The Nature of a True State of Confession, Especially on the Part of a Church Body
THE NATURE OF A TRUE STATE OF CONFESSION
ESPECIALLY ON THE PART OF A CHURCH BODY
Essay presented by Rev. Paul R. Bloedel to the Convention, Aug. 25, 1957
I. HISTORICAL MATERIAL CONCERNING “STATUS CONFESSIONIS“
II. SCRIPTURAL BASIS FOR STATUS CONFESSION
Admonition and Exhortation…
Patience and Love…
Severance of Fellowship…
Acknowledgment of True Brethren and the Establishment of True Fellowship…
III. SUMMARY CONCLUSION
“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 10:32. On the basis of this passage every Christian is constantly in a state of confession over against all error in doctrine and practice. Such a state of confession includes all forthright testimony by word and by deed in favor of the truth and against all error and false doctrine. A state of confession in this sense (the wider sense) is simply the true Christian’s personal witness bearing for Christ in accordance with the Savior’s injunction: “Ye shall be witness unto Me…unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” Acts. 1:8.
This term, however, due to ecclesiastical usage, is used, theologically, to express a position which true Christians, orthodox congregations, or larger orthodox church bodies must take when they find themselves in a heterodox group or when error in doctrine or practice has gained a foothold in a former orthodox group in which they hold membership. The situation which therefore calls for such a state of confession may involve a member over against his congregation, a congregation over against a synod or conference, or an entire synod over against sister synods. In each of these several cases the same passages of Holy Writ apply. After a brief sketch of the historical background of “status confessionis” we will consider those portions of Scripture which are most pertinent to this subject and, on the basis of sound doctrine, make our practical applications and discuss cases of casuistry.
The accessible historical material concerning “status confessionis” is so indefinite and vague as to the meaning of the term and its implications that one is not amazed at all the confusion which has centered itself around this term.
The essayist must declare at the very outset that he does not know where, when, or how this term, “status confessions“, originated. As far as his knowledge goes, on the basis of the information which he has at hand in his library, the first appearance which the ecclesiastical term, “status confessionis“, made on the pages of Lutheran History seems to have been in the Proceedings of the Synodical Conference, 1875, pp. 24-26, where we read:
The question is asked, May one practice church fellowship with a minister who is a member of a body which tolerates chiliasm, but who rejects this error and publicly testifies against it? The following answer was given: That would be unionism. Only then would such fellowship be permitted when such a member were found in the confessional state (in statu confessionis), that is, when he informs his synod openly—`I reject this doctrine, but since I cannot in fairness demand that you share my conviction overnight, I will remain with you in the hope that this may finally come about.’ Such a member must continue to testify in public convention and periodicals against such error and make no secret of his intention to have the synod finally join him in rejecting false doctrine, the alternative being that he would leave the synodical union. Of course, there are such as declare that they would resign, but do not carry this out. In this way someone may be a member of such a synod under protests for a while, so long as his testimony is not prohibited and he may still hope that it will bear fruit. Just when the moment of resignation may have come must probably be left to conscience of the individual… There is a great difference between entering a unionistic body and being forced to leave it. The first is not permissible under any circumstances; in the latter case it may be necessary to remain for a shorter or longer period of time for purpose of testifying against error.”
This statement from the Synodical Conference Proceedings is far from being unmistakably clear. Consequently it can be and has been grossly misused contrary to clear Biblical pronouncements. One of the greatest faults of this Synodical Conference statement is that it offers no Scriptural proof for its assertions and thus yields itself to ambiguity. It does not define “status confessionis” but cites an example of its practice. It speaks of the possibility that it “may be necessary to remain (in a unionistic body) for a shorter or longer period of time for the purpose of testifying against error”, but does not stipulate how one in such a position must act with regard to the practice of religious fellowship with the corporate body or with its adherents and constituents. Thus, in recent years, much confusion has resulted over the use of this term.
In 1889 in the convention discussion of a portion of Pieper’s essay, “The Difference Between Orthodox and Heterodox Churches,” which was delivered before the Southern District Convention of the Missouri Synod, the question was asked:
“What about accepting the position of sponsor for a child in a heterodox church?” A portion of the answer, apparently given by the essayist, includes the following: “Accepting the position of a sponsor is a church matter. A Christian should not permit himself to be induced to become a sponsor for a child in a heterodox church. If a Christian accepts the position of sponsor in a Reformed church, for example, he therewith sanctions its false doctrine of Baptism. The question whether this also applies to accepting the position of sponsor in the (Lutheran) Texas Synod was answered in the affirmative because the Texas Synod continues in fellowship with errorists. As long as it does not quit such fellowship, it must be dealt with as a heterodox body. An exception would of course be made if a man were indeed outwardly a member of this body, but also was in the state of confession, testifying against the false doctrine which that body tolerates.”
Here, too, Pieper merely mentions a “state of confession” but goes into very meager detail as to what such a state of confession involves.
At Okabena, on Sept. 26, 1951, when the OLC had its beginning, the phrase, “in statu confessionis,” was used in point 3 Article II of our Articles of Agreement. There we read, as one of the objectives of the Conference: “To offer encouragement and assistance to pastors, teachers, laymen and congregations, who are in the state of confession (in statu confessionis, that is, in protesting membership) in heterodox Lutheran bodies, and who share our Confession of Faith.” However, in one of the essays and in the Conference Meeting Rules in the Proceedings of the First Annual Meeting of the Orthodox Lutheran Conference the phrase (in statu confessionis) was used wrongly as though one could be “in statu confessionis” WITH a heterodox church body (cf. pp. 29 and 46 of the Proceedings.) And so, even at Okabena there was apparently a certain amount of confusion concerning this term, its proper usage and its Scriptural implications. No stress was placed upon the Scriptural basis or foundation for a state of confession. (The essayist recalls how he, after the Okabena meeting, had asked the president of the newly formed body upon what Bible passage being in a state of confession was based. The Scripture passage cited by the president was II Thess. 3:14,15: “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”)
In the Wisconsin Synod the term, “status confessionis“, was and still is simply a “state of confusion.” In the January, 1952, issue of the Theological Quarterly of the Wisconsin Synod, Prof. Reim made this comment concerning the CLC: “The reasons for which this little group has made its grave decision are the very ones on which we have placed ourselves on record at last summer’s convention, and by which we stand unless we fail in the statu confessionis into which we have placed ourselves by our New Ulm resolutions.”
We recall the splendid essays which were delivered at New Ulm (later summarized in the Northwestern Lutheran) setting forth plainly the true doctrines of Holy Writ and vividly pointing out the inadequacy and untruthfulness of the Common Confession. On the basis of these essays the Wis. Synod rejected the Common Confession and appealed to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to repudiate its stand upon the Common Confession and also to suspend negotiations with the American Lutheran Church (ALC). It is with regard to this resolution in particular that Prof. Reim made the above statement concerning the Wisconsin Synod’s state of confession over against Missouri. It was soon evident, however, that a great number in the Wis. Synod did not share Prof. Reim’s position and that he, too, seemingly did not realize the implications of a true state of confession, or if he did, it was not long before he began to compromise his position.
At the 1952 Synodical Conference Convention at St. Paul the Wisconsin Synod delegation declared through their Standing Committee on Church Union that “in order to guard our own faith and to remain true to our God, that, though we do not at this time disavow our fellowship with the Missouri Synod in the Synodical Conference, yet, because the confessional basis on which the synods of the Syn. Conference have jointly stood so far has been seriously impaired by the Common Confession, we continue to uphold our protest and to declare that the Mo. Synod by retaining the Common Confession and using it for further steps toward union with the ALC is disrupting the Synodical Conference (see Constitution, Art. 5). Thus while we await a decision by our Synod in this grave situation, we continue our present relationship with the Missouri Synod only in the hope that it may still come to see the error of its way. Hence we find ourselves in a STATE OF CONFESSION (theologically expressed, IN STATU CONFESSIONIS).” The next convention of the Wisconsin Synod made no Scriptural decision and this declared state of confession on the part of their delegates to the Synodical Conference became what Prof. Reim stated it should not become, namely, “a long-term arrangement”, “a mere sham,” “a clever explanation of how one can continue in a fellowship which is no longer based on full unity of doctrine and practice.” (Northwestern Lutheran, Sept. 7, 1952, pp. 282, 283.) To this day the Wis. Synod is thoroughly confused and because of their confusion they must outrageously abuse these passages of Holy Scripture which forbid unionism, i.e. religiously work and worship with those not agreed in doctrine.
The Norwegian Synod was likewise and still is in a state of confusion with regard to its relationship over against the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Already in 1951, the Report on the June Convention of the Norwegian Synod, page 43, states:
“We therefore believe that the Synod should realize and openly declare that it is in statu confessionis with the Missouri Synod. That is, we believe that, as our Synod has been admonishing our sister-Synod not to forsake the truth, so it must continue to do, and affirm that it will do, but only so long as the Missouri Synod seriously considers our testimony.”
One year later, at the 1952 Synodical Conference Convention at St. Paul, the Norwegian Synod deplored the “miscarriage of parliamentary justice” but rejoiced over the fact that “the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Slovaks, Wisconsin, and the Norwegians are still brothers in the faith.” About a year later, in 1953, students who left Missouri for conscience reasons and entered into Norwegian Synod Seminary were recommended by Norwegian Synod officials for calls into Missouri Synod congregations. In 1955 we rejoiced over the Norwegian Synod’s resolution concerning its relationship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod which stated: “We hereby declare with deepest regret that fellowship relations with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are suspended on the basis of Romans 16:17 and that the exercise of such relations cannot be resumed until the offenses contrary to the doctrine which we have learned have been removed by them in a proper manner.” We also were happy to read the meaning of this resolution as set forth in their official paper: “Our convention felt it had to suspend relations with Missouri Synod, because that body was by its tolerance of unscriptural doctrine and practice showing itself to be an erring church body; it had caused divisions and offenses in the Church, contrary to the doctrine which we had learned; and there was no indication that it was disavowing these unscriptural tendencies. Therefore, we according to Romans 16:17, had to suspend fellowship.” We were especially pleased with this resolution because of its plain appeal to Scripture. However, it soon became evident that this resolution was not being carried out by the rank and file of the Synod and in 1956 the Synod again involved itself in joint work and worship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod by resolving to “meet with the other Synods of the Synodical Conference to determine whether or not the constituent synods of the Synodical Conference are new in doctrinal agreement” and “to take part in the proposed international conference of conservative Lutheran theologians, affiliated with the Synodical Conference.” In accordance with their resolution the Norwegian Synod appointed delegates as voting representatives to the Synodical Conference Convention. On Oct. 11, 1956, the Lutheran Sentinel reported an anniversary celebration at Watertown, Wisconsin, on which occasion the Rev. C. F. Golish (Missouri Synod) was a principal speaker together with pastors from the Wisconsin and Norwegian Synods. So also the Norwegian Synod’s state of confession was a mere sham and a mockery of that Word of God upon which it was based.
In the November, 1953, Orthodox Lutheran, we find one well-written article on the subject, “What Does Being `In Statu Confessionis‘ Mean?” written over the signature of Dr. P. E. Kretzmann, and in the Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Convention of the Orthodox Luth. Conference is a short essay delivered by Dr. P. E. Kretzmann on “The `Time Element’ In the Application of Romans 16:17f.” Besides these two articles only a few allusions to status confessionis are made in former articles of the Orthodox Lutheran Conference. During the Kretzmann-Hallstein controversy of 1955 it became apparent that there was a definite difference of opinion especially regarding the application of the term, status confessionis, to a given situation, also with regard to its implications of confessional and church fellowship.
This brief historical sketch should furnish us with some idea of the confusion that surrounds this subject and the need for a thorough consideration of the Scripture texts which are basic to a clear understanding of a state of confession.
SCRIPTURAL BASIS FOR STATUS CONFESSION
It is not the intention of the essayist to go into lengthy details of exegesis on the various Bible passages presented in this essay, but only to set forth such plain Scripture texts as are pertinent to our subject and which shed light on the very heart of the matter under discussion. Let us remind ourselves, once again, of the situation which is involved when using the ecclesiastical term, status confessions, namely, the position which true Christians, orthodox congregations, or larger orthodox church bodies must take when they find themselves in a heterodox group or when error in doctrine or practice has gained a foothold in a former orthodox group in which they hold membership. We have stated that the situation which calls for a state of confession may therefore involve a member over against his congregation, a congregation over against a synod or conference, or an entire synod over against sister synods and that in each of these several cases the same passages of Holy Writ apply. These passages group themselves naturally under four distinct headings each of which treat of a certain phase of a state of confession. These four headings are as follows: 1) admonition and exhortation; 2) patience and love; 3) severance of fellowship; and 4) acknowledgment of true brethren and the establishment of true fellowship. These four divisions are not set forth as stages or steps which one is required to follow who is contemplating, or finds himself in, a state of confession. They are rather to be regarded as phases which are intended to furnish us with an overall picture of what Scripture says to those who are faced with a situation which calls for a state of confession. The circumstances themselves will point the person or persons involved to those passages which are applicable to a given case.
Admonition and Exhortation…;
In the very nature of the case a state of confession embraces all these passages which require Christians to admonish, to warn, to exhort, to rebuke, and to reprove those who have forsaken the Word of God in doctrine or practice. In this respect the very same passages come into play in the state of confession which are used with regard to church discipline with the exception of the 3rd stage of admonition which is outlined by the savior in Matt. 18:17 and which is carried out only by a local congregation. In church discipline individual Christians and finally the entire congregation deals with a manifest and impenitent sinner in their midst with the purpose in view to gain the brother. In a state of confession an individual Christian, a congregation, or a synod deals with an erring corporate body of which they are in fellowship for the purpose of winning that corporate body back for the Truth. This must always be the chief aim of a state of confession! And as church discipline must tend progressively either toward gaining the brother or toward excluding the manifest and impenitent sinner from the Christian congregation, so also a state of confession must tend progressively either toward winning the corporate body back for the Truth or toward rejecting it altogether as false and heterodox. There must never be a stalemate or retrogression of any sort for the sake of outward peace or false unity. Such a situation would be tantamount to a denial of the truth which would be the direct opposite of a state of confession.
In Lev. 19:17 we find the Lord’s command: “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.” By failing to reprimand a brother we would personally become guilty of his offense and a partaker of his sin. There is a striking parallel between this command of God in Leviticus and the express command of the Savior in Luke 17:3 “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” Christians in general are told in I Thess. 5:14 to “warn (admonish) them that are unruly.” Concerning a person who departs from the Truth, Jesus says (Matt. 18:15) : “Tell him his fault,” REPROVE his fault. The apostle Paul praises the Christians at Rome, saying in Rom. 15:14: “And I am persuaded of you my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” Certainly Scripture makes it crystal clear that Christians are to admonish, exhort, and rebuke their fellow-Christians who have fallen into error. In this way they are earnestly to “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints,” Jude 3. Luther writes that the “command to admonish the brother is just as necessary a `thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal,’ for if out of fear or for any other reason you neglect the duty to admonish, then not his body, not his property, but the salvation of his soul is endangered.” (St. Louis, VI: 1633) Admonition is, therefore, a very important part of status confessionis.
Patience and Love…;
Admonition must always be coupled with patience and love also in a state of confession. A state of confession must not be regarded as anything else but an expression of love and compassion in which an individual Christian, a congregation, or a synod patiently strives through prayerful admonition and protest in accordance with the Word of God, with meekness and humbleness of mind, to win a corporate body for the Truth or to return to the Truth which it has forsaken. This does not mean that the strength of our admonition and protest is to be weakened. Not in the least! We are still boldly to oppose error, vigorously caution against it, severely denounce the errorists – but all in love, with patience, and with a burning desire to save them. This goal or this end in view must never be lost sight of otherwise the weapons of our warfare in combating error in a state of confession become carnal and not spiritual. Pride, bitterness, hatred, and the like, must be ruled out from the very outset even as Jesus declares in John 6:63: “The flesh profiteth nothing.” St. James therefore writes: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him: let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19, 20)
In this day of the amalgamation of religions, unionism, and syncretism much is made of patience and love, in fact, they are often intermingled as being synonymous. But Scripture makes it clear that there comes a time when, although love must continue, patience must come to an end. Thus in Matt. 18:17 Jesus says, “If he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican,” and St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person;” I Cor. 5:13. In verse 5 of that same chapter St. Paul urges the congregation at Corinth “to deliver such an one unto Satan for a destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
The Bible speaks of patience in two different senses. It speaks of patience under suffering and affliction, and patience with the weak in faith, knowledge, and understanding. The latter case is the one which concerns us in this present discussion. With regard to those whose sin or error is caused by human frailty or weakness Scripture requires the utmost patience and longsuffering. Thus St. Paul writes to the Galatians: “Brethren, if any man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” Gal. 6:1,2. And in Romans 15:1, we read: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” In general, Christians are admonished in Colossians 3:12-14: “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and believed, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.“
On the other hand, God’s Word does not urge patience with those who, in spite of proper Scriptural admonition, persistently teach, defend, and tenaciously cling to error in doctrine and practice. Here is where patience stops although love continues. Patience in such a case is no longer a virtue because it militates against those plain passages which warn a Christian for the sake of his own soul’s salvation: “Beware of false prophets,” Matt. 7:15; “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump,” Gal. 5:9; “Neither be partaker of other men’s sins,” 1Tim. 5: 22 or “partaker of his evil deeds,” II John 10, 11.
In state of confession a person is dealing with an erring majority. Humanly speaking, the odds are against such a person and the temptation is great to yield to the majority who have been deceived by the “good words and fair speeches” of false teachers. In II Timothy 2:17 we are told that false doctrine “will eat as doth a canker.” With such passages in mind Dr. Sihler, a highly esteemed pastor and professor who played a prominent part in the organization of the Missouri Synod and served as its first vice-president, stated in his Theses on Church Fellowship, p. 16:
“If, however, it is the case that a whole church fellowship should take a false position in doctrine and wanted to tolerate and cling to error in doctrines of faith, then the individual member in this communion who has a better knowledge must reprove not only the false teachers but also the whole communion, also if it should expel him therefore, as the Roman Church did Dr. Luther and the Jewish synagogue did the apostle Paul. If such an erring communion or synod indeed submits to hearing testimony against its false position but does not better itself and do away with what is wrong, then the one concerned must himself step out, first, because of the evil appearance which he would otherwise give; secondly, because of the danger to which such a witness is exposed. Every error is something very dangerous, and continued living in an ecclesiastical atmosphere which is impregnated with error by and by again dulls the conscience and is punished by God through one’s finally again falling victim to error and to hostility against the orthodox church, which one had escaped.” (Quoted in the December, 1953, Confessional Lutheran.)
Besides the danger involved in the exercise of a false patience over against error and errorists Dr. Sihler also mentions the “evil appearance” or the offense which one gives who remains in fellowship with an erring body which does not better itself or do away with what is wrong but merely listens to testimony against its error. The cry of PATIENCE in a state of confession, when that state has progressed to a point where patience is no longer required but rather warned against in Holy Scripture, is simply a clever tool in the hand of Satan and a subterfuge for the old Adam who does not want to break away from former friends, to leave an outward organization, or to give up a house of worship. In the final analysis such a cry of patience actually shows a lack of true Christian love either for one’s own soul or for the souls of one’s fellowmen.
Severance of Fellowship…;
The very nature of status confessionis, particularly because it involves fellowship with those who are in error (either those who always have taught and tolerated error in doctrine and practice or those who have fallen back or away from the Truth of God’s Word), calls for the application of all those passages in Holy Writ which require severance of fellowship. Such a termination of fellowship does not include a termination of love, intercession, and kindness toward those with whom one’s fellowship has ceased. The very act of terminating fellowship in accordance with the Word of God is, in itself, and act of love, for it points those with whom religious fellowship has been broken to the gravity of the situation, constantly reminding them of the error of their ways, and pointing them more forcibly into the plain teaching and application of God’s Word.
Those passages which indisputably speak of the severance of fraternal relations are as follows:
Romans 16:17 “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”
II Thess. 3:6: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”
I Timothy 6:3-5: “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness: he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputing of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”
II Tim. 3:1-7: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof:from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into housed, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away divers lusts; ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Titus 3:10: “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject.”
II John 10,11: “If there come any unto you and bring not his doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth himGod speed, is partaker of his evil deeds.”
These passages, although they are all spoken with regard to cases differing one from another, yet they all stress one particular point, namely, that persistence in false doctrine and practice on the part of an individual or group of individuals requires severance of fellowship on the part of those who would remain true to the whole counsel of God. It is, therefore, vain to endeavor to arrange these passages in such a way so as to make the claim that the application of one passage must come before or after another in a certain order or sequence. The cases alluded to in these passages may differ according to the situation which the apostle especially has in mind, but one thing is certain, on the basis of these Scripture texts, namely, that God requires Christians not identify themselves with persistent errorists, not to associate with them as brethren in the faith, not to make light of or countenance their errors. Thus we read in Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”
In the Abiding Word, vol. 2, page 559, we read that
“such passages as Rom. 16:17; I Cor. 5:11, 2 Thess. 3:14, and 2 John 10, which prohibit `to eat with’ or enjoy `to avoid’ or `have no company with’ or `receive him not into your house’, refer only to brotherly relationships, but do not forbid formal civil intercourse or polite and civil manners. St. Paul very definitely teaches that a Christian should not sever his marriage with a spouse who is or has become an unbeliever, a heathen (I Cor. 7: 12-14); and just as definitely he states that only the brotherly relations of Christian and Christian have been severed, not the social and generally human relations, `for then ye needs go out of the world‘( I Cor. 5: 9-13).”
If it, therefore, becomes apparent that error in a corporate body becomes persistent and is tolerated in spite of admonition, those Christians, who are in a state of confession over against such a corporate body, need not relinquish their membership immediately but must in accordance with the Word of God discontinue their prayer—, pulpit—, and altar fellowship with that body, its adherents, and its representatives. This cessation of every kind of church fellowship with the corporate body in which outward membership is still held, we have referred to in OUR DECLARATION (1956) as “a true state of confession,” because it is actually the final and most forceful admonition which can be given on the part of one in the confessional state.
Acknowledgment of True Brethren and the Establishment of True Fellowship…;
Inasmuch as it is a “confession” against error in a corporate body a state of confession takes for granted and implies the acknowledgment of true brethren and the establishment of true fellowship. This is in perfect harmony with the Word of God, for the apostle Paul says to Timothy: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord nor of me, His prisoner,” II Tim. 1:8. Timothy must therefore acknowledge Paul as his fellow believer and brother in the faith, and if he is ashamed of Paul because of his confession, he will also be ashamed of Christ. We recall Luther’s fine comment which was printed in the Orthodox Lutheran, vol. 2, p.187, concerning this passage in II Timothy:
“I see that it is necessary to speak a good word of admonition to those whom Satan is now beginning to persecute. Among them are those who want to escape danger, when they are attacked, by saying: I do not stand with Luther nor with anyone else; I stand with the holy Gospel; and so they are left in peace. Still in their hearts they regard my doctrine as evangelical and adhere to it. Surely, such a confession does them no good, but it is the same as denying Christ… If Timothy had said: I do not stand with Paul or Peter but with Christ, and yet knew that Peter and Paul taught Christ, he would have denied Christ.”
In this manner a state of confession ties in with confessional fellowship and requires a public and open acknowledgment of those who are of the same mind and of the same judgment ( I Corinthians. 1:10). A state of confession, in order to be based on Scripture, must therefore of necessity include an acknowledgment of true brethren wherever such are known, for such action performs an important part in one’s protest over against the errors of a corporate body, and is a forthright and vigorous testimony in behalf of the Truth and that is exactly what a state of confession is supposed to do.
In vol.1, p. 121, of the Orthodox Lutheran, we read:
“If someone holds protesting membership in a heterodox Lutheran body, that does not necessarily mean anything to us of the Orthodox Lutheran Conference; but if he protests against the same errorist which we oppose, and `shares our Confession of Faith,’ then we can justly expect that he informs us of this agreement and declare fellowship of faith with us, though he may not immediately join us. Then and only then we should be in duty bound to acknowledge him as a brother… From the time that a protesting member of a heterodox body tells us of his agreement with us, however we expect that he will publicly acknowledge us in the face of our adversaries, make common cause with us, support our work to the extent of his ability, and show evidence that he is either making progress in bringing his associates to the acceptance of the truth or sever his connection with them.”
Having quoted Matt. 10: 32,33 ( Whosoever shall confess Me before men, etc.); Luke 9: 26 (Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed etc.) and Romans 10: 9, 10 ( If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.) Dr. Walther state:
“According to these texts a person cannot be saved who in his heart indeed wants to carry with him faith in Christ and His Truth but will not confess it with the mouth. Hence every Christian, for sake of his salvation, is obliged publicly to profess fellowship and hold with those whom he has recognized as witnesses for Christ and His unadulterated truth.” ( See also III John 8,9)
These are then the Scriptural considerations and implications which must be taken into account by one who finds himself in a situation which requires a state of confession. These Scriptural considerations remain the same whether the status confessionis is on the part of an individual or on the part of a church body and consequently also the nature of a state of confession remains basically the same in either instance. It is then on the basis of such Scripture texts as are presented in this essay that we make our applications and judgments with regard to specific cases involving a state of confession, either on the part of an individual, a congregation, or a church body. Let us, therefore, as a practical conclusion to this essay, by means of an open discussion, set forth hypothetical or concrete cases which deal with status confessionis and thus apply the Word of God which we have set forth in this essay to such practical cases or situations. (Concrete cases in point: Wisconsin synod definitely placed itself in a state of confession at New Ulm in 1951; Chicago Study Club placed itself in a state of confession especially through the publication of its “Re-affirmation” of 1949 and through the fine articles of protest in the Confessional Lutheran; Norwegian Synod placed itself in a state of confession when it repudiated the Common Confession in 1951.) Let us always bear in mind that a state of confession, in order to bring about the desired Scriptural result, must cause the group over against which it is taken to acknowledge and repent of its sin, to profess its earnest purpose to remove the error and publicly to reject that false doctrine and practice to which it had become addicted and on account of which the state of confessions was entered into by the faithful brethren. Unless such a result is forth-coming, there must be no vacillation or retrogression, but constant progress in the direction set forth in God’s Word, to the glory of His name, and for the salvation of mankind.