Presentation to the Commission on Appeals

Rolf Preus

August 22, 2006 

My case is very simple.  The issue before this Commission is clear.  Is the written Word of God “the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated” as we confess in the Formula of Concord?  Or may we set aside the Holy Scriptures and judge pastors by another standard of doctrine?  The president of the ELS has expelled me from the Synod.  He has done so without showing or even attempting to show that I have done or said anything wrong.  He has not even tried to show that I have committed a sin that disqualifies me from the pastoral office.  He has not even tried to show that my teaching is contrary to the Holy Scriptures on any point.  He has not even tried to show that I am unable or unwilling to do the work of the ministry.  On the basis of a claim to authority that God has not given him, the president of the Synod expelled me from the Synod and required that my congregation rescind – without cause – my divine call or be excluded from the fellowship of the ELS and become an independent congregation.  That the president of the ELS has the power to do this is a scandal in the biblical sense of the word.  He has expelled me from the ELS without showing that I have done or said anything wrong.  Indeed, he has expelled me because I wrote the truth and would not retract the truth that I wrote.  I am asking that this Commission rule that the president sinned in expelling me from the ELS and that I be restored as a member of the ELS in good standing. 

The fact that the process of adjudication has been corrupted makes it imperative that the Commission on Appeals overturn my expulsion from the synod.  That the process has been corrupted cannot be denied in light of these facts already provided to the Commission on Appeals: 

1.                  The synodical president has steadfastly refused to follow either the Scriptures or the bylaws of the Synod in his dealings with me as I show in my written Appeal.

2.                  The synodical president denied the convention’s right to debate the debatable motion of approving the slate of nominees for this Commission on Appeals nominated by the Board of Trustees.

3.                  Two of the three clergy members of this Commission on Appeals have publicly expressed their view that those who disagree with the PCM document should leave the ELS, thus calling into question my right to dissent from the adopted statement on the basis of God’s word, a right that is crucial to my defense.

4.                  Rev. Smith refused to recuse himself after I asked him to do so.

5.                  The Board of Trustees, which is supposed to be impartial on account of its responsibility of nominating an impartial slate of candidates for the Commission on Appeals, nevertheless went on public record at the convention in support of my suspension. 

When I argue that the process has been corrupted, I am not passing judgment on the integrity of the men who comprise the Commission on Appeals.  Indeed, it will require a rare integrity indeed for the men of this Commission to rise to the occasion and do their Christian duty.  Their Christian duty is to overturn President Moldstad’s expulsion of me from the ELS.  My expulsion from the ELS was the only reason given for the revocation of my divine call by the voters of RHLC.  To remove a faithful minister of the word from office in defiance of biblical principles of due process is an intolerable offense of which the synod itself would become guilty should the offense not be removed.  It is the duty of the Commission on Appeals to do just that. 

More serious than the corruption of a synodical adjudicatory process is the assault on the office of the holy ministry perpetrated by President John Moldstad.  By requiring the voters of River Heights Lutheran Church to dismiss me from my divine call without cause or to be expelled from the Synod the synodical president has denied the divine institution of and the divine call into the pastoral office; he has rejected the Holy Scriptures as the only rule and norm of doctrine and practice for the church; he has defied elementary standards of justice and due process acknowledged even by the unregenerate.  

He has denied the divine institution of and the divine call into the pastoral office.  These two go together.  That the Holy Spirit made me overseer of RHLC is inseparable from the divine institution of that office of oversight that God entrusted to me.  By invading the flock that the Lord placed under my oversight, President Moldstad denied by his actions that God established that office of oversight.  I told those men that God had placed under my spiritual care that they could not remove me as their pastor without showing from the Holy Scriptures that God wanted me removed.  I urged them to listen to the Holy Scriptures and not to a man in Mankato when considering rescinding the call of their faithful pastor.  The acting chairman of the Voters Assembly responded by saying, “The man in Mankato has a divine call.”  For most of the members of the RHLC Voters’ Assembly, it was a debate between two pastors and the president of the synod had more authority than their own pastor.  As the acting chairman’s father said at the same meeting, “Synod is the final authority.”  The president of the synod misled the leaders of my congregation.  He led them to reject the divinely established oversight of their own pastor and to substitute for it the human authority of a synodical president.  In requiring them to submit to his human authority or be excluded from the fellowship, the president led them into disobedience.  This was quite deliberate.  President John Moldstad has, in effect, denied the divine institution of the pastoral office and the divine call into the pastoral office by stealing from me the pastoral oversight of RHLC given to me by the Holy Spirit. 

The president has rejected the Holy Scriptures as the only rule and norm of doctrine and practice for the church.  The president had accused me of no sin and no false teaching.  He was perfectly aware of the fact that no one at RHLC had accused me of any sin or false doctrine.  He was aware of the fact that there were no biblical grounds for my removal as pastor of RHLC.  He nevertheless insisted that RHLC depose me as their pastor as a condition for remaining in fellowship with the ELS.  By rejecting the Holy Scriptures as the norm for judging a pastor, he required the men of RHLC to sin against God as the condition for remaining a congregation of the ELS. 

The president has defied elementary standards of justice and due process acknowledged even by the unregenerate.  He writes 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.”  President Moldstad says I have admitted the charge.  That’s false and President Moldstad knows it is false.  I have repeatedly denied the charge to his face.  As the minutes of our January 19, 2006 meeting in Cold Spring make clear, he himself acknowledged that he believed me when I said that I was not charging the synod with false doctrine.  When he subsequently argues that he is not required to follow the bylaws because I have purportedly admitted to his charge, he argues against what he knows to be true.  He accuses, tries, convicts, and sentences me to be excluded from the synodical fellowship by bare presidential fiat, without any pretence at following the rules he promised he would follow when he was installed.  In his judgment he doesn’t need to follow the bylaws because in his judgment I have admitted to a charge that I deny.  In this way his judgment replaces the rules.  Any heathen can see that this is tyrannical and unjust.  To tolerate such behavior on the part of its president would bring our beloved synod into disrepute from which it would be difficult to recover. 

Yes, but is it not true that I have indeed accused the ELS of false doctrine and that by so doing I have ipso facto excluded myself from her fellowship (inasmuch as one may not express fellowship with purveyors of false doctrine)?  This appears to be the president’s argument in his Explanation.  But it ignores a crucial distinction.  There is a difference between the casual intrusion of error and the persistent advocacy of false doctrine.  There is therefore a difference between pointing out error and leveling charges of false doctrine.  A synod can err.  An orthodox synod can err.  To deny this is to deny the Lutheran Reformation.  The right to dissent from officially adopted doctrinal statements is fundamental to the sola Scriptura principle as set forth in FC SD Rule and Norm, paragraph 3 as I have repeatedly argued throughout this entire process.  For Moldstad to argue that I have excluded myself from the fellowship of the ELS on account of my dissent from a single doctrinal resolution that was strongly opposed by a significant minority of the synod is to elevate the authority of an ongoing and incomplete synodical process above the authority of God’s word.  Surely, a pastor in an orthodox synod must have the right to dissent from doctrinal statements without automatically forfeiting all rights of membership.  If brotherly correction is intolerable, casual error will necessarily become persistent adherence to false doctrine. 

I criticized a poorly written document that President Moldstad (against much brotherly advice to the contrary) rushed for adoption.  He has taken my criticism of that document and claimed that it is criticism of the ELS.  Ignoring every other document to which the ELS subscribes, he judges my view of the ELS solely on the basis of my view of the controversial document that he knows a significant portion of the synod cannot accept and this despite the fact that I conclude my paper with a brotherly acknowledgment of the great consensus we in the ELS enjoy on the doctrine of the ministry of the word.  And he accuses me of sowing seeds of discord among brethren! 

President Moldstad claims that I use words that are inflammatory and constitute sowing seeds of discord.  Here are the portions he cites as particularly objectionable.  I write:  “I cannot accept the PCM document.”  At the 2005 GPC over twenty pastors of the ELS signed a “Statement of Opposition to the PCM Document” that states, “We cannot accept the document for the following reasons.”  Why hasn’t he suspended them?  

I write: “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.” (Emphasis added by JAM)  How can it have authority over me if I am not persuaded that everything it says is in complete agreement with the word of God?  We’re not talking about submitting to human rules out of love for the brethren.  We can acknowledge the authority of rules with which we disagree.  We regularly do so and teach our children and our parishioners to do the same.  But no Lutheran may submit to a doctrinal authority that is not that of the Holy Scriptures. 

I write: “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.” (Emphasis added by JAM)  For saying this, the president throws me out of the synod.  On May 17, 2005, I wrote a letter to President Moldstad in which I said: “If you can show me from the Holy Scriptures that the divinely instituted ministry of the word includes offices with a limited public use of the keys I will confess this with you.”  Enclosed in that letter was my paper, “Does the Bible Teach a Limited Public Use of the Keys?” in which I argued that the PCM document presented human traditions as divine doctrine without providing biblical support for those traditions.  The president ignored my letter and the enclosed paper.  Then, after the PCM document obtained synodical status, he immediately appealed to its authority to suspend me from the synod.  He demanded submission to the doctrinal authority of a synodical document while refusing to respond to my biblically grounded objections to it.  This is to reject the authority of the Holy Scriptures. 

I write: “When it [the PCM document] 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. (Emphasis added by JAM)  Instead of throwing me out of the synod for saying this, President Moldstad should show me where God’s word teaches this representative ministry model that is assumed throughout the adopted document but never scripturally demonstrated. 

I write:  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. …”  Once again, he assumes no responsibility for showing my criticism to be in error.  He presumes rather to expel me from the Synod for making it. 

I write: “[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.”  Note, that I am criticizing a model or paradigm into which the doctrine has been placed.  Note as well that I conclude in my paper that we have great consensus in our synod on this topic.  My criticism of a poorly written and poorly conceived document does not constitute a charge of false doctrine against the ELS. 

By transferring my legitimate criticism of a document that was rushed to adoption without adequate discussion into an assault on the ELS itself John Moldstad has distorted the facts to support his predetermined objective, namely, to expel me from the ELS.  In the process he has led brothers into grievous sin, caused scandalous division within the synod, and promoted false teaching with respect to the divine institution of the pastoral office and the divine call into the same.  I believe, on the basis of the clear teaching of God’s word and the indisputable facts of this case, that it is the Christian duty of the Commission on Appeals to rebuke President Moldstad for his public sin and to declare me reinstated as a pastor of the ELS in good standing.

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