ELS-WELS-LCMS Informal Discussion Report December 2015

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.

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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

 

Bishop Elijah From Sudan Visit to International Center

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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

Homily for the Presentation of a Festschrift to The Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel. By The Rev. Dr. Scott Bruzek

Evening Prayer at the Chapel of Laclede Groves Senior Living, St. Louis, Mo.

A Festschrift for the Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel in Honor of his 90th Birthday

8 November 2015

Daniel 12:1-3

INI

Down the hill from Westfield house, in the chapel of Trinity College, lies Alfred North Whitehead, the last great cosmologist of the 20th century. Whitehead once said that the only simplicity to be trusted is the simplicity on the far side of complexity, and that helps us makes sense of the Book of Daniel.

Frankly, this book is a mess. It is the complexity – and often the chaos – of hubris, exile, magic, dreams, visions, idolatry, insanity, assassinations, angelic warfare, and the ever-present threat of the End, the Real End, that makes this book so hard to apprehend. But then comes the simplicity of the text appointed for our prayers this evening, 3 verses from Daniel chapter 12. These 3 verses are the very simple story of a chosen people (12:1), an everlasting covenant (12:1) and the LORD who loves them so (12:1-3).

The best news this evening is that this very simple story is our story too. These are the elements of our life together, as we await our own Apocalypse: creation, pride, Promise, Christ, Golgotha, redemption, protection, and everlasting joy. This will someday be our Blessed End.

Norman, if you hadn’t been a pastor, Betsy says you would have made a brilliant kindergarten teacher. I think that’s true.

The best kindergarten teachers make most complex things – stars, frogs, prisms, honey, rain and maps, honesty, self-control, justice, mercy, faith, and love – clear and attainable. But if our LORD had given you that station and vocation, then our lives would have been poorer.

Think of all the simple things from you that we would have missed: the Way of the Law and the Way of the Gospel; the utter certainty of Absolution; the Word incarnate, in-Scriptured, and in-Spirited; the tattoo of Baptism; the tangible, forgiving touch of our Lord’s Supper; “…and where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation”; gift, blessing, and for you; the joy of Luther and Lutherans and Liturgy and languages and “brilliant!” and tea and sherry and chatter and cigars and Valpo and Cambridge and Aussies and China and “it’s not a good work till it’s a forgiven work” and “Amen!” and the Gospel is always more.

See? On the far side, divine things don’t need to be complex, but in each generation these simple things do need to be bestowed or we will all be lost.

Here is a simple thing: it turns out that there is really only one story in Scripture, and that is the story of death and resurrection.

The Church tells this story in so many different ways: as Adam and Eve; as Noah; as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; as Moses, David, Elijah, and Deborah; as 3 men in the fiery furnace – or was it 4?; as “Repent!”, “Follow me,” the woman at the well, the prodigal son, and “get thee behind me, Satan”; as “surely this Man was the Son of God”; as Mary Magdalene in the garden: “they have taken away my Lord”; as Emmaus, with its Liturgy of pilgrimage; as Acts 2; and here now as Daniel 12:1-3.

This makes life and death pretty simple. If we run against this One and Only Story, our lives become terrifying, even if that terror strikes us only at our very last minute. Hell, after all, is when we get our own way for eternity. But when this Story it is received as gift and blessing, even the horror of the Last Days is a relief. Finally, the grind of sin is done. Finally the flash-bang of evil burns itself out. Finally the chaos is put to order.

And then we are left with this simple but profound truth: sin, death, hell and self never have the last word with us. Instead, the last to speak is Love: creating Love, Love promised, Love delivered, Love incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mother, Love applied by the physical touch of Word and Sacrament, and Love embodied as the Church. Divine Love, for us, and never against us, always has the last word about us.

Life is really this simple: Jesus Christ would rather die than hold our sins against us. There is really just one story here.

Everybody knows that there is no story without a storyteller. It all started with our LORD telling us about Himself, but soon enough that became the ὁμολογέω of the Church, its same-saying, especially by those put into Christ’s Holy Office, as verse 3 says, those “wise leaders [who] shall shine like the bright vault of heaven.” That was the task our LORD put you to, Norman – storyteller – and though you would have been a brilliant kindergarten teacher, his choice has been a better use you.

This festschrift marks how his choice has worked itself out, how the story came from Christ to Church to you to us – your students, colleagues, friends and family – and then back to Christ again. Your life has been a gift, verse 2, for “your fellow-countrymen,” for “people [meant to be] delivered,” for “those who [now] sleep in the dust of the earth [but who were always meant to] wake…to everlasting life.”

It has now been 90 years of a that simple Law and Gospel story which has seen you and us through our sins and woes, our despair and bitterness, our self-inflicted wounds and innocent sufferings, to Christ’s altar, pulpit, lectern and font, through all those narrow straits into the wide places of forgiveness and healing and generosity and hope and joy and kindness and finally, someday, back home to Eden. This festschrift is a very real thank you for keeping the story simple, true and trustworthy, which is proof, you see, that it was not your story at all – after all, we are nothing but given to.

Praise to you, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for all of that and always more, always more. Now bless your servant, Norman, and his family, and his students, and his colleagues, and his friends, and bless your Church and your world through complexity and chaos to the simplicity of Christ’s saving sacramental touch, and someday, draw us all together into your eternal Rest, in Peace, and Life, and Love, and Beauty, and Light, where, one of our eternal joys will be seeing your servant, Norman, set among “…those who have guided the people in the true path,” “[as one of those who] shall be [shining] like the stars forever and ever” (12:3).

INI

Sermon on James 4:13–17

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:13–17).

+ JESU JUVA +

When a person comes face-to-face for the first time with the magnificence of this holy space, set aside for the worship and service of God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — it is hard not to notice what is taking place just beyond its towering walls of glass and steel scaffolding. Here inside, just within our view and reach, steadfast and firm stand marble altar, pulpit, font, and organ pipe, and we joyfully meditate in resolute peace on a divine Word that abides forever… but out there, beyond the glass… a tidal wave of industrious activity leaps forward at frantic pace. Busy highways give plain evidence of commerce in full swing; salesmen are racing to make appointments, vegetable trucks travel their local delivery routes, civil authorities patrol ribbons of concrete to protect and serve, the titans of the business world are late to meetings with their armies of attorneys.

Mom has just dropped the kids off at school and is on her way to the airport, headed out-of-town on a business trip. She’s making a mental note to call the dentist to change that appointment which is now conflicting with another ad campaign meeting just scheduled and popped up on her smartphone for three weeks from tomorrow. She feels a moment of guilt for texting while driving, but duty calls… and she is bucking for a promotion. Across town, Dad is fumbling with the space bar on his laptop — in the back of his mind wondering who he’s going to call about the balky transmission on the family’s aging minivan — while He brings up PowerPoint slide number seven (out of eighty-three) in his annual review of the strategic plan for an edgy, grumpy board of directors. The CEO shifts in his seat, still grimacing as he recalls his missing the winning three-footer on the eighteenth green at the club championship the prior Saturday morning; better schedule another putting lesson with the pro. The pro is talking with the course superintendent about fixing the pesky drainage problem in the sixteenth fairway; the course superintendent is not listening very closely because he’s thinking more about an upcoming, long-planned golf trip to Scotland next spring with his buddies.

It’s all but a sliver of one huge, interlocking mosaic of human determination, hopes, concerns, and designs.

And it’s all about influencing, controlling the future.

This morning, James the brother of our Lord reminds you that it is all too easy to forget and disregard and simply ignore God in all of this frenzied activity and planning. Yes, here you have Jesus and His cross held right before your eyes and preached directly into your ears and heart. But with a bit of tongue-in-cheek — and I mean no disrespect whatsoever to our wonderful coworkers across the street —there is a rather substantial office building that stands at elevation and dominates the expansive view from this consecrated spot where we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). And then I hardly need point out that this very chapel is located inside of an office building — so that when you depart this space this morning and exit through those humongous doors, you’ll be returning to meetings and plans and a stacked Inbox and reports and hopeful expectations and anxious worries about future outcomes arising from our present common labors, our “getting down to the business” of the mission of God, the Church on the move, the Body of Christ in motion. The clock is running; let’s go!

I think this is fitting and proper and as it should be, at least for now, maybe right now in this chapel setting. Jesus, crucified and resurrected, comes in — in quiet, subversive, thief-like fashion — and He collides with the feverish, worldly enterprise of any man who is all too willing to “cut the cord” with his creator. At first, the Word appears to be little if not nothing. But all of the contemporary cues that surround us continue to confront you and me in a way that ought to give us pause before we arrogantly tear down our old barns… and begin building larger ones… and act as if the future were solely in our hands or that we were even given to know that any one of us is going to be physically standing, breathing here on the face of planet earth when the sun comes up tomorrow. Only “if the Lord wills.”

This is James’ call for you to repent, dear baptized: you are to be constantly watchful in regard to how you think and make plans for your life. It is all too easy to map out a path in which God has been relegated to a secondary, “ride along” position… but you are to remember that everything you do is utterly bound by the limits of His time and His will. To forget this is to fall back into the sin of boastful pride, which can only lead to your destruction. To forget this is to falter and give up the confident hope that is already yours — of eternal life in the bliss of paradise, life with God that surely has come to you as a gift, from outside of you, in the perfect righteousness of Christ for you. To forget this is to give way to fears and anxieties that will inevitably come when you love and trust and worship your own plans and efforts — for your heart is a veritable idol factory, and this morning I am bound to remind you that you are not at all immune to the idolatrous sins of “human enterprisology” and “strategic programism.”

It is as if James is saying, “Hold on.” Even if you are able to run around and get on with the “business” of life, you cannot attribute this ability to your own efforts, but rather you are to accept that you can do these things only by the blessing of God. For after all, “Of what sort is your life? A vapor, a mist — for to tell the truth, you are one appearing for a little while, and thereupon also vanishing away.”

So, yes, you make your plans and you labor to your utmost with all of those First Article gifts — your reason and your senses, your intellect, your physical body — but you do so with a constant, overriding awareness that it is all under the grace of God, who alone knows and directs all of the details concerning where… when… how long… what will happen. Absolutely forgiven for every sin of arrogant pride and over-reliance on self, you beseech your Father: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” You take to heart the wisdom conveyed through His servant Solomon: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Proverbs 27:1).

And above all, you continually trust in the eternal will of Him who planned and undertook the greatest enterprise in all of human history, the Lord whose will and business it is that all are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), the One who broke into this world confessing to His Father, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God’ ” (Hebrews 10:5–7).

Thankfully, so thankfully, dear baptized, at that loneliest, bloody place upon the earth, upon that cross dark-stained with the very blood of this Lamb of God, all of the plans and schemes and enterprise of sinful man — these meet their eternal end in the irrevocable will, the concluding judgment of God Himself. “It is finished.” And it is through His cross that you now gaze upon the world around you and have come to understand that — thankfully — you dwell and labor here for only a limited time.

This is God’s will and work and enterprise: that by the instruments of His grace, you have been brought to believe in this Son whom He has sent (John 6:29). And so together, we work, we labor, we strive, and it is all under His watchful eye, His mercy, His forgiveness and:

We impart a …hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. …[A]s it is written,

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him [Isaiah 64:4] —

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6–9).

In the name + of Jesus. Amen.

+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +

Rev. Kevin Robson
Chief Mission Officer
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Pastors’ Conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana in Accra

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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.

Pastors Conference and Ordination Nov 2015 2

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.

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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.

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Bishop Paul Fynn of the Evangelical Lutheran Church stands in front of the seminary sign.

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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.

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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

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