ACELC — How Can Unity Be Found?

From the ACELC Board of Directors:

How do we establish unity within The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod? Thus far the use of synodical resolutions passed at our national conventions hasn’t worked very well. In the  recent past we were even told that the Synod in convention is able to tell us what Holy Scripture really says, and that didn’t work either!

Theologians (and I include pastors in that description because that is exactly what we are supposed to be) have attempted over the years to use a couple of different standards in an attempt to establish unity, but to adequately explain this, a brief and simple Latin lesson is in order.

All pastors who went through our seminaries learned two Latin phrases to describe faith. The first was fides qua creditur, (meaning “faith by which Christ is believed”). This faith is a gift of God which He brings about through the hearing of His Word or the receiving of His Sacraments (most especially Baptism). Virtually all Christians have such a fides quakind of faith, and so some Lutheran theologians have attempted to use fides qua credituras the basis for establishing unity. “Unity is something God establishes,” they tell us. And, while it is most certainly true that God does all the action in the granting of personal faith (fides qua), the implication of this kind of reasoning is that  this is the only kind of faith that matters. So, if good a Baptist (for example), says  he believes in Christ for his salvation, but at the same time insists that fallen mankind has the ability, and therefore must make a human decision to believe, then we have distinctly different views about what that means to be “saved” by Christ. In reality we very much disagree about how salvation in Christ must be “received.” Thus fides qua creditur does not actually unite us at all.

To be sure, the Lutheran Confessions continually rejoice in fides qua creditur! However, the Confessions have never, ever attempted to establish unity between Christians based on this kind of faith. Rather, the Confessions are genuinely determined to establish Christian unity only based on a different kind of faith – fides quae (note the “e”) creditur– that is, the faith in which we believe, the doctrine which is believed, the content of faith.

This is the very reason that the ACELC stated in its July 10, 2010 Letter of Fraternal Admonition to all the pastors and congregations of our beloved Synod regarding pure doctrine:

Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions uphold the absolute maintenance of pure doctrine. Today (using outreach as a justification), there are those in the LCMS who claim that we cannot any longer waste time on “incessant internal doctrinal purification.” We reject the toleration of this error. Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions teach that unity (that is, full agreement) in doctrine and practice is the basis for establishing pulpit and altar fellowship. Today some have indicated that the unifying factor among Christians is not absolute agreement on every word and interpretation of doctrine and practice. We reject the toleration of this error.

In stating that pure doctrine must be maintained, we have joined with the Lutheran Confessions in confessing that unity can be found only by coming to a resolution under God’s Word and our Confessions respecting those doctrines and practices over which we differ. This is agreement in the fides quae creditur.

Again, the Preface to the Augsburg Confession speaks with stark clarity of this unity which founded in the fides quae creditur:

After the removal and correction of these things that either side has understood differently, these matters may be settled and brought back to one simple truth and Christian concord. Then we may embrace the future of one pure and true religion under one Christ,doing battle under Him [Psalm 24:8], living in unity and concord in the one Christian Church. (Dau/Bente, p. 27.)

This is not the easy course to unity. This means that we must submit ourselves to Holy Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions and actually come to agreement in both doctrine and practice – since the only thing we are practicing is our doctrine, and both doctrine and practice must therefore agree and reflect the same truth. This is also why the member congregations of the ACELC have decided to utilize the Dissent Process (Bylaw 1.8.1 and 1.8.2) to seek redress of errors which our Synod (by the actions of its Convention) has officially embraced. This is also why we have asked the chief ecclesiastical supervisors of our Synod, the Praesidium, to address the many tolerated errors among us despite “official” Synodical positions to the contrary. This is also why the ACELC fully supports the efforts of President Harrison to work through the proposed Koinonia Project to address our divisions honestly and with a view toward final resolution of those divisions.

The ACELC is also urging every Circuit Pastor’s Conference and every congregation to use the ACELC documents addressing the issues which are dividing us as a springboard for study over the next year so that from the grass roots of our Synod a consensus can begin to grow toward an eventual, substantive resolution for each and every difference which now divides us in our doctrine and practice. These documents can be found at our website.

It was St. Paul who sent a letter to the Corinthian congregation addressing matters of doctrine and practice and wrote:

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. (I Cor. 11:17-19, ESV)

Paul insisted that such differences must be reconciled and resolved so that true unity might be restored to that troubled, divided congregation. He made it abundantly clear that such differences could not be tolerated when he wrote:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (I Cor. 1:10, ESV)

Following the apostle’s example, our Synod has made doctrinal agreement and unity in our practice its hallmark since the founding of the Synod in 1847. In 1922, the great commentator of the Ohio Synod, R.C.H Lenski wrote the following concerning the LCMS:

If there ever was a strictly conservative body, it surely is the Missouri Synod. Nevertheless, this growth! Here is a historical fact that refutes all talk trying to persuade us that we must be liberal, accommodate ourselves to the spirit of the time, etc., in order to win men and grow externally. The very opposite is seen in the Missouri Synod. Missouri has at all times been unyielding; it is so still. In this body the Scriptures and the  Confessions have been, and still are, valued to their full import. There was no disposition to surrender any part of them. With this asset Missouri has been working in free America, abounding in sects and religious confusion, and now exhibits its enormous achievements. What so many regard as Missouri’s weakness has in reality been her strength. This fact we might write down for our own remembrance. It is a mark of the pastors and leaders of the Missouri Synod that they never, aye, never, tire of discussing doctrine on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions. That is one trait that may be called the spirit of Missouri. People who thus cling to doctrine and contend for its purity are of an entirely different nature from the superficial unionists who in the critical moment will declare five to be an even number. God will bless all who value His Word so highly. Gratitude towards God, who has granted this division of American Lutheranism so much glorious blessing, and through Missouri has communicated this blessing also to other parts of the Lutheran Church, will be the basic note of this festival celebration. May God keep Missouri and us and all Lutheran Christians faithful in the doctrine and confession of His Word and grant us His blessing for our external growth and prosperity. (Theodore Laetsch, ed., The Abiding Word , (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1947), vol. 2, p. 515-516.)

Unity is not an impossible dream for the LCMS. The Apostolic Fathers strived for it. Our Lutheran Reformation Fathers insisted on it, and our Synodical Fathers knew it was the key to retaining our Synod as an orthodox Lutheran church body. Unity is found in agreement in the fides quae creditur – the faith in which we believe, and nowhere else. In His grace and mercy we pray, with you, that God will grant our troubled Synod such unity once again!

Your Servants For Christ’s Sake,
ACELC Board of Directors

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About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

Norm has been involved behind the scenes in many of the "go-to" websites for Lutherans going back many years.


ACELC — How Can Unity Be Found? — 43 Comments

  1. Without a consistent brooming of those who no longer are bound to support our Confessions there will be no unity. Unity for the sake of unity is not unity at all, it is “keeping peace” at the expense of sound Biblical doctrine and it is open sin. We can start with open communion ( I can point you to 10 pastors who violate just in the SE Michigan area) and work our way to other issues. If the offenders refuse to change we simply remove them from our rosters. No ill will just strong loving discipline.

    Fact is we are not united; we are fractured because of lack of fidelity to God’s Word. There is very little gray in our Confessions and yet we practice as if there were. Many clergy would be more comfortable in an american evangelical congregation anyway.

  2. From what I’ve read on John the Steadfast, “doctrine” is not the disagreement in the church today. Rather, we choose to argue over “tradition” as it relates to worship practice, not the doctrine presented in worship.

    Doctrine is worth the fight. Tradition defined as doctrine is not. CoWo, traditional worship, and blended worship styles can all communicate proper Lutheran doctrine. I don’t think that this dispute qualifies as a discussion of differences in doctrine.

    Perhaps someone has just cause from the Bible stating that all worship styles must be the same in order to be acceptable to God?

    I’m not a political church observer, so perhaps I am missing a disagreement of more importance that is going on? If there is a denial of the inerrancy of Scripture, or the Resurrection of Christ, or the reality of the Trinity, then that would be worth a battle.

  3. @Sue Grabe Wilson #1
    Does doctrine influence practice? Should we be able to tell from ones practice, even if no words are said, what doctrine a church holds to? If so, then it would be reasonable to expect that our practices should look similar if we were all in agreement on doctrine. For most practices it can’t be a “both/and” type answer. Take the Office of Ministry. How can a pastor wearing flip flops and a polo shirt and another pastor wearing an alb and stole both be confessing by their practice the same doctrine of the pastoral office they claim to both be in agreement on? If I remove the pulpit and altar to make room for a praise band and a large overhead screen what does that say about my doctrine and what I believe? How can both a “traditional” church with an altar and pulpit and a “CoWo” church with a band and screen be visually communicating (confessing) the same doctrine? If the answer (rightly) is that they can’t be and aren’t confessing the same thing by their practice, then despite what they may say, it is sadly evident and true that one party clearly must hold to different doctrinal beliefs.

  4. In my circuit there’s no difference in the doctrine between the traditional services and the contemporary services.   Often the sermons are “word for word” identical.  As in any large organization there are probably fringe extremes outside the acceptable norm for doctrine and practice.

    Seems like we’ve been through this before. 🙂

  5. If people really are serious about unity in the church, the obvious answer for those who have been instructed in the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is to remember our Baptism. We are one in the family of God because, in Baptism, God has named and claimed each of us as His child. We are ONE in the Body of Christ because God has declared it so. There is division within the Body of Christ because each of us places greater confidence in our sinful nature than in God’s promise. The solution to division is for each of us to confess our own sins and stop confessing the sins of those with whom we disagree.

  6. Jim – I’d suggest that it is both a logical and theological error to equate the supposed “false doctrine” within the 21st Century Lutheran church with the false doctrine that Lutheran challenged. I’d also suggest that the admonition is hardly the equivalent of the 95 theses.

    I think it is reasonable to conclude that those whom Luther challenged were not Luther’s brothers in the Body of Christ. Those who align with the 21st Century confessional Lutheran movement speak, write and behave as though the Body of Christ more or less aligns with their understanding of “pure” doctrine. If that is the way you think and believe, you (plural) ought to have the courage to say so, explicitly. If that is not the way you think and believe, a different dialectic would be appropriate.

  7. Johan Bergfest :I’d suggest that it is both a logical and theological error to equate the supposed “false doctrine” within the 21st Century Lutheran church with the false doctrine that Lutheran challenged.

    You are correct. We are dealing with the radicals that Martin CHEMNITZ and the Formula of Concord confronted. And I hardly think the ‘confessinals’ assumes that Rome, Constantinople, Anglican or any of the multiple branches of Reformed have the same view/definition of “pure” doctrine. Thus we speak out against error whenever and wherever we see it, even in ourselves.

  8. @Johan Bergfest #7


    Speaking the truth hardly started with the Lutheran church. Indeed, we see doctrinal errors being confronted in the Gospels and the Epistles.

    Those who confess the truth can’t but help speak it. And yes, the body of Christ should align with the doctrines expressed and taught in the Book of Concord, since those are an expression of the truth of the Holy Scriptures.

    Being faithful to God’s word is to confess it, teach it, proclaim it, in its truth and purity. Standing firm in God’s word is to be relentless in our confession and not give an inch to error.

    Concerning those whom Luther challenged… keep in mind that Luther was a Roman Catholic and would have gladly stayed within the Roman church had they not excommunicated him. So for Luther, he was trying to reform the Church where his brothers and sisters in Christ were being misled by gross doctrinal errors. Of course, he had stronger words later for the antichrist.

    The dates change, but the truth of God’s Holy Word is eternal. There is never a time where we should not confess the truth.

  9. Jim – conveniently or otherwise, you avoided the critical question. Do you or do you not accept as sisters and brothers in Christ those Lutherans who do not agree with your understanding of doctrinal purity?

  10. Johan, where have you been? You disappeared a few weeks ago, just when we were getting somewhere. Now you pop back in to heckle again…

    Our brothers and sisters in Christ who believe what the ELCA teaches are just as saved as our brothers and sisters in Christ who support Roman Catholic, Methodist, United Church of Christ, and Reformed doctrine. They are just as saved as some LCMS folks who are stuck with a pastor who consistently teaches false doctrine — despite what he agreed to do when he took his ordination vows. Heterodox congregations do have the Gospel there, although it is all but smothered with false teaching.

    I hope and pray you are not making light of the lies that are mingled with the truth in heterodox churches. To illustrate the danger, when she’s on her death bed, will our sister in Christ who was raised with the Roman Catholic Mass trust in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? Or will she desparately clutch her rosary and rattle off a couple more prayers to Mary, hoping her good will somehow outweigh her bad, at least enough to get to purgatory? (Her Mother the Church taught her both.) Will our ELCA brothers and sisters trust in the promises in God’s Word or will they ultimately look to their constrained conscience for comfort?

    You see the danger in teaching lies to our dear brothers and sisters in Christ?

    By the way, it is not “your understanding of doctrinal purity.” It IS doctrinal purity, the very Word of God.

    (Are you already in the ELCA, Johan?)

  11. @Johan Bergfest #10


    I didn’t avoid any question. Please forgive me, but I must have missed your question. Now that I see your question, yes, but of course we are dealing with other brothers and sisters in Christ who may not understand (I can’t speak for an unknown’s understanding, though) what I understand to be doctrinal purity. However, you don’t have much of a point here. After all, look at you arguing for your position as if it is the correct one. Hmm… I would think that should you really believe the relativistic malarkey you are waving at that you wouldn’t engage anyone in serious discussion over doctrines lest you fall into the “trap” of asserting something as pure doctrine.

    The fact of the matter is, Johan, my brothers and sisters in Christ should be corrected if they are in error. I should be corrected if I am in error! Please, we have been given doctrine for the edification of the body of Christ. Our Lord’s teachings are most precious. Why wouldn’t you want to be corrected if you are in error? We should thank God for being shown His truth!

    Since you pressed the point of answering questions, would you be so kind to answer my earlier question? What does it mean to be faithful to God’s word and to stand firm in the teachings of Christ?

  12. @John Rixe #4
    I think we have as well!

    If we are saying the same thing, how can our practice be so different? I’m a Steelers fan. Grew up around Pittsburgh, PA. If you tell me you are a die hard Steelers fan I would expect to see black and gold and at least one terrible towel. I would seriously doubt your professed word that you were a Steelers fan if you said, “Oh I love the Steelers, but I wear this 49rs jersey because I like the colors and don’t want to offend anyone who might not like the Steelers.”
    It’s odd to me that we expect to see uniformity in most every place on earth except the church. If I go into any IHOP I expect uniformity in both how they prepare their pancakes and how the store looks, uniforms, etc. If I go into any Sears I expect uniformity in their Craftsman tools and in how their store looks, uniforms, etc. If I go into a police station I expect uniformity not only in how they handle calls, but in how they look. Yet if I walk into a Lutheran church I don’t know what to expect. It is just odd to me that of all places we look for unity and even desire unity in both word and practice, the church is not one of them.

  13. Jim Pierce :The fact of the matter is, Johan, my brothers and sisters in Christ should be corrected if they are in error.

    Thanks for the clarification, Jim.

    As I suggested in my first post, unity within the Body of Christ is not our doing but God’s doing. And, the lack of unity is the consequence of sin – the sin that both you and I bring to the family.

    As I suggested in post #7, if we believe that we are brothers in Christ, we need a different model for conversing about “errors” and perceived errors. Christ’s example would be a good one to follow. He expressed love before expressing admonition and He sought out rather than excluded sinners.

    I do not hear much compassion in the expressions issuing forth from the ACELC. I do hear a significant willingness for ACELC members to set themselves apart. ACELC’s approach seems to suggest that the Body of Christ is more or less defined by their understanding of doctrinal purity (thus the question that I asked again in #10). And, as a footnote, I’d suggest that pastors who think they have a duty to exclude from the Sacrament sisters and brothers in Christ who confess the real presence based on differences on other matters, do not have a Lutheran understanding of the Sacrament.

    All of this gets back to the question of unity within the Body of Christ. Is the ACELC really looking for unity within the Body or is it looking for unity within a smaller group of like-minded individuals who have intentionally set themselves apart from the rest of the Body? ACELC’s current approach is a good formula for accomplishing the latter.

    I think a better approach would be to remember our Baptism – really remember our Baptism. We should put our focus on our own daily washing and regeneration and, thus made new, celebrate the reality that God loves everyone, not just people who look and think like me.

  14. Rev. McCall :
    @John Rixe #4 Yet if I walk into a Lutheran church I don’t know what to expect. It is just odd to me that of all places we look for unity and even desire unity in both word and practice, the church is not one of them.

    Perhaps you are not expeccting the right thing.

    When I walk into a Lutheran church, I expect to encounter people who believe they have been called and gathered together to be edified by the proclamation of God’s Word; by the remembrance of our Baptism; and, the receiving of Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. I also expect to encounter people who believe that, thus edified, we are sent to be the visible presence of Christ’s body in our world.

    The problem with your jersey analogy is that God wears them all (or none) and God calls us to be humble. I have yet to see a humble Steeler’s fan – even though they deserve to be humble after getting Tebowed last year. 😉

  15. Exactly.  No matter which service I attend at my church, the message is the same. Whether in contemporary or traditional format, the service comes directly from the Bible and the preaching is solid.  

    If I go into any Lutheran church I expect uniformity in doctrine.  Mrs Wilson says it all in comment 2.

  16. @Johan Bergfest #15
    Ouch! Come on now, did we really need to mention the “T” word?
    Perhaps to back it up some, I would ask, “Is there a benefit to being uniform not only in what we confess, but also in how we practice? I would argue “Yes”. I think there is a benefit to being able to walk into a church and being able to tell by both Word AND practice the unity that supposedly exists. We certainly wouldn’t accept it the other way (Unity in practice, but not in doctrine) so why is the reverse of that OK?

  17. @Johan Bergfest #14


    There are a couple of issues you have raised, but I still don’t see an answer to my question. I hope you can get around to answering me plainly.

    First, you write of compassion in such a way that suggests Jesus was wrong for tossing out the money changers and for his treatment of the Pharisees; in particular His “woes” leveled at them. It looks like in your view, Paul was not compassionate when he tells the Corinthians to toss out the evildoer in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:13) or when he writes under inspiration of the Holy Spirit to mark and avoid false teachers and those causing divisions (Romans 16:17).

    Second, you are strongly implying that what the ACELC has done is “unloving.” Since when is correcting errors unloving? Christ, the Apostles, Luther, Chemnitz and many others must be terribly unloving in your estimation, since they plainly and quite pointedly corrected errors. Indeed, I don’t see any evidence at all of tolerating doctrinal errors and coddling false teachers, on their parts.

    You call into question the motivations of your brothers and sisters in Christ when you ask if the ACELC is looking for unity in the body of Christ. I haven’t read any of their literature that suggests they want division. Indeed, I signed onto their admonition letter as a layman and I want nothing more than Godly unity which is unity around pure doctrine.

    I do agree with you that we should remember our baptisms. In doing so we hopefully will be reminded of the teachings we should have gotten from the Small Catechism. Perhaps it will cause us to want to dig deeper into our teachings from the Scriptures as expressed in the Book of Concord?

  18. @Rev. McCall #17

    There’s an enormous difference between doctrine and practice (tradition).

    “Doctrine is worth the fight. Tradition defined as doctrine is not. CoWo, traditional worship, and blended worship styles can all communicate proper Lutheran doctrine. I don’t think that this dispute qualifies as a discussion of differences in doctrine.” – Sue Wilson

    Am I (are we) dancing in circles again?

  19. When I walk into a church as a visitor, I hope the congregation is doing its best to get the message straight and get the message out according to its local circumstances.  I don’t care if it agrees with my own cultural preferences.  

  20. Jim Pierce :
    @Johan Bergfest #14
    There are a couple of issues you have raised, but I still don’t see an answer to my question. I hope you can get around to answering me plainly.

    My definition of faithful living would correspond with the vow I took at confirmation, i.e. my intention to conform my life to God’s word; to be faithful in the use of the means of grace; and, to remain true to the Triune God.

    Jim Pierce :
    @Johan Bergfest #14
    First, you write of compassion in such a way that suggests Jesus was wrong for tossing out the money changers and for his treatment of the Pharisees; in particular His “woes” leveled at them.

    How can you compare people whom you say are your sisters and brothers in Christ with the money changers in the temple, the pharisees, etc., i.e. people who obviously were outside the Body?

    Jim Pierce :
    @Johan Bergfest #14
    Second, you are strongly implying that what the ACELC has done is “unloving.”

    Close, but not quite. I am implying that the manner in which ACELC is admonishing is not consistent their claim to be motivated by love for the brother. And, if the ACELC really is interested in unity, I think they would take a different approach.

    I am not suggesting that ACELC wants division. I did suggest that ACELC defines unity in a way that sets themselves apart from other Christians, including other Lutherans.

  21. @Johan Bergfest #21
    “I am implying that the manner in which ACELC is admonishing is not consistent their claim to be motivated by love for the brother. And, if the ACELC really is interested in unity, I think they would take a different approach.”

    Yes, they should be more like the “nice” libs whose lips drip with honey as they lead you away from the cross of Christ. They should be less like the one who said, “Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites!” Is that what you’re saying?

  22. @Johan Bergfest #21

    Johan, I didn’t ask you what “faithful living” means. I asked, “What does it mean to be faithful to God’s word and to stand firm in the teachings of Christ?” I have to wonder now if you are dodging my question, since you seem to have a hard time directly answering it. Why is that?

    You ask how I can “compare people…” etc. and the answer is that I made no such comparison. You are jumping to conclusions. I responded to your strong implication that the ACELC is not being loving in their activities at reproving errors with examples of our Lord strongly admonishing and rebuking error and those who hold them. But, while we are here… don’t brothers and sisters in Christ err at times? Aren’t we hypocrites, money changers, and Pharisees? Hmm….

    You write,

    “Close, but not quite. I am implying that the manner in which ACELC is admonishing is not consistent their claim to be motivated by love for the brother. And, if the ACELC really is interested in unity, I think they would take a different approach.”

    There you have it. You are attempting to discern the motivations of the ACELC and you surely are questioning the motivations of their members. Why not just email the leaders at the ACELC and ask them for their motivations? I suspect that they are motivated by a love of our Lord and desire that we all come together in Godly unity, which is unity in pure doctrine.

    BTW, I don’t see any inconsistency. Maybe you can provide some examples which support your claim?

    You know, you are here doing a bit of admonishing yourself. What is so different from your public reproofs of the ACELC and their admonitions?

  23. John Rixe,

    To be blunt, I would not trust anyone who thinks that doctrine and practice are two seperate things, to be the judge of what is or isn’t a doctrinally acceptable sermon.

    Right practice is an expression of sound doctrine.

  24. Johann,

    You constantly practice Gospel reductionism. That is an age old error and we will not allow it. As Jim Pierce has rightly pointed out you mistake the Biblical mandate to love one another with liberalism’s false position that pointing out another’s sinful doctrine is unloving.

  25. @Johan Bergfest #14

    The ACELC has at times been criticized for the “methods” we have used but those same folks rarely want to talk about the issues. I have seen this as a diversionary tactic to continue to steer us away from any meaningful discussion of the things that are dividing us. We believe that the best way to love our brothers and sisters in Christ and to show compassion is to admit that there are serious errors in doctrine and practice among us, identify those errors, and then allow God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions to prevail, uniting us as one.

    From the Formula: In order to preserve pure teaching and fundamental, lasting, God-pleasing unity in the church, it is necessary not only to present the pure, beneficial teaching correctly, but also to censure those who contradict it and teach other doctrines (1 Tim 3:9; Titus 1:9). For as Luther states, true shepherds are to do both; pasture or feed the sheep and ward off the wolves, so that they may flee from other voices (John 10:4b-5, 16b) and “seperate the precious from the vile” (Jer. 15:19). FC SD Introduction par. 14, KW p. 529f.

    In Christ,

    Rev. Clint K. Poppe
    Chairman, ACELC

  26. Rev McCall,
    Sadly, I guess we will just have to disagree. Clothing does not communicate doctrine, nor do bands, or even proper liturgical garb (in and by themselves.) I have known pastors who wore all the right clothes, used all the calendar colors, and administered the sacraments according to our traditional Lutheran practice, but who (because of their own character) failed miserably at demonstrating our doctrine. On the other hand, I’ve attended worship services (including the parts of a proper Lutheran service) in which the pastor was in a shirt and jeans. He demonstrated a far more truthful exposition of our doctrine because his devotion and life are completely dedicated to bringing Lutheran truth to his congregation.

    I wish that you could visit the “CoWo” at my church. I am a nearly life-long LCMS member. I do know “proper” liturgy. However, adding to the way in which the parts of liturgy are expressed does not demean them, or make them less visible. I know that there are churches that have gone off the “deep end” with their contemporary practices, but the same is true of traditional churches. I wish that you could attend a truly Lutheran CoWo with an open mind and heart, taking in and recognizing that the doctrine is purely Lutheran.

  27. @sue wilson #29
    From a purely practical point of view, there is a lot to benefit from unity in practice. I think most people appreciate the fact that all the police officers in my town not only practice upholding the law the same, but also dress the same as a reflection of what they believe. I like that I can tell who the doctor is when I go visit someone in the hospital because he’s the guy in the white coat, a non-verbal reflection and indicator of his title and authority. I don’t have to ask anyone or wait to hear him/her speak before I know. I like going into my grocery store and knowing that the people who are there to help me all wear a red H.E.B. apron. I know right away who to talk to and who can give me answers, they all wear that uniform as a visual reflection of their title. So I guess I also like walking into a church and being able to recognize who the pastor is. His choice of dress communicates something non-verbal that backs up the doctrine he speaks. Trust me, I have been to many CoWo services. I often have a hard time telling who the pastor is, who the lead singer is, who the prayer leader is, etc. Sometimes the guy in jeans and a polo shirt giving the sermon is just one of the band members. Sometimes it’s the pastor. It’s hard to tell when they are all trying to look like they are one and the same. It’s kind of nice to be able to walk in and know that the guy who has been called to forgive my sins in the stead and by the command of Christ wears something that visually identifies his title, office, and authority and doesn’t try to just blend in with all the other folks gathered there.

  28. @Rev. McCall #30

    You have legitimate preferences toward formality and predictability.  So do I.  Others have legitimate preferences toward informality and diversity in format.  As long as there is solid uniformity in doctrine, can’t we all just get along?   🙂

    We should be able to tell we’re in an LCMS church by the message.  

  29. @John Rixe #31
    I would add that we should be able to tell we are in an LCMS church by the message as well as by the practice. Why should I have to wait until the sermon to know that I am in an LCMS church? If the practice screams “Baptist” and the content supposedly screams “Lutheran” which one gets heard first and which one gets heard loudest?

    Is there anything wrong with also striving for unity in practice as well as doctrine? Why would unity in practice be a bad thing to pursue? Is it not our own sinful desire that wants to have things our way that prevents us from pursuing this? I say this because your example hints at this, “Some people want informality and diversity.” That’s a personal want or desire that seeks to structure worship as I think it should be, not as God thinks it should be. It places my desires and wants above both the church as the body of Christ and above Scripture itself. I ask this in all honesty because I think both sides are guilty of coming to the table and saying, “I want worship this way because (x, y, and z).” While we really should be asking, “Does God desire unity as much as possible in all aspects?” and if so, “What does worship look like according to God’s definition and not mine?” In the Bible, both OT and NT, there is a lot to be found that suggests uniformity in doctrine AND practice is a good and Godly thing. That to me makes it worth pursuing.

  30. @sue wilson #29
    So how one dresses, bands, etc. are all completely doctrine neutral? An alb or stole communicates nothing visually about what we believe about the Office of Ministry?! A pair of jeans and sandals on the pastor communicates nothing about his doctrine or beliefs about the Office of Ministry he holds? The PRACTICE of closed communion communicates nothing about our DOCTRINE on Holy Communion? I’m sorry, but your premise that practice reflects nothing about doctrine is completely unsupportable.

  31. I respect your view, but In my judgement God cares about the substance of worship and not the format.  In my local church you don’t have to wait for the sermon to get the message no matter what the format.

  32. @John Rixe #35
    Yet every practice reflects a belief, right or wrong, mandated or unmandated. Luther (I believe) suggested a practice of having the pulpit and altar be as one or at least of equal prominence because of our belief that Word and Sacrament are both equal means through which God works. Baptists tend to have prominent pulpits and not prominent altars because they have a low view of the Sacraments. RC’s tend to have prominent altars and less prominent pulpits because they believe the Sacrifice of Christ is the most important part of the service. Now nothing in Scripture says I have to have an altar and pulpit of the same size. I don’t think the word pulpit is even in the Bible, let alone any dimensions for one. So can I make them whatever size I want in my church? Sure! It’s not mandated! But then why would I want to practice something that doesn’t reflect my beliefs? If I believe Word and Sacrament are equally important, why would I want a huge pulpit front and center and then tuck a little card table with bread and wine on it off in the corner somewhere? What happens in that case is that my practice, despite what I may say, is visually communicating something different. It is saying that the preached word is more important than the sacrament. Yet altar’s and pulpits are not mandated in the Bible right? So who cares?! Now let’s move it to some common CoWo practices. Like replacing the altar with a praise band or maybe even hiding it behind a screen. None of those things are mandated in the Bible, yet what does that practice say about what I believe (despite what I may say). It says that the band and the music is more important than the altar.
    Your argument fails because you try to divorce the two (doctrine and practice) from one another or at least argue that “Well it’s not mandated”. It doesn’t matter if it is mandated or not, any and every practice still communicates something about what you believe. So what does a pastor wearing jeans and sandals communicate about what he believes? If he truly believes what the Scriptures and Confessions teach about the Office of Ministry being a divine calling, a special and unique Office with the task of exercising publicly the Office of the Keys, being called to act in the stead and by the command of Christ, you think the practice of dressing in sandals and jeans shows proper respect to that calling and Office? That same pastor would likely wear a suit and tie if he were invited to dine with the President of the United States, yet to act as Christ’s vicar he wears jeans and sandals? It truly does reveal his beliefs about the Office of Ministry despite what he gives lip service to claiming to believe.

  33. The fact that there is so much disagreement about this issue is indicative of the problem. The truth of the matter is we are not on the same page or this wouldn’t be an issue. If a worship style “looks” Baptist but “sounds” Lutheran I think that’s a problem – a serious one. Obviously some of you don’t agree with that assessment, and I’m not sure I know what to do with that. Why is it that 40 years ago most Lutherans had no problem with understanding that doctrine and practice go hand in hand, but today it seems to be a central issue dividing us?

    And we are obviously divided.

  34. I think it’s a division that’s real but over form not substance.  There are many pastors who go without vestments not out of personal preference but out of a sincere desire (perhaps mistaken) to reach the lost.  

    “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:22, 23)

    Neither side is going to “win” the worship war.  I guess the best we can hope for is mutual respect and encouragement with maybe some reasonable boundaries on worship practice.

  35. It is best to view change (and 1 Corinthians 9:22-23) as Luther stated and as Preus summarizes in “The Fire and the Staff”:

    Individuals should change their wants and desires for the sake of weaker Christians. Individuals should change and give up their wants and desires for the sake of the church. But the church should never change for the sake of individuals.

    Yet it is precisely that third point (and probably even the second) that pastors who are “trying to reach the lost” are breaking. They are forcing their perceived wants and desires onto the church and forcing her to change for the sake of “lost” individuals.

  36. @sue wilson #29
    “Clothing does not communicate doctrine…” But the pastor’s character does?

    It is precisely because of our “devotion and life” that we vest — the sinful nature clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Philippians 3:9).

    Ms. Wilson, your focus on our piety (our good works) betrays a chief characteristic of contemporary worship. “It’s all about me.” Even when it is about Jesus, it’s about him making ME feel so good…

    As Pastor Newman said (@Rev. Drew Newman #37 ),
    “Why is it that 40 years ago most Lutherans had no problem with understanding that doctrine and practice go hand in hand, but today it seems to be a central issue dividing us?”

  37. @John Rixe #38

    The first historical evidence I can find for clergy objecting to the wearing of vestments is by the Puritans in 1603. They petitioned King James of Scotland to end the obligatory wearing of vestments by ministers to show a difference in doctrine. The Hampton Church Conference in 1604 denied the request.

    In the mid nineteenth century the American Lutheran S S Schmucker wanted to do away with vestments to minimize the doctrinal differences with the Reformed with a goal of one united Christian Church.

    Historically, Lutherans have wore vestments to show and teach many different things, including a sincere desire for the lost. The theology of true Lutharanism is different from Rome and from Geneva!

  38. John Rixe Wrote: “I think it’s a division that’s real but over form not substance.”

    And therein lies the real problem . . . the denial of some that the argument is over form, not substance – an attempt to marginalize the concerns many of us share over where this whole CW things is leading. In my experience with people who have been immersed in CW they quite often see nothing wrong with changing denominations in order to have what they want in worship style if that worship style is not available to them in “Lutheranism.” I have had numerous encounters with “Lutherans” who attended our congregation on a Sunday morning, found out we didn’t have a CW service and then later joined the local non-denominational congregation because they preferred CW over the historic Liturgy (some even told me that they saw essentially no difference in what our two churches taught anyway!). Granted, some have gone East over this issue, but I suspect the numbers are much smaller.

    This disagreement is not form over substance, but over whether or not form matters. I say “Yes” and the other side says “No.” . . . And having had come out of a CW mindset myself, I know what I believed back then, and it wasn’t all that Lutheran.

  39. I wish that you could attend a truly Lutheran CoWo with an open mind and heart, taking in and recognizing that the doctrine is purely Lutheran.

    I thought Rev. McCall has seen contemporary Lutheran services. Has he not seen them? If he has then why wouldn’t he recognize the purely Lutheran doctrine?

    I am a nearly life-long LCMS member. I do know “proper” liturgy.

    That is great. Many people worked hard and sacrificed to preserve it and bring it to you. So, do your children know it? Will your grandchildren and great grandchildren know it? What is your plan to make sure that you pass it on to them and train them to value it and pass it on to their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren?

    My concern is that we take a treasure and bury it so that our posterity are deprived of it because for whatever reason this generation doesn’t value it. I mean it is not only sad, but also probably that it could be lost to the future generations.

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