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A (Partial) Solution to the Missouri Synod's Current Fellowship Debate

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Let the healing begin! Here's a way to affirm both the historic doctrine and practice of the church and District President David Benke.

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod will hold its convention July 10-15 in 2004. Those who follow the synod (often abbreviated as LCMS) are aware of the events involving LCMS president Kieschnick, District President David Benke, and the Commission on Constitutional Matters following President Benke's participation in the "Prayer for America" event in Yankee Stadium. For those with little or no acquaintance with the LCMS, the details are often shrouded in confusion.

Longer explanations and discussion are given elsewhere, but for our purposes a short one will have to do. The LCMS is a theologically conservative Lutheran Church that has always prized clarity in doctrine and confession. In order to be clear about Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, the LCMS has historically considered its activities working with other Christians and the larger society in two ways. Activities that do not involve worship (i.e., poor relief, international aid for hunger, disaster recovery, etc.) are often done with other churches and agencies. Activities that do involve worship, however, are seen as essential and necessary to the clear proclamation of Law and Gospel, and of the historic doctrine and practice of the Church. In these cases, other Churches, Christians, and the larger society are often encouraged to attend, but the altar and pulpit are only shared with those who believe as the Church confesses. In this the LCMS practices what was once common among many churches in North America (and still the official position of some such as the Orthodox and Roman Catholic), by requiring that communicants agree with the doctrine of the church. This practice, sometimes called close or closed communion, is part of the LCMS' doctrine of Altar and Pulpit Fellowship.

Needless to say, the devil is in the details, and like all churches in North America, the LCMS has not been able to escape the pressures of the popular culture. These have done much to erode faithfulness to the historic doctrine and practice of the LCMS. While the LCMS escaped much of the onslaught of liberal and post-modern theology when it experienced the Walk-Out in 1974 (a subject also much discussed elsewhere), it has not been immune to the current trends of convenience, the desire to be popular, and the confusion of genuine evangelism with the earthly desire to count sheep instead of feeding them. This is evidenced in the Church Growth Movement, Contemporary Worship, and the rather strange (to this author) notion that truth is the enemy of mission work. Equally strange is the move to adopt the new post-modern tribalism of race, culture, class (or some yet to be discovered identity) dressed up in religious garb as the latest hot new fad in outreach, which dictates that we are to reach individuals with the Gospel not as individuals, but by pandering to them as little more than stereotypical totems of their demographic.

It is, of course, sad to see churches adopt the very movements discredited for more than 30 years in the larger nation and society. It is particularly sad for the LCMS, which was largely successful in resisting both modern liberalism and modern fundamentalism. This time, however, the struggle continues with their successors, two of which are variously described as post-modern theology and American Evangelicalism. This is not to say that the LCMS cannot learn from both its post-modern and evangelical friends and elements (and also Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), but if the lesson swallows them whole, or even intact, the LCMS will no longer be what its own confessions declare.

There are those who see in District Presdient Benke's actions in Yankee Stadium - and the various reactions to the event within the LCMS - evidence of this new struggle, which the Church seems to be losing. That is also discussed elsewhere, but there may be a way out of the current morass, at least this one little part of it. Synodical conventions are deliberative bodies, and they operate by resolution and vote. The resolution below seeks to accomplish several salutary goals. It brings to everyone's attention the excellent statement that President Benke made on 1998 October 22, which clearly expressed support for the LCMS' historic position on the clarity of doctrine and confession in fellowship. It also gives President Benke an opportunity to confess once again in 2004 what he confessed in 1998, namely his conviction that this doctrine of the Church is his own, and he will gladly and willingly live by it.

This solution is obviously not comprehensive, because it doesn't answer all the necessary questions. For example, it does not resolve the tension that exists between District President Benke's own confession of 1998 and his actions in 2001 and up to today. But he can work on that later, perhaps when he takes the podium in response to this resolution. In the meantime, this resolution provides a way on that road. Any voting member of the convention should feel free to introduce this memorial should they so desire.

Memorial and Resolution to Commend President Benke

TO COMMEND DISTRICT PRESIDENT BENKE FOR HIS STATEMENT of 1998 OCTOBER 22
  • WHEREAS, All pastors are commissioned by their Lord to confess their Savior in the fullness of His Word and Truth (Matthew 28:20), and
  • WHEREAS, The Lutheran Church has historically expressed this faithfulness to Scripture and the Confessions by insisting that doctrinal agreement precede Altar and Pulpit Fellowship, and
  • WHEREAS, pastors and officers of the Church demonstrate God-pleasing humility when they willingly embrace guidance and correction of their actions in upholding their promises to both their Lord and their Church, therefore be it
  • RESOLVED THAT District President David Benke's Statement of 1998 October 22 demonstrated this faithfulness and humility, which reads:
On September 9, 1998, I participated in an interfaith prayer service for the poor entitled: Lift Up the Poor With the Voices of Faith. The service included representatives of non-Christian religions, and also representatives of Christian churches with which our Synod is not in fellowship. My participation in this service was a direct violation of the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and consequently, a violation of the Constitution, Bylaws and doctrinal resolutions of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. I also recognize and admit that my participation in this interfaith prayer service was a violation of my duties and responsibilities as an elected officer of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

While well-intended, what I did was wrong. I therefore sincerely and publicly apologize to the Synod for my actions in this connection. I assure the Synod that I will not repeat this error in the future by participating as an officiant in ecumenical services.


and, be it further

  • RESOLVED THAT The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in Convention commend Dr. Benke for this statement, and be it finally
  • RESOLVED THAT The Synod in convention call upon Dr. Benke to affirm this, his unequivocal and sincere adherence to the position of his Synod as expressed in his statement.

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