Every Christian Congregation Is Perfectly Free In All Things…Which Is Why Unity Ought To Be Mandated

May 21st, 2012 Post by

I want to begin this article by stating that I fully accept the full autonomy of every congregation out there.  Each body of believers has the freedom to do what it wants, when it wants, how it wants.  Nobody has any authority to tell them otherwise.

That being said, unity should be mandated.

Failing to mandate, follow, or enforce unity leads to Concordia being nothing more than a sinking ship.

Now how can that be?  How can I say that a congregation is free but that unity should be mandated?  It’s really a lot easier than most people would have you believe.  Here’s how it works:

Let’s say that there is a brand new congregation by the name of St. Wilgefortis Lutheran Church.  When St. Wilgefortis establishes itself it falls under no synodical jurisdiction.  They are entirely independent, a free Lutheran congregation.

But then in her Christian freedom, the members of St. Wilgefortis decide that they want to join a synod and “walk together” with the other congregations of that synod.  Let’s say that they apply to and are accepted into The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.  Without any coercion from anyone else, St. Wilgefortis exercised her Christian freedom to join a synod.

But having joined the LCMS, now what?  Does she continue to have Christian freedom?  Absolutely.  She may exercise her freedom to stay in the LCMS or she may exercise her freedom to leave the LCMS whenever she wishes.

But so long as she remains a member of the LCMS, how she walks together with the other LCMS congregations ought to be–and, indeed, is–mandated.  That means that she does not ordain women into the pastoral office, even though she is free to do so.  That means that she does not teach her people transubstantiation, even though she is free to do so.  That means that she does not sacrifice live goats upon the altar, even though she is free to do so.  (For the record, she would be wrong to do any of these things, but she is still free to do them.)  But it also means that there are other mandates, exhortations, and even restrictions as to how she worships, who may be members, who may teach in her school, and the like.  Like any neighborhood association, theoretically there could even be rules pertaining to how her lawn is mowed and what color and type of siding she may use for the exterior of her building.  (It would be stupid, yes, but it would be permissible for such mandates to exist.)

If St. Wilgefortis Lutheran Church is going to “walk together” with the people to whom she has bound herself by joining a synod, then for the sake of unity she must be willing to withhold exercising her freedom however she wants, whenever she wants.  She must be willing to say, “I really want to do <insert practice here>, but none of my sister congregations in the LCMS do this, so I won’t, either.”  Or, “I really want to do <insert practice here>, but it is against the rules and tenets and constitution of the LCMS, so I won’t do it.”  And if she is unable to say either of those things, that’s fine.  That is absolutely acceptable.  For she is then free to leave the LCMS so that she may go exercise her freedom without compromising her confession and without offending her sister congregations.

Within a denomination, unity ought to be mandated.  When unity in practice is not mandated (or, as we have in the LCMS, when such mandates are not enforced), total chaos ensues.  When nearly every practice under the sun is accepted there is no unity.  There is only disunity to the highest degree.

But of course, these mandates are not for the sake of meriting forgiveness.  That’s what the Reformers fought against.  That’s what AC VII was actually about.  It wasn’t about establishing a minimum requirement for altar and pulpit fellowship, but about declaring that they, too, were the Church, even though they rejected the mandates of the papists.  They were tired of having their consciences bound to rites and ceremonies and practices that merited nothing.  But they still had no qualms about mandating unity for the sake of unity.  In fact, that’s what they expected from their leaders.

Every organization in the world has a code of conduct.  If you want to be a member of that organization there are rules and procedures and patterns of behavior which must be followed if you wish to continue in that membership.  Within a synod, the leadership is perfectly free to say, “If you want to be a part of us, this is how you will act.”  In fact, Article 6 of the LCMS’ constitution (the most ignored article of the synod’s constitution) demonstrates this point.  Yes, that’s right; there are conditions on synodical membership (including the infamous “exclusive use” clause).  If congregations are expected to exercise their full autonomy and freedom in all matters, even as a member of the synod, then that article never should have been ratified.  But, as I mentioned earlier, when conditional mandates are not enforced (such as Article 6 is not enforced) then chaos becomes the norm.

I particularly like what Rev. Dr. Rick Stuckwisch had to say on this matter in a recent post over at Gottesdienst:  “The truth is, because God has left so many of the specific details ‘free,’ there must be some insistence upon adiaphora if there is to be any sort of ‘community.’  Rules of conduct held in common within each particular household and family, as well as broader rules of mutual engagement within the larger fellowship of the Church, enable brothers and sisters in Christ, and brother pastors and sister congregations, to live and work together in faith, hope, and charity, each person and each parish according to his, her, or its particular place. The freedom of faith in the Gospel does not prohibit but permits and makes possible such rules or ‘rubrics’ of familial life.  The Church on earth necessarily makes these decisions, as she always has and always will, in one way or another.  Some forms of ecclesiastical polity and governance work better than others, and that may vary according to time and place, but there must be some such polity and governance in place.  Ideally, at ground level, the pastors will care for their own respective congregations in the way that responsible, God-fearing and law-abiding fathers care for their own families, within the context of the communities in which they live.”

So also our own Associate Editor Rev. Joshua Scheer had some very insightful comments in his article, “Doctrine means nothing when Practice can mean anything” and the ensuing discussion.

Now, I would propose that within this concept of mandated unity there are five classes of mandates:

  1. that which you MUST do;
  2. that which you SHOULD do;
  3. that which you are FREE to do or not do;
  4. that which you SHOULD NOT do; and
  5. that which you MUST NOT do.

That is, there are the things that are outright commanded (1) and forbidden (5); the things that are encouraged (2) and discouraged (4); and the things that are accepted practice if you wish to do them (3).  People love number three.  People want everything to be under number three.  But there is no unity if that is the biggest category.  Very few people want numbers one and five to have anything in them at all.  But those two are the ones that need the most items in them.

A synod can only “walk together” if congregations are willing to actually WALK TOGETHER.  Congregations and pastors must be willing to set their own preferences aside and say, “Yes, I will do things in a similar”–not exactly the same in all places, but similar–“manner as everyone else for the sake of love and unity.”  Otherwise the synod is nothing more than an insurance and retirement plan.  Which, if that’s what a synod wants to declare itself to be, that also is just fine.  I have no problem with that.  A synod has the freedom to do that.  (It’s a bad idea, but a synod has the freedom.)  But then don’t be surprised if congregations start excommunicating each other.  (As if that isn’t already happening.)

So it’s okay to have matters of adiaphora mandated.  They are still neither commanded nor forbidden by the Word of God, and they certainly are not mandated for the sake of meriting grace and mercy.  For the sake of unity, however, they are commanded or forbidden by the word of men.  And that’s okay.  Because if you don’t like what the word of men says, you are free to leave and operate under your own word of men.  We can still (theoretically) have altar and pulpit fellowship with one another, provided one’s practice does not compromise one’s doctrine and confession.  We will simply recognize that we do not have unity in practice.  We will simply recognize that we do not walk together but apart, but still toward the common goal.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Here’s what the Lutheran Confessions have to say on the matter (none of these lists are intended to be exhaustive):

Unity in rites, ceremonies, etc. not necessary

AC VII, 2-3; XXVI, 5-6, 8, 43-45; XXVIII, 51
AP XXIV (XII), 51; XXVIII (XIV), 7
FC EP X, 4-5

We believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority to change and decrease or increase ceremonies that are truly adiaphora.  They should do this thoughtfully and without giving offense, in an orderly and appropriate way, whenever it is considered most profitable, most beneficial, and best for good order, Christian discipline, and the Church’s edification. [FC SD X, 9]

Unity in rites, ceremonies, etc. should be sought

AC XV, 1; XXIV, 2-3, 40; XXVI, 17,33,39-42; XXVIII, 55-57, 68
AP XV (VIII), 13, 20-22, 38, 43-44, 47; XXIV (XII), 1, 3; XXVII (XIII), 21; XXVIII (XIV), 17-18
FC EP X, 3
FC SD X, 1, 5, 7, 23

This topic about traditions contains many and difficult controversial questions.  We have actually experienced that traditions are truly traps of consciences.  When traditions are required as necessary, they torture in terrible ways the conscience, leaving out any ceremony.  The repeal of ceremonies has its own evils and it own questions. [. . .] Still, we teach that freedom should be so controlled that the inexperienced may not be offended and, because of freedom’s abuse, may not become more opposed to the true doctrine of the Gospel.  Nothing in customary rites should be changed without a reasonable cause.  So to nurture unity, old customs that can be kept without sin or great inconvenience should be kept.  In this very assembly we have shown well enough that for love’s sake we do not refuse to keep adiaphora with others, even though they may be burdensome.  We have judged that such public unity, which could indeed be produced without offending consciences, should be preferred. [AP XV (VIII), 49, 51-52]

Binding consciences in rites, ceremonies, etc. forbidden

AC XXVI, 1-3, 12, 17, 21-22, 29; XXVIII, 34, 36, 50
AP XXIV (XII), 5; AP XXVIII (XIV), 8, 11
SA XV, 2

Yet, the people are taught that consciences are not to be burdened as though observing such things was necessary for salvation. [AC XV, 2]

Unity in rites, ceremonies, etc. may be mandated

AC XXVIII, 42, 69, 77
AP XIV, 24, 28; XXVIII (XIV), 15
SA X, 1

What, then, are we to think of the Sunday rites, and similar things, in God’s house?  We answer that it is lawful for bishops, or pastors, to make ordinances so that things will be done orderly in the Church, but not to teach that we merit grace or make satisfaction for sins. [AC XXVIII, 53]


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  1. Carl Vehse
    May 21st, 2012 at 09:04 | #1

    “Unity Ought To Be Mandated”

    Synodical unity ought to be mandated.

    Beside the required mandate on doctrinal positions, the synodical mandates will include some things that are adiaphora. What adiaphora are mandated and what things are left in Christian freedom to pastors and the congregations, is something to be decided by the pastors and congregations who “walk together” as a synodical organization. It needs to be recognized that those mandates on adiaphora occasionally may be changed or revised over time. This may result in some tension within the synod, but that kind of tension is part of Christian freedom. Also, when such changes are raised, the considerations, discussions, and decisions should be done openly and not surreptitously or accomplished by quiet neglect.

    Furthermore, the concept that “synodical unity ought to be mandated” includes in this concept the effective structure (not simply a glossy facade or a bureaucratic labyrinth) for removing individual or church members who consistently refuse to walk together in unity with the Synod. As with changes in mandates, the considerations, discussions, and decisions of removing members for disunity should be done openly and not surreptitiously or treated with quiet neglect. The infatuation and use of secrecy, as instituted in the current synodical bylaws, is antithetical to “walking together,” as well as being unChristian. The committees and convention delegates who approved these secrecy rules should be ashamed.

  2. Joe
    May 21st, 2012 at 09:41 | #2

    I like that synod unity is pictured as walking together…. and not goose stepping together.

  3. revaggie
    May 21st, 2012 at 09:48 | #3

    Yeah, that isn’t unity. It nothing less than checklist legalism. One does not establish unity via the law. It simply just doesn’t happen. BTW the confessions, they do not say what you think they say the articles that are cited, they speak against mandating practice.

  4. Carl Vehse
    May 21st, 2012 at 09:57 | #4

    Please note that the synod is not a church, but a man-made corporation with the purpose of aiding the churches in their mission. In such a corporation there needs to be some rules. The confessional position on doctrine is one of the hard rules. This does not mean that everyone is “goose-stepping together.”

  5. May 21st, 2012 at 09:58 | #5

    @revaggie #3
    Go ahead and read Pres. Harrison’s paper on the church orders of our fathers in the faith, who understood the Gospel apart from the current spirit of rebellion which calls order “legalism”.

    The paper can be found here:
    http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=6532

    Our fathers had NO problem requiring and mandating practice. But then again, they understood the Gospel and the means of grace and good order. We understand freedom instead of forgiveness, forsake the means for CG methods, and embrace the confusion of diversity instead of the confession of uniformity.

  6. The Rev. Hertel
    May 21st, 2012 at 10:07 | #6

    Very good.
    This, I believe, may also close the gap of loosing members. If the pastorate is confused about “church”, then what makes us think the congregation will be any less confused.

  7. Diane
    May 21st, 2012 at 10:24 | #7

    Pastor Osbun,

    I just had to find out who St. Wilgefortis was since I’d never heard of her before. Wikipedia states that she was honored in the RC Church, feast day formerly around July 20. Her attributes: a bearded woman; depicted crucified, often shown with a small fiddler at her feet, and with one shoe off. Her patronage: relief from tribulations, in particular by women who wish to be liberated from abusive husbands. Apparently there is a beautiful carving of her in the Henry VII Chapel of Westminster Abbey. Wikipedia also states that she was debunked during the late 16th century. I guess she’s not a saint anymore? Now my question is this, any significant reason why you named your fictional church St. Wilgefortis?:)

  8. John Rixe
    May 21st, 2012 at 10:43 | #8

    You need a healthy financial base to maintain quality seminaries and missionary programs.   Breaking up into small synods based on adiaphora agreement doesn’t seem sensible.   Wouldn’t we still be fighting all the time over adiaphora and arguing over who isn’t following adiaphora good enough?  

    Example: Is the worship of one shoed bearded women saints adiaphora?

  9. May 21st, 2012 at 11:00 | #9

    @revaggie #13
    You said: “Any attempt to mandate a specific order would amount to legalism for it would call an order that was merely different but made a good confession, wrong.”

    But wrong according to our mutual bonds, not according to Scripture. That is what we are talking about – joining a larger body of congregations does come with mandates. A congregation cannot just call anyone to be their pastor – they have to call a man who is on the clergy roster of the Synod – is that legalism? The congregation willingly submits to such mandates for good order and also to have some standard with other congregations. It just so happens that in terms of worship, the rebellious spirit of our age has dug in its heels. Worship is no more or less “core” than having a pastor, so why do you not speak against the legalistic mandate of requiring congregations to call pastors on the Synod roster?

  10. revaggie
    May 21st, 2012 at 11:23 | #10

    @Pastor Joshua Scheer #14
    Actually, congregations don’t have to call somebody on the roster. I know of at least one congregation who has a non-rostered pastor.

  11. May 21st, 2012 at 11:30 | #11

    @revaggie #15
    Actually they do. Rev. Otten serves Trinity, New Haven because he was “grandfathered in” before the mandate was made.

    Check Bylaw 2.5.2 in the 2010 Handbook (page 59).

  12. May 21st, 2012 at 11:39 | #12

    Here is 2.5.2
    2.5.2 Congregations that are members of the Synod shall call and be served
    only by (1) ordained ministers who have been admitted to their
    respective ministries in accordance with the rules and regulations
    set forth in these Bylaws and have thereby become members of the
    Synod; (2) candidates for the pastoral ministry who have satisfied
    the qualifications and requirements for assignment of first calls by
    the Council of Presidents acting as the Board of Assignments; or
    (3) ordained ministers who are members in good standing of church
    bodies that have been formally recognized to be in altar and pulpit
    fellowship with the Synod when agreements for such calls are in
    place.

  13. revaggie
    May 21st, 2012 at 11:55 | #13

    @Pastor Joshua Scheer #17
    Maybe Bylaw 2.5.2 should be dropped, as it could be argued that it goes above and beyond the Scriptural requirements for a Pastor.

  14. May 21st, 2012 at 11:56 | #14

    @revaggie #18
    It certainly does, but that is what congregations in the LCMS willingly submit to (using their freedom to bind themselves to their neighbors). That is what Pr. Osbun is talking about.

  15. Joe
    May 21st, 2012 at 13:50 | #15

    Unity already has been mandated by Scripture, which is why consistency in doctrine is important. Consistency in practice is important because it directly reflects the doctrine the church confesses. Beyond this who cares!

    I’ve got enough to do and worry about keeping that straight. I don’t need to go checking for dirty laundry at other churches in the synod and get all zealous to enforce man-made rules with no scriptural or doctrinal basis. I’ll get to that right after I finish giving my dog a pedicure – which is another matter of equally important adiaphora.

  16. Joe
    May 21st, 2012 at 14:10 | #16

    Just because of who published the hymnal?

    That misses the main, and much-more important point that a church in the LCMS shouldn’t be teaching Methodist theology. That is what the real concern should be.

    Let’s suppose it is a really poor LCMS congregation and they inherited the hymnals. Lets also say that the confessional Lutheran pastor diligently polices the hymns prior to every service and excludes any songs that are not theologically sound.

    Expelling such a congregation would lead me to voluntarily suspend all future payments of my money to support the organization. Pastors of such calibur can go back to the plow – M. Div or not!

  17. Pastor Richard Mittelstadt
    May 21st, 2012 at 14:30 | #17

    “And this simple principle regulates Christian freedom. The freedom of the individual is limited by that of the congregation; the freedom of the congregation by that of the Church. The individual uses his freedom to determine what involves himself only, the congregational freedom settles congregational questions, and the freedom of the Church determines what interests her as a whole; the individual gives way to the congregation on congregational questions, as the congregation does to the Church on Church questions. The individual is not to exercise a liberty inconsistent with that of the congregation with which he freely remains associated, nor is the congregation to exercise a freedom inconsistent with that of the denomination with which it remains freely attached.” (Charles P. Krauth)

  18. May 21st, 2012 at 14:56 | #18

    Personally, I think it is better to stick with the Scriptural/Confessional arguments for and against certain practices than it is to try to legislate such things by man-made rules. Particularly since such legislation comes and goes at the whims of an arbitrary “majority.” Majority rule is not the best way to govern Christ’s Church, imho.

  19. Joe
    May 21st, 2012 at 14:57 | #19

    But the point of the LCMS having rules should (and I belive does) reflect their doctrine – which is why congregations need to be consistent in belief and practice.

    How have I changed the conditions of my initial premise? I only posed a theory of what I would consider a very valid reason to use a Methodist hymnal. I could see this situation or one very similar to it easily occuring in developing countries or areas that recently suffered a disaster of some sort.

    The fact of the matter is – to expell a congregation from the LCMS requires political agreement. If the synod as a whole agrees that the disciplinary actions you suggest are appropriate, then that is what will be done. Anyone who disagrees could leave at that point or wait to be forced out.

    “Organizations have rules. The LCMS is an organization. The LCMS has rules. The rules are for the sake of creating unity in practice. If a congregation doesn’t like the rules, they can leave and go practice their freedom elsewhere.”

    … or they can participate in the approved political processes of the organization and change the rules – and since these are man made rules any change is just as real and just as binding as any rule CFW Walther ever proposed.

  20. Joe
    May 21st, 2012 at 15:10 | #20

    @Daniel Baker #33

    I agree completely. Scripture should drive our actions both individually and as a synod.

  21. May 21st, 2012 at 15:26 | #21

    Sorry Rev. Osburn, but you lost me from the beginning on this one. “…I fully accept the full autonomy of every congregation out there. Each body of believers has the freedom to do what it wants, when it wants, how it wants. Nobody has any authority to tell them otherwise.”
    I don’t see this anywhere in Scripture. Unless you’re simply talking about determinism, as in they have the ability to choose these things. Sure, but that doesn’t make it right.
    On the contrary, I believe scripture shows the churches of different regions walking in mutual submission to one another, with certain leaders making authoritative pronouncements by which all are to be bound. They were not free to reject the ethical teaching of Paul and the apostles, this would constitute heresy. Now I understand that we no longer have that same apostolic authority (unless you believe in succession, which I understand Lutheran do not?), but nonetheless, I can’t accept that unity in spirit and mutual submission should have no structural implications or expressions. I really believe there is a “connectionalism” between churches that ought to be practiced. In our case, once we’ve come together and agreed to something, there needs to be a process for when a person or party does not honor that agreement. Otherwise we are being cowardly and hiding from controversy. This is all the more reason to be more careful when we draw up a list for membership requirements, but it does not mean the practice should be abandoned. If something is not worth enforcing, it is not worth putting down on paper, period.

  22. MissionMobilizer
    May 21st, 2012 at 16:33 | #22

    @revaggie #47
    I can’t help but think your argument is the same as, “Well, it is human nature for kids to want to have sex, so we might as well give them condoms and tell them to be safe. We can’t help what they will do, we should just make sure they are safe when they do it.” “If we mandate something, people are automatically going to assume it is a salvation issue, therefore we mandate nothing and just encourage them nicely to get along.” Your argument from human psychology is weak at best. If Scripture held to the same standard, we’d all be Pelagians.

  23. May 21st, 2012 at 17:39 | #23

    @MissionMobilizer #50

    Using your analogy, I would say what the OP is suggesting is like a parent who says “Don’t have sex because I said so!”, rather than teaching their children the biblical rationale for abstinence; namely, the sanctity of marriage and the blessings that marital life bestows.

    I am all for order and Liturgical purity, but we won’t ever bring it about by trying to enforce more rules on people. Showing them the benefits of these things from Scripture is the key. After all, only the Gospel will change hearts. Using the Law (which is what rules are) will only mortify or harden.

  24. Rev. Awesome
    May 21st, 2012 at 17:54 | #24

    I am sorry but this is what I am hearing: all churches who do not use exclusivly CPH material should be kicked out of the LCMS? That’s a lot of churches, maybe even the majority. We would lose some District Presidents. This is an issue that I continually see dividing synod. Maybe we should divide and have the Lutheran Church Concordia Publishing House and The Lutheran Church of Confessional Scripture. Why do we continue to let adiaphora divide us? I get that we need rules, but when we spend so much of our time arguing over how to proclaim the gospel it’s a real bummer. Although I guess if one of our biggest issues as a Synod is over adiaphora then we are doing pretty good.

  25. Robert
    May 21st, 2012 at 18:06 | #25

    A number of points. When you argue,

    “That means that she does not ordain women into the pastoral office, even though she is free to do so. That means that she does not teach her people transubstantiation, even though she is free to do so. That means that she does not sacrifice live goats upon the altar, even though she is free to do so. (For the record, she would be wrong to do any of these things, but she is still free to do them),”

    you clearly confuse “freedom” with “ability.” By no means does a Christian congregation have the freedom to ordain women, teach transubstantiation, or sacrifice goats for the forgiveness of sins. These acts would not be acts of freedom (being freed in Christ means being reborn with a new will in conformity to the will of Christ), but acts of slavery to false belief and practice.

    Further, you suggest,

    “The confessions speak against mandating practice for the sake of binding consciences and meriting grace.”

    The Confessions also clearly forbid implementing or prescribing or forbidding practice not specifically addressed or mandated or forbidden in Scripture while disregarding conscience. The Evangelical Lutheran Church abides by Scripture and the Confessions the former of which, and here I’m referencing St. Paul’s meat/idols argument, forbids disregarding conscience.

  26. May 21st, 2012 at 18:25 | #26

    @Rev. Awesome #53
    I do believe you are mis-hearing. First of all, the writers and commenters here most definitely do NOT endorse ALL material produced by CPH (just watch the comments on the “creative worship” stuff). Secondly, not all material produced by other publishers is necessarily bad. The issues is, do the materials match with the doctrine we claim to profess? We aren’t being as diligent and faithful as about checking these things as we could be, to the spiritual detriment of our congregations. And if half of what I’m hearing is true, DP’s could seriously use a bit more accountability. I think firing a few guys wouldn’t solve the problem; its a structural one. I get the stress over adiaphora (though we may not full agree on what qualifies) conflict, but honestly, we are not divided over it. The fact that we have remained all in the same synod is, imo, a good thing. Our different factions need to continue working for the common good and a common understanding that we might be of mutual edification to one another (though I think the BJS crowd has by far the most to offer in terms of edification, I wouldn’t say the other perspectives have nothing to offer).

  27. May 21st, 2012 at 18:25 | #27

    @Rev. Awesome #53
    You are actually the first to mention CPH. No one else has argued for such an understanding.

  28. May 21st, 2012 at 18:28 | #28

    @Miguel #55
    Thank you for your compliment about BJS Miguel.

  29. boaz
    May 21st, 2012 at 18:45 | #29

    I’m too late to the game. Good post, you actually address the point ive been pressing here for years.

    Two things. Mandates in Adiaphora should always be distinguished from doctrine and clearly identified. The more mandates in matters on adiaophora you have, the less true unity you will have. that just goes to what Jkind if synod we want. Id rather have it reflect all in agreement on doctrine, then separate out by adiaphoric preferencesin practice.

    Also, I think anytime the church mandates Adiaphora for fellowship, it risks binding consciences. But if we are clear that our fellowship is also limited to those who share our preferences in adiaphoric practices, and not solely by doctrine, I agree you can mandate that. We could have an els wels type fellowship, and solve the worship wars. Though id be scared that both sides would slip into heresy. Traditionalists to an orthodox sect and cowo to willow creek campus satellites.

    The problem is mandating Adiaphora as a condition fellowship that is a fellowship meant to reflect all those who agree in doctrine, as it does greatly risk binding consciences, it at least causes great confusion.

  30. helen
    May 21st, 2012 at 19:59 | #30

    @Miguel #49
    Why not sit down with some pastors from the UMC/PCA, have a look at their book of discipline/book of order and start a conversation on what works, what doesn’t, and why?

    Maybe because those guys had their liberal/conservative split 40 years ahead of us?
    And, unless I’m mistaken in the initials, you advocate sitting down with the liberal majority which kept all the marbles.
    [And I'm not so sure that "sitting down" hasn't already been done by our liberals.]

    I’m not really interested in “how to make Missouri liberal”; that’s been going on and is going on as we sit and debate here. I’d like to see Missouri Lutheran and yet another batch of non Lutheran consultants is not going to achieve that, (although they’ll be happy to keep robbing our “Human Care” funds. That’s where the last bunch got theirs.)

  31. Robert
    May 21st, 2012 at 20:58 | #31

    Miguel #49,

    You make a number of astonishing claims. You write, “Congregational autonomy is the rallying cry of evangelical circus performers, and a rejection of corporate accountability. I feel pretty strongly about this one; it’s time to leave this teaching behind, and we can do it gradually by adopting a healthy, moderate dose of federalism into our polity.”

    Besides the throwaway ad hominem, what proof do you offer that those advocating congregational autonomy reject corporate responsibility? How would you define “corporate responsibility,” which is a business and not an ecclesial term? In what way is our current synodical structure like or unlike “federalism”?

    Further, you ask, “Why not sit down with some pastors from the UMC/PCA, have a look at their book of discipline/book of order and start a conversation on what works, what doesn’t, and why?”

    Are you suggesting that the Evangelical Lutheran understanding of “Church” is similar to the UMC or PCA? In what way or ways does the UMC, which just experienced a convention rather divided over the same-sex issue, offer the LCMS hope? Do you find that both the PCA (conservative) and the PCUSA (liberal) both having books of order supportive of your suggestion? Finally, are we to look only at pragmatics?

  32. Mary Johnson
    May 21st, 2012 at 21:12 | #32

    Just an opinion from a relative newcomer to the LCMS. After joining my congregation I dug a bit deeper into all the side roads of the Lutheran church. ELCA-WELS-TAALC-and on and on. It seems such a shame to see the constant division and discord from so many who say they hold the confessions to be true. A lot of head scratching on my part.

    I’ve seen (at least on video because I’d never willingly attend in person) contemporary worship and it’s nothing but evangelical non-denom church service with a little head nod to Luther – maybe. What’s the point? If you want to present yourself as a non-denom to the public in your practice and basic theology, why the pretense of maintaining the Lutheran title?

    You can argue till the cows come home about adiaphora this and that. What remains is are you and your church faithful to the practice and doctrine set out by the LCMS? Even more important, how can we steer the LCMS back to a more confessional practice oversight. Give the post sitters the way to the door and encourage the rest to grow and mature in the faith.

    Sure the hymns are old and some are hard to sing, but they tell a truth, no THE truth. Studying the BoC is something I wish the LCMS would push for Sunday School and mid week studies. Not enough people realize and appreciate what it holds. Stop the arguing about miniscule issues and focus on the bigger ones that threaten the future of our synod. I wondered what kind of a mess I had gotten myself into after reading all the back and forth nonsense I see posted about this and that.

    Freedom is a perilous gift, requiring not only work to maintain, but extreme effort to defend against those who would play it to either enslave you or lead you astray. When the freedom allows someone to flaunt his or her new age views as doctrinal facts or when the divine service becomes a circus side show, we’ve lost its meaning. Freedom comes with rules to guide its safety and longevity. Man always seeks a way to subvert the gift. 180 degrees the other direction is still wrong. Top dead center is what you want.

  33. May 21st, 2012 at 22:11 | #33

    @helen #59
    First of all, the PCA is quite possibly more conservative than us, not to be confused with the mainline PCUSA. PCA is a confessional group. The UMC, on the other hand IS quite liberal, but they have actually managed to reel it in and stop the leftward drift. They haven’t gone far left like the UCC or Episcopal church, and due to their extensive mission work the conservatives may again gain the upper hand. Case in point, they, as a denomination, acted decisively on the homosexuality issue. They put their foot down, and they enforce their decision. They decided where the line would be drawn, and the churches must cooperate with that. Groups like those have more experience dealing with a more connected church structure with centralized authority, as well as enforcing denominational policy. And like I’ve mentioned before, the PCA regularly brings heretics to trial in their courts in order to maintain the purity of their doctrine. They wouldn’t even let RC Sproul Jr. in the group. That is a group unified around core ideals (the Westminister Standards).

  34. May 21st, 2012 at 22:31 | #34

    @Robert #60
    Corporate accountability, not corporate responsibility. Does the congregation, as a whole, answer to anyone outside of or above itself in regards to it’s doctrine and practice? Accountability is a good thing; organizational structures without it are prone to exploitation and abuse. Most Pastors in any church are accountable to somebody for what the preach and how they spend their time. Western civilization still holds to the idea that a person is accountable for his own actions. I don’t think this principle or idea ought be stopped at the personal level; I believe that churches who commit to walk together in a tradition ought to be held to honor that commitment.

    I’m not sure who you think I’m accusing with the “throwaway ad hominem,” but one would think that it is plainly evident from a cursory survey of evangelical culture that those churches who answer to nobody outside themselves act like it. In addition to the fact that non-denomination churches give less to missions, they are much more likely to feature sermon series on sex, adopt entertainment based worship tactics, and chase after consumer fads. A church intent on those things isn’t going to waste time being a part of a denomination with red tape. I would say that the evangelical scene at large is not suffering from an abundance of red tape, but quite the opposite. There are some church bodies that simply do not allow AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” to be performed on Easter Sunday, or any Sunday, as part of the worship service. But when a congregation is fully autonomous, they are free to do these sort of things without consequence. The outside world sees this circusy and conclude that the faith is a joke. It wouldn’t be happening if there was a stronger commitment to submitting to traditional guidelines and a common doctrine and practice, and a church body that was willing to hold its members to those commitments.

    Obviously our ecclesiology is different than the Methodists and Presbyterians, but that doesn’t mean we can learn nothing from their political structure. They have publications by which their churches are bound. A Presbyterian church practicing in variance with the Book of Order can and will face consequences, and I believe this is a healthy thing, provided the Book of Order is in harmony with scripture. While pragmatics are certainly not the high priority of ecclesiology, as Lutherans, we don’t endorse one polity model as scripturally mandated. Rather, I’ve been told that Lutheran church bodies are free to organize with the structure that they deem is best and most efficient for their mission. So a certain level of pragmatism is already built into our tradition. My question is, can our current model be improved? I think so. I believe I am not alone in saying that an LCMS church that acts like a Calvary Chapel who happens to baptize infants is not in harmony with the doctrine they claim to profess. They need to be brought to that realization, or the “unity” we have is false.

  35. helen
    May 22nd, 2012 at 09:44 | #35

    @Miguel #62
    First of all, the PCA is quite possibly more conservative than us, not to be confused with the mainline PCUSA.

    My mistake. Apologies!

    But Missouri used to be the example! Pity we seem to have “lost it”….

    I remember now that Orthodox Presbyterians warned me in the 60’s that Missouri was headed for the same split they had had, decades before. I was new to LCMS and they were more informed than I was!

  36. MissionMobilizer
    May 22nd, 2012 at 09:59 | #36

    @Daniel Baker #52

    I think in pointing out the obvious weakness in my analogy, Daniel, you make another excellent point and reveal the flaw in revaggie’s argument as well. Teaching the benefits and background and context is essential in all of this! Revaggie seems to assume that even if the people are taught rightly, they are still guaranteed to fall into the particular error of assuming that they merit grace through orthopraxy.

    As a recent newcomer to confessional Lutheranism, I’ve only discovered the richness and depth of the historic liturgy in the last year. But I didn’t just stumble into it by accident. I was taught it. Taught by Issues Etc, by articles here on BJS, by Pastor Fisk and Pastor Fiene. I have heard that the two LCMS seminaries don’t necessarily teach any classes on the order of service and the background and context for it. Is that true? If it is, then it explains why so many pastors in the LCMS are quite ready to abandon it – they don’t understand it! Ignorance makes it very easy to be swept away by the desire to be relevant, or seeker-sensitive or to grow your church bigger better and faster.

    How many of the churches that have strayed from the unified practices laid out in the LSB and previous hymnals actually knew what they were giving up? How many pastors have been faithful in teaching the background and reasons for why they do what they do? Personally, now that I’ve learned what I have about the historic liturgy, I can’t imagine going back to the CoWo I grew up with. It literally is like being fed junk food when I could have a five-course steak dinner!! I’m looking forward to attending Pastor Fiene’s church this Sunday where I already know that we will be using Divine Service 3 from the LSB. I know exactly what I will be fed and can look forward to it and prepare myself and my family for it. And that’s AWESOME!!!

  37. Joe
    May 22nd, 2012 at 11:12 | #37

    I personally think it is a cop out to hide under the synod’s ability to mandate adiaphora to weed the CoWo churches out of the synod. If the differences are truely adiaphora, then both sides ought to be mature and Christ-like enough to get along and maintain fellowship while allowing freedom for each other.

    If the differences aren’t on matters of adiaphora, then there is a real issue and a real doctrinal postion needs to be defined both to maintain obedience to the Word and to help correct erring brothers.

    I’m not a critic of CoWo because of personal opinions regarding adiaphora. I’m a critic of CoWo because of doctrinal concerns.

    I also don’t think chaos and disunity automatically exists where freedom to practice adiaphora differs somewhat between congregations. If it was that critical that everyone practice adiaphora exactly the same, the God wouldn’t have left it up to us. Scripture defines true unity and scripture defines chaos. Adiaphora is excluded from both definitions – hence it is adiaphora. Getting all wound up about making and enforcing mandated rules concerning adiaphora just sets up a bunch of man-made rules to burden people with unnecessarily.

    And many will be far more zealous to enforce the man-made rules while blantantly neglecting the Word and God’s law.

  38. revaggie
    May 22nd, 2012 at 11:31 | #38

    @MissionMobilizer #65

    You misunderstand me. I have nothing against orthopraxy, the issue I have is mandating certain actions as must do’s. By all means practice rightly, but allow right practice to flow out of orthodoxy not a legal mandate.

    My issue is that the very act of mandating it will turn it into a matter of law and will become binding on people’s consciences. I have watched it happen, it is a part of the church’s history, so I do not understand why somebody would be so eager to repeat the mistakes of the past.

    As of about 5 years ago St Louis was teaching background and context of the service.

  39. MissionMobilizer
    May 22nd, 2012 at 11:32 | #39

    @Joe #66

    But that isn’t the point at all! As the author has repeatedly stated. The issue is that congregations in the LCMS have agreed to practice a certain way, not because Scripture tells them they MUST, but because in order to be unified in doctrine and practice they have agreed to! You’re putting up a strawman argument by trying to redefine the issue at hand here. The issue isn’t whether or not something is adiaphora. It has been clearly stated that when doctrine isn’t at stake with the practice, then it is adiaphora.

    The issue, again, is that congregations have agreed that they will bind themselves together in unity not only over doctrine but ALSO over some adiaphora. If a congregation doesn’t want to do that anymore, then it is free to not (see, congregational freedom still exists completely), but it is not free to then claim unity and faithfulness to the agreement if it chooses to change its practice against that agreement (and freedom balanced by accountability to a higher authority, when enforced, also exists).

  40. MissionMobilizer
    May 22nd, 2012 at 11:55 | #40

    @revaggie #67

    Thank you for the correction. And I’m glad to hear St. Louis is teaching the background. I was just ignorant on that and it is nice to know about it now. :-)

    “My issue is that the very act of mandating it will turn it into a matter of law and will become binding on people’s consciences.” Yes, if it is not taught consistently and clearly! But if our teachers live up to their responsibilities, this won’t happen. And if the congregation is diligent at studying the Word, this won’t happen. I think you are making a logical leap here and leaving out a few key steps that could change the equation entirely. And yes, we are all fallen human beings who struggle against the world, our flesh and the devil, so I would even agree with you that your scenario is likely. But I won’t say it is guaranteed. I think having authority structures and agreements like have been discussed here can be effective ways at restraining the flesh to some extent so that we do not immediately jump to your scenario.

    I’m just leaving a church body that has no restraints whatsoever, and the end result has been to throw out not just orthopraxy (which they did over a century ago), but to now also throw out orthodoxy. The idea of a “free” congregation has been taken to its extreme due to an overbearing fear of “binding consciences” or of becoming a synod or papacy. I think where BJS would like to see LCMS go is actually a good happy medium and am glad to be getting more involved.

  41. John Rixe
    May 23rd, 2012 at 22:14 | #41

    “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  (John 17:20-23)

    Unless I misunderstand your proposal, organizing small congregations and small synods based on common shared adiaphora doesn’t seem to lead to complete unity.   Mutual respect and encouragement among those in doctrinal fellowship but diverse adiaphora better leads to complete unity IMHO.

  42. R.D.
    May 23rd, 2012 at 22:28 | #42

    @Pastor Josh Osbun #76
    You reveal, then, a lack of understanding of fellowship: who establishes fellowship and on what basis? You argue fellowship is established by men through synodical rules. This denies where the church is to be found, that is around the marks of the church. You deny using a Methodist hymnal is contrary to scripture yet you will mark and avoid those who use it. God establishes fellowship through His Word. You attempt to establish fellowship with the rules and bylaws of man. This makes the synod the church with the convention her head. And this from a servant of the Word! No wonder there is so much confusion in this thread. We don’t know what the church is.

  43. John Rixe
    May 24th, 2012 at 05:43 | #43

    @Pastor Josh Osbun #80

    The system now doesn’t work because of sin – mutual disrespect and mutual discouragement.

  44. John Rixe
    May 24th, 2012 at 06:17 | #44

    “Our fundamental problem is unbelief.  We do not believe the Word of God actually can and does unite us…

    We must finally make the time and effort to come to a broad consensus on who we are and how we shall live and work together.”  – Pastor Harrison, It’s Time 

  45. Milo
    May 27th, 2012 at 13:27 | #45

    I have not read all the comments, only enough to see the trend here: mostly, you are straining gnats and swallowing camels. No one, thus far, has acknowledged the 600 pound gorilla squatting in the middle of it all: the LCMS is rent by schism.
    Lex credendi, lex orendi – the law of prayer is the law of belief. Or put only slightly differently, you do what you believe. We, congregationally, are in-congruent with one another in our beliefs leading to widely divergent practices in worship. Joel Osteen is not a member of the LCMS for very good reason. Those who wish to emulate him don’t belong here either.
    We do not have uniformity of practice because we lack unity of belief. Without unity of belief unity of practice is unattainable, no matter how desirable such unity might be. On the other hand, the dis-unity is destroying us.

  46. John Rixe
    May 29th, 2012 at 13:19 | #46

    @Milo #88

    Sorry, I don’t notice that much disunity in belief.   We are imperfect, but could you please tell me what other denominations have more unity in pure doctrine?   Thanks.

  47. Pastor Josh Osbun
    May 29th, 2012 at 15:59 | #47

    @John Rixe #89
    Open Communion (wine)
    Role of women in the Church (women)
    Appropriateness (or lack thereof) of worship styles (worship)

    The three W’s alone form massive rifts not only in doctrine but subsequently in practice (or not only in practice but subsequently in doctrine).

    But there are other hotly contested topics as well:

    The Office of the Holy Ministry
    The Royal Priesthood (or is the “Priesthood of All Believers”?)
    Creation
    The authority of the Word of God
    The person of Mary the Mother of God (or is she merely the “Mother of our Lord”?)

    I’m not quite certain how it is that you could NOT notice a massive disunity in belief in the LCMS.

    Furthermore, it’s not about how much unity we have as compared to other denominations. It’s not a contest. And even if it were, I seriously doubt that we’d win. Smaller church bodies will be able to unify in a common doctrine to a greater degree than larger church bodies.

    We must worry about our own unity/disunity before we begin to worry about that of others.

  48. John Rixe
    May 29th, 2012 at 16:48 | #48

    Apologizing in advance for always repeating myself:

    I see massive rifts only between clergy of the two extremes on the liberal-conservative spectrum.  I see no massive rifts among the clueless middle, especially the laymen. All of my church friends think that controversy ceased after Seminex.

    “It is possible to unify 85% of the synod in doctrine, practice, and mission, I’m convinced.  No one group in the Synod has moral hegemony or superiority.  We are all pure sinners in need of pure grace.   Our fundamental problem is unbelief.  We do not believe the Word of God actually can and does unite us…

    “We must finally make the time and effort to come to a broad consensus on who we are and how we shall live and work together.”  – Pastor Harrison, It’s Time 

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