When serving at my first parish, I was privileged to be a part of the Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans. In 2001, in response to certain events, the NICL produced and published a brief statement regarding prayer and fellowship. It was named That They May Be One or TTMBO for short.
I have not really spoken publicly about it in a number of years. There are a variety of reasons. It was not a statement of individual belief, but a statement of joint confession. As such, it was not (and is not) the particular property of any one person. Rather, it was released for, and belongs to, the church at large.
I think back on those days occasionally: A few pastors, most young (although less so today) who saw a theological problem, and with no thought of the consequences, took on veteran church politicians. The goal was to confess the truth of God’s word in the face of error, no matter how unpopular such a confession might be. I was one of the committee members who drafted it. Because of various circumstances, I was the one to do the bulk of the writing. (Although my rambling prose was given final form by the excellent Pr. Fickel.)
Why talk about it after all this time? I was reading a discussion thread that mentioned TTMBO, comparing it to the Statement of the 44 and the current work of the ACELC. What, if any, differences are there between the three? The answers were interesting, if not always accurate or perceptive. Not being a member of that forum, I thought I would offer some observations here.
Regarding TTMBO and the current work of the ACELC, the differences are mostly organizational in nature. The NICL existed (and still exists) for the study of Luther’s Confessions. Any other work is subordinate to that. The ACELC exists to point out and attempt to correct error in the LCMS. TTMBO was a pastoral response from a small group to a specific incident. That response was then embraced by many. The ACELC is an organized attempt to change the direction of the synod in many and various areas. I may be wrong, but that is how I perceive their efforts. (I’m sure if I am incorrect in my analysis of the work of the ACELC, they will note it in the comments, as they have in the past). In short, theologically there is little difference, but organizationally and directionally there is much difference.
The differences between TTMBO and the Statement of the 44 are exactly the opposite. Organizationally and directionally there is much similarity: A small group of pastors respond to a problem with a statement of belief. But theologically and ethically there is a great difference.
One commenter noted that “TTMBO was found deficient by the CTCR.” Let us be clear: TTMBO was found incomplete. Deficient implies error. TTMBO was not found in error. The CTCR attempted to determine if it was not only correct, but a sufficient and comprehensive document. As soon as the COP asked the question, we saw what the game plan was. Find that is was not comprehensive, and then claim it was, therefore not sufficient for any use. It was never intended to be comprehensive, but to address one specific situation.
The CTCR claimed that TTMBO failed to define a Civic Event, humbly-bragging that they had taken up that task at the request of the synod. And yet, the CTCR not only failed to adequately distinguish between a worship service and a civic event in a document much longer than TTMBO, a document that was supposed to do that very thing, but when asked to provide further guidance by the synod in convention itself, the CTCR refused to do so. (I believe that the synod response should have been to disband the CTCR. After all, if they refuse to listen to the synod and answer its questions, to whom do they answer, and of what possible value to the synod are they?)
Another criticism was that TTMBO identifies a number of errors, but never specifically states that we do not believe them all to be held by one person or group. The Formula of Concord does the same thing. If we are accused of being uncharitable (in the not-being-Christian sense) then so must our entire synod be accused of the same thing, for the LCMS confesses the Formula of Concord as a correct exposition of the Word of God. Of course, many have accused our synod of such an uncharitable attitude, but to my knowledge this is the first time that the CTCR has done so, even by inference.
So, the alleged unclarity is in many of the same areas that the CTCR itself would later be unclear, and the charge of uncharity is simply absurd. This is hardly the same as deficient. It is worth noting that the CTCR found much good in TTMBO. Numerous points were commended by the CTCR.
And let there be no mistake: TTMBO was extremely clear regarding prayer with non-Christians. Exactly and scripturally clear in a way that every subsequent CTCR document on the topic has not been. Which is why it was so hated, and why the CTCR was given the task of finding something wrong with it, no matter how spurious the accusation they eventually made.
Back to the comparison of TTMBO and the Statement of the 44. There is a great difference regarding the aftermath. Rather than allowing the synod to declare the theology of “A Statement” in conflict with Holy Scripture, the authors very uncourageously withdrew “A Statement”. This allowed them to avoid any repercussions for their false theology, while simultaneously avoiding having it condemned. This may have been very politically astute, but it was also cowardly. It showed the same lack of integrity that would be displayed years later by their theological heirs in claiming that the Seminex theology was not a new and strange teaching, but was consistent with faithful Lutheran doctrine.
Compare that to the conduct of the signatories of TTMBO. While some later signatories withdrew their name from it for personal reasons, none of the pastors who originally signed TTMBO have done so. To my knowledge, of the over 1000 who at some point put their name to it, even among those who later withdrew their signature, none have renounced the theology. Many stood up to their own district president, losing synod and district leadership positions as a result. Some were threatened with removal from their parishes, or even from the synod roster. The majority of signers continued, even after the CTCR hatchet job, to boldly teach and confess the doctrine contained therein. This, despite synod leadership that steadfastly denied the teaching in it, including teachings which the CTCR commended “regarding the faithful proclamation of the Gospel, purity of doctrine and the necessity of agreement in all the articles of faith for external unity in the church.”
To this day, many of the pastors in our synod continue to believe, teach, and confess without apology the doctrine of TTMBO, to which they have pledged themselves, and on which they are willing to stake their salvation. The 44, by contrast, would not even put their own comfortable salaries on the line for their doctrine (which the seminex crowd at least did do), and the defenders of their false teaching have hidden behind synodical procedure for the last 70 years.
So in short, TTMBO was an earnest attempt at theological confession and dialogue by men who took seriously their ordination and confirmation vows. The Statement of the 44 was a cynical attempt to alter the doctrine of the church with crass political maneuvers by those who lacked the integrity of their convictions. The work of the ACELC, whatever one may think of the wisdom of their specific methodology, matches the former, not the latter.