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. 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 us. We 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!