Church Order. We do not pine for Rome, Constantinople, or the America of neo-Evangelicalism. We seek to be authentically Lutheran and show as much to the world through a unified practice of our common doctrine.
In previous centuries, Lutheran Church Orders regulated the life of the church in a given territory and carried names commensurate with that purpose, e.g., The Wittenberg Church Order. This order, however, is set down not for a territorial church but to be of assistance within the fellowship of the Missouri Synod. Therefore, this order shall simply be called the Evangelical Rule and Church Order [of such-and-such? Still looking for a better name...]
The ERCO is not a communion fellowship – rather it is created to be of assistance to members within the communion fellowship of the Missouri Synod. Member congregations and pastors of the LCMS may freely join the society of this Rule and Order and just as freely leave without any repercussions for fellowship whatsoever. Members of this Rule and Order first and foremost pledge to abide by a faithful, evangelical, and fraternal life within the Missouri Synod – and are therefore by definition in full altar and pulpit fellowship with all members of the Missouri Synod whether they be members of this society or not.
The purpose of this Evangelical Rule and Church Order is twofold. Toward members of the same, the ERCO exists to provide an evangelical and fraternal framework for regulating churchly life and ministry toward greater unity and harmony. For members of our communion fellowship who are not members of this order, the ERCO exists to show an example of what a peaceful, ordered, and unified practice can mean for churchly life in our midst.
The Canons of the Evangelical Rule and Church Order
[Section 1: Authority and Membership]
[Notes: Authority in the church must be as a-political as possible without being strictly elite and “above the law.” Hence, I propose an authority of lifelong tenure but with clear procedures for impeachment. A lifelong tenure removes the Dean from the necessity to “campaign” for his office every few years – the possibility of impeachment holds him accountable. I also thought about simply having the question come before the assembly ever 5 years: Shall the Dean be retained in office? But the procedure below seems more in keeping with Christian custom for authority in the church.]
The Dean and head of this order shall be an ordained minister of the LCMS, either retired or serving a congregation, and member of this order. He shall exemplify the qualifications for the Ministry laid down in Scripture and be known for wisdom and humility. It is the Dean's duty to enforce these Canons in the ministry and churchly life of the members of the society. His decisions in all such questions are final and binding on members of the ERCO. If members refuse to abide by his decisions, it is the Dean's duty to remove them from membership and notify the other members of his decision and the reason(s) therefor.
Members of the ERCO shall assemble annually on ___________ at _____________ for the purposes of mutual encouragement, study, prayer, elections, the setting of the year's Calendar, and amending canons.
The Dean shall be elected at the next annual assembly after a vacancy in the office has occurred. The Dean must be elected by a two-thirds majority of the assembly. The Dean's tenure lasts until A) he becomes unwilling to serve, B) he is impeached, or C) his disability or death.
A simple majority of the annual assembly may agree to hear charges against the Dean upon the request of two or three witnesses. After hearing the evidence against the Dean and hearing his response, a two-thirds majority of the annual assembly may convict and remove the Dean. The assembly will then open the floor for nominations and elect a new dean by a two-thirds majority.
If the Deanship is vacated by resignation, disability, or death, the oldest member of the ERCO shall be offered the Interim Deanship, and if he refuses, the next oldest and so on until it is accepted. The Interim Dean fulfills the duties of the Dean until a Dean is elected.
[Members and the Annual Assembly]
Pastors and congregations may become members of the ERCO by informing the Dean of their desire to conform their ministry to these canons. All such applications are provisionally accepted. In a timely manner, if at all possible before the next annual assembly, the Dean shall arrange a time to meet with the applicant before finally accepting them as members. Such meetings, especially with pastors, are preferably made face to face. These meetings may, especially with representatives of congregations, take place over the phone.
The annual assembly consists of all pastoral members of the ERCO and a representative of the congregational members, who shall preferably be the president of the member congregation. Members seeking an exemption from the annual meeting (Canon 2) should present it in writing to the Dean not less than one week before (or one week after in the event of an unforeseen absence) the annual assembly. The annual assembly may amend these canons by a three-fourths vote.
Members agree to conduct their ministry and churchly life in accord with these canons. If questions arise concerning how the canons are to be applied in a certain situation, the member is to contact the Dean for his judgment in the matter. Likewise, if a member questions the practice of another member regarding the canons, the former shall inform the Dean of his concern and the Dean shall investigate the matter in good time and report his decision to both parties. All members are required to cooperate with the Dean in such inquiries.
Laity sympathetic to ERCO who belong to LCMS congregations that are not members of this society are hereby encouraged to pray for their congregation, the LCMS, and the members of ERCO – as well as work peaceably and humbly within their congregations to encourage membership in ERCO.
Members may petition the Dean for local exceptions from Canons 11-XX. The Dean shall evaluate these requests in good time and notify the petitioner of his judgment on the matter in writing.
[Section II: The Divine Service]
The Divine Service of the Sacrament of the Altar shall be celebrated at each member congregation every Lord's Day and on other feast days according to the calendar of the order. On Sundays, no office or service besides the Divine Service shall be celebrated between 7:30 and 11:30 am.
For the sake of a united confession before the world, each parish and pastor shall utilize the Common Service (as contained in either TLH p. 15, LW p. 136, or LSB p. 184) as the setting of the Divine Service. In accord with Canon 10, the Dean may grant that other settings of the Divine Service from those hymnals be used alongside of a Common Service setting so long as the Common Service is used with at least equal frequency.
Pastors shall vest for the Divine Service in at least clerical collar (or cassock), alb, cincture, and stole. The use of the full Eucharistic vestments (in addition to those listed: chasuble and maniple) is encouraged.
The propers for the day shall be those of the ERCO calendar, set at each annual assembly.
The manner of celebration (ceremony) shall be in accord with reverence and traditional Lutheran custom.
[Note: only a few specific ceremonies/rubrics on a few controversial topics need to be addressed here. For most, Canon 15 will do.]
At the conclusion of each Consecration (“...in remembrance of Me.”) the pastor shall make some sign of reverence that confesses the Real and Substantial Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ and accords with local custom: a deep bow or genuflection.
Only ordained ministers shall assist in the distribution of Christ's Body and Blood and read during the Divine Service.
In accord with the Lord's Command to “take and eat. . . take and drink” and Bl. Martin Luther's counsel, all that is consecrated at each celebration is consumed at that celebration.
Congregational hymnody shall be taken from the hymnals listed in Canon 12 alone.
The musical accompaniment of the liturgy, choir selections, etc. shall be in keeping with Lutheranism's rich musical heritage and shall avoid all frivolity.
[Section III: Closed Communion]
As members of the LCMS, members of the ERCO shall faithfully practice closed communion: namely, except in the rarest and most exigent of circumstances, pastors will only commune those of our communion fellowship.
If a pastor encounters one of these rare and exigent circumstances and communes a person not of our fellowship, he shall immediately report such occurrence to the Dean for his counsel, and if necessary, admonition.