Our synod office announced today that it received a letter from several pastors and two congregations. I’ll include a both the announcement and the letter itself below. Careful readers will notice that they do not agree about one important thing. The letter says that this state of confession makes it impossible for the signers to commune with those individuals who persistently act contrary to God’s Word. The letter does not apply to anyone else. The announcement has a different point of view: that the state of confession makes it impossible for the signers to enjoy altar and pulpit fellowship with the entire synod. Which is correct? Also, what does the synod administration hope to accomplish with its different point of view?
Perhaps the second question can be answered from the announcement, which informs the synod of a certain implication of the state of confession. The implication is that “they are in a protest doctrinally against the ELS since doctrine and practice go hand in hand.” Note the logic.
- Major Premise
- Certain pastors and churches have entered a state of confession against certain things persistently done contrary to God’s Word.
- Minor Premise
- Doctrine and practice go hand in hand.
- (Intermediate) Conclusion
- These pastors and churches are protesting the doctrine of the ELS.
First: is the argument valid? That is, if you grant that the premises are true, must the conclusion always be true as well? Second: Are the premises true? I believe the premises are both true and well established. However, the conclusion is not valid. Why not? Because it is eminently possible that the actions under protest have been done contrary to the doctrine of the ELS. It is also possible that the people of the ELS do not always put its doctrine into practice in a consistent manner.
The final conclusion in this announcement is what I mentioned at the beginning of this article: that these pastors and congregations are not at this time in altar/pulpit fellowship with pastors and congregations of the ELS. This is based upon the (invalid) intermediate conclusion above.
(Note the final conclusion does not say other pastors and congregations of the ELS, which leads one to suppose that the author may have a further, unstated conclusion in mind.)
Toward the end of the announcement, a consequence is described of any pastor’s suspension from the ELS. Namely, that the suspended pastor and the parish he serves are not in a “fellowshipping relationship” with the synod. This assumes that the congregation does not terminate his call on the basis of the suspension alone — one of the acts presently under protest. Presumably, if the parish should terminate its pastor’s call, even contrary to its own constitution, then it would retain the “fellowshipping relationship.”
But an important question or two must be asked here. Does the suspension of a pastor from the clergy roster of the ELS have the same effect as an excommunication; does it effectively place the suspended person outside of the synod’s fellowship? If so, what was the sin committed by Pastor Preus in the first place? What is the “cause” for removing him, or of what sin is he supposed to repent? I have not heard that anyone has accused him of teaching false doctrine. Was it that he insisted that there must be scriptural support for an assertion in our doctrinal statement on the ministry? Is it that without such support, the assertion in question does not have the authority of God’s Word? Was he not supposed to say things like that?
Hard questions, I know. Maybe we don’t have any theologians in the ELS capable of answering such questions, so we must resort to more creative solutions. It’s easy enough to claim something in writing (I should know), but it’s sometimes not so easy to back it up with clear scripture and good logic.
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September 25, 2006
I received at my office today a letter under date of September 20, 2006, written by three pastors who have declared themselves in a state of confession concerning the suspension of Pastor Rolf Preus and the rescinding of his call by the River Heights congregation. Please find a copy of the letter attached. If you are unable to open it, I will provide here a very brief summary of the letter:
The men state that they find no valid reasons for Pastor Preus’ suspension and therefore are “bound by conscience and God’s Word to remain in fellowship with him.” This means that they are through this notice declaring that they “remain in altar and pulpit fellowship with Pastor Preus and with the congregations he serves.” They understand that to declare themselves to be in statu confessionis means that they “can have no Communion fellowship with President Moldstad, the River Heights congregation, nor with those on the Appeals Committee and others who support Pastor Preus’ suspension and the rescinding of his call until such time as there is repentance for the sins committed and these wrongs are righted.”
The letter also is being sent by two congregations, Wayfarers’ Chapel Lutheran Church, Fillmore, CA, and St. Paul Lutheran Church, Escondido, CA.
Naturally as the president of the synod, I am saddened to have received this protest notice from the three pastors and the two congregations. I need to inform all in the synod, however, that this state of confession indicates that they are putting the synod on notice that they are in a protest doctrinally against the ELS since doctrine and practice go hand in hand. It is to be understood from my office that this state of confession period is seen as a temporary measure that will not continue for very long without some official resolution of the matter. Until the state of confession is removed, I need to make it clear that this means these three pastors and the two congregations are not at this time in altar/pulpit fellowship with the pastors and congregations of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
I would urge patient resolve on the part of all as we move forward in the wake of the recent Appeal’s Commission ruling regarding Pastor Preus. As I am sure all are aware, but I will repeat it here for clarity, this ruling indicates that Pastor Preus and the parish he serves is not in a fellowshipping relationship with our synod. I ask all in the synod to respect the fellowship implications of the Appeal’s Commission ruling on September 11, 2006.
Let us pray that God will give us a true spirit of unity in our confession of His word and in our practice of fellowship.
“Live in peace with one another” (1 Thess. 5:13). “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:15). “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Sincerely in Christ,
John A. Moldstad
September 20, 2006
Wednesday in the Week of Trinity 15
To the Office of the Rev. John A. Moldstad, Jr., ELS President
State of Confession concerning the suspension of Pastor Rolf Preus and the rescinding of his call by River Heights Lutheran Church.
The February 1, 2006 suspension of Pastor Rolf Preus from the clergy roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod by President John Moldstad, Jr., the subsequent action taken by River Heights Lutheran Church, East Grand Forks, MN in rescinding Pastor Preus’ call, and the recent decision of the Commission on Appeals elected at the 2006 ELS convention to uphold Pastor Preus’ suspension makes it necessary that we issue the following statement.
Concerning Pastor Preus’ suspension from the ELS clergy roster, we find no valid reasons for his suspension. Valid reasons consist of adhering to false doctrine, unscriptural practice, living an ungodly life, or neglect of duties (ELS By-Laws, Guidelines for Synodical Discipline and Appeals, Article I). Pastor Preus has not been charged with nor is he guilty of committing any of these offenses. Therefore, we cannot recognize Pastor Preus’ suspension.
Also, since Pastor Preus’ suspension and his exclusion from the fellowship of the ELS have been without just cause, and since it is sinful to sever Christian fellowship without just cause (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; Ephesians 4:3), we are bound by conscience and by God’s Word to remain in fellowship with him. Therefore, we hereby declare that we remain in altar and pulpit fellowship with Pastor Preus and with the congregations he serves.
Concerning the rescinding of Pastor Preus’ call by the River Heights congregation, this also was done without just cause. Valid reasons for deposing a pastor are the same as those listed above for suspension: persistent teaching of false doctrine, ungodly life, or neglect of duties. Since Pastor Preus is not guilty of any of these offenses, it is an offense against Christ and against the call He issued to Pastor Preus through the congregation that the River Heights congregation deposed him as their pastor. It is likewise an offense against Christ and against the doctrine of the call that President Moldstad used his office to influence the congregation to take this action. Because of their actions, both the congregation and President Moldstad have sinned in this matter.
As a result of these offenses against Christ, His Word, His Church, and Pastor Preus, and because repeated calls to repentance have been ignored, we the undersigned hereby declare ourselves to be in a state of confessional protest (In Statu Confessionis). We can have no Communion fellowship with President Moldstad, the River Heights congregation, nor with those on the Commission on Appeals and others who support Pastor Preus’ suspension and the rescinding of his call until such time as there is repentance for the sins committed and these wrongs are righted.
Pastor Leslie R. Lanier Pastor Robert A. Lawson, Jr. Pastor Steven Brockdorf Wayfarer's Chapel Lutheran Church, Fillmore, CA St. Paul Lutheran Church, Escondido, CA
Cc. Rev. Glen Obenberger, ELS Vice President; Rev. Craig Ferkenstad, ELS Secretary; ELS Board of Trustees c/o Rev. John Moldstad, chairman; ELS Doctrine Committee c/o Rev. Prof. Gaylin Schmeling, chairman; The appeals committee dealing with the suspension of Rev. Rolf Preus c/o Rev. Charles Keeler, chairman; The congregation of River Heights Lutheran Church, East Grand Forks, MN