Around the World: Re. ELS Convention

with editorial comment by M. L. Natterer

I hope you’ll run an article soon on the triumph of the Walther view of Church and Ministry at the ELS convention (June 16—20) at Bethany College. The Doctrine Committee has been pushing for years the WELS view, and brought it to the floor. After much debate, the vote was taken: It lost, 104 to 140! Thank God for the laity, (and the fact we have two lay voters for each congregation, and only one pastoral vote!) who saved the day! The pastors had voted 60 to 40 percent in favor of the D.C. Theses at the October 2001 Pastoral Conference. (If that was the same percent in June, the laymen must have voted at least three to one against the D.C. Theses!) I’ve always trusted the good common sense of the laity more than the pastors! …” (Christian News, August 26, 2002).

The above quotation was from a letter to the editor of Christian News written by an ELS (Evangelical Lutheran Synod) pastor who did not give his name. In the same issue there appeared another letter from an ELS pastor who signed his name. This pastor stated, “I am writing because you have been given misinformation about the ELS and its discussions on ‘Ministry.’ Whoever your source may have been was not supplying you with the whole truth. As a result, you have used this misinformation in your publication and in your speech at the Texas Lutheran Free Conference. I would like to correct what you are erroneously reporting as the ELS‘ adopting Dr. C.F.W. Walther’s position on Church and Ministry.’ (CN August 5, 2002, p.27 top lst column). I think the best way to give you the correct information is to share with you a paragraph of our Synod President’s recent e-mail to the pastorate. With his permission, I share it with you here: ‘Not all of the pastors and delegates who voted against the DC [Doctrine Committee] Theses at this year’s convention did so for doctrinal reasons. … It would not be helpful nor accurate to characterize the actions of this year’s convention as a repudiation of the theology of the Doctrine Committee’s Theses, nor as a rejection of the WELS position on the ministry. We can and must, however, say this: The convention declined to adopt the theses as a doctrinal statement for our synod. This means that no formal study document on the ministry exists for study at this time. We want to reassure our own Lutheran elementary teachers and also our brothers and sisters in the WELS that the ELS still practices, and will continue to practice, issuing calls to our teachers who serve in our parochial schools. Let’s work hard to squelch any rumors to the contrary.’ Currently, steps are being taken on how to continue addressing this issue.” Obviously there is no unity on this doctrinal issue in the ELS! On the one hand, there are those who uphold the Wisconsin Synod that all gatherings of Christians, such as congregations, Synod, and the like, lie on the same plane and have the right to exercise the Office of the Keys, and that all who labor in the Word, whether pastor, assistant pastor, Sunday School teacher, Christian Day School teacher, professor, have offices which lie on the same plane. On the other hand, there are those who hold that the local Christian congregation is the only divinely ordained external fellowship and that the pastoral office of the local congregation is the only divinely ordained office in the Church. Our Concordia Lutheran Conference, together with our orthodox Lutheran teachers, has always held this latter position BECAUSE IT IS THE TEACHING OF GOD’S WORD! When, therefore, a vote was taken at the ELS convention on a doctrinal matter and it passed merely by a majority vote, that gave clear evidence of disunity in their midst. A matter of doctrine must receive unanimous agreement!

Surely those in the ELS who sincerely desire to remain faithful to all of God’s Word must be aware of God’s injunction through the Apostle Paul “that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10). It is our prayer that those in the ELS who still uphold the Scriptural teaching on the Church and Ministry may be led to the realization that truth and error can not coexist without infecting the whole body of Christian doctrine. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9).

And how did the false position on the Church and Ministry get started in the ELS? Back in January of 1983, Pastor Paul H. Burgdorf, the editor of the Confessional Lutheran, wrote to me stating: “As for the ELS, Dr. N. Tjernagel told me (in our home in Iowa, when he was working at Iowa U towards his doctorate) that he got this doctrine from Thiensville when he studied there and that he –which he himself emphasized– introduced it in the ELS.” What Dr. Charles Porterfield Krauth wrote in 1871 holds true for today: “When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration.… Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights… From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy.” (The Conservative Reformation and its Theology, pages 195 & 196).