Synod introduces resources on Church Fellowship (by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

At the 2010 Convention in Houston, there was a proposed resolution, Res. 8-30 “To Amend Article VI of the Constitution,” which would have changed the language of our Synod’s article on “Conditions of Membership.” In my opinion, those changes would have made the article much weaker. And so, as a delegate, I was totally opposed to that resolution.

I was not alone. The resolution itself was what was amended. By the end of the week it became Res. 8-30B “To Study Article VI of Synod’s Constitution.” Instead of amending the Synod’s “Conditions of Membership,” the resolution now called for a widespread, in-depth study of the same. I was totally in favor of this resolution. I thought this would be a good opportunity to explain and better understand why we have the conditions we do, and thereby build greater unity in our Synod. The resolution was adopted, and the study mandated.

That study is now beginning to take shape. The Synod has just introduced a bundle of resources designed to help in a study of Article VI, especially focusing on the condition that relates to “Church Fellowship.” See the story in the Reporter, “New ‘Church Fellowship’ website offers resources for major study”. The website that offers these resources is found at this link: “Church Fellowship: Resources on the Study of Article VI regarding Resolution 8-30B”.

Among the resources to be found at the website are these: Article VI of the Synod’s Constitution; writings from C. F. W. Walther, Kurt Marquart, and Herman Sasse; and A Reader of LCMS Church Fathers On Avoidance of Unionism and Syncretism.

Since we’ve been referring to Article VI, we should especially highlight the section that relates to church fellowship. The conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod include:

2. Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as:
a. Serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church;
b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession;
c. Participating in heterodox tract and missionary activities.

In addition to the resources currently at the “Church Fellowship” website, more will likely be added as the study goes along.

Associate Editor’s Note:  Stay tuned to BJS as we work with these great resources on the site, highlighting them and possibly producing some study guides for them as well.


Synod introduces resources on Church Fellowship (by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 8 Comments

  1. It is somewhat (or not) surprising that recent documents specifically dealing with Article VI of the Constitution were not included on the LCMS’s newly created Church Fellowship webpage.

    For example, there is the recent CCM opinion, “Interpretation of Constitution Art. VI 2 b (11-2598),” in the CCM February 10–12, 2012, Minutes, Sect. 91.

    There is also the 44-page, 110-footnoted, January, 2012, document, “Historical Background and Interpretation of Article VI.2 of the Constitution of The Lutheran—Church Missouri Synod (Draft),” in which Gerhard Bode explores in detail every phrase, word, and fraktur in the applicable section of the original 1847 Missouri Synod constitution:

    Article II.3: Lossagung von aller Kirchen= und Glaubensmengerei, als da ist: Das Bedienen gemischter Gemeinden, als solcher, von Seiten der Diener der Kirche; Theilnahme an dem Gottesdienst und den Sacramentshandlungen falschgläubiger und gemischter Gemeinden, Theilnahme an allem falschgläubigen Traktaten= und Missionswesen, u.s.w. (Renunciation of all mixing of churches and of faiths, such as there is: The serving of mixed congregations, as such, on the part of the ministers of the church; participation in the divine service and sacramental activities of heterodox and mixed congregations, participation in all heterodox tract and mission activities, etc.)

    The conditions of membership were moved from Article II to Article VI when the Synod reorganized its constitution in 1920.

    Bode also provides some historical background and concerns about unionism and syncretism as well as numerous excerpts from the writings of C.F.W. Walther on unionism and syncretism. Regarding Article II.3, Bode stated:

    Theilnahme: (The more current spelling is Teilnahme.) The word is a common noun with a standard definition of “participation,” “taking part,” or “joining” in something.[16] The word can carry the additional sense of taking an active interest in something, sharing the feelings or emotions of another person, or having sympathy for another. [17] Theilnahme seems to presume an intentional interest and active taking part in an engagement—not an accidental or unintentional one. [18] It also can include the sense of having fellowship, association, or union with something. [19] As far as can be determined, in and of itself the word is not a technical theological or liturgical term. Given the context of the word in the Synod constitution, it appears that Theilnahme refers to at least an active participation or engagement in worship services, administration of the sacraments, etc. [20] Beyond that, the word does not offer much additional clarity as to the intended meaning of the drafters of the constitution.

  2. Perhaps less (or not) surprising is the omission of Article VI-related theological documents from the ‘Kieschnick era’, especially:

    1. Witness & Worship in Pluralistic America, (edited by John F. Johnson. St. Louis: Concordia Seminary, 2003), which contains a collection of papers by Concordia Seminary faculty including:

    “Christians and the Disestablishments of Religion in the United States,” Joel P. Okamoto
    “Strategies for God-Talk in a Pluralistic Society,” Charles P. Arand
    “The Challenges of American Civil Religion for the Church,” David L. Adams
    “The Pastor as Religious and Civic Leader: Breaking with Quietism,” Richard H. Warneck
    “No Other Gods,” Andrew H. Bartelt
    “Proclamation, Intercession, and Praise in Mixed Company,” Paul R. Raabe
    “Unionism and Syncretism in the LCMS Constitution: Historical Context and Interpretive Development,” William W. Schumacher
    “‘What Am I Doing Here?’: The Semiotics of Participation in Public Gatherings,” Paul W. Robinson and James W. Voelz
    “That God’s Kingdom May Advance with Power Throughout the World,” Robert A. Kolb

    2. The Commission on Theology and Church Relations “February 12, 2010, Response to [a September 7, 2009] ‘Request for CTCR Opinion Concerning Continued Eligibility of an Inactive Emeritus Member Under Article VI of the Constitution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’,” which explained its confusion about Article VI:

    Given this uncertainty [in the meaning of “taking part” and whether Art. VI applies to individual and/or congregational members] , the Commission on Theology and Church Relations cannot answer Questions 1 or 2 directly on the basis of the stated theological positions of the Synod or past CTCR reports or opinions. As noted in the CCM’s 2002 Opinion, the Commission is currently continuing its work on a longstanding assignment to give guidance concerning “inter-Christian relationships” (see 1981 Res. 3-03A). This assignment, however, does not include a specific request to provide a precise definition of the phrase “taking part” in Art. VI 2 b of the Synod’s Constitution.

    It is the opinion of the CTCR that the meaning of the phrase “taking part in” within the context of Article VI 2 b is a matter of interpretation based upon the original intent of our Synod’s fathers when they drafted the Constitution. Its potential theological meanings are varied, as noted above. Its particular usage in the context of the Constitution of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a question, therefore, that can be rightly decided only by those who are charged with the responsibility for such interpretation, the Commission on Constitutional Matters.

  3. The CTCR’s referral to the Commission on Constitutional Matters (in Post #2 above) would be to the same CCM, whose documents, in the October 2 and October 21-22, 2002, Minutes (Sect. 63. Interpretation of Article VI 1 b of the Constitution (02-2278) and Sect., 71. Interpretation of Article VI 2 b (02-2278)), originally tossed the issue to the CTCR:

    Article VI indicates that taking part in a service or sacramental rite of a heterodox congregation or a congregation of mixed confession is an act of unionism and syncretism. The specific questions are then: 1) What constitutes “taking part”? 2) What constitutes a “service”? 3) What constitutes a “heterodox congregation”? 4) What constitutes a “congregation of mixed confession”? The answer to these questions relates to a minister of religion’s commitment to witness publicly and privately to the one and only Gospel set forth in the Holy Scriptures. Among the functions of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations is to “provide guidance to the Synod in matters of theology and church relations” (Bylaw 3.925 b). Thus this question should be directed to that commission.

  4. One other Article VI-related document strangely missing from the set of documents included in the LCMS Church Fellowship website is The Testimony of Rev. Wallace Schulz (given to the Dispute Resolution Panel at Newark, NJ, January 13-14, 2003), particularly the section, “Syncretistic worship as a type of witness to the pagan community versus the First Commandment” (p. 22ff).

  5. “Associate Editor’s Note: Stay tuned to BJS as we work with these great resources on the site, highlighting them and possibly producing some study guides for them as well.”

    Since the resources linked on the LCMS Church Fellowship webpage are chock-full of good Lutheran statements, that will be a lot of BJS highlighting, and study guides over the coming years.

    As one example, in one of the documents posted on the LCMS Church Fellowship website, A Reader of LCMS Church Fathers (esp. C.F.W. Walther) On Avoidance of Unionism and Syncretism (trans. and complied by Rev. Joel R. Baseley), there is an article, “Reply to the Most Recent Defense of the Union” by C.F.W. Walther, taken from a series published in Der Lutheraner (Vol. 1 pp. 78f, 82f, 86f, 95f, 97f; Vol. 2, pp. 11f, 26f, 47f, 51f). Writing about a 67-page booklet, “A Word for the Good Cause of the Union. A Defense of the Evangelical Church Against the Attack of The Lutheran [Der Lutheraner] by E.L. Nollau, Ev. Pastor in Gravois, near St. Louis” Walther responds at one point (p.31):

    “Now indeed false believers don’t want to concede to Lutherans that only the Lutheran church publicly confesses the true catholic [14] doctrine and therefore does not belong to any sect, but they have never yet proven that Lutherans teach contrary to the holy catholic Christian church in a single article in her symbolic writings. It can’t be done.

    “So rejoice, dear reader, if you belong to a pure Lutheran congregation and you confess the pure Lutheran doctrine, not only with your mouth, but also through true faith you bear in your heart.”

    Footnote 14 states:

    May the reader not be offended at the word catholic. This word has a two-fold meaning, first a good one, when it means as much as “universal Christian,” but, then again, it’s also understood as those connected with the pope, for they have given themselves this fine title. The reader should note that we’re using “catholic” here in the best sense of the term.

  6. Again, something we could have really used a few weeks ago…

    Was this rushed out at the last minute then? Nothing for three years, then it comes out now, a few weeks too late.

  7. The February 1, 2013, Letter from President Harrison on Newtown, CT did state:

    We as a Synod have a challenge in front of us. The 2010 convention (Res. 8-30B) gave the President of Synod the task of leading a Synod-wide study of the meaning of Article VI of the Synod’s constitution, especially with respect to the words requiring every member of Synod to renounce “unionism and syncretism of every description.” Several significant aspects of this work are well underway. What do these words of our constitution mean? And whatever they mean, does the Bible teach it? Do we as a Synod still believe that joint worship with those with whom we are not in doctrinal agreement on the Gospel and all its articles (Formula of Concord, Epitome X 7) is something forbidden by the Scriptures? Just what constitutes “worship”? How do we as citizens express love and social unity with fellow citizens of good will (be they Christians or not), and support our communities in times of horrid duress, while trying not to violate our biblical commitments and convictions (Heb. 12:14)?

    All these questions raise the issue of why the Missouri Synod came into existence, as well as the issue of what our purpose is into the future. I, for one, believe this constitutional article (VI) is vital to the future of our church body as a truly confessional fellowship, its members standing together with God-given courage, continuing to confess the full truth of the Gospel of Christ according to the inerrant Scriptures.

    Given this statement, the subsequent apologies for a debacle, and the recent Church Fellowship page added to the LCMS website, one might expect the final study to come out at or before the convention, along with some related overtures from the CCM and/or CTCR ‘clarifying’ Article VI. Given the CCM’s ruling in 2012, any such overtures should be examined closely with a scanning electron microscope.

  8. In defense of the administration, they had forced on them the restructuring of the synod. There is lot more time than we know that had to be devoted to that in the last 2.5 years.

    Also, necessity is the mother of invention and the cause of getting things done. I am just glad these things are coming out for study.

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