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The Formation of a New Church Body

One aspect of the discussion surrounding the “Joint Statement,” which will again be before us at our next 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.

Individual pastors, teachers, congregations, and individual members of congregations had withdrawn from the various synods of the Synodical Conference. Some of those who withdrew were acquainted with others who withdrew, but this was not always the case. There was a craving for fellowship on the part of those who had withdrawn. They did not want to be alone. They needed the comfort and the support of others who had taken the same stand they had taken, on the basis of the same Word of God. At first there were only a very few, but as time went on and the offenses and disobedience continued, the number grew larger, and the possibility of a new organization presented itself. But for those who withdrew something was more important than organization, and that was unity in confession of the truth.
We need to remember that those who withdrew were individuals in whom the Holy Spirit worked a childlike faith to take an unpopular stand, and that they were used to being challenged for the positions they took. They were used to fighting verbal battles with their opponents. So it was not at all a self-evident thing that these individuals with their strong opinions would be able to work together in a united organization.
Therefore we must emphasize that God is the one who enabled those that withdrew from the Synodical Conference synods in the years from 1955 to 1961 to find each other, to become united with each other in doctrine and practice, and in time to become an organized church body that worked together in the work of the Lord. “God sets the solitary in families.” (Psalm 68:6) To Him be all the glory!
The coming together took place through a series of meetings between 1956 and 1960. The first such meeting was a “free” conference hosted by Immanuel Lutheran Church of Mankato, Minnesota, on September 26-27, 1956. Another meeting took place at Lyons, Nebraska, on October 22 and 23, 1957. “At this meeting it was mutually agreed that there was a need for an Article to be drawn up on the doctrine of Church Fellowship. This was the initial move toward the framing of the document later to be known by the title Concerning Church Fellowship” (C. M. Gullerud: A History of the CLC, p. 2). Winfred Schaller, Jr. was given this assignment.
One of the most productive conferences during the interim was held at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming, from May 6-8, 1958. M. J. Witt was elected chairman of the Interim Conference. One major decision of the conference was to begin publication of The Lutheran Spokesman. The man chosen as editor was Winfred Schaller, Jr., with Norton Carlson as co-editor. The March 1959 Lutheran Spokesman reported that the first two issues were mimeographed (first issue: 200 copies; second issue: 700 copies)
Winfred Schaller, Jr.’s confession on church fellowship.
The next conference was held from July 30 to August 4, 1958, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Spokane, Washington. Most of this meeting was devoted to a consideration of Winfred Schaller, Jr.’s confession on church fellowship. The first two sections of Leonard Bernthal’s confession on church and ministry were presented and discussed. Immanuel Lutheran Church of Mankato was the site for the next conference, held from January 13-15, 1959. Winfred Schaller’s confession on church fellowship was one of the main topics for consideration. By God’s grace “agreement to the doctrine on Church Fellowship was expressed by the group.” The document was now placed into the hands of an editing committee made up of Edmund Reim and George Barthels. The other major presentation was Leonard Bernthal’s paper on church and ministry.
The next conference,
held in Red Wing, Minnesota, from August 18-21, 1959, was a stormy one.
Two pastors had notified the conference that it should proceed as a free conference without devotions rather than as a conference based on unity of doctrine. Withdrawal from one of the synods of the Synodical Conference was, in their opinion, not sufficient evidence of unity of confession. (In response to this) it was the position of the conference “that it will not tolerate less than complete agreement” in any area of doctrine “as a basis for fellowship.” There was continuation of discussion on the doctrine of church and ministry. The committee responsible for editing the confession Concerning Church Fellowship reported that “the conference found itself in complete agreement with the doctrinal substance of the confession.”
By the time of the Red Wing conference Immanuel Lutheran Church of Mankato had begun to prepare for the first school year of Immanuel Lutheran College (including seminary and high school). In connection with the recent conventions of the Wisconsin Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod the conference stated: “We must conclude therefore, that both the Wisconsin Synod and the ELS are persisting in unscriptural fellowship with the heterodox Missouri Synod and we are constrained to give our full support and encouragement to those who have severed, or are in the process of severing their membership in the above bodies in obedience to God’s Word.”
The last conference before the organizing convention of August 1960 was held at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Mankato on January 19-21, 1960. The editing alterations to Concerning Church Fellowship were accepted. Edmund Reim was asked to write a preamble to Concerning Church Fellowship, and it was decided that this document be published as the confession of the Interim Conference. The Mankato Seminar on church and ministry had proposed six points to summarize this doctrine. Leonard Bernthal’s paper on church and ministry as well as these six points were given to an editing committee.
The week of August 9-12, 1960, was a very exciting time for the pastors, teachers, and delegates who gathered at Trinity Lutheran Church in Watertown, South Dakota. The stage for the organizing convention had been set by the previous meetings of the Interim Conference. The chief doctrines in controversy, church fellowship and church and ministry, had been studied at length and it seemed as though there was agreement on these teachings on the part of almost all participants. Forty-five pastors and teachers registered for the convention, together with 23 lay delegates and 14 visitors. What gratitude to the Lord must have filled the chairman’s heart as he addressed this assembly, for just a few years earlier he had stood almost alone in his confession!
On Thursday evening the delegates surely were praying to the Lord of the Church that on the next day, the last day of the convention, unity on church fellowship, unity on church and ministry, and unity on the proposed constitution would prevail so that the Church of the Lutheran Confession could begin its work as a unified church body. After a few minor changes were made it was resolved “that the essay, ‘Concerning Church Fellowship,’ be recognized as a confessional statement of this conference.” The vote was unanimous. On Friday afternoon the assembly unanimously adopted all the theses (on church and ministry) as the confession of the new church body. The report of the Constitution Committee was adopted unanimously. The dominant note at this convention was joy and hope, joy at the unity the Holy Spirit had worked and hope that the future would provide still more opportunities for the preaching and spreading of the pure Gospel.
David Lau is a retired pastor and professor. He lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.