Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Part of the Word "Wrong" Don't We All Seem to Understand These Days?!

A fellow WELS Pastor asked me recently, "Why are we afraid as individual pastors to practice church discipline?" I think it's basically because we don’t like having to come right out and tell an erring member, “You’re wrong.” They won’t like it. They won't like us. Plus, we sometimes wonder to ourselves, since we also make plenty of mistakes, do we really have the right to say it?

What is true with individual Pastors and congregations is also true – perhaps even more so – with church bodies. It used to be that we Pastors were taught and were expected not just to speak clear enough to be understood, but to speak so very clearly so as not to be misunderstood. That standard has disappeared. Now, when a statement is made that sounds wrong, the claim is often made, "Oh, that can be understood correctly. He wasn't really wrong, he was just not as clear as he could have been."

There is great reluctance in recent years to saying that some actions or words are "wrong." Instead, other terms are used in place of wrong – words like: unclear, incorrect, misspoken, misunderstood, hazy, confused, imprecise, poorly chosen, improper, impolite, negative, regretful and the like. Here's what my dictionary gives as a definition of the word - "wrong – crooked, twisted. 1. not morally right or just; sinful; wicked; immoral. 2. not in accordance with an established standard, ... 3. not suitable or appropriate ... 4. contrary to truth, fact, etc..." (Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition, World Publishing Co., Cleveland, OH)

Granted, my dictionary was published in 1968, but note especially the moral and ethical connotations in the above definition. This meaning denotes something bad and evil, and therefore sinful and in need of repentance, contrition, and forgiveness. But the word is seldom used anymore with this meaning. Yet it should be! This is especially true when it comes to the doctrines and practices in the visible Christian church.

For example, the teaching of the Roman Church concerning purgatory is not merely a misunderstanding of Scripture, or a hazy idea of the afterlife, it is wrong, evil, and sinful, and needs to be totally abhorred and rejected by all Bible-believing Christians! The same is true of that church's teaching about indulgences, or Mary as the "Co-Redemptrix," as well as many other false teachings. And the same is also true of dsipensationalism, millennialism, and the Rapture, among many other false teachings of the Reformed/Evangelical camp. There are all heretical. They do not meet the standard of Holy Scripture. Therefore they are wrong – wicked, sinful, and evil. Period!

The Intrepid Lutherans blog has shown what is wrong with allowing sectarianism even a foothold in any congregation that purports to be a confessional Lutheran church, and with the clearly deficient Kokomo statements regarding justification, among other things. We have also made it clear that making public use of another person's intellectual work, be it in sermons, prayers, services, hymns, music, or otherwise, without stating clearly that it is not your own work, is wrong, thus, immoral and unethical.

However, in doing this we believe we have been constructive, positive, polite, and patient. We have not deliberately and purposely attacked people's character or questioned their integrity. We have not tried to read their hearts nor have we expressed doubts about their possessing saving faith. We have simply and clearly said that some people's actions and statements are wrong. We very appropriately looked for recognition of the wrongs and a change away from wrong actions and statements.

And neither was this merely our opinion, but a fair and just comparison with the standards of God's Word and the Lutheran Confessions. We claim no divine wisdom or special powers, but simply "call them as we see them" – wrong – no more, no less.

If some see us as wrong, we expect similar treatment – to be confronted directly, openly, politely, and publicly, and held to the same standards of the Bible and the Book of Concord, with dignity and patience. If it can be proven we are in the wrong, we will confess and ask for pardon, and then we will change our words and actions accordingly.

By the same token, when we call some practice or words wrong in the future, we expect open and civil debate, and if we are proven correct, an honest admission of wrong-doing and an appropriate change in behavior. We do not feel that this is too much to expect or too much to ask.

Wrong is wrong and right is right, and to quote Mr. Kipling concerning such opposites, "never the twain shall meet!" That's as it should be, especially in something as important as the eternal destination of souls!

And that's the way we see it!

Pastor Spencer

47 comments:

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Well said, Pr Spencer.
You've picked up on some topics I've been blogging about recently, as it happens.
Great minds think alike, I guess ;0)

Another difficulty I think we pastors face is the fear that if we call a member out on a matter of doctrine or life - amd I'm assuming that this is done sensitively and appropriately - they will up and transfer to a different congregation, especially so in an urban context where such options are open to them. The notion of the sacred pastor-parishioner relationship, which gave the pastor entry to his parishioners lives, seems to be fast going by the wayside. As I read in a recent article, contemporary Christians value their privacy and freedom too much to submit to notions of accountability.

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Pastor Henderson,

Thank you for your comment!

A concomitant problem is that congregations in the same general area that are suppose to be sister churches and support each other’s ministry, including the ministry of discipline, often take in “refugees” under discipline from neighboring churches with little or no regard for the problem or problems from which these erstwhile members are running. And more often than not the Circuit Pastors and the District Presidents do nothing to stop these improper transfers, and do not, in turn, discipline the offending Pastors and congregations. I have seen this happen “up close and personal” numerous times in my own ministry, and listened to many a brother Pastor lament the same problem in his ministry.

I pray for the day when circuit and district – and synod – officers carry out ALL their duties with faithfulness and zeal, even those that are unpleasant or may cost members, Pastors, and even congregations.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

God bless your ministry of the Word!

Pastor Spencer

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

For the rural context, I find the fear isn't so much that said member will simply transfer, but that said member is someone's brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, so on and so forth -- and once you deal with that one individual, you have the potential for mass chaos and revolts.

I have 70 members on my roles who live out of state, whom I have never seen in 6.5 years, but my congregation gets petrified at the thought of insisting they transfer simply because someone might take offense because their grandkid got the boot. We can too easily associate sentimental feelings of "home" with our congregations instead of being serious about spiritual care.

Frank Sonnek said...

Father Spencer,

This is all good, right and salutary to use words that are mild and do not offend.

Love is the fulfillment of the law. We want to please one another. Love means that we place ourselves beneath each other as slaves. A good slave is obedient.

So when we correct one another as individuals, we do so with some trepidation rather than intrepidly as we do here addressing doctrine and not persons.

to get the hang of this, imagine yourself as an employee of a firm and the owner of the firm you are there to serve. So you would want to correct other christians as you would with the same intense thoughtfulness and trepidation that you would approach your boss with.

Or imagine yourself in a courtroom arguing a case before a judge who has the power to send you to prison. You will argue your case. You should, but you will do so with the utmost care and respect and fear.

The point here is to win our brothers in Christ. We all have false doctrine within us. Old Adam is deeply religious. So we forgive those we see in error 70 x 7 as we confess our own sins, and we winsomely repeat the doctrine that is true and faithful.

It is the Truth (aka the Holy Gospel) that , alone, is the power to sanctify us and the una sancta and keep us together with the Holy Catholic Church on Earth in the One True Faith. So we tirelessly just repeat repeat and repeat.

Frank Sonnek said...

pastor spencer,

Your post is really a good post. I need to apólogize if my last post lacked any charity at all therefore. You spoke as a good man in love.

I think what I should have said instead is this. (And thank you all for your patience with me!)

The thing that we all have in common as Lutherans, is not tradition. It is not even the teachings of one Martin Luther. We are not Luther-ans. It is not even the teaching of Holy Scritures, for all christian sects share that in common.

What binds us is not tradition. Or Music. Or Liturgy.

What binds us and our consciences as Lutheran Christians?

Alone the Lutheran Confessions. Pastors oath to understand Holy Scripture as they are understood by the Lutheran Confessions. Period.

Now it IS possible that our Confessions do not agree with scripture. In that case the Holy Scriptures must always win out. But then we would be talking about forming a new sect that is not the Evangelical Lutheran Church. It would be something other.

So my suggestion, is that how we show the love your fine article does indeed point us to, is to irenically call our brothers back to unity based on the Confessions that we mutually claim to subscribe to. It can be done! But it will require us all to read, mark , learn, and inwardly digest the ways and forms of sound doctrine that they point us and urge us to.

We will need to relearn stuff that we thought was Lutheran and was really the encrustation of the last 200 years of the lutheran american experience as they moved from german and norwegian to english and truly lost stuff in translation, and it is to move back to the source and respectfully and honorably cover the nakedness of our american synodical fathers where they erred. They would want us to do that!

This will all require the time and patience that WE need to be able to learn to confidently articulate and apply our Confessions, once again, to contemporary issues in a way that is a living and organic part of our thinking and not just "proof texting" to expose the error of others. We all will be learning new things, and rejecting things we thought were Lutheran but are not.

God bless!

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Mr. Sennek,

Good to hear from you (several times) this evening. I appreciate your obvious love for the Lutheran Confessions and echo your call to return to them as the basis for our teaching and speaking as Lutherans.

I know you've referred to some of them in your previous posts, but perhaps you could elaborate further on where you think we've lost a portion of the Confessions in translation? I do think you're on to something.

Frank Sonnek said...

Dear Pastor Rydecki,

My friends call me Frank! ;)

I live now in Brasil. I lament that my dear pastor here does not have the resources in portugues that I have in English, even just on the internet. We american Lutherans can´t just pick up Luther and read him in the german. And even then, as with reading the KJV, something is lost in context and an older language form. We have lost alot in transition to English.

In addition, as I learn to speak portuguese, I am learning that in any translation you lose about 30% of the original meaning and pickup 30% of new meaning. This is really unavoidable. It is good to know though.

Then there is context. I still hear news and content here in brasil sort of trapped in my american way of thinking and context. So I miss stuff. It is good I realize that eh? We miss that fact when we read Holy Scriptures and the Confessions and unconsciously overlay our visceral sensibilities. For example, a friend pointed out to me, that i could simply not understand the Lutheran Confessions, especially the early ones, without a grasp of aristotelian Virtue Ethics. Aristotle was the water that religious and philosophical and legal and ethical and scientific minds swam in at the time of Luther. Only by knowing this can we see the early Lutherans "Intrepidly" and consciously dismantle the philosophical categories of the scholastics (including those Aquinan ones of Natural Law as equaling moral law!!!) , and replace them with ones that were Scriptural and contrary to fallen Reason.

I am now doing a careful review of our Lutheran Confessions. Thanks to the WELS, I was trained in latin, greek and classical german when the WELS still pushed for that. So I am not unequipped as a layman. But I notice that not even just the vocabulary, but the run on sentences and even the structure of the arguments are not presented in our confessions in a way that a modern english reader will "get" the point of without a very laborious outlining of each argument. I don´t think german and latin are nearly as important as someone reading the confessions looking for the underlying drum of a constant theme. "The law always accuses".... "law and gospel" "christ alone. alone. alone." Mortification + love(shalt not/but we should) in the catechism (vs the calvinistic contrast justification vs sanctification), Churchly and Civil estates being both vocations and right hand kingdom or law, as opposed to our modern scholastic lutheran understanding that churchly stuff is somehow left hand.

so we "lose in translation" probably more by just reading our Confessions through the eyeglases of 19th and 20th century "Lutheran" categories. And we don´t let the confessions jar us out of those categories because we just assume that what we were raised with was Confessional. This is also a problem in translation eh? Our american Lutheran fathers, in the transition to English, perhaps borrowed to heavily from, and read too much of reformed liturature... so we "adapted" our thinking to those things....?

bored said...

Pr. Rydecki,

I'm curious why you didn't print my recent comment. I think my comment offers you the perfect opportunity to come clean and say "Yes, the WELS cult of secrecy is wrong, and we need to work to undo it."

But that's why I published the same comment on Ichabod--because I want to make sure that everyone knows what sort of comments you aren't publishing.

How many other Faithful laymen encourage you to practice real discernment? How many other people are criticizing your unwillingness practice meaningful Church Discipline??? How many other thoughtful people do you ignore, and to what end? (as if I didn't know)

Whatever you might say about Ichabod, he's not manipulating the responses to his blog to make himself look better.

Read Revelations 3:16

bored by your rhetoric,

Andy Groenwald

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Andy,

You answered your own question. I was out of the office when your comment came in. By the time I read it, you had already posted the same comment over at Ichabod, daring us to post it here.

We will not play these childish games. If you want to carry on an honest discussion here, fine. If you wish to vent your anger or frustration, go to Ichabod. You've already disparaged and made fun of the Intrepid Lutherans and others in that forum. Why do you think you deserve to have a voice here when you run over there and complain about us when you don't like our answers? That's not how you have an honest discussion among brothers.

Benjamin Rusch said...

Mr. Sennek, you make many great points that I've tended to associate with 1 Peter 3:15. RCH Lenski's commentary on said passage quotes something from Luther that might fit this context.

When you are asked about your hope you are not to answer with haughty words and carry things off with audacity and force as though you meant to tear up trees, but with fear and humility as though you stood before God's judgment and were making answer. For if it should now come to pass that you were to be called before kings and nobles and had equipped yourself a good while with statements and thoughts: Just wait, I will answer them right! It may will come about that the devil takes the sword out of your hand, and before you are aware gives you a thrust so that you stand disgraced and have equipped yourself in vain, might also snatch out of your heart the statements which you fixed best so that you would be left even if you had them well in mind, for he has noted your thoughts in advance. Now God lets this happen to dampen your haughtiness and to humble you.

Luther certainly had plenty of experience. But was Luther too timid at the Diet of Worms to demand that 'this is what scripture dictates'? Was he at all timid in calling out John Tetzel's practices? Or his pamphlets refuting the Pope? I don't think timidness is appropriate when salvation is at stake. Gentleness, fear, humility, yes. But not Trepidation or timidness.

P.S. : (Also note Luther's long run-on sentences, just like you mentioned in your comment concerning translation. Ouch. Rather laborious indeed.)

Scott E. Jungen said...

Pastor Rydecki,
I have read Andy's comments on Ichabod, and I must say they are right on the mark. He does a good job of describing the current problems in the WELS. I might have phrased things in a different way, but he's right.
Sadly, many WELS congregations and individual pastor have strayed into secular worship, and others have taken their evangelism ideas from the Reformed. In other words, false doctrine and practice have come into our midst. Worse yet, it appears WELS leaders seem unwilling or unable to combat this.
I too would crave an honest discussion of these problems. However, sometimes having a truly honest discussion means "naming names" and pointing the light of God's Word on false doctrine and practice.
Will it be painful? You bet! After all, we are the WELS. Some of these people are our brothers, uncles, fathers-in-law, former classmates and pastors. I already look out amonst my friends, former co-workers, former pastors, and see who might be on what side. My heart aches already.
However, fifty years ago our forefathers took the painful step of severing ties with the LCMS. Unless we are willing to do the same, we will be having brotherly discussions forever. To be truly intrepid, we must be willing to go farther.

Scott E. Jungen

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Scott,

Yes, you're right. We must be willing to go further, and in fact, we are. Pastor Spencer's post is preparing the way for just that.

But please keep in mind a couple of things. First, we won't be bullied or taunted or dared into posting comments by those who don't want an honest dialogue. Those who think they can run over to Ichabod and ridicule us freely (as "bored" has done quite a bit recently) and then stop by here and join the serious discussion we are trying to have are mistaken. They merely want to get in their jabs. We aren't interested in jabs. We want to address the problems seriously, honestly and humbly.

Second, if we are to deal with the problems in our midst, certain things must sometimes be done before taking the issues to a blog. We have been writing letters and speaking with some of our brothers first in an attempt to get the facts straight and perhaps convince some to turn back from the paths they've taken. This has not proven altogether futile in some cases. In others, there appears to be little else we can accomplish by writing letters. Their time of grace (humanly speaking) is running out.

Scott E. Jungen said...

Pastor Rydecki,
Thank you for the reassurance about your work behind the scences. I rejoice to see the Lord has brought fruits to your work.
Would it be possible to update the readers of Intrepid on some of your behind the scences work? Of course, I don't mean, "We sent a letter to Pastor X and ...", but just general observations.
I've been around the WELS a long time and know that many people, myself included, are wary of what goes on "behind the scences". I've seen it too often misused to bury both issues and people. I'm sure you can understand my point.
A few months ago I put my name to this blog. I'm glad I did.

Scott E. Jungen

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Pastor Spencer here -

Dear Andy, Scott, et al,

I've been very busy at my other parish all day today and haven't had a chance until just now to catch up with comments on Intrepid. Thanks to everyone who has chimed in.

Just a few brief comments in reply:

- As I noted in one of my earlier posts, I have been fighting false teachers in the WELS since before I graduated from seminary, and pretty much constantly ever since. And in almost every case I've done so very directly and openly. So if anyone has the right to be impatient and want to "name names" and "call people out," it is I.

- As such, I have been pushing my fellow Intrepids to do just that for many months now. They have decided - and let me add for the record here, very wisely decided - to wait until a solid confessional foundation has been laid up against which specific cases can be judged fairly, objectively, and accurately. They, and I, have also contacted people directly and privately so as to; if possible, make "outing" them unnecessary.

- Sadly, in some cases, our brothers do not, cannot, or will not see their errors. In addition, some of those entrusted with maintaining true doctrine and practice in our synod also will not or cannot act as they must to safeguard said doctrine and practice and more importantly protect vulnerable souls. Thus, I am convinced such public rebuke will become necessary at a point now very near in the future.

- When this happens Intrepid Lutherans will take no pleasure in our necessary actions. We will not rejoice over brothers who have shown themselves no longer in doctrinal agreement with us. We will express no unbridled glee in district or synod officials who are shown to be derelict in their duties. We will simply do what our consciences and our ordination vows - and our love for the pure Gospel of Christ - move us to do, no more, but no less.

- Finally, one comment about what unites us. Granted, it may not be “traditions,” or “the liturgy” as some see it. But one of the things that does most certainly show our unity in and with the pure Gospel is our worship, and this includes HOW we worship. How one worships displays ones theology. We have pointed this out on Intrepid numerous times, but it needs repeating from time to time.

Again, thanks for all for your comments. Good of you to drop by!

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Pastor Spencer,
As my wonderful doctor is want to say, "Fair enough".
Inspite of what I may have said before, I will show no glee or rejoice should some district or synod officials be shown to be derelict in their duties. If some are shown to need public rebuke, so be it. As I stated above, my heart aches already as I see the stances friends have taken.
I am confident a more solidly confessional Lutheran church body will come from this.

Scott E. Jungen

Anonymous said...

Pr. Spencer
Thanks

I appreciate your candor. But I still feel justified in being blunt and straight to the point. If you have been fighting false doctrine in the WELS for many years, then I'm sure you can relate to the frustration I exhibit when I post. The WELS does have a problem with secrecy, does it not?

I believe that the Apostle Paul's approach to dealing with problems was recorded in the New Testament so that we might imitate him. The books of Corinthians come to mind. Paul minced no words--and those letters were not private letters!

The people of the Wisconsin Synod would benefit from a public recognition of the error in its midst--but yet does not happen. I would be much encouraged if this blog would state in unequivocal terms: The WELS is being attacked by false doctrine from specific WELS individuals.

I think that the WELS' habit of hiding problems is stealing the ability of discernment from the least among us. The culture of subterfuge incapacitates those people who are not driven to study on their own. Without official and public censure of the errorists, the WELS gives the impression that the best of the WELS is in unity with the worst of the WELS, muddying the waters.

I'm sure, Pastor Spencer, you have heard the adage regarding 'good' poetry: A good poet does not tell, rather he shows. You wrote that you want to build a Confessional foundation. Excellent! But showing is much better than telling. Showing false doctrine is much better than a description of false doctrine because it teaches discernment with real examples--especially for those folks who explicitly trust the WELS in any shape or form.

If it is not within this blog's scope to name names and throw down gloves, then can I at least beg that you take Real examples from real errant WELS churches and describe why such doctrine/practices are wrong, even if you make such examples anonymous. I.E. "Such and such is going on in WELS church...this is the problem...

A fierce rebuke of the errant WELS churches is the only thing that will save the Synod.

Andy Groenwald

Daniel Gorman said...

bored (Andy Groenwald) asks, "How many other Faithful laymen encourage you to practice real discernment? How many other people are criticizing your unwillingness practice meaningful Church Discipline??? How many other thoughtful people do you ignore, and to what end? (as if I didn't know)"

Only churches may practice church discipline. Intrepid Lutherans is a blog not a church. Individual contributers to IL are not a church either.

Intrepid Lutherans and individuals may criticize the actions of WELS pastors and call for repentance but they have absolutely no authority whatsoever to impose any church discipline upon any unrepentant sinner for any reason.

Your unpublished comments suggest a churchly role for Intrepid Lutherans that it does not possess. Intrepid Lutherans should have published your popish/Anabaptist views so that they could be publicly refuted.

Anonymous said...

Daniel:

According to the WELS understanding of 'church', the WELS is one big church, so IL is a segment of a church talking about its own problems. In that regard everything I wrote was accurate.

Every WELS pastor does have the authority and responsibility to publicly chastise, indict, and call to repentance any pastor who is teaching falsely so that people are not unwittingly led astray by them.

If just the pastors on this blog were to publish an open letter to the errant WELS pastors calling them to repentance it would force each errant pastors' DP and the synodical leadership to do something. It would also inform the unsuspecting WELS laymen of the disunity and would cause them to return to the Word anew to sharpen their abilities of discernment. The Apostle Paul was public about his reprimands and I think we should follow suit.

But as Pr. Spencer wrote, he wants to get Confessional credentials for this website set in stone. Understandable. But why not show specific examples of exactly what false doctrine you aim to fight: real examples?

Andy Groenwald

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Scott,

I'll share the following two examples.

We were made aware not too long ago of a congregation that was planning on using a Beth Moore Bible study for their women's group. As a Baptist minister who seeks to "serve women of all denominations," Beth Moore cannot be expected or trusted to teach orthodox Lutheran theology. We contacted one of the pastors and had a long conversation with him. He was very receptive to our admonition and, I hope, will be persuaded not to allow this foolishness.

On another front, we have been writing for quite some time to synodical leaders and to those in charge of Time of Grace Ministries regarding their status as a ministry of the Missouri Synod (by virtue of their being a Recognized Service Organization of the LCMS). This is a cause of great confusion and offense. We would like to see a real, productive, honest dialogue between WELS and LCMS, rather than this presumptuous and illicit merger by a ministry that now bears both the WELS and the LCMS seal. We still hold out a fleeting hope that either ToG or their synodical overseers will resolve this issue in the VERY near future. If not, then we'll become more vocal with our protestations.

This is the way we have chosen to proceed with our concerns so far. It will never be enough for some, and it's way too much for others.

Daniel Gorman said...

bored opines, "According to the WELS understanding of 'church', the WELS is one big church, so IL is a segment of a church talking about its own problems. In that regard everything I wrote was accurate."

Is that right? Does every grouping of WELS people automatically constitute church? Does IL even consider itself church? If IL is church, where is its tribunal per Matt. 18? How is church discipline imposed without a trial?

"But if that do not avail, then bring it publicly before the community, whether before the civil or the ecclesiastical tribunal. For then you do not stand alone, but you have those witnesses with you by whom you can convict the guilty one, relying on whom the judge can pronounce sentence and punish. This is the right and regular course for checking and reforming a wicked person." LC, Explanation to 8th Commandment

bored opines, "Every WELS pastor does have the authority and responsibility to publicly chastise, indict, and call to repentance any pastor who is teaching falsely so that people are not unwittingly led astray by them."

Yes, and every Christian blog and individual blogger has a similar right. However, only churches with a proper ecclesiastical tribunal have the authority to impose church discipline.

"If he scorns that, you should tell the pastor before the whole congregation, have your witnesses with you, and accuse him before the pastor in the presence of the people, saying; "Dear pastor, this man has done this and that, and would not receive our brotherly admonition to give up his sin. Therefore I accuse him, together with my witnesses who were present." And then, if he will not give up and willingly acknowledge his guilt, the pastor should exclude him and put him under the ban before the whole assembly, for the sake of the congregation, until he comes to himself and is received back again. This would be Christian. But I cannot undertake to carry it out single-handed." M. Luther, Sermon on Reminiscere Sunday

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Good and interesting comments, all. Thanks!

It is not quite accurate to say that according to our doctrine “the WELS is one big church.”

The Constitution of the Wisconsin Synod states,

“The synod shall consist of all congregations, pastors, and male teachers who shall have
joined the synod through their respective districts.”

Thus, actually, we are a federation of churches, Pastors, and male Teachers. Now, it is true that this federation can and does act as a “church” in the New Testament sense of the word, when it gathers, either in a convention, or with its representatives (CoP, BHM, etc...) to issue divine Calls and the like.

It needs to be clearly said that in this regard Intrepid Lutherans is NOT a “church within a church.” We are just and only what we say we are – a group of concerned Pastors, Teachers, and laypeople, who are members of the WELS. As such we ourselves have no authority to exercise formal church discipline on anyone. Yet, as believers, we have the duty, and indeed the obligation, to point out public error in doctrine and practice when and where we see it.

Sometimes, we contact those involved privately first to try to resolve the situation so as not to provide more scandal for the church in the eyes of the world. Since the errors we’re talking about are public and rightfully and properly call for public rebuke, we do not have to do this, but we do. And, being public errors, we correctly ask the offending party to make a public correction. We believe the synod should act in the same way to correct public error when it becomes evident and obvious.

Historically, however, church discipline has been used sparingly by the federation, whether operating as a whole body or as a committee of the whole. A District President suspending a person from the ministerium is probably the most common example, but even that is fairly rare.

Let it be said also, that District Presidents and Circuit Pastors are very often working to correct public error in doctrine and practice in a private manner at first, much as we have done, and have not reached the point where they feel it time to make the correction public as yet. These are judgment calls, and not everyone will always agree.

What Intrepid Lutherans is attempting to do is to make the public rebuke of Pastors, Teachers, and/or congregations first of all less necessary by correcting the matters quietly and early (with of course still a public retraction of public error), and then also give our leaders good encouragement and support so that they can rebuke with confidence if and when that should become needed.

I cannot say this too often or with too much emphasis – Intrepid Lutherans is not in the business of playing “got you!” If we can change hearts, minds, and actions without trumpeting the sins all over, fine and good. Only if we can’t get people to see their errors or leaders to deal with the errors will all the grubby little details be exposed for all to see. That may not work for the tabloids, but we are NOT the Lutheran Inquirer!

Thanks again for all the comments!

Pastor Spencer

Rebecca said...

Pastor Spencer said: "What Intrepid Lutherans is attempting to do is to make the public rebuke of Pastors, Teachers, and/or congregations first of all less necessary by correcting the matters quietly and early (with of course still a public retraction of public error), and then also give our leaders good encouragement and support so that they can rebuke with confidence if and when that should become needed."

Thank you for posting this. People need to understand that there is a proper way to handle church discipline, and starting off PRIVATELY (even when the offense is public) is exactly how the bible tells us to do this.

While I don't always agree with what IL writes, I can appreciate the fact that you are NOT in it for the "gotcha" moments that I believe some folks enjoy.

As long as IL continues to employ this approach, I will remain an avid reader.

Daniel Gorman said...

Pastor Spencer: "Historically, however, church discipline has been used sparingly by the federation, whether operating as a whole body or as a committee of the whole. A District President suspending a person from the ministerium is probably the most common example, but even that is fairly rare."

Unfortunately, WELS DP suspensions have not followed Luther's Reminiscere Sunday Sermon/Large Catechism's guidelines for church discipline (e.g., the 2006 AZ/CA Berg suspension):
1. The trial is held in secret.
2. The false teaching is never publicly identified or corrected.
3. The judgment is made by one man.

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Daniel,

I am very familiar with Father Berg's case. I was a good friend of his while he was in WELS, and still consider myself such today.

If ever there was a case that needed to be overturned, his was it, in my opinion. I encouraged him to appeal, but he decided not to.

A couple of corrections to your points, however:

- While it is true that the "trial" was held in "secret" so to speak, others besides Fr. Berg and the officials were present, at least as I understand it. Still, I felt strongly at the time, and still do, that the entire matter should have been conducted at an open conference, held for this purpose only.

- There was a reason given. Fr. Berg was found not to be in agreement with the WELS on the doctrine of Church & Ministry. However, I do not believe this was or is the case, nor to I believe this was the real reason for his suspension from the WELS. There was much more involved, most of it - interestingly enough for we who run Intrepid Lutherans, revolving around the "Motley Magpie."

- The "judgment" was officially made by the AZ-CA District Presidium, albeit strongly encouraged by then DP Janke. All three men bear responsibility for this action, as does the entire District and the synod as well.

This is but one of the many "warts" on the WELS nose, of which there are many in every church body. It would probably not be possible to go back and deal with them all, but some, such as this one, should perhaps be looked at again at some point in the near future. Again, in my opinion.

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Pastor Rydecki,
Thank you!

Scott E. Jungen

Anonymous said...

Pr. Rydecki wrote:
"We were made aware not too long ago of a congregation that was planning on using a Beth Moore Bible study for their women's group. As a Baptist minister who seeks to "serve women of all denominations," Beth Moore cannot be expected or trusted to teach orthodox Lutheran theology. We contacted one of the pastors and had a long conversation with him. He was very receptive to our admonition and, I hope, will be persuaded not to allow this foolishness."


Very good! This is the kind of specificity that will help readers hone their abilities of discernment.

The more specific you get the better. (i.e. a entire post showing how Beth Moore is leading people to unionism)

Please, as you hear of things, bring them to light and expose them. Dig in! How about a condemnation of the core Seeker Service mentality?

Andy Groenwald

Daniel Gorman said...

Thanks for your "corrections" Pastor Spencer. For the most part, they confirm my main points. The AzCa district announced Pastor Berg's suspension without providing any information regarding its circumstances. A request for the reasons for the Berg suspension produced this response from the synod's Q&A website:

"WELS does not carry out discipline of its called workers on the synodical level. All disciplinary matters are wholly carried out by the district in which the minister serves. So I cannot answer your question on our synodical Web site.

I will, however, apart from this response which may be helpful to other respondents, forward your e-mail address to the district president. Please be ready to consider that the reason for his suspension may lie apart from the Magpie."

The contents of e-mail may be publicly disclosed only with the consent of the author. So, as far as I know, the reasons and circumstances of the Berg suspension have remained secret until you publicly disclosed them on this blog.

Note: Pastor Berg's church was also suspended when it refused to rescind its divine call for a secret cause that the district has never publicly disclosed.

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Daniel,

Two quick points:

- If my memory serves, AZ-CA Janke gave the “reason” for Fr. Berg’s suspension during a District President’s Report at a Pastor’s conference. I cannot remember if it was part of the text or a verbal addition. But the reason was given publicly so I don’t think my comment on this blog is the first “outing” of the reason. Again, I was not convinced of the accuracy of that reason then, and I said so publicly, and I still don’t agree with his conclusion.

- When it was reported that Fr. Berg’s church was “closed” in the WELS Statistical Report the following year, I objected that this was false and misleading, and again publicly corrected that information at the next District Convention, and gave the “official” reason in my comments on the floor of that convention.

I had worked and prayed for a different outcome for the whole matter, but that was not to be. Father Berg seems quite content in the LCMS English District, and I continue to pray for him and his ministry. He is a faithful servant of Christ and a good and loyal under-shepherd of our Lord and Savior.

Your point, as I understand you, that some things in the WELS are done so quietly as to seem to be “in secret” is, I believe, accurate, and needs to change. However, it is a long and deeply ingrained part of WELS culture and will be hard to alter.

Pastor Spencer

Daniel Gorman said...

Pastor Spencer: "If my memory serves, AZ-CA Janke gave the “reason” for Fr. Berg’s suspension during a District President’s Report at a Pastor’s conference. I cannot remember if it was part of the text or a verbal addition. But the reason was given publicly so I don’t think my comment on this blog is the first “outing” of the reason."

Is burying the reason for Fr. Berg's suspension in a publication that no WELS layman will ever read "public" disclosure? Please don't minimize the minimize the importance of your "outing" of the reason for the Berg suspension. You have lifted the veil of secrecy over WELS DP church discipline for all WELS layman. You are an Intrepid Lutheran in word and in deed!

Pastor Spencer: "Your point, as I understand you, that some things in the WELS are done so quietly as to seem to be “in secret” is, I believe, accurate, and needs to change. However, it is a long and deeply ingrained part of WELS culture and will be hard to alter."

Yes, but you and the Intrepid Lutherans have made a start. Perhaps someday, in the not-to-distant future, Luther's guidelines for church discipline will be followed by WELS district presidents. The date, time, and reason for disciplinary hearings will be published in advance. WELS district pastors and laymen will be invited to attend, give testimony, and hear the verdict of the Presidium.

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

Pastor Spencer (and anyone else who wishes to respond):

I'm just going to throw this out there, because there's apparently something I don't understand in what you're saying.

This question/comment comes from your discussion about Pr. Berg's case, but isn't so much about him or his situation (I don't know him and know next to nothing about his situation) and is more general:

If a pastor, upon leaving the Wisconsin Synod (whether voluntarily or involuntarily), finds a home and is content to be a pastor in a church body with which we have not been in fellowship for almost 50 years -- the LCMS -- wouldn't that be a kind of prima facie evidence that that pastor's doctrinal positions (and perhaps other things) were and had been at odds with those of the synod and his brother pastors in the WELS, and that he thus did not belong in its ministerium any longer?

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Excellent and thought-provoking question, Pastor Samuelson!

It would take more time than I have today to thoroughly and completely answer your question, so I’ll give a brief response and let others take their turns.

My answer – “not necessarily.”

In point of fact, there is a fairly broad range of theological views in the Missouri Synod, just as there is getting to be in WELS. Its just not quite as evident yet in Wisconsin – at least to most.

But, for example, there are still Pastors and congregations in the LCMS that do not have “women voters.” Also, I happen to know personally currently serving Missouri Pastors who are not in full agreement with what is perceived as their view of Church and Ministry, but have more of a “WELS view.” There are many other examples.

Thus, it is possible, however difficult it might be, but possible, to have the same theology as WELS and be a member of Missouri Synod, and perhaps also the other way around.

Thus, in my opinion, the mere fact that a man leaves WELS, or is removed from its ministerium, and joins the ranks of the LCMS, is not, by itself, proof that the man held heretical views of some sort.

Perhaps others have a different take, but that’s how I see it.

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

"there is a fairly broad range of theological views in the Missouri Synod"

I agree.

The Missouri Synod tolerates a wide range of theological positions, including Confessional Lutheranism. The Wisconsin Synod also tolerates a wide range of theological positions, but it sometimes seems to me that one position it doesn't tolerate is Confessional Lutheranism.

If I were a Confessional Lutheran pastor, I think I might feel more at home within the Missouri Synod. Sad, but true.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

Pastor Spencer:

I guess I'm still not following your reasoning on this.

It's not exactly news that there is a wide range of theological views in the LCMS. That is, in fact, precisely why we broke fellowship with Missouri -- because they tolerated such a wide range of doctrines and practices among their faculties and clergy and did not make sufficient effort to bring everyone to agreement on the truths that our synods had jointly confessed for so long.

And I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that that diversity of views and practices is a primary reason why the WELS has not seriously considered any kind of new relationship with Missouri in the last 40 years (not even since Preus cleaned house at the time of Seminex). Not only because we'd never know "which Missouri" we might be dealing with, but because we still saw that situation as incompatible with biblical, confessional Lutheranism.

And I seem to recall that one of the purposes or goals of Intrepid Lutherans is to work against and "narrow" the perceived broad range of views and practices in the WELS.

So a diversity of doctrinal views and pastoral practices in a church body is something we -- as confessional WELS Lutherans -- are supposed to see a bad and intolerable thing, aren't we? So wouldn't we have to assume that a pastor who is comfortable enough with such a situation to join a synod that unquestionably tolerates a wide variety of conflicting teachings and practices must not see that diversity as such a bad or intolerable thing? And that he therefore has either standards or beliefs at odds with our own?

I guess what it boils down to is that I do not see it as possible that someone could have the same theology as the WELS and be a member of the LCMS, because our (WELS) understanding of fellowship and doctrinal discipline would make membership in Missouri an impossibility. And I would hope that anyone in the WELS ministerium who finds he holds to "Missouri" positions we have rejected -- on things like the roles of men and women or fellowship -- would have the integrity to leave the WELS and go elsewhere rather than conceal the truth or agitate for change.

Now if the situations you're thinking of are more along the lines of "agree with the WELS on just about everything except x" or agree with the LCMS on just about everything but y" that's a different question, I guess. But then again, we view full agreement in doctrine as the basis for fellowship -- or synodical membership.

(And incidentally, I don't believe we usually use the word "heretical" for views that put one at odds with the WELS unless those views are, well, heretical, i.e. denying the basic truths of Christianity.)

Anonymous said...

"...a synod that unquestionably tolerates a wide variety of conflicting teachings and practices..."

But doesn't this describe the WELS too?

Mr. Adam Peeler

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Pr. Samelson,

I hope you don’t mind if I interject a few comments here in your dialogue with Pastor Spencer.

And I seem to recall that one of the purposes or goals of Intrepid Lutherans is to work against and "narrow" the perceived broad range of views and practices in the WELS.

Yes, as long as by “narrow” it is understood that we are using the Lutheran Confessions as the benchmark, not some sort of arbitrary norm that we would impose on anyone.

So a diversity of doctrinal views and pastoral practices in a church body is something we -- as confessional WELS Lutherans -- are supposed to see a bad and intolerable thing, aren't we?

Yes, although we recognize that this does not necessarily mean lockstep interpretation of every Bible passage or an absolute conformity in expression. As Walther stated in his theses on Open Questions, the best we can hope for this side of heaven is fundamental agreement in doctrine. That may leave room for a variance of practice and doctrinal expression, even as we see between the WELS and the ELS in some areas.

So wouldn't we have to assume that a pastor who is comfortable enough with such a situation to join a synod that unquestionably tolerates a wide variety of conflicting teachings and practices must not see that diversity as such a bad or intolerable thing? And that he therefore has either standards or beliefs at odds with our own?

In an ideal world, I suppose you would be right. But in the Church Militant, one is not always left with the option of a perfectly united church body to join. Let’s imagine that a pastor is unjustly persecuted within the WELS and excluded from its fellowship. No one should doubt that such a thing could happen in a church body made up of sinners. Should that pastor form a synod of one? Or, let’s say he found a very large group of confessional Lutheran pastors in the LCMS who are still fighting to restore the full, Biblical truth to their synod – perhaps championing confessional Lutheranism more loudly in that synod than we do in our own. Should he refuse to join them in their fight for the truth because others in that synod are fighting for error? I think that is a decision best left to his conscience and sound Christian judgment.

I guess what it boils down to is that I do not see it as possible that someone could have the same theology as the WELS and be a member of the LCMS, because our (WELS) understanding of fellowship and doctrinal discipline would make membership in Missouri an impossibility.

I think this creates a false dilemma for our confessional brothers in Missouri who still hold to the Synodical Conference doctrine (I’ll call it the Synodical Conference doctrine rather than “WELS” doctrine). “Either leave Missouri and remain confessional, or stay in Missouri and automatically become non-confessional.” Remember, if it is difficult for WELS to identify which is the real Missouri, how much harder must it be for those in Missouri, especially if you’ve grown up around solid, Synodical Conference-type pastors and congregations (“your grandfather’s church,” as they call it), and especially since the synod’s own doctrinal statements have been in flux over the last 70 years, sometimes worse, sometimes better. I commend those Missourians who left Missouri when they saw large groups within her persisting in error long ago. But I cannot fault those who have chosen to stay and fight, or accuse them of internal unionism. I would be foolish (and arrogant) to insist that they either join WELS/ELS or else forfeit the confessional Lutheran status – not as long as they are confessing and teaching the truth in their vocation and preaching against the errors that surround them.

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Pastor Samelson,

As usual, Pastor Rydecki, makes my point better than I do. I couldn't have said it better.

Not to put too fine a point on it - it is simply untenable to say that to be in the LCMS makes one, ipso facto, an unconfessional Lutheran.

Again, thanks for your comments and questions. They have made for an interesting and necessary discussion.

Pastor Spencer

bored said...

Anonymous said...

"...a synod that unquestionably tolerates a wide variety of conflicting teachings and practices..."

But doesn't this describe the WELS too?

Mr. Adam Peeler



Mr. Adam Peeler makes a a very good point

Anonymous said...

As someone who has large amounts of family in both WELS and the LCMS, I'd make two quick comments, and then raise a question that I've always wrestled with.

First, I appreciate what Pastor Rydecki writes about the dilemma faithful, Confessional LCMSers face. My family members have wrestled with the best way to testify to the truth in the LCMS. Do they stick with their congregation, which appears to be Confessional, so that through their local they might be a voice of change for the larger church they belong to (the LCMS)? What is the time-frame for marking and avoiding? These are hard questions, and as Pastor Rydecki pointed out, must be left to individual conscience.

Secondly, I do not believe it's entirely honest to compare the "wide variety of conflicting teachings and practices" in the LCMS to the WELS. Yes, there are some troubling practices in the WELS. But even here and on Pastor Jackson's site (where he's more willing to "name names"), we're still talking about a handful. And of those handful, it seems to be somewhat "complicated." I.E. A church abandons the Western Rite and adopts more sectarian style of worship. That's very unwise. I wouldn't say it is in itself false doctrine, but I could see where it would lead to the erosion of sound doctrine. But this is NOTHING compared to the LCMS. You have hundreds of congregations in the LCMS that are charismatic. You have the widespread calling for female ordination. (As opposed to the ONE example Pastor Jackson cites of a church in Appleton that refers to a woman as a minister. Again, unwise... but the same as Missiouri? Not close.) It is widely held in the LCMS that the synod has no rights of the church. I would guess that in at LEAST a third of LCMS churches, Communion is open to anyone. The explanation I frequently hear is that, "It's between a person and God to know if they're ready."

Is there practices in the WELS that deserve scrutiny? Absolutely. A church full of sinners is going to make mistakes. But is it equivalent to the LCMS? Nonsense!

Finally, the question. When do we encourage people to take Romans 16 to heart? I'll use my LCMS family members as an example. They are "fighting the good fight." But finally, the parameters for fighting for truth are not determined by our good intentions, but by the Word. The road to you know where is paved with good intentions. EVENTUALLY they need to acknowledge two things. First, if you are part of a LCMS congregation that is Confessional, you STILL have issues because you are in fellowship with a plethora of LCMS congregations which have been heterodox for decades now. So eventually, through Romans 16 God would seem to say, "I know your intentions are good, but I am smarter than you. Here is the way you fight for truth in the LCMS - 'Keep away from them.'" I am not a mind-reader, and even less of a heart-reader. But in talking with my LCMS family, I wonder if some of them really are in the LCMS because they want to fight the good fight... or because they're comfortable in their home congregation.

There is a burden that falls upon us too, brothers. My "patience" in dealing with my LCMS family... is it me being evangelical? Or is it simply that I love my family and don't want to upset them? Pastor Samelson raises good questions. One the one hand, I want to be charitable with anyone who would jump into the LCMS, even thought they know full well what is widespread there (and uncorrectable without a split, in my opinion). On the other hand...?

I wrestle with this regularly. I pray to the Spirit of Truth for guidance and wisdom. I pray to the Son that my actions might always seek his glory, and not my or my family's comfort. And I pray to the Father for mercy for the times I have failed in this dilemma.

Well, I've rambled long enough. God bless.
Daniel Kastens

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

Pastor Rydecki — By all means, please be a part of the discussion. And I encourage others to join in, too, as I’ll have to give up posting here after these few responses, at least until after Christmas — too much work to be done, and I have no call to serve the internet!

Anyway, to your comments:

1) Are the Lutheran Confessions the sole benchmark to be used in “narrowing” views and practices in the WELS? I appreciate that neither you nor I feel that anyone should be imposing our own arbitrary norms on anyone — but you would not consider the agreed-upon positions of the WELS that stand as confessions of our faith and practice beyond the Confessions to be “arbitrary”, right?

In other words, you would have the same problems with and would suggest the same kind of dialogue and discipline with a pastor in our fellowship who, for instance, began teaching a symbolic understanding of the Lord’s Supper as you would with one who began teaching post-millenial dispensationalism — the first being something clearly addressed in the Book of Concord, the second being something not mentioned in the Confessions but addressed in our own WELS doctrinal statements.

2) We recognize together that there is a huge difference between what you called “variance of practice and doctrinal expression” and actual diversity in doctrine. When we talk, however, about the differences between LCMS and WELS, we are not talking about things that are merely expressed in different ways (as is the situation between WELS and ELS) — we are talking about actual differences in doctrine.

And so someone who holds to LCMS views while a pastor in the WELS, in contradiction to the doctrine and practice of the WELS, is someone who by definition doesn’t really belong here. And by the same token, someone who holds to everything the WELS teaches while a pastor in the LCMS, since those WELS doctrinal statements reject the positions of the LCMS, also doesn’t belong there.

Now it’s one thing if you’re a pastor in Missouri who starts off comfortable with their doctrinal diversity and then later comes to find he disagrees with that — he has a call and a position, not to mention a history, to consider before “calling it quits” and leaving as a matter of confession. But it’s another thing entirely to come to the LCMS with your eyes wide open, knowing ahead of time that you are in disagreement with it both in terms of official doctrine and in terms of its tolerance of false doctrine and practice. To do that you must either close your eyes (and hold your nose) or change your own positions — or admit that you didn’t really believe as the WELS did all along.

(continued below)

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

(continued)

3) I will have to disagree with you in the discussion of the options available to a pastor who is “unjustly persecuted within the WELS and excluded from its fellowship” and your conclusion that his decision about what to do is “best left to his conscience and sound Christian judgment”. (You may have a specific case in mind — I do not, and do not have personal knowledge of such a case.)

Let’s consider first of all the case where this pastor has not only been excluded from the WELS but has also been terminated from his call because the congregation insisted that its pastor be a WELS pastor in good standing. In that case, the man is no longer a pastor, because he has no call. This is truly a tragic and lamentable situation. Still, he has no “right” to employment as a pastor and if he, indeed, has no actual differences with WELS doctrine and practice, then he has no reason to look for a home in any other church body, particularly not one that actually and officially is at odds with his own confession of faith.

Now let’s assume that this pastor’s congregation decided to keep him in his call even after he was excluded from the WELS ministerium. In that case the congregation, too, will likely be leaving the WELS, because by retaining him they are declaring that they are no longer walking together with those that pushed their pastor out — they are terminating the voluntary association that was their membership in the synod. But if they still believe as they did before, associating with a new synod whose doctrines and practices are at odds with theirs isn’t an option either. Will they and their pastor have to go it alone? Possibly — there are more than a few congregations out there doing just doing just that. But there is no command in Scripture (or the Confessions) that compels congregations to join synods or denominations — and thus there is no kind of extenuating circumstance that could justify this WELS-minded church holding the congregational nose in order to join a body they were not in full agreement with. Again, it’s a tragic situation, but that tragedy doesn’t make for exceptions to confessional standards.

And I would have to answer your question about this persecuted pastor and the large group of confessional Lutheran pastors he found in the LCMS — “Should he refuse to join them in their fight for the truth because others in that synod are fighting for error?” — with a strong “Yes, he should refuse.” Because our standards of fellowship are not based on people’s hearts or motivations, they are based on complete agreement in doctrine. And someone who truly believes what we in the WELS believe could not find himself completely in agreement with the LCMS.

(continued below)

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

(continued)

This is the doctrine of fellowship that we believe, teach, and confess in the WELS. It is not spelled out in the Confessions since it was not a matter in contention at that time, but it is in agreement with them. Most importantly, it is drawn straight from Scripture. So we don’t consider it something at all negotiable, and anyone who is not in agreement with it cannot logically pretend that he belongs in our synod. Such a pastor might, of course, find Missouri and its approach to fellowship much more suited to his point of view.

Now I am well aware that there are Lutherans who consider a common commitment and subscription to the Confessions to be sufficient for fellowship. But such a position requires pretty much considering anything not treated explicitly in the Book of Concord as an open question, and ignores the fact that many more doctrines have been in dispute — and settled with Scripture — since 1580, even (in the former Synodical Conference) since 1960.

This is the reality of doctrine and practice, of discipline and decision-making, of church and synodical membership under the cross. It’s messy. It’s unpleasant. And sometimes, tragically, it’s horribly unfair — and then we suffer, but always remain faithful (with the Lord’s help) to Christ, to our callings, and to his Word — without compromise, cunning, or complaint.

4) I don’t get where talking about the impossibility of membership in a synod when one’s beliefs are at odds with that synod’s equates with either claiming or forfeiting the “confessional Lutheran status”.

Who has put this choice — “Either leave Missouri and remain confessional, or stay in Missouri and automatically become non-confessional” — to confessional-minded pastors (or congregations) in Missouri? Honestly, I don’t know where this idea is coming from, so it’s hard to respond to (although I do address it with Pr. Spencer below).

Thanks for the opportunity to discuss these issues.

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

Pastor Spencer:

Does anyone in the WELS make the claim that you pointedly reject — that being in the LCMS makes one, “ipso facto”, an “unconfessional Lutheran”? I certainly don’t, and I’m not aware of anyone who would. I imagine that the claim might have been made in the more heated years of disagreement as the Synodical Conference was falling apart, but I don’t see or hear it now, and have trouble imagining any of our brothers who understands what “confessional Lutheran” means making such an absolute assertion. So I guess I see your point as something of a non sequitur. Then again, I am kind of “out of the loop” here on the east coast, so there may be claims about and criticisms of non-CELC Lutherans that have never surfaced at circuit, conference or district.

But I wonder if perhaps we’re working with different definitions of what being a confessional Lutheran means, because I know you feel it’s important to choose words wisely. My assumption has been that we’re operating with the same basic definition — that a confessional Lutheran is simply a Lutheran who unconditionally subscribes to — believes, teaches, and confesses — all that is taught and confessed in the Book of Concord, and does so because the Confessions are a correct exposition of the doctrines of Scripture.

By that definition there is no question that there are confessional Lutherans in the Missouri Synod (and I add, by that definition — given our education, our standards, and our vows — we should be able to assume that there is no pastor in the WELS who is not a confessional Lutheran). Sadly, it would appear that there are some truly “unconfessional Lutherans” in the LCMS as well, but it seems from what I read that their numbers are actually declining, at least in terms of those who might openly preach or teach in opposition to the Symbols (I suspect that now even the most “church growthy” of their pastors and leaders probably still try to present themselves as acting in accord with the Confessions).

But recognizing someone — layman, pastor, congregation, synod — as a confessional Lutheran is the start of our fellowship considerations, not the end. It’s hard to read the history of the Synodical Conference, from its founding through to its dissolution, without seeing that, and that is clearly the basis of our WELS understanding and practice of the doctrine of church fellowship.

In practical terms, what that means is that two pastors or two synods with equal commitment to the authority of the Lutheran Confessions will not have doctrinal unity if they disagree on teachings that are not contained in or (fully) defined by the Book of Concord — things like the roles of men of women, specifics of church and ministry, etc. come to mind. And since Scripture clearly tells us that the standard of unity is complete unity — everything Christ has commanded, no quarrels, perfectly united in mind and thought, etc. — we don’t operate with dual expressions of church fellowship, one being common membership in the same church body and the other being some kind of confessional Lutheran brotherhood that stands apart from (or above) the bonds and doctrines of synods.

(continued below)

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

(continued)

Certainly whenever and wherever we come across pastors and churches who value the Confessions as we do we rejoice. And where it is possible to bring them closer to a fuller understanding of all the doctrines of Scripture we happily work to do so and then, if they desire, because they believe, teach, and confess all that we do, we recognize them as brothers in the full sense of the term and join with them in fellowship. But if it is not possible, or we do not find success in persuading them of what we are convinced the Scriptures teach, then we regretfully decline to join with them and recognize them as Christians, even confessional Lutherans, with whom conscience and the Word of God will not allow us to express fellowship.

Please forgive me if I sound too much like I’m lecturing or if I’m simply going over things you already know too well — I’m just trying to make sure we (not just those in this discussion, but all our brothers in the WELS) are all on the same page and using the same definitions of fellowship and confessional Lutheranism. Because my original question/comment had nothing to do with whether or not a pastor who leaves the WELS and joins the LCMS is or is not recognized as a confessional Lutheran, or whether his new church could be called confessional (or at least allow for confessionalism) — it had to do with whether or not that man believed, taught, and confessed everything that we do before he left our fellowship for theirs.

Pastor Jeff Samelson said...

(one last post!)


Mr. Peeler:

Since no one else has answered your question here, perhaps seeing it as merely rhetorical, I will offer a response before I go:

“"...a synod that unquestionably tolerates a wide variety of conflicting teachings and practices..."

But doesn't this describe the WELS too?”

No, it doesn’t. That’s not to say that the WELS is perfectly free of error or conflict, and I freely admit there are things in it that need correction, but to put it in the same category of diversity as the LCMS — with that synod’s triangular fellowships, joint activities with the ELCA, advocates of women’s ordination, interfaith prayer services, toleration of the teaching of evolution, etc. — does not reflect the reality of our synod or theirs. The pendulum simply doesn’t swing as wide in Wisconsin.

We still have a good and valuable thing here in our synod. If it’s worth fighting for, it’s also worth giving it — our brothers and sisters — the respect of fair and accurate descriptions.

Daniel Baker said...

True confessional Lutheranism trumps synodical "fellowship" (for me at least) any day. I've encountered too many "unconfessional" laymen (and even pastors) in my congregation and elsewhere to be fooled by the notion that the WELS enjoys complete doctrinal unity and purity among its members.

Lund Family said...

True confessionalism is part of the invisible church of believers, however our synods are a visible church structure and as such is subject to this sinful world. Fellowship in the visible church is bound to be difficult, but we have nothing else short of our heavenly home to look forward too.

Daniel Gorman said...

Pastor Jeff Samelson: "Because my original question/comment had nothing to do with whether or not a pastor who leaves the WELS and joins the LCMS is or is not recognized as a confessional Lutheran, or whether his new church could be called confessional (or at least allow for confessionalism) — it had to do with whether or not that man believed, taught, and confessed everything that we do before he left our fellowship for theirs."

If the man is removed secretly, there is no way to tell one way or the other (e.g., the Berg suspension). If, on the other hand, the DP says publicly, "I spoke to the man in private but he would not recant his public errors. Two other ministers spoke to him as well. I then called a public hearing where any WELS minister or layman in the district could give testimony either for or against the man. At the end of the hearing, there was an unanimous agreement among all present that the man did not teach and confess everything that we do.", then the Intrepid Lutherans could have great confidence that the man did not teach or confess everything that they do.

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