Pastor Rolf Preus’ Appeal of his
Suspension from the ELS by President John Moldstad
March 31, 2006 

On February 1, 2006, President Moldstad suspended me from the clergy roster of the ELS.  In a letter sent to the synod on January 26, he gave as the reason for my suspension my refusal to retract my December 6 paper: “Clarifying the Issues in the ELS Ministry Debate: A Response to President John Moldstad and Professor Erling Teigen.”  He claims that this paper is tantamount to charging the synod with false doctrine.  He claims that I am guilty of “sowing seeds of discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:19).  I am appealing my suspension from the ELS in accordance with synodical bylaws (Article V: Guidelines for Appeals to the Synod). 

In this appeal I will argue that the president has falsely accused me.  He has applied to me a double standard.  Instead of supervising my doctrine in a pastoral way he has used the adopted document as a weapon against me.  I will show from his own words that he concedes that I have not charged the synod with false doctrine.  I will show that it is the president, not I, who has sown seeds of discord among brethren.  He has disobeyed the synodical bylaws, acted contrary to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, violated my divine call, and led brothers into sin.  In making this appeal, I am asking the synod not only to restore me as a pastor of the ELS in good standing, but also to repudiate the president’s conduct and to call on him to repent of his sin. 

Why I Wrote “Clarifying the Issues in the ELS Ministry Debate.”
I wrote this paper in order to clarify the issues in the ELS ministry debate.  I wrote it in response to papers written by the synod president and Professor Erling Teigen that were published on the ELS website.  Their papers were written in response to a convention request of the presidium to explain why the Circuit 8 Revision of the PCM document was not in order.  (The Circuit 8 Revision was prepared by about a dozen ELS pastors to improve the PCM document.)  In his paper, the synodical president charged that the Circuit 8 Revision was “not in accordance with sound doctrine.”  His paper and Professor Teigen’s paper misrepresented the teaching of the Circuit 8 Revision.  These papers went beyond the convention request to respond to the Circuit 8 Revision and singled out my writings for criticism.  I wrote my “Clarifying the Issues” paper in the belief that it is appropriate to respond to public criticism publicly, and that we may, without transgressing the boundaries of brotherly discourse, have an ongoing, vigorous, and public debate in the ELS on matters of Christian doctrine.  It was not written for the purpose of leveling charges against anyone.  It does not level charges against anyone.  It was not written as a provocation.  It is free from any personal attacks.  The president has not attempted to show me anything in this paper that is untrue.  He has not attempted to show me anything in this paper that is contrary to God’s word.  I have repeatedly expressed my willingness to correct any errors contained in this paper.  The president has not attempted to show me any errors at all. 

The President’s Double Standard
When the president says that my “Clarifying the Issues” paper is tantamount to charging the synod with false doctrine, he contradicts what he said on June 23 and June 25, 2005.  This is what he said on the floor of the convention on June 23, 2005: “Nobody has written directly to my office suggesting that the PCM document . . . is false doctrine.”  He repeated this in “A Fraternal Letter to Our Pastors” dated June 25 in which he said: “In fact, as I mentioned earlier, no letters were received at my office in the days leading up to convention that raised the charge of false doctrine in the PCM document.”  He said this after I wrote directly to his office on May 17, 2005, enclosing a paper I delivered on April 24 at the Circuit Meeting of Circuit 8: “Does the Bible Teach a Limited Public Use of the Keys?”  In that paper I said the same things about the PCM document that I said in the paper for which the president suspended me.  When I said these things in April, 2005 before the PCM document was adopted, the president said it was not a charge of false doctrine against the proposed document.  Indeed, he did not bother responding to my letter of May 17 or the enclosed paper.  When I said it after the PCM document obtained official status, the president suspended me for it.  

The president has repeatedly appealed to his responsibility to supervise the doctrine of the synod as justification for suspending me from the ministerium of the ELS because of what I have written in my paper, “Clarifying the Issues in the ELS Ministry Debate.”  If the president is duty bound to suspend me from the synod for criticizing a document after it has been adopted, surely he had the duty as well to respond to my criticism of the document before it was adopted.  The papers “Does the Bible Teach a Limited Public Use of the Keys” and “Clarifying the Issues in the ELS Ministry Debate” raise the same criticism. 

The president’s double standard is also seen in his failure to discipline over 20 pastors of our synod who have taken the same public stance as I.  At the October, 2005 General Pastoral Conference of the ELS, “A Statement of Opposition to the PCM Document: ‘The Public Ministry of the Word” Adopted at the 2005 ELS Convention” was presented to the conference signed by 21 pastors of the ELS.  This Statement contains the same criticism of the PCM document contained in my papers.  None of the other signatories of the Statement of Opposition have been suspended. 

No “Head Hunting”
On June 22, just after the PCM document was adopted, the president promised on the floor of the convention that there would be no “head hunting.”  On the next day, several pastors spoke on the convention floor objecting to proposed language in a memorial that said all clergymen of the ELS “must accept” doctrinal resolutions of the synod.  I was one of them.  I said that I “cannot accept” the doctrinal resolution adopted the day before.  The president asked me if I were saying that the PCM document that had just been adopted contained false doctrine.  I tried to evade his question.  I have deliberately avoided using the words “false doctrine” to describe the PCM document and I did not want anyone else’s words put into my mouth.  The president persisted and asked me again if the adopted statement contained false doctrine.  I gave a one word answer: “yes.”  I said “yes” to his question.  I did not use the words “false doctrine.”  He did.  I simply answered a question he persisted in asking. 

President Moldstad responded to my “yes” answer by saying that he had no choice but to suspend me from the synod.  Professor Teigen then intervened and suggested that the last three minutes be stricken from everyone’s memory.  I left the convention assuming that the matter had been closed.  The President then informed the synod on June 25 that this was “a serious issue that will need careful attention.”  

Careful Attention to a Serious Issue
The president gave this serious issue little attention.  He did not even meet with me to discuss it.  On November 15 the president sent a memo to the ministerium of the ELS in which he said: “It is my understanding as president that there is no charge of false doctrine on the table against our synod by Pastor Preus.”  After suspending me in February he explained his earlier decision to drop the matter in these words, “In my memo I stated that it was my determination that no charge of false doctrine was being made by Rev. Preus against our officially adopted statement, ‘The Public Ministry of the Word.’  I made that determination on the basis of certain conversations and, mostly, because no firm reply seemed forthcoming.”  

This is very misleading.  It would suggest that I was unwilling to talk to the president.  The very opposite is true.  I wrote him a letter on July 25 in which I confronted him with several matters of deep concern that I wanted to discuss with him.  He had written me to press me on my “yes” response to the question with which he badgered me on the convention floor.  I responded by asking him to answer questions I had raised in my letter of May 17, which letter he had ignored.  Here is a portion of my letter of July 25: 

John, when I raised biblical arguments against the PCM document it was your duty as my brother and as the president of the ELS to respond to my arguments.  If my objections were wrong you should have shown this to me.  If they were right you should have revised the PCM document.  You did neither. 

Our unity comes from God’s Word.  When we rely on anything other than the Word of God division necessarily ensues because we are then relying on the flesh instead of the Spirit.  True consensus cannot be forced.  Our confessional subscription is completely voluntary.  Only then can it be heartfelt and sincere.  How can you, as the president of a confessional Lutheran synod, be willing to impose a doctrinal statement on brothers who repeatedly brought to your attention their sincere and scripturally based objections to it?  How can you tell me that I may not speak or write publicly against this document?  How can you suspend me and threaten to suspend me again on the basis of my disagreement with this document when you will not respond to my biblically based objections to it? 

My letter concluded with this paragraph. 

Perhaps you and I can get together to visit sometime in October. . . Perhaps we’ll be able to find a way graciously to extricate ourselves from what is presently a rather difficult situation.  We ought to be able to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution of this matter. . .  I sincerely believe that if we were to come together under the Word of God we could overcome what divides us.  I’m sure you agree that the Word of God is clear, authoritative, powerful, and fully sufficient to teach us all we need to believe and confess. 

After the president and I agreed to meet to talk about the convention exchange he changed his mind about meeting with me and suggested that we issue a joint communication instead.  I declined to do so and suggested that we meet.  I emailed the president on November 3 and said, “I think it would be good for you and me to meet as originally planned.”  After visiting with the synodical vice president he decided that it would not be necessary to meet with me nor would it be necessary for him and me to issue a joint statement.  I expressed a willingness to meet.  The president did not want to meet.  His implication that I have been less than forthcoming in my willingness to talk candidly to him is false.  It is the president who attempted to avoid a conversation with me about the concerns I raised in my paper of April 24, my letter of May 17, and my letter of July 25.    

We did not have a face to face meeting to discuss the adopted document and my criticism of it until after the president informed the synod on December 14 that I would be required to “withdraw [my] public charges against the statement as set forth in [my] “Clarifying the Issues in the ELS Ministry Debate.”  This meeting took place on January 19 in Cold Spring.  The president insisted that he unilaterally set the agenda for the meeting.  I insisted that we meet together as brothers mutually agreeing on the agenda.  

I Have Not Charged the Synod with False Doctrine
I have not charged the synod with false doctrine.  On January 19 I met with the president and vice president of the synod along with two witnesses (Pastors Joe Abrahamson and Shawn Stafford).  Pastor Craig Ferkenstad, synodical secretary, was present and took notes.  (It should be mentioned that the minutes of the January 19 meeting were not approved by Pastor Abrahamson.  He faced a pastoral emergency upon returning home after the meeting and did not have the opportunity to review the minutes immediately.  When he asked to have the minutes amended because of omissions that he considered significant, the synodical president refused to permit it.)  Here is what I said and what the president said about my charging the synod with false doctrine, according to the official notes of the meeting: 

RP then asked the question: “Am I charging the synod with false doctrine?” and responded by saying: “No. I am not charging the synod with false doctrine.” To this JM asked: “That can be reported to the synod?” RP answered: “Yes. I have never made the charge of false doctrine against the synod.” (pg 2) 

The following conversation then ensued:
JM: Will you do me a favor?
RP: Ask.
JM: Will you withdraw this statement? I take you at your word when you say there is no charge of false doctrine.  Will you retract this statement?
RP: My criticism is a criticism of a document and not a criticism of the ELS. I do not believe you, or those who have supported it, are errorists. Rather than withdraw is there something else I could do to affirm the brotherly relationship which exists? I believe it would be wrong for me to withdraw because I have raised Biblical arguments that have not been answered. And to submit to an authority that asks me to retract that which the Bible tells me to do would be sinful. I ask you to respect me on that. (pg 2) 

RP also said: I am asking that you not demand anything from me. I am asking that we leave this meeting, and not ask anything of each other. I’m offering that we, as brothers, drop everything, and walk out of this meeting as brothers—not charging anyone with false doctrine; but acknowledge that Pastor Preus’ statement is a personal objection and is not a charge of false doctrine against the synod. He said: I am not attacking the synod or my brothers, I am attacking a document. The document should be rescinded because it is a bad document. This document has caused division.  JM responded by saying that he is happy to hear that there is not charge of false doctrine; but he would like the assurance of that through the consideration of withdrawing the Clarification from the public arena. (pg 3) 

Again, RP said that he was not accusing the synod, or any person, of holding to false doctrine; but that rather the document itself is flawed. JM clarified saying he understands that there is no accusation of the synod of false doctrine; but that the synod did adopt the statement. (pp 3-4) 

The meeting concluded with JM again asking for a retraction of the Clarification to which RP responded: “I am not charging the synod with false doctrine.” JM again asked, for the good of the synod, to consider the retraction of the paper. RP replied by asking JM to just drop the matter. Again, JM said, I am asking you to consider retracting your paper; but I am not asking you to withdraw anything else.  Again, RP stated that he had not been shown from the Bible that what he has said is contrary to God’s word. Again, JM said; “I am asking you for the sake of the brothers and sisters of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod who have decided on their own that they have studied the matter and have adopted the document. And it appears that a pastor is questioning the doctrine of the synod.” RP replied: “You can give them the assurance that I have not leveled any charge against anyone.” JM said that he wanted the assurance of the retraction of the paper to which RP said that he could not in conscience accept the document, but that he does want to live in peace and does not want his church hurt. (pg 4)
(Emphasis added) 

In “An Explanation of the Suspension of Rev. Rolf Preus” that the president sent to the ministerium of the ELS after suspending me, he recounted the purpose of our meeting in Cold Spring with these words: 

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. (pg 2) 
(Emphasis added) 

The president met with me to determine if I had charged the synod with false doctrine.  At that meeting I repeatedly assured him I had not charged the synod or anyone in it of false doctrine.  At that meeting the president said to me, “I take you at your word when you say there is no charge of false doctrine.”  That should have settled the issue.   

On Sowing Seeds of Discord among Brethren
I have not sown seeds of discord among brethren.  The final paragraph of my “Clarifying the Issues” paper expresses my confidence that we enjoy a great deal of consensus on the topic currently being debated among us.  When I made my paper public, I emphasized this final paragraph.  I have repeatedly given assurances to the president of my desire to live at peace with my brothers in the ELS. 

The president called me on December 14 to inform me that he would be telling the entire synod that I would have to retract my “Clarifying the Issues” paper.  When I began to reply, he interrupted me and said, “Nothing you say will change my mind.”  I urged him not to do so but his mind was made up before he called me on the phone.

At the meeting in Cold Spring on January 19 I assured the president of my respect for the synod and my desire to live at peace with my brothers.  I told him that I did not intend for my “Clarifying the Issues” paper to be a provocation.  I told him that I did not want any conflict with him.  I urged him to delegate the matter to others, so that he and I could back away from confrontation.  I explained to him why I could not retract my paper.  If my doctrine is not sound I must be shown this by the clear Scriptures.  The president would not show me where I had written anything untrue or contrary to God’s word.  By refusing even to attempt to show me from God’s word that I had written falsely while insisting that I retract the entire paper he was, in effect, requiring me to submit to an authority other than the clear Scriptures.  Since he had highlighted the third to the last paragraph of my paper as particularly troublesome, I suggested that my paper could be read without reference to that particular portion of it.  He insisted that the entire paper must be retracted.   

When the president called me on the morning of January 26 informing me that I would be suspended effective February 1, I urged him not to suspend me.  I asked to meet with him privately, one on one.  He refused.  He insisted that the entire paper be retracted.  I told him that what he was doing would do great damage to our synod.  He told me that his conscience was clear. 

On January 31 I emailed a letter to the synodical president signed by fifteen men in the congregation who attended the voters’ meeting held the day before.  In that letter I said: 

There is giving offense and taking offense.  I don’t believe I gave it.  I cannot deny that some have taken it.  For this I am sincerely sorry.  I have great respect for our synod . . . 

We can back away from this conflict.  Each of us must respect the other’s conscience and integrity.  I acknowledge your responsibility to supervise doctrine in our synod.  I support you in your efforts to do so.  If there ever comes a time when I feel obliged to charge my synod with false teaching, I will bring my concern directly to you.  I ask that you acknowledge that I am not leveling any charge of false teaching against the synod or anyone in it.  I sincerely regret the anger and hard feelings that have resulted from what I have written.  It personally grieves me that this has occurred.  Please accept these sentiments as sincerely offered and as sufficient assurance to you of my desire to live at peace with you and all my brothers in the ELS.  In this way you can be faithful to the responsibilities of your office in assuring the synod that I am not sowing seeds of discord among the brethren. 

My congregation is suffering from this and my primary duty is to feed the flock that God has placed under my care.  Your father and my father both served this congregation.  So did Professor Teigen.  We have all preached to them the same saving doctrine.  I don’t want my congregation divided.  I want to work toward strengthening the unity of my congregation and this will require that I leave the debate on the ministry within our synod for the time being.  Please permit me to do so.  I am afraid for our synod, John.  Debates about doctrine should be debates about doctrine, but I fear that this debate will descend into acrimony, division, and cause deep wounds that will take years to heal.  

If you have outstanding concerns about my paper, perhaps you and I could visit with each other one on one and talk.  I ask you to withdraw your suspension of me.  John, neither one of us can walk away from the truth, but we can both walk away from a fight.  Let’s do just that.  Let me devote myself to my pastoral duties here at River Heights Lutheran Church. 

The president did not respond to me.  He did inform the congregational chairman that I would be suspended from the clergy roster of the ELS on February 1. 

The voters of River Heights Lutheran Church invited the president to East Grand Forks to explain his suspension of their pastor.  He visited with the congregation on Thursday, February 9.  At the end of the meeting I pleaded with the president to reconsider his decision to suspend me.  Here is what I said according to notes taken by Lyn Willoughby, a member of the congregation in attendance at the meeting: 

Pastor Preus requested that President Moldstad reconsider the untenable, impossible position into which RHLC was forced.  They could not remove him, for he had not preached falsely to them.  Yet, if they did not remove him without cause, then the Synod would suspend them.  He requested that President Moldstad lift his suspension and allow him to continue preaching, and "punt the decision" to the Synod Convention.  The Convention could decide the outcome.  He further stated that he did not expect Pres. M. to announce such a decision publicly at that time, but that he might consider such until the upcoming voter's meeting [February 13].  In return, Pastor Preus would, in the interim, allow the issue to rest, and not publish or publicly comment on the issue any further. 

The president decided not to honor this request.  My suspension was not lifted. 

Disobeying Synodical Bylaws
In his efforts to suspend me from the ELS the president has acted outside of the authority of the bylaws of the ELS.  He has defended his refusal to follow synodical bylaws on this matter by insisting that the bylaws do not apply since I admitted the charge for which I have been suspended.  He claims in “An Explanation of the Suspension of Rev. Rolf Preus” 

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. 

This is not true.  I have not admitted the charge.  The pertinent bylaws that our synod has adopted are listed under “Guidelines for Synodical Discipline and Appeals” Article I: 

When a pastor or teacher of the synod is charged with adhering to false doctrine, unscriptural practice, living an ungodly life or neglecting his duty and, after the local congregation, in matters that fall within its jurisdiction, has dealt with the matter of the basis of Scripture and according to its constitution and has not been able to reach a God-pleasing resolution of the matter, the following guidelines apply: A. In cases of discipline involving pastors or teachers who hold membership in the synod, the circuit visitor has original jurisdiction.  He shall hear the case and render a decision on the basis of Scripture. B. If after due admonition the visitor’s decision is not accepted he shall report and review the case in consultation with the president of the synod.  The president shall arrange for a review with the visitor and the party(ies) concerned. C. If the president finds a visitor’s decision to be in keeping with Scripture, he shall urge the acceptance of said decision. D. If after due admonition the president’s counsel is not accepted, he shall appoint a review committee of five members (three clergy and two lay).  The chairman of the committee shall be designated by the president.  The committee shall investigate the charges and decisions and, on the basis of its findings, make recommendation to the president. E. If further action is necessary, the president, together with the circuit visitor and the review committee, shall again attempt to bring about a resolution of the problem. 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. G. The suspended party has the right to appeal the decision.  This appeal shall be addressed to the convention through its president. (cf. Article V.) H. In the case of a congregation the same procedure shall be followed. 

The president’s cavalier dismissal of the bylaws in this case raises a number of concerns.    The bylaws our synod has adopted reflect biblical teaching.  The involvement of the congregation, the circuit visitor (or alternate visitor if necessary), and a review committee are stipulated for the purpose of preventing precisely the kind of abuse of power that has taken place.  The president appointed himself prosecutor, judge, and jury.  He claims that I admitted a charge that I repeatedly and explicitly denied.  Had he at least attempted to follow the guidelines set out in the synodical bylaws, the involvement of other men with a more objective and sympathetic perspective on this matter may have brought a happy resolution to the issue at hand.  The alternate visitor was not consulted.  No committee was appointed.  The congregation was not involved.  

The president defends himself for ignoring A – E and beginning the process with F.  The plain sense of the bylaws is that F is applied in those “special and urgent cases” where steps A – E have already been followed and yet there is still no resolution of the matter.  He defends excluding the congregation from the process by arguing, “[T]his 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.”  In excluding the congregation from the process, he not only disobeyed the synodical rules that govern the discipline of a pastor, but more seriously he set aside the biblical basis for those rules.  The above cited bylaws explicitly stipulate the biblical grounds for removing a pastor from office as “adhering to false doctrine, unscriptural practice, living an ungodly life or neglecting his duty.”  When I was being dismissed as pastor of River Heights Lutheran Church, an elder in the congregation confronted the voters with the fact that none of these biblical reasons applied to my case and so it was contrary to the Scriptures to rescind my call.  The voters nevertheless rescinded my call without biblical grounds because John Moldstad told them that if they didn’t do it he would throw the congregation out of the synod.  This is the evil that ensues when men place themselves above the rules.  The bylaws the president dismissed as irrelevant were written in order to apply the Holy Scriptures to our disciplinary process. 

He argues that since I was the circuit visitor “it was impossible to employ the assistance of the circuit visitor in this case.”  He could have employed the assistance of the alternate visitor.  Why didn’t he?  He further argues that it was urgent to suspend me because of my office as circuit visitor.  Then why didn’t he suspend me as circuit visitor?  The fact is that the matter was not urgent.  I had already expressed my willingness to remain silent on the issue.  I made repeated efforts to find a graceful way for him and me to extricate ourselves from confrontation so that the issues at hand could be approached in a calmer climate.  His “Explanation” of my suspension is nothing but a tortured argument for his right to ignore the rules, deny me due process, and behave unilaterally in a matter that requires the participation of the brotherhood.  Indeed, many brothers, whose counsel he ignored, urged him not to suspend me. 

At this point I should point out several errors in the president’s “Explanation” of my suspension.  He attributes to me the use of the words “unconfessional” and “not in keeping with sound doctrine” to describe the adopted document.  These are his words describing the Circuit 8 Revision.  They are not my words.  He cited an email he received from members of the River Heights board that said I wrote my “Clarifying the Issues” paper after I told them I “would be quiet on the issue.”  I did not suggest that I would “be quiet” until after the publication of that paper.  I made this suggestion in an effort to remove myself from the center of the controversy.  The email also says that the board asked me repeatedly to retract my paper.  The board asked me to do so only once, as I recount below.  Perhaps when they said such things as “back away from conflict” they meant “retract the paper.” 

Acting Outside the Authority of the Scriptures and the Confessions
In his efforts to suspend me from the ELS the president has acted outside of the authority of the Scriptures and the Confessions.  In my letter of January 31 to the president I said: 

If I have written anything against God’s word you must show me what it is.  I have asked you to do so several times and you haven’t done so.  I will stand corrected if the correction comes from the clear word of God.  If it does not, I cannot in conscience retract.  Were I to do so I would be acknowledging an authority that is greater than God’s word and that would be a sin. 

In the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Rule and Norm, paragraph three we Lutherans confess that the Holy Scriptures are the only standard by which all teachers and teachings in the church are to be judged.  We thereby pledge ourselves to the sacred duty of appealing to the written word of God when we judge the teaching of the church’s teachers.  The president has judged that I should be removed from the clergy roster of the ELS on account of what I wrote in my “Clarifying the Issues” paper.  Yet he has steadfastly refused even to attempt to show me from the Holy Scriptures where this paper says anything contrary to God’s word.  If it is the president’s opinion that statements in my paper are tantamount to charging the synod with false doctrine, then he is required by his office to require of me that I substantiate my charges.  Had he attempted to do so and had I refused to cooperate he could have argued that I was sowing seeds of discord within the synod.  But he did not attempt to do so.  In fact, he did everything he could do to avoid engaging me in a discussion of the theological issues, focusing exclusively on my alleged charge against the synod, a charge I deny.  If I want to charge my synod with false doctrine I am perfectly capable of doing so all by myself.  I don’t need any assistance from the president of the synod. 

Three times during his meeting with River Heights Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks on February 9 the president said that all pastors in the ELS must “unconditionally” accept synodically adopted doctrinal statements.  This places the PCM document on the same level as the Augsburg Confession.  The Lutheran Confessions were adopted unanimously by those men who subscribed unconditionally to them.  Two things go together here as a matter of principle: unanimity and an unconditional subscription.  The adopted statement on the ministry was opposed by 38% of the convention.  This does not mean that the 38% accuse the 62% of false doctrine (or vice versa).  It means that the kind of consensus for which we all pray was not achieved.  This does not mean that it cannot be achieved.  A shorter, simpler, clearer statement that says less but says it better could still be written and accepted with great unanimity.  What is particularly offensive to the Scripture alone principle that underlies our unconditional confessional subscription is the president’s insistence that a pastor unconditionally accept a document that he is not persuaded is entirely in agreement with the written word of God.  For the president to know that a pastor is not convinced that a doctrinal statement is entirely biblical and yet to insist that such a pastor unconditionally accept such a statement is to place the authority of the synod over the authority of God’s word.  The president’s suspension of me cannot be dissociated from his insistence upon an unconditional acceptance of synodically adopted doctrinal statements.  Synodical bylaws that require those wishing to join the ELS to give “a declaration of unconditional subscription to the synod’s confessions and teachings” (Chapter II, Application for Membership, Paragraph 2) do not place synodically adopted statements (that are subject to change and that have been altered in the past) on the same level as the Lutheran Confessions.  The president’s opinion on this matter is a legitimate subject for future fraternal discussion within the synod.  It is not a legitimate basis for unilaterally suspending a confessional Lutheran pastor against whom no charge of false doctrine has been leveled. 

Leading Brothers into Sin
The president sowed seeds of division within River Heights Lutheran Church.  He incited and then exploited fears of conflict within my congregation.  This began right after last summer’s convention when the voters of River Heights asked the congregational chairman to call the synodical president to express their concern about the three-minute suspension of their pastor.  During the following months, the president contacted the congregational chairman about my case several times.  When I asked him how many contacts were made, he replied, “I don’t have to answer that question.”  During this time the chairman of the congregation repeatedly expressed concern to me about my possible suspension.  I did my best to allay his fears and those of other church board members.  I assured the board that I would not come between the congregation and their synod.  I sincerely believed that I could provide such assurance. 

On January 16 our church board met and discussed my upcoming meeting with the synodical president scheduled for January 19.  The congregational chairman had polled members of the board prior to the meeting and began the discussion by saying: “We all agree that we want you to be our pastor and we also want to remain in the ELS.”  I was somewhat taken back by the comment, thinking that he was being an alarmist to suggest that they would have to choose between me and the ELS.  I assured him and the board that I also wanted to be their pastor and I wanted to remain a member of the ELS.  During and after the meeting the chairman and a couple of other board members asked me if I could back away from conflict with the synodical president.  I assured them that I would do my very best.  Every board member expressed his support of me, my doctrine, and their desire for me to remain the pastor of River Heights.  This gave me confidence that I had the support of the board when I visited with the synodical president later that week. 

During the January 19 meeting with the synodical president the following exchange took place as recorded by Secretary Ferkenstad: 

RP then asked to be shown a passage in the Bible that clearly supports a limited use of the keys. JM asked if the members of his congregation support his teaching as they have not filed an objection with the synod. RP replied that there is not one member of his congregation who disagrees with his teaching. JM asked if the minutes of this meeting could be shared with the congregation. RP responded “Yes,” saying they don’t want controversy. (pg 3) 

What the minutes cannot show is the expression on the president’s face and the tone of his question.  It was quite clear that he knew of opposition within my congregation of which I was unaware.  Both of my witnesses at the meeting noticed the same thing.  What the minutes do not recount is that, in response to my questions, the president made it clear that my congregation was on record in support of the PCM document if they did not officially dissent from it. 

When I returned home from the meeting I called the congregational chairman to tell him that I was calling a special voters meeting to be held on January 30 (as soon as the constitution permitted) for the purpose of asking the congregation to adopt an official dissent from the adopted synodical statement on the ministry.  On Thursday, January 26, at 10:30am the synodical president called me on the phone to tell me I would be suspended effective February 1.  The congregation would be given three options: 1) Uphold my suspension from the synod by removing me as their pastor; 2) Keep me as their pastor and be removed from the synod and her fellowship; 3) Put me on a two week paid leave of absence while they considered the first two options.  This was the first I learned of the president’s intent to suspend my congregation.   

After I got off of the phone with the synodical president, a member of the congregation came by the office accompanied by two board members.  I learned that the board had met without my knowledge on the previous Tuesday.  At that meeting they had resolved to ask the voters to require that I submit to the president’s request to retract my paper.  This was the first time the board asked me to retract my paper.   

On the following Monday the voters met.  The synodical president reported this meeting in his “Explanation” in the following words: 

January 29, 2006— [January 30, RDP] 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).  

In fact, four motions were passed.  The motion the president neglected to mention was to affirm that I had been a faithful pastor, teaching and preaching nothing but the pure doctrine for the eight years I had served at River Heights Lutheran Church.  The vote was unanimous

After the two week leave of absence expired, the voters met again and voted to honor the president’s suspension of me.  The congregation’s constitution requires an absolute majority of the voting membership to remove a pastor from office and there was no such majority present at the meeting.  On February 27 the voters met again.  There were voters present who had not been to church in many months.  The acting chairman shared with the voters the opinion of the synodical president that to keep the pastor under suspension and not to accept the PCM document was a contradiction.  The 13-3 vote against the PCM of January 30 was reversed by a vote of 16-12.  Before the vote to rescind my call I addressed the assembly.  I told them how much I have loved preaching the gospel to them and how sad I was that the last words that I would speak to them as their pastor would likely be the law.  I quoted to them from St. Luke 10:16, “He who hears you hears me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”  I urged them not to vote to rescind my call.  I told them that they must show from God’s word that God wants me removed as their pastor in order to rescind my call.  They voted two to one to rescind my call.  The reason given in the motion was that I was no longer on the clergy roster of the ELS.  When asked what the biblical basis was for rescinding my call, the acting chairman replied that my call was being rescinded because I was no longer a member of the ELS. 

On January 26 the president of the ELS rendered an ultimatum to my congregation that required them to respond by February 1.  He threatened my congregation with suspension from the synod and her fellowship if they did not remove me as their pastor.  He has insisted that he was not required to show that I was guilty of false teaching, immoral living, or neglect of my duties in order to remove me from the ELS.  But he knows – as all pastors in the ELS know – that such is most certainly required in order to remove a man from office as the called pastor of a congregation.  He can argue that he didn’t violate God’s word in rescinding my call.  The voters of River Heights Lutheran Church did that.  The man that threatened my congregation with expulsion from synod unless they fired their faithful pastor may thus wash his hands of responsibility for this sin.  Nineteen members of River Heights Lutheran Church voted to rescind my call.  They did so in defiance of God and in obedience to John Moldstad.  In appealing to the ELS to overturn my suspension from the ELS I am also asking the ELS to hold John Moldstad accountable for leading my brothers into this sin against Christ. 

I have shown that the president falsely accused me of charging the synod with false doctrine.  The minutes of our meeting in Cold Spring on January 19 make it clear that the president himself took me at my word that I was making no such charge.  He has not exercised pastoral supervision of my doctrine.  He has rather suspended me from the synod while refusing to show me where I have taught anything contrary to God’s word.  He has used the adopted statement on the ministry as a personal weapon against me.  He has denied me due process and ignored synodical bylaws.  He has taken away from me the oversight of the congregation that the Holy Spirit gave to me.  I am asking that the synod rule that my suspension is unjust and to restore me as a member in good standing of the ELS.  I am also asking that the synod reaffirm the biblical grounds for removing a pastor from office.  Finally, I am asking the synod to provide good pastoral care for my brothers at River Heights Lutheran Church to lead them to acknowledge the wrong they have done and be given absolution in the name of Christ that they may be reconciled to me and to their brothers and sisters in the circuit and in the synod who have been scandalized by my unbiblical removal.  It is my fervent prayer that the gospel of the full and free forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake will bind our entire synod together in true Christian love.     

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