This presentation was delivered at the thirteenth annual Oktoberfest held at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Kewanee, Illinois (October 13, 2008) and is presented here in modified form. It was one of four presentations delivered by former members of the Wisconsin Synod, now members of the Missouri Synod, about the differences between the two former Synodical Conference partners.
OUR FELLOWSHIP IS WITH THE FATHER AND HIS SON
A Bit of History
As far as such ecclesiastical associations go it didn’t last that long, less then a century, I’m speaking about the Synodical Conference. For all the talk about being built on the “solid foundation,” and doctrine in “truth and purity,” and for all the good that was accomplished by the conference its end would have astonished its founders, a footnote in 20th century American Lutheranism. Perhaps it was built on more sand than anyone had thought. The end was hardly noticed. It had essentially occurred in 1961, several years before the final gasp, when Wisconsin, the second largest body of the Conference, filed for divorce. Virile, brawny Missouri had found another lover. Everyone, even Wisconsin, that dowdy old gal, knew that the American Lutheran Church was prettier and more urbane. Missouri would’ve been content to continue the marriage with Wisconsin as long as its paramour could be kept, but Wisconsin would have nothing to do with it. She had been debating about the separation for a decade or so. The debate largely involved the interpretation of Romans 16:17. What to do? Was it “mark and avoid” or “mark, mark and avoid” or “mark, mark, mark and avoid”? The Confessional Lutheran Church (CLC) was spawned in the turmoil of the debate. The CLC likes to be known as the church body which actually practices Wisconsin’s doctrines of Church and Ministry and Fellowship. Its ranks grew as various pastors and churches at various times finished their marking and started avoiding. My vicarage supervisor, who had gone through the turmoil, said about those days, had he sat through one more conference paper on Romans 16:17 he would’ve thrown up. Missouri’s second marriage also ended in divorce, and this time there were grounds. Though bi-polar, Missouri has moments of lucidity. Although a second failed marriage is not a good track record.
The Missouri-Wisconsin union had ended. Wisconsin was all alone with her younger cousin, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, also known as the “Little Norwegian Synod.” Uffda! Yet don’t feel sorry for the old gal. As it sometimes happens with spurned wives who have lived their entire married lives in the shadow of their husbands, there was a liberation of sorts. Wisconsin got to spread her wings in spite of the fears of some. My father, for instance, had argued against the split. The doctrinal differences weren’t that significant for him and he believed that Wisconsin couldn’t survive without her former mate. Ironically, he became a big player in Wisconsin’s resurgence. After leaving the parish ministry and the office of district president he assumed the position of executive secretary of home missions. During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s Wisconsin was opening 20 to 25 new missions a year. Not bad for a welterweight synod, to change metaphors. “Every state by ’68!” I don’t know if my father was the originator of that slogan, but it sure sounds like him. You know, “Gol darnit, we’re gonna plant a mission, one each in Maine and Mississippi, those states just hankerin’ for Lutheranism, all fifty states covered!” As a seminary graduate I too was a part of the resurgence. I was assigned to North St. Louis County, Missouri. The second WELS congregation in the area! My brother in South County and I stood at the ready. Like Elwood and Jake we were on a mission from God! Yet, upon examination there didn’t seem to be that much difference between my Lutherans and their Lutherans. I sometimes felt like I was carrying coals to Newcastle. You know, in hindsight, sharing a conservative Lutheranism of mild confessionalism with people who were plagued with the same kind of Lutheranism. But I put my nose to the grind stone. By the time I left my partner in South County and I had planted two more WELS missions: one on the eastside in Belleville, Illinois and one on the west in St. Charles County. We had the place surrounded! After ten years I headed west to the “land of the fruits and nuts” with a wife, a daughter and four Cardinal fans in tow. Another daughter was added in California.
Church history and Scripture abound in ironies. Well, there are no ironies for God, I know that. He sees the whole thing as it is, for the whole thing is his thing, it is bound up in him, but his doings at times strike us sinful mortals as very ironic. The first, and lesser, irony of Missouri-Wisconsin relations is that Wisconsin broke fellowship with Missouri, in part, over the doctrine of fellowship. Oh there were other issues: Church and Ministry being significant. Then there was the B-I-B-L-E; the growing affection among some in Missouri for higher criticism. Many in Wisconsin and Missouri had warned of dire consequences. When the Seminex debacle took place in 1974 those prophecies came true. Amid the sadness there was a real sense of vindication on Wisconsin’s part at the time. Let’s face it, “I told you so!” can boost your self confidence.
Just the same, at the time the doctrine of fellowship was the biggie, made all the larger due to Missouri’s dalliances with the ALC. Characterizations of Missouri’s, and Wisconsin’s, positions were a natural result. Missouri, it was said, practiced “levels of fellowship” or as it was sometimes inaccurately labeled, “selective fellowship.” Wisconsin, on the other hand, practiced what was termed the “unit concept of fellowship” - a kind of all-or-nothing approach which is a Wisconsin distinctive. For example Missouri bought into the military chaplaincy program with varying degrees of blessing and grief. It also embraced the Scouting program. Wisconsin opted for a civilian chaplaincy adjunct to the military and it also started the Lutheran Pioneer program for boys and girls (they’re just like Scouts except they wear red scarves). This approach is driven by Wisconsin’s principles of fellowship. Tabitha Moldenhauer, who also made the jump from Wisconsin to Missouri, called my attention to the link between Wisconsin’s doctrine of the Office of the Holy Ministry and the doctrine of Fellowship. Wisconsin’s position on the Ministry is a kind of leveling and equalizing of all ministerial positions and functions, indeed all Christian acts. This is the natural result of its functional view of the Ministry. For example, if you have the Absolution and gospel preaching on a given Sunday, then the gospel incarnate of Holy Communion is not essential. The first and third Sundays are sufficient. In like manner, as our previous speakers have noted, Wisconsin’s egalitarian approach to the “public ministry” serves to deputize almost everyone to do ministerial functions, with almost everyone in the public ministry; again another leveling. Therefore, all acts equally fall under the rubrics of fellowship. This not only includes such things as altar and pulpit fellowship, but also matters such as joint prayer and some forms of social work, the latter often referred to during the debate as “cooperation in externals.” In Wisconsin’s view individual members in essence now become the synod or church that their parish belongs to, with their every action being a churchly or synodical act. However, is this what Scripture means by koinonia? A bishop of the church praying publicly at Yankee Stadium is not entirely the same as two Lutheran cousins, who are united through faith and the Eucharist, praying together privately at suppertime, even though they are separated by synodical divisions and closed communion. However, to be fair, a recent response on the Q&A of the official Wisconsin Synod website makes an allowance for such private prayer fellowship, but only if the deluded Missouri Synod relative is unaware of the errors in his or her church. However, this indulgence is not granted if the Missouri relative is convinced in his or her errors. Wisconsin theologians also make allowances for pastoral ministrations to other Christians, such as at the deathbed. These exceptions look suspiciously like the practice of “levels of fellowship,” though based on the extremis of doctrinal ignorance or the need for Extreme Unction. Though anecdotal, my experience with Wisconsin Synod people seems to show that their practice is more in line with Missouri on the matter of private prayer than that practiced by a Wisconsin hardliner, who at mealtime prayer might turn his back on the Missourians seated at the same table in order to say his “Come, Lord Jesus….” privately. A thing, by the way, which I personally experienced.
Missouri’s more pastoral view of the Office of the Holy Ministry fundamentally affects how it views the biblical concepts of authoritative teaching and leadership. Wisconsin Synod writers on the subject of fellowship generally agree that church organists and choir directors are in leadership roles, and even in the role of teaching as when a choir director must instruct the members of the choir in their craft. They are viewed as being in the public ministry. Therefore, WELS fellowship principles extend to these areas of service. It is kind of a Neo-Galesburg Rule: Wisconsin organs for Wisconsin organists only. However, pushing organ keys and pulling stops, or even instructing a choir how to interpret a Bach piece, can hardly be what St. Paul meant when he said, “I do not permit a woman to teach….”, or for that matter, anyone to teach. The non-member organist in a former parish I served, a public school music teacher and a lapsed Roman Catholic, who tried Evangelicalism and soured on it, who attended no other divine service than my Mass but did not commune, has a better grasp of the theological nuances of church music than most Lutheran organists I know. But on Sundays I was the leader, the master of ceremonies and I was the teacher. My organist was none of these things. He was not in the Office of the Holy Ministry, or to use Wisconsin’s parlance: he was not in the public ministry. Now if he had only practiced.
It should be added that everyone in my former parish knew the deal with Monty, the organist. He went through adult catechesis. It was not the time for him. No offense given. The organist pushes keys. The pastor leads. And when a well trained and well prepared organist pushes those keys well with understanding, then leading during the Mass is pure joy!
Missouri agrees with Wisconsin that full doctrinal agreement is needed for altar and pulpit fellowship; the things that come from God to us. When this is run in the other direction, however, Missouri sees room for flexibility. Kingdom of the Left Hand matters, such as social work, don’t involve the Second Article gifts of God, but rather the distribution of First Article gifts. While Wisconsin allows for “cooperation in externals” as long as there is no hint of unionism, and while it donates funds to various Lutheran and Christian charitable organizations, to my knowledge it does not partner with them due to its fellowship principles.
Back to prayer fellowship: While I was still in the Wisconsin fold I couldn’t understand why a meeting between Wisconsin and Missouri theologians about rapprochement wouldn’t start with a joint prayer for God’s blessings on the effort to sort out the differences and possibly reunite. For goodness’ sake, no one would think that unity had been declared by a prayer spoken at the beginning of a meeting intended to make a start at ending the division. Missouri does agree with Wisconsin that in some circumstances joint prayer can send the wrong message and thus should be avoided. However, for Wisconsin any joint prayer without complete doctrinal agreement is seen as a violation of Scripture’s doctrine of fellowship.
An aside: Let me alleviate any false hopes or fears: There will be no reunification of the two former partners, Wisconsin will see to that, and once Missouri confessionals understand today’s Wisconsin, they too will see to that. For one thing Wisconsin is following her democratic doctrine of the Ministry to its logical conclusion. Our second presenter made that clear. What Wisconsin formerly tolerated in Missouri when it came to this doctrine she no longer can. Missouri’s position on the Office has been declared in public heretical. Ironically all too many in Missouri hold to Wisconsin’s deeply flawed position on the Ministry. In addition Missouri’s young confessionals are viewed with suspicion. Women’s suffrage still nags. Though why anyone would want to attend a voter’s meeting still mystifies me. Missouri is still too high church for most in Wisconsin, which should make most Missouri confessionals convulse with laughter. Defections to the East by some Missourians appear to offer more vindication for Wisconsin’s leftward lean toward Protestantism. In short, Wisconsin’s old love-hate relation with Missouri has tipped toward the negative side, and has for some time.
There is a second irony. For all the alleged differences between the two synods on the matter of fellowship, an examination of their doctrinal statements on fellowship reveals that they’re pretty much the same. Of course, what’s on paper and what is practiced can be quite different, with Missouri more loosey-goosey than Wisconsin, though Wisconsin is not altogether the monolith it once was. The similarity between the two synods on fellowship is not just in its various applications, but at the starting point, the very heart. Each begins with the law. Biblical principles are drawn out of the sedes doctrinae and then applications are made. The point I’m making is that the starting point is not God, but in the various theological loci pertaining to God. When we start with the loci, then only midrash can result with all sorts of casuistic questions.
If question and answer departments of denominational web sites are any indication of the pulse of a church body, which they might be, then questions about the doctrine of fellowship are only surpassed by questions about the roles of women in Lutheran church bodies. The awkward and sometimes seemingly contradictory answers given to those who ask questions show that the midrashic approach may not be the way to go, and they are sometimes downright humorous. You have the Yankee Stadium “cyclical” approach to prayer fellowship. You know, “I was just standing in line. I didn’t know the Episcopal priestess in front of me nor the Imam behind me. I just took my turn in the name of Jesus.” There is a somewhat similar approach in Wisconsin’s “simultaneous prayer.” That is the WELS wife and the Roman Catholic husband praying simultaneously at suppertime in parallel but separate universes. No problem, WELS fellowship principles not violated. The two were in the same room, but their prayers somehow weren’t.
When I knew that the jig was up, realizing that I had more confessional friends who were Missourians than Wisconsonians, I sought refuge at the altar of a certain, unnamed, LCMS parish in southwest Detroit, and was received there. Father What’s-His-Name assured me that neither of us was violating our synods’ fellowship principles because we were engaged in “simultaneous communion.” I only appeared to be at his altar, but in reality was not. Conversely, at that same time there were LCMS friends of mine who would not have admitted me to their altars, and I respect them for that, just as I respected the man who communed me. These two stands took courage. Testicles are testicles, on whatever side they hang.
The faithful often spot these awkward and inconsistent approaches, hence the nagging questions on the Q & As. Again, the answers are not always satisfying. Given the WELS stringent policy about joint prayer some have asked the question, “What about the Missouri Synod visitors at a Wisconsin Synod worship service? Aren’t we praying with them when we pray the Lord’s Prayer?” The presenter just previous to me has noted that Wisconsin’s answer to the question should be termed “geographic fellowship.” In other words, “If they’re on our turf, in one of our churches, then they’re praying with us and not we with them.” In other words, blame for violating Scripture’s fellowship principles rests with the interlopers and not with those who, by chance, happened to be praying at the same time on their own turf. The astute questioner can only scratch his head at that one, for it appears that everyone is praying together, at the same time. However, consistent practitioners of Wisconsin’s doctrine in this matter, if they must attend a Missouri Synod wedding or funeral, will not participate at all, while not being impolite.
Quite frankly Wisconsin’s practice, while not as diverse as Missouri’s, is not lock-step. While serving on the West Coast during the ‘80s I remember a prominent Wisconsin pastor saying, “We’re kidding ourselves if we deny that we practice selective fellowship.” There were Wisconsin parishes in that district that welcomed Missouri snow birds to their altars fleeing the cold of winter. A Missouri man from Ohio was a three-month “member” of my parish during the cold months, and he had been prior to my arrival at that church. He couldn’t stand the two LCMS churches in our community and we were his church home for a time. His pastor back home approved. I think that this Eucharistic hospitality on the part of Wisconsin pastors was born of real pastoral concern, but there is also the fact Missouri dollars spend just as well as Wisconsin dollars and vice versa. As previously noted, Wisconsin theologians do allow for matters of pastoral discretion, especially when it comes to ministering to the sick and dying.
My observation is that over the last two decades Wisconsin’s position has slacken a bit and Missouri’s has tighten, at least in some areas. Still, both synods are viewed as standoffish.
Wisconsin’s practice of its fellowship principles sometimes manifests itself in unexpected ways. It appears to this writer, and also to some others, that the principles also apply to scholarship, not by any synodical decree but probably due to ingrained habit. Wisconsin writers of theological works more often than not cite other Wisconsin writers, sometimes exclusively. A typical WELS pastoral conference paper, if it has a bibliography at all, will prominently feature citations from the Peoples’ Bible and from Mequon professors living or deceased. This is not always the case, but the practice is striking. The book shelves of the Northwestern Publishing House bookstore in the Milwaukee area don’t offer a wide choice of non-WELS confessional volumes, though there are exceptions. If you’ve ever been to this bookstore you’ll agree with me that is one precious moment. Some Wisconsin Synod district presidents have warned the pastors in their districts not to read non-Wisconsin publications, especially those with birds on the cover. Recently there was a public debate in the synod about whether groups within the synod could invite outside speakers to their functions. This cannibalistic scholarship tends to cut people off from the church catholic. What a loss not to read Sasse, Koeberle, Bonhoeffer, Nagel, Forde, Scaer, Marquart, Weinrich, and Just, just to mention a few, and this is not to mention the ancient fathers. Luther for all too many Wisconsin (Missouri?) pastors is Plass’ three volume set, What Luther Says, the work known for missing most of the best Luther quotes. Patristic reading is a weak spot in all of Lutheranism, and I would say, especially in the WELS and the LCMS. Cannibalism is never a good thing. Finally everything starts tasting like chicken. The loss of a sense of catholicity, of still belonging to the Holy Catholic Church, which can inform you and correct you, results in an individuality which disregards, or worse, attacks good catholic beliefs and practices. Permit me to cite two examples of such beliefs and practices: First, seeing the Eucharist dimension of John chapter 6, and second, the reestablishment of the Evangelical Mass in every Lutheran parish, with the Eucharist and appropriate ceremony.
Wisconsin’s practice of its doctrine of fellowship has become somewhat diversified. On the rare occasions when I find myself in a precious Wisconsin Synod moment, such as the graduation of two of my sons from the Mequon seminary, I’ve been received with warmth, in spite of my past sins. However, there are those within the synod who practice Wisconsin’s doctrine beyond the synod’s own parameters. Some who have left the synod for Missouri, for example, have essentially been given up for dead by family and friends, with even the validity of the baptisms of their young viewed with suspicion. For the record, and to be fair, Wisconsin rejects such Donatism.
Cult & Corporation
What the scriptures teach about koinonia serves, in the positive sense, to unite people within the Holy, Blessed Trinity. Speaking negatively, the scripture’s teaching about koinonia serve to protect people from the lies of the Evil One. When one studies the doctrinal statements of Missouri and Wisconsin on the matter of fellowship, keeping in mind the turmoil of twentieth century Lutheranism, it is not surprising that the negative aspect of fellowship comes to the fore. In itself this is not necessarily bad. However, when synods, pastors, and laypeople take the lazy man’s approach to theology, emphasizing the negative aspect of fellowship to the exclusion of the positive, Trinitarian aspect, these entities and people begin to see the doctrine of fellowship as protection for and furtherance of the corporation or cult. Then a survival mindset sets in. I make the following observations anticipating protests from loyal folks in both synods. I view Missouri as having a corporate mindset when it comes to the church and Wisconsin as somewhat cultic, if not downright so. If individual congregations are franchises of McChurch, as one clever person once described the Missouri Synod, then the preservation of the corporation is of the essence. Then the critical moment becomes the critical moment. Or, to take a Wisconsin viewpoint: If one’s salvation is greatly jeopardized if one leaves the cult, then demanding adherence to the cult is of the utmost. It was a great irony that some Wisconsin Synod Lutherans whom I served in my last WELS parish could, on the one hand, criticize Roman Catholics for mindless adherence to the Church of Rome, but then, when the matter of an every Sunday celebration was debated, could demand a synod rule. Now I’m all in favor of canon law, just as long as it is truly catholic and not some gut achten spun off by seminary professors who fly by the seat of their pants. “I believe what the church believes,” said the coalminer in Luther’s well known story. The coalminer’s faith cuts both ways, both good and bad. If you’re truly catholic, it is good to believe what the church believes; but if you are lazy, prepare to be deceived.
During my forty-five minute colloquy interview at the Purple Palace several years ago I was asked five, three, no two daunting questions by a man who professes to put Jesus first (though I would like to check out his sermons to verify that). First question: “Are you acquainted with our Concordia University system?” Relieved, I boldly confessed, “Yes!” I was half way there! The second question: “Do you know how many districts we have?” Dang! I didn’t see that one coming. I was afraid that they were going to ask about the Genus Majestaticum. I looked at the two seminary presidents for aid, but they were red faced, looking down, and doodling. What do we pay these guys for!?! But the questioner came to my rescue. Before I could draw a breath and speak the fatal, “I don’t know” he breathlessly answered for me: “Thirty-five!” Wow, thirty five! What a big synod! What a large corporation! And now I was on my way to becoming a part of the corporation! Gloria in Excelsis Deo! I had passed the test! One hour (and I’m not kidding), one hour from my entrance into the interrogation room I was crossing the I-70 bridge under the shadow of the Gateway Arch, heading toward Terre Haute and points beyond.
Brothers and sisters synods are sometimes our cross to bear. Get used to it and stop complaining, for crosses are good.
The One, True Koinonia is the Blessed and Holy Trinity
Sometimes biblical words and phrases are beyond the capabilities of a given language. This frustrates the process of translation and gives rise to paraphrase, a device not without its pitfalls, to understate the matter. Such is the case with attempts to find an English word which conveys the meaning of koinonia. It has long been noted that the English word “fellowship” is not an adequate translation of the word. It does not convey the rich meanings of koinonia, nor does any other single English word.
The one true koinonia is the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Fellowship is first God, not us. First God, then only us. Fellowship is not a hall, it is not a social, it is not a program, it is not “us serving us,” it is not even a doctrine. It is God. There never was a time when God was alone, out of koinonia. Our God is a family, a koinonia, a Holy Communion. While it is risky talking about God being forced to be what he is and doing what he does, there is a kind of inner compulsion within God. God cannot act contrary to his being, and his being is the source of all other being. It’s not a matter of looking for metaphors for God and then saying, “Isn’t fatherhood a wonderful thing! Maybe God is like a father!” No, we have fathers because God is father. We have doors because Jesus is the door. We have pastors because Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Bonus Pastor. God is father, he must be. It is constituent to his nature forever, run into eternity both ways. Fathers love, as their heavenly Father does. Since fathers love, as their heavenly Father does, they must create, beget, give life. Our Father in heaven begat out of his essence, love, will, power, word, and dust and made man, and then begat woman out of man. Adam and Eve were eternal eventualities. “This is now flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones.” But of course! I could not have been any other way. There were no other options, and God is not arbitrary.
After worshipping at a different altar Adam’s glorious love song soon turned to a bitter whine, “This woman you gave me…” The bitter whine and flawed liturgical response continued in Adam’s progeny. The tough guy, Lamech, sang what has to be the first Country and Western song: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” (Gen 4:23) Man had turned his face away from his Father and worshipped at a different altar, sought the fellowship of demons, and contemporary anthropocentric worship was born for all the sad ages of fallen man. On account of all this, God must be Son. It is constituent to his nature. God is love for all eternity. For all eternity there must be a son to love, and there is. From the sinner’s perspective there must be a son for another reason. The majesty of God had been assaulted in the fall and in every human act thereafter. God as God is love and therefore must beget, he must give life because he himself is Life. But now, in view of the fall there is death and therefore there must be the Death, because God is not only life but love. Therefore, God must also provide a lamb, for there must be death, crimson, bloody, sacrificial death. God must give up his best, his all to atone for the sins of mankind. The Father does not have the grim luxury of going to the cross, as fathers are wont to give up their lives for their children, for then he would have held back something of his majesty. He must give up his Son. He displays the glories of his mercy in and through his Son. The fall, and the grace which covers the fall, display the glory of God’s mercy as nothing else can. The wonderful words of the Exsultet come to mind, “O truly needful sin of Adam, which was blotted out by the death of Christ! O happy fault, that merited to have such and so great a Redeemer!” Within the council of the Holy Trinity the glory of God’s grace needs no foil to make it glorious, it is glorious on its own. But for sinners the glories of God’s mercy are all the brighter set against the backdrop of sin. In order for this sacrifice to become reality God must be incarnate, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He must be, for this too is constituent to his nature. We read the Incarnation back into eternity noting, along the way, all of the incarnations of the Son in Old Testament history. Gimpy Jacob, the wrestler - Israel, can attest to this. Mano a mano. God must become what he will redeem, he must become incarnate. God must die, for only in his dying is there life for sinners. “O grosse Not, Gott selbst liegt tot!” “O sorrow dread! Our God is dead.” (LSB 448.2) He must pour out and breathe out his life for the life of the world. There must be a lamb for slaughter. There must be death and resurrection. There must also be a giving out of this resurrection life. Blood and breath, which are life, must breathed into and poured into, lifeless sinners. Therefore there must be Mass, the great ER! There must be resuscitation and transfusion. But there is more: Let the resuscitated eat and drink. “Give her something to eat,” Jesus said of the daughter of Jairus. But not a morsel. Let there be a feast for the once dead! The great Feast! But of course! Liturgy, speaking, hearing, eating and drinking, the Feast of the Lamb, music, singing, and rejoicing, a bridal meal – resuscitation, transfusion. That is why “Leitourgia Divina adiaphora non est.” There is more. The Feast requires a master of ceremonies, one who iconically stands in the place of the Bridegroom, a man who resuscitates and transfuses, or to speak in more intimate terms, one who will place the Seed, the spermos, into the Bride. The Bridegroom has brought his beloved Bride to life. He has brought her to the bridal chamber. He will consummate the marriage. The Seed is planted in the Bride’s hearing of his Holy Absolution and her receiving of his Holy Communion. This is true fellowship. This is koinonia.
This is why Allah cannot be God. Allah has no son, no Sweet and Holy Jesus, no sacrifice. Instead, he must accept the maimed sacrifices of unholy men. How can this be? This is not right! Not holy! Perhaps Hinduism has the better of it with its whimsical panoply of gods and goddesses, a family of sorts, dozens of trinities and koinanias, along with dozens of hells, purgatories and resurrections. But then who needs a soap opera.
There is only one atonement and resurrection. This suffices for the sins of the world. God did it in his own unexpected and surprising way, the only way it could have been done. God is not arbitrary. The actions of the Church are not arbitrary either. The wise will understand this; the foolish will forever fashion gold calves. “Leitougia Divina adiaphora non est.”
When the doctrine of fellowship finds its beginning in the Holy and Blessed Trinity, then we will be better able to distinguish between the essentials and non-essentials when it comes to koinonia. How can I be in koinonia with those who admit non-Christians to the Eucharist, or admit them to the Heavenly Wedding Feast apart from faith in Christ? How can I receive a host from a priestess whose consecration is doubtful at best because she is not an icon of the Heavenly Bridegroom? How can I be in koinonia with those whose fellowship with those of the same sex is an abomination? How can I fellowship with a church body that insists that returning to an every Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is an adiaphoron; denying those who desire the Sacrament and effectively excommunicating them on the second and fourth Sundays? (Which, by the way, is a complete misunderstanding of the Evangelical Mass, not to mention the Incarnation.) How can I have certainty, not to mention koinonia, with a fellowship where everyone is a minister in violation of Augstana, Article XIV? How can I fellowship with those who deny the est and touto of the Verba Testamanti? How can I fellowship with those who have jettisoned the Liturgy and replaced it with heretical drivel? These are the things that matter.
Pray with Phyllis, my wife’s ELCA cousin, when we go to her house for lunch? Why wouldn’t I pray with this godly woman who knows how I feel about her church? Serve with Roman Catholics on a committee that advances pro-life issues? Why can’t I, since abortion is as temporal as the differences that separate us corporately? Sin on the side of grace and commune the innocent stranger who wanders forward toward the Communion rail? Yes, who knows what burdens she bears, what sins she brings. I will speak with her after the Mass. She has put my rostered delinquents to shame by her hunger for mercy.
Between the Lines
Baseball, the perfect game, is played between the lines with allowances for plays in foul territory and homerun robbing leaps over outfield fences. The 90 feet between the base pads and the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate define the game. The rules pretty much stay the same. The same also used to apply to the church. If a Roman priest was a Jesuit, that meant something. If a person was a Southern Baptism, oh boy! If someone heard that you were a Missouri or a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, there would be a reaction, often either negative or begrudgingly positive. It’s not the case anymore. The old vertical, convenient categorizations that delineated denominations have been contradicted by horizontal movements criss-crossing the church catholic. Of course, I’m not telling you anything new. Still the same, one may feel more akin to a traditionalist Roman Catholic priest than to the Church Growth counter part in your own denomination. Fr. Phil Schaefer, of the Passionist Order, an acquaintance and neighbor of mine, once invited me to his monastery for lunch. Wow, do those boys eat well! In the conversation which followed the meal a brother priest of Fr. Phil, upon learning my identity, quoted a sizeable chunk of Luther’s introduction to his treatise on Baptism. Pure gospel. “I live by this,” he said. Compare that to the voters, who in one of my parishes, voted against an every Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. Give me a break! A long time ago the Panzerkardinal said that the Roman Church should listen less to the likes of the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin and listen more to Martin Luther. What Benedict has up his papal sleeve is anyone’s guess. His election to the papacy has given hope to Lutherans who believe that closer relations, even reunification, with Rome are in the future. Does Rome have a surprise in store for the year 2017, oh let’s say sometime in October? Who knows? While hopeful Lutherans are far more optimistic than your presenter, nonetheless, we need to heed Carl Arthur Piepkorn’s exhortation to dialogue with Roman Catholics. At the very least, we will affirm the positives within each tradition in these latter, desperate days, and we will better avoid unfair characterizations. Who knows what the Spirit will do.
Having said all of this, it must be stated that denomination boundaries are still important. We still try to play between the lines. I am a member of the ministerium of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. To be sure I am a priestman, but I am also a churchman. To the best of my ability, short of violating my conscience, I will abide by the rule of the order, such as it is. Although I can’t wait until a certain flame flickers out, I will encourage my congregation to be generous to missions. By the way, my people need little encouragement or training to capture the “critical moment.” They’ve been at it for years. Furthermore, I will attend the required pastoral conferences and synodical meetings, though I cannot promise that I will be strong enough to resist Petersen when he entices me to follow him to some gin-mill. I will not mount an inquisition when visitors from other Missouri churches seek the Sacrament. I will put the best construction on everything and hope that their Church Growth pastor has at least passed on to them the rudiments of the Small Catechism. Indeed, I have real problem at this point of my ministry in denying the Sacrament to a stranger who comes to the rail and says, “Amen!’ to my “The Body of Christ.” Some may charge me with practicing open communion, but the times are evil, the Body of Christ weak and weary, and the night is coming when no man can work.
The error of the Ecumenical Movement is that it doesn’t understand that the Church is already spiritually, corporately, organically united in the Holy Eucharist, the fellowship or koinonia of the Mystery, who is Jesus Christ, sent by the Father, from whom, together with the Son the Spirit doth proceed. Whatever we do that affirms this is good. The questions that arise when we attempt to affirm this will be knotty at times, but they are worth pursuing. The Spirit will lead us aright.
As you can see from what precedes, this old priest is not gong to swim the Tiber, nor attempt the Bosporus. The swim across the Mississippi has done him in. Here is where I stand. I conclude with the words of Fr. Russell Saltzman, former editor of the Forum Letter, in his piece entitled, “Why not Rome?” (Forum Letter, Volume 37, Number 1, January 2008 p. 3)
“More importantly for me, there is, over all that, the matter of parish calling. I never in my life felt any thing more intensely than the summons to the parish ministry. The work of being a pastor absorbs all my skills, energy, wisdom, spiritual courage; it takes everything that I am and turns it to some good, and does it in a way that nothing else ever did. These each – Confessions, events, circumstances, family, parish calling – all this operates upon me to keep me Lutheran. If these circumstances, all saying “Not Rome” in some way, are within the province and providence of God, well, who am I to tell Him I can no longer be Lutheran? I must instead be the best Catholic a Lutheran can be, and there I rest content, trusting all else to the Lord.”
To this I say, “Me too.”
“Levels of fellowship” refers to the practice of two churches or individual Christians allowing varying degrees of fellowship depending upon corresponding degrees of doctrinal unity. For example prayer fellowship might be granted based on the shared belief in the Holy Trinity and the redemptive work of Christ, while at the same time Eucharistic fellowship might still be denied due to differences on the doctrine of Holy Communion. “Selective fellowship” is the permission granted by a church body to its constituent parishes to develop fellowship with other local parishes even though the parent church bodies of these congregations may not be officially united.
 “Secondly, the various activities which may express church fellowship must be dealt with as a unit. Since various ways of expressing church fellowship (such as joint mission work, celebration of the Lord’s Supper, exchange of pulpits, transfers of membership and joint prayer) are merely different ways of expressing the same fellowship of faith, all expressions of church fellowship require the same degree of doctrinal agreement, namely, agreement in all of the doctrines of Scripture.” Applications of the Principles of Church Fellowship, by Prof. John Brug (a paper delivered to the Milwaukee Metro Conference, November 1994), p. 1.
 The person who answered the questioner who asked about prayer fellowship with non-WELS relatives cited an undated pamphlet produced by the Wisconsin Synod during the intersynodical difficulties with the Missouri Synod. “I may have an ALC grandmother who has always manifested a simple, childlike faith in her Lord and Savior but who nevertheless is unaware of the intersynodical differences and their implications. When I visit her in the privacy of her home, it might be a grave mistake were I to assert the principle of separation by refusing to pray with her under such circumstances.” Circumstances Vary, Principles Don’t, WELS Q&A (Last modified 12/27/05).