The Implications of Altar and Pulpit Fellowship Between the LCMS and the AALC

In item #4 of their statement, “Gifts of the Holy Spirit”, the AALC affirms “that faith includes knowledge, assent, and heartfelt trust.” The Evangelical Lutheran Church, in keeping with the Scriptures, understands this as faith subjectively speaking, that is, the personal appropriation of “the faith once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3; see also 1Tim 4:6; Acts 6:7), where “the faith” is understood as the gospel in all its parts, given of and from and by and through God by means of His Word, the Holy Scriptures.

In step with the Scriptures, then, the Evangelical Lutheran Church distinguishes “the faith” in terms of its objective substance and it subjective reception. “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” lacks this clear and vital distinction. The statement goes on to say, “Faith, according to Luther, takes us beyond an explanation of God to an experience of God.” I’m not sure what the authors mean by this. As ill-defined (or undefined) as the terms “faith”, “an explanation of God” and “an experience of God” are, perhaps they introduce a false distinction, a fallacy.

For, if “an explanation of God” corresponds with the objective substance of the faith and “an experience of God” is associated with the subjective attainment of that faith, then the latter, in allegedly being “beyond” the former, is apparently to be preferred to it. That is, if this is so, the subjective experience of the faith is preferable to its objective substance. If this is in fact the case, it is a false distinction and, therefore, a fallacy, inasmuch as the experience or subjective achievement of the faith proceeds from its objective substance, and is dependent on it, not vice versa.

In cause-and-effect language, the objective substance is the cause and the subjective experience the effect, not the other way around. As usual, the failure to clearly distinguish and delineate (and delimit) results in misrepresenting the matter, which in turn ends in misapprehension and misapplication. To put it another way, since the subjective appropriation, the gift received, proceeds from the objective substance, the gift given, reversing the order is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse, and getting nowhere fast!

The drafters of the statement then cite Luther in substantiation of their claim. They maintain, “Luther speaks of the trust that moves beyond intellectual ‘faith,’ which the demons have (James 2:19), to a personal experience (Luther’s Works, Volume 22, ‘The Gospel of St. John,’ p. 369).” Check the citation yourself. I find no such emphasis on personal experience, as the authors assert, on Luther’s part.

He rightly speaks of the faith once for all entrusted to the saints and its objective content, the gift given. And he rightly distinguishes this from its subjective reception, the gift acquired. Or, as the Evangelical Lutheran Church also characterizes this divine work and interplay, the faith that is believed gives rise to the faith by which it is believed—the latter proceeding from the former as fruit from the tree or water from the fountainhead, and dependent thereon, not vice versa, and certainly not independent from the same. The two, as distinguished, then, are not mutually interchangeable. You cannot switch their order or put one in place of the other. They are not merely flipsides of the same coin, different but equal. The objective content, the faith of the gospel, as source, always precedes and affects the subjective attainment, that is, the faith as believed which, as the thing produced, always follows, never the other way around.

This is how Luther defines “the faith”. It is “a heartfelt confidence in God through Christ that Christ’s suffering and death pertain to you and should belong to you.” Notice the objective realities: the hearty assurance flowing from Christ’s suffering and death for you. Notice the objective source and conduit: in God through Christ. Notice the absence of emphasis on subjective experience.

What is more, “true faith does not doubt;” the old Adam in us, yes, but not the new man born of faith in the new Adam, Jesus Christ! True faith “yields its whole heart” and owes its whole heart “to the conviction that the Son of God was given unto death for us”, which is the greatest Gift, the greatest God-given of all, obtained from Him and by Him through faith—the faith—alone. Again, note the concrete objectivity—true faith in apposition to doubt, yielding its whole heart and leading to the conviction that Christ gave Himself for us—to the exclusion of derivative subjective feeling.

True faith believes, moreover, for Jesus’ sake, “that sin is remitted, that death is destroyed, and that these evils have been done away with—but, more than this, that eternal life, salvation, and glory, yes, God Himself have been restored to us, and that through the Son God has made us His children” (Ibid.).

Again and again, Luther’s assertions virtually bristle with hard, fast truths—truths which lodge and stick fast, God’s darts—as opposed to flitting, fleeting feelings. And these are those hard, fast facts—sin remitted and death destroyed and, in their place, eternal life, salvation, glory and God Himself, God-given, to sinners He has justified and made His children through faith—through the faith.

This is the faith once for all entrusted to the saints and its objective reality, the gospel. That the subjective appropriation of this gift thus given produces personal experience I will not deny. But to put the reception of the gift thus obtained and the experience thereof above the gift and the gift-giving is not only to put the cart before the horse and get nowhere fast; it is to put the experience before the Gift-Giver, that is, before God and the faith He alone gives, as well as before the faculty of personal faith which He produces thereby, which alone acquires the gift. And that is to lose both the Giver and the gift, not merely to look the gift horse in the mouth.

This is a fatal flaw, dare I say it, if not in the God-given faith of the authors of this statement of faith then in their misconstruing and faulty explication of the faith. It leads to these fatal conclusions. “A theology that properly understands experience is not only helpful—it is essential..” I beg to differ! A theology that properly apprehends the faith is essential and, therefore, helpful.

“True experience is initiated by God”. So far, so good. After all, isn’t everything true initiated by God? Isn’t God alone the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth, so help me God? What follows, however, is neither biblical nor infallible. Therefore, it is human and erroneous.

It is one thing to say, “true experience is initiated by God”; it is quite another to conclude that true experience “brings us into relationship with God.” No! No! No! To the contrary, Christ, in whom God was reconciling the world to Himself instead of counting our sins against us (2Cor 5:19a), alone brings us into relationship with God. And He does so solely by means of the gospel through the faith He thereby gives, the faith which obtains and relies on the forgiveness, life and salvation He gives.

The faith of and in and by Christ, the faith of the gospel once for all entrusted to the saints, along with the personal faculty of faith which is created by and which receives the same, both God-given, alone justify the sinner in God’s eyes and reconcile him to God. They do so by virtue of their Subject and Object, their action-Word, Jesus Christ. They do so because and inasmuch as they cling to Him as to the Lamb of God slain from the world’s foundation for a world of lost sinners, who, by His own Self-sacrifice, took away the sin of the world and atoned for God-forsaken sinners.

Our experience of the faith, the gift received, ebbs and flows, as the personal faculty by which we apprehend it grows now stronger and now weaker. But the faith, the gift given us by God, and its objective quality, the gospel, and its Subject and Object, its action-Word, upon whom not just our faith but our very existence and salvation hinge, namely, Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, today and forever. And in Him, in the faith that is in Him, we are secure.

What are the implications for our fellowship with the AALC of just this one error—failing to distinguish the faith and its objective character, the gift given, from the subjective achievement it affects and the personal experience it produces, the gift received, and, as a result, confounding and confusing both and misapprehending and misrepresenting them—now that we have been placed into altar and pulpit fellowship with this church body by synod resolution?

Here is one implication. If the Holy Spirit is the sole Origin of the faith and of the unity therein and oneness thereof, if these gifts are of and from Him and Him alone, and if only He gives personal faith, and that, only in and by and through the faith, how can we have unity with the AALC, much less its fruit, church fellowship, when we do not confess the same thing of the faith, which is to say, when we differ and, therefore, disagree?

A second implication derives from this. In order to be certified by the faculties of our seminaries as qualified for ordination to the Holy Office of the Word and the Sacraments and eligible for a Divine Call, and in order to be ordained and installed into office, having legitimately received such a valid Call, our candidates for the pastoral office are required to subscribe “all the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church contained in the Book of Concord as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God” (Diploma of Certification), because they are so, not insofar as they are.

Compare this unconditional subscription of the LCMS to the Lutheran Confessions in their entirety with this conditional subscription of the AALC photocopied from their Constitution and Bylaws, July 2005.

03.06. Symbols: Basic and Required
As brief and true statements of the doctrines of the Word of God, this Association accepts and confesses the following Symbols, subscription to which shall be required [my emphasis] of all its members, both congregations and individuals:
03.06.01. The ancient ecumenical Creeds: The Apostolic, The Nicene, and the Athanasian;
03.06.02. The Unaltered Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism.
03. 07. Book of Concord: Normative
As further elaboration of and in accordance with these Lutheran Symbols, this Association also receives the other documents [my emphasis] in the Book of Concord of 1580: the Apology, Luther’s Large Catechism, the Smalcald Articles, and the Formula of Concord; and recognizes them as normative for its theology.

Why, as regards the former Symbols, is the distinction “basic and required” whereas regarding the latter Symbols it is “normative”? The Book of Concord presents the Symbols as a whole—each part, part and parcel of all the others. Why this division? Indeed, why this distinction, here, when distinction is so sorely missing elsewhere? And what do the division and distinction mean? What is the significance of “basic and required” in the former category over against “normative” in the latter? Why are the former subscribed while the latter are merely received?

In the absence of any explanation, one is compelled to conclude that whereas, in accordance with the public doctrine and practice of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the LCMS subscribes, without reservation or qualification, as a unit, all the Symbols contained in the Book of Concord, the AALC, on the other hand, in departing from this normative teaching and practice, apparently subscribes, piecemeal, only the Augsburg Confession and the Small Catechism, and “also receives the other documents”.

This is no small matter. It is not simply a difference of opinion and conduct—a different emphasis, if you will, a matter of semantics. It comes down to errant and inerrant, fallible and infallible, this difference, to evangelical versus unevangelical, and confessional versus unconfessional, orthodox versus heterodox or heretical, and apostolic and catholic versus schismatic and sectarian. It is the difference that makes all the difference in the world. Viva la différence! It boils down to right or wrong—this difference, this distinction—to good or bad, truth or falsehood—truth or consequences!

And the error appears to be intentional not unintentional, the deliberate holding to error rather than the casual and accidental intrusion of error. This amounts to a different public doctrine and, one must assume, a different practice—a public doctrine and practice at odds with that of the Evangelical Lutheran Church—since practice grows out of doctrine and is dependent thereon, not vice versa, and since doctrine, not practice, makes perfect. Hence, it adds up to a different confession of the faith. This lack of agreement and its attendant differences between the two parties, the AALC and the LCMS, moreover, is bound to impact their want of consensus and attendant differences over the doctrinal and practical issues coming up next.

Another implication, then, is that the aforementioned malady is contagious and growing. On the one hand, there is the inability to make proper distinctions, resulting in majoring in minors and minoring in majors and failing to keep the main thing the main thing, instead of majoring in majors and minoring in minors and keeping the main thing the main thing. And on the other, there is the aptitude for putting the cart before the horse and getting nowhere fast and looking the gift horse in the mouth.

What is worse, it appears that representatives of both church bodies—LCMS and AALC—have become infected. And the disease is spreading. In spite of manifest differences over such issues (and, more importantly, their related doctrines and practices) as confessional subscription, church and ministry, unity and concordia, unionism and syncretism, church fellowship (including altar and pulpit fellowship and communion fellowship), the charismatic movement, inter-Christian relations, the role of women in the church, piety vs. pietism, and lodge membership, “representatives of the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC) and the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) unanimously recommend that their respective church bodies proceed toward entering into Altar and Pulpit Fellowship with each other” (Report and Recommendations to the President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod upon Completion of Formal Fellowship Discussions with The American Association of Lutheran Churches, October, 2006).

Building on this foundation, the Preamble of synod resolution 3-01-07, To Declare Altar and Pulpit Fellowship with the American Association of Lutheran Churches, stipulates, “the LCMS representatives have concluded, and reported to the President of the Synod, that doctrinal agreement exists between the AALC and the LCMS and that there is nothing that would prohibit the churches from entering into altar and pulpit fellowship with each other.”

The pertinent WHEREAS and Resolved clauses state:

WHEREAS, Formal theological discussions between representatives of the AALC and the LCMS have revealed that agreement in doctrine and practice exists between our churches; and

WHEREAS, The President of the Synod has expressed support for this resolution and has asked the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) to address the declaration of altar and pulpit fellowship . . . and

WHEREAS, The CTCR has received comprehensive reports on these discussions and, in accordance with its bylaw responsibilities, has recommended the establishment of altar and pulpit fellowship between the LCMS and the AALC; therefore be it

Resolved, That we acknowledge with gratitude to God the unity of confession that He has given to our churches under the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions; and be it further

Resolved, That The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod formally declare altar and pulpit fellowship with The American Association of Lutheran Churches; and be it further

Resolved, That the LCMS recognize The American Association of Lutheran Churches as a partner church and that the President of the Synod be responsible for implementing this relationship and for reconciliation; and be it further

Resolved, That we implore the Lord of the Church to continue to strengthen the bond of fellowship between our churches and that, ablaze with His Spirit, we may together be renewed in our commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to all the world; and be it finally

Resolved, That upon the adoption of this resolution we rise to sing the Common Doxology to the glory of God.

Action: Adopted (3)

(During extensive discussion, the following amendment to replace the second-last resolve with the following two resolves was not adopted: “Resolved, That the LCMS request the American Association of Lutheran Churches to make known publicly its positions with respect to Christians having membership in secret societies such as lodges and to Christians participating with heterodox congregations in worship; and be it further Resolved, That pastors of Missouri Synod congregations may exercise pastoral care with respect to altar and pulpit fellowship in the extraordinary circumstances of having a nearby AALC congregation that allows membership in secret societies such as lodges or that publicly worships with heterodox congregations.” An amendment to add the words “and for reconciliation” after the word “relationship” in the fourth resolve was adopted. The resolution was adopted as amended [Yes: 846; No: 345], after which the assembly stood to sing the Common Doxology to the glory of God.)

+ + +

In conclusion, my assignment entailed consideration of how we, as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the LCMS, now in altar and pulpit fellowship with the AALC, might respond to these issues of doctrine and practice and their implications. One response would not be to rise and sing the Common Doxology or any particular doxologies but to rise in protest against this dumbing down of God’s glory.

One response, therefore, would be an expression of dissent against our entering into altar and pulpit fellowship with the AALC in the absence of agreement in doctrine and practice and in view of manifest disagreement, notwithstanding the numerous protestations and declarations of AALC and LCMS representatives to the contrary.

We fail, it seems to me, to meet the fellowship criteria of even a liberal churchman like Franklin Clark Fry, cited in the February 2000 CTCR document (p. 32): “Insistence upon agreement in doctrine as a precondition for church fellowship is the distinguishing mark”, there’s that pesky word ‘distinguishing’ again, “of Lutherans among all Protestants and should never be relaxed.” Franklin Clark Fry, if memory serves me correctly, was a leader of the ULCA, a predecessor of the LCA before that church body merged into the ELCA. So much for the ELCA and fellowship! But what of us, what of us?

SUBMITTED BY: Rev. Patrick T. Erickson
FOR: LMA meeting
DATE: November 10, 2007

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