Some time in the 1970s or so, my synod published a very nice color pamphlet entitled The Evangelical Lutheran Synod: Character, Doctrine, History, Mission. Inside there are 17 doctrinal points or theses on various subjects. This pamphlet was replaced later by one called We Believe, Teach, and Confess, which is also available online at the ELS web site.
In the ministry controversy, someone has pointed out that the newer statement is a little weaker in its statement on the ministry. I don’t want to get sucked into the ministry debate right now, so we’ll leave that for another time.
However, I would like to point out a place where the newer statement improves upon the older one. The subject is Church Fellowship. Here’s the older statement:
We believe that the Scriptures require that church fellowship shall be acknowledged and exercised only on the basis of confession of and commitment to the pure Marks of the Church, the Word and Sacraments. John 8, 31.32; 1 Cor. 1, 10; Eph. 2, 19.20; 4, 3-6. Deviation from the teaching of the Word of God is not to be tolerated in the Church. Matt. 7, 15.20; Rom. 16, 17; Gal. 1, 6-9; 2 John vv. 9-11. We reject unionism because it tolerates error in doctrine in the Church.
The only authority in the Church is Christ who teaches His Church through the Word. Matt. 23, 8; John 8, 31.32; 1 Pet. 4, 11.
Everything this statement says is spot-on true. It still applies fully to the ELS. Of particular interest at the moment are these two parts:
“Deviation from the teaching of the Word of God is not to be tolerated in the Church.” This derives partly from an earlier thesis which says, “We believe that the Bible not only contains the Word of God, but that it is the Word of God.” From this, we learn that any person in the synod must not tolerate any teaching in the synod that deviates from the Bible. One can only suppose that this means we should even be wary of official doctrinal summaries that the synod may have adopted.
“The only authority in the Church is Christ who teaches His Church through the Word.” This confirms that the authority of God’s Word stands above all offices in both congregation and synod.
The newer statement is not dramatically different, but in one particular way, it adds something very important. It says:
We confess that Scripture requires that church fellowship be recognized and practiced where there is a mutual confession of and commitment to the pure Marks of the Church, the Word and Sacraments. Jesus Christ is the Head of His Church, and He governs and teaches it by His Word, but deviation from the teaching of God’s Word is not to be tolerated in the church. We therefore reject unionism, that is, church fellowship with adherents of false doctrine, and ecumenical endeavors which compromise the pure doctrine of God’s Word. We also reject participation or membership in religious organizations which have features that are in conflict with the Christian faith, such as the Masonic Lodge and similar organizations. At the same time we also condemn separatism, i.e., the refusal to acknowledge and practice fellowship when there is agreement in doctrine. See John 8:31-32, 1 Cor. 1:10, Eph. 2:19-20, Matt. 7:15-20, Rom. 16:17, Gal. 1:6-9, 2 John 9-11, Matt. 23:8, 1 Pet. 4:11, 2 Cor. 6:14-18.
Notice that this is stated much more positively: “We confess that Scripture requires that church fellowship be recognized and practiced where there is a mutual confession of and commitment to the pure Marks of the Church, the Word and Sacraments.” The importance of this positive aspect of Church Fellowship is reinforced at the end: “We also condemn separatism, i.e., the refusal to acknowledge and practice fellowship when there is agreement in doctrine.”
So it is clear that there are two ways that we may sin in this area:
Through unionism, which is “church fellowship with adherents of false doctrine, and ecumenical endeavors which compromise the pure doctrine of God’s Word.”
Through separatism, which is “the refusal to acknowledge and practice fellowship when there is agreement in doctrine.”
I might add another pitfall: that someone may join or separate in a way that fails to show Christian love toward others, for we may have all the doctrine and practice letter-perfect, but if we have not love, then we are nothing.
How can we tell when it’s time to recognize Church Fellowship? When it is apparent that we have a mutual confession of and commitment to the pure Marks of the Church. This repeats part of Augsburg Confession, article VII: “It is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere. As Paul says [Eph. 4:5, 6]: ‘One faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all . . .'”
In our synod’s ministry controversy, I wonder if we have not fully distinguished between those parts of our doctrinal position that pertain to “the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments” and those parts that do not pertain. If our disagreements center on those parts that do not pertain, then they should not be divisive of church fellowship.
2 thoughts on “An Improvement between Doctrinal Statements”
Good observations, which should be placed on ELSMinistry. Why? If someone asks a question in the wilderness and no one else hears it, was the question really asked? Maybe, but it certainly won’t be answered.
Have a safe trip to Minnesota, pastor, but when you return let’s get this stuff going where more than just a few are going to read it. These are the sorts of questions which put a deeper perspective on what’s been going on. If the powers in the synod refuse to reconsider every action they have taken in the light of others’ reflections, then they are a stiff-necked people and should be told so. May we come eventually as a Body, to know His good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Bruce, you said,
“If the powers in the synod refuse to reconsider every action they have taken in the light of others’ reflections…”
I disagree. This would invite the “heckler’s veto” over any action that the Synod wants to take. In other words, if someone – anyone – doesn’t like anything the Synod is doing for any reason, all he has to do is yell about it really loud. …or, actually, in your formulation, all he has to do is reflect on the decision, and the Synod is crippled. This state of affairs would be, to say the least, impractical.
I don’t know, maybe there’s a way that President Moldstad could’ve avoided the standoff with Rolff Preus. I don’t think so, but maybe. …and, if there’s a way to avoid it, he should do so (notice, I didn’t say should’ve. He would still be obligated to do so now or at any point in the future). I am pretty sure, however, that Preus could’ve easily avoided the standoff for his part. He also should do so.
It’s easy to blame the powers-that-be, but I don’t think that one can rationally give Preus a complete pass.