Why not a Formula of Concord for Today?

bookofconcordimageIt should not be disputed today that unfortunately there is much doctrinal divergence still in the LCMS.  One easily discovers this when traveling to other congregations and discovering the wide range of belief, confession and practice of various doctrines.  Some efforts in various forms and in some areas of the synod have begun trying to address this disunity, e.g. Visitation, The Koinonia Project.  One significant factor of such approaches is the need for time and patience.  To this, it may be noted that we have been at discord since the 1930’s or as late as the 1950’s.   Also, our tendency has been for some time to be obsessed with church polity solutions.  Wait until the convention and try to get a resolution passed.  This needs to be challenged and debated.

What is rarely mentioned in such a discussion is the spread of leaven among the dough or more to the point, how large a group of the laypeople will we allow false doctrine to be taught and preached to them as the truth before we take more decisive action?  Or put into biblical terms, how long will we allow the leaven to spread in the synodical dough? (1 Cor. 5:6-7 and Gal. 5:9)  The non-confessional side of this equation has personally and privately said to me (and I’m sure to many others): On which doctrinal differences will we draw the line in the sand?  Or another said to me: What do I tell my laypeople when they ask why do so many others in synod disagree with us?  It is readily apparent that this side requests and even demands that time and patience be given for divergent teachings and practices.

This is not the historical Lutheran approach to allow the leaven time to spread even further.  We as the theological children of the Lutheran Confessors subscribe to this:  “Likewise, we desire furthermore to agree in a friendly way among ourselves earnestly, using whatever means possible, to maintain this work of concord in our lands, according to our own and each community’s circumstances, through diligent visitation in the churches and schools, through supervision of the presses, and through other salutary means.  And should the present controversies about our Christian religion again surface or new ones arise, we agree that to protect against all kinds of scandal they be settled and reconciled in a timely way before given a chance to spread.”  (Preface to Book of Concord, 24)

In my 2002 book Testing the Claims of Church Growth it was proposed that we address this issue of the Church Growth Movement with a Formula of Concord of our own time.  Not many conversed with me either agreeing or contesting this proposal.  However, have heard many over the past decades declare that we don’t need a new Formula of Concord (FC)!  All we need to solve our disagreements is found already in the Book of Concord!  If this reasoning is solid, than why did they ever need the FOC?  It was all there in the Augsburg Confession (CA)!  And to go even further, why need the CA when one has the Nicene Creed?  The answer is obvious.  At the time of writing of the previous tremendous confessional statements, the doctrinal divides were not in play.  As the very beginning of the FC states: “A Summary Epitome of the Articles in Controversy among the Theologians of the Augsburg Confession, Explained and Reconciled in a Christian Manner under the Guidance of God’s Word.”

Isn’t this exactly the position we find ourselves in today?  The various doctrinal disputes have not been adequately, officially and intentionally addressed with both sides’ sincere position given attention and then God’s Holy Word is expounded in both affirmative and negative theses for those who wish to declare concord.

What have we to lose by immediately beginning a FC deliberation on the doctrines under dispute?  Is it fear of division?  Certainly those in the years after Luther’s death up to the publication in 1580 of FC had this looming threat maybe more than we today.  It didn’t prevent them from FOC and it shouldn’t prevent us either.

What have we to gain?  For one result is the salutary and respectful treatment of all sides of the dispute under solely God’s Word.  Thus, a Lutheran, biblical approach to first documenting the doctrines under dispute and then only allowing Scripture as the only allowable evidence.  Many have been opposed to allowing Scripture to have this singular role among us, even though we tout ourselves so proudly as the church of Sola Scriptura.  This increasing tendency among us to resolve doctrinal disputes by vote and polity rather than Scripture Alone has in my mind gagged God’s voice among usWe can quickly and confidently as the Confessional Lutherans we are reestablish His truthful voice among us by implementing a Formula of Concord solution among us.  For His sake and glory!

About Rev. Rodney Zwonitzer

he Rev. Rodney Zwonitzer graduated with a B.S. in Business Management from the University of Wyoming in 1971. From 1971 to 1975 he served as executive trainee for Westinghouse in Denver, CO. Then from 1975 to 1979 he was marketing director/administrator for Storage Technology Corporation of Louisville, Colorado. From 1979 to 1984 he was Product Marketing Manager for United Technologies/Mostek of Carrollton, Texas. Then another calling came into his life. After attending four years of seminary at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, he was called in 1988 to serve as Pastor of Peace and Trinity Lutheran Churches in Trail, British Columbia, Canada. He served there until he was called to be Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dearborn, Michigan in 1991. In 2012 he was called to be Director of Broadcast Services for the LCMS. The Rev. Rod Zwonitzer is author of Testing the Claims of Church Growth (CPH, 2002). He is co-founder of the Peacemakers Dialogue Group, has served on the Board of Directors of LATINO (Lutheran Action Improving Native Spanish Outreach), is a co-founder of the Ephphatha Lutheran Mission Society, and has served as an adjunct professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. Rev. Zwonitzer retired in 2015 and resides in Florida.


Why not a Formula of Concord for Today? — 94 Comments

  1. @Matt Mills #45

    You keep telling BJS that 85% of LCMS congregations are with us, an yet in my travels it’s a struggle to find an LCMS congregations worshipping IAW Apology XV, or preaching IAW AC IV. I believe the 85% number originally came from SP Harrison, but it’s either a political feel-goody number, or at best self-delusional optimism. Either way, I don’t see the value in repeating it here.

    I think that 85% was picked out of the air. The first time I saw it, it was supposed to represent the % of congregations that would be “on the same page” after 10 years of Koinonia. I thought then that giving the deviants from Lutheranism 10 years to practice and proselytize freely might well bring us to 85% false teaching.
    Now Rixe keeps telling us we’re already there. He may be right.

  2. “It is possible to unify 85% of the Synod in doctrine, practice and mission, I’m convinced. No one group in the Synod has moral hegemony or superiority. We are all pure sinners, in need of pure grace. Our fundamental problem is unbelief. We do not believe the Word of God actually can and does unite us.”   Pr Harrison, 2008

    Among the laity we are already there.

  3. @John Rixe #51

    “Among the laity we are already there.”

    If that’s true (and you’ve offered no real data to support the claim), and given the current state of confusion in doctrine and practice throughout the Synod, it would mean that 85% of laity are cool with either tolerating or celebrating Enthusiast heterodoxy. And if that’s true, then the LCMS as a Lutheran synod is lost.

  4. Dear BJS,
    I do believe there are many congregations still very Lutheran, still desiring to be solid in their confession, albeit, when under attack, some may fall to rather dubious methods, etc. In today’s world, error or even perceived error spreads faster than ever. As a Circuit Visitor now, I see all the Churches I serve desiring to “find the lost”, and in that zeal, sometimes best practice does erode a bit. Teaching is required and reminding of what being Lutheran is, and how we must walk together.

  5. @Brad #43

    Brad, if you have not received my email yet, please contact Rev. Joshua Scheer. If you have, please do not address all of the issues in a single email. One at a time will do fine.
    George A. Marquart

  6. @George A. Marquart #16

    Hi George,
    I think what’s missing from this “comments thread” (aside from Brad) is someone willing, able, and qualified, and who has time available, to look into your concerns and develop “apologetics” for these specific BoC doctrines in response to your many questions. As you may recall, we undertook such a task over at Gottesdienst Online (http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2016/04/on-repentance-and-faith.html). It was an edifying exercise for me and I came away from the discussion strengthened in faith and more knowledgeable, as I found some answers from reliable sources. I believe you were unconvinced by those same answers, but at least the issues were addressed.
    If I have time, I’ll look into your list of issues here. Of course, I am but a layman and rely upon words and writings of men more knowledgeable and learned in the scriptures than I…but perhaps some answers may be found.
    Just as we should never ignore questioning of the Bible, if our confession is strong, we shouldn’t ignore (or fear) questions regarding its teachings. I know that every time I’ve personally questioned something from the BoC, I’ve researched the issue and come away convinced the BoC is correct, so far as man is able to know.


  7. @JWSkud #55

    Dear Jason: thanks for your posting and for remembering. I looked over the link you sent me and I was amazed at the length of our correspondence and also at the friendly tone we were able to maintain.
    Don’t put yourself down for being a layman – not because I am one also, but because whether layman or pastor, the only school that really matters is the School of the Holy Spirit, which is equally accessible to pastors and laymen.
    I look forward to any comments you may want to make on the issues I have raised.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  8. @Brad #43

    Brad, I look forward to it. I hope you have not fallen ill. Or maybe you changed your mind and you now agree with me?
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  9. @George A. Marquart #57

    I have not received your contact information. And my Fall quarter students are rightfully demanding the attention they paid for. If your interest is merely to be a provocateur, I’m not sure what a reasonable path forward is for our dialogue.

  10. @Brad #58
    Dear Brad: here is what I received on Tuesday, 13 Sept., 11:39am:

    I sent him your email. Blessings on your private discussion
    Rev. Joshua Scheer
    Senior Pastor
    Our Savior Lutheran Church
    Cheyenne, Wyoming
    Didn’t mean to be a provocateur. It’s my equivalent of a sense of humor with which I am cursed.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  11. @helen #50

    I think it probably comes from the fact that 85% of the congregations ordered one or more of the new LSBs whenever they were printed. Whether they use it or not may or may not have been checked out by those touting their numbers. I happened to be visiting a congregation whenever a member of the hymnal committee was the guest teacher during the SS hour, and he threw that figure out.

  12. @helen #61

    @LadyL #60


    I’m not following. Honest question: Has it been said that a congregation which cannot afford to, or choses not to buy LSB are not in unity with those who did purchase it? Was/is this a required purchase? I have been a member of a beautiful Confessional/Liturgical parish which was still using LW, with a couple of tweaks to the liturgy (substituting “and with thy Spirit”, and using the old Te Deum from TLH after the Post-Communion Collect). It was an unexpected and magnificent blessing to have been there, and as far as I know, it was on the leading edge of the confessional/liturgical renaissance as of a few years back. (and it’s not in TX or the Midwest).

  13. @Pastor Prentice #53

    As a Circuit Visitor now, I see all the Churches I serve desiring to “find the lost”, and in that zeal, sometimes best practice does erode a bit. Teaching is required and reminding of what being Lutheran is, and how we must walk together.

    As a CV, you might remind the pastors that they took an oath to serve the “found” when they were installed in the Office. Too often the found are driven out by [usually unproductive] schemes to “find the lost”.

    [I suppose that makes them “lost” for someone else to “find”, but how useful overall is that exercise? And what if the pew sitter gets tired of being played with like that, and just decides to ‘sleep in’?]

  14. @Steve #62

    Not by me, Steve. I’ve been singing out of TLH! I just meant that buying ONE LSB did not make it likely that everyone was on the same page (or using a liturgical service at all). IOW, the “85%” is mythical. 🙂

  15. @helen #61

    Helen, that’s what I would have liked to have said to the presenter, but I was a guest in that setting, and it was not appropriate. I am just saying that my observation was that the “85%” number seemed to be coming from the PP based on the new hymnal project response. That was the first time I had even heard a reason for that “mythical” number.

  16. @LadyL #65

    Q: Several issues — for instance, the conscription of women into military service — were discussed at the previous convention, but actually voted on this time around. What changed?

    Harrison: I have been convinced that the Synod could basically reach 85 percent unity if we take our time and work carefully through significant issues in preparation for a convention. Careful work was done on most issues; the delegates came well-informed. And the result has been tremendous.

    Q: Most of the issues voted on this year passed by a substantial majority. What does that indicate to you?

    Harrison: It indicates that the LCMS is and can be most united around its longstanding doctrinal positions. The confession of the Synod is biblically sound. Our pastors and people recognize the very challenging social situation in this country and the world. They are determined to stand tall, confess Christ and His blessed Gospel and remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, come what may.


  17. @helen #63
    Dear Helen,
    As a CV, and I have a hunch short lived, the Circuits are being re-aligned; I am doing my best, but ruffling some feathers. In this case, I agree 100%. I even passed around the Rev. Dr. Barry’s “What About Pastors” to the Circuit, as one Church is seeking a call. It made me reflect, and it also made me understand I am lacking at times, but always striving. I am a pastor to the sheep first and foremost.

  18. @helen #68
    I think this basically comes down to CoWo. The rev. Matthew Harrison is a sound theologian, and I’m glad he’s in office, but he’s made the decision that he isn’t going to rock the boat by attempting to extirpate CoWo as such. I clearly think he’s wrong, but I think that’s where the 85% comes from. If a pastor says “saved by grace through faith” but then runs his services like an upbeat commercial for minty-fresh toothpaste as a way to get “seekers” to make a “decision for Christ,” SP Harrison seems to be saying: “check,saved by grace through faith, he’s a solid Lutheran.” I know there are good men working for the SP who are telling him: “lex orandi lex credendi” but for now he’s not going there. Given enough years perhaps Pr. Harrison will get there in the end, but it’s not a priority for him now.

    Again, my opinion.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  19. @Matt Mills #69

    Given enough years perhaps Pr. Harrison will get there in the end, but it’s not a priority for him now.

    And when 85% of lcms is cowo, in its more radical forms, it will be a little late to make sound doctrine a “priority”.

    The crms are still flaming (Fiene’s version) or “freezing in the dark”, most of them good men, who wanted to be and were good Lutheran Pastors, (not entertainers).

    Confessional Pastors have been made afraid to discuss doctrinal issues in public with their constituency.

    But”5/2″ goes on publicly without hindrance, as does TCN and other entities pushing false doctrine.

    Jerry Kieschnick and …usFirst should be pleased.

  20. The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness Being a Complete Guide for a Gentleman’s Conduct in all his Relations Towards Society:

    Many there are who, giving their opinion, not as an opinion but as a law, will defend their position by such phrases, as: “Well, if I were president, or governor, I would,” &c.—and while by the warmth of their argument they prove that they are utterly unable to govern their own temper, they will endeavor to persuade you that they are perfectly competent to take charge of the government of the nation.


  21. It should not be disputed today that unfortunately there is much doctrinal divergence still in the LCMS.  One easily discovers this when traveling to other congregations and discovering the wide range of belief, confession and practice of various doctrines.  – Pr Zwonitzer

    Respectfully, most don’t agree with Pr Zwonitzer:

    “[The recent convention] indicates that the LCMS is and can be most united around its longstanding doctrinal positions. The confession of the Synod is biblically sound. Our pastors and people recognize the very challenging social situation in this country and the world. They are determined to stand tall, confess Christ and His blessed Gospel and remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, come what may.”  – Pr Harrison

  22. @John Rixe #74

    President Harrison is “most people”?

    With all due respect, his statement is more true than it was six years ago, but there is still extreme doctrinal divergence in the synod. Open communion is rampant, you can hear sermons than deny or ignore the atonement, women serve as elders, charismatic theology is taught and practiced, etc. The list could go on for pages.

    I appreciate what Harrison has done, but we’re not there yet.

  23. @John Rixe #74

    My sense is that most of the folks here at BJS both agree w/ Pr Zwonitzer, and have had very similar experiences recently. I certainly fit that category.

    I’m not sure what the “best construction” on Pr. Harrison’s comment would be, but here are some possibilities:

    1) He is speaking very narrowly about what it means to “remain faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.” What he means is that 85% of the delegates are no longer fighting against a few obviously critical Lutheran positions on the floor of the convention.

    2) He doesn’t get around much. There is no way that he could make that statement in the extended Anchorage area. (1 for 6 is 17%, not 85%), or most communities in the NoW District, or in MN South, or the SED for that matter.

    3) It’s a “feel-goody” political statement intended to keep the fringes voting for him, while he plots behind the scenes to bring them back into the fold.

    #3 might be diverging slightly from “best construction” but there’s a sense in which polity drives theology and praxis. If you have a congregational democratic polity, then in order to lead the synod you need to think and act like a politician, at least in order to be (re)elected. I think this is clearly a politically motivated “Rah-team” statement, and Pr. Harrison himself must realize it’s totally disconnected from reality, but for some reason a bunch of crypto-methobapticostal delegates felt comfortable enough voting for Pr. Harrison, and some incrementally confessional motions on the floor of our recent convention and he wants to keep that rolling. I think Pastor Harrison is probably a politician, and what he’s really saying is “baby-steps, baby-steps.”

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  24. I think Pastor Harrison is putting the best construction on what he sees and is trying to continue the good work he’s been doing. I also think he’s irredeemably optimistic. I also disagree to some extent with his current assessment of the doctrinal situation of the synod.

  25. @Matt Mills #76

    “baby steps, baby steps”

    Except LCMS has been sliding so long it is now “old lady in a walker steps”, so slow it actually adds to the danger of falling that she is afraid of!

  26. @helen #78
    Of course it has Helen,

    I’m not saying I approve. Frankly, although Pastor Harrison can be trusted to believe the right things, which is important, he cannot be trusted to act fearlessly on those beliefs.

    As much as he may be the best man for the job today, for me Pr. Harrison will always be the man who let DP Seitz (MN South) tear down my old campus chapel at the University of Minnesota rather than remove him from office.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  27. @Matt Mills #79


    I think it’s absolutely without question that what Seitz and the MNS District Board of Directors did with regard to ULC was despicable.

    My question is this: Where do the Bylaws of Synod authorize the President of Synod to remove a District President from office for doing something that is “despicable” but ruled by the courts to be legal?

    Also, would removing Seitz from office have changed the BoD’s actions?

    I guess I’m just not sure that Harrison had the authority to do what you wish he’d done or that it would have accomplished what you think it would have accomplished.

  28. @Charles Lehmann #81

    Arianism is legal, as is synergism, and breaking nearly every commandment. Is legality the only standard we can enforce as a synod? Is legality the standard Dr. Jacob Preus used to remove four DPs during the Seminex scandal? The SP can remove DP’s for heterodoxy, and unrepentant sin and Dr. Seitz’s actions were both.

    Would removing Dr. Seitz from office have changed the MN South BoD’s actions? I don’t know. When did the presidium of the LCMS become crass Utilitarian’s? Do we do things because they are right and proper, or because we think they will “work”? Do what’s right, and leave the results to God.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  29. @Matt Mills #82
    Jack Preus was specifically empowered to do what he did, and he did it under completely different bylaws.

    What bylaw could Harrison have used? Who met with and charged Seitz? I know you’re upset, but Harrison has to play by the rules.

  30. Why have we piled on so many (and seemingly worse) by-laws since 1974?

    Perhaps the conventions should see how many could be removed!

  31. @Rev. Charles Lehmann #83

    No Pastor,
    I have said many positive things about Pastor Harrison over the years, and I will continue to support him, but I know the difference between giving something the old college try, and nailing your colors to the mast. Pastor Harrison did the former (and many would not have done even that) but he made a calculated decision to avoid the later. As a result ULC was sacrificed, and Dr. Seitz’ was left in his unrepentant sin.

    A theologian of the cross calls things by their proper name.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  32. President Harrison cannot assert authority that the bylaws of Synod do not grant him. It really is that simple.

    You’re being unfair to him.

  33. @Rev. Charles Lehmann #86

    I don’t want to hijack this thread Pastor, and I’m fine w/ giving you the last word if you want to quote some more bylaws, but Pastor Harrison holds another office, and that office has keys: keys that were not used. Again, I will support Pastor Harrison, but I unfortunately will not trust him to go to the mat for what is right. You’re unlikely to be able to create that trust in me; that will be Pr. Harrison’s job.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  34. The good news is that we are still within the timeline and, pending congregational approval, hope to begin construction either late fall or early spring with a project completion [new ULC chapel] by Reformation 2017.

    Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3

  35. @Matt Mills #87


    You said you wanted President Harrison to remove Seitz as DP. He can only do that under the authority given him by the bylaws. DP is not a divine office (thank God!).

    And, in order to exercise the keys, Pastor Harrison would have to be Seitz’s pastor. He isn’t, and as far as I know, never has been. What you want is for President Harrison to be an archbishop. I do too! But he’s not. He is assistant pastor of Village Lutheran Church and President of the LCMS, Inc. In order for him to have removed Seitz from his synodical office, someone would have had to have brought formal charges against him. That would have empowered Harrison to rule on the matter.

    As far as I know, no DP has been charged during Harrison’s administration. If we want Harrison to remove DPs, we need to follow the process that we’ve agreed to use in charging them. Only then can Harrison act.

    Harrison didn’t have the authority (divine or human) to do what you wanted him to do. He did what he could.

  36. @George A. Marquart #16

    Hi George,
    Sorry it’s taken me so long to start to address your issues. I’ve been busy with other issues.
    I always find it best to address these questions by seeking sound counsel from our pastors and theologians. As such, I’ll refer you to John Pless and his Didache, to address issue #1 (“The problem is that the Kingdom never comes to us; we come into the Kingdom once at Baptism, at which time we also receive the Holy Spirit, Who stays with us for our earthly life. He does not come to us every time we pray this petition.”)

    From page 32:
    Our Lord’s kingdom comes to us by His Gospel and is received by faith. The 2nd Petition teaches us to pray in faith for the coming of God’s kingdom among us in time and eternity. Here it is important to note that the Scriptures speak of 3 different aspects of God’s kingdom. It is the kingdom of His power by which He rules over the whole creation. God’s kingdom of grace is His Church on earth which lives nder His gracious Gospel. God’s kingdom of glory is His eternal and heavely reign over His saints and angels in heaven. [texts: Mk 1:14-15; Ps 103:19; John 3:5; 2 Tim 4:18]

    In the 2nd Petition, we ask the Father to extend His kingdom of grace and glory: “‘The coming of God’s kingdom to us’ takes place in two ways: first, it comes here, in time, through the word and faith, and second, in eternity, it comes through the final revelation. Now we ask for both of these things: that it may come to those who are not yet in it and that, BY DAILY GROWTH HERE AND IN ETERNAL LIFE HEREAFTER, it may come to us who HAVE ATTAINED IT” (LC III.53). This is a prayer to a king whose “kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36) but who MAKES HIS KINGDOM PRESENT IN OUR MIDST (Lk 12:32).

    Does that begin to address your question? I find it useful in showing how the kingdom continues to come to us in our daily walks as Christians. Another way of looking at it: we are given the kingdom in our Baptism. Weekly in the Supper our tanks are “topped off.” At least that’s how my pastor explains it. And we can get a similar “topping off” through faith in the word, in prayer, which confesses God’s promises as we speak them back to Him…

    Let me know what you think.

  37. @helen #63

    Thank you, Helen. We were “found” sheep who were definitely driven out by a new program that focused exclusively on the “lost”, leading to amazingly heterodox practices which we finally could not tolerate any more. Not only did we lose our place of worship, but we also lost relationships and fellowship with people we loved. And you are right, it goes beyond just searching for another church. There is a loss of trust and a feeling of discouragement that happens which is difficult to overcome. We still do not have a new church home, and possible options (which we will pursue, with trepidation) are at least an hour away.

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