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The Meaning of “Doctrinal Unity” In Our Foreign Mission Work

Written by | March, 2017
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NOTES FROM THE FIELD

In this series, thoseinvolved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.

From time to time questions arise about the many opportunities the Lord has provided in recent years for the CLC to proclaim the Gospel around the world, and about how doctrinal unity is determined and maintained in those cases.

The CLC Board of Missions and our missionaries make a very clear distinction between those with whom we are in fellowship, those with whom we are working toward fellowship, and those with whom we are simply pursuing an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel.

In the first category are those who have gone through rather lengthy doctrinal discussions, involving the Board of Doctrine, before being declared to be in fellowship with us by our CLC President and the church body in convention.

Because of the Internet, CLC pastors are routinely contacted with many types of requests from all around the world. These contacts are typically forwarded to the chairman of the Board of Missions, who then begins an initial series of email questionnaires to determine the intent of their contact. If the contact expresses a sincere desire and a willingness to take the necessary time to study and exchange email to get to know one another’s doctrinal position, then the correspondence continues. Sadly, most of these contacts are simply fraudulent attempts to get money. But every now and again, the Lord does open an apparent door of opportunity for us to assist and work together in proclaiming the Gospel in a foreign land in a way that is God-pleasingly consistent with Scripture.

After the initial phase of correspondence, the process of online theological studies begins. During this time a personal visit is also scheduled so that a CLC Missionary and a representative of the Board of Missions can have the opportunity to meet face to face with the individual or individuals. These face-to-face visits are extremely valuable, as they provide the opportunity to discuss Scripture as well as verify first hand the ministry and organizational structure of the church body. Once the missionary and the Board of Missions determine that there is doctrinal unity, then the Board of Doctrine and the CLC President are brought into the process and given the opportunity to review the materials studied along with the colloquy questions and answers that were used to determine unity of doctrine.

It can take several years of correspondence and face-to-face meetings before the Board of Missions feels comfortable in even discussing a declaration of fellowship. As long as the pastor, church body, or group is not working with or affiliated with another church body or mission organization, has demonstrated a willingness to submit to Scripture, has not rejected the truths that are taught in Scripture, and continues to request further instruction from us in the truth with the goal of being faithful, confessional, Lutheran preachers of the Word, we continue to work with and instruct them. But, until fellowship has been officially declared by the CLC president, we do not commune with them or offer them any type of ongoing financial assistance for their ministry.

What a privilege to be about our Father’s business of proclaiming the saving truth of His Word, and to assist like-minded Christians in that proclamation as well!

Todd Ohlmann is a full-time visiting missionary for the Church of the Lutheran Confession. He is a former chairman of the CLC Board of Missions.

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