At Home in the House of Schwan: On Church Fellowship (by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

Today, May 29, is the 105th anniversary of the death in 1905 of Heinrich Schwan, the third president of the Missouri Synod. We honor his memory today by listening to his wise counsel.

This is the third in a series of excerpts from writings of the first five presidents of our synod–Walther, Wyneken, Schwan, Pieper, and Pfotenhauer–all found in a book by Pastor Matt Harrison, “At Home in the House of My Fathers” (available through logia.org).

Harrison’s introduction to his translation of a Schwan sermon reads, in part, as follows:

In a beautiful way, dominated by the Gospel, and charitable to Christians with whom Missouri was not in fellowship, Schwan maintains the necessity of unity in the full truth of the Church’s biblical Confession. (p. 506)

This excerpt is from H.C. Schwan’s 1879 “Sermon on Church Fellowship and Unity”:

To be sure, we should not hate and persecute those who adhere to a false faith. Nor should we avoid civil association with them. We should all the more in all things show them complete faithfulness, love, and friendliness. But God has not commanded us to maintain church fellowship with them. He has, in fact, strictly forbidden it. And we should certainly not think that all who belong to false-believing fellowships are stiff-necked enemies of the truth and children of perdition. We should certainly not forget that where the Word and Sacrament still essentially remain, where something of the sweet Gospel still resounds, there also children will be born to the Lord as the morning dew. Indeed, we can and should rejoice that we stand in the innermost and sweetest fellowship with all those who have saving faith in the heart, hidden before God, even though out of weakness they may be burdened by all sorts of error. But we cannot enter into church fellowship with such persons. Indeed, we do not know who they are, but the Lord knows those who are His. Where we establish public church fellowship, there must also be present public unity in the faith and Confession. (pp. 511-12)

Schwan here strikes the right balance, doesn’t he, between broad Christian kindness and firm confessional faithfulness. Our insistence that church fellowship be based on agreement in doctrine–this is often caricatured as though we think that only Missouri Synod Lutherans will be in heaven! Schwan shows this is not the case.

One other brief and timely quote from Schwan, this one from his 1896 Synodical Address:

What is it to us, then, whether our Synod is large or small, honored or despised, in the eyes of the world? She will remain under God’s blessing as long as she honestly stands for God’s Word and honor. Nor do we wish for a longer existence than that. Therefore, we commend all this to God! (p. 554)

Amen!


Comments

At Home in the House of Schwan: On Church Fellowship (by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 23 Comments

  1. What is it to us, then, whether our Synod is large or small, honored or despised, in the eyes of the world?

    How applicable. A DECREASE in numbers may be illustrative of God’s Church where the Sacraments are rightly administered and the Word is properly procalimed.

    Thanks for this article.

  2. Where we establish public church fellowship, there must also be present public unity in the faith and Confession.

    This unity of faith is to be confessed by the entire Synod, which is why (as I noted on another thread) the following resolution out of Floor Committee 3 frightens me:

    acknowledge procedures in place for establishing formal altar and pulpit fellowship with well-established church bodies, and propose to amend a Bylaw to allow the Synod president, following consultation with the Praesidium and approval by the CTCR, to declare recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with emerging or newly formed confessional churches, subject to endorsement of the subsequent Synod convention.

    (emphasis added)

    Can someone please explain to me why it would be necessary for the Synodical President to not wait until a Synodical Convention before declaring Altar and Pulpit Fellowship with emerging and newly formed churches? If four years is too long to wait, then perhaps we shouldn’t lengthen the time between conventions.

  3. This is a great book and I am reading as much as I can.

    I am so glad to finally meet Wyneken, Schwan, and Pfotenhauer, where I had only known Walther and Pieper before.

    The editor’s / translator’s notes and idiomatic translations are delightful. The book is very, very well edited and beautiful physically. It is very affordable.

    Thank you Pastor Harrison for doing this! And thanks Pastor Henrickson for your continued highlights.

  4. Charles,

    Our insistence that church fellowship be based on agreement in doctrine–this is often caricatured as though we think that only Missouri Synod Lutherans will be in heaven! Schwan shows this is not the case.

    Just to clarify something: what exactly is different from the way that the President Schwan would have us treat non-Christians from Christians?

    I just want to nail this down: ought I not show my Mormon neighbor “complete faithfulness, love, and friendliness” just as I do my Methodist neighbor?

    And of course, neither will be hated–and we’ll have civil associations with them…

    But is he advocating that we treat the Mormon and the Methodist differently in any way?

  5. Mark,

    If I recall from your other efforts at starting this sort of string string, your point is to undermine the teaching of the LCMS, taken from the Bible, that false doctrine is not to be tolerated. You attempt to do this by drawing people out with questions like the one above to trap people into saying that the “damn” Methodists are no better than the “damn” Mormons. Well, that is not the case. Mormon teaching is cult teaching, i.e. they masquarade as Christian but really are not Christian and do not preach the life-saving Gospel. Methodists on the other hand, are heterodox. They mix false teaching in with the life-saving Gospel.

    How do we treat them? As individuals we treat them both with earthly respect and love hoping that we will get a chance to show them the truth. Institutionally, we do not join with either (altar and pulpit fellowship) the Mormons because they are pagan and the Methodists because they are heterodox.

    That is the traditional Bibilical teaching of the LCMS on the matter. You may have the final word and then we need to get back to the point of the post and not play your silly pagan vs. heterodox game again.

    TR

    P.S. If I have missed the point of your pagan/heterodox game please clarify.

  6. Charles,

    Undermine? Reject a non-Scriptural teaching is actually my goal. Scripture clearly teaches that those who are in Christ are in Christ and those who are not in Christ are not in Christ. There is no other label to be in.

    And, in addition, the Bible teaches that those who are in Christ are in fellowship with one another.

    The question is not whether we are in fellowship with other Christians — we are — the question is how do we best demonstrate the fellowship that we share with some, but do not share with others.

    Just to clarify: your answer would be that we treat these two groups — who you yourself admit are as different as night is from day — institutionally the same.

    Once again: we treat those who are saved and those who are damned the same institutionally.

    And, so someone looking at this treatment: what exactly would be the conclusion that they would draw? Hmmm? What natural conclusion would they see by our treating these groups the same way?

    No, Charles, you have got the point exactly. But it is not a game. It is serious business.

  7. Pr. Louderback,

    “And, in addition, the Bible teaches that those who are in Christ are in fellowship with one another.”

    Pres. Schwan adresses this concern directly, saying :

    “Indeed, we can and should rejoice that we stand in the innermost and sweetest fellowship with all those who have saving faith in the heart, hidden before God, even though out of weakness they may be burdened by all sorts of error. But we cannot enter into church fellowship with such persons. Indeed, we do not know who they are, but the Lord knows those who are His.”

    So God is sure this fellowship, but it is sadly hidden from us. To those who would arrogate to themselves judgement without knowledge I will quote from your own post:

    “But it is not a game. It is serious business.”

  8. James Sarver,

    The fellowship is indeed hidden–but at the same time, we are not absent of any way to point and say “The church is here.” Because we can point to where the Gospel is proclaimed. After all, can we not clearly determine between the Mormon church and the Methodist?

    No doubt, that we can’t point to any individual and say “Oh, we can see in their heart that they have Faith!” — but nor are our funerals an agnostic affair “We don’t know whether we’ll see Martin in Heaven, but we hope we do.” Or would you expect that is all we can do, since going further is arrogating to judgement without knowledge?

    No. The Church is hidden and the Church is revealed; we can’t see in men’s hearts, but we can point to where the Gospel is proclaimed. The question is, how do we demonstrate the unity that we have with those — that we already have with them! — who belong to church bodies that proclaim the Gospel.

  9. ML,

    Can’t you see that your goal of unity is out of order? Your goal is “demonstrate the unity we have…” but a prior goal for the church is to practice the unity Christ has given us. The Methodists do not that because they reject, among other things, the real presence and so by their action of denying the given unity we are unable to demonstrate unity with them.

    TR

  10. Pr. Louderback,

    “After all, can we not clearly determine between the Mormon church and the Methodist?”

    Sure. Mormons publicly, even vehemently, deny the content of the Creeds. They are not Christians. I cannot worship with them. Methodists, despite largely not caring for creedal formality, publicly agree with the content of the creeds. They are Christians, as a group, according to their public confession. I can worship with them. We can judge a public confession. That is knowlege given to us. As Lutherans, we judge some of their public confession to be in serious error. We acknowledge our fellowship with them with reservation, based on the knowledge we have. I don’t see that as a difficult concept.

    “but nor are our funerals an agnostic affair “We don’t know whether we’ll see Martin in Heaven, but we hope we do.” Or would you expect that is all we can do, since going further is arrogating to judgement without knowledge?”

    Again, it is not arrogant to judge based on known public confession. Methodist Uncle Martin is not kept out of heaven based on his erroneous confession. I still don’t want his Pastor (or Pastorette) in the pulpit at my church propagating error. I still will not partake in the Sacrament with him.

    “The question is, how do we demonstrate the unity that we have with those — that we already have with them! — who belong to church bodies that proclaim the Gospel.”

    Certainly not by pretending there are no serious issues dividing the Church. It is fractured for a reason. There will be a day when it is not. Wishful thinking will not speed that day in coming.

  11. TR,

    Can’t you see that your goal of unity is out of order?

    Well, obviously not…

    Your goal is “demonstrate the unity we have…” but a prior goal for the church is to practice the unity Christ has given us.

    I don’t see the distinction. The point is, either way, it is a unity that we have received from Christ. It is a unity that is in Christ.

    he Methodists do not that because they reject, among other things, the real presence and so by their action of denying the given unity we are unable to demonstrate unity with them.

    Your sentence is not clear — if you are saying that the Methodist reject the unity that they have received in Christ, then you are wrong. They have not — that is why we consider them Christians, as opposed to Mormons. So, they have not rejected this unity.

    We have this unity with them. We have a unity of Christ in them.

    Now, yes, they do indeed teach falsely. We can’t ignore that. But the Mormon church teaches falsely as well. Ought we to have a fellowship position that teaches the false teaching of the Mormon church is the same as the false teaching of the Methodist church? I don’t think so.

  12. James Sarver,

    So much that you say, I agree with you completely. Perhaps we are the same person…

    Sure. Mormons publicly, even vehemently, deny the content of the Creeds. They are not Christians. I cannot worship with them. Methodists, despite largely not caring for creedal formality, publicly agree with the content of the creeds. They are Christians, as a group, according to their public confession. I can worship with them. We can judge a public confession. That is knowlege given to us. As Lutherans, we judge some of their public confession to be in serious error. We acknowledge our fellowship with them with reservation, based on the knowledge we have. I don’t see that as a difficult concept.

    I don’t either! But of course, this is a rejection of some within our own the Lutheran church. It certainly is a rejection of the unit fellowship concept that the WELS currently has — and that some would want our own Synod to adopt.

    For example, you say “I can worship with them,” referring to the Methodists.

    But if I as a pastor, just got together for a time of prayer with them, some would claim that would be unionism. There are other example I can give which would speak to the exact same thing that you want to demonstrate, and people would say “No, you can’t do that. You are confirming their error. You must treat them in the same way you treat a Mormon.”

    Do you see my point now? You you see the issue that I speak of now?

    I still don’t want his Pastor (or Pastorette) in the pulpit at my church propagating error. I still will not partake in the Sacrament with him.

    I agree with you on this. Completely. Well, I can imagine situations where I have had someone speak to my congregation who is not LCMS — but not preach from the pulpit on Sunday morning. You and I are once again, in agreement here.

    Certainly not by pretending there are no serious issues dividing the Church. It is fractured for a reason. There will be a day when it is not. Wishful thinking will not speed that day in coming.

    Once again, I agree. There are issues that divide us. I think though that we ought to demonstrate our unity occasionally. Just as you seem to think we can…

    So, I ask you, is it a coincidence that if you take the letters to “James Sarver” and re-arrange them, you get “Me Rev Jar A–” And people call me an a– a lot…so, maybe we are the same person…

    But I would not want to saddle you with that unfortunate rep.

  13. Mark L,

    To teach falsely is to reject the unity given by Christ. It is a unity of the Word. To reject the Word is to reject the unity. We are not in union with the Methodists because they reject the Word.

    To say that I am a Cubs fanatic and to say that I am a Cardinals fanatic cannot be. It is contrary to fact. It is by definition not allowed. For the Methodist to say (or even more despicable for you a Lutheran to say it for them) I am united with you Lutherans is an impossible statement by definition. No matter how hard or sincerely you try to say it Mark it just is not true. Are you blue in the face yet from repeating this over and over and over again. At what point did you decide to give up on logic and let your heart and emotions rule your brain?

    One more time, a Methodist and a Lutheran are not united, not even if Mark really, really really wants them to be.

    TR

  14. @Pastor Tim Rossow #11
    It seems that Schwan’s saw a difference between “civil association” with other Christians and the unity of church bodies in “word and sacrament ministry.”
    The question for me is if he saw a difference between Word and Sacrament Ministry and shared service for the neighbor done through the church with others outside the church.

  15. JUP,

    Back then I don’t think they even considered getting involved with other churches for anyting. I could be wrong but that is impression I have.

    Can you make a decent argument for why denominations need to get together on mercy projects? I just don’t see it being that complicated. I am not even sure that we need denominations doing this at all. My neighbor has a need, I help him. The next town over has a tornado, I go help with clean up.

    One pastor I know and trust put it this way. “I don’t give to Katrina aid, the pagans can do that. I give my money to missions.” He’s got a point. Oh and by the way, this guy would be the first person in line to help his neighbor if his “cow got out.”

    So, please give me a reasonable argument as to why the LCMS needs to cooperate with the ELCA on any social cause.

    TR

  16. If the church were only about Word and Sacrament ministry this wouldn’t be an issue. Yes we are above all the place where the Word is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly celebrated; but we are also a body of Christ’s followers who serve well together. Because of partners we don’t have to do all the leg work on our own to serve.
    Lutheran Disaster Response work with Methodists, Baptists, Salvation Army, etc after disasters in a coordinated way to help. That’s why we can be the last on the seen and still do good; because Lutheran Disaster Response had a clear mission not to be immediate responders but to bring skilled people in after disasters to help those most in need rebuild.
    I’ve been told by parishioners that my congregation is their first place to come to give time and money to help others. What’s been amazing for me are all the places we’ve gone to help others after floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes … not bad for Lutherans in the Midwest. All it takes is some good carpenters and guys ready to learn on the job from them and some good partners who handle logistics where you’re going to help.
    When we were in Florida after Charlie the organization overseeing relief efforts represented several denominations. We never worshiped together; we did eat together, shared equipment, and shared common plans for who to help next.
    In ten years as a pastor I’ve seen congregations grow, especially men in my churches, through service. It’s just as clear as crystal that we serve better as partners than we could alone. The organizations that we count on to serve are set up at a denominational level; that’s why I think this is a place to cooperate.

  17. Mark L.,

    Perhaps one could look at the reasons behind Schwan’s desire to avoid public fellowship from a different perspective. Let’s say that a friend becomes a Methodist. He goes up for the altar call and says that he believes Jesus saved him from his sins. You and I could respond “Great, I am glad to see that you have made a public confession of Christ. Praise God! Moreover, I am glad to see that you have confessed Christ in a church that publicly confesses the Triune God as He is confessed in the three ecumenical creeds. Again, praise God!”

    Now, when this same Methodist asks to commune at the LCMS church or to hold a joint prayer service with him, I sadly decline. I point out that while he belongs to a church that confesses the Triune God, it also confesses doctrine that can lead him astray, destroying the faith that he publicly confesses. I do not associate for his sake. I do not want to participate with him and so confirm his error. If I do participate, I thereby say either

    1. that he and his church body are correct
    2. that our differences are adiaphora.

    If we really believe what the Lutheran Confessions teach, then we can’t agree with the first conclusion. If we declare the second, then we say that the doctrines of pietism and works-righteousness are not harmful. In reality, they are very harmful and can lead him to despair or to trust himself entirely for salvation. Thus, for the sake of the faith that he verbally confesses, I refuse to hold public fellowship, letting him and all others know that the errors of Methodism do lead one astray.

    So to the Methodist we decline to hold joint services, commune with them, or share pastors, saying that while they publicly confess the three ecumenical creeds, they mix in with this doctrines that lead one away from faith in the God confessed in those creeds.

    To the Mormon, we also decline altar and pulpit fellowship. However, we give a different rationale, saying that they neither confess the same creeds and they also hold on to a host of other harmful doctrines.

    Thus, we have the same response but to each group we give a different rationale for that response.

  18. Tim R,

    (Shrug) Tell that to my twin, James Sarver. He seems to have a differing view…

    I’m amazed that you don’t see your position confirms the statement: “we think that only Missouri Synod Lutherans will be in heaven!”

    It is hard to read through your statement and hold otherwise.

    A person is either in Christ, or they are not in Christ. If two people are in Christ, they share that fellowship. Even if they sin–for the fellowship is based not upon what they do, but on what Christ has done for then.

    You can’t have it another way.

  19. Mark L,

    Let’s try some drawing (aka a Venn diagram).

    Follow this closely and take your time and read it slowly and follow each step meticulously.

    1. Draw a big circle (C) and label it all believers.
    2. Draw a little circle in that big circle(l) and label it “those who hold to Lutheran doctrine.”
    3. Draw another little circle in that circle (C), but outside of and not touching circle (l). This is now circle (m) and label it “those who hold to Methodist doctrine.”

    Now look at the pretty drawing. All those in (C) are going to heaven. All those on (l) will not have altar and pulpit fellowship with those in (m) because they add false teaching to the truth they have, which by the way, is enough truth to save them.

    So there are those that are going to heaven that do not believe all of the truth. We do not have altar adn pulpit fellowship with them because they mix false teaching in with the saving faith. This illustrates what I have been saying. There is nothing in what I have bee nsaying that says that LCMS’ers are the only ones going to heaven.

    You are pretty much the dullest person I have ever conversed with via an internet string. You use the most ridiculous arguments I have ever heard to deny the Biblical teaching of altar and pulpit fellowship. I hope my little drawing will help you understand this. If not, I hope you are enjoying the attention you are getting via this interchange because that is all its worth and that ain’t much. You are either really dull or a troll, or both.

    TR

  20. Pr. Louderback,

    “For example, you say “I can worship with them,” referring to the Methodists.
    But if I as a pastor, just got together for a time of prayer with them, some would claim that would be unionism.”

    Like I said, we acknowledge our Christian fellowship with them with reservation. That reservation shows up in different ways. If I know Uncle Martins Methodist congregation has a Pastorette I will not set foot in his church. They are flaunting their error. If all that matters is externals, then yes, I am treating them like Mormons in that case. Otherwise I will probably attend with him when I visit. The Sacrament will likely not be an issue but if they pass the crackers and grape juice I will ignore it. We are still worshipping the One True God together. If I hear anything egregiously in error it is possible that I will get up and leave. Most likely I will exit after the service thinking that I got hit with a lot more Law than Gospel, but maybe not. I see no harm in my hypothetical actions. Some would think that I went too far. I belong to an LCMS congregation. If the LCMS says a layman cannot do this I will submit to that authority. There might be different rules for the conduct of a Pastor, eh?

    “I think though that we ought to demonstrate our unity occasionally. Just as you seem to think we can…”

    Are you proposing something specific? I seems you think we need some additional human construct to be sufficiently demonstrative. Is that what you are getting at?

    I will tell you how I think we are demonstrative of our unity with all Christians. We focus not on what we do, but on Christ, whose righteousness is the source of our unity. He calls us to His altar and dispenses His gifts, touching our time and space and transcending it with what is eternal. We respond in faith, worshipping there “with Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven”, with all Christians past, present and future. Pretty awesome stuff! I find that to be sufficient. It seems that you do not.

    Perhaps we are not the same guy after all. And I was so looking forward to using your credit card. 🙁

  21. From Germany to Brazil,after semenary degree, to build a tea plantation, marry build a plantation out of the forest, brought back to Germany then to America to temper politics, he was a good german and faithful to the church and his morals! Would like to know more about Brazil, quite the fortitude to sucseed in whatever he did! My Great Grandpa, I respect your intelligence and can do spirit in the most challenging of times or places. I can surely carry your fortitude Grandpa Schwan long live the tree of light!

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