Why groups like the ACELC aren’t helpful: Part Two

In my last post on the topic, I posited that the multiplication of statements has not historically been helpful in the Missouri.  I would be delighted to be corrected, but I am hard pressed to find one example in our LCMS history that would point to an external group (which I will explain in a moment) serving to call the synod to repentance, admonish, exhort, etc, and that actually resulting in a change in LCMS doctrine and practice.  I will happily be corrected.

It seems as though there are a couple of basic objections to this line of thinking.  Let’s see if I can list them off here.

  • This is not an “outside group,” but members of the LCMS calling it to repentance.
  • There are plenty of “outside groups” that have a very positive influence on the LCMS.  Higher Things, LLL, LWML, etc.
  • How will we discuss and correct the problems in our church without such entities?  Doing nothing is not an option.
  • The synod is not a church, but simply an external organization.  As such, it is good and reasonable that congregations join together to serve as a positive influence on the LCMS as a whole.

I’m sure there are other objections to my first post.  That is my distilling of the arguments as I’ve seen them.  Here are my responses:

This is not an “outside group,” but members of the LCMS calling it to repentance.

In one sense this is true, in another obvious sense it is not.  The ACELC (as well as Higher Things, LLL, etc.) are by definition an outside organizations.  They are incorporated, with officers, a constitution, finances, and so forth.  While the individual members of a given organization may be LCMS, the organization itself is not.  I as an individual member of synod (rostered) may interact, cajole, influence, and speak.  So can congregations.  I would contend, however, that when a group of pastors and/or congregations start speaking together ad hoc, and outside of our agreed upon structure, it creates a conflict that I do not believe is helpful.

Please note, I’m not saying it’s wrong, sinful, or anything to that effect.  I am saying it is not helpful.  I don’t believe that it will help the confession of the faith in the LCMS.

The reason I do not believe it is helpful is because once that ad hoc entity is created and begins to espouse a particular position, the underlying question is now “what is the point of this group?” and NOT “what are they trying to say?”  That is one of the many things I learned during my time working with Consensus.

There are plenty of “outside groups” that have a very positive influence on the LCMS.  Higher Things, LLL, LWML, etc.

Very true.  The way that these various entities have served as a positive influence has been by what I would call vocation.  Higher Things works with youth to teach and pass on the faith.  LLL (primarily) works and teaches men.  LCMS works and teaches women.  Bethesda, all of the various Lutheran schools, the groups that are the most helpful are the ones that have a laser tight focus on how they may serve the furtherance of the Gospel in our midst.

None of them have as their stated purpose to change the doctrine and practice of the LCMS (either in a good way or a bad way).  They simply do what they do, and the results speak for themselves.

I would commend that the places where confessional Lutheranism has been the most vibrant are the places where there is a need and it is filled by like minded people who recognize the need and act upon it.

I suppose one could look at a group like the ACELC and say that is exactly what they are doing.  As I look at the stated goals, that’s not what I see.  (I will address where this conversation should take place in my next post.)

How will we discuss and correct the problems in our church without such entities?  Doing nothing is not an option.

I believe conservatives are people of conviction.  People of conviction want to speak what they believe, see things in pretty clear black and white categories, and want to have all of the lines cleanly drawn.  I resonate with that.  It is who I am as well.

But publicizing a list of all of the “tolerated errors” in the LCMS, what that does and will do is create fissures, cracks, broken relationships, side taking, antagonism, and anger.  The laity will remain ignorant of the whole picture, or they will only be catechized about one “side” of an issue.  Where does it end?  Is this really the best we can do in the LCMS?

The synod is not a church, but simply an external organization.  As such, it is good and reasonable that congregations join together to serve as a positive influence on the LCMS as a whole.

This is a big one.  It is big enough that it shapes much of our common discourse together.  I’m going to deal with this in another post, because I don’t want this to get lost in a bullet.

So what is coming next is an answer to this last bullet, and a proposal for a more positive and helpful way to approach the challenges facing the LCMS.  I welcome your thoughts.

Pr. Todd A. Peperkorn, STM

Messiah Lutheran Church (LCMS)

Kenosha, Wisconsin

4 thoughts on “Why groups like the ACELC aren’t helpful: Part Two

  1. A few thoughts on this topic:

    I would like to say that we are blessed that we do not have more “outside groups” in this synod, as compared to the Roman Catholic church. That church body has multiple groups all claiming some type of need to address the errors of their church body. Most read like special interest groups, or political action committees. These group sow much confusion in their respective church body. Maybe that says something about how the LCMS has some level of uniformity by the lack of the number of “outside groups” existing in the synod.

    I do understand the need to be vigilant in regards to doctrine and assuring that the true faith is passed on from generation to generation. I believe that the church can benefit from groups who do call into question those things that may not be scriptural or doctrinal before it takes hold. The ecumenical councils come to mind. Yet, the LCMS is not set up in its current structure to hold discussions on errors (real or perceived) to come to a conclusion or answer. Doctrinal questions are sent to a committee who are elected to their posts, instead of non-elected theologians, and answers to questions do not come in a timely fashion. This has led to synodical positions being decided by whichever way the political wind was blowing when people were elected, and also when such issues were either accepted or denied to be decided upon. (Yes, I know, the first seven ecumenical councils were not perfect and there was politics involved with those as well.) It would be a refreshing change of pace to actually have open discussions in the LCMS regarding the issues facing the church.

    I don’t understand why the ACELC needs to be set up as a 501(c)3. Why is there a need for this designation so soon? I know that the IRS gives great leeway to religious organizations when applying for tax-exempt status, but why the need to have a treasury and ability to raise funds, with the bonus to have donors write off their contributions? Is this to qualify for Thrivent matching funds, or to apply for grants? What expenses, other than printing and mailing costs, are there? I can understand Higher Things, or other similar organizations, needing donations to continue their activities and hence applying for tax-exempt status, but I am just not convinced with the whole “in a post-9/11 world” arguement.

    I guess I am confused by what the ACELC is trying to accomplish. In other words, what their “end game” is. It is no secret that their are problems in the LCMS. There have been problems for years. I can understand the frustration of seeing the LCMS “paper doctrine” not matching what its “practiced doctrine” is. I get frustrated as well. I don’t know if things have gotten to the point where there is the need for yet another group getting together to point out what many already know. A group that goes beyond pointing out problems and offering reasonable solutions would be welcomed.

  2. There has to be a better term than “outside group”. Maybe, “unofficial” or “unsanctioned” or “para-synodical” or something. Although, not all such groups are alike even in how they are “outside of” or “alongside of” the synod.

    I suggest “para-synodical”.

    I do think that some para-synodical groups, even those not holding RSO or Auxilary status, are helpful and useful. Until recently, Higher Things was that. So it’s not the nature of the relationship to synod that counts so much, as it is what they are DOING – that we find unhelpful, right?

  3. I notice that folks don’t really object to what ACELC is saying, they seem to object to HOW it is done. So, I ask AGAIN, what would be a better way to begin about a discussion than with a paper?

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