Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Emmaus Conference - Recap

I’ll attempt a short recap of the Emmaus Conference that wrapped up last Friday afternoon. Bottom line up front: all three synodical presidents displayed an unprecedented commitment to confessional Lutheran doctrine and practice, and also to humble, fraternal dialogue.

Let me begin by thanking our ELS brothers in the Pacific Northwest for organizing this event. They rendered a significant service to Lutheranism in America by hosting this conference, and they should be commended for their foresight and zeal for this kind of necessary discussion among the three largest confessional Lutheran church bodies in the United States.

The Lecture

Pres. Schroeder’s 48-page essay was entitled, “Walking Together with Jesus: Church Fellowship and its Implications for Confessional Lutherans.” It will soon be posted on the Emmaus Conference website, but until then, it has just become available on the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Library essay file. (Note: The WLS essay file, while useful, is not a storehouse of official WELS doctrine.)

Schroeder's essay is, in my humble opinion, brilliant. It’s insightful, engaging, evangelical, historical, and honest, but the honest evaluation of the matters that brought about the demise of the Synodical Conference is presented with the utmost humility and tact.

The essay tells the story of church fellowship beginning on Easter Sunday and continuing through the Lutheran Reformation and Lutheranism in 19th century America. It goes into detail regarding the matters that caused the split with Missouri, which, in the words of Harrison, "you had to do when you did, and so you avoided the next 40 years of turmoil that we faced in the Missouri Synod." Then Schroeder clarifies some aspects of the WELS teaching on church fellowship that have been misrepresented or misunderstood. Finally, Schroeder offers some suggestions for moving forward in our discussions with the LCMS, including the suggestion, "Is a 21st century 'Formula of Concord' effort possible?"

Schroeder's final admonition is especially poignant:
    As we strive to apply the scriptural principles of fellowship faithfully, remaining separate when we must on the basis of our confession, we should just as energetically seek to determine where doctrine and practice are one, to trust in the power of the Word for results, and to rejoice in a unified confession if and when God brings it about.
I strongly encourage all our readers to take the time to read and digest the essay for yourselves. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The Reactions

Pres. Moldstad was the first reactor. Since so much ground had been so thoroughly covered by Pres. Schroeder already, it seemed like there would be little left for Pres. Moldstad to say, except for “I concur.” Still, he presented a fine evaluation of the lecture and the state of the fellowship discussion from the perspective of the ELS. One important point he made was the reason why the ELS (and presumably also the WELS) declined former LCMS Pres. Kieschnick’s invitation to dialogue among the three synods in 2003. It was pointed out that this was soon after the fateful “Yankee Stadium event,” at which an LCMS district president participated in a unionistic and even syncretistic public service. I believe it was even called “A Prayer for America.” Although DP Benke was briefly suspended for this action, he was later exonerated and his suspension lifted by the leadership of the LCMS (as I understand the situation from Moldstad’s reaction), signaling that the leadership of the LCMS was, at that time, unwilling to submit itself to the Word of Christ in the area of church fellowship, although several confessional men in Missouri, like Kurt Marquart, denounced Benke’s actions and the official rationalization of them.

It was important, I think, for Yankee Stadium to be brought up in a discussion on fellowship. This is exactly the kind of situation that the WELS teaching on prayer fellowship addresses. Too often WELS sources turn the issue of prayer fellowship into an individual, private matter, almost characterizing any table prayer with one’s Christian (but non-WELS) relative as a denial of Christ and His Truth. This is ridiculous. The issue of prayer fellowship should be taught as a public matter between churches or representatives of churches. President Schroeder did make those distinctions in his essay, although I wish he would have spoken even more strongly on that point in order to move the discussion entirely out of one’s dining room and into the public forum, where it belongs.

Unlike Pres. Moldstad, Pres. Harrison did not have a written reaction, but spoke from notes, and did not exactly react to the essay as much as he simply talked in general terms about Lutheranism in America and the value of discussing doctrine and pursuing at least the possibility of unity with the WELS and the ELS. One might have wished that he had commented more directly on President Schroeder’s essay, but there was nothing disappointing in anything he said. This was the first time I had heard Matt Harrison speak. He has a presence that simply fills a room. He comes across as very intelligent but very down to earth and friendly, with a genuine sense of humor. He admitted having much work to do in his own synod before real progress can be made in doctrinal discussions with other synods. But that was not to imply that these doctrinal discussions ought to wait for in-house business to be completed. He insisted, “We have to do both.”

Harrison expressed a bit of confusion over the issues WELS emphasizes about prayer fellowship. He admitted that it was an issue that had simply never been on the radar for him personally. He joked disarmingly, “We’ve had to concentrate on questions like, ‘Is the Bible the inerrant Word of God?’ and ‘Should women be ordained?’ and things like that.” But in saying that, he made it clear he was not dismissing the WELS concerns over this issue. “It’s something I realize now I have to study. You’ve given me much to think about.”

President Schroeder, President Moldstad and President Harrison are to be commended, among other things, for their gracious demeanor. There was not even a hint of arrogance or an attitude of superiority among the three presidents. President Schroeder quoted Missouri Synod sources favorably (including Matt Harrison himself) over a dozen times in his essay, along with other WELS and ELS sources. Each president spoke of repentance in his own self and in his own synod as the first step toward fruitful discussion.

My Prediction

Here is my (very conditional) prediction, as well as my prayer. If the pastors and congregations of the WELS, ELS and LCMS will adopt the humility and doctrinal commitment of their respective presidents, then I have no doubt that the fellowship of the former Synodical Conference will be restored.

Why? Because the ruling authority of the Scriptures and the ruled authority of the Lutheran Confessions form the foundation of all three church bodies. The authority of the Scriptures was being attacked from within the LCMS 50 years ago, but by the grace of God, such is no longer the case. Church Growth theology has infected all three church bodies to some degree, but all three presidents have spoken out against this false theology, expressing trust in the Means of Grace rather than in human methodology. So there is no reason why church bodies that are committed to the Scriptures and the Confessions should not be able to work out their differences through fraternal dialogue, unless 1) contrition and repentance are lacking on either side, or 2) the external preservation of the institution supersedes the confession of the truth.

If contrition and repentance are lacking in either the WELS or the LCMS, then puffed-up egos on one side will always treat the other side with indifference, condescension or even contempt. If the primary goal of the institution is to preserve the status quo or keep from losing numbers, then truth will take a backseat to expediency, and what is expedient for one synod will likely be unacceptable or even detrimental to the next.

But if the leaders of the synods approach one another in a spirit of contrition and repentance, then egos will not get in the way of God’s clear Word and the Church’s historical interpretation of His Word. And if the primary goal is faithfulness to the truth of Christ rather than to preserving the status quo at all costs, then the Spirit of Truth Himself will fight for the unity of His Church. May God grant it!

Emmaus Conference 2012
  • April 19 and 20
  • Parkland Lutheran Church, Tacoma, WA
  • Lecturer: The Rev. President Matthew Harrison
  • Reactors: The Rev. President Mark Schroeder and the Rev. President John Moldstad

17 comments:

Karl Hess said...

"It was important, I think, for Yankee Stadium to be brought up in a discussion on fellowship. This is exactly the kind of situation that the WELS teaching on prayer fellowship addresses. Too often WELS sources turn the issue of prayer fellowship into an individual, private matter, almost characterizing any table prayer with one’s Christian (but non-WELS) relative as a denial of Christ and His Truth. This is ridiculous. The issue of prayer fellowship should be taught as a public matter between churches or representatives of churches. President Schroeder did make those distinctions in his essay, although I wish he would have spoken even more strongly on that point in order to move the discussion entirely out of one’s dining room and into the public forum, where it belongs."

It is true that for many of us in the LCMS, prayer fellowship has not been on our radar. But given a little reflection, I think most confessional Missouri men would readily agree that we do not wish to act in any way that would make it appear that disagreement in the teaching of God's word is a minor matter. Clearly praying with idolaters is sin, and praying publicly with those who teach false doctrine, as though disagreement in doctrine were not a serious matter, gives false testimony.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Well said, Karl.

Jim Pierce said...

Excellent recap. Thank you Pr. Rydecki. I wish I could have been there. God willing next year I will be.

Jim Pierce

Paul McCain said...

Paul, it is refreshing to read your remarks about prayer fellowship, but, as I'm sure you are aware, the WELS position is very much that there should be no prayer fellowship around a dining room table. I hav a book on my shelf, published by NPH, titled, "Essays on Church Fellowship" in which there appear the most pained explanations of how/why such prayers must not be said, or if they are said, the person saying them, if he is WELS understands that in so praying he is not praying *with* people at the table, even if they believe themselves to be praying with him, and so on and so forth.

I take your comments as a hopeful sign that the WELS is ready to move away from the position I believe it has widely taught, even though, as I strongly suspect, it has been widely ignored around dinner tables in families and among friends who join in saying, "Come, Lord, Jesus"

etc.

Pr. Johnold Strey said...

Hello Pastor McCain,

I don’t have access to my copy of “Essays on Church Fellowship,” as it is packed in a box and already moved to my soon-to-be new office at my soon-to-be new place of service two hours from where I currently serve, so I cannot respond to your specific observations about the essay you referred to. However, I would respectfully question the general claim that “the WELS position is very much that there should be no prayer fellowship around a dining room table.”

The WELS Theses on Church Fellowship makes the following points:

“B. What principles Scripture teaches for the exercise of such church fellowship. …

4. Weakness of faith is in itself not a reason for terminating church fellowship, but rather an inducement for practicing it vigorously to help one another in overcoming our individual weaknesses. In precept and example, Scripture abounds with exhortations to pay our full debt of love toward the weak.

…[Several Scripture passages are then cited in four sub-points]…

5. Persistent adherence to false doctrine and practice calls for termination of church fellowship.

…[Several more passages are then cited in three sub-points]…

From all of this, we see that in the matter of the outward expression of Christian fellowship, the exercise of church fellowship, particularly two Christian principles need to direct us: the great debt of love which the Lord would have us pay to the weak brother, and His clear injunction (also flowing out of love) to avoid those who adhere to false doctrine and practice and all who make themselves partakers of their evil deeds. Conscientious recognition of both principles will lead to an evangelical practice also in facing many difficult situations that confront us, situations which properly lie in the field of casuistry.”

...(continued in next post)

Pr. Johnold Strey said...

You can find the complete statement here:

http://www.wels.net/about-wels/doctrinal-statements/church-fellowship?page=0,0

There is an evangelical spirit to the official statement, which urges us to practice fellowship more vigorously with Christians who are weak in faith and understanding, while also acknowledging that there are other times and circumstances when we must sever fellowship from a persistent errorist.

The fellowship theses are general statements. A more specific treatment of the way WELS has dealt with prayer fellowship over the years can be found in an essay by Mark Braun titled, “A Tale of Two Synods” (CHARIS, Spring 2001, pp. 26-49), under the section called, “The Private Lives of Lutherans.” Braun points out that the official WELS position has remained unchanged since the split with the LCMS. But then he adds that there has been a shift in emphasis within WELS over the past several decades that narrowed the application of the “weak brother.” Rather than retype the pertinent sections, I’ll just refer you to this link (see pp. 4-9 of the online PDF):

http://www.charis.wlc.edu/publications/charis_spring01/braun.pdf

At one point in the essay, Braun quotes Armin Schuetze, former Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary president, who responded to the false accusation that the WELS position forbad all table prayer with non-WELS members. Based on that and other quotes from the essay, it is clear that this was not the WELS position at the time of the split with LCMS. This has been a characterization of the WELS position from the start. Unfortunately, over time, the characterization was accepted to some degree within the synod. The lesson to be learned by WELS members in all of this is, quite simply: ad fontes!

Pr. Johnold Strey

Rev. Jon Kehren said...

Thanks Pr. Rydecki for your recap of the Emmaus conference. As one who attended, I was impressed by all three Presidents. They all demonstrated a commitment to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. They were humble, open and honest, and committed to fraternal discussions in the hope of someday restoring the unity among the synods of the former Synodical Conference.

I would encourage everyone to read President Schroeder's paper and hopefully it can remove what I believe to be some caricatures of the WELS position which perhaps come from within our own WELS circles.

On pages 44-47 of his essay, President Schroeder makes the point that we should practice the biblical principles of fellowship in a way that seeks to be faithful to God's Word and be of spiritual benefit to our neighbor. In many cases this is hard to do and requires prayer and thougthfulness. A good question to consider when we pray with others would be, "Do my prayer practices give the impression that I am indifferent to or in agreement with false doctrine?" If so, it would not be faithful to God and loving to my neighbor to act in this way. This would be true whether I am in a public or a private situation. In private situations, I may pray (and probably should pray)with those who because of weakness or misunderstanding and yet are willing to grow in knowledge and strength around God's Word. This can be done more easily in private situation without causing offense or misunderstanding. In such a setting you can make clear that you are not indifferent to or supporting the false teachings of others. In public situations, however, where the "world is watching," joining in prayer with those who hold differing confessions can so easily give the impression that one tolerates or gives approval to the false teachings expressed by the other church bodies to which these people belong.

I suggest that we approach fellowship issues more from the perspective of "How can I be faithful to God and show love to my neighbor?" rather than sort of a "rule-book" perspective that simply asks "When and where can I pray with others?" I believe the first perspective is what Pres. Schroeder suggests in his paper.

I beleive that this approach can help chart a path toward unity among confessional Lutherans and help heal the breach that has existed for half a century.

Pastor Jon Kehren

Anonymous said...

The principles that I have been taught and practice agree with the thoughts in the essay referenced below.

Applications of the Principles of Church Fellowship by John F. Brug http://www.wlsessays.net/node/279

p. 15 Section Family & Friends
"How will we put these principles into practice? First, let us consider our relations in our own home. There is no reason for a Christian family to abandon prayer when others are present with us at the table. This is different than having guests with us at church. The host may proceed with prayer or a devotion as normal. We have no more reluctance to have our prayers heard by others than Paul did on his voyage to Rome (Acts 27:35). Our prayer may be a good testimony and example. We, however, feel that we should not force guests to be a “captive audience” to prayers or devotions which they do not approve of, but this is a question of manners and tact, not an issue of fellowship.

When we are guests at the table of a person who is not of our faith, and he speaks his prayer in our presence, we will permit him to do so without disturbing him, even if we cannot join him in his prayer.

We should not, however, join together in the prayers of an adherents of false doctrine, either by asking them to lead our family in prayer or by joining together with their prayer."

Tammy Jochman

Daniel Baker said...

I have to also say that in my religion classes - and I took 8 unique classes in high school with 4 different teachers, not to mention grade school - the issue of "prayer with family" was always treated separately than public prayer, and was typically commended to conscience and the individual circumstances of the situation at hand.

The impression I always got was that the principle was intended to keep us doctrinally separate from other denominations in a public setting, as the Rev. President Schroeder apparently indicated at this conference.

Tony Pittenger said...

Pastor Rydecki, Tony Pittenger here, ELS pastor from Port Orchard WA, we met near the end of the conference. Thanks for your succinct summary of the Emmaus Conference. Thought I'd add my two cents...

Having gone to seminary in Mankato, we are steeped in the history of the Synodical Conference and its break up. The ELS got its start as the Norwegian Synod on the campus of St. Louis, Walther even let our students write their finals in Norwegian! The sainted profs Reichwald and Madson, along with Pres. Petersen and Prof. Honsey would wipe tears from their eyes as they retold us of those days; Juul Madson's father, Norman Sr., left for the CLC and we in the ELS wonder if that slap in the face isn't what woke us up. For you in the WELS, the LCMS is your cousin, for the ELS they and Walther are the big brother we needed in this new land. Sitting in the room with that crowd while President Schroeder rehearsed it again, it felt like a scene from a high school reunion. Imagine a boy and girl are dating in high school. Boy sees a prettier girl and breaks up with the first in order to move on with the second. At the 50-year reunion he remembers those days as good days, he left a rather boring girl for one more exciting. She remembers those days very differently. She remembers pain and humiliation and heartbreak and even anger.

While all three synods know the history, it seemed (to me) like this was a chance for the LCMS to hear the history from the girl who was jilted. President Harrison seemed genuinely embarrassed for the flirtations with the ALC, for Seminex, the Battle for the Bible, etc.

That may be just me, but what a thrill to hear all three presidents affirm their subscription to the confessions! What a thrill to hear all three agree that the future of the Lutheran Church in America lies with her pastors knowing the Scriptures and how to divide Law and Gospel rather than gimmicks to attract crowds on gawkers. Your president carried himself with humility and class, and President Harrison?!? With him and the gifts God has given him how can we not hope for a closer relationship in the future?

One way to improve for next year: Come a day early or stay a day late so I can take you, your WELS brothers, and our LCMS friends climbing in our mountains!

Tony Pittenger said...

Pastor Rydecki, Tony Pittenger here, ELS pastor from Port Orchard WA, we met near the end of the conference. Thanks for your succinct summary of the Emmaus Conference. Thought I'd add my two cents...

Having gone to seminary in Mankato, we are steeped in the history of the Synodical Conference and its break up. The ELS got its start as the Norwegian Synod on the campus of St. Louis, Walther even let our students write their finals in Norwegian! The sainted profs Reichwald and Madson, along with Pres. Petersen and Prof. Honsey would wipe tears from their eyes as they retold us of those days; Juul Madson's father, Norman Sr., left for the CLC and we in the ELS wonder if that slap in the face isn't what woke us up. For you in the WELS, the LCMS is your cousin, for the ELS they and Walther are the big brother we needed in this new land. Sitting in the room with that crowd while President Schroeder rehearsed it again, it felt like a scene from a high school reunion. Imagine a boy and girl are dating in high school. Boy sees a prettier girl and breaks up with the first in order to move on with the second. At the 50-year reunion he remembers those days as good days, he left a rather boring girl for one more exciting. She remembers those days very differently. She remembers pain and humiliation and heartbreak and even anger.

While all three synods know the history, it seemed (to me) like this was a chance for the LCMS to hear the history from the girl who was jilted. President Harrison seemed genuinely embarrassed for the flirtations with the ALC, for Seminex, the Battle for the Bible, etc.

That may be just me, but what a thrill to hear all three presidents affirm their subscription to the confessions! What a thrill to hear all three agree that the future of the Lutheran Church in America lies with her pastors knowing the Scriptures and how to divide Law and Gospel rather than gimmicks to attract crowds on gawkers. Your president carried himself with humility and class, and President Harrison?!? With him and the gifts God has given him how can we not hope for a closer relationship in the future?

One way to improve for next year: Come a day early or stay a day late so I can take you, your WELS brothers, and our LCMS friends climbing in our mountains!

Scott E. Jungen said...

I had a question concerning President Schroeder's Emmaus Conference paper. It concerned the situation in which a young pastor communed a known non-member. I'm most concerned this was done on account of the emotional plea of the relatives. Do we change Christ's teaching on Holy Communion because of an emotional plea? Might this have been better handled with a private communion after more through conversation with the pastor?
I'm also concerned with the sheep under this pastor's care. (These are, after all, the people he is called to serve). That are they to think? This may put to naught all his teaching on Close Communion. They might rightfully say, "Pastor, why did you commune this non-member, but you wouldn't commune my ....?" "Pastor, that isn't what you taught us in Bible class?" Any time in the ministry will tell you these are they kinds of questions that will be asked!

Scott E. Jungen

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Scott,

No, we don't change Christ's teaching because of an emotional plea. But the young pastor did not change any teaching of Christ in this case.

I think we need to allow for more pastoral discretion than we are perhaps accustomed to, especially in regard to lay members of the LCMS who have been properly catechised in Luther's Small Catechism. I don't mean "open communion" between the two synods. That would be pretending that formal fellowship ties had already been restored.

A pastor ought to be concerned with the benefit of the one who wishes to commune and with the benefit of the rest of his flock. In the case mentioned above, there was no question regarding the confession of faith made by the visiting Lutheran. I certainly couldn't fault the person for joining the only confessional Lutheran church nearby, which, in this case, was a church in fellowship with the LCMS.

Could it cause questions among the members? Yes, which is why a pastor ought to be constantly teaching his congregation that Closed Communion is not to be applied in a legalistic manner, as if flashing a WELS card were all by itself sufficient preparation for Holy Communion, or as if there were no possible exceptions to this rule. Obviously the young pastor in question had taught his congregation well, because when he discussed it later with his elders, they all agreed that he had done the right thing.

I normally decline communing visiting LCMS members in my congregation, despite the emotional pleas that accompany the request. I do this, not because I question the confession of the visitor, but for the sole reason of not giving public offense in the congregation. This has caused heartache for all of us, and I wish there were not this barrier between our synods.

But I don't apply this rule in a legalistic manner. There have been exceptional occasions in which I have communed LCMS visitors, in consultation with my elders and after examining them. In one case, I even phoned the long-term visitor's LCMS pastor to discuss it with him as this person's shepherd.

God, through the call of the Church, has entrusted pastors with this kind of spiritual oversight, and if the pastor has shown himself to be a faithful, loving and conscientious overseer, members ought to trust his discretion in these cases, and if they have questions, like, "Why in this case, but not in that case?", they certainly ought to ask.

Scott E. Jungen said...

Pastor Rydecki,
Thank you very much, that's just what I wanted to know.

Scott E. Jungen

Michael L. Anderson, M.D. said...

The public responses to Rev. McCain’s observation about WELS practice are perplexing.

On the one hand, the Rev. Johnhold Strey chooses to indirectly cite Prof. Armin Schuetze who, we are stoutly informed, “responded to the false accusation that the WELS position forbad all table prayer with non-WELS members…” On the other hand, correspondent Tammy Jochman delivers the advice of Prof. Brug, who asserts that the loyal WELSian should not “join together in the prayers of an adherent of false doctrine, either by asking them to lead our family in prayer or by joining together with their prayer." That firm dictum takes care of the passive circumstance, in which the loyal WELSian is confronted with the prayer of another, before the turkey is dissected. One must presume in passing, here, that the loyal WELSian perceives the Missouri Synod of Matt Harrison (sic) as a promoter, or adherent, of false doctrine. If this is not the case, then the loyal WELSian will hold fast to another grievous sin, that of being schismatic and sectarian.

Prof. Brug, according to Ms. Jochman, also addresses the active case, in which it is the loyal WELSian taking the lead in public prayer, say at a kitchen table with the cousins of Mo' Syn. According to the professor, the WELSian is not praying with the too-apt-to-stray listener; rather, the WELSian is witnessing, in the course of providing a “testimony” or a “good example.” The action is not one of participating in a shared supplication or thanksgiving, you see, but rather an instance of sermonizing, directed to the fallen. Like Jonah, to the Assyrian madhouse of Nineveh. Of course, it's also a splendid opportunity to maybe wrack up a good deed, or an exemplary work.

To all appearances, Rev. Stey’s claim of a “false accusation,” is palpably undermined by Prof. Brug’s recommendations, concerning the proper approach to prayer in mixed company. I can only conclude that Prof. Brug is mistaken with his take, or maybe Rev. Strey with his assertion; or more likely, that a self-labeling of "intrepid" does not exclude a co-existing state of being "confused."

Michael L. Anderson

Pr. Johnold Strey said...

It appears that the good doctor has fallen into an anachronistic error by removing a citation from its chronological context and applying it to a time frame that it did not — yes, could not — address. Armin Schuetze’s statement from 1961, quoted in the Braun CHARIS article linked above, does in fact refute the false accusation that the WELS position on fellowship forbad mealtime prayers with non-WELS members. Schuetze, while a professor, was not a prophet, and therefore was in no position to make a statement about his synod’s stance in future decades. He wasn’t. Furthermore, Braun’s article and my comments both stated that the WELS’s application of the doctrine of fellowship has narrowed over time. There is no confusion, the doctor’s claims notwithstanding.

I have not personally experienced the circumstances, events, and history that have led WELS writers to narrow the *applications* of the doctrine of fellowship over recent decades. For that reason, I will be slow to be unduly critical of my brothers in the ministry. A heartfelt concern that we give a clear confession of faith, even in private situations, probably tops the list of reasons for the change in emphasis. If someone is confused about the reasoning behind Dr. Brug’s statements or another writer’s comments, the best way to clear up that confusion would be to address one’s questions directly to the writer.

It is most unfortunate that the good doctor felt the need to express his opinions via multiple sarcasm-laden dependent clauses. I am grateful that the majority of confessional LCMS men I have come to know have approached discussions with WELS and ELS with a charitable spirit and humble heart, and I hope that my WELS and ELS brothers will do the same.

Pr. Johnold Strey

Calovius said...

Scott E Jungen wrote:
"I'm most concerned this was done on account of the emotional plea of the relatives."

A valid observation.

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