On 8 December 2015, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod simultaneously released a report on the informal discussions that have been occurring between the three Synods between 2012-2015. (ELS Release, LCMS Release, and WELS Release same as the document listed above). The LCMS also released a Reporter Story found here. The Report about the Informal Discussions is the most significant update on the relationship between the three Synods since the ELS and WELS suspended fellowship 50 or so years ago. The expenses related to gathering 18 people from three Synods have been largely covered by a donor who is interested in seeing the three Synods discuss their similarities and differences.
The participants of the 2015 informal discussion from ELS, LCMS, WELS
Held at the Mary Wood Retreat Center
First, why are the discussions called “informal” discussions. In the ecumenical world, the use of the term “informal” discussion is used to differentiate them from more formal discussions. For instance, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) is engaged in “informal” discussions with the Roman Catholic Church, whereas the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has been engaged in formal discussions for more than 50 years. In the context of the ILC’s discussions with Rome, it differentiates the discussions from other more long standing discussions. As the discussions progress, they can be “updated” to formal discussions. In the context of the “informal” discussions between the three former members of the Synodical Conference, the term “informal” indicates that the immediate goal was not the re-establishment of altar and pulpit fellowship. Both the ELS and WELS reserve the term “formal” discussion for discussions between them and another church body where it is expected that altar and pulpit fellowship will be established in the near future. Since the three Synods had not had serious discussion in 50 plus years, it was thought that the best way to proceed was on the level of “informal” discussions, almost a “let’s get reacquainted” after 50 years sort of discussion with minimal expectations.
Although most people within the Missouri Synod today recognize that the LCMS is not in fellowship with the ELS and WELS today, many do not realize the causes or reasons for this. The history has largely been forgotten. Sometimes the history is lost in caricatures of what happened. The ending of the Synodical conferences and the ending of fellowship between the three Synods was painful for many of the people involved. Families were divided between membership in the ELS, LCMS, and WELS. (In fact, some of my family is LCMS while others are WELS.)
One of the first caricatures or points of misunderstandings is that the ELS and WELS broke fellowship with the Missouri Synod. The fact is that the ELS and WELS “suspended” fellowship with the Missouri Synod. The ELS did this in 1955, while the WELS did this in 1961. The fact that WELS waited until 1961, caused a division in WELS among those who thought WELS should have suspended fellowship more quickly with the Missouri Synod. In 1960, the Church of the Lutheran Confessions (CLC) formed when it broke away from WELS.
In the WELS 1961 resolution (found here) that “suspended” fellowship with the Missouri Synod, the word “suspend” is defined: “*The word “suspend” as used in the resolution has all the finality of termination during the duration of the suspension, but contains the hope that conditions might some day warrant a reestablishment of fellowship.” “Suspended” is more nuanced than “broke” or “ended” fellowship; it carries the hope of restoration and the end of divisions.
Another “caricature” about the suspension of fellowship was that it was about the “Boy Scouts” and “prayer fellowship.” If you read the WELS 1961 resolution, it does not mention the Boy Scouts or Prayer Fellowship as the cause. (There is no denial that WELS saw participation in the Boy Scouts as symptomatic of other issues within the Missouri Synod.) In light of the recent policy changes within the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), the LCMS also came the to the conclusion that the Missouri Synod and the BSA should not have a formal relationship (see the Reporter announcement).
The issues were much deeper than the Boy Scouts, and involved the Missouri Synod seeking fellowship with the American Lutheran Church (ALC), which in 1988 became a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), and later Missouri’s participation in Lutheran Council in the United States of America (LCUSA), which existed from 1967-1988 and was a cooperative effort of the LCMS, the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church of America, and the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. The Missouri Synod entered fellowship with the American Lutheran Church in 1967, the same year the Missouri Synod officially “dissolved” the Synodical Conference. The Missouri Synod in 1979 entered a state of protest against the American Lutheran Church over the issues of Biblical inerrancy, Women’s ordination, and ecumenical participation and unionism. In 1981, the Missouri Synod broke fellowship with the American Lutheran Church. Yet already, in 1961 when WELS suspended fellowship with the Missouri Synod, the Missouri Synod was talking about entering fellowship with the American Lutheran Church.
The other significant item that led to the ELS and WELS suspending fellowship were the events that led up to Seminex in 1974 at Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, related to the rejection of biblical inerrancy. In conversations with Missouri Synod professors and students from ELS and WELS who attended Missouri Synod schools, the church officials were aware of aberrations in teaching about the Scripture long before the general membership of the Missouri Synod became aware.
These two underlying facts, the Missouri Synod seeking fellowship with the American Lutheran Church and the events leading up to Seminex, are acknowledged in the Report on the informal discussions. The Report says, “ELS and WELS participants were heartened to hear LCMS leaders acknowledge with sadness that the ELS and WELS were compelled to break fellowship with the LCMS to avoid the tragedy of the doctrinal controversy that befell the LCMS in the 1970s, and that LCMS leaders are continuing to work for faithfulness in Scriptural doctrine and practice in their synod.”
Another significant item mentioned in the Report is The Brief Statement of 1932. The Brief Statement of 1932 is an official doctrinal statement of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Every pastor of the MIssouri Synod reads the Brief Statement at least once in his seminary career, but it is not something that many have reviewed with their congregations, or perhaps read again after seminary. The Brief Statement can be found here (as a PDF here). The Statement on the informal discussions from 2015 list a number doctrines where ELS, LCMS, WELS teach the same. They were The Trinity; The person and work of Christ; Justification by grace through faith; Genesis 1–11 is actual history, for example with a six day creation, Adam and Eve, and the fall; The real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper; Baptism; Law and Gospel; Means of Grace; Eternal Election of Grace; Conversion; Two Kingdoms; End Times; Resurrection of the body; Antichrist; Third use of the law; Rejection of Women’s Ordination; Rejection of Infant Communion; Worship; Need for ecclesiastical visitation and supervision. The Report then mentions how the Brief Statement of 1932 was an area of significant agreement between the Synods.It says, “We also called to mind how all three synods expressed agreement with A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod when it first appeared in the early 1930s. This doctrinal statement still reflects areas of agreement today.”
Considering that these are “informal” discussions more work needs to be done. Areas of doctrine need to be discussed in greater depth including the doctrine of the ministry, the role of women in the church, and prayer fellowship. None of those involved desire to gloss over differences in doctrine or practice that exist, at the same time, the participants wanted to acknowledge where agreement existed.
It is rather significant that the three Synods after more than 50 years of suspended fellowship are informally talking. It also is joyful to be able to discuss the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions with others who hold such similar views to those held by the Missouri Synod.
A future post will talk more about the Synodical Conference.
— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations
Pictured (left to right back): Dr. Curtis Peters, John Ater Deng, Rev. Larry Vogel, Abraham, Rev. Roosevelt Gray
Pictured (left to right front): Dr. Albert Collver, Dr. John Loum, Bishop Elijah Arok
9 December 2015
Today, Bishop Elijah Arok from the Anglican Church of South Sudan visited the International Center in St. Louis. He came on behalf of Archbishop John Machar Thon. The Anglican Church of South Sudan was formed in 2004 as a breakaway from the Anglican Communion. Since that time, the ACSS has discovered the Small Catechism and is interested in becoming a Lutheran church body. The ACSS seeks to gain rich and full knowledge of Lutheran theology through study of Luther’s Small Catechism and the Book of Concord, several copies of which have been shared with the church leaders and have been enthusiastically received. In many ways the church body has shown its eagerness to learn more about Lutheran doctrine as taught in the LCMS and to have a close working relationship with the Missouri Synod.
The Anglican Church of South Sudan
The Anglican Church of South Sudan (originally, the “Anglican Church of Sudan”) was established in 2004 in separation from the Episcopal Church of Sudan over the issue of accepted homosexuality in the clergy and church hierarchy. A large number of bishops, clergy, and congregations (probably approaching 50%) left because they deemed the accepted practice was unbiblical. After the independence of South Sudan was declared in 2011, the new church body made its area of emphasis in South Sudan and modified its name accordingly. Through the subsequent years of war, the church body has continued its faithfulness and has ministered to the multitudes of Sudanese refugees in neighboring countries and to the many who now make their homes in Australia, Canada, the United States, and other Western countries. The ACSS has approximately 1 million members.
The next step for the LCMS is to visit Juba, South Sudan, and see the church in person. The goal would be to establish theological education in the Lutheran Confessions and Lutheran Doctrine. May the Lord grant guidance and blessing to this endeavor.
— Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations
About 50 pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG), a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), attended the opening session of the pastors’ conference held at the ELCG’s seminary in Accra, Ghana.
The pastors’ conference has 6 sessions scheduled over 2 days. Session 1: Preaching of the Saving Gospel by Rev. Steven Schumacher, Session 2: Leadership in the 21st Century by Rev. Solomon S. Ayagri, Session 3: Understanding Prayer by Ps. John S. Donkoh, Session 4: Creation by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Session 5 was originally supposed to have been done by Rev. Dale Kaster but due to illness the Rev. Dr. George Black will present instead, and Session 6: ELCG The Way Forward by the Rt. Rev. Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn. The presentation most significant to the immediate future of the ELCG is Bishop Fynn’s which we will cover in more detail tomorrow.
Rev. Steve Schumacher presents at the ELCG Pastors’ Conference on “Preaching of the Saving Gospel.” Consider supporting the work of Rev. Steve Schumacher by clicking here.
Bishop Paul Fynn of the Evangelical Lutheran Church stands in front of the seminary sign.
Although the seminary was dedicated just on 2 February 2014, the ELCG has completely repainted the seminary as part of its ongoing maintence program to keep various church properties in good condition. Arguably, the seminary looks better today than it did when it was brand new on its dedication day.
Dr. Albert Collver and Bishop Paul Fynn listening to a presentation at the pastors’ conference.
— Posted on 6 November 2015 by Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations
President Harrison preaches at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Oconomowoc, WI
Alexandre Vieira, Pastor Luke Brown, Dr. Albert Collver
At St. John’s Lutheran, Alliceville, Kansas
13 September 2015
A couple of months ago, Pastor Luke Brown of St. John’s Lutheran in Aliceville, Kansas (about 340 miles from St. Louis) contacted the International Center to see if his church could have a mission festival featuring the Global Seminary Initiative (GSI). He also ideally wanted to have a student attend who was benefiting from GSI.
Once at St. John’s, I asked Pastor Brown why he wanted to have a presentation on the Global Seminary Initiative (GSI). Pastor Brown replied, “I went to the Synod Convention in 2013 and I saw the GSI video and heard how our Synod was helping to train future church leaders. I thought this would be something my congregation would want to know about.”
Alexandre Vieira, a Concordia Seminary St Louis Ph.D. student from Brazil, leading Bible class and presenting on the IELB (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil). Dr. Collver preached on Luke 24:48, “You are witnesses of these things.”
St. John’s Lutheran showed hospitality after the service with a potluck.
The Lutheran world is small. In Aliceville, Kansas, I met the grandmother of Rev. Michael Meyer, who works at disaster response at the International Center. I also met the parents of my seminary classmate, Rev. John Rhodes.
Thank you Pastor Luke Brown and the members of St. John’s Lutheran in Aliceville, Kansas for inviting us, for your interest in the Global Seminary Initiative, and for your hospitality. Also thanks to Alexandre Vieira for agreeing to leave St. Louis for a long drive and for his Bible study.
— Rev. Albert B. Collver, Ph.D.