All earthly institutions, inclusive of the institutions of the Church, have as their primary concern the well-being of the organization itself. Within the Church of our Lord, this should not be the case. The purpose of churchly institutions like Synods is to retain the marks of the Church in its member congregations with clarity for all the world to see. In other words, the primary concern of Synods is to ensure that the congregations of their association preach the Word of God in all its truth and purity and administer the Sacraments in accord with Christ's institution. If anything else gets in the way of this primary goal, then the institution or Synod is a failure and becomes a Christian sect; it cannot be a manifestation of the true Christian Church.
This is why the LCMS has as its first objective:
"The Synod, under Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, shall - 1. Conserve and promote the unity of the true faith (Eph. 4:3-6
; I Cor. 1:10
) ...and provide a united defense against schism, sectarianism (Rom. 16:17
), and heresy." (Constitution of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Article III)
The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod was founded precisely so that it might retain the marks of the Church in their purity. Indeed, "walking together" as a Synod was predicated on this very proposition: that all the congregations of the Synod held the pure Christian doctrine in all its truth and purity, and administered the Sacraments rightly. Today the LCMS likes to speak about itself as though this were actually true when, in fact, it is not. The reality is that the Synod simply isn't being honest with itself.
Permit me to make some observation that I believe would assist our Synod in dealing with reality:
First, we really aren't a Synod in the true sense of the term anymore.
As the ACELC
has consistently pointed out and demonstrated with clear evidence, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod no longer holds a common doctrine and no longer administers the Sacraments in harmony with our Lord's institution. I wish this wasn't the case, but it is. We have members of the Synod who hold to evolution as an acceptable way of explaining God's creative work, we have members who hold the ordination of women to the pastoral office to be Scriptural, we have members who believe, teach, and confess that there should be no real distinction between the pastoral office and the activities of the laity, we have members who practice open communion, we have members who re-baptize their members, and the litany of errors could go on and on. This is not a Synod in any meaningful sense of the word because we simply are no longer walking together.
Second, as a Synod we remain unwilling to seek resolution of our differences and to deal with error in any substantive way.
One thing the ACELC has discovered in our efforts to seek the redress of Synodical errors
is that our Synod does not wish to deal decisively with its errors. It is considered divisive or schismatic to even raise the issues that divide us. Even in the pilot meetings of the Koinonia Project, if anyone speaks false doctrine, no one is permitted to call it what it is! If we cannot call error, error, then what are we supposed to call it? Is a publicly stated error simply to be described as one valid opinion among others? That is a certain course to heterodoxy (false teaching) because false teaching is validated as acceptable and cannot be corrected because it is forbidden even to call it what it is!
Third, the tragic reality for the LCMS is that we really are a heterodox (false teaching) Synod at this time.
As Dr. Francis Pieper put it:
"It is God's will and command that in His Church His Word be preached and believed in purity and truth, without adulteration...A congregation or church body which abides by God's order, in which therefore God's Word is taught in its purity and the Sacraments administered according to the divine institution, is properly called an orthodox church...But a congregation or church body which, in spite of the divine order, tolerates false doctrine in its midst is properly called a heterodox church...A church body loses it orthodoxy only when it no longer applies Rom. 16:17
, hence does not combat and eventually remove the false doctrine, but tolerates it without reproof and thus actually grants it equal right with the truth." (Christian Dogmatics
, vol. 3, pp. 422-423)
Dr. Pieper's description accurately describes The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod today. Unless our Synod does an about face and repents of the errors that it now tolerates, correcting them under the Word of God and our Lutheran Confessions, we shall remain a Christian sect, but we cannot be Christ's Church. The very purpose for which the ACELC exists is to seek to encourage our Synod to repent and once again embrace God's truth. It is the duty and obligation of every faithful member of the LCMS to speak the truth in love to our own Synod so that we may once again be the orthodox Synod that God blessed so mightily in the past. The ACELC gives congregations and pastors the opportunity to address our Synod. The more congregations and pastors speak up, the more likely it becomes that our beloved Synod may truly be a manifestation of our Lord's true Church once again.
Rev. Richard A. Bolland
Pagosa Springs, Colorado