Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Based on What

Last week I made you aware that the final proposals of the “Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Structuring and Governance” had been released under the guidance of our Synodical President, Pastor Gerald Kieschnick. I also let you know that it is our hope to have our elected delegates to next summers Synodical convention report on these proposals after their pre-convention caucus, some time early next year. After that it had been my intention to move on and not pay the matter too much heed, trusting in others who are my betters to spend some time analyzing and discussing what has been proposed.

Little did I know how disturbed I was going to be later in the week when one of these men, Pastor Klemet Preus (son of Dr. Robert Preus of blessed memory,) would publish a brief blog post calling to light what is without question the most profound change being put forward.

In every congregational constitution in the Missouri Synod, and in our synodical constitution as well, there is one article which is generally referred to as the “unalterable” article. It is an article which which is nearly impossible to change without enormous consent and/or good reason. The stated purpose of this article is to set forth, in no uncertain terms, our “confession.” That is, it is the article which states what we intend to believe, teach and confess. It might have seemed strange then that the BRTFSSG (the Task Force) as early as last spring had stated that one of its goals was to “clarify” that article. In their final report they have at last proposed what that means. We do well to pay close attention because what has been proposed may, in fact, change what we, as the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, believe.

First, here in italics is what the current “Article II” of the LC-MS states; (our constitution at St. John is identical):

The Synod and every member of the Synod, accepts without reservation:

1. The Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and of practice;

2. All the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God, to wit: the three Ecumenical Creeds (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed), the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Large Catechism of Luther, the Small Catechism of Luther, and the Formula of Concord.

It might not be the most flashy statement in the world, but it gets its point across. The Lutherans in the Missouri Synod believe that the Bible (all of it) is the final Word on any matter. We then state that we believe the Book of Concord (all of it) is what we believe this Word says. The Task Force wants to change this without changing it, sort of. This might be well intentioned, or it might not. I don't know. What I do know is that what appears on the surface to be a very small change could amount to a tremendous betrayal in the future.

Here is the proposal. The new constitution will divide Article II into two parts. The first part will be the “Confession of Faith,” and the second part will be the “Confessional Basis.” Everything that we have so far confessed (the Bible and the Book of Concord) is included in the “Confessional Basis” section, but the actual confession proposed is significantly shorter, as follows in italics:

"The Synod, and every member of the Synod, believes, teaches and confesses without reservation that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Triune God, alone is the savior of the world, and that only through faith in Him is there forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation (John 3:16-18; I John 2:2; Acts 4:12)."

True enough. What discerning Christian would question it? I don't want to question it. What I want to draw your attention to is the fine detail between what it means to have a “confession” and what it means to have a “confessional basis.” This is where the rubber hits the road.

In the 1970's, when historical criticism was making inroads into the LC-MS through St. Louis Seminary, those “in the know” were believing and teaching that the Bible had errors in it. In this sense, they could not longer refer to the Bible as the Word of God. But, not wanting to appear unfaithful, and knowing that simply saying “The Bible is wrong” would never go over well, they got around their doubts by stating that the Bible “contains” God's Word. Using that little distinction, those “in the know” could get around the issue without ever having to come clean.

I will not be so bold as to say that the same move is being plied here, but it is tremendously important that we recognize that intended or not, the current wording will allow any pastor or congregation in the Synod to deny almost everything that we have thus far believed, while publicly saying that they believe just as we do. So long as they believe that “Jesus is their Savior,” they could justify their own rejection of infant baptism or denial of Christ's real presence in the Holy Supper. It is a very similar thing to what the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has done in their constitution, listing the Bible as an “authoritative source and norm,” and the Confessions as “valid interpretations.” In fact, one might even argue that the ELCA's wording is stronger than our new wording would be.

I am writing this to you because it is looking like next summer's convention might turn into a real dog fight, and, if it is, I don't want you to be caught unawares. There are many people in the ELCA who woke up this past year and said, “Where did our Church go? How did we get to this point, where we are ordaining active homosexual clergy?” That happened because little by little their confession was being chipped away at, relegating the Scriptures to nothing more than a “confessional basis.” Now, for them, it's too late. It's not for you. This is still your Church body, and you still can make your voice heard.

The truth of the matter is that, no matter what changes may or may not be needed in our synodical structure, Article II of our constitution is not one of them. It has stood the test of time and was made “unalterable” for a reason. This is the article that safeguards you and me together, so that we may know that we are working with a Church body that believes what we believe. We don't just believe Jesus is our savior, but that he was sent by the Father and born of the virgin Mary. He has called us by the Word which he sent in the power of the Holy Spirit. We receive this salvation not by works, but by grace, through faith. These promises are given us in baptism and with the body and blood of our Lord, in order to strengthen us for the Last Day when Christ will raise us and all believers from the dead. Our steadfast confession goes on and on about these matters, and for good reason. These are the Truths of God's Holy Word. And how blessed we are to be a Church that boldly has said, “We believe it!” It is my prayer we do not accidentally set such a great heritage aside.

That then, is the real purpose of this weeks eNews: if you haven't yet, please begin praying for our Missouri Synod. Pray for our leaders, that they would use good discernment. Pray for our delegates, that they will not vote for changes that are not needed. Pray for our pastors, that they can continue to serve in good conscience. And pray for your children, that the Lutheran Church may be strong in the future so that they too have places to hear the Gospel and receive the Sacraments for the forgiveness of their sins.

Pray that the Lord would keep us steadfast in his Word. And don't be afraid to get involved, dig deeper, and do more than take my word for it. You can begin by reading more of what Pastor Preus observed, or you can read our Synod's first President, Dr. C.F.W. Walther wrote about why we adhere to our confessions, or (if you're gutsy,) you could read the document itself.

I am always available to talk with you about this or any other issue. I don't intend to be a downer in the middle of your week! It's my plan to keep the focus of the eNewsletters on theological musings and proclamation about who Jesus is and what he has done for us. But I do consider part of my task to keep you informed on all the issues that affect you as a congregation. In the past, the Missouri Synod has been a church body known both for its conservative stance and its empowered laity. We must pray that God so preserves us thus in his mercy.


Anonymous said...

Great post! Notice the wording in the amended article, "and that only through faith in Him". If they are taking the time to tighten up the language and make it more comprehensive, then why not state "and that through faith alone in Him", or maybe "and that only through faith alone in Him". Instead, what the wording being proposed suggests is that we can now agree with any synergist who states "only through faith" are we saved. Well, "only through faith" doesn't exclude works. It might be that "only through faith" and the good works which accompanies that faith that I am saved. But, when we clearly state "justification is by faith alone" then there is no room for synergism. "Alone" makes a large difference here and I can't see why this task force would not have used such language when given the chance.

RevFisk said...

Thanks for the comment Jim.

There is enough wiggle room in that confession to squish even Arianism into it. As I said, it makes the ECLA confession of faith look downright conservative.

Dawn K said...

Hi Pastor Fisk,

It seems to me that various people in the synod think that doctrine beyond "just believing in Jesus" is divisive and a hindrance to mission. I call it "Gospel Reductionism Lite." I think this is why they want to water down the confession of faith - it gives them more leeway to allow whatever they want to allow in the name of mission and outreach.

But as you've said the "confession of faith" is so vague that just about anyone short of a Unitarian Universalist could agree to it. I could have agreed with that confession of faith when I was an evangelical. I could have confessed every word of that statement while at the same time withering under heterodox teaching.

Separating the "confession of faith" from the "confessional basis" makes me wonder how long it will be before the "confessional basis" will fall by the wayside.

On a more personal note, I hope to meet you in person one day ... I live in the northern suburbs of Philly and I attend Grace Lutheran in Warminster (Pastor Ray's church).


RevFisk said...

Thanks for the comment Dawn!

I'm glad you found Pastor "Sting" Ray's parish. Here in Philly the number of Gospel-preaching pulpits are at a premium.

I know its a trek, but our "PLU" young adults meets for Bible study every Thursday at 6:30 in Media, PA, at the Seven Stones Cafe. It's a good (if small) group looking to deepen their faith through attentive study of the Word.

God bless! God is always with you in your baptism.

Anonymous said...

I have looked at some other sites and haven't heard anything about this from the convention. Was there any action?

Any info would be appreciated.


RevFisk said...

To my knowledge, these items did not come to the floor. I am not certain why that might be. It was a major part of the proposals. However, it would have required a 2/3 vote to pass. Given how this convention was going (51/49 most the way,) it is unlikely it would have passed.

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