The ACELC exists "to give a united voice against errors that are officially adopted in convention, tolerated, and/or promoted in the LCMS.”

Biblical Ecclesiastical Supervision: Prescriptive or Descriptive?

This past year I was privileged to attend my 10th ACELC Conference. While all have been worthwhile, this last one, which focused on Ecclesiastical Supervision in Christ's Church, I found especially enlightening. Hopefully, what follows here (and in future email blasts) will encourage others to review some of the video presentations online and/or read the accompanying papers. Today I am focusing on the opening presentation by Rev. Daniel Freeman: “The Biblical Basis of Ecclesiastical Supervision.” (Click here for the paper or video.)

After acknowledging and giving credit to the Rev. Terry Forke (president of the Montana District) for his earlier presentation of this topic at a Pastors' Conference which Pastor Freeman attended, he does not shy away from providing ample Biblical evidence that — be it prescriptive or descriptive — there is no doubt that ecclesiastical supervision stands on a Biblical foundation!

He begins to reveal that foundation by considering Jesus' supervision of His apostles, both before and after sending them out as His emissaries (Matthew 10:1-5). Acknowledging the authority given the Apostles is not their own, but Christ's, he makes clear how they are to exercise such authority in their own time and place (Matthew 28:18-20). This leads to revealing how, in part, Jesus will be in their presence with His ongoing authority and supervision (John 14:25f; 15:26f; 16:13). The ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit, which “bears witness to Jesus and guides the apostles into all truth,” is rooted in Jesus' authority and it eventually leads His apostles to “record for the Church the Holy Scripture, the rule and norm of all supervision” (Luke 10:17-20; John 20:19-23).

Not surprisingly, Jesus' way of supervising His apostles “translated to a practice of supervision among the apostles and into the apostolic church” (Acts 9:26-30; 11:19-26; 15:1-2; 15:13-20). At this juncture, Pastor Freeman notes the importance visitation plays in supervision, especially for Paul, referring us to Acts 15:36. Next, after noting that Paul gives an account of his activities and results to James, he shows how Paul both submits to and challenges apostolic authority (Galatians 2:1-2, 11-14), revealing how “the supervised also offers supervision on the basis of the Word of Christ.”

Other topics covered include: Jesus' sending of His apostles; the apostles sending others; the appointing of pastors; the supervision of doctrine and life using the Law and the Gospel; and finally, the necessity of an attitude of service to effectively carry out ecclesiastical supervision. Through it all, the stress is on the fact that “the authority of ecclesiastical supervision is an authority based in and flowing from the Word of God—even the Word made flesh, Jesus.” Thus, anyone holding supervisory authority of those in the Office of the Word, must himself occupy the Office of the Word, and he must rightly handle the word of truth.

More could be said, but instead, you are encouraged to view the video and read Pastor Freeman's presentation. Perhaps the quotation below from his final page will encourage you.

“By way of summary, the Biblical evidence seems to show that while there is no prescriptive evidence for a system of ecclesiastical supervision in the Scripture, there is certainly ample descriptive evidence of a system of ecclesiastical supervision in the Scripture. And such a system seems to be expected for the sake of pure doctrine and holy life of those who proclaim the Gospel.”

Rev Bruce G. Ley
Pastor (Emeritus) Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church
Albany, Oregon


2022 Conference

Christ for Us: Catechesis and Synodical Unity
July 12-14, 2022
Grace Lutheran Church, Grand Island, Nebraska

Past Conference Presentations:

Ecclesiastical Supervision, 2021

The Church's Mission & Evangelistic Task, 2019

Unionism & Syncretism, 2018

The Order of Creation, 2017

Dispute Resolution, 2016

Unbiblical Removal of Pastors, 2015

Office of the Holy Ministry, 2014

The Divine Service, 2013

The Lord’s Supper!, 2012

Addressing Error in The LCMS, 2011


This video serves as a great discussion prompter for congregations, gatherings of circuit pastors, districts—all who care about the spiritual well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ within the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. It spells out clearly the issues of doctrine and practice that continue to cause division within our synod and threaten our ability to walk together. It also shows our desire assist in the return to faithfulness within our synod.

We encourage you to watch this video, and use the study guides, as we together seek to deal with such issues, guided by the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. We pray that these resources, and others available through the ACELC website, will be a blessing to you and our synod. We welcome your feedback.

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