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Early Protests and Withdrawals

One aspect of the discussion surrounding the “Joint Statement,” which will again be before us
at our 2020 convention, is how much importance to give to the events that took place around the period 1955-1961 that led to the formation of the CLC. In this seven-part series, Professor Emeritus David Lau provides a digest of  these events, excerpted from his book, “Out of Necessity.” We urge all CLC members—and particularly convention delegates—to re-familiarize themselves with this important period in our fellowship’s history.

The Wisconsin Synod convention of 1955 in Saginaw, Michigan, had decided to wait until 1956 to vote on the resolution to suspend fellowship with the Missouri Synod. One of the reasons given for the delay was to give opportunity for the Missouri Synod to respond to the charges against it. The Missouri Synod met in St. Paul, Minnesota, in June of 1956, and seventeen members of the Wisconsin Synod Union Committee attended those meetings. Since some of the actions of the Missouri Synod seemed conciliatory, the Church Union Committee stated in its evaluation: “We are of the conviction that our Synod ought not to close the door to further discussions at this time. . . . It is also our conviction that . . . we hold the judgment of our Saginaw resolutions in abeyance” (The Northwestern Lutheran of July 22, 1956, pp. 234-235). At the same time, however, the Committee admitted: “Many of the controversial issues . . . still remain wholly unresolved” and “the sister synod’s position on issues such as Scouting, military chaplaincy, and prayer fellowship has not undergone any change” (The Northwestern Lutheran of July 22, 1956, p. 234).
The 1956 convention of the Wisconsin Synod, held in Watertown, Wisconsin, followed the advice of its Church Union Committee and resolved to “‘hold the judgment of our Saginaw resolutions in abeyance’ until our next convention.” Meanwhile, it was resolved “that our fellowship with The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod be one of vigorously protesting fellowship to be practiced, where necessary, in the light of II Thess. 3:14, 15.” This resolution “was adopted by a vote of 108 to 19, with 38 delegates either absent or abstaining and with several advisory delegates recording their dissent. ‘No’ votes, it would seem, represented a conviction that fellowship should be terminated at the present time” (The Northwestern Lutheran of September 16, 1956, pp. 294-295).
One of the first congregations to withdraw from the Wisconsin Synod was Immanuel Lutheran Church of Mankato, Minnesota. Already in 1950 Immanuel congregation felt compelled by local circumstances to break fellowship with an individual Missouri Synod congregation in its vicinity. In 1953 the congregation pleaded with the Wisconsin Synod to separate from the entire Missouri Synod on the basis of Romans 16:17, “lest we become guilty of other men’s sins” (quoted in Joseph Lau: The History of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mankato, Minnesota; 1865-1961, p. 134 – Immanuel Lutheran Seminary Library 284.1776 – L36h). In 1955 Gordon Radtke accepted a call as assistant pastor of Immanuel, serving together with Gervasius Fischer. Both pastors were convinced that the 1955 action of postponement by the Wisconsin Synod was contrary to the will of God. In October of 1955 the congregation by a vote of 42 to 14 declared themselves in statu confessionis over against the Wisconsin Synod and understood by this that they would “abstain from active fellowship” with the Wisconsin Synod. When the Wisconsin Synod at its special 1956 convention continued to postpone any action of separating from the Missouri Synod, Immanuel congregation by a vote of 45 to 6 resolved to declare their withdrawal from membership in the Wisconsin Synod (Joseph Lau: The History of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mankato, Minnesota; 1865-1961, pp. 138-139).
By the time the Wisconsin Synod held its 1957 convention in New Ulm, Minnesota, Fred Tiefel had resigned from his position as Wisconsin Synod missionary in Japan. Nevertheless, the mission work in Japan continued under Tiefel’s direction. The Japanese Christians in his congregation fully agreed with him, and soon he received financial assistance from various pastors, congregations, and individuals who supported his position.
Tensions escalated
In the two years that followed the 1955 convention, tensions had escalated between those who favored immediate separation from the Missouri Synod and those who favored delay. . . . The Wisconsin Synod President, Oscar Naumann, reported to the (1957) convention: “Many individuals, several conferences, and one entire District are convinced that we as a synod are guilty of disobedience to God’s Holy Word, because we have not as yet applied the injunction of Romans 16:17-18 to The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. These individuals and groups have memorialized Synod to take this step and to declare the termination of fellowship. They assure us that continued fellowship relations and even continued discussions on the present terms are taking place in violation of their conscientious objections” (Proceedings of the Thirty-Fourth Convention, p. 15). The district referred to was the Pacific Northwest District.
The report
The standing Church Union Committee reported on their discussions with the Missouri Synod and the Synodical Conference and declared, “The controversial issues still remain wholly unresolved and continue to cause offense” (Proceedings of the Thirty-Fourth Convention, p. 135). Memorials calling for termination of fellowship with the Missouri Synod came from a Nebraska District Pastoral Conference; from Pastors John Lau, Paul Prueter, and Jonathan Schaller in the La Crosse, Wisconsin, area; from a Dakota-Montana Delegate Conference; from St. Peter’s Lutheran Church of Stambaugh, Michigan; from ten men of the Dakota-Montana District (including Waldemar Schuetze, Herman Fennern, Paul G. Albrecht, Leland Grams, Vernon Greve, and Helmuth Rutz); and, as indicated above, from the Pacific Northwest District, which stated in its memorial, “We are as firmly convinced as ever that Rom. 16:17-18 should be applied to The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. As pastors and congregations we have been and are applying it. We, therefore, again plead with our Synod, officially and publicly to sever relationship with The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod at its convention this year” (Proceedings of the Thirty-Fourth Convention, p. 139).
The Protest Committee, which began its work in 1956 to handle protests against synodical action, likewise recommended, “We therefore hope . . . that the Synod will take such action which will remove every reasonable accusation of not obeying the Word of God” (Proceedings of the Thirty-Fourth Convention, p. 148).
David Lau is a retired pastor and professor. He and his wife live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.