Mark G. Schroeder
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). Those words of King David remind us of the blessings that come when families are united in love and in a common purpose. They illustrate the joy that comes when individual Christians share a common faith and a common mission.
These words apply as well to Christian church bodies, when groups of Christians are united in their common stand on God’s Word and in the doctrines that they proclaim. When such unity exists, there you find genuine, God-pleasing fellowship.
God’s visible church on earth should always be striving for that kind of unity—not an outward unity that ignores or minimizes differences and disagreements, but a true unity built on God’s truth. When God grants the blessings of true unity, that unity should be cherished and nourished and expressed. When there are divisions in the church, God’s people will seek to restore unity brought about by agreement in the teachings of the Scriptures.
The Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) was formed in the late 1950s when some members and congregations of WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) members were convinced that WELS and the ELS were not acting in keeping with biblical fellowship principles in their dealing with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Since that time, citing doctrinal differences, the CLC has not been in fellowship with WELS or the ELS.
For the past several years, representatives of the WELS, the ELS, and the CLC (three from each synod) have been meeting in formal doctrinal discussions to determine whether God-pleasing doctrinal unity exists between the three synods, which would make possible a re-establishment of fellowship. The first question addressed by these representatives was, “When do churches in fellowship with each other need to separate?” Bible passages were thoroughly examined, and past doctrinal statements and convention resolutions of the three synods were reviewed to clarify current positions and remove any past misunderstandings.
As a result of these discussions, the “Joint Statement Regarding the Termination of Fellowship” was adopted by the nine-member group. It was viewed as a necessary starting point for further discussions on other matters of doctrine and practice. The “Joint Statement” was then adopted by the conventions of WELS and the ELS in 2017.
This past summer, the convention of the CLC considered the statement. The convention said, “We acknowledge with joy that the ‘Joint Statement Regarding the Termination of Fellowship’ is a scripturally sound presentation of doctrinal principles.” But the convention did not formally accept the statement, saying that it “does NOT resolve all of the issues involving the doctrine of fellowship.” (It should be noted that the statement was never intended to resolve all issues but was to serve as a necessary first step.) So, the CLC neither formally accepted nor rejected the statement but instead resolved to make a final decision on the statement at its 2020 convention. The convention expressed the hope that discussions could continue in the meantime.
WELS and ELS representatives will meet in October to discuss what the next steps in the process should be prior to the CLC’s formal action on the statement in 2020. We pray that this process can continue in some way as we seek to determine whether agreement between the synods exists and whether full fellowship can be considered.
Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.
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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018
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