Fellowship is a highly-valued thing among conservative Lutherans. It is a recognition that various individuals, churches, pastors, &c. ought to freely join together in worship as circumstances may allow. Recently, I read a sentence from a theologically-trained pastor claiming a person can be placed outside of a particular fellowship by a suspension of that person from a group belonging to said fellowship. If you don’t understand that sentence, read it again. By the way, this pastor happens to be “in my fellowship,” as we say.

I’d like to point out that this statement reveals a misunderstanding of fellowship. Fellowship is not of human origin. Our declarations, suspensions, or favor do not place someone “in” or “out” of fellowship. Rather, God-pleasing fellowship comes into existence when more than one person believes, teaches, and confesses the biblical doctrine, ordering their practice accordingly. Fellowship is a doctrinal matter, not a political matter. If you wish to say that someone has left the fellowship defined by the Bible’s doctrine, it is incumbent upon you to show how that person has persistently and knowingly disavowed the Bible’s doctrine. Lacking that, it is inappropriate (dare I say “disorderly” or even “offensive?”) to claim that someone has been “put out” of the fellowship.

It is possible for fellowships to gather around other doctrines too, such as the various philosophies and opinions of men. Such fellowships amount to clubs with voluntary memberships. But orthodox, evangelical and catholic fellowship is created by the Word of God. We can recognize it where it exists, but not even kings or princes have the power to change its membership.

One thought on “Fellowship

  1. Jesse,
    Two quotations from 1865 Norwegian Synod Meeting address. These relate to the kind of relationship the Old Synod maintained and the kind of authority the Synod claimed. This related directly to the way they carried out recognizing fellowship within a synod, rather than insisting on “fellowship principles.”

    “Now where the rights and the power which God has given his church in his Word, for example, the power of the keys, and with it the right to install and remove pastors, practice church discipline, stipulate ceremonies and the like, have been transferred to the prince and exercised by him down through the centuries partly through worldly advisors, partly through pastors and bishops as royal functionaries, as has readily been the case in the state churches; furthermore, where the prince, so far from recognizing his right to exercise only such authority as has been turned over to him by the congregations, which therefore must always have the right to take it back and to exercise it themselves, much rather, claims it as something which is due him according to divine right (iure divino) whether as the supreme bishop (summus episcopus) or as ruler; where now to this a legislative assembly, parliament or the like, which does not once need to confess the faith or belong to the congregations, has the power to give all kinds of laws and edicts for the congregations which also should be obeyed by them for God’s sake pursuant to the Fourth Commandment, there it is very natural that the concepts of congregation, church and church government become confused, yes, entirely false.”

    and later

    “But orthodox congregations also have to watch with the most extreme diligence that through their joining together and through their adopting a constitution for it, that while they do relinquish a portion of their freedom and independence voluntarily in love and with concern for their own as well as the common good, that they do not, however, transfer to the synod or to the joint-church such rights or such power which the Lord has not only entrusted to the congregations themselves, but whose exercise by themselves is the best guarantee for the preservation of the pure faith, for example, installing and removing pastors, practicing church discipline, and adopting hymnbooks and school books. But even less must congregations give to the joint-church or its officers such a power and authority that their decisions should be binding law for the congregations by virtue of a divine authority which should be due them as those who are over them according to the Fourth Commandment – even if their decisions do not conflict with the Word of God. Such a concession on the part of the congregations would make the synod a papacy which would be just as unchristian as the one which reigns in Rome. It would make the congregations slaves of men and would place a yoke upon them which would be heavier to bear and more difficult to remove than that which imprisons and oppresses them in the state churches.”

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