Saturday, July 10, 2010

Praying for the LCMS in convention

This week, the LCMS will meet in convention. Although the WELS is not in fellowship with the LCMS, I know that there are still many, many confessional Lutherans within the LCMS, and I pray for them and for their synod, that it may be brought once again to true confessional Lutheran unity.

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like there are several questions that need to be answered in the Missouri Synod. Some of them may begin to be addressed at their convention this week:

  • Will they discuss doctrine and practice openly, admit mistakes humbly, and address problems scripturally?

  • Will they make a clean break from false teachers in heterodox church bodies?

  • Will they recognize that practice cannot be divorced from doctrine?

  • Will they commit to insuring that practice coincides with doctrine in their member congregations?

  • Will they trust in the Means of Grace and be faithful in their use, leaving all the results in God’s hands?

  • Will they be fully identified with the historic, orthodox, Lutheran, catholic confession?

We would expect all these things from any confessional Lutheran church body, wouldn't we?

Are they willing to do these things in the Missouri Synod?

Are we?


Rev. David M. Juhl said...

We in the LC-MS appreciate your prayers.

A simple answer to your questions is no to all. Our synod is so broken that it's next to impossible, as men see it, to fix it without either removing a number of congregations and pastors or having faithful pastors and congregations be removed. Some will remove themselves. God bless them.

Our situation is so difficult for most WELS faithful because you, by in large, enjoy doctrinal unity and a brotherly spirit in the Public Ministry. My circuit has that spirit, God be praised. Others do not. I weep over their brokenness. It's something we in the LC-MS just have to deal with in fear and trembling.

As for me, I will continue to be faithful where God has put me. That's all God asks me to do.

Rev. David M. Juhl
Our Savior Evangelical-Lutheran Church
Momence, IL
Alternate Delegate, Circuit 27
Northern Illinois District

Rev. Fr. Spencer said...

Dear Pastor Juhl,

Thank you for your comment!

However, the WELS has not had true doctrinal unity for at least the past 30 years, and it is more fractured today than ever. The presence of a WELS Church Growth entity (Time of Grace, Milwaukee) with a booth advertising itself at the LCMS convention in Houston is just one proof of this disunity.

As Pastor Rydecki intimated, the same questions could and should be ask of WELS. I'm afraid many of the answers would also be "no."

We may not be able to pray with each other today, but we can pray for each other. Lord willing, someday the true confessional Lutherans in all synods will be united once again. God speed the day!

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, has there been any talk lately of a free conference or something like that between the Confessional members of the LCMS and WELS? It seems to me that there is greater doctrinal agreement between the Confessional branches of each synod than there is within each synod.

Obviously the doctrine of church and ministry would be an issue, but I think there might be common ground between the extreme version of the LCMS view and the extreme version of the WELS view.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Mr. Peeler,

While nothing formal is in the works at this time, the idea of a free conference has been talked about frequently amoung Confessionals in both synods. I believe a lot will depend on the outcome of the LCMS convention now taking place in Houston. Rest assured, Intrepid Lutherans will watch for any signs of such a meeting and report on same.

You are right in that "Church & Ministry" will be an issue, perhaps the main issue, especially if one considers Fellowship principles part of the doctrine of the Church.

Pastor Spencer

AP said...

A word of encouragment to our friends in LCMS from a nearly forgotten founding father:

"Oh! My countrymen! Suffer not an arbitrary power to get footing in this state: Rome was not built in one day, neither was the forging of her chains the work of a day, she was enslaved by almost imperceptible degrees…in like manner will you be robbed of your liberties, one after another, unless your bestir yourselves in the defense of them, upon the first attack..."

William Henry Drayton (South Carolina), writing in defense of the rule of law (1769).

Rev. David M. Juhl said...

The doctrine of the Ministry was not divisive of fellowship in past years. The doctrine of fellowship was divisive. Missouri doesn't know what it believes on church, ministry, and fellowship. A free conference on these topics and much more would be a good idea. I would attend.

Intrepid Lutherans said...

I would attend, too.

Rev. Rydecki

Anonymous said...

Pastor Juhl, I appreciate your input and opinion. If you don't mind, I have a couple of questions for you.

Regarding the doctrine of the ministry, I'd like to think that some common ground could be established based on the theses agreed upon by the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods at the beginning of the last century, but my impression is that many Confessionals in Missouri, having moved to a more extreme position, would now not be able to subscribe to those theses anymore. Does that seem like an accurate assessment?

Also, given recent events in the Missouri Synod (for example, the Yankee Stadium thing), do you think that Confessionals in Missouri would be receptive to the unit doctrine of fellowship, or are they still solidly convinced of levels of fellowship?

I realize that you're not a spokesman for Confessionals in Missouri, but I was just curious about what you thought. For the most part I'm ignorant about current trends in Missouri.

Thanks in advance for any input you might offer.

Mr. Adam Peeler

oselcmomence said...

Mr. Peeler:

You are correct. I do not speak for anyone but myself. So, as for me and my house....

1. I agree that there is a *genus* of the Holy Ministry. The *species* needs to be fleshed out. Does Missouri or Wisconsin have the answer? Does the ELS have the answer? Does anyone outside of Scripture have the answer? I'm willing to sit down and do the hard work to see whether or not there *IS* a right answer. If this means leaving behind what some of my faithful Missouri Synod brethren say about the Ministry, so be it.

2. I am not sold on "unit concept". I am not sold on "levels of fellowship". The idea of withholding public prayer from those who are not united with us in doctrine and practice has a legalistic bent. I'm not ready to share altars and pulpits with heterodox, but to leave a room where a Christian prays simply because I am not in doctrinal unity with that Christian is bordering on sectarian behavior. Again, I am willing to do the hard work to study this doctrine once again.

I cannot speak for others, but this is where I stand. A continuing free conference, both online and in person, would be beneficial. After today's events at convention, so far, it's time to stop worrying about elections and restructuring and start thinking about what is next after this week.

Kyrie eleison.

Rev. David M. Juhl
Our Savior Evangelical-Lutheran Church (LC-MS)
Momence, IL

Joseph Schmidt said...

From my perspective as a WELS layman I don't see a lot of differences between WELS and LCMS. It seems like both of them are beset by a lot of the same problems. The Church & Change group in WELS readily seeks out heterodox teachers and attempts to adopt their methods. The most notable example that comes to mind is Pastor James Skorzewski (also known as Ski), founder of The CORE in Appleton, WI - He has said on his blog that he openly worshipped with the Baptist Andy Stanley at the Drive 2008 Conference.

The only way a coherent doctrine of ministry, in my view, will be achieved is if pastors in both the WELS and LCMS teach and abide by the efficacy of the Means of Grace in the Word and Sacraments.

oselcmomence said...

"The only way a coherent doctrine of ministry, in my view, will be achieved is if pastors in both the WELS and LCMS teach and abide by the efficacy of the Means of Grace in the Word and Sacraments."

A hearty Amen to that comment!

Rev. David M. Juhl

Anonymous said...

Pastor Juhl,

Thanks for you response. Also, congratulations on the election of your new synod president. From everything I hear, it is certainly a victory for the cause of Confessional Lutheranism.

I'd just like to respond to one thing you said:

"I'm not ready to share altars and pulpits with heterodox, but to leave a room where a Christian prays simply because I am not in doctrinal unity with that Christian is bordering on sectarian behavior."

First of all, I've always been curious as to the portion of Scripture used by the Missouri Synod to make a distinction between sharing a pulpit and sharing a prayer. When I read what Scripture says about fellowship, I often come across words like "all, everything, etc." I've never found anything that seems to say, "You can do this and that with this person, but only this with that person." I'm sure that the Missouri Synod bases it's "levels of fellowship" somewhere in Scripture, I've just never been able to determine where. Would you be able to show me the portions of Scripture which teach that, for example, sharing a pulpit and sharing a prayer are on different levels when it comes to expressions of fellowship? I truly want to see where Missouri is coming from.

Second, I think you have fallen victim to a gross caricature of the WELS doctrine of fellowship. I've been a WELS member my entire life and have never, ever heard anyone claim that I must "leave a room where a Christian prays". Representing WELS doctrine in that way does not reflect the truth and only drives the wedge of division deeper between our synods. If ever there was a chance of establishing fellowship between Confessionals in each synod, members of each synod must work hard to avoid unfair and untrue caricatures of each other.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Rev. David M. Juhl said...

Mr. Peeler:

I have eyewitness proof of "unit concept" fellowship in action.

I sat at a dinner table with a group of WELS Christians, one of whom was my my wife. A WELS seminary student was among those at table. The seminary student says "Well, I think you all know the deal, so let's pray silently." We proceeded to bless our meal silently. The WELS seminary student is now a pastor, and he happens to be a good acquaintance of mine. He probably reads this blog! I hope I'm not embarrassing him by telling this story.

I've spent so much time studying the Ministry question that I've left behind church fellowship for the time being. I will say that I stand against every form of unionism and syncretism. You won't see me sharing altars and pulpits with those outside my fellowship! Any further response to your question will have to wait until I re-visit this locus.

After my previous comment, my wife tells me she was never taught to turn her back, walk out of the room, or demand a silent prayer when with other Christians outside her fellowship in a private setting.

Please forgive me for painting with a broad brush. We Missouri types hear all kinds of anecdotal evidence about church fellowship things that one can't sort the truth from the apocryphal.

In case you're wondering, I'm still in a state of shock over Pastor Harrison's election. His election, in my opinion, was the right thing at the right time. The division in our synod is nearly 50/50. A fresh start with a man whom there is no guile (especially concerning church politics) is the right tonic for the LC-MS. The new First Vice-President (Rev. Herb Mueller) was my District President for the 4.5+ years I served in Southern Illinois District. I can't say enough good things about Pr. Mueller. He's a pastor's pastor and a keen theologian.

We in the Missouri Synod beg your prayers in WELS. The work ahead for our synod is difficult. Lord, have mercy.

Rev. David M. Juhl
Our Savior Evangelical-Lutheran Church
Momence, IL

Pr. Benjamin Tomczak said...

Rev. Juhl ~

I would recommend purchasing, borrowing, perusing a set of essays entitled "Essays on Church Fellowship" published by NPH, edited by Prof. John Brug (that is, if you haven't already seen them, read them).

It deals with some of the applications on this specific question (prayer fellowship) in a number of essays that might help sort out some of the truthful and apocryphal anecdotes. At least from the teaching end, that is, official doctrine.

Now, when it comes to the practice of things, we're going to spend our lives swerving into oncoming traffic and driving into the ditch while trying to drive down the Lutheran/Scriptural lane as we apply these principles in our lives (which is not to excuse violations of Scripture, that is, sins, just to explain how we all learn and grow in our sanctified life and application of Scripture).

We probably all have anecdotal examples of what we view as too liberal (i.e. unionistic) and too conservative (i.e. legalistic) in the practice of fellowship by members of both Synods past and present.

We probably also can list plenty of examples of overbearing discipline and lacks of discipline for what were or were not clearly violations of Scriptural principles. The danger is acting like that person who shuns all clergy or all churches or organized religion because of one bad experience. Is the baby thrown out with the bath water?

That's why discussion and study of Scripture in a free conference setting is something I hope is in the near future among the Lutherans in America, especially our two Synods which enjoyed nearly a century of fellowship.

Two cents.

Grace and peace,

Pr. Benjamin Tomczak
St. Mark Lutheran Church (WELS)
Duncanville, TX

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I'm very glad for our brothers in Missouri. As of six months ago, most of us in WELS (those who pay attention to these things, at least) didn't see any hope for Pr. Harrison being elected.

The #1 dividing issue between our synods when the synodical conference broke up was very simple: not joint prayer between relatives or friends at the dinner table, but public, official joint prayer (or other forms of worship or formal cooperation) with persistently heterodox church bodies, especially the ALC. After seeing so many nails go into the coffin of the ELCA, I'm hoping that the reason for Wisconsin's witness is more clearly understood, at least among our confessional brothers in the LCMS.

How those fellowship principles are applied around the dinner table will, as Pr. Tomczak said, vary from situation to situation, and have certainly been overapplied or underapplied at times by all of us.

Whether begun at the grassroots level or an official level, I will be glad if we can finally come together with the goal of erasing dividing lines of fellowship that shouldn't be there (or at least clearly identifying any dividing factors that remain). At this point, I think there is too much common ground among confessional Lutherans in both synods for us NOT to be talking to one another.

With confessional presidents now in both synods, who knows what the next few years might hold?

Anonymous said...

Nice to see you on here, Juhl.

I would really like to see a free conference, as well. We may not be able to come to agreement, but we need to speak to one another. I didn't think Harrison would be elected either, but God is gracious.

I think probably every confessional in the LCMS would agree that fellowship with the ALC was a mistake. The laxity that led to that declaration of fellowship continues to plague us.

Joint public prayer is certainly a show of unity. To pray publicly with someone is to confess unity with them. If that is the Wisconsin teaching, I agree with it.

Rev. Karl Hess
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Joliet, Illinois

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Rev. Hess,

That is my understanding of the WELS position on prayer fellowship. If there exists this kind of willingness to understand in both of our synods, then I have great hope for what a free conference might accomplish.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Juhl,

Greetings... it's truly is good to see you posting on here. It's been a while since you and I have discussed issues like prayer fellowship.

I hope all is well with you and your family.

With best regards
Harvey Dunn
Southlake, Texas

Rev. David M. Juhl said...

@Harvey: Long time no see, old chum! Things are well with my family. We're about to grow by one more in a couple weeks. Mrs. J. is due with our third child/second son. We beg your prayers as 5 August approaches.

One thing I would like to examine WRT church fellowship is how the teaching of "two kingdoms" comes into play with church fellowship. Is church fellowship strictly confined to the Means of Grace or does it extend into, as the WELS statement on church fellowship says, "Every joint expression" of the Christian faith? Perhaps this could be discussed in a free conference or more than one free conference.

God bless our pastors' proclamation of Law and Gospel this weekend!

Rev. David M. Juhl
Our Savior Evangelical-Lutheran Church (LC-MS)
Momence, IL

Timothy Buelow said...

What a wonderful set of posts on this page. Praise God for this discussion.
It strikes me, with comments from Illinois, Texas and Arizona, and agreement that a free conference should take place between several WELS and LCMS commentators, that my formerly LCMS, now ELS church in Southwest Missouri should offer to host the free conference since we're half way in between you (and virtually at the geographical center of the Unites States' lower 48. Maybe a suggestion for a location can at least start the ball rolling on bringing this into reality.
Pr. Timothy Buelow

Anonymous said...

Pastor Juhl,

Congratulations on the new addition to your family. My family is also expecting a new addition soon.

I have a question regarding this statement:

"Is church fellowship strictly confined to the Means of Grace or does it extend into, as the WELS statement on church fellowship says, "Every joint expression" of the Christian faith?"

Could you provide an example of an expression of faith that ultimately is not related to the Means of Grace? Doesn't every expression of faith have something to do with the Means of Grace? That seems to be what the New Testament tells us as it advises us, for example, not even to welcome a false teacher into our homes or support his work in any way. Is welcoming someone into your home directly related to the Means? I suppose not. But ultimately, by supporting him, you are allowing him to continue his proclamation against the truth of the Word, which of course is a Means of Grace.

The case is even more clear when it comes to prayer. Is prayer a Means of Grace? Nope. But does prayer contain the Means of Grace, specifically the Word? Certainly, unless we pray prayers like they do in Congress, where the mention of Jesus is forbidden. And again, praying publicly with false teachers supports and confirms them in their proclamation against the Word.

So again, I come back to that question: Is there such a thing as an expression of faith that is completely unrelated to the Means of Grace? Or, in other words, isn't any expression of faith with a false teacher going to confirm him in his false teaching--teaching which is opposed to the work of the Means of Grace?

Mr. Adam Peeler

Rev. David M. Juhl said...

Mr. Peeler:

I wrote a response to your comment but, alas, it has disappeared into the ether of cyberspace. Needless to say, I have wondered about the consistency of church fellowship practices among Lutherans in America.

Would it be consistent with the phrase "every joint expression of the Christian faith" to ask visitors (whether or not they are Christian) to refrain from participating in worship? An explanation given to me in this question is "We are in control of worship. It is up to the individual to decide whether or not to participate with us." Is this response inconsistent with the word "every"?

The shadowlands of the intersection of church fellowship and "two kingdoms" theology remain of interest to me. I am concerned about Missouri's further participation with Lutheran World Relief, especially after last summer's ELCA debacle in Minneapolis. I support an orderly withdrawal from LWR and all other shared ministries with ELCA. However, would there be a way to work with other Christians to help hurting people that does not violate Scripture's teaching on church fellowship?

Another question: Would buying items at a Roman Catholic second-hand shop be a violation of Scriptural fellowship principles? If "every" means "every", then it should be a violation of what Scripture says.

I echo Pr. Buelow's comments above. Would to God we could have this conversation face-to-face!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response Pastor Juhl.

I think the simplest and best explanation of Scripture's doctrine of fellowship is this: "In every situation, do whatever gives the clearest testimony to the truth of God's Word."

I think that helps provide clarity in the several examples you gave.

When it comes to praying with someone with a heterodox confession, I think it's pretty easy to see how praying with such a person would provide an unclear testimony to the truth of God's Word. It would neglect the responsibility we have to warn those who hold to false doctrine and confirm that person in his or her error, giving the impression that variance from the truth is ultimately not very serious.

When it comes to shopping at a Roman Catholic second-hand store, there really isn't an issue of giving unclear testimony. It's a simple business transaction, exchanging money for goods, not an expression of faith.

As you note, the issue of humanitarian relief is in a bit of a gray area. Is the work of LWR purely and only humanitarian aid, no different than that offered by secular organizations? Or is there a spiritual element involved? I think we would have to say that there is a spiritual element involved. If so, then there is an unclear testimony being given by doing spiritual work in conjunction with the heterodox ELCA.

I think that addresses your question about the two kingdoms. Buying something at a store or doing purely secular relief work belong to the kingdom of this world. Praying with someone or doing relief work accompanied by mission work belongs to the Church.

When it comes to the kingdom of this world, we're free to do as we please since the principle of church fellowship doesn't apply. When it comes to the kingdom of the Church, we must avoid doing anything or expressing or faith in any way that gives an unclear testimony to the truth of God's Word or neglects or minimizes error in any way.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Lisette Anne Lopez said...

God speed the day!!!!!!!!

m00tpoint said...

Re: "every joint expression of Christian faith," I've always thought most LCMS readers understand "joint expression" more widely than the WELS intends or practices.

"Every joint expression of faith" does not cover as much territory as "My sanctified Christian life." I might, for instance, join with heterodox Christians and non-Christians do all sorts of "left-hand kingdom" things -- alleviate poverty, assist women with unplanned pregnancies, etc. etc. For me, as a Christian, everything I do in life is an expression of faith in the broadest sense (my vocation), even if non-Christian people do the (outwardly) same thing.

The WELS doesn't mean it that way. In the fellowship context, "joint expression of faith" means "doing *uniquely* Christian things together," "joining together in worship." Prayer is (or ought to be) something I do only because I am a Christian, not (for example) because some politician wants people to get the warm fuzzies with him at a breakfast. So to pray together is to worship together is to confess Christ together.

But many things I do because I am a Christian, others may do for other reasons. An atheist may be pro-life. A Hindu or Muslim might run the local homeless shelter; I can still contribute time and money there with a clear conscience, as long as the shelter itself is not a religious organization.

There are many "left-hand kingdom" things like this. Some things may seem like left-hand kingdom matters but are not -- the Masonic Lodge is one. Some groups are explicitly organized to do left-hand kingdom things out of religious motives, and will be problematic. (So, for example, the WELS Committee on Relief would not work with LWR, but has funneled several million dollars of disaster relief funds through CARE. The first is, by its own definition, a religious organization. The second is not.)

And some things are quite clearly right-hand kingdom matters -- basically, all the activities Luther lists in the explanations of the first 3 commandments.

I believe I'm on good WELS ground when I say that two categories of "every joint expression of faith" are:

1) Joining to do any uniquely Christian/religious activity (worship, pray, receive the Means of Grace).

2) Doing things that are not uniquely Christian/religious for explicitly religious reasons (LWR vs. CARE is an example).

Does this help our LCMS readers at all with the question about the left-hand kingdom?

Dennis Rardin

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Pr. Buelow,

Thanks for your gracious offer to host a free conference! I've been on vacation (still am, actually), or I would've responded sooner. Let's keep this high on the priority list.

Pr. Paul Rydecki

Karl Hess said...

I'd like to see it happen. I'd also hope that at such a free conference we would do everything possible to have leaders and theologians present--not necessarily seminary professors (although that would be nice), but at least confessional pastors who have proven themselves as theologians and are recognized as leaders. It won't be all that helpful for dialogue between the synods if only folks like me show up.

Pr. Karl Hess

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