Why the ACELC?

ACELC-LogoIt has been several years now since the formation of the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations (ACELC). For a detailed account of the formation of the ACELC please see the essay, “ Barking Dogs and a Three-Legged Hog.” Since that time (2010) we now have 24 congregational members (literally from coast to coast), 74 associate members, and 204 signers to our Fraternal Admonition. When our Fraternal Admonition was mailed to every congregation in the LCMS, some questioned our motives, some cried foul, some saw the letter as a political maneuver, and some actually took the time to read our documents and seriously consider the effort we were undertaking. I am very thankful for the latter.

In spite of all our efforts these past several years, some are still asking, “What is the ACELC?” and more importantly, “Why is the ACELC?” I would like to offer here a very brief overview. The ACELC is a grassroots effort of concerned LCMS congregations and individuals (patterned after President Harrison’s “It’s Time”) to fraternally identify errors of doctrine and practice in our midst with the goal of godly repentance and unity in Christ. We are not a “shadow synod” and have no ecclesiastical authority; we rest all our efforts on God’s Word and trust its power and authority to change hearts and bring about true unity (Ephesians 4). All of our efforts are above board and available on our web site for review and critique; we have nothing to hide.

We have worked “within the system” where we could, and have only gone outside the current polity of synod when we felt we must because of doctrinal concerns (please see our Error Document, Point 10 – found at the top of page #10). We have met with various synodical officials, including President Harrison, shared all our documents with the Presidium, and through them all District Presidents, filed three official dissents with the CTCR, and asked for a Gütachten from the four North American seminaries on the Council of President’s document, “The Divine Deposal/Dismissal of Ministers of the Word and Sacraments.” Some of these efforts have been well received and others have been completely ignored; regardless, we continue to make every effort to make the good confession.

We are just days away from our Fourth annual free conference. We have identified 10 serious errors that are being tolerated among us, and are addressing them, individually, through theological free conferences and follow up materials. I ask you, is there anyone else in our synod that is doing this? In this respect, the ACELC is seriously working through the difficult issues that are dividing our fellowship, with the goal of true koinonia. For more on that thought see the essay “ Koinoia in Lutheranism.”

It’s not too late to attend our conference in Cedar Falls, Iowa next week. Whether you are able to attend or not, I invite you to check out our work.  Examine our documents and efforts with a critical eye and offer comments and suggestions to help us make our confession the best that it can be. I also invite you to consider joining our efforts to work together, under God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions, so that forgiveness, life, and salvation would once again flourish among us.

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point. (Martin Luther – Luther’s Works, Weimar Edition. Briefwechsel [Correspondence]. vol 3, pp. 81ff.)

In Christ,
Rev. Clint K. Poppe
Chairman, ACELC


Why the ACELC? — 27 Comments

  1. How does ACELC define “godly repentance”? How would that apply to the little points of the Word of God which the devil and the world are attacking at this moment but which the ACELC is failing to profess?

  2. What does such baptizing with water indicate?

    It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism IV (That is how the ACELC defines godly repentance).

    I believe Luther uses the words “little point” in a sarcastic way. What seems like a trifle to us, a little point, is where Satan often attacks and is no “little point” to God.

    The ACELC has never claimed to have an exhaustive list of the tolerated errors among us. We have chosen ten errors that seem to us to be the biggest causes of concern and division among us.

    In Christ, Clint

  3. I believe Luther uses the words “little point” in a sarcastic way. What seems like a trifle to us, a little point, is where Satan often attacks and is no “little point” to God.
    The ACELC has never claimed to have an exhaustive list of the tolerated errors among us. We have chosen ten errors that seem to us to be the biggest causes of concern and division among us.

    I agree with your understanding of the Luther quote. I also agree with your explanation that your list of errors is not exhaustive.

    If the concern is for those errors which cause division, to what extent might the unlisted errors be some of those for which ACELC might be guilty? Thus, my question regarding repentance.

    Which brings us back to the Luther quote that you chose. In my opinion (and, apparently one shared by at least a few others), the ACELC comes across as a group that functions with a Scripture that seems to lack Matthew 18 and Romans 1:2, among other verses. Both of those passages are under constant attack by Satan and this world. Thus, your appeal to Luther would seem to do more to call ACELC’s mission into question than to defend its legitimacy.

  4. @John Mundinger #4


    I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at. Are you charging the ACELC with sin? What do they need to repent of?

    As for not upholding Scripture, I don’t see this either. All of the documents that I have seen from the ACELC have upheld and taught Scripture in its true sense.

    Perhaps you are objecting to the cries that the ACELC is making about some who are promoting false teaching in the LCMS. Let me remind you in a brotherly way that pointing out false doctrine is not sinful. It is good and right, because it defends the truth of God’s holy Word, and it defends the weak Christian who would be deceived and misled into misbelief. Thus, it should not be surprising that what the ACELC is doing also fulfills several passages of Scripture, including 1 Tim. 4:16, 1 Tim. 5:20, Eph. 5:11, 1 Cor. 1:10, Rom. 16:17, and 1 Jn. 4:1.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Robert Mayes
    Beemer, NE

  5. @J. Dean #7

    Our entire conference last year was devoted to the topic of the theology of Lutheran worship. I would encourage you to check out the many wonderful papers that were delivered there. As a result of that conference and in our continuing effort to work toward true koinonia in the LCMS, we have put together “7 Theses on Worship.” They have been approved by our Board and will be voted on next week in Cedar Falls. I pray that they are a blessing to the church at large.


  6. @John Mundinger #4

    I’m a bit confused by your comments in regard to Matthew 18 and Romans 1:2. I would very much appreciate your help in trying to understand what you mean.

    Thanks, Clint

  7. Rev. Clint K. Poppe :
    @John Mundinger #4
    I’m a bit confused by your comments in regard to Matthew 18 and Romans 1:2. I would very much appreciate your help in trying to understand what you mean.
    Thanks, Clint

    Please excuse the typo – that should have been Romans 2:1.

    Our Lord gave us clear instruction about how brothers in dispute ought to relate. The “admonition” failed that test.

    The matters in dispute have everything to do with the authority of ACELC’s interpretation of Scripture. You assume that your interpretations are correct and that those who disagree are errorists. In the light of Matthew 18, Romans 2:1 and other passages in Scripture, your approach is another error.

  8. @John Mundinger #10

    Thanks for the clarification.

    The Matthew 18 charge is old and tired. Even a cursory reading of the Large Catechism, 8th Commandment, makes that clear. People are often quick to focus on the “method” as a diversionary tactic to avoid any serious discussion of the “message.” If you want to play by your interpretation of Matthew 18, was it not a sin for you to bring your concerns in this format rather than talking to me privately? Your conversations with “others” would also fall into that same situation, right? You can’t have it both ways.

    We have done all of our efforts openly and publicly. If anyone believes that any of our documents are in error we invite conversation and if we are in error according to and under God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions, we will publicly recant and repent.

    Your Romans 2:1 charge is also old and tired. Nowhere have we passed judgment on anyone. We have not broken fellowship or declared a “state of confession.” We have not filed charges. The only authority we appeal to is the truth of God’s Word, which is the very point of Romans 2:1. We are making an honest effort to the put on the table the very doctrines and practices that are causing divisions among us. Attack the messenger all you want, but the message is where we need to focus if we want to have true koinonia. I have had this very conversation regarding the admonition and our “approach” with several concerned District Presidents. I asked them to simply show us, according to God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions, where we have sinned. Needless to say they backed down.

    What should we do, in this situation of our church? And that means all of us, dear brothers, every pastor, every teacher of theology, who knows about the responsibility which he bears. We must first free ourselves of the superstition that what is to be done must and will be done by others, as those who are called to do something. The bishops and the great church presidents will do nothing. None of them before Hanover (when the meeting is commenced) will stand up and state a simple and clear profession of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper of the Lutheran Confessions, or profess its ecclesiastical consequences. Not one. At the meetings of the old World Convention, such a thing could still happen. Today there is no longer a Hein or a Reu. Even the great theologians will, when it comes to this question, grow very quiet. The times in which the professors were confessors are gone… So we must all speak, and in advance!
    Letters to Lutheran Pastors, Volume I. CPH 2013, 427.

    In Christ, Clint

  9. Who is it in Holy Scriptures that always appeals to proper procedure rather than doing the hard work of actually addressing false doctrine and unbiblical practice? I would submit that it was the Pharisees who usually took this tack. Some of you claim that the ACELC is guilty of sin in calling out to our own church body that we have a problem with false doctrine and unbiblical practice. May I suggest that it is a sin to remain silent in the face of such things! To wit two statements from Kurt Marquart and C.F.W. Walther:

    Marquart: (Here he is addressing the errant biblical interpretation of the Seminex crowd during the so-called “Battle of the Bible”.)

    “And not only pastors, as the divinely appointed teachers of the church, but also the people of the Synod have the right, if not a duty, to follow the conversation and to take part in it – for their own spiritual fate and that of their children is at stake.” (Anatomy of an Explosion, p. 1)

    C.F.W. Walther:

    “When a theologian is asked to yield and make concessions so that peace may at last be established in the Church, yet if he refuses to budge on even a single point of doctrine – to human reason this looks like excessive stubbornness, even like downright evil intent. This is why such theologians are rarely loved or praised during their lifetime. On the contrary, they are scolded as disturbers of the peace or even as destroyers of the kingdom of God. They are regarded as men worthy of contempt. But at the end of the day it becomes clear that the very determined, unfailing tenacity of these theologians as they cling to the pure teaching of the divine Word by no means tears down the Church. On the contrary, it is this very attitude that – even amid the greatest dissension – builds up the Church and ultimately brings about genuine peace. Therefore, woe to the Church if it has no men of this stripe – men who would stand watch on the ramparts of Zion, sounding the alarm whenever a foe threatens to rush the walls, men who would rally to the banner of Jesus Christ, ready for a holy war!

    Imagine what would have happened if Athanasius had made a slight concession regarding the doctrine of the deity of Christ. What if he had compromised with the Arians and had put their conscience at ease? …Similarly, imagine what would have happened if Augustine had made even a slight concession regarding the doctrine of free will, if he had denied the total incapacity of man for all matters spiritual…Finally, imagine what would have happened if Luther had made a slight concession regarding the doctrine of the Holy Supper…

    Let us, therefore, bless all the faithful champions who have fought for every point of Christian doctrine, unconcerned about the favor of men and disregarding their threats. Their worldly disgrace, though it often was great, has not been borne in vain. People cursed them, but they continued to bear their testimony until death, and now they wear the crown of glory and enjoy the blissful communion of Christ, of all the angels and the elect. Their labor and fierce battling has not been in vain. For even now, some 1,500 years or – in the latter case – some several centuries later, the Church is reaping what these faithful champions sowed.

    Let us then, my friends, likewise hold fast the treasure of pure doctrine. Do not consider it strange if on that account you must bear reproach just as they did. Consider that the word of Sirach 4:33, ‘Even unto death fight for justice, and God will overthrow your enemies for you,’ will come true in our case as well. Let this be your slogan: ‘Fight to the death on behalf of the truth, and the Lord will fight for you!'” (Law & Gospel: How To Read and Apply the Bible, p. 33-35, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 2010)

    Frankly, I have grown weary of all the finger-pointing at the ACELC. If you want to sit back and do nothing while our formerly faithful Synod falls deeper and deeper into error then by all means keep your silence and I assure you it will come to pass that eventually we will simply become yet another apostate “Lutheran” church body. If you want to hide behind “Proper Procedures” (all of which by the way the ACELC has taken…dissents, use of ecclesiastical supervisors and the like), then go ahead and see what happens to our Synod.

    On the other hand, if you are tired of the bureaucratic run-around and noticed that since Harrison’s election the status quo has been pretty much maintained within our Synod and that the keeping of the so-called “peace” of the Synod is considered more important than the preservation of pure doctrine and biblical practice, then just maybe it’s time to join with other faithful brothers and sisters in the ACELC and at least raise a common voice of objection to our errors. To remain silent is to surrender to error in my book.

    Why do you suppose it is that the Jesus First crowd has been so silent? Could it be that they really have no reason to raise a voice of objection? Is there anything happening in our Synod that would in anyway make them think twice about participating in a unionistic/syncretistic worship service if they wanted to? Is there any reason for the liberals to cease their practice of open communion among us and making a mockery of the unity of the Lord’s Supper within the LCMS? Do you detect any hesitancy on the part of David Benke and his ilk to cease the unbiblical use of women in Word and Sacrament ministry? Why should any District President hesitate to assist one of his congregations to depose a faithful pastor if it turns out he doesn’t meet their Church Growth agenda? I could easily go on this this litany of errors among us, but I think you get my drift.

    As for me, I am supportive of the ACELC because it is the only way that I can remain in our heterodox Synod with a clear conscience. It was an Irish philosopher and whig politician, Edmund Burke, who is credited with saying: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” At lease the ACELC is not remaining silent.

  10. Pr. Bolland, thank you for your response. It reminds me of the following quote from Krauth.

    “It is the distinctive position of the Reformation with which, over against Rome, it stands or falls, that that which properly constitutes, defines, and perpetuates in unity a Church, is its doctrine, not its name or organization. While a Church retains its proper identity it retains of necessity its proper doctrine. Deserting its doctrine it loses its identity. The Church is not a body which bears its name like England, or America, which remain equally England and America, whether savage or civilized, Pagan or Christian, Monarchical or Republican. Its name is one which properly indicates its faith–and the faith changing, the Church loses its identity. Pagans may become Mohammedans, but then they are no longer Pagans–they are Mohammedans. Jews may become Christians, but then they are no longer Jews in religion. A Manichean man, or Manichean Church, might become Catholic, but then they would be Manichean no more. A Romish Church is Romish; a Pelagian Church is Pelagian; a Socinian Church is Socinian, though they call themselves Protestant, Evangelical, or Trinitarian. If the whole nominally Lutheran Church on earth should repudiate the Lutheran doctrine, that doctrine would remain as really Lutheran as it ever was. A man, or body of men, may cease to be Lutherans, but a doctrine which is Lutheran once, is Lutheran forever. Hence, now, as from the first, that is not a Lutheran Church, in the proper and historical sense, which cannot ex animo declare that it shares in the accord and unanimity with which each of the Doctrines of the Augsburg Confession was set forth.”

    ― Charles Porterfield Krauth, Conservative Reformation & Its Theology

  11. Hi Jim,

    Excellent Krauth quote. There must be a confidence that if we want the Synod to actually correct itself that it show some willingness to do so. Thus far, that has not been evident. It is terribly sad, but a reality that we need to understand and deal with. For my money, the ACELC is the only meaningful Koinonia Project out there that actually seeks to resolve the issues that divide us. Endless study and discussion is not an end in itself, but resolution must be the goal.

  12. I read through your documents on current LCMS problems and see these things happening in almost every LCMS church where I live and the churches of family members in different states. So much now, that I think that it is the norm. And those of us who are “Confessional Lutherans” are a slim number in comparison…but, I think that is changing due to the wonderful online resources such as this blog site and radio programs.

    I have a question for you regarding the following: Do you have any suggestions for Lutherans who are too Lutheran for their congregations? It seems as the more we have these Confessional blog sites and talk radio, more Lutherans are waking up and realizing that their churches are erring in Doctrine and Practice and are desperate to receive the same on Sunday morning. We go to our LCMS church on Sunday morning and now the false doctrine and practices are sticking out like a sore thumb. Everyone else is smiling and happy and content. The Confessional Lutheran knows the theology they are hearing is wrong, so they approach the pastor and elders. At this point, many times the pastor/elders respond with anger towards the member. The member is marked as a “problem” or “one who causes divisions” and they reject what the LCMS teaches as they’re rejecting the member. This is not only happened to me, but several friends/family members multiple times over many years.

    In my case, my problem is over the lack of Law/Gospel, Christ focused preaching and not preaching on the weekly texts. When I’ve discussed this with the pastor using the Confessions or Luther, it has been completely poo pooed, and then turned the Scripture verses have been turned around to suit their beliefs as well, so they continually discredit me and leave us at a stand still—not to mention the personal attacks as well.

    What is the best approach for those of us who are too Lutheran for our congregations? Sit, and remain patient and listen to the bad theology and keep trying to discern, overlook it for the sake of peace (uh, no), still politely bring up errors and suffer whatever the consequences till they get so fed up and kick you out and then you have no place to worship–and this is a REAL possibility in my case right now.

    Is it unreasonable to expect to go to a church without continuous issues? I think yes, as the devil will ALWAYS be on the prowl. So therein lies a way for us to address these false theology.

    I think you brought up a good point. Everyone thinks the Confessional Lutheran is making a big deal out of nothing…therein lies the danger.

    If anyone has anything to help those of us in this situation, I’d love to hear!

    Thanks for highlighting these issues. They are quite real.

  13. Dear Poor Miserable Sinner, your case has been heard by many of us in the ACELC, especially in larger cities where the preached Word has become a guide book as to how the church can look better and better to the world. Sad but true. I’m not sure I have an answer for you except to keep begging for the truth in the hopes that you pastor will come to his senses and start preaching the Word faithfully. You could also take your concern to your DP. Not knowing who your DP is there may be help there. (I do realize that most DP’s are complicit to your church’s situation but there are a few out there who are willing to listen.) Are you a member of the ACELC? We do have an associate membership that might be right for you.

  14. @Rev. Daniel Bremer #19
    Thank you for your reply and suggestions. I’ll continue to hold fast to our church’s teachings and I will pursue the associate membership in the ACELC.

    It’s interesting, I was just reading what is happening and Concordia Chicago and many on this site are lamenting over what is happening there. It’s the same issue as to what is going on in the churches–a departure from the Word and adhering to the Lutheran Confessions. Many people suggest that we who have complaints should leave. However, the LCMS still retains at it’s core the confessional teachings. It’s the people within the church and schools which have departed from these teachings. It’s funny how those who have departed, now outnumber those who adhere to (the best of the ability–we’re sinners too) the Lutheran Doctrine and Practice. Therefore, I believe that Confessional Lutherans should stay and continue to lovingly call out the errors and seek repentance. At least until the LCMS changes their theology to where we can’t stay.

    I have been thinking about the best way to handle my situation: My church’s constitution is inline with the LCMS teachings and constitution at large. It’s the pastor and members who have strayed in their theology and understanding of closed communion. Despite these things, we still have the liturgy and the sacraments. I’ve determined I can best serve the church by staying and remaining true to Confessional Theology as well as encouraging others to do the same. I’m also the organist and I will continue to faithfully play confessional hymns that reflect the reading of the week and church seasons. If ultimately I get kicked out because I’m sticking to our church’s beliefs, I have suffered for the sake of the Gospel.

  15. I have read the admonition and I have read some of the papers posted at your website. Others obviously differ, but I see the ACELC as taking the position as being a variation of “our way or the highway”. I will have nothing to do with it.

  16. @David Hartung #21
    Others obviously differ, but I see the ACELC as taking the position as being a variation of “our way or the highway”.

    Isn’t that a paraphrase of what Jesus said, David?

    Are you sure you’ll “have nothing to do with it”?

    Strait is the gate and narrow the way that leads to Life…

  17. @David Hartung #21


    I am very sorry to hear this. We have in no way, shape or form intended any kind of “our way or the highway” approach, rather quite the opposite. We have tried to have an open and honest dialog regarding what we believe to be errors in doctrine and practice in our beloved synod. We want this discussion to be under God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions; nothing more and nothing less. I hope you will keep reading what we have posted and join the discussion, for the sake of the truth.

    This quote of Walther via Dau might be helpful:

    W. H. T. Dau, “Confessionalism of the Missouri Synod” (part 2), in Theological Monthly, vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1921): 44-45. This time, Walther speaks (from Der Lutheraner, Jan. 24, 1846).

    “Up, up, then, dear brethren! Let us not idly look on while false brethren are closing their ranks more firmly, to undermine and remove the foundation of our Church. Fighting treacherously under our name, they are more dangerous than our declared enemies: they are our enemies’ allies, and yet are in our camp. True, ‘He that sits in the heavens laughs at them, and the Lord has them in derision’ (Ps. 2:4). For, ‘though the waters of the sea roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early’ (Ps. 46:3-5). However, just as impossible as it is to force Luther’s doctrine out of the world, just as easy is it for us, unless we hold fast the faithful Word (Tit. 1:9-11), and contend for the faith (Jude 3), to lose our treasure (2 Jn. 8-9), and in the end, to be rejected as unfaithful stewards.
    “Therefore, let us who not only call ourselves Lutherans in hypocritical fashion, but purpose to be and remain such in deed and truth, – let us band together and once more rally around the banner of the old unalterable doctrine of our Church. Let us jointly beseech the Lord to arise and set us in safety from them that puff at us (Ps. 12:5). Let us join in a faithful confession of the truth. Let us together fight with the sword of the Spirit against all falsifications, and together bear the reproach with which the Lord, as a rule, marks His servants. While we may not hope in these last, horrible times to restore the Church to a flourishing and glorious condition by our testimony, we must not, on the other hand, surrender the hope that our testimony and our contending will not be altogether in vain, but will result in praise for the Lord and turn many a soul from the error of its way.”

    In Christ, Clint

  18. @David Hartung #21


    That’s unfortunate. The ACELC takes an uncommon, yet much needed, stand for Confessional, Liturgical, Orthodox Christian practice and doctrine (Word and Sacrament ministry). In my neck of the woods it’s nearly impossible to find a Lutheran church that stands firm with our confessions. The ACELC is a welcome sight and a blessing.


  19. @David Hartung #21
    Your response is unfortunate and somewhat puzzling to me. Being a pastor, like myself, you took a vow to uphold Scripture as the only authority in the Church and faithfulness to the Confessions as a correct exposition of that Word. Therefore for you to take such a stand would lead me to believe that you find the ACELC documents in error regarding one or the other, or both. If that is the case I would love to know specifically what you find objectionable. What is often the case is that many (I do not know if this is your situation) become angry when anything negative (falsely viewed as such) is spoken against the LCMS. Others on this thread have offered some needed reactions against such comments from our Lutheran fathers. Allow me to offer a word against such reaction from one, not a Lutheran, but a Reformed. David Wells writes in his book, No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, “The cause of alarming the complacent has always been a lonely one, and those raising the alarm always appear to be malcontents whose disposition is not to enjoy what is set before them” [p. 55]. Boy, doesn’t that sound familiar. Pax.

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