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.


Comments

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

  1. I voted against fellowship with them at the 2007 Houston Convention, but 846 delegates (71%) disagreed with me.

  2. Then, of course, there is the matter of the President of their Seminary, Rev. Rich Shields, who was removed from the clergy roster of the LCMS about 20 years or so ago for just cause by the District President of the Missouri District. I was the Circuit Counselor at that time and the matter was VERY public and quite scandalous. After that he became a pastor in the AALC and is now (and has been for quite some time) the President of their Seminary . . . and no one appears to have a problem with this, even though I know for a fact that all the current and past Presidents of the Fort Wayne Seminary (which is where the AALC “Seminary” has it’s offices) are aware of this fact, as are others in the highest offices of our Church body.

  3. “the matter was VERY public and quite scandalous.” What was it?

    And before the 8th Commandment is quoted at me, public is public. If a man wants to retire to a quiet and peaceable life after having been removed from the office, I agree that we should go out of our way not to speak of his transgression. But if he presumes to step back into the public, even becoming the president of a seminary, he has recused himself of such charitable protection.

  4. Even if he is repentant, he remains disqualified from the public office of preaching and teaching the gospel. To seek this office (whether a new call or the same call) after having been removed (or having supposed to have been removed) for public sin, such a man, for the sake of the integrity of the office and the consciences of those who depend on it, is not to have his public sin publicly ignored by bureaucrats, but exposed in the light of day by faithful ministers and avoided. In other words, repentant or not, his presumption in re-entering the ministerium ought to be met with the same consequences as if he publicly refused to repent. I’m very curious what this man’s VERY public and quite scandalous sin was – not because I want in on the juiciness of it, but because, regardless of whether I am aware of it, he is currently functioning as a scandal to those who are. I’d like to play my part in exposing this scandal.

  5. He had an affair with his DCE. After the affair became public knowledge the DP told him he would have to resign his call and then he was removed from the Clergy roster. FWIW, had he gone into another vocation this should and would never have been mentioned again, but clearly that is not what he did. He left the LCMS and joined the AALC. Whether the leadership of the AALC knew of it then or knows of it now I don’t know, but I do know that a number of leaders in our Synod are aware of it . . . including the past and present Presidents of the Fort Wayne Seminary beginning with Dean Wenthe.

  6. Very good post pr Harris!
    To do something unbiblical is never a cross, how burdensome it may be, it is disobedience or ignorance. Therefore it is an crucial question what’s wrong and what’s right. Only the Biblical truth can give rest to a troubled soul. Is it right to “remain in a heterodox church in order to accomplish good in it, namely to prevent it from losing the truth altogether”?

    I think everyone who is worried or uncertain about this issue should read the essay “The Distinction Between Orthodox & Heterodox Churches” by dr Francis Pieper. Another good motive for reading it is the question what the old LCMS position is. It is available here:

    http://www.lutheranwatchman.weebly.com/uploads/3/0/7/2/30723175/distinctionbetweenorthodox.pdf

  7. @Drew Newman #7

    Assuming repentence, I’m not sure how this is relevant to continued fellowship with TAALC. I know of several LCMS pastors who continued ministry after divorce and remarrying.

    Psalm 103:12

  8. Divorce and remarriage is not exactly the same as having an affair, wouldn’t you say? The issue is having altar and pulpit fellowship with a Church body which (as the original post stated), appears to be OK with practicing open Communion . . . and also appears not to be all that concerned over having a pastor (and Seminary President) on their rolls who has once been removed from his call for adultery.

  9. Sorry to distract from this thread by commenting on other comments. I very much appreciated what Paul Harris has posted here. Synodocrats moan about the woes of living in a fallen world and doing the best they can while actively pursuing fellowship with false doctrine and unbiblical practice. Disingenuous indeed.

    I agree with you completely, Pr. Newman. If Shields had remained a laymen, it would be all of our duty to forget about it and receive him as a brother. But he has not. Thanks for letting me know.

    John, those LCMS pastors you know (and I know many myself) should not have remained in the ministry — not simply because they are not each the husband of one wife, but because they have demonstrated quite clearly their ineptitude in managing their own homes. I’d say choosing a wife who would ever be inclined to leave her pastor husband, or not keeping one’s wife in her proper role as wife and mother is a pretty clear indication that one has failed in this department. This is a damaging thing for a pastor to carry with him into any parish. The fact that many get away with it has absolutely nothing to say about whether they should. They shouldn’t.

  10. @Drew Newman #11

    I just don’t know…is TAALC more OK with actually (not officially) practicing open Communion than LCMS? Thanks for your patience with my annoying questions.

  11. I’d say from what I’ve read in the AALC’s published position on Communion as found on their website, I’d be inclined to say that they officially appear to endorse open Communion. The LCMS does, in fact, have a closed Communion policy. How well this is actually practiced by individual pastors is another matter which is of great concern to many of us, but the official position is closed Communion, not “responsible” Communion.

  12. @John Rixe #15

    Yeah, bad enough we have our own problems, let’s just stick with a group that may not be helping but rather enabling or poor communion practice. (rolling eyes) There are so many analogies I can think of (cheating spouses, alcoholics with drinking friends) to show how this is less than helpful. Breaking fellowship to get away from temptation might be exactly the right thing to do.

  13. John Rixe :@Drew Newman #7
    Assuming repentence, I’m not sure how this is relevant to continued fellowship with TAALC.

    It’s very relevant. The defrocked LCMS pastors ending up in TAALC was brought up at the convention floor. The delegates were promised that this would be dealt with as a condition of the fellowship vote. I was there. Later, Secretary Hartwig published a set of guidelines adopted by the LCMS & TAALC leadership that didn’t solve the matter at all.

    Forgiveness would go with repentance, but that doesn’t restore one to a position of authority after being removed for cause.

    Tim Schenks (I mistyped my email address)

  14. @Tim Schenks #1
    This is a serious problem, majority vote for issues that are either right or wrong (doctrinal issues). Majority vote is proper for issues that are on the scale of good-bad, for non-doctrinal issues, matters of human judgment. Isn’t having such a system or not enough to define the confessional status of any church body?

  15. Rev Jakob Fjellander :@Tim Schenks #1 This is a serious problem, majority vote for issues that are either right or wrong (doctrinal issues). Majority vote is proper for issues that are on the scale of good-bad, for non-doctrinal issues, matters of human judgment. Isn’t having such a system or not enough to define the confessional status of any church body?

    No. The fact that a church body uses parliamentary procedure to declare altar and pulpit fellowship with another church body has nothing to do with the definition of a quia subscription to the Book of Concord. I’m sure that there are some ELCA pastors or congregations that are confessional, but we do not recognize that their church body is an orthodox Lutheran one (and that did not require a unanimous vote either).

  16. @Scott Diekmann #17

    I don’t know, Scott. I guess the only thing that comes to mind is that they should have done SOMETHING . . . Early Sunday morning that’s the best I can come up with. I haven’t thought about it in a couple of years. It was the discussion of the AALC Fellowship issue that brought it to mind again.

  17. @Tim Schenks #21
    The fact that a church body uses parliamentary procedure to declare altar and pulpit fellowship with another church body has nothing to do with the definition of a quia subscription to the Book of Concord. Correct.

    I’m sure that there are some ELCA pastors or congregations that are confessional, but we do not recognize that their church body is an orthodox Lutheran one.
    I agree there could perhaps be a confessional ELCA congregation, but as you rightly say, that doesn’t make the church body confessional/orthodox. And likewise, there are confessional congregations and pastors within the LCMS, but that does not make the church body confessional.

    “Confessional” is a wax nose, but I think your definition is good: Confessional means to have a quia subscription to the Book of Concord. And to “have” means both subscribing and teaching. A confession just on paper, without upholding the teaching in practice, is a way to deceive the sheep!

    So, to accept BOC “quia”, to be confessional is to uphold the whole, Christian doctrine, not accepting any deviations, but unanimously confessing the biblical truths. And therefore you don’t accept majority votes on doctrinal issues. Doctrinal issues request unanimity. That a church body accepts majority vote on doctrinal matters, is evidence that it is not confessional. Isn’t it?

  18. Rev. Jakob Fjellander :@Tim Schenks #21 So, to accept BOC “quia”, to be confessional is to uphold the whole, Christian doctrine, not accepting any deviations, but unanimously confessing the biblical truths. And therefore you don’t accept majority votes on doctrinal issues. Doctrinal issues request unanimity. That a church body accepts majority vote on doctrinal matters, is evidence that it is not confessional. Isn’t it?

    My congregation requires a unanimous vote on doctrine, which means if need be they can vote that they agree with the doctrine they already have, not that they can create new doctrine. I believe it was President Walther who wrote that you should ask yourselves if you should be voting on something at all before you vote on it.

    Sometimes the Synod has to have a vote that they all agree with what Scripture and the Confessions say, particularly when faced with prevalent errors: The Brief Statement of 1932, Statement on Scriptural and Confessional Principles. I don’t think they were creating any new doctrine, though.

  19. @John Rixe #24
    In alphabetical order:
    ACLC, Association of Confessional Lutheran Churches
    CLC, Church of the Lutheran Confession
    CLC, Concordia Lutheran Conference
    ELDoNA, Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America
    ELS, Evangelical Lutheran Synod
    ILC, Illinois Lutheran Conference
    LCCF, Lutheran Conference of Confessional Fellowship
    LCR, Lutheran Churches of the Reformation
    OLCC, Orthodox Lutheran Confessional Conference
    RLC, Reformation Lutheran Conference
    WELS, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod

  20. @Rev. Jakob Fjellander #26
    I’m not familiar with all of the church bodies on the list, but if we could agree that a church body is only as confessional as its least confessional pastors and congregations I would not include WELS on the list.

  21. @ross #28
    Yes, it is doubtful to count WELS as confessional. With your definition they are not. I don’t think however they accept majority vote on doctrinal matters (but I admit I don’t really know). And they expelled pr Rydecki on a single doctrinal issue some time ago. They are a borderline case.

  22. Not ELDoNA. (Rydecki)

    I’d accept ELS, ACLC, and WELS, although they have their problems.

    (Expelling Rydecki was a good thing…!)

    I’ve never heard of the others.

  23. “Micro faithful synods have nothing to be ashamed of and we could use many more of them.”

    I can agree with this.  My concern:  how do they support missionaries and how do they train new pastors? These are two huge jobs for any synod IMO.

  24. @Pastor Joshua Scheer #18
    Pr. Scheer, I do not ask men to judge future motivations at all. I simply say that a man who uses poor judgement in choosing a wife indicates that he may also lack the proper judgment in caring for the church of God. And even if a woman becomes bad out of the blue, it still serves as a scandal.

    As far as judging future motivations, can you not say that you know your wife will not leave you? I can say with utter certainty that my wife will never leave me. I know because of the woman I married. I do not judge future motivations. I judge character. This is part of managing one’s household. And if I be proven a fool by some unforeseen devil entering my dear wife, so be it. But wiping the egg off my face is not as important as defending the integrity of the office by bowing out.

  25. @Tim Schenks #30
    (This is not against your comment, but in connection to your comment)
    There is no church without problems. It still consists of human sinners. So in the so to say human life area there will always be numerous problems. There may even be doctrinal problems, but as long as the church handles those in the biblical way (teaching, admonishing and if necessary expels the false teachers) it doesn’t lose its confessional status.

  26. @John Rixe #31
    I agree, those are two great tasks. I suppose however you wouldn’t say it’s a sin not being so big so you can afford a separate seminary? Most of the church bodies mentioned have, but not all.

  27. @ross #28
    if we could agree that a church body is only as confessional as its least confessional pastors and congregations I would not include WELS on the list.

    If that’s your definition, LCMS is not confessional and can hardly throw stones at anyone. Or decide “who belongs on a list.”

    @Drew Newman #11
    Divorce and remarriage is not exactly the same as having an affair, wouldn’t you say?

    How is it different? The “affair” is usually waiting in the wings, if it hasn’t already occurred.
    And Paul did not say to Timothy, “husband of one wife at a time”.
    Divorced and remarried pastors cannot preach to the laity against divorce. Or much else.

  28. Yeah – I’m still having trouble with the OP’s judgement of TAALC.

    “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (‭Luke‬ ‭6‬:‭42‬)

  29. John Rixe :Yeah – I’m still having trouble with the OP’s judgement of TAALC.
    “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (‭Luke‬ ‭6‬:‭42‬)

    Your use of that verse to embrace error is extremely hypocritical.

  30. @John Rixe #36

    Such an argument would by extension promote the idea, that by repentance (feigned or true,) convicted embezzlers, child molesters, rapists, and murders should also be allowed into the Pastoral Office.

    Or, maybe St. Paul was wise enough, by the Holy Spirit, to say that persons guilty of particularly public and scandalous crimes be barred from the Office, so as not to disparage Christ, His Word, His Office, and the Church. Maybe the Spirit knows something we don’t, and is less pragmatic than we might otherwise be?

    I’ll stick with St. Paul on this one, even if the modern day sexual ethic doesn’t. No human being has a right to the Pastoral Office– it is Christ’s Office, and He sets the terms of occupancy.

  31. ross :@Rev. Jakob Fjellander #26 I’m not familiar with all of the church bodies on the list, but if we could agree that a church body is only as confessional as its least confessional pastors and congregations I would not include WELS on the list.

    Why is that? The WELS as a whole is quite confessional. And while there are bad apples in every batch, I would say that they for the most part are pretty orthodox.

  32. @Drew Newman #11
    @John Rixe #9

    Not really the subject of the post, so apologies in advance. I know that the LC-MS doesn’t seem to apply 1 Tim 3:2, 4-5 to divorced and remarried pastors, but for the life of me, I don’t see why. I’ve said it before, but this is an inconsistency in our doctrine of the ministry that the women’s ordination folks will use against us one of these days. Looks like we’re picking and choosing based on what our congregations think is “ok.”

    More to the topic at hand, the comment: “Micro faithful synods have nothing to be ashamed of and we could use many more of them.” makes me a bit uncomfortable. I just don’t see “schismatic faithfulness” as the Biblical, or historical Lutheran model. Biblically and in the early church I see the Apostles and their successors removing the unfaithful. In the case of the creation of the Lutheran church, and our own synod, we didn’t “jump” we were “pushed.” (Luther was excommunicated by Rome, and a lot of the founding Saxon immigrants were jailed prior to their leaving Germany.)

    Stay and fight; try to stiffen the spines of the Confessionals on the COP to get them to act more like the Apostles and early fathers. If the LC-MS is too far gone, they’ll throw us out and streamline the decision making process.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  33. @Matt Mills #40
    When Luther received the last warning, a bull, from the pope “recant or be excommunicated” did he say “I’ll stay and fight”? No, he burned the bull.

  34. @Rev Jakob Fjellander #41
    And should you reach the point that the LC-MS threatens you w/ excommunication (w/ or w/o a death sentence) for your steadfast clinging to the clear word of God, I give you my unqualified permission to consider yourself “pushed” Pastor.

    Advent Blessings+,
    -Matt Mills
    B.A. Early Modern European History, University of Minnesota
    (mit ein Nebenfach im Germanismus)

    “We are not heretics, but schismatics, and that only because you made us so.”
    -Dr. M. Luther

  35. @J. Dean #39

    @helen #35

    I agree that there are a lot of confessional folks (including leaders) in both the WELS and the LCMS with perhaps a higher percentage of confessional Lutherans in WELS. That said, when synod members and their leadership harbor even one openly non-confessional member in their midst I think that church body fails to qualify as a truly confessional church body. Perhaps my definition is too rigid. If I’m throwing stones I’m throwing some straight up because I’m a life long member of LCMS congregations. I had a chance to jump ship to a WELS congregation when I changed churches about seven years ago, but I chose to stay in the LCMS.

  36. @Matt Mills #40

    You wrote: “Stay and fight; try to stiffen the spines of the Confessionals on the COP to get them to act more like the Apostles and early fathers. If the LC-MS is too far gone, they’ll throw us out and streamline the decision making process.”

    So, Matt . . . how about joining forces with us in the ACLEC? We’d love to have your enthusiasm and conviction. The more congregations and laymen we have with this kind of attitude, the more effective we MAY be as we stand together against the errors all of us admit exist.

  37. @Drew Newman #44
    Thanks for the kind words Pastor. I’d have to do some more research first, and finding the time for that sort of thing is generally a challenge. I’ll add it to “the list.”

    Advent Blessings+,
    -Matt Mills

  38. Matt Mills :
    @Drew Newman #44
    Thanks for the kind words Pastor. I’d have to do some more research first, and finding the time for that sort of thing is generally a challenge. I’ll add it to “the list.”
    Advent Blessings+,
    -Matt Mills

    Matt . . . joining does not require anything from you other than your signature and support. We don’t even have any dues. Of course, if someone wants to do something to help, we are always glad to have it, but we don’t ask anything of our Associate Members other than to support us in whatever way they can, firstly by adding their names to those who agree with what we are doing.

  39. @Matt Mills #40
    In the case of the creation of the Lutheran church, and our own synod, we didn’t “jump” we were “pushed.”

    Many of the men in “micro-Synods” were pushed, Matt.
    One Pastor I know came home from a church convention to find his office door locks changed. He had to beg to get his own property out of that office. “A DP may communicate with a small group in the congregation without notifying Pastor or church officers.” His did. Ultimately, according to a lay member corresponding at the time, most of the congregation left with the Pastor.

    The Pastor and the regulars in the congregation were/are confessional. The DP wasn’t.

  40. @helen #47
    Great point. I know one as well here in AK, and I certainly would never second guess the decision in such a case.

    @Rev. Jakob Fjellander #48
    I’d say come and join us (we could use the help!)

    P.S. From the link you’ve attached to your name Pastor, you were “pushed” in 1994 if not earlier.

  41. @Matt Mills #49
    I left Church of Sweden in 1983 voluntarily. I was not pushed, in fact CoS does not excommunicate anyone. I left because CoS tolerates heresy, when I understood that it’s not enough to have o good “confession on paper” (BOC) or to be the church in which I am baptized and confirmed or to be the church to which my relatives belong.

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