October 23, 2014 - Bearing the Cross in a Lutheran Synod
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Bearing the Cross in a Lutheran Synod
‘Oh no, here they go again!’ ‘They want to be everybody’s ecclesiastical supervisor; why don’t we just give it to them for a year and see how they do?’ ‘Why don’t they just start their own synod?’
The responses are getting predictable. Last month, when the ACELC released “If Not Now, When?” there was another wave of hand-wringing and dismay concerning the ACELC and its motives.
The ACELC does not want to be everybody’s ecclesiastical supervisor. (I’m not even sure how that would look.) The ACELC does not want to start its own synod. (That’s just what American Lutheranism needs: another micro-synod.) The ACELC, in all its efforts, is simply striving to live life under the cross in our Synod. If (as I’ve begun hearing again so often) being in synod means not walking in lock-step but walking on the same road, then we all still have the duty to one another and to our Lord of doing the hard work of making sure we’re all walking the same way on that road.
Professor John T. Pless recently delivered a paper, Cross Bearing and Life in a Lutheran Synod: What Can We Learn from Hermann Sasse, to the Emmaus Conference at Parkland Lutheran Church in Parkland, Washington. In his paper, drawing on the writings of Hermann Sasse, Professor John Pless identifies four guiding principles for life together in a Lutheran synod under the cross. “First, the theology of the cross must cleanse us from triumphalism. Second, confessional synods must also be confessing synods. Third, bearing the cross in the synod evokes patience and persistence. Fourth, life together in the synod under the cross compels us to prayer for the brethren” (Pless p.7).
The theology of the cross must cleanse us from all triumphalism – any notion that the church can be the Church Triumphant in this age. The ACELC is not looking to recapture some mythical golden age of Missouri Synod orthodoxy. While there certainly was more unity in our synod in a bygone era, and we do desire greater unity, the sinful flesh clings to all men. Therefore, until Christ comes in all His glory, divisions will certainly remain, as St. Paul observed (I Cor. 11:18-19). We get that.
However, confessional synods must be confessing synods. Incessant internal doctrinal purification is part of the cross we bear. It is hard. Talking to one another about these important matters is hard work. It would be so much easier just to ignore one another, do our own thing, and ‘live and let live.’ Conversely, it would also be so much easier for us to take our marbles, go home and start our own synod. (That would also be easier for those who don’t want to hear what the ACELC has to say. Perhaps that’s why they wish we would just start our own synod.)
Throughout her history, the LCMS has chosen to be a beacon, issuing the clarion call of the truth of God’s Word, refusing to be subsumed into the greater American church which has become a “church which has renounced the idea that it is possible to possess the truth and the requirements necessitated by that truth for carrying out its work.” (Sasse, Hermann, tr. Matthew Harrison. “American Christianity and the Church.” In The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, 47. Vol. 1. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2001.) The ACELC does not want the LCMS to slip into the dogma-free Christianity of the broader American Church where the organizing principles are ecumenical and denominational rather than confessional. (Pless p. 5). From its beginning days, what has held the LCMS together is a common confession of God’s Word, not a health and retirement plan or loyalty to a ‘brand name.’ If the LCMS is to continue to hold together around a common confession, then we must constantly be about keeping that confession common.
Bearing the cross in the synod evokes patience and persistence. Hermann Sasse wrote, “We have been too much influenced by a certain type of sectarian Christianity, which for a long time flourished in America. The sect cannot wait; it must have everything at once, for it has no future. The church can wait for she does have a future. We Lutherans should think of that” (Sasse, Hermann, tr. Matthew Harrison. “The Ecumenical Challenge of the Second Vatican Council.” In The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, 328. Vol. 2. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2002.). The ACELC is not going anywhere. We can take a long view of things because the Lord of the Church will return when He will return. We confess that the one holy catholic and apostolic church will remain forever. And we give thanks that it is up to Christ, not us, to fulfill His promise. At the same time, “Patience is not to be confused with resignation . . . Bearing the cross in a synod means being persistent in confession even if such persistence is seen as unsettling to ecclesiastical bureaucracy geared to keeping organizational harmony by ignoring error” (Pless p.10). Sasse writes “Just as a man whose kidneys no longer eliminate poisons which have accumulated in the body will die, so the church will die which no longer eliminates heresy” (Sasse, Hermann, tr. Matthew Harrison. “The Question of the Church’s Unity on the Mission Field.” In The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, 190. Vol. 2. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House, 2002.). St. Paul encourages St. Timothy to a very similar patient persistence: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (II Tim. 4:1-2). And so, the ACELC will continue patiently and persistently to point out those places where we believe the LCMS is espousing or tolerating doctrines and practices which are contrary to the Word of God and the Book of Concord.
Finally, life together in the synod under the cross compels us to pray for the brethren. Here, I defer to Professor Pless: “The cross borne in the synod where brothers are contending for the faith and tempted, sometimes to contentiousness and at other times to indifference, drive us to pray for one another. Indeed the church is the ecclesia orans – the praying church … the cross drives us back to the hearing of God’s Word and the calling upon the name of the Lord for ourselves and each other on the basis of His certain promises” (Pless p.10-11). Rest assured, we in the ACELC are praying for those within and without the LCMS that God’s Word provide us “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Please join us in our prayer.
Rev. Daniel L. Freeman
Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church, U.A.C. – Chehalis, WA

Note: While the Board of Directors of the ACELC has reviewed and approved the content of this message, it does not necessarily reflect the position of the ACELC member congregations. 

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