Open Letter Re: COP & Unity

The Council of Presidents recently adopted a resolution stating that they are united in Christ – Wonderful news if it were true! A few thoughts, which I shared with other pastors in my locality.

Reverend Fathers,

As noted in my previous letter, pastors have a responsibility to speak and teach the truth of the Word of God in the church. This is primarily done in the congregation to which they have been called. But there are times and places for pastors to speak more publicly and to the wider church.

At the recent Council of Presidents meeting, the COP adopted a resolution which, among other things, declared, “We trust God’s Word and Spirit to lead us into the future (John 6:68). For the sake of the Christ’s Bride and Her mission, we very humbly encourage the Church and her delegates to do the same. We are united in Christ.”

The COP correctly identifies the source of any unity which we share – Christ and his Word. While it is a great privilege of the Christian to rejoice in the unity which Christ gives to his church, it is also true that we live in a world of sin. The unity for which Christ prayed to His Father in John 17 is no longer fully realized in the church militant: the pope abrogates god-like powers to himself; the reformed deny the clear word of our Lord, “This is my body.” These are only two of the most public and obvious errors. There are other errors as well – our confessions list them clearly with evidence from the Word of God.

Sadly, our beloved synod is not immune to such errors. As President Oberheu wrote many years ago to an unfaithful predecessor of mine, “unity must be under the authority and on the basis of the Word of God – all of God’s Word. When men refuse to submit to that, there can be no unity.” Much to our own grief, we have found this to be true in our interactions with pastors from other parts of our synod – and not only during the Koinonia project. Pastors are – in the name of God and in violation of the Second Commandment – offering prayers at joint services where demons are invoked, rejecting and teaching against the order of creation, signing confessions of faith which have false teaching regarding the supper of our Lord, etc. And we are all too painfully aware of the scandal of a University which pridefully advocates things which Saint Paul himself calls, “too shameful to mention.” (There seem to be some early indications that this may be changing – if so, thanks be to God!)

The resolution of the COP regarding the unity which they share was limited to the members of the COP. Perhaps such errors as I mention above are not held, taught, nor tolerated among them. If so, that is certainly a cause for rejoicing, and I pray that their efforts to instruct the weak, and where necessary to remove unfaithful pastors bears abundant fruit.

And yet there is a member of the COP who has repeatedly and publicly spoken against our confession. It is not a one-time mistake or misstatement. It is an ongoing campaign to weaken and destroy the clear confession of Augustana XIV. Those who wish to teach should do so with fear and trembling at the thought of the majesty of the Word which they proclaim. God himself cautions that they will be judged more severely. But to then accept a position (de iure humano though it may be) which oversees those teachers, while still rejecting the full counsel of the Word of God is not cause for a celebration of unity.

Some may claim (and have claimed) that we have unity of faith under Christ, and that we lack merely a concord of doctrine. This error was rejected unanimously by the Wyoming District at her convention in 2009. We confessed:

Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions describe faith and its object together, distinguishing but not separating the two. Pure and unadulterated doctrine is simply the Gospel itself, by which God creates faith, forgives sins, bestows the Holy Spirit, gives birth to the church and her fellowship, and saves eternally. “Pure and unadulterated” is not merely a standard of the Law imposed by the Holy Spirit upon the Church, but is simply the way of saying that we are receiving God’s Gospel in all its articles, without any corruptions or additions to the Gospel… Separation of faith and doctrine, which attaches faith only to the personal confession (“saving faith relationship”) of a minimized Second Article of the Creed, is a new kind of Gospel Reductionism, an idea that only certain narrow teachings about Christ constitute the essential Gospel, and that all else is secondary in importance for salvation. In other words, when doctrine is separated from faith, purity of doctrine can no longer be a concern for the preservation and distribution of God’s saving work (Gospel), but becomes essentially a legal requirement (Law) that measures obedience.

We further cautioned that with such an understanding “the fellowship of the church becomes increasingly man-centered and man-worked.” This teaching, if allowed to predominate, would mean the end of the confessional Lutheran Church. Our district rightly rejected such an understanding then, and we as pastors are charged to continue teaching the correct relationship between doctrine and fellowship.

Sadly, given the public and consistent renunciation of Article XIV by at least one member of the COP, the resolution of the COP fails to do this. I say this without judgment against individual members of the COP. Firstly, the notes do not indicate if any members voted against the resolution. Perhaps some did. Perhaps others voted in support of it with one statement in mind, while not noticing what else was there – or perhaps voting for one sentence, but having reservations about another. We have all been in fora where resolutions are considered. Amendments are offered, meanings changed, and before proper consideration can be given to each word, a vote is called. The resolution itself does not seem to focus on the implications of our unity. The topic seems to be elsewhere (the 8th commandment). And yet that does not alter the reality that – barring repentance and a return to the truth of God’s Word by at least one member of the COP– the statement is objectively false.

I know that, given the press of many duties to family and district / synod matters, President Hill does not have significant time to dwell on COP matters once the meeting has ended. This is as it should be. COP meetings should be far less significant than they already are. For this reason, I do not attach much significance to the resolution, which is non-binding and has no force of law in our synod in any event. But I do believe that at least a short commentary on it is in order, and that is what I offer here. We must never pretend a unity which God has not given. And we must never settle for a unity on any basis other than the Word of God in its entirety. I ask you to join me in praying that our synod will return to this understanding, that all matters will be addressed from the Word of God, and that, submitting ourselves to that Word, we may all humbly and with fear and trembling learn and boldly proclaim the Word to the World.

May God grant such a Spirit-filled unity and bond of peace for Jesus sake.

Amen.

 

Your fellow bond-servant in Christ
Lincoln Winter
Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, Wheatland
Circuit Visitor, High Plains Circuit, Wyoming District, LCMS

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