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Thursday, September 03, 2009 

My Email To The Lutheran Witness Concerning A Recent Article On DCEs

I just thought I’d share what is only my second letter to the editors of the official periodical of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, The Lutheran Witness, concerning the latest article on Directors of Christian Education or DCE’s:

I apologize for taking so long to write this email but my vocation has had me quite busy as of late. It is the matter of vocation that I write today.

One of the blessings of the reformation was the freeing of the people of consciences that had been burdened by the Roman system of works. Under this system, people had been taught the only good works and vocations were those done for the service of the church by the priests, nuns, and monks (I’m sure there are other sub-vocations but those escape me at the moment). The Roman culture was so corrupt that by the time of the Reformation; there are in fact reports of parents, fearing for their children’s eternal souls, giving up their infants directly to monasteries or nunneries to insure that they might merit heaven by a life of service to God’s church. I have great difficulty imagining, as most would today, the fear of just not doing enough to merit our Lord’s grace to the point that I would leave my child with a religious order.

The question I have now is this; are we really all that far away from the same mind set the faced the reformers five hundred years ago? Are we now ourselves burdening consciences with the idea that unless you do something for the church, your vocation is a lesser vocation? I think sometimes we do indeed say that even if it is not what we intend and I think the recent article on DCE’s very much propagates this false notion.

Under “What is a DCE?” found on page 19 of the August issue of the Lutheran Witness; an explanation from the website of Concordia University Texas is used to describe what the vocation of a DCE is and states:

A director of Christian education (DCE) is a synodically certified, called, and commissioned life-span educational leader prepared for team ministry in a congregational setting.

In this setting a DCE is
· a called minister of the Gospel;
· a trained parish-education specialist;
· a team minister who works with the pastor, staff, and lay leaders of the congregation;
· a teacher of the faith; and
· a trainer of the laity for service

Ok, I have little problem with bullet points 2 and 5 as a DCE is educated to be an educator. However, on bullet points 1, 3, and 4, I find these explanations to be confusing at best and an outright rejection of the Lutheran father's bold confessions during the reformation at worst.

DCE’s are not ministers, period. The ministry is only for those men called by our Lord through our congregations as we confess in AC XIV: Our churches teach that no one should publically teach in the church or administer the Sacraments, without a rightly ordered call1. In this article of confession, we clearly confess that it is the pastors who are charged to be ministers and teachers of the faith. It is through this Office of the Holy Ministry that our Lord uses these under-shepherds to feed his sheep until his glorious return. The office of ministry belongs to pastors and to pastors alone.

Putting the best construction on the matter I’ll presume that this blurring of educator and minister is a mere oversight. The danger of such confusion is that with catechesis in this country as poor as it is, there will undoubtedly be some people reading this article and thinking, like so many in Americanized Christianity do, that as the saying goes; everybody’s a minister. What typically goes with that thought is that only “ministry” is a God pleasing vocation. This is a dangerous idea that has burdened many souls since medieval times. This is a dangerous idea that runs rampant all across our country as people create idols out of “finding God’s purpose for you” and serving one’s neighbor but only through sanctioned sanctification.

Maybe one might say that “Well, that terminology would be understood by any Lutheran reader so you’re just splitting hairs!” I would hope that I would be able to share any article with my non-Lutheran next door neighbor but I can’t honestly say I would share this particular piece. Shouldn’t the Lutheran Witness be a clearer witness and not having all of us dig out our secret decoder rings and explaining to our neighbors that we say DCE’s are ministers but not really? Is should mean is here or a better way to say it is that is shouldn’t even have been used.

DCE’s are trained as educators and we should hold up this valuable vocation for what it is. DCE’s are not trained to be ministers and neither are our ushers, the people who clean our sanctuaries, or the people who fix our church secretaries’ favorite copier. Just because I’m a metrologist doesn't mean I’ve a metrology ministry. I could go on and on but my point is that we all have valuable vocations that are God pleasing and allow us to serve our neighbor but we are not all ministers!

Often people try to elevate vocations by tearing down another and many times the Office of the Holy Ministry seems to be a favorite target. By reproducing Concordia University Texas’s misleading website information on the role of a DCE; the author or the editor risked unnecessarily burdening the consciences of the readers of the Lutheran Witness. As the official periodical of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod; better care should have been taken to use language that is distinctively confessional (even if unpopular) and Lutheran (also, even if unpopular) and then explained if such was an explanation was required.

I hope that in the future more discernment will be used when reporting on the subjects of vocation as well as ministry.

1 For the record, I am quoting the Augsburg Confession article XIV from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. A Reader’s Edition (CPH) which has passed a doctrinal review from the LCMS Commission on Doctrinal Review; an undertaking I’m not entirely sure the Concordia University Texas’s website could muster.

In Christ,

Frank Gillespie

CC Concordia University Texas Webmaster

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You, sir, speak truth, and do so boldly!

Very nicely done.

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  • From The Haut South
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