Clergy Bulletin X:5 (January 1951) pages 46-48.
[ In 1951 the General Pastoral Conference assigned papers to study the various sections of the LC-MS Common Confession. The Common Confession (CC) was to be the basis for the LC-MS' unity with the American Lutheran Church. G. O. Lillegard wrote the evaluation of the CC section on the Church. Note especially the closing two paragraphs with reference to the doctrine of the Ministry.
This part of the CC can be found on p. 426 of Wolf's Documents of Lutheran Unity in America. -Joe]
(Common Confession, Article IX.)
The Common Confession is remarkable throughout for the manner in which it presents, tersely yet adequately, the doctrines on which American Lutherans have long been in essential agreement, while ignoring and by-passing those points of doctrine on which there has been public disagreement. Thus there is nothing in Article IX, on the Church, which was not stated long ago in even clearer and more definite terms in such confessional documents as the Constitution of the American Lutheran Church, Article II, Confession of Faith, (1930); in the "Toledo Theses" which formed the doctrinal basis of the ALC, (1918); in the "Minneapolis Theses", on which the American Lutheran Conference was based, (1925); in the "Chicago Theses" of 1928, which was adopted by the Iowa and Buffalo Synods; and even in the "Washington Declaration" of the United Lutheran Church, (1920). In contrast with the Common Confession, the Missouri Synod's "Brief Statement" goes into specific detail with regard to the points on which there has been disagreement and states the Biblical teachings as briefly as it can be stated without sacrificing clarity and definiteness. It was correctly named "The Brief Statement". There is no superfluous verbiage in it. Every point in it, as someone has said, is a dagger directed at an error held by opposing Lutheran churches; and every one of the sentences is needed. We have a right, accordingly, to be suspicious of those who would substitute some other doctrinal theses for it, or who would try to cover the ground in briefer term than it, while still claiming to settle the controversies which have afflicted the Lutheran churches in our country.
The the Brief Statement emphasizes the fact that the Christian Church on earth is invisible, and that the visible means of grace through which the Church is created and preserved are "marks of the Church", but are in no sense the Church or any part of the Church itself. The CC ignores this point of doctrine entirely, though the ALC still confesses in its doctrinal basis, the Toledo Theses: "Common participation in the means of grace is the necessary form of the Church's appearance and the infallible mark of its existence; and in so far the Church is visible." (Thesis I b.)
Similarly, in the paragraph on "Church-fellowship", the Brief Statement defines Unionism in exact terms, referring to specific Bible passages on each point, while the Common Confession quotes Bible passages only in a very general way and leaves out such pertinent passages as 1 Pet. 4:11; Matt. 7:15; 2 Tim. 2:17-21; Acts 20:30; and 1 Tim. 1:3. The Brief Statement also emphasizes the fact that it is the doctrine which is actually taught in a church, not that which it may profess in its Constitution, which is to determine for us whether it is an orthodox church or not. In the CC, this essential point is omitted entirely. Then, the Brief Statement uses the inclusive term, "Church-fellowship", in defining Unionism, which through almost 80 years of Synodical Conference history has meant "prayer-fellowship" as well as pulpit- and altar-fellowship. But the CC specifies "altar and pulpit fellowship", pointedly leaving out any reference to prayer-fellowship at all. In all of the confessional documents referred to above, including the Washington Declaration of the ULC, wefinde statements repudiating pulpit and altar fellowship with errorists. The so called Galezburg Rule: "Lutheran pulpits are for Lutheran ministers only. Lutheran altars are for Lutheran communicants only," has been in effect ever since 1870 in General Council (not ULC) circles. Thus the CC marks no progress whatever in settling the disagreement in Lutheran circles with regard to what "sinful unionism" is and means.
In his essay on "Unionism" (1927), Dr. Fr. Pieper, who was also chiefly responsible for the Brief Statement, wrote: "God here (Rom. 16:17) forbids Unionism, church-fellowship with such as are known as false teachers. With such we are not to fellowship in prayer or in Holy Communion, etc.; for in so doing we would, as the Apostle says (2 John 10:11) be partaking of their evil deeds." It will not be necessary to quote further evidences from the writings of Synodical Conference theologians to prove that this has always been the position of that church. Nor need we quote statements from other Lutherans to prove that they have condemned us, often in the most bitter language, for refusing to pray with errorists of any kind. They have sought for years to show that pulpit and altar fellowship with errorists is, indeed, to be condemned, but that "prayer-fellowship" is another matter. For, they say, we can pray together with anyone who claims to be a Christian, though he may be guilty of many doctrinal aberrations. Cf., e.g., Dr. M. Reu's pamphlet on "Unionism", in his publication, "In the Interest of Lutheran Unity". (1940)
But if the Scriptural admonition against fellowship with errorists and false prophets of every kind mean anything, they must certainly apply to praying together with them, since men nowhere draw more closely to God than in prayer and must needs be united "in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10), if their prayers are to be pleasing to God. It is a vain thing for those who do not share the same faith to try to pray together, since divergent beliefs are bound to make the prayers conflict with one another, thus presenting only a Babel of confusion to the ears of God. The Holy Spirit of prayer should not be accused of inspiring or sponsoring such prayers.
There is also wide disagreement between the Synodical Conference and other Lutherans on the matter of cooperating with erring churches in the practical work of the Church. The Synodical Conference has maintained that it is sinful Unionism to conduct church work together with errorists, as well as to pray and worship with them. Other Lutherans have insisted on their right to associate and cooperate with heretical churches in various fields,-missions, charities, etc.,-and in what they call "the externals" of church work, as they are doing, e.g. in the World Council of Churches and the newly-formed National Council of Churches. The CC says with regard to this: "We dare not condone error or have...unscriptural cooperation with erring individuals, church bodies, or church groups that refuse to be corrected by God's Word." This seems to imply that there is such a thing as "Scriptural cooperation with errorists". It is clear form the Bible that we can, indeed, cooperate with errorists and heretics in social, political and other matters which lie outside of the sphere of the spiritual work of the Church. Here we do not draw the line even against Catholics, Jews, Mohammedans or heathen, who so often seek to exclude Christians from all association with them, yes, even persecute true believers with fire and sword. But in the work of the Church, whether it be in the field of Missions or Education or Charities, the Bible precedent and the rule is to work together with those who share our faith and confession. Otherwise we weaken our testimony and become guilty of building "wood, hay stubble" (1 Cor. 3:12) on the foundation, Jesus Christ, instead of "purging ourselves...of the vessels of wood and of earth" (2 Tim. 2:20). When the "adversaries of Judah and Benjamin", the Samaritans, came to Zerubbabel as he was building the temple in Jerusalem and, like good unionists, said: "Let us build with you; for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither," the leaders of Israel said to them: "Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel," (Ezra 4:1-5). so we today need to say to the unionists who beckon to us from every hand, asking us to join with them in at least some fields of Church work, if not in all: "Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God."
The CC errs also in its reference to "our Lord's intercessory prayer" (John 17) when it applies His words, that we "may be one, even as He and the Father are one", to the external fellowship of professing Christians. Christ's prayer is heard and answered wherever Christians are brought into fellowship with God through faith in Jesus, whether they are united in the bonds of a visible fellowship with them or not.
Finally, the Brief Statement comes with specific warnings, both in the article on The Church and in that on The Public Ministry, against the hierarchical, romanizing tendencies which manifest themselves also in Lutheran churches, including the ALC. It emphasizes the fact that the office of the Ministry is to be established "by order and in the name of a Christian congregation", not independently of it; nor can it claim the right to "demand obedience and submission in matters which Christ has not commanded." These points the Common Confession ignores completely.
We conclude that the CC is not only inadequate to settle the controverted issues which have troubled the Church hitherto, but does not touch on the controverted issues at all. Hence, if the CC is to be accepted as a settlement of doctrinal differences that for two generations have separated Lutherans from on another, we must either condemn the "fathers" who manufactured issues where none existed, thus proving themselves schismatics, or else condemn the CC as in very truth but a "Missouri Compromise", a tragic surrender of everything that conservative Lutherans have contended for from the beginning.
-Geo. O. Lillegard.