Home > Lutheranism > Hopeful Optimism and Unhelpful Behaviors: A Response to the ACELC

Hopeful Optimism and Unhelpful Behaviors: A Response to the ACELC

July 21st, 2010
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Pastor Larry Peters said this better than I could, so I won’t even try. He offers an excellent commentary on the mailing a small little group of self-appointed “amonishers” of the Missouri Synod has sent throughout the Synod, announcing the formation of what is, effectively, a new church, call it whatever you want, but they are setting up a “synod within the synod.” This is precisely not the kind of behavior we need. Here is what Pastor Peters had to say.

Many, including myself, have offered a cautious and hopeful optimism about the future of the LCMS.  On one level we can rejoice that we are talking more honest theology than we have talked for a long time.  But this is not a momentary conversation.  It is a dialog for the long haul.  Conversation that has real effect is honest, it is regular, and it is built upon trust.  The people who were elected are good people but the Synodical President has not and will not be installed into office until September 11, 2010.  Until that time it is my hope and prayer that the conversation before, during, and after the Synod Convention will continue on every level of our church body.

With that conversation, we would do well to temper the irrational exuberance of some with a patient view toward a long term effort to rebuild consensus, to keep the conversation about theology and not personality, to prioritize the subjects of this conversation, and to keep the conversation positive AND pointed.  That said, some are not so sure that they are willing to wait, that the changes wrought in Houston this past week will come fast enough or go far enough.  I am concerned about this because this is the very thing that can and has derailed the good efforts of some in the past.  They and we need to be careful.

Some have determined to couch their hopeful optimism with some unhelpful pragmatism.  The organizing has continued following the convention and now one group is proposing an association of like minded confessing congregations which is self-described as a “loving challenge to the LCMS.”  They are planning a “constituting convention” and have sent a fraternal letter of admonition to every LCMS congregation (though we have not received one), and they speak as an action group and not a discussion group.  If you exchanged the acronyms you might think this was formed by folks from within the ELCA to counter the controversial and radical actions taken nearly a year ago at their CWA.  But it is not.  It is a largely lay group from within Missouri.

I guess this is where my concern comes… Those who tried to suggest that the election of Matt Harrison was about a purge or housecleaning of Missouri were told over and over again that this is not the way of real change that endures — rather theological consensus borne of honest, substantial, and serious theological conversation.  Yet some of those who are speaking for this new group (unofficially since it is not yet constituted), sound as if the goal is more removal of those who disagree than changing minds through common confession.

Anyone who knows Matt Harrison’s career knows that he is a theologian, a historian, a pastor, an administrator, and a leader.  He has the gravitas to argue theology with just about anyone at anytime and he has a wit and winsome personality to frame this debate in fraternal terms.  So what is up with those who are presenting their loving challenge to the LCMS — are we in for a bad cop good cop routine… or are some not content to wait for the conversation to even begin… or are some who were for his election not so sure they can count on him?  Whatever the answer to this, I think it might be pragmatic to do this but not beneficial to the Church as a whole and the opportunity given by solid election results.  So, if anybody is listening, I say, step back and wait a bit…

I am not against organizing, or studying the Confessions, or challenging practices inconsistent with the Confessions… but let’s leave the structures for later and hold off on the shots across the bow… Not everything that is possible is beneficial… I think I read that somewhere….

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Categories: Lutheranism
  1. Brent Klein
    July 22nd, 2010 at 08:50 | #1

    Well said.

  2. July 22nd, 2010 at 09:15 | #2

    Brothers and sisters,

    I was not aware that there was a bad time to confess pure doctrine or defend against error. It seems to me that St. Paul was pretty clear about being ready to do so in season and out of season. Thus this is what your Confessional brothers and sisters in Christ are trying to do through the means of the ACELC…a true grassroots – not top-down – effort within our church body.

    First, we are only doing what our Synod has told us to do in Bylaw 1.8.1 and 1.8.2 in utilizing the Dissent Process (not to be confused with the horrible Dispute Resolution Process), in that we are bringing genuine theological concerns to the attention of our peers throughout The LCMS. Second, we are only doing and enabling Matt Harrison to accomplish what he said he wanted to accomplish in his fine paper, “It’s Time!” That is to resolve our divisions on the basis of God’s Word and our Lutheran Confessions only. This is precisely what we are doing and we are getting grief for the effort, not so much from the liberals in our Synod, but from our Confessional comrades! What is wrong with this picture?

    Matt Harrison cannot do this by himself! He up against a stacked-deck of governance structure which is still staffed with enemies of Confessional Lutheranism and the situation is only somewhat improved by the recent elections. Really now, if we do not bring these concerns to the attention of the Synod in accord with the appointed Dissent Process, precisely what will Matt need to do? Do you think he can ask the CTCR or the COP to define the theological issues facing our Synod? Sure, he can do that but they will delay their response for years and will so nuance their language as to embrace pretty much everyone’s conflicting views of the issues…End result? No result!

    So we’ve carefully defined the errors of our Synod (either official or tolerated), we’ve clearly set forth a good definition of Confessional Lutheranism, and we’ve thoroughly documented the errors. Following our Constituting Convention on March 1-3, 2011, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Kearney, MO (a suburb of Kansas City), we will formally present these concerns to our Synod so that as one man many congregations of our Missouri Synod can speak with one voice at the particular time in our history when we actually have the opportunity to receive a fair hearing. Previously that opportunity was not at all available to us, now it is. Therefore, NOW is the time to speak!

    Brothers and sisters, if you really want an orthodox Lutheran church body for your children and grandchildren…and especially if you want that church body to still bear the name The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, then band together with your comrades in the ACELC and let us help Matt Harrison address the very issues which are tearing our Synod apart!

    • July 22nd, 2010 at 10:31 | #3

      Pastor Bolland, if you could only but step back and see the incredible hubris demonstrated in your comment. Simply put, brother, you are running when you have not been sent. You are assuming duties and responsibilities not given to you. You are using methods and tactics that are, in their very nature, schismatic. You are presuming to speak for, or with, our newly elected president when that is not yours to do. You are trying to align yourself with the President-Elect and speak for him, but it is evident you are trying, effectively, to tie his hands to some agenda you want him to pursue. The concept of an “association of congregations” is every bit as offensive of what ELIM did in the 1970s. You are violating the process we have agreed to follow in our church body when it comes to expressing dissent.

      I urge you to repent of your actions and rethink all this.

  3. aletheist
    July 22nd, 2010 at 13:01 | #4

    Pastor McCain, you seem to be taking a “top-down” view here. Whose authority is needed to “send” Pastor Bolland and the other organizers of the ACELC and “give” them particular duties and responsibilities? What is “schismatic” about freely expressing concerns regarding doctrine and practice, and their (non-)alignment, within a particular church body? What formal mechanism is there in the LCMS for challenging congregations that are deliberately disregarding the doctrinal resolutions and statements that are currently in place? Dissent (per bylaw 1.8.2) involves taking exception to those resolutions and statements, not upholding them and calling upon others to do likewise.

    • July 22nd, 2010 at 13:53 | #5

      It seems you are missing the point. The Synod does have provisions for the responsible and legitimate expression of dissent that respects the Synodical fellowship and the ministerium of The LCMS. It is given to no one individual to usurp the authority to “admonish” The LCMS, and to call for the formation of an association of congregations within the Synod. That behavior is schismatic. That’s the point.

  4. July 22nd, 2010 at 16:25 | #6

    Rev. Bolland,

    I ask you to read this sentence:

    “Brothers and sisters, if you really want an orthodox Lutheran church body for your children and grandchildren…and especially if you want that church body to still bear the name The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, then band together with your comrades in the ACELC and let us help Matt Harrison address the very issues which are tearing our Synod apart!”

    You’re painting those who may in large part agree with you into a corner. You’re saying, “We started this organization and if you really love confessional Lutheranism, you’ll join it.”

    The implication of your statement is that those who don’t chose to become a part of your organization do not “really want an orthodox Lutheran church body for [our] children and grandchildren.”

    You’ve prepared some documents and purchased a website. That doesn’t mean that you speak for me as an individual or confessional Lutheranism as a whole.

  5. Mike Baker
    July 22nd, 2010 at 16:26 | #7

    There is always the temptation to retreat and draw battle lines, isn’t there?

    In our own lives we experience this. Serious, well-meaning Christians are constantly frustrated by the world and her errors. We are aliens here and there is always the tendency to recoil from the thing that harms us to the company of like minds and operate in some from a cloistered existence. And yet Christ calls us to lovingly engage the sick, poor, outcasts, even the overtly abusive–the very people that we, in our weakness, wish to shrink from or write off. As new creations in Christ Jesus, we are not of the world to be sure, but we are certainly in the world and we must continue to serve our neighbors in our vocations. This very tendency to ignore our responsibility to our neighbors was Luther’s primary criticism of the monastic lifestyle. The segregated, sectarian, and self-serving nature of the cloistered life is not Biblical and not ethical.

    I think that sometimes, even with our fellow Christians, we have a knee jerk reaction to withdraw rather than reach out when we are threatened or offended. And yet Christ calls us to sacrifice and patiently bear on another’s burdens in love just the same. Any act in the church must never be about placing our needs or wants above that of a brother. We must always be watchful so that we do not sin in our honest desire to do good. Moreover, St. Paul instructs us to live out our lives quietly, in good order, and in submission to all of the authorities that God has placed over us. This way is certainly difficult and I don’t know what it looks like in this particular situation, but I encourage everyone to seek an approach that is one of humble concern for the weaker in the faith (lest they be scandalized by anyone’s carelessness.)

  6. July 22nd, 2010 at 22:05 | #8

    Thanks, Paul. This was an extremely helpful response. I think there is a great deal to be cautiously hopeful about in our Synod. I pray those that are promoting schism stop trying to bypass the process our President Elect would like to take us through. It may take longer and be less satisfying than purging the ranks, but “love is patient…”.

  7. Rev. Eric Brown
    July 23rd, 2010 at 08:22 | #9

    You know – I have a slightly different approach to “fixing” the synod. Let’s not even try. How about we just be faithful where we are at? Instead of the grand crusade, the gathering together into a mighty band – how about simply on our own, in our own pulpits and parishes, why don’t we just be faithful, and teach in patience? How about in our circuits, we speak to those who are slightly wonky in doctrine or practice with the same love and patience we have for those in our congregation who don’t see the fullness?

    The Synod will never be “fixed” by a vote, a group action, a mass of people saying, “Thou shalt!” Rather it will be simply done by patience and teaching. If you encourage good teaching and patience – excellent. If you encourage victory, or all things hinging on you – I think you miss the point.

  8. George
    July 23rd, 2010 at 09:56 | #10

    I appreciate the effort being made to strengthen the confession of the faith in our church. However, I think it might be beneficial to think about the synod somewhat in the same way that we think of a local congregation (yeah, yeah, I know — synod isn’t church… but take it as an analogy).

    If a congregation calls a pastor after a contentious vote — say she calls a solidly biblical man who is committed to teaching the faith — then how should the pastor lead? Should he come in and gather the 55% into a group, ensuring that almost every board of the church is filled with those folks? Should he promote this group as an organization within the church, suggesting that everyone needs either to join the group or leave the church?

    Would it somehow weaken his teaching if he taught with gentleness (II Tim 2:14-26)? I don’t mean in any way to suggest that any pastor should allow false teaching or suggest that false doctrine is meaningless. But just because you’re right doesn’t mean you are right to behave in a way that appears arrogant (I don’t mean to judge the ACELC people here, but I’m afraid that the appearance of arrogance has been made).

    Rev. Harrison has a big job to do, and it behooves confessional pastors to redouble our efforts study Scripture. If you feel that our confessions are compromised within the Church, it does no good to beat the confessional drum more loudly. Rather, the situation demands that we take the job of defending our doctrine from Scripture more firmly. You will notice that Pastor Harrison, in his acceptance speech, referred to unity around the “clear and compelling word of God and nothing else.” What do you suppose he meant by that? Or what about not coercing us, but gathering us together around that word?

    The fact is that there is a great challenge ahead, as it is in many Lutheran parishes. We have a smattering of this and that, much that could be said to be non-Lutheran, which should be nothing else than non-Christian. But I urge you to heed the words of St. Jude. “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Of all the authors of Holy Scripture, St. Jude was perhaps the harshest when it came to false teaching. Yet the final word of instruction is one of mercy, not purging. It is gathering the faithful together around the teaching of the apostles, not the formation of a new association to set off division. There may be division, realignment, or whatever in the future. But I will not hasten that day unnecessarily.


  9. Matt Jamison
    July 23rd, 2010 at 09:59 | #11

    So the ACELC is forming as an association of congregations to fight error in the church. My question is, will erring congregations be invited to join the ACELC? Will they have any reason to want to? Or is this going to be a club from which the erring can be easily expelled? I’m concerned that this group shows no interest in persuading and leading LCMS congregations to a more confessional practice, but instead wants to form a more pure synod-within-a-synod that can do little except condemn, separate and threaten to leave altogether.

    Pr. Harrison, on the other hand, shows a unique ability to lead the church through persuasion, gentle correction and pastorly care. Love for brother means that do the long and patient work of persuading Christians to correct doctrine and practice, not cutting ourselves off from them.

  10. Charles P. Schaum
    July 25th, 2010 at 19:37 | #12

    I would suggest that people take a closer look at Lutheran theology and history before engaging in organizing that looks like American politics more so than historic Lutheranism.

    Any putative “Lutheran movementarian” of any theological or cultural stripe within (or outside of) the LCMS had better be citing a lot of Scripture, the fundamental norm, along with the authoritative guidance of the Lutheran Confessions and the helpful words of a consensus from the majority of major Lutheran theologians. That is how Walther and the other Missouri fathers spoke. Nary a whit of Bylaw this and sub-paragraph that is found among them. Walther dismissed such legalese in his Law and Gospel lectures and he condemned as sectarian those attempting to govern by Lutheran “house rules.” Get the new edition if you don’t believe me.

    The Missouri Synod has always expressed its common thoughts at the sessions of its representatives “in synod,” that is, gathered together at the general or district levels. If these are insufficient to the task, then here is a program suggested by Martin S. Sommer, Concordia Seminary professor, circa 1911, with additions from his colleague, Prof. Eugen Krauss:

    1. Read Scripture daily.
    2. Have daily devotions using appropriate worship materials.
    3. Read and discuss the Small Catechism or Large Catechism daily.
    4. Ban all literature and other media from your house that has any corrosive effects on your faith and life.
    5. Have the wife and kids on that same page.
    6. Work with friends in the congregation to encourage them to do the same.
    7. Form Bible study groups.
    8. Engage parish leaders, especially the pastor, on how the local congregation can gather everyone together on this path.
    9. Congregations encourage neighboring parishes in the joy of the Gospel that enriches them daily and mitigates Satan in the lives of their members.
    10. Circuits encourage district-synods.
    11. District-synods encourage the general LCMS (die allgemeine Synode).

    From 1847 (against skin-deep confessionalism that merely “puts out the shingle,” Konfessionalismus dem blossen Aushaengeschild nach) to 1869, to 1911, our synodical forebears said again and again that if we were not about this in our daily lifes, the LCMS would die. You be the judge. Christianity is a way of life made possible in the Gospel; it is not merely carrying a card while courting all the corrosive things of this world.

    Yet, since we are steeped in the worldly necessities of administration, let me enlighten people on that front. In 1974 the LCMS BOD defined what a schismatic organization is, which definition was adopted at the Anaheim convention in 1975 (Res. 3-06). While this may be something of a paper tiger, it nevertheless indicates what happens when people go in worldly ways:

    1. Ingathering of funds to operate independent facilities. (In the case of ELIM, it was Seminex.)
    1.a. Use of funds to finance and publish media.
    1.b. Use of funds to finance and operate an administrative structure.
    2. A self-declared definition of the organization as part of the visible Church, thus, “a church within the church.”

    When people are doing this kind of thing, bad results happen. Whose Church is it? Hermann Sasse, in his letters to Lutheran pastors (Briefe an lutherischen Pastoren) writes that the true Church solved all of its problems in one way. The got on their knees and prayed. They prayed for the emperors that killed them. They prayed for the barbarians that raped and pillaged them. They heard the Word, received the Sacrament, confessed their sins, and died joyfully from the sinful, wretched world into the unbroken joy of everlasting life.

    And today, everyone who opposed the saints of old is dead and the Church is alive as ever.

    Where is the faith of people today?

    Moreover, let us remember what a “status confessionis” really is. The Lutheran Confessions take a hard line because the government was killing them, dispossessing them, banishing them, and stripping them of any and all civil rights. The same thing went on in Prussia with the 1817 union, as Scheibel recounts in great detail in his Actenmaessige Geschichte.

    Who is being killed? Who is being sold into chattel servitude? Who is having all their assets, liquid and real, confiscated? Whose children are being taken into protective custody? Whose spouse turned informant? Who is doing time for preaching the Word?

    Until that day comes, and it will come, we need to reserve the life-or-die NOW language in some of our Lutheran documents for those occasions appropriate to them.

    Otherwise, buy the new Law and Gospel edition and look under the glossary for “Absolution, Lutheran history of” to see how our own LCMS fathers took forty years to settle important theological issues regarding Absolution, specifically, private confession. Tempers flared at times and different positions were mandated at the district level. The western districts were more autonomous and Waltherian. The eastern districts were more corporate and descendants of Loehe. These are part of the LCMS heritage and we have to deal with them. They did so with the utmost patience, and the synodical leaders had the prescience to realize that we either keep the synod together in the way of the Gospel or it all dies.

    Up to working a secular job and being a pastor in your house on Sunday, with all the lawsuits and fights with zoning boards that you may face? If not, do what our Lutheran fathers did: do not compromise on doctrine, but know your brother for who he is and love him as such.

    Do not call down fire and incur the Lord’s wrath. Pray and proclaim the Word. Anyone who brings the efficacious Word to the Synod in any form of media should be praised when that Word reflects the apostolic and confessional voices of our fathers in the faith.

    I am at home in the house of our fathers. I encourage you to be likewise.

    Word. Water. Bread. Wine. Love. Prayer. Jesus.

    It takes only seven ingredients for a group of people to be called together as Church.

    How cool is that?

  11. Rev. David R. Boisclair
    July 27th, 2010 at 09:56 | #13

    I believe that Pastor Schaum is correct, and I for one applaud his learning and wisdom here. It would be good to keep the dialogue open in the LCMS. Those who are happy about many of the results of the Houston convention have more common ground than they realize. Something to consider is that the ACELC was begun, though not presently constituted, in view of the bleak period before July 13, 2010. I would urge as Pastor Schaum has implied that cooler heads will prevail. I also commend CPH for its fine work in past years to provide doctrinally pure materials for the LCMS and for the whole Christian church throughout the world. The masterful new translation of “Law and Gospel” is a work of art! “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133:1). God bless all!

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