I do not believe that groups like the ACELC are helpful to the cause of faithful Lutheranism in our midst.
While this is not an exhaustive examination, it is a start of my thoughts on the process. I would welcome your thoughts and insights along the way.
The Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations (ACELC) was formed this past summer for the following purpose:
The ACELC is forming as an association of congregations within the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. It is our purpose to seek a return to faithful doctrine and practice within our church body by identifying and documenting the errors of the LCMS which are being promoted or tolerated among us. Then, with united voice, to lovingly and firmly call our Synod to repentance. It is toward that end that we have formulated a clearly stated ACELC theological position respecting the issues of contention within the LCMS, and have drawn together documentation of those errors. We pray that God will bless our efforts to retain our Lutheran doctrine, practice and heritage within the LCMS.
The way the ACELC intends to accomplish this purpose is by being an association of congregations, by documenting the errors in our church body, and by then seeking unity around the ACELC theological position as articulated in its Fraternal Admonition, its proposed constitution, and its definition of confessional Lutheranism. You may find all of them HERE.
One of the things that conservatives do well (or at least do a lot of) is make statements. Even a cursory peek at the history of the LCMS would indicate a few things: 1. We have tons of statements on everything under the sun; 2. Most of them we agree to and never hear about ever again; and 3. Statements made by outside groups trying to have a positive influence on the synod are pretty much always divisive, not unifying around the Word of God.
Let me unpack each of those a little bit.
1. We have tons of statements on everything under the sun.
I remember reading some years back about a project at the St. Louis Seminary to categorize and catalog all of the doctrinal statements, encouragements, opinions and the like that 165+ years of the LCMS conventions have passed. It is bewildering, and I like this stuff! We don’t even know or understand what standing most of these documents/statements have in our church body. One of the most vivid moments at this past summer’s synodical convention for me was when Dr. Sam Nafzger was asked to come to the mic and explain the different types of documents. It was the most confusing thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
The multiplication of confessions and documents in our midst is more a sign of our disunity than it is our unity. Now don’t get me wrong. People and churches of conviction can and must confess the truth and deny the error. However, I am not at all convinced that making statements is the answer on how we should do it.
2. Most of them we agree to and never hear about ever again.
The Predestinarian Controversy. The Iowa Theses. The Minneapolis Theses. The Thiensville Theses. The Brief Statement (ok, we’ve heard of that one…). The Common Confession, parts I and II, The 1973 Statement (heard of that one too). Those are just a handful. For the most part, they come for a while, maybe draw some heat on this or that topic, and then they are gone. I’m not trying to be cynical here. But the reality is that most of the matters that appear REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT at the time are but a grain of sand in the life of Christ’s Church.
3. Statements made by outside groups trying to have a positive influence on the synod are pretty much always divisive, not unifying around the Word of God.
There have been and are today lots of groups on both the “right” and the “left” of our church body that have made statements, agitated for various candidates and positions, and have worked to change the direction of the synod. I’ve been involved in some of these groups over the years, and many of my friends continue to be involved in them. Personally, I think they can serve a good and legitimate purpose in an elective body like the LCMS. I have no problems whatsoever with people advocating for what they believe is right, and whom they believe should be elected.
What gets messy is when those same groups start issuing statements. The Statement of the Forty-Four. The State of the Church Conferences. Consensus. When these external groups start making theological statements and positions, they by definition are setting themselves up as a sub-church. The ACELC (as our most recent example) has a constitution, with congregational membership, and the like. How is that not the precursor or antidote to a new church body?
Caveat and Conclusion
I put these thoughts forward for your consideration. I know four out of the five steering committee members, and would consider them all friends. I don’t really have any disagreement with the content of anything per se, but I am simply not convinced that this approach is going to be helpful in our common walk together in Christ.
Pr. Todd Peperkorn
Messiah Lutheran Church