President Matthew C. Harrison (LCMS), President Mark Schroeder (WELS),
President John Moldstad, Jr. (ELS) at Emmaus Conference in Tacoma, WA

The Fifth Annual Emmaus Conference on “The History and Prospects of Lutheran Free Conferences” was held at Parkland Lutheran Church and School in Tacoma, WA, on 9 – 10 February 2012. While this is the fifth annual free conference, it is the second time the presidents from The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and The Evangelical Lutheran Synod met together “to share information on a selected topic of interest to confessional Lutheranism in a setting outside the realm of church fellowship…. The conference is not to be viewed as having any official status of formal doctrinal discussions between church bodies.” The organizers of the Emmaus Conference did express the desire that this conference in Tacoma might lead to “the establishment of such official free conferences among confessional Lutheran church bodies in America.”

In 1856, Dr. C.F.W. Walther, President of the Missouri Synod, first proposed the idea of free conferences to “bring together American Lutherans who unreservedly confessed the Augsburg Confession.” The proposal of free conferences was Walther’s “first major ecumenical effort.” President Harrison noted, “The now famous free conferences were proposed by Walther in Lehre und Wehre in 1856, and actually held during: October 1856 at Columbus; October 1857 at Pittsburgh; August 1858 at Cleveland; and July 1859 at Fort Wayne.” Unfortunately, Walther was unable to attend the fourth free conference. A large section of President Harrison’s paper addressed the historical trifecta that threatened Lutheranism: Reformed Theology, Pietism, and Rationalism. This “three-fold battering ram,” manifested as Samuel Simon Schmucker’s Definite Synodical Platform – An American Recension of the Augsburg Confession of 1855,  threatened Lutheranism in America and was the impetus for the free conferences based upon the Augsburg Confession.
In the above video clip, President Harrison described the sentiment at the time of the “forced” union of Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia by Friedrich Wilhelm III on 27 September 1817. President Harrison also described why one should be “wary” of Reformation anniversaries and Reformation commemorations. President Harrison concluded his paper with a statement by F.C.D. Wyneken, who attended all four of the original free conferences. Harrison said, “I offer it here as my deepest prayer and personal confession, as my deepest longing over against you who are my separated brethren.”

“Then why, beloved brothers, do we stand by one another? Why can’t we leave one another? It is because we cannot let go of the one truth that we, in fellowship with all the saints, have acknowledged, believe, and confess as it is in the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. These Confessions bear witness to the truth clearly, plainly, and powerfully on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, against all the desires of Satan, to the whole world. And why do we hold so firmly to our Confession such that we happily endure the hatred of the world and also of the rest of Christianity, which is difficult to bear? Why, with God’s help and grace, would we suffer persecution and death before we would give up even a small part of that Confession? We do so because we have come to make the truth set forth in that Confession our own, not in times of good leisure and rest, like we might appropriate other natural or historical truths. The Holy Spirit has revealed this truth to us in the midst of the burdens of troubled consciences as our only salvation. Through the Word, the Spirit has borne witness to the truth in broken and troubled hearts. Our consciences are bound to the Word and therefore to the Confession of the Church. As poor, forlorn, and condemned men, we have learned to believe in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. The peace of conscience, the peace of our souls, the hope of eternal blessedness, our very being and life hang on this truth. To surrender it would be to surrender our salvation and ourselves for time and eternity. Therefore, neither can we let go of the most insignificant portion of the Confession because the entire series of the individual teachings of the faith are for us one chain. This chain not only binds our understanding in the truth, it binds our consciences and lives. The loss of an individual part of the same would break this chain, and we would be torn loose from Christ, tumbling again into the abyss of anxiety, doubt, and eternal death. Therefore we hold fast to our Confession, as to our very life’s life.”

Photo Showing A Well Attended Conference

After President Harrison finished his paper, the presidents from The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) and The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) responded. ELS President John Moldstad, Jr., responded first. He began by saying how refreshing it was to hear such a paper. Moldstad said, “While the early set of free conferences did not bring about the desired unity of doctrine sought by Walther, they did serve as a catalyst for a highly treasured blessing. A second set of Waltherian conferences (1860s) led to the formation of the solidly confessional and endearing Synodical Conference of 1872.”

President Mark Schroeder (WELS) Offers Response

President Schroeder from the Wisconsin Synod responded second. He began by greeting his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and thanking President Harrison for his paper and offering thanks to the members of the Missouri Synod, for the many blessings that benefit “other Lutherans, even in those synods such as mine which are not now in fellowship with the LCMS.” Schroeder concluded his remarks:

“Those who would claim the label ‘Confessional’ today have an ongoing responsibility and opportunity to define carefully what that term means, and what it means for the person and synod wanting to wear the label. If free conferences and other discussions can help to clarify and solidify what it means to be truly Confessional, then such discussions should take place with the prayer that God would use the power of his Word and the working of the Spirit to encourage faithfulness to the doctrines of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. It is only such faithfulness, confessed and practiced, that holds the promise of true unity and full fellowship. That is a noble and God-pleasing goal which all Confessional Lutherans can strive to reach.”

The conference attendees were greatly encouraged by President Harrison’s paper and the responses of Presidents Moldstad and Schroeder. The emerging friendships developed and the clear confession of the Lutheran Confession at the Emmaus Conference is helping to overcome tensions that developed between the three Synods after the breakup of the Synodical Conference in the mid-20th century. Ultimately, every Reformation of the Lord’s church, every reconciliation and restoration of relationships, involves repentance and absolution. May the Lord grant repentance and his forgiveness to us!
The Emmaus Conference Brochure.

Fifth Annual Emmaus Conference 9-10 Feb 2012

Eventually, the papers presented should be available at the Emmaus Conference website.

– Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations for the LCMS
10 February 2012