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!