Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Principles and Applications II

When a certain unofficial group in the WELS wanted to have a certain Methodist professor speak at their gathering, a royal stink was raised. Those upset had the law on their side. From the WELS’ Theses on Church Fellowship, “Church fellowship is every joint expression, manifestation, and demonstration of the common faith in which Christians on the basis of their confession find themselves to be united with one another.”

This is further explained, “We may classify these joint expressions of faith in various ways according to the particular realm of activity in which they occur, e.g., pulpit fellowship; altar fellowship; prayer fellowship; fellowship in worship; fellowship in church work, in missions, in Christian education, and in Christian charity. Yet insofar as they are joint expressions of faith, they are all essentially one and the same thing and are all properly covered by a common designation, namely, church fellowship. Church fellowship should therefore be treated as a unit concept, covering every joint expression, manifestation, and demonstration of a common faith. Hence, Scripture can give the general admonition ‘avoid them’ when church fellowship is to cease (Ro. 16:17). Hence, Scripture sees an expression of church fellowship also in giving the right hand of fellowship (Gal 2:9) and in greeting on eanother with the fraternal kiss (Ro. 16:16); on the other hand, it points out that a withholding of church fellowship may also be indicated by not extending a fraternal welcome to errorists and by not bidding them Godspeed (2 Jn. 10,11; dr. 3 Jn. 5-8)”

That little word “every” creates a bit of a problem. 1 Corinthians 10:31 states “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Whatever a believer does as a Christian is an expression of faith, which would mean that WELS members would have to avoid everyone but other WELS members in every aspect of life. Not too practical, so we have the very handy “framework of fellowship”. We’ll let an anonymous Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary professor explain the framework of fellowship in his own words from the WELS’ website’s Q&A: “I’m not sure if there is one single definition of that term (or others very much like it) that prevails among us, but I freely share what I have observed over a period of many years when I’ve heard such a phrase used. Subject to correction or improvement, I offer this definition: An event or task that is carried out beyond the framework or bounds of fellowship is one that involves what may well be perceived as a religious activity done by people who either are not in doctrinal fellowship with each other or who do not want others to assume they are in doctrinal fellowship. The kind of activities they seek to accomplish are, therefore, not to be considered expressions of people in full unity with each other regarding doctrine and practice. Lacking an authoritative definition, I’ll offer examples of what I see as activities that have been or might be carried out beyond the framework of fellowship. Since we use civilian chaplains to serve our people in the military, and since these chaplains (for the most part parish pastors) have limited knowledge of how best to find their way about military bases, etc., we might arrange for a workshop or seminar led by military chaplains who do not share our doctrinal confession. The benefits our chaplains may derive from the knowledge of military protocol and experience of such people may be considered quite valuable, so we ask them to serve our people. In a real way the subject has to do with ministry, serving souls with God’s Word and sacrament, and equipping ourselves to serve more efficiently, so someone may assume that such a workshop is carried out by Christians expressing their unity in the faith. But it isn’t so—and we may say the event is carried out outside the boundaries of fellowship so no one would be confused about that. So-called ‘free conferences’ have been used by people who do not currently share the same doctrinal confessions but who want to meet to inform, encourage, and be of mutual benefit to each other. Sometimes participants may (at least for a time) be members of synods that are not in doctrinal fellowship, but they see a value in gathering, discussing theological issues, and clarifying doctrinal positions. That is the kind of activity that is normally (in our circles) associated with people who are already in doctrinal fellowship. So notice may be given that no one should assume that this is so at a ‘free conference’. Full doctrinal agreement is not a prerequisite for gatherin. It is carried out outside the framework of fellowship. Sometimes in their desire to do charitable work and to do it as efficiently and wisely as they can, Christian people, churches, and synods may sometimes make use of organizations that are very good at distributing food or clothing or medical supplies to those who need it but who do not share the same doctrinal position that we do. We might use such an organization that is religious in a real way, but not necessarily Lutheran or orthodox, confessional Lutheran. We don’t want people to assume that we are united in doctrine so we might say that this work is carried out beyond the framework of fellowship. (Sometimes the term ‘cooperation in externals’ has been used for this too, and I’ve heard some complain that we don’t have an adequate definition of that term either.) I suppose other examples of doing things that have religious aspects but where full doctrinal agreement is not necessarily assumed nor implied might be mentioned. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag in a mixed group and saying ‘under God’ or singing ‘God Bless America’ in a football stadium are certainly carried out beyond the framework of fellowship too. So is participation in community choruses when classical music that happens to be religious music (e.g. Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus) is sung. When we use the term I suppose we envision an event or activity that is more likely to be understood or misunderstood as an expression of doctrinal unity when it really isn’t.”

Some of the presenters at the WELS Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts are not of the WELS. They must then be presenting “outside the framework of fellowship”. However, the conference brochure does not point this out, which makes the WELS’ position very unclear for anyone not familiar the WELS’ doctrine of fellowship. The WELS COP passed a resolution in 2003 that says, “1. It is possible for presentations and discussions about secular and/or religious matters which take place in schools, churches, conferences, commissions and parasynodical organizations of our fellowship, or other similar events to occur outside the framework of fellowship. 2. When speakers and presenters are not of our fellowship they MUST conduct their presentation(s) outside the framework of fellowship: a) that means that they must not lead worship: Including prayer, confession, song and sacrament; b) preliminary cautions must be made in the advertisements and the introduction of the presenter if that individual draws conclusions on the basis of Bible truths; c) since fellowship includes joint church work, outside speakers must not participate with their audience in church activities; e.g., canvassing, counseling, Bible studies, etc.”

The WELS’ own worship conference isn’t following the resolution of the COP. LCMS and ELCA members are presenting without the necessary warnings in the advertisements that WELS purity of doctrine and practice may be brought to an end by attending this conference. Oh, the horror! (Actually, some of the outsiders will be worth the price of admission, but be afraid, be very afraid of the non-WELS!—Are the WELS presenters going to be standing inside a big picture frame on the floor and the non-WELS presenters jumping out of said picture frame to indicate whether one is inside or outside the framework of fellowship?)

Something intended to keep out false theology can easily backfire. Leonard Sweet and Carl Schalk end up on the same side of the frame and could both be equally qualified to present to an audience of WELS members. All this silliness ignores the real problem. Instead of evaluating what these outside speakers say and either allowing them or barring them based on that, this inside vs. outside the framework of fellowship game ends up including every Jew, Turk, Hindu, or Methodist provided there is adequate warning in the advertising (or not, as in the case of the upcoming conference).


Anonymous said...

This is a joke. Wasn't fellowship the main reason Wisconsin and Missouri split in the early 60's to begin with? If all these shenanigans are going on, allowed, and tolerated with the consent of the WELS hierarchy, it's now a very blurry gray line between the synods. As a graduate of MLS, I remember one girl in my class who was a member of the LCMS. The question of fellowship came up in one religion class and somebody specifically asked, "How can she be a part of our pray life?" Prof. Kuske's response, "We are not praying with her, she us praying with US." I guess in that same vein, this is how they justify fellowship with members of the other synods. It truly is a thin, fine line. Hmmm...

Angry Lutherans said...

Did she also commune with YOU (though you, of course, did not commune with her)?