Thursday, November 1, 2012

Church Fellowship and the Ecclesia Augustana

The inaugural post of this blog made the lofty claim that the Ecclesia Augustana “isn’t the LCMS.  It isn’t the WELS.  It isn’t the ELCA, ELS, CLC, ALCA, [or] ELDoNA.”  In my opinion, this has significant implications in the realm of church fellowship.



Coming from a WELS perspective, the topic of church fellowship has long been controversial.   The WELS Theses on Church Fellowship claim that “Church fellowship is every joint expression, manifestation, and demonstration of the common faith in which Christians on the basis of their confession find themselves to be united with one another."  This may come as a shock to anyone who knows me, but I actually agree with the WELS on this.  I don’t think it is our job to try to determine some ambiguous “levels” of fellowship.  Nor when the Lord said to treat the errant in our midst as a “heathen and a tax collector" or to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves,” do I think that He actually meant “don’t let them preach or take Communion with you, but feel free to pray and do charity work with them whenever you like.”



What’s more, I agree with the WELS Theses when they further say:  “in selecting specific individuals or groups for a joint expression of faith, we can do this only on the basis of their confession. It would be presumptuous on our part to attempt to recognize Christians on the basis of the personal faith in their hearts."  Indeed, knowing what someone truly believes is an impossible task for anyone but God, “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."  Moreover, the Lord has told us that “every tree is known by its own fruit,” so we can only judge a person in terms of their actions and confession.  If someone does not share our mutual confession, they should be excluded from our mutual fellowship.



But what happens when someone claims to share our mutual confession, but is living and acting in direct contradiction to that confession?  Or, even more sadly, what if someone does share our mutual confession, but our man-made church body (vis a vis “[a] spoonful of letters one might fish out of a bowl of alphabet soup”) tells us that they do not?



As someone whose home parish is affiliated with the WELS, I have struggled with both of these questions quite a bit.  There are many people in the LCMS, ALCA, et al. who share my confession of faith.  It pains me that my man-made church body tells me that I am not in fellowship with these people.   At the same time, there are a large number of laymen and pastors in the WELS whose statements, worship, and actions indicate that they do not agree with what they claim is our shared confession.  I would rather commune with someone in the former category than those in the latter any day of the week.  Is this a violation of church fellowship principles?


I would contend that it is not a violation.  Moreover, I would argue that it is a violation of church fellowship principles to commune with someone who does not share our confession of the Augustana and everything that entails, even if they pretend to be in fellowship with us; yes, even if they are a member of our man-made institution. 

Without a doubt, this will not be a popular philosophy.  We like the comforting notion that the Holy Spirit "has preserved all 400,000 members of the WELS in 100% doctrinal unity," to paraphrase a sermon I once heard.  But such notions are really more destructive than they are comforting.  God the Holy Spirit has promised no such unity to our man-made institutions; rather, "He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true."  This is the unity that the Holy Spirit grants us on earth.  And by His grace we have also been granted a unity of confession in the Ecclesia Augustana.  If only we would stop shying away from this unity and embrace it - in spite of alphabet soup.
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About the author:
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My name is Daniel Baker.  I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and am a member of a parish affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  I was baptized into the Papal Church, but have been a member of my home parish for 18 years.  I am currently finishing up a Bachelor of the Arts degree in History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  By trade I am a church musician who loves the Liturgy and hymns of the Lutheran Church.  I currently play the organ for three different WELS parishes in the state of Wisconsin.  My years as a Confessional Lutheran and church musician are few, so I encourage you to take my writings with a grain of salt and welcome constructive criticism and correction.  Thank you for reading!

8 comments:

  1. My point exactly. On paper they are in fellowship, so we can commune them without a question. On the other hand that confessional LCMS guy is heterdox because he's in the LCMS. Ridiculous I say!

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  2. Case in point, Mr. Moseley, I would rather commune with you than with many WELS folks. Thanks for commenting!

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  3. We defend our fellowship doctrine usually with 2 John 8-11. My concern with this is we take a particulr caution and apply it far too broadly. Verse 10 states that anyone who "comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him". The following verse states if we do take him in we share in his "wicked work".

    What teaching is John referring? I believe verse 7 is key: "Many who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh..." There is no reference here to a church body's doctrine on Men and Women Roles, or doctrine on baptism: infant or adult.

    God's word states that those who believe that Jesus is the Christ and that their sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake has eternal life. This is not a difficult concept to understand. I believe in the salvific work of our Triune God and am saved. We have added so much to this command not intended.

    Do you take fellowship seriously? Then do not separate yourself from those God has justified! To say that we can not fellowship with other believers is an insidious undermining of God's command to love our neighbors. What? Am l to love you but refuse to associate with you? Your my brother or sister in Jesus, but l really can not have anythibg to do with you?

    No, the Holy Spirit is clear. If you deny the truth of who Jesus is you are not a Christian and therefore I do not fellowship with you.

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  4. If they do not believe what God has Divinely revealed to us, then are they believers? Christ says "unless one is born of water and the word, he shall not enter the Kingdom of heaven." Christ says "unless you eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, you have no life in you." Christ says "this is the work of God: to believe the One He has sent." If you don't believe these simple, unambiguous statements, then in what sense are you a believer?

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    1. In what sense does believing there is no difference between roles of men and women indicate that a person is not a Christian?

      Also, you have not refuted my statement about 2 John. Unless I am misunderstanding the text or have the wrong verse our fellowship doctrine has misapplied Biblical truth.

      My understanding of salvation is that we are saved by the free gift of faith through no merit of our own.







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  5. Ecclesia Augustana should require each of her communicants to pledge his life in defense of the entire BOC. But should this same fellowship standard be imposed on those seeking Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution?

    No. "the common faith in which Christians on the basis of their confession find themselves to be united with one another" that is necessary for baptismal and absolution fellowship is not at the same level of fellowship that is required for communion fellowship. No one should be denied baptism and/or absolution fellowship because he is unwilling to confess the entirety of the BOC as long as he professes no error (LC, Baptism, 54; AC, XII).

    I suggest WELS scrap her fellowship theses and follow the fellowship principles of the BOC. "this declaration herewith presented concerning all the controverted articles aforementioned and explained, and no other, is our faith, doctrine, and confession..." FC, SD, XII.

    Daniel Gorman

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    1. Mr. Gorman, I don't think failure to subscribe to the BoC is necessarily a bar on Communion fellowship either - assuming no error is professed. The BoC is not the only Confession of faith; it's not the first and it won't be the last. It is okay for different groups to express the same beliefs differently. The problem is when we pretend to be in fellowship when there is clear disagreement on one side or the other.

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    2. From 1973-1977, I belonged to a FAL church that required each communicant to publicly confess the entire BOC. I prefer that level of examination. However, I am not offended by churches that accept a far lower standard of examination consistent with the BOC.

      My main point was what the examination that precedes communion is necessarily different from the examination that precedes baptism and absolution. Luther proposed different questions for baptismal and absolution candidates than he did for communicants.

      Even Luther's one question, "Dost thou believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?" seems too onerous for the TLH/LSB/CW revised Common Service. The LCMS and WELS level of absolution fellowship is everyone in the church who reads the liturgy!

      What level of examination is required for prayer fellowship? Did any of the church fathers leave us an example of the type of questions we should be asking?

      Daniel Gorman

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