Let us Not Bear a Self-imposed Cross

Picking up the Cross“Bearing the Cross in a Lutheran Synod” was the title of a recent blog published by the ACELC.  My congregation and I are founding members of the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations, and while I agreed with what was written about bearing the cross in a sinful synod, I didn’t agree with all that was written. Let me hasten to add that I don’t officially represent or speak for the ACELC.

The article took a swipe at “micro synods.”  I’m pretty sure that would be what Wittenberg circa 1520 was and Rome and Galatia circa 60 A.D. were.  Faithfulness not size is the standard to judge a church or synod by.  Macro unfaithful synods have something to be ashamed of and we sure don’t need another one of those.  Micro faithful synods have nothing to be ashamed of and we could use many more of them.

I am all for bearing the cross, but not self-imposed ones.  An entire district and one lone faithful congregation – eagads that’s worse than a micro synod – called on the Missouri Synod to address the matter of being in fellowship with the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC).  There were highly respected confessional pastors, Reverend Doctor Scott Murray and Reverend Bryan Saunders, on the floor committee these resolutions went into.  What came out of this microcosm of the macro Missouri Synod was that the matter should be referred to the President’s Office. When later queried about what that office would do, one of the assistants to the president said that the president couldn’t break fellowship only the convention could. Then why wasn’t the convention allowed to address the matter? You know why. All I can say is that the confessionally minded men who thought it was a good idea to put this resolution in a place where the sun doesn’t shine must see something I don’t.

So the AALC is a self-imposed cross and though we are in fellowship on paper we are not in reality. One cannot declare fellowship to exist where it does not exist in reality. That is Paul’s point when he asks the rhetorical question, “What fellowship does light have with darkness?” What we are doing falls under the judgment of Jeremiah. We are crying, “Peace, peace when there is none.”

See for yourself if there is real fellowship between what the LCMS has historically said about who is admitted to the Lord’s Table and what the AALC has said. This was on their web page as of October 25, 2014.

Do you practice open or closed communion?

We practice “responsible communion,” which is neither open nor closed. That is, according to the Bible we have a responsibility to tell people what we believe (“we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ with the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of sins”), based on Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 1 Corinthians 11:23-28. The person has the responsibility to check with the Bible to ensure that it does teach that, and that the person agrees with that. Administration is left with the local pastor as part of his pastoral care.

As of December 2, 2014 they have removed this statement and replaced it with a long paper from March 2006 when the AALC was in fellowship talks with the LCMS. The paper says many faithful things, but this is their conclusion: A faithful steward of the mysteries of God sees that each communicant has the tools to examine himself or herself, whether he or she be in the faith (I Cor 11:28; with 2 Cor 13:5). The faithful steward knows who among his flock has been catechized in the faith, who has transferred their membership from elsewhere, and who is living in open and unrepentant sin. Visitors are handled in the same way as any other communicant; the faithful steward sees that they share the confession of the church within which they wish to commune, knows whether they are engaged in open and unrepentant sin, and ensures they have the tools with which to examine himself or herself. Nevertheless, exigent circumstances exist; we do not bind a man’s conscience in such matters. We call this, our practice, “Responsible Communion.”

What they practice is reverse Fox News Fellowship. The prospective communicant reports their confession of faith and the pastor decides if it agrees with the confession of his church. This could be good if his confession is the Biblical one that you can’t hold contradictory confessions of faith at the same time.  But if his confession believes in serial fellowship, also known as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young Fellowship, i.e. you’re in fellowship with whatever church you’re with on a particular Sunday, then this is the long way home to Open Communion. Also note that the paper from 2006 is more faithful than their stated practice in 2014. They devolved not evolved theologically.

Also note even in the paper the AALC refuses to bind a man’s conscience in such matters, i.e. if you are an AALC pastor you don’t have to administer Communion this way, and they do not call their practice Closed Communion but Responsible Communion. This implies two things: we who practice Closed Communion are irresponsible or at least not as responsible as they are.  Second, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, when people refuse to use the language of their forefathers it is because they no longer believe what they did.

It is not bearing a cross for those who practice Closed Communion to tolerate a confession that says they practice Responsible Communion. It’s agreeing to disagree.  We are not bearing a burden of love when we tolerate others who go out of their way not to say what we do in matters of the Faith. We are being loveless, feckless, and perhaps conscienceless. The man who leaves a macro synod for a micro synod because of these things is being loving, responsible, and conscientious.


Let us Not Bear a Self-imposed Cross — 60 Comments

  1. @Rev. Jakob Fjellander #50
    I used the ’94 date not because that’s when the CoS “went off the rails,” (you are absolutely correct, they have been a theological train wreck for much longer) but because that’s when they started requiring approval of women’s ordination as precondition for ordination.

    In the case of the CoS, I’d go w/ AP XIV:
    “The Fourteenth Article, in which we say that in the Church the administration of the Sacraments and Word ought to be allowed no one unless he be rightly called, they receive, but with the proviso that we employ canonical ordination. Concerning this subject we have frequently testified in this assembly that it is our greatest wish to maintain church-polity and the grades in the Church, even though they have been made by human authority provided the bishops allow our doctrine and receive our priests. For we know that church discipline was instituted by the Fathers, in the manner laid down in the ancient canons, with a good and useful intention. But the bishops either compel our priests to reject and condemn this kind of doctrine which we have confessed, or, by a new and unheard-of cruelty, they put to death the poor innocent men. These causes hinder our priests from acknowledging such bishops. Thus the cruelty of the bishops is the reason why the canonical government, which we greatly desired to maintain, is in some places dissolved.”

    What I’m reacting to here in the US, is the splintering off of numerous small groups from other relatively small Confessional churches in an attempt to have a “perfect church.” Americans seem to hate discipline and authority by nature. It’s not that the LC-MS is firmly orthodox anymore, because it clearly isn’t but we have an orthodox Synodical President, a lot of strong young confessional pastors, and we’re certainly nowhere near the threshold set in AP XIV. Bishop Giertz stayed and fought until his death in 1970, and the CoS was much further gone in 1958, than the LC-MS is even today.

    Advent Blessings Pastor Fjellander+,
    -Matt Mills

  2. If a pastor is removed from the roster of the LCMS for just cause and then welcomed into the pastorate of the AALC (and into a prominent position, no less) then the AALC is not acting in good faith as a partner in fellowship with the LCMS.

  3. @Matt Jamison #2
    Remember, AALC is not a Synodical Body. If a Pastor is removed for just cause, whether AALC says yes or no, that pastor cannot rightly preach. OK, he is still ordained (unless defrocked), but all would be good to stay clear. AALC would guard against this as well I do believe.

    Of course, “just cause” would be debated.

  4. @Matt Mills #1
    What I’m reacting to here in the US, is the splintering off of numerous small groups from other relatively small Confessional churches in an attempt to have a “perfect church.”
    I admit this is a true and relevant critique. But is it better to be guilty of unionism or even syncretism? Errorists on both sides need advent for repentance.

    Pr Jakob Fjellander

  5. @Matthew Mills #6
    To be able to stay out of the ditches there is the question where the road is… I propose the following alternatives for everyone to ponder:
    1. Since we don’t really know exactly what the Bible teaches, it’s impossible to request doctrinal unity.
    2. Well, we know what the Bible teaches, but to request doctrinal unity is a human command. It is not necessary.
    3. We know what the Bible teaches, and the request for doctrinal unity is divine, but it is due to the circumstances what result you can achieve. If you can’t persuade the false teachers, then you have to accept unionism.
    4. We know what the Bible teaches, and the request for doctrinal unity is divine, but it is due to the circumstances what result you can achieve. If you can’t persuade the false teachers, and you can’t drive them out, then you have to accept unionism.
    5. We know what the Bible teaches. The request for doctrinal unity is divine. Unionism is a sin. If you can’t convert or drive out the heretics, you’ll have to leave.
    6. We know what the Bible teaches. The request for doctrinal unity is divine. Unionism is a sin. If there is false doctrine in the church body, you have to leave.

  6. @Rev Jakob Fjellander #7

    These are really interesting options worth pondering.  For the laymen I know the road for them seems something like this:

    What I think in advance is that Missouri’s “silent majority” is interested primarily in the nurture of children and families in the foundations of the Christian faith and not in the whims of the culture; in a parish perspective that is outward and not inward; in congregations and a denomination that are not at war internally or at war with the world but are in fact consumed by a holy desire to serve and bring the Way, Truth and Life to the world God loves through word and deed. – Pr Benke

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