July 13, 2015 - Why The ACELC Is Not Just Another Group of Complainers
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Why the ACELC is Not Just another Group of Complainers (Part I)
Throughout the history of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod there have been a number of groups that have been critical of one issue or another. Most have been quite well-intended, some have been effective in raising a voice of concern, while most have simply gone away after a period of time. In the fairly recent history of our Synod names like Lutheran Concerns Association (The Lutheran Clarion), Faithful Alliance, Consensus, Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans, Christian News, and others have addressed – and some rightly continue to address – theological errors within our Church body. After all, it is only natural that Lutherans insist on proclaiming purity of doctrine and defending biblical practice. Thus the member congregations of the ACELC both applaud and appreciate all the faithful voices, past and present, who have sought to correct error and speak truth to our own Synod.
As is the pattern of things within the man-made institutions of our Lord’s Church, “official” publications of those institutions tend to be less about addressing controverted issues and more about putting the proverbial “happy face” on the status quo of the institution. When this form of “political correctness” occurs within an institution, it encourages various “unofficial” organizations and publications to step in where the official publications refuse to go. True Lutherans will not remain silent in the face of doctrinal error and the errant practices that inevitably follow. Thus, many unofficial publications and organization have and continue to play a good and salutary role in the institution of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Indeed, if only the official publications of the Synod (and by extension the Synod itself), would forth-rightly address the errors of our Synod, I would hasten to guess that the unofficial voices would quickly and gladly disappear! The ACELC just happens to be the most recent expression of much-needed dissent to the misguided Synodical “happy face” official media.
But what is that makes the ACELC different from all those organizations that have preceded it? Why should concerned Confessional pastors and congregations of the Synod embrace the ACELC now, when so many efforts of the past have been unfruitful? Permit me to offer some rationale:
First, it is simply unacceptable to remain silent in the face of doctrinal error and its inevitable errant practices. Doctrinal error harms, and can eventually destroy, faith! If we are to be our brother’s keeper as Holy Scripture instructs us, then we must love our brother (our Synod) enough to offer correction where needed. This is not a matter of self-righteousness, but it is a matter of the care of souls. We are supposed to be a Synod which holds to a common doctrine and practice. That’s what “Walking Together” means. The sad reality today, however, is that the LCMS seems to have become a Synod in name only, held together more by the Concordia Plans than a common doctrine and practice.
The measure of the orthodoxy (true teaching) of any Church body cannot be based on its written documents alone, but rather how it deals with error. To tolerate error is tantamount to becoming a heterodox (false teaching) Church body. To fail to correct and, if necessary, remove error from a Church body, results in failing to be the Church – a place where the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and the Sacraments are administered in accord with Christ’s institution. When this occurs, the Church body may remain a Christian sect, but it cannot be a manifestation of the Church! Thus, when error invades the Church of Jesus Christ, it simply must be addressed. Silence is not an option. That is precisely why the congregations and pastors of the ACELC have chosen to stand together to address error in our Synod – because we simply cannot remain silent, and because we dearly love our Synod and wish to restore her former orthodoxy.
Second, the ACELC speaks as an expression of the Church to our own Synod. The Church is precisely congregation and pastor. The Church is not a man-made organization like a Synod. Such institutions can indeed be helpful in assisting the Church as she does her work, but these institutions must not be understood as if they were the Church. Although the ACELC has been criticized by some because we are structured as congregations and pastors, in fact this is precisely what the Church is, and nothing other than an expression of the Church can rightly address the errors of an institution. Yes, the ACELC does have a set of guidelines by which it governs itself – and is also therefore an institution. However, it is a profoundly theologically oriented organization intent on speaking as congregations and pastors to Synod to which we all belong in the hope that our Synod might be moved thereby to hear the truth and embrace it.
Third, eventually, every faithful congregation and pastor will be affected by the heterodoxy of our Synod if these problems are left unresolved. While it is tempting to simply ignore the errors of the Synod at large and just remain faithful in each of our local congregations, sooner or later the heterodoxy will catch up with all of our congregations and pastors. Faithful pastors eventually die, retire, or take a divine call to another field of service. What then? Most districts insist that calling congregations follow their “guidelines” prior to extending a call. Most districts insist on putting calling congregations through time-consuming, manipulative self-studies which oftentimes encourage them to question traditional worship practices and the like so as to become more “out-reach oriented” instead of “inwardly focused.” This is Church Growth manipulation. Calling congregations are told (falsely) that they cannot conduct interviews with any candidates not provided by their District Presidents nor can they issue a call to anyone not approved by the District President. Neither of these are true, and both are a violation of the Constitutionally mandated advisory relationship that is supposed to exist between member congregations of the Synod and the institution.
Circuit visitors routinely tell calling congregations that conformity to these procedures is mandatory; otherwise, information on candidates and call documents will not be provided them. When names of Confessional men are provided to the district president, sometimes they are removed by that official without a word of explanation. Other names are added to the call list by the District President. Sometimes these suggestions are good. At other times it is an attempt to provide non-Confessional, non-liturgical names to the mix. Additionally, as error continues to pollute our Synod, members of non-Confessional congregations transfer into orthodox congregations and begin to request that unbiblical practices they liked in their former heterodox congregations be implemented. Conflict can then divide the congregation and subject doctrine and biblical practices to an inappropriate majority vote. The ACELC understands that the nature of error is corrosive within our Synod. Ignoring error does not make it go away, but only further enables it to grow in faithful congregations.
Part II of this Email Blast will be along in about ten days.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Richard A. Bolland
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
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