The Guidon Factor by Norman Teigen

(Editor’s Note: Norman Teigen’s posts will be archived on the Regular Columns page under the heading “Checking in from the ELS.” The ELS   –  The Evangelical Lutheran Synod – is a small confessional synod headquartered in Mankato, Minnesota. We here at BJS hope that at least in some small way Norman’s columns will bring confessional Lutherans together. He is not officially representing the ELS so his posts should not be taken as such. For more on the history of the ELS click here.)  

The Guidon Factor by Norman Teigen

Members of the ELS do not currently express optimism about a rapprochement between the LC-MS and the little Norwegian Synod. Just about everyone who was around when the two synods split (which action was initiated by ELS and not Missouri) is now dead. The leaders of the ELS who were seminarians or young pastors in 1955 and who later ran the Synod for a time are now at least a decade past holding office. These men are in the waning years of their lives. The attitudes which led to the split and which perpetuated it for a half century are likely to linger on as organizations are run more on memory than current reality.

It would seem to me, at least, that the ELS should be ready to review the reasons for separation and to perhaps suspend the suspension. The reasons for the break-up of the old Synodical Conference, according to a fairly recent WELS study, centered around the Boy Scouts of America. Now with the Boy Scouts not being taken seriously by anyone, the kids, the parents, the Methodists, and even the Lutheran Church-Missourians, it might be time to review the history of the issue and perhaps discover that maybe there is more to unite us than to divide us.

There is of course the big F principle, the big Fellowship. What fellowship is and how it is applied is a big deal for old time ELSers. The Fellowship Principle in the ELS means that one must apply the full load of buckshot in practice. There is no room for nuance and careful evaluation of the values and motivations of other Lutherans by the ELS. Nuance is an unknown word in the ELS.

There is certainly no impetus within the ELS today to restore friendly relations with the Kieschnickean Missouri Synod. Some in the ELS see Missouri as being totally Kieschnickean. Others perceive that several Missouris must exist and that Kieschnickean Missouri is the apparent, but not necessarily the actual, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The number of Missouris in Missouri may not be known even to the Missourians themselves.

The idea of a synod itself is under review and discussion by Lutherans within and without the lines of the old Synodical Conference. To some a synod is a historical relic of pioneer days. Synods were useful in building church structures which would provide educated pastors to far-flung congregations. Now that the times and circumstances have changed there is no need for perpetuating the political bodies known as synods. A synod is today an entity of buildings and budgets and programs and money. The ELS, although less than one half the size of the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, has acquired the mind-set of the bigger dogs in the dog park. One pastor says that the little Norwegian Synod should rename itself as the Evangelical Lutheran $ynod.

The Kieschnickeans and the ‘Confessionals’ are seen by some in the ELS as the only sides in Missouri. Some ELSers think that the kooks of Missouri are the same as the Confessionals and these folks fail to differentiate between the Kieschnickeans and Jesus First on the one hand and Cascoigne and Otten on the other. If these are indeed the two divisions within Missouri then it seems that there are the scribes and pharisees on the one side and the publicans and sinners on the other.

There is a perception within the ELS that the Missouri Synod is the only reliable source in publishing and scholarship. Missouri has the money and the spirit to do this work which benefits many beyond the bounds of Missouri itself. A past generation of ELS synodical leadership has abandoned the idea of theological scholarship. The ELS now prints sermon collections of these old leaders instead of studies in the Lutheran Confessions.

There is always, of course, hope for unity in the Word. Synodical resolutions may create barbed wire fences which keep the groundlings from finding spiritual sustenance when they move or travel. But the unity of spirit among Christians is too elusive for containment.

There is one more idea which I wish to consider in this context and I call it the Guidon Factor. A guidon is a flag which identifies a military unit and distinguishes itself from other units. My guidon was the First Aviation Brigade. Other guidons would have been the First Cavalry Division, the Americal Division, the 173rd Airborne, and the 24th Infantry. There was an Air Force flag and a Navy flag and a Marine flag with many individual unit guidons identifying smaller units within the larger. Each unit had its own guidon but we all knew that the national flag covered us all.

I see guidons at work among the Lutherans. For some Lutherans the guidon is an individual thing, something that is considered to be vitally important to the over-all cause, but an individual thing. I see people parading around the compound of Lutheranism with Jesus First, Time for Grace, Lutherans for Life, Christian Life Resources guidons. Some guidons are of ideas: The Missouri Position on Church and Ministry, Natural Law Theology, Anti-abortionism, and Sanctity for Life. These no doubt important,but ultimately self-serving impulses focus on one area of human concern often at the expense of the larger question of the faith itself.

Some old Norwegians in Chicago, worried about the troublesome effects of alcohol abuse in their community, joined in the name of the faith, a temperance society. The leaders wisely, in my opinion, advised the zealous and sorrowing Lutherans, not to continue on with the organization within their group. The church mission was to preach the gospel and not to ameliorate harrowing social conditions. People of faith can join organizations of great civic virtue on their own. There are two kingdoms and they must be kept separate.

A more valuable set of guidons that unite Lutherans in separate synodical entities are the guidons of the articles of our faith. These guidons are all united in the flag of Christ’s love and grace which transcend all understanding and works of humans.

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.

More of his work can be found at


The Guidon Factor by Norman Teigen — 8 Comments

  1. First, the ELS’ separation from the Synodical Conference was well noted at its 50th anniversary at the 2005 ELS convention, the same convention at which the ELS adopted “The Doctrine of the Public Ministry”.

    Second, the ‘guidons’ that separate must not be ignored.

    Maybe an appropriate alternative name for a guidon is ‘label’.

    The fact that a church body contains the word “Lutheran” does not, in fact mean that that body subscribes to and teaches that all of Scripture is totally the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

    The “Lutheran” guidon/label does NOT therefore create unity among all of the Lutheran bodies.

    I am, Mr. Teigen a member of an ELS congregation. Neither President Moldstad nor President Kieschnick figure into that fact.

    I believe that I am NOT affected by the guidons/labels to which you refer.

    You seem to suggest that things such as Jesus First, Time of Grace, etc are simply guidons/labels that individuals use to separate themselves from other Lutherans.

    You poo-poo fellowship as something that only applies to old-time ELSers.

    Mr. Teigen, I choose to continue to use the discernment that God gave me to choose any Lutheran body to follow.

    I am unable to avoid/ignore the fellowship issue. I refuse to accept that all who choose the name/label/guidon of Lutheran are one.

    I am not a learned person. I hold only a high school diploma.

    Mr. Teigen, you speak only for yourself.

  2. John,

    You make a good point. These “guidons” are significant and we should not let mere battle cries separate us but at the heart of all of this is the pure Gospel of Christ and agreeing on it in all parts is the only basis for fellowship.


  3. “People of faith can join organizations of great civic virtue on their own.”

    Historically, this is the core of the problem. The denial of Christian freedom in regard to joining the Boy Scouts led to a split in Lutheranism.

    And I, for one, continue to take Scouting seriously. I think it is a good way to provide instruction in civic virtue in the left-hand kingdom, and frees the church to focus on catechesis with young people. Unlike freemasonry, there is nothing secret about it.

    I know that other Lutherans disagree. But lets remember that the historic hangup over guidons (literally, in the case of the scouts!) was not from the LCMS side of the table.

  4. My two sons earned their Eagle Scout awards.
    My two grandsons earned their Eagle Scout awards, the youngest got his last Saturday night (9/12/09). When you say the Scouts are “not taken seriously by anyone” you speak for yourself, Mr Teigen.

    The Boy Scouts are not our boys’ religious training ground; for that they had and have Sunday School and Confirmation class.

    Scouting was/is a valuable place to learn citizenship, (neglected in the public schools) and a developing sense of responsibility.
    A pacifist friend once wondered that I could raise two boys and have one a Navy officer while his brother was a Pastor!
    A more discerning friend said, “How fine that all your children (she included my Pharmacist daughter) chose careers which serve others!”
    They were all in Scouting.

    Back to the topic at hand which is more complicated!

  5. First of all, which WELS study pointed to the Boy Scouts as the center of the break-up of the Synodical Conference? The WELS paper, “A Tale of Two Synods” by Mark Braun (Spring, 2001) points to several issues, including

    – “Levels” of fellowship vs. “unit” fellowship, to oversimplify
    – The pursuit of the LCMS for full fellowship with the ALC
    – Prayer fellowship

  6. Mr. Teigen,

    I know!!

    Let’s have the ELS, WELS and LCMS jointly form a new synod, and let’s name it: The Gerwegian Lutheran Church of Missouri, Wisconsin and Mankato.

    We would have to ‘kiss and make up’ first, and once we were ‘one’ we could work out any differences using as our mantra: LET’S AGREE TO DISAGREE”.

    Oh! Wait! That’s already been done!

    How did that work out for them?

  7. Since the ELS is now in full communion with the WELS they would have to break fellowship with them to enter into it with LC-MS. IOW, ain’t gonna happen…ELS threw their lot in with the WELS. ELS now hold to the following three points that Missouri will not change and WELS/ELS will not accept:

    Q. What are the main differences between the Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS)?

    A. From the LCMS perspective, the three main theological differences between the LCMS and the WELS are the following:

    1) The biblical understanding of fellowship.

    The WELS holds to what is called the “unit concept” of fellowship, which places virtually all joint expressions of the Christian faith on the same level. In an official statement made in 1960 the WELS states, “Church fellowship should therefore be treated as a unit concept, covering every joint expression, manifestation, and demonstration of a common faith” (Doctrinal Statements of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 1970, pp. 51-52). The LCMS, however, has historically not understood or practiced church fellowship in this way. Our Synod, for example, has made a distinction between altar and pulpit fellowship (for which full doctrinal agreement is required) and other manifestations of Christian fellowship, such as prayer fellowship (which do not necessarily require full doctrinal agreement). Disagreements on this issue led the Wisconsin to break fellowship with the LCMS in 1961.

    2) The doctrine of the ministry.

    With respect to the doctrine of the ministry, since the days of C. F. W. Walther our Synod has held that the office of the public ministry (the pastoral office) according to the Scriptures is the one divinely established office in the church, while the church possesses the freedom to create other offices, by human institution, from time to time to assist in the carrying out of the functions of the pastoral ministry. The WELS’ Theses on Church and Ministry, however, expressly deny that the pastoral ministry is specifically instituted by the Lord in contrast to other forms of public ministry (see Doctrinal Statements, pp. 9-11; cf. the Commission on Theology and Church Relations’ 1981 report on The Ministry: Office, Procedures, and Nomenclature.

    3) The role of women in the church.

    While both the LCMS and the WELS strongly oppose the ordination of women to the pastoral office on Scriptural grounds, the LCMS has concluded that the Scriptures do not forbid woman suffrage in the church. The WELS opposes woman suffrage in the church as contrary to the Scriptures.

  8. @helen #4

    While Boy Scouts are indeed not religious training, the oath of the Boy Scouts does include God. Since not all Boy Scouts are of the same faith, let alone of the same understanding of the Christian faith, to take an oath with these other young men and boys would violate fellowship principals.

    On my honor, I will do my best
    To do my duty to God and my Country and to obey the Scout Law;
    To help other people at all times;
    To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

    It is explained that:
    To do my duty to God
    Your duty to God is to follow the teachings of your religious leaders always.

    Well how can confessional Lutherans take an oath with Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims, when their teachings are different. The oath places all religions on the same plain and playing field. We would make our triune God to be on par with idols and false doctrine.

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