I attended the communion service at the synod convention in June, but refrained from communing. I also may attend the communion service at the General Pastoral Conference, but I will refrain from communing. Lest anyone jump to conclusions or speculations, it is important that I give the reason for this.
Communing together with other Christians is an expression of unity in the faith as the body of Christ. Though I may think that some of my brothers in Christ are mistaken about various things, I do not believe any of them are truly opposed to the doctrine that has united our synod for 88 years, including Pastors Rolf Preus, Joseph Abrahamson, Steven Brockdorf, Rob Lawson, and Les Lanier. These pastors have not persisted in any false doctrine that I know of, and neither has the rest of the synod. (If you disagree, please bring a charge and prove it appropriately.) So my decision not to commune is not based upon a lack of Christian fellowship between me and any part of the ELS (including Pastor Preus and his parish).
So why not commune?
Because some of my brothers have been misled by our true enemy into a sectarian point of view, believing that a man who questions the scriptural authority of a synod doctrinal statement should be excluded from our fellowship, rather than that he should receive the answers he seeks, or that his point be well-taken. This is sad for those whom they are excluding, who are bearing the cross of unjust rejection even as their Savior and the first Christian martyr, Stephen, did. It is even sadder for those who have given their assent to this new sectarianism that has arisen in our midst under the guise of Christian fellowship. Yet even Saul, who held the robes of those who stoned Stephen, found complete forgiveness and received a godly vocation when our Lord finally corrected him.
Yet I do not regard my misguided brothers as false teachers. They are misled, and I pray that they will come to see things better through our mutual study of God’s Word. In the meantime, I do not wish to offend an erring or ill-informed conscience by exercising my right as a fellow member of the body of Christ. I can only speak for myself. Again, my decision is not to separate from anyone, but to protect those who have been misled into unjust sectarianism, and hopefully to help them see the influence of our true enemy, who seeks to divide the ELS.
Someone may wonder if I subscribe to our synod’s doctrinal statements, based upon the foregoing explanation. In a sense, yes. We can call it the wider sense of the word “subscribe.” You see, our synodical doctrinal statements are not the same as the symbols of our church. They are not, strictly speaking, confessions of the evangelical catholic faith. Rather, they are expressions and applications of doctrine addressing particular, contemporary, parochial issues. They are meant to apply in the context where our synod finds itself. The Norwegian Synod statements on slavery are one good example, and the doctrinal statement just adopted last year is another. Such statements are not written for all Christians, nor even for all Lutherans to adopt, though they aim to agree with the Bible and symbols (creeds and confessions), and as such, express universal principles of Christian doctrine. Moreover, they are completely subject to testing and examination, even after they have been adopted, with the understanding that if they are found to contradict the norm of our faith, they must be rejected. The Confessions, on the other hand, while likewise subject to testing, have already been proven to a degree that they may be assumed a priori to be in agreement with holy scripture. Just see which doctrinal statements are mentioned by name in our church constitutions! Accordingly, I reserve my full, unqualified, a priori, quia subscription for the Book of Concord of 1580, since it has long ago been proven true beyond a doubt. I’ll call that the narrow sense of the word “subscribe.” In the wider sense, I also subscribe to our synod’s doctrinal statements, with an a posteriori subscription. Like this post, some of them may later need to be changed to remain accurate confessions of faith. See my explanation of the PMW statement as a possible example.