*Defined in Webster as 1) at the end, in conclusion; 2) decisively; conclusively, irrevocably
“Finally… finally… finally…
finally… finally… finally…
finally… the split came!”
Count ’em—seven times the word “finally” appears in two short articles (August & September 2011 issues) in Forward in Christ, the Wisconsin Synod’s counterpart to our Lutheran Spokesman.
Everything suggested and implied by that telltale word goes a long way to explain why a new synod, the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC), came into existence fifty years ago. You see, the articles to which we refer are intended to give current-day Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) members a perspective on a small portion of American church history in which we—personally, and as a synod—have been quite intimately involved.
The year 2011 marks fifty years since the WELS broke its ties with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). From 1868 to 1961 WELS had been in fellowship with the LCMS; in fact, from 1872 WELS and LCMS had been partners in the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. All that changed in August 1961 when delegates to a WELS convention in Milwaukee voted—”after intense discussion and prayerful voting” (article quote)—to “finally” terminate fellowship with the LCMS.
In three brief articles Forward in Christ reviewed the history of “the break” from the WELS perspective. The series was titled “The split: Remember the past.”
Having personally lived through those days, this writer read the articles with considerable interest. From our vantage point, we were struck by the frequent use of that telltale word.
Note, please, the following quotations
(emphases and word-numbering are ours):
“…The [Missouri and Wisconsin] synods were drifting apart, but WELS hesitated to sever the tie that had bound us together for so many years—a tie it treasured. FINALLY (#1) in 1961 the split came….”
“…The smaller sister [WELS] had tried. In love it had witnessed to, encouraged, and rebuked what was once its larger and cherished sister [LCMS]. FINALLY (#2), no recourse was left but in obedience to God’s clear command to pass this courageous resolution pointing out what Missouri’s unionistic trends had done to our valued fellowship….”
“…While the [1955 WELS] convention was in session….
FINALLY (#3) …a resolution… stated that the time was right to suspend fellowship….” [The resolution did not pass!—Editor]
“…Between 1957 and 1960 discussion at various levels continued. It was a difficult time for the Wisconsin Synod. Many memorials came to the Wisconsin Synod conventions calling for a break. Some congregations left the Wisconsin Synod because they opposed the continued discussions with the LCMS, which they felt were useless and wrong according to the scriptural principles of fellowship…
In 1961 the Wisconsin Synod FINALLY(#4) voted to sever ties with the LCMS…”
“…’We had this going on for 20 years; FINALLY (#5) we took the action we had to take… I suppose (it takes) a courage in your convictions, that you are FINALLY (#6) ready to take the action your convictions led you to take… I think we can learn the importance of listening to Scripture… Don’t try to interpret passages by injecting reason and practical situations that modify the passages. FINALLY (#7), isn’t that using the historical-critical method of interpretation when we become critical of Scripture?'” [from the ‘personal perspectives’ of a WELS professor who lived through those days]
These quotes demonstrate the fact that there was an inexcusable delay—we would add, disobedience!—to what is recognized as “God’s clear command” (cf. FINALLY #2).
Throughout the months of the CLC’s own fiftieth year of existence (2010), our own Lutheran Spokesman recounted those trying and difficult days as they were experienced by a good number of CLC charter members, including this writer. What the seven quotations above imply we experienced personally—the putting off of a God-pleasing course of action until “finally” (in the human-judgment estimation of WELS) the time was considered right.
There was no recourse for those whose consciences were bound in and by the Word. The WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) were following a path which exhibited disobedience to God’s Word. (The withdrawing congregations referred to in the FINALLY #4 quotation were, for the most part, future CLC congregations, even as the mentioned “memorials” came from many who would become CLC pastors.)
Granted, the word and concept “finally” isn’t bad in and of itself, and in theological discussions time will pass while it is determined exactly what is being said and taught. Yet, “finally” is bad when it reveals theological foot-dragging in the area of a godly practice of church fellowship—”putting off to tomorrow what should be done today.” When false teachers have been “marked”—observed carefully and if found in fact to be teaching falsely—they are to be “avoided” lest the hearts of the simple be deceived by smooth words and flattering speech (Romans 16:17-18).
Again, the seven “finally” statements cloak the WELS’s mistaken idea set forth back then that false teachers are to be avoided only “when one has reached the conviction that admonition is of no further avail.” We wondered then, and continue to wonder today, where in the Bible does that idea come from? (Put another way, when will the passing of time and circumstances “finally” arrive to obey and apply the “avoid,” if it ever does?!)
Doubtless much more could be said in reviewing the history of “the split.” Those interested in reviewing more of that history are
referred to resources such as the book OUT OF NECESSITY—A History of the Church of the Lutheran Confession by David Lau; and the tract “This is your Church—the Church of the Lutheran Confession” produced by the CLC Board of Education & Publications. These items are available from the CLC Bookhouse at www.clcbookhouse.com.
Some pertinent excerpts from the tract “This is your Church….”
…The Synodical Conference upheld the scriptural fellowship doctrine steadfastly and consistently for over fifty years. But in the 1930s breakdown began, mostly within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Sound doctrine was undermined by false teaching and practice in such matters as scouting, the government chaplaincy, and worshiping, praying, and working together with other Lutherans who did not share the one true faith. Important issues were at stake. These doctrinal differences within the Synodical Conference eventually brought about the establishment of the CLC. (Part II. Weariness in Well-Doing Sets In)
…We note that the Evangelical Lutheran Synod voted to suspend fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1955 on the basis of Romans 16:17 but continued to practice fellowship with this synod until 1961. Note also that in 1955 the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod affirmed that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had created divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine of scripture but did not suspend fellowship until 1961. In both cases the separation required by Romans 16:17 was delayed. Both synods said that separation of fellowship is required, but that it is not to be done right away. They said that it is necessary to enter into a process of admonition until our human judgment tells us it isn’t doing any good. This goes beyond what the Bible says. In connection with false teachers we don’t have to establish or prove anything else other than that error is being taught. It is neither required nor possible to determine whether they will continue in error. It was on this point that some members of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod separated themselves from their synods and eventually reunited in the Church of the Lutheran Confession. (More on this is to be found in the confessional writing of the CLC, Concerning Church Fellowship, see especially paragraphs 46 and 65). (Part III. Further Separation)