Stephen Krueger (with input from Matthew Becker and David Benke)
Principal Author’s Note: I, SK, do not see this statement to be in any final form until members of the church (e.g., participants from the Daystar online conversation) have a legitimate, honest crack at critiquing it.
First, I am better appreciating the awesome task that the Jesus-First framers took on. How do you write a statement that is both ecumenical and yet faithful? Already on my attempt several good voices (Becker and Benke) have shared their criticisms. I have not as of yet made any changes to the original draft for the following reason: “A Time to Confess” (TC) very intentionally sought to use much of the J-F document, both its form of spelling out key issues and its substance, in order to be a truly ecumenical document among us. The first wave of criticisms, I would hope, would come from that group. This is more their document than mine … but this rewrite is one I would joyously sign and defend.
Second, it occurs to me that this cyber-technology is both blessing and curse. One of the major differences between 1999 and 1973/74 is that folks today thousands of miles apart think they can craft major and serious church statements (I being one of them). I wonder if it’s ever been done before in a setting like this. The downside, of course, is that I miss the warm, human exchange of the face-to-face encounter … which is to me genuinely more honest and real than the one out in cyberspace. I’m probably showing my age by that remark.
Third, as I reread my own title, I am chastened by how serious a thing this is and humbled all the more by it. In that vein, I have by design included under Article VI a statement regarding the ordination of women. This statement is most certainly what I have concluded before God … but each of you will have to determine (1) if you agree and (2) if the statement makes this document less ecumenical than it should otherwise be. I ask for your wisdom and your guidance on the matter.
So without further ado ….
A Time to Confess
A Call to Synod’s Leadership to Repent of its Legalism and Norm Its Leadership under the Gospel
There are times and occasions when men and women of God are called to confess the Gospel as the sole-sufficient norm of Christ’s Church. There are many of us in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod who now recognize that now is such a time.
We have struggled ourselves with this confession. We love this Synod and care deeply for her. We also respect the offices which our leadership holds. Yet we have noticed with increasing alarm and sadness, that the leadership of our Synod has forgotten about the rule of the Gospel and replaced that rule by the rule of the Law.
We are concerned about a number of things that evidence a leadership of legalism. Those things include the loss of mission urgency, centralization of power, disrespect for the priesthood of all believers, exaggerated pastoral authority, misplaced uniformity, resistance to cultural diversity, avoidance of other Christians, overstepping the advisory nature of Synod, and a growing spirit of fear in the Church and intimidation by those in power.
These conditions today in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod parallel too closely the conditions in the Church that, ironically, the Lutheran Reformation sought to oppose. When casting the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, those confessors asked of their medieval church long ago two questions: (1) Does this teaching or practice exalt Christ or, instead, bury him? and (2) Does this teaching or practice leave sinners with the comfort of the Gospel or, instead, keep them in terror of their sins?
We ask the same two questions today of our Synod’s leadership. Our Lutheran identity demands it. Both questions mean to ask of the Church: Will the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone be the highest authority among us, or does some other authority seek to steal the Gospel away from us as the true norm of the Church?
We call on our fellow church members, co-confessors with us of the Gospel, to join us in our confessing as we humbly, for Christ’s sake alone, endorse these affirmations:
We humbly affirm our need, both personally and in the life of our Synod, for daily repentance. Especially do we repent of placing our trust in any other promise than the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:6-10). This precious Gospel proclaims that we are justified by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from the works of the Law (Romans 1:16-17; 3:21-31). We affirm this Gospel is the center, the core and the source of all we do as Christ’s People.
We reject anything about our own lives, the lives of our congregations, or in the life of our Synod that would replace that Gospel with something else. We understand full well that the Evil One would distract us from that Gospel, would appeal to our natural flesh’s unwillingness to repent of our sin and would lead us to place our hope in false promises, including unevangelical practices by church leaders, rather than place our complete trust and confidence in the Gospel
We especially are concerned about practices by our Synod’s leadership that appear to us to be loveless toward brothers and sisters in Christ. We frequently see our leadership forgetting that Christ alone is each person’s only necessary justification in the Gospel. As the Church seeks freely to be the Church in many different settings and places, it is not required in the Gospel to have to justify itself to anyone! Christ alone is the Christian’s justification before God.
We affirm the freedom, joy, hope and peace which is the Gospel’s gift to the whole Church (Galatians 5:1; Philippians 2:1-2). Each of those special gifts is the mark of the Church when it is normed by the Gospel.
We reject anything, such as legalism and its ways of intimidation or coercion or threat, which would rob the People of God of those gifts which God would give them in the Gospel. The Gospel defeats the Law and its power over our lives (Galatians 5:18).
We affirm God’s call to mission to us, to proclaim and administer the Gospel through all the creative and innovative ways God gives to us (I Corinthians 9:22-23).
We reject any insistence that the Gospel can only be shared through one particular cultural form or tradition. In this vein, especially do we notice in Scripture the legalisms of the Judaizers, Christian opponents of St. Paul’s Gentile mission, and how their culturally laden forms became an enemy of the Gospel.
We affirm with joy and gratitude the diversity which Christ has given to his Church (Romans 12:3-8).
We reject demands, born in legalism, which insist on uniformity in practice where the Scriptures themselves, for the sake of the Gospel, proclaim freedom. Our Lutheran Confessions similarly point to such in the practice of the Church that is adiaphora, that is, things neither commanded nor forbidden.
We affirm with joy, that the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel in the Means of Grace, alone creates, establishes and unites the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” (Ephesians 2:14-22; 4:3-6; AC VII; Ap VII).
We reject attempts to use Synodical resolutions, dogmatic statements, or institutional mandates to coerce uniformity or to exercise control. Especially do we note that such a thing is forbidden, even by Synod’s Constitution (Article VII).When the Gospel rules among us, Synod is freed to become the servant, “advisory body,” it is meant to be.
We affirm that the full range of God’s gifts for ministry, include the pastoral office and the priesthood of all believers (I Corinthians 12:12-31).
We reject insistence on human traditions or regulations which unnecessarily limit any legitimate use of God’s gifts for ministry among pastors and lay people, men and women. We especially think that issues, most particularly the ordination of women to the pastoral office, are not closed issues before the Chuch. A century and a half ago some of our Synodical parents believed that slavery was sanctioned by Scripture. They were wrong. In a similar way, the Gospel necessitates an open and honest inquiry into the question of making fullest use of all the gifts of God to the Church, including the question of ordaining all qualified baptized into pastoral leadership of the Church.
We affirm the necessity of love, truth and integrity in our church relationships and resolve to work for reconciliation and healing where necessary (Ephesians 4:15-16).
We reject the failure to norm discipline in the Church by evangelical procedures and practices, specifically those laid down in Matthew 18:15-20.Where the Gospel rules, it establishes a climate of openness and trust. Where it doesn’t rule, the climate in the Church deteriorates to one of mistrust, accusation and coercion. We reject such a climate, where the Gospel doesn’t rule and norm, and call on Synod’s leadership to reject such a climate, too.
We affirm the need to love and respect the whole Christian Church on earth (John 17).
We reject practices that unnecessarily raise and maintain walls of separation within the Body of Christ. We insist that our Synodical leadership remember and struggle with, as do we, that, “It is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places (AC VII).
As confessors of the Gospel in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, this is the beginning of our confession. We call upon all our sisters and brothers in the Church to join us in this, our time to confess.