Archive for the LCMS Theological Dialogue Category

A Fraternal Admonition : II

Posted in LCMS Theological Dialogue on August 4, 2010 by Country Preacher


See Preface HERE.

We begin our examination of “A Fraternal Admonition” by looking at article one : Pure doctrine.  It may be a small point, but when sending a fraternal admonition regarding the doctrine and practice of our synod to every congregation in the synod, it is not good that they quote our synod president incorrectly in identifying an error.  While I would agree that if Missouri  is to get the message out, it must first get the message straight, the quote was used at various times by our president as “incessant doctrinal purification” and “incessant internal purification.”  I was unable to find a place that the two words were used together.  A slash between them, or placing one in parentheses would have served the purpose.  However, using quotation marks over a comment that is not a direct quote is not only bad grammar, it is sloppy scholarship.  In a document of this kind, errors should be documented very clearly, and quotes should be made directly.  Conflating the two quotations adds nothing to the substance of their charge (as correct as the substance of that charge should be), but takes away the precision of their argument.

I would agree that unity in doctrine and practice is the basis for establishing pulpit and altar fellowship. Agreement in the Gospel in all its articles is not only the basis of fellowship, it is the very definition of fellowship.  However, I think they go too far when they claim that “absolute agreement on every word and interpretation of doctrine and practice ” is necessary for fellowship.  By this, am I saying that doctrine and practice are somehow not important to unity? Not at all. But as an example, Pieper says that while the perpetual virginity of Mary is indeed a doctrinal position taken by the Luther and confessions, if one does not hold to this position we should not therefore break fellowship, assuming he is orthodox in all other respects. Ironically most pastors today would take the opposing view. That is, a pastor may hold the perpetual virginity of Mary so long and as he is orthodox in all other respects. In discussions with other pastors, I have found that significantly less than 1/4 of them hold to the perpetual virginity of Mary,  even though it is in our Lutheran confessions.  Many, using a reasoning similar to that used by the Seminex professors regarding Adam and eve, claim that this statement is one, not of doctrinal but of historical detail that can be ignored.  Yet, would they then claim that since Pieper is not in absolute agreement with them on this particular word and interpretation of doctrine and practice that they would not be in fellowship with him because of it? Again I agree that we are not to tolerate error in doctrine and practice, but to say there must be absolute agreement on every word and interpretation borders on Donatism.


A Fraternal Admonition : Preface

Posted in LCMS Theological Dialogue on August 4, 2010 by Country Preacher


I will, in the following posts, be both critical and commendatory of “A Fraternal Admonition”. Such criticism should in no way be considered disagreement with their primary theses, that is, that there are areas of doctrine and practice in our synod in which a variety of incompatible teachings and actions exist.  These differences must be dealt with.  They are neither sustainable nor does it serve the good of the church or  our Lord who gives us the church.  I look on this Fraternal Admonition as a first step in addressing our differences. I write what I believe to be an honest critique in the hope of promoting an open dialogue, and identifying areas where their statement may be strengthened and improved. In general I agree with the underlying concerns. But as I learned years ago, writing a public statement of what we believe is not only difficult, it must be done in the context of dialogue and correction, not only with those whom we agree, but often also with those whom we disagree.

Fact Finding Committee on Koinonia

Posted in LCMS Theological Dialogue on August 4, 2010 by Country Preacher

Once again, their work was completed nearly forty years ago, but if we will listen, we will find that much of the preliminary discussion has already been held.  The FFC report to the president notes as divergent teachings at the seminary:

The confessions contain “Theological constructions” which need not be taken as a part of doctrine.

No distinction is made between theology and doctrine.

This can be seen in the BRTFSSG proposal to add a statement to Art II of the constitution regarding our confession, which would then serve as a minimalist statement of faith, as opposed to the larger body of doctrine, as found in Scripture and the Confessions.  According to this view, faith unites, doctrine divides.  So, we can be united in faith with all Christians, (faith being defined only as acceptance of a reduced Gospel) while disagreeing on certain doctrinal points (the presence of Christ in the sacrament, etc.)  This was the essential position of Zwingli, who saw no impediment to unity, simply because of a disagreement over one half of one doctrinal article.  Luther rejected his position, because it is hogwash.

Martin Scharlemann on Koinonia Project

Posted in LCMS Theological Dialogue on August 4, 2010 by Country Preacher

Of course, +Martin Scharlemann+ entered the church triumphant almost 30 years ago.  However, in Paul Zimmerman’s book on the Fact Finding Committee, he includes items from a letter written by Dr. Scharlemann to Dr. Preus that details some of the theological disagreements which were to be found at 801 DeMun.  They are instructive as we begin to discuss the theological divide that now exists in our synod.

  1. Considerable ambivalence as to what the Gospel really is;
  2. Reluctance to use the distinction between Law and Gospel as a factor in the interpretation reality in light of the Biblical revelation;
  3. A curious neglect to point out the functional difference between the prophetic and Apostolic scriptures as inspired by the Holy Spirit and the concept of “inspiration” as applied to the contemporary task of receiving and interpreting the living Word of Scripture;
  4. The kind of commitment to social action which has not reflected sufficiently on the distinction made in our Lutheran Confessions between the kingdom of Christ and political structures;
  5. An elastic use of the word “ministry” which results in apparent denigration of the pastoral office and glamorizing “special ministries”, including involvement in radical social action;
  6. A strange kind of accent on human relations as something of a means of grace, quite similar to the thought expressed in “Openness and Trust”, which says, “we affirm that people use God today also in human relations.”
  7. A neglect in dealing adequately with that unity in and of God’s actions to which all prophets, apostles and evangelists testify, stemming from a rather fragmentary view of individual pericopes, passages and books of Scripture;
  8. A deep cynicism on the part of many students to the significance of the theological task as such;
  9. Disturbing talk that is not really necessary to verbalize the Gospel;
  10. Prevalence of the notion that God’s presence can be found in the turmoil of the streets and that, perhaps the world is a more appropriate place to worship than the sanctuary.

I believe #5, 6, 8 & 10 continue to afflict us.

The Lutheran Annual category list seems adequate proof that #5 is true.

#6 can be seen reflected in some of the Ablaze materials, which make our efforts the key to the spread of the Gospel, rather than the power of the word.

#8 is especially seen in the denigration of theological conversation throughout our synod, especially at circuit fora, district conferences and the like.

#10 is the problem which has borne the most fruit (of a bad sort).  Now, instead of saying that the world is a better place to worship than the sanctuary, the sanctuary itself has become virtually indistinguishable from the streets.

There is much to learn from history, both recent and distant, if we are willing to listen.  As Dr. Wienrich has said, “It is not a question of whether you will be a historian, but of whether you will be a good one or a bad one.”

A Fraternal Admonition I

Posted in LCMS Theological Dialogue on August 3, 2010 by Country Preacher

A recent document from a group of pastors was sent to every LCMS congregation – at least I assume it was. I received it. It was headlined “A fraternal Admonition for the LCMS”. In it, 10 different points regarding the doctrine and practice of the LCMS are laid out. One assumes that, given the recent election of a new President, who has said that “It’s Time” to sit down and discuss our differences, these men are attempting to jump start the conversation. A fine idea. So, I will join in the conversation, posting random thoughts and reactions as I have time and inclination to do so.
My first thought is that one needs to be charitable and assume that this is the beginning of a conversation. It does not make a good start to a conversation if those who disagree assume you are issuing an ultimatum. There may be a temptation to view this admonition in that way. It does use the language of “we reject this error”, which has a certain confessional connotation to it. In this case though, they most often “reject the toleration of error(s)”. With few exceptions they do not reject the errors themselves, nor those who teach them. This is different from the language used in our confessions, which at various points condemn heresies as well as those who hold them, (Augustana) and reject and condemn heresies (Formula). While the formula does speak of errors that are not to be tolerated in the church, they do not then reject toleration of those teachings, but the teachings themselves. In this way, our confessions are more precise in speaking out against false teaching. However, this also makes the confessions less of a discussion starter than a discussion ender. (At least with regard to the reformed. The Augustana led to a spirited -though ultimately unproductive – discussion with Rome.) However, the differences between this document (discussion starter?) and the confessions can, I believe, charitably be attributed to mere semantic differences, and do not in any way diminish the force of their statements against error. Of course, it does have a certain “we will go this far and no farther” feel to it. Is that helpful for the discussion? Well, in that it is an honest airing of grievances, and if it is answered by others charitably, I believe it can be very helpful in the task which lies ahead, as we begin to address the divisions in our synod.
As for the admonition itself, I will begin to address that in my next post on the subject.