Issue of Fellowship
- The United Lutheran Mission Association (ULMA) is not a fellowship or a synod, it is an association.
- An association is a group of people organized for a joint purpose (see “Article IV Objectives” of the Constitution of the United Lutheran Mission Association).
- We live in a time when the official positions of various Lutheran synods often reflect an erring majority. We also know that there are orthodox pastors and people in these Lutheran synods who are in a state of confession and are working to avoid the yeast that makes its way through the whole batch of dough.
- Institutional boundaries have become so vague and ill-defined that we are reminded of the time of the Reformation when everything was in upheaval. Here it is good to remember that the marks of the church are the pure preaching of the Word and the right administration of the Sacraments. Affiliation with a synodical institution is not a mark of the church.
- With this in mind, we are required to be more judicious in our practice of altar and pulpit fellowship. The word “judicious” means “done with good judgment.” Each situation warrants its own careful examination.
- The ULMA may be a first step in ultimately bringing together pastors and congregations of like mind. While the association may grow into something more, for now we remain an association.
- When a congregation and pastor(s) become members of the ULMA they are required to indicate their adherence to the Constitution of the United Lutheran Mission Association and the Constitutional Guidelines for Mission Congregations. Both documents require submission to the Old and New Testaments as the inspired, inerrant, written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and practice, and the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church found in the Book of Concord of 1580 as true and unadulterated statements and expositions of the Word of God.
- With Scripture and the Book of Concord of 1580, the Commission shall also familiarize itself with and diligently use the following in order to carry out its objectives: Church and Ministry, The True Visible Church, and The Form of a Christian Congregation by C. F. W. Walther. The Commission shall also consult For the Sake of Christ’s Commission: The Report of the Church Growth Study Committee, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
- We understand how all Christians may want to donate and/or use their time and talents to help fulfill the great commission, but all donors must realize that they are helping to finance Lutheran mission congregations with their donations. In addition, their donations would not put them in altar and pulpit fellowship with ULMA congregations if they are in opposition to what we believe, teach, and confess.
- Those who become a member of our association and attempt to subvert our governing principles in Commission work will be dealt with according to Robert’s Rules of Order which includes expulsion.
- Mission congregations, which are required to adopt the ULMA Constitutional Guidelines for Mission Congregations, are in fellowship with one another unless a mission congregation or former mission congregation becomes heterodox.
- Are the member congregations of ULMA in altar and pulpit fellowship with one another and with mission congregations established by ULMA?
While keeping in mind the above statements, if member congregations of the ULMA adhere to the Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions in Commission work, and if there is nothing to manifestly indicate that they do otherwise in their respective congregations, then nothing should prohibit them from entering into altar and pulpit fellowship with one another and with mission congregations that have been established by the association.
“Altar fellowship” is the practice of communing at the same altar. It is a public proclamation of unity or oneness in doctrine. Consequently, if someone is living in manifest, unrepentant sin or tenaciously clings to false doctrine (here we are not talking about the casual intrusion of error), such should not be admitted to the Sacrament of the Altar. Concerning “pulpit fellowship”, the Lutheran Cyclopedia observes: “In the early church, unity was exemplified by fellowship in worship. Pastors in one part of the church were recognized in other parts and, if present at a service, were invited to take part. . . Rise of heretics and impostors led to rules and safeguards (Concordia, 1984, pg. 295).”
Amendment on Member Congregation Communion Practice
August 24, 2009
The ULMA was contacted in 2009 seeking further clarification of items 4 & 5 in this document, The Issue of Fellowship. We were asked whether Member Congregations of the ULMA can commune members of heterodox bodies at their altars. We appreciate the inquiry and have reproduced a portion of our response.
[Referring to item 3 in The Issue of Fellowship] The demarcations provided by Lutheran institutions are quite useful when the pastors and people within such human affiliations are unified in creed and in what is publicly taught. Unfortunately, we live in a time of widespread doctrinal controversy. Synodical membership has become almost meaningless as it applies to the doctrine one holds and the practice one exercises.
In such occasions, when pastors and people are moving toward a final resolution to doctrinal controversy, things typically become difficult and slow; especially, when institutions are large. While we would prefer an instantaneous conclusion, we are once again reminded of the fact that we are the Church Militant. There are a number of historical cases that you may want to research and consider:
- The separation of Judaism and Christianity.
- The early struggle between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
- The struggle with the church in Corinth, the seven churches in Asia Minor.
- The slow division of Arianism and orthodox Christianity. In the shifting that took place during this time, institutional membership meant very little and communion was decided by membership in a particular church.
- The history surrounding the Wittenberg Concord of 1536. Luther and Wittenberg communed with Bucer and the churches in South Germany, but not with Zwingli and the churches in Zurich.
- In the original constitution of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod it states: “If it is impossible in some congregations to replace immediately the unorthodox hymnals and the like with orthodox ones, then the pastor of the such a congregation can become a member of Synod only if he promises to use the unorthodox hymnal only under open protest and to strive in all seriousness for the introduction of an orthodox hymnal.”
All of these cases dealt with issues of fellowship in the midst of doctrinal controversy. All of them were difficult to traverse. They all took time. A shifting had to take place. The orthodox predominately practiced charity where they could. All of the cases came to a final resolution. All of them were unique. The Christians who lived during these challenging times relied upon the Biblical practice of examination (1 Cor. 11:28).
As Lutheran institutions are in chaos, there are still orthodox churches in a state of confession and working toward an exit when the “fighting” is deemed as an exercise in futility. While we and our congregations reached that point some time ago, we understand the plight of those who preach the Word in truth and purity and administer the Sacraments rightly, and we intend to treat them with as much charity as possible, thus our reference to the marks of the church superseding institutions in chaos. We were just like them not that long ago. Also, if it happens that there are orthodox but honestly ignorant churches in the mix, we will treat them with charity as well, and help them to see the seriousness of their situation. However, if any persistently and indefinitely remain in a heterodox institution with no reasonable explanation, then we will have to ask them and ourselves if they are really orthodox. We would not commune with those who persistently adhere to false teaching. And we believe that the orthodox cannot indefinitely remain in a heterodox body and also then claim that they preach the Word purely and administer the Sacraments rightly (Brief Statement 28, 29). This is what we mean when we say in point five (The Issue of Fellowship) that “we are required to be more judicious in our practice of altar and pulpit fellowship. The word ‘judicious’ means ‘done with good judgment.’ Each situation warrants its own careful examination.”
Addition of Discussion and Process as approved by Commission
April 26, 2014
When the ULMA was on the drawing board, the intent was to make it possible for Lutheran congregations in a state of confession and independent Lutheran Congregations to join the association. ULMA is not a fellowship or a synod, it is an association. Consequently, the ULMA commission was never empowered to decide matters of altar and pulpit fellowship between Member Congregations. Matters of fellowship are for the Member Congregations to decide among themselves.
Having said that, it also must be realized that one cannot join the association unless they, as the Constitution of the United Lutheran Mission Association states: “accept without reservation the Scriptures” and “all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, contained in the Book of Concord of 1580.”
Furthermore, those aspiring to join the association will be familiar with our Statement of Faith – A Basis of Fellowship which addresses the main controverted issues.
Finally, the “in house” Operational Guidelines of the ULMA Commission under Article 1, Section 3 states: ‘The ULMA Commission will only accept congregations as Member Congregations which are Lutheran “…. a congregation does not forfeit its orthodox character through the casual intrusion of errors, provided these are combated and eventually removed by means of doctrinal discipline . . . when there is nothing immediately manifest to call into question the sincerity of the official letter, the ULMA may proceed to admit the congregation as a Member Congregation of ULMA.” One can surmise that everything has been done to prevent the heterodox from entering the ULMA, and ULMA has power in Article Xl of the constitution to remove members of the commission and member congregations.
The ULMA recognizes that the message and the mission are one. But, again, it is not up to the Commission to enter, refuse, or break fellowship between local congregations. Since one must meet the above said requirements to join the ULMA it necessarily follows, as The lssue of Fellowship states, “if member congregations of the ULMA adhere to the Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions in Commission work, and if there is nothing to manifestly to indicate that they do otherwise in their respective congregations, then nothing should prohibit them from entering into altar and pulpit fellowship with one another.”
Whether one joins ULMA first, or enters into altar and pulpit fellowship with congregations of ULMA first, both ways require that they be orthodox Lutheran. Again for the sake of clarity, this method takes into consideration Lutheran congregations that are in state of confession who may wish to support ULMA by joining but might refrain from official altar and pulpit fellowship until they have finally exited the heterodox body in which they are a member. Furthermore it is not wise for congregations to give up their power to enter, refuse, or break fellowship to a group, board, or commission.
It is important to note: ULMA can refuse membership to a congregation that is in altar and pulpit fellowship with ULMA congregations, for reasons other than doctrinal (Acts 9:26; Col. 4:10; Acts 13:13; Acts 15:36-41). However, it would be impossible for ULMA to accept a congregation or a body that has been officially refused altar and pulpit fellowship by local congregation of ULMA.
- Altar and Pulpit fellowship may be pursued by individual congregations or collectively. However, either way leads to an “all or none approach.” An individual ULMA congregation entering into altar and pulpit fellowship with another requires that all other ULMA congregations be informed and given opportunity to evaluate according to their own respective process. Formal ratification of altar and pulpit fellowship is necessary for the following reasons: 1) the consciences of the various members of various flocks; 2) Order and love toward others; 3) the potential for intercommunion and transfer.
- When it comes to joining the ULMA , the commission decides.
- When it comes to Altar and Pulpit Fellowship , Congregations decide after recommendation from a Congregation/ULMA.
- It is unnecessary to have a chronological order since both require adherence to Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions.
- If one joins the ULMA first , the ULMA will recommend altar and pulpit fellowship to congregations as a part of their end process. It is assumed that altar and pulpit fellowship would be embraced by all the ULMA congregations, unless for some reason the ULMA congregations would find something that would prohibit. In that case, the ULMA commission would have to reconsider their decision/recommendation. It is possible for one to join the ULMA and refrain from altar and pulpit fellowship as in the case of one being in a synod and in a state of confession.
- If one enters into altar and pulpit fellowship , that one may or may not join ULMA (that one may be too small, or may wish to simply support it financially). When one enters into altar and pulpit fellowship , and they request to join the ULMA, they must do so according to the ULMA commission requirements and the ULMA commission may not receive them for the following reasons: 1) they do not meet the requirement of adherence to Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions (in such case, the congregations will have to reevaluate altar and pulpit fellowship); 2) for other reasons that would have no bearing on altar and pulpit fellowship (The separation of Paul and Barnabas in Acts15:36-41). If one approaches the ULMA first, and the ULMA refuses, the commission may still recommend to the ULMA congregations altar and pulpit fellowship.
- “Investigation” can be lead by the ULMA, a member congregation, or an ULMA Pastor. In all cases the ULMA will be kept informed of the progress and can help with the coordination of the effort. Tools may be used for the “investigation” similar to those used for “investigation” of a candidate for a call. Tools for investigation may include: 1) Fellowship document; 2) hot topics; 3) question sheet; 4) Chemnitz’s Enchiridion.
- When “investigation” is complete and Congregation/ULMA forms a consensus that altar and pulpit fellowship should be pursued they will recommend to Member and Mission congregations that altar and pulpit fellowship should be approved. The action is not complete until results of all voter meetings are known. A congregation may delegate approval authority to her commission members via a voters meeting. Each congregation will follow their own polity.
- It is intended that the process not be too restrictive or prescriptive. Flexibility should be available to accommodate the polity of another church or a church body. In extremely shorten version the process recommended for Altar and Pulpit Fellowship is a follows:
Request is made and/or interest is shown
Congregation/ULMA pursue investigation
Congregation/ULMA coordinates investigation
Congregation/ULMA evaluates investigation results
Congregation/ULMA recommends altar and pulpit fellowship