Doctrine does not divide but unifies

I do not understand the contention that “doctrine divides.” In what sense is a church body whose members believe different things unified? It seems to me that doctrine is precisely what can unify different people and personalities into one community. Otherwise, what do you have? When the unity is based on people, what you end up with is homogeneity of personality, socio-economic class, age demographic, and superficial affinities. You end up with people that you “like”; but what is the virtue in that? What about being unified with people you don’t like or who are different from you? The Bible’s model in 1 Corinthians is that the church should be diverse in all of these worldly ways but unified in a common faith in Christ.

The Anglican tradition allowed for diversity–or vagueness–of belief, as long as everyone followed the same form of worship, namely, the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. Thus, worship became the basis for unity. That hasn’t worked all that well, but what about when the congregation is not agreed on how to worship, or, as is often the case today, features several different styles, with members choosing which one to go to. So how is that unity?

It seems to me that a congregation that splits because of disagreements is going from disunity to unity. The dissensions within the congregation keep it from being unified. But when the members form two congregations, each enjoys a greater amount of unity than was experienced before.

All true Christians already ARE unified in Christ. This is a spiritual reality, not something that needs to be worked for, but already in existence, to be appreciated now and fully known in eternity. We are all members of the Church Universal. Why isn’t that enough? We don’t HAVE to belong to the same particular congregations. Efforts to incarnate the Church Universal in an earthly institution do not seem to work very well in this fallen world. In the meantime, we can appreciate our spiritual unity with all of our fellow Christians–as well as the different kinds of unity we share with our fellow citizens and our fellow human beings–while benefiting from the special unity that can exist when diverse individuals have the same bond of a common belief in their churches.

Just some of my thoughts on that “basis of picking a church” post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I agree entirely. I’ve noted that pretty much everyone who loudly calls for “unity in the church” actually means, “You should all submit to my views on theology, worship and church government.”

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I agree entirely. I’ve noted that pretty much everyone who loudly calls for “unity in the church” actually means, “You should all submit to my views on theology, worship and church government.”

  • WebMonk

    That’s an … interesting thought. I will agree that a split in a church could conceivably result in a resulting unity within each individual group (most of the time it doesn’t in my experience, but I’ve heard of times when it has). But as you pointed out, we are all members of the universal church, and so agreement within a small group isn’t particularly valuable if there is still acrimonious feelings between two groups.

    Frankly, most splits don’t divide on serious doctrinal differences – they’re divisions along personal lines. A part of a local church doesn’t like the music or mission plans or prayer level or or or…. Finally they split. I know a church that split over putting in a new water heater, and I’ve heard of a church that split over the color of the carpet.

    Regardless of the reason for a split, even if a split is purely along very deep doctrinal disagreements, a split doesn’t increase unity at all. It just separates the conflicting groups so they aren’t so actively fighting. There is just as much disagreement; the fighting and hard feelings continue, just not at as high a level since the disagreeing groups are in different physical locations.

    So just how does a split INCREASE unity????

  • WebMonk

    That’s an … interesting thought. I will agree that a split in a church could conceivably result in a resulting unity within each individual group (most of the time it doesn’t in my experience, but I’ve heard of times when it has). But as you pointed out, we are all members of the universal church, and so agreement within a small group isn’t particularly valuable if there is still acrimonious feelings between two groups.

    Frankly, most splits don’t divide on serious doctrinal differences – they’re divisions along personal lines. A part of a local church doesn’t like the music or mission plans or prayer level or or or…. Finally they split. I know a church that split over putting in a new water heater, and I’ve heard of a church that split over the color of the carpet.

    Regardless of the reason for a split, even if a split is purely along very deep doctrinal disagreements, a split doesn’t increase unity at all. It just separates the conflicting groups so they aren’t so actively fighting. There is just as much disagreement; the fighting and hard feelings continue, just not at as high a level since the disagreeing groups are in different physical locations.

    So just how does a split INCREASE unity????

  • Bruce

    Webmonk, if a split leads to peace and order and unity within each new congregation, the chances of each congregation more clearly witnessing Christ to the world, and thus reaching the lost, should go up. You are right in pointing out that it depends upon what the split is about, but if it truly is on the basis of doctrine, then I’d have to say the split can be a healthy thing. If on the basis of a water heater, then you can look for many more splinters to come.

  • Bruce

    Webmonk, if a split leads to peace and order and unity within each new congregation, the chances of each congregation more clearly witnessing Christ to the world, and thus reaching the lost, should go up. You are right in pointing out that it depends upon what the split is about, but if it truly is on the basis of doctrine, then I’d have to say the split can be a healthy thing. If on the basis of a water heater, then you can look for many more splinters to come.

  • texan

    I disagree that efforts to define the instutional church here on earth hasn’t worked very well; it’s worked well for the Catholic church. I am not Catholic but I see a lot of wisdom in taking both the doctrine and the practice out of the laity’s hands. These aren’t things we can VOTE on. I read an essay by the current pope where he states that when we think about church in that way, an organization that is created and shaped by our votes, our “we believe” means nothing more than “we opine.” Maybe he’s right. Maybe we Protestants take our individual opinions too seriously.

    I am a United Methodist. There’s a lot of that “unity” talk in my church and it usually means “shut up conservatives.” The last GC might have been the last straw for me. I am kind of wishing for a theological liberal/conservative split. If it did happen, though, the conservatives would still have the “worship war” to split over.

  • texan

    I disagree that efforts to define the instutional church here on earth hasn’t worked very well; it’s worked well for the Catholic church. I am not Catholic but I see a lot of wisdom in taking both the doctrine and the practice out of the laity’s hands. These aren’t things we can VOTE on. I read an essay by the current pope where he states that when we think about church in that way, an organization that is created and shaped by our votes, our “we believe” means nothing more than “we opine.” Maybe he’s right. Maybe we Protestants take our individual opinions too seriously.

    I am a United Methodist. There’s a lot of that “unity” talk in my church and it usually means “shut up conservatives.” The last GC might have been the last straw for me. I am kind of wishing for a theological liberal/conservative split. If it did happen, though, the conservatives would still have the “worship war” to split over.

  • WebMonk

    Bruce, have you ever, ever heard of a split that has lead to peace and unity within the resulting segments?

    I agree with you (and your take on Veith’s intention) in theory, but I’ve never heard of it happening in real life. The closest I’ve heard of is churches that have healed from a split and things eventually improved beyond where they were before the split.

    But, I’ve never heard of a split that resulted in increased unity. Every split I’ve heard of or read of has been painful and acrimonious and takes years and years to recover from, if the personal wounds ever heal.

    I’ve only been through one sort-of split myself (a slow attrition of people leaving) and I’ve been a part of two churches that have gone through splits in the past. All the rest of my experience with church splits has been talking with others. I’m sure there are plenty of people here who have gone through splits. Does anyone have any experiences that might show that my limited experience in splits isn’t representative?

  • WebMonk

    Bruce, have you ever, ever heard of a split that has lead to peace and unity within the resulting segments?

    I agree with you (and your take on Veith’s intention) in theory, but I’ve never heard of it happening in real life. The closest I’ve heard of is churches that have healed from a split and things eventually improved beyond where they were before the split.

    But, I’ve never heard of a split that resulted in increased unity. Every split I’ve heard of or read of has been painful and acrimonious and takes years and years to recover from, if the personal wounds ever heal.

    I’ve only been through one sort-of split myself (a slow attrition of people leaving) and I’ve been a part of two churches that have gone through splits in the past. All the rest of my experience with church splits has been talking with others. I’m sure there are plenty of people here who have gone through splits. Does anyone have any experiences that might show that my limited experience in splits isn’t representative?

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Who’s to say the clerics can’t simply opine as well, texan?
    Maybe it’s best to leave doctrine in the hands of the scriptures, and not successive layers of human thought.
    Is it not better that one priest question what the clerics are doing and teaching (or failing to teach), than to have clerics, by virtue of their inherent power, teach error, and give it the weight and power of truth?
    That being said, I think there are those among us, in every congregation, who make mountains out of molehills for the purposes of dividing. They want power, not necessarily to wield for themselves, but power for the way they think. They encourage division on the basis of what they think–and feel–be it carpet color or which hymnal or ‘worship style’ or for congregational growth (which equals money which equals power).
    I’m not opposed to thinking they like division for its own sake; that they like drama or drawing lines; that maybe they are closet bullies who don’t have the gumption to launch their own fights, but foster fighting behind the scenes. They are more effective, I think, than those who boldly question why a church holds what it holds; who might get answers that actually satisfy their questions.
    Division is clearly Satan’s desire, and he’s much too clever to simply fire loud guns to start a war. His patient is nearly eternal, and he’s content to simply let an undercurrent begin with a drop of dissension, before it becomes the dividing tidal wave.
    How’s them mixed metaphors for ya?

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Who’s to say the clerics can’t simply opine as well, texan?
    Maybe it’s best to leave doctrine in the hands of the scriptures, and not successive layers of human thought.
    Is it not better that one priest question what the clerics are doing and teaching (or failing to teach), than to have clerics, by virtue of their inherent power, teach error, and give it the weight and power of truth?
    That being said, I think there are those among us, in every congregation, who make mountains out of molehills for the purposes of dividing. They want power, not necessarily to wield for themselves, but power for the way they think. They encourage division on the basis of what they think–and feel–be it carpet color or which hymnal or ‘worship style’ or for congregational growth (which equals money which equals power).
    I’m not opposed to thinking they like division for its own sake; that they like drama or drawing lines; that maybe they are closet bullies who don’t have the gumption to launch their own fights, but foster fighting behind the scenes. They are more effective, I think, than those who boldly question why a church holds what it holds; who might get answers that actually satisfy their questions.
    Division is clearly Satan’s desire, and he’s much too clever to simply fire loud guns to start a war. His patient is nearly eternal, and he’s content to simply let an undercurrent begin with a drop of dissension, before it becomes the dividing tidal wave.
    How’s them mixed metaphors for ya?

  • Nemo

    Interesting thoughts, Dr. Veith, but I’m not sure I follow you entirely. It looks to me like you are equivocating on the term “unity”—defining it sometimes as unity within a local congregation and other times as unity within the body of Christ. It is true, that at least in theory, a congregation may be more unified internally after a split, but that does not increase unity between believers from the now-two different churches. And how can the unity that results from isolating oneself from fellow believers whom you disagree with be beneficial? You critique defining unity as only being with people we like, but cannot “doctrinal” differences be used to lead to exactly that end? To continue this line of reasoning, for utmost unity each individual should be a church for himself, and then there will be no disunity whatsoever—except that doesn’t work either, since we are all internally conflicted between being a saint and a sinner.

  • Nemo

    Interesting thoughts, Dr. Veith, but I’m not sure I follow you entirely. It looks to me like you are equivocating on the term “unity”—defining it sometimes as unity within a local congregation and other times as unity within the body of Christ. It is true, that at least in theory, a congregation may be more unified internally after a split, but that does not increase unity between believers from the now-two different churches. And how can the unity that results from isolating oneself from fellow believers whom you disagree with be beneficial? You critique defining unity as only being with people we like, but cannot “doctrinal” differences be used to lead to exactly that end? To continue this line of reasoning, for utmost unity each individual should be a church for himself, and then there will be no disunity whatsoever—except that doesn’t work either, since we are all internally conflicted between being a saint and a sinner.

  • Trey

    I am a Gnesio-Lutheran, but I struggle with the idea of doctrinal unity within the local church. I do not think as individual Christians there will be complete doctrinal unity due to our sinful nature. Perhaps externally, but not internally. Local churches as a a whole may externally agree on doctrine, yet due to sin, the world, and the devil there will remain dissensions here.

    I strongly disagree with Texan since Scripture does not support his contention that the Clergy should dictate practice and doctrine. While this is easy and simplistic, Scripture should dictate both. Scripture clearly states that we are all the same in Christ (Galatians 3:28). In addition, Christ gives the Office of the Keys to the Christian (See John 20:21-22, Matt 16:19; 18:18) Thus each Christian equally should have a say in matters that Scripture does not perspicuously speak on (adiaphora). This is not to say that the church should vote on doctrine beliefs except indifferent practice (adiaphora). God defines true doctrine not us. However, the voter’s assembly is the sine quo non (essential element) of the church and should never be suppressed. Scripture is clear on this matter.

    I reluctantly include worship style as adiaphora although I do so since Scripture does not speak on a particular worship form. It is possible to have a praise service that conveys the Law and the Gospel (God’s Word in its purity). With that said, I believe that the Divine Service best exemplifies what the Scriptures speak of Christ.

  • Trey

    I am a Gnesio-Lutheran, but I struggle with the idea of doctrinal unity within the local church. I do not think as individual Christians there will be complete doctrinal unity due to our sinful nature. Perhaps externally, but not internally. Local churches as a a whole may externally agree on doctrine, yet due to sin, the world, and the devil there will remain dissensions here.

    I strongly disagree with Texan since Scripture does not support his contention that the Clergy should dictate practice and doctrine. While this is easy and simplistic, Scripture should dictate both. Scripture clearly states that we are all the same in Christ (Galatians 3:28). In addition, Christ gives the Office of the Keys to the Christian (See John 20:21-22, Matt 16:19; 18:18) Thus each Christian equally should have a say in matters that Scripture does not perspicuously speak on (adiaphora). This is not to say that the church should vote on doctrine beliefs except indifferent practice (adiaphora). God defines true doctrine not us. However, the voter’s assembly is the sine quo non (essential element) of the church and should never be suppressed. Scripture is clear on this matter.

    I reluctantly include worship style as adiaphora although I do so since Scripture does not speak on a particular worship form. It is possible to have a praise service that conveys the Law and the Gospel (God’s Word in its purity). With that said, I believe that the Divine Service best exemplifies what the Scriptures speak of Christ.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Maybe we fail to comprehend that unity is not a goal; it’s what is, as long as what is preached and practiced is of the truth.
    Our hearts are never unified with God, let alone with one another; or never for any length of time. So, thanks be to God, we many of us have pastors who talk right past the desires of our hearts, preaching instead to what we need, in spite of our power-craving hearts. It’s the Word that fosters unity, and not even our adherence to it. We never adhere to it, we only hear it and believe it and cling to it. That’s where unity is; not in how we behave, either as a body or as individuals, but in what we hear.
    I have no doubt that, within our little confessional body, there is, every Sunday, a desire for Pastor to ‘do something’ about members falling away, whether it be to ‘open up’ our ‘worship style’ or even our closed communion table, or to join those community ecumenical councils for the purposes of giving us Lutherans more prominence here in American Evangelical Land.
    But he doesn’t. He simply does what he’s called to do, to and for those who remain. We are not unified; but what we hear and practice is unified.
    The naysayers are always free to go their own way, but the important and operative word is that they must *go* in order to have their own way, according to the desires of their own hearts. That way, they’re clearly shown as being at issue with the Word and with doctrine, and nothing else. When all they hear at our church is the truth of the gospel of Christ, and they leave anyway, it’s clear they don’t care for the gospel as much as they care for their own whims or to nurse their own grievances.
    When a family leaves because they desire more activity for their children, the shock of it does unify us for awhile. We mourn their loss–meaning what that family has lost–but we don’t go changing or skirting the creeds, for their sake. But who knows who will leave next, for whatever reason, and what are we to do? And who knows what secret longings are in the hearts of each of us, as we commune or listen to sermons or sing confessional hymns? Who knows who hates our hymns or liturgy, or the Pastor, because he hasn’t ‘done enough’ to stem our losses? That’s certainly not unity–not a heartfelt unity.
    But the unity is there in what we hear, and in our gathering to hear it, whether or not our sinful hearts are totally buying it or living it.
    Thank God for His Word, for its truth, and that it comes to us, and not from us, or from our actions. If we had to rely upon ourselves to find the truth, and to totally buy it and live it, we’d be as lost as atheists.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Maybe we fail to comprehend that unity is not a goal; it’s what is, as long as what is preached and practiced is of the truth.
    Our hearts are never unified with God, let alone with one another; or never for any length of time. So, thanks be to God, we many of us have pastors who talk right past the desires of our hearts, preaching instead to what we need, in spite of our power-craving hearts. It’s the Word that fosters unity, and not even our adherence to it. We never adhere to it, we only hear it and believe it and cling to it. That’s where unity is; not in how we behave, either as a body or as individuals, but in what we hear.
    I have no doubt that, within our little confessional body, there is, every Sunday, a desire for Pastor to ‘do something’ about members falling away, whether it be to ‘open up’ our ‘worship style’ or even our closed communion table, or to join those community ecumenical councils for the purposes of giving us Lutherans more prominence here in American Evangelical Land.
    But he doesn’t. He simply does what he’s called to do, to and for those who remain. We are not unified; but what we hear and practice is unified.
    The naysayers are always free to go their own way, but the important and operative word is that they must *go* in order to have their own way, according to the desires of their own hearts. That way, they’re clearly shown as being at issue with the Word and with doctrine, and nothing else. When all they hear at our church is the truth of the gospel of Christ, and they leave anyway, it’s clear they don’t care for the gospel as much as they care for their own whims or to nurse their own grievances.
    When a family leaves because they desire more activity for their children, the shock of it does unify us for awhile. We mourn their loss–meaning what that family has lost–but we don’t go changing or skirting the creeds, for their sake. But who knows who will leave next, for whatever reason, and what are we to do? And who knows what secret longings are in the hearts of each of us, as we commune or listen to sermons or sing confessional hymns? Who knows who hates our hymns or liturgy, or the Pastor, because he hasn’t ‘done enough’ to stem our losses? That’s certainly not unity–not a heartfelt unity.
    But the unity is there in what we hear, and in our gathering to hear it, whether or not our sinful hearts are totally buying it or living it.
    Thank God for His Word, for its truth, and that it comes to us, and not from us, or from our actions. If we had to rely upon ourselves to find the truth, and to totally buy it and live it, we’d be as lost as atheists.

  • Nemo

    Susan,

    Are you assuming that leaving your church means leaving Christianity? I get more gospel now, in my non-Lutheran church, than I did in the Lutheran (LCMS) churches I have attended. I have seen the doctrinal points that the Lutherans take pride in done/practiced/taught better, and more humbly, in my current church.

  • Nemo

    Susan,

    Are you assuming that leaving your church means leaving Christianity? I get more gospel now, in my non-Lutheran church, than I did in the Lutheran (LCMS) churches I have attended. I have seen the doctrinal points that the Lutherans take pride in done/practiced/taught better, and more humbly, in my current church.

  • Paul

    Dr. Veith wrote:

    “It seems to me that a congregation that splits because of disagreements is going from disunity to unity. The dissensions within the congregation keep it from being unified. But when the members form two congregations, each enjoys a greater amount of unity than was experienced before.”

    The congregation I now serve was the result of a split and has split twice since then and is undergoing a split right now. The first split was doctrinal. That congregation (WELS) was anything but unified and those who remained continued to be divided within itself, splitting again to the ELS and again to the CLC. The controversy was “unionism” because local Lutheran clergy alternated hosting a time slot on the local radio station which none of them could have afforded individually. Had the people who formed this current LCMS congregation stayed, they would have continued in a divided congregation for decades.

    Once the LCMS congregation formed, it has since split twice more and splitting again now — by forming two more sister LCMS congregations and now, hopefully, a third LCMS congregation. The original 1,000 members of the WELS congregation has become more than 6,000 members in (soon to be) four LCMS congregations. We enjoy full fellowship in doctrine and practice even though we have developed differently in externals. As a matter of fact, the soon-to-be fourth congregation doesn’t use a hymnal or agenda, pipe organ or even guitar. They’re Sudanese immigrants and use drums alone for accompanying singing, preach and teach in their own language by an LCMS trained EIIT graduate, gladly receive guidance from the local LCMS clergy, and hold more dearly to the Lutheran “sola’s” than most 6th generation Lutherans I know.

    The reason I mention these congregations which had peaceful splits over non-doctrinal issues is that the doctrinal division of 1950 which formed this congregation remained clearly in their minds and they were absolutely certain to rejoice in their shared confession. The other local group has split and split and split over disunity in doctrine while this group has split and split and split but remained in doctrinal unity. And this not by poo-pooing doctrine, but by applying it according to Scripture and the Confessions.

    I love vacation. Lots of time to respond to these posts without neglecting my duties. I suppose you all can’t wait ’till I go back to work.

  • Paul

    Dr. Veith wrote:

    “It seems to me that a congregation that splits because of disagreements is going from disunity to unity. The dissensions within the congregation keep it from being unified. But when the members form two congregations, each enjoys a greater amount of unity than was experienced before.”

    The congregation I now serve was the result of a split and has split twice since then and is undergoing a split right now. The first split was doctrinal. That congregation (WELS) was anything but unified and those who remained continued to be divided within itself, splitting again to the ELS and again to the CLC. The controversy was “unionism” because local Lutheran clergy alternated hosting a time slot on the local radio station which none of them could have afforded individually. Had the people who formed this current LCMS congregation stayed, they would have continued in a divided congregation for decades.

    Once the LCMS congregation formed, it has since split twice more and splitting again now — by forming two more sister LCMS congregations and now, hopefully, a third LCMS congregation. The original 1,000 members of the WELS congregation has become more than 6,000 members in (soon to be) four LCMS congregations. We enjoy full fellowship in doctrine and practice even though we have developed differently in externals. As a matter of fact, the soon-to-be fourth congregation doesn’t use a hymnal or agenda, pipe organ or even guitar. They’re Sudanese immigrants and use drums alone for accompanying singing, preach and teach in their own language by an LCMS trained EIIT graduate, gladly receive guidance from the local LCMS clergy, and hold more dearly to the Lutheran “sola’s” than most 6th generation Lutherans I know.

    The reason I mention these congregations which had peaceful splits over non-doctrinal issues is that the doctrinal division of 1950 which formed this congregation remained clearly in their minds and they were absolutely certain to rejoice in their shared confession. The other local group has split and split and split over disunity in doctrine while this group has split and split and split but remained in doctrinal unity. And this not by poo-pooing doctrine, but by applying it according to Scripture and the Confessions.

    I love vacation. Lots of time to respond to these posts without neglecting my duties. I suppose you all can’t wait ’till I go back to work.

  • texan

    So there can be no such thing as unity? If the bible is the only guide for faith and practice and everyone’s interpretation of scripture is valid , then that has to be the case. We just need to get used to it.

    I don’t think the RCC is correct in its theology on many subjects, but there is a lot to learn there. I am disillusioned with my own church body right now so that really influences what I think right now. I like the idea of “this is the catechism-believe it” and “this is the mass-this is how we worship; get used to it.” This takes doctrine/practice out or the realm of personal taste/whim. I know there are “dissenters” within Catholicism and idealising one system of belief is probably naive. There’s no reason to believe the “clerics” are always going to get it right. I just think they have a pretty good track record in comparison to a lot of Protestantism (like my UMC!).

  • texan

    So there can be no such thing as unity? If the bible is the only guide for faith and practice and everyone’s interpretation of scripture is valid , then that has to be the case. We just need to get used to it.

    I don’t think the RCC is correct in its theology on many subjects, but there is a lot to learn there. I am disillusioned with my own church body right now so that really influences what I think right now. I like the idea of “this is the catechism-believe it” and “this is the mass-this is how we worship; get used to it.” This takes doctrine/practice out or the realm of personal taste/whim. I know there are “dissenters” within Catholicism and idealising one system of belief is probably naive. There’s no reason to believe the “clerics” are always going to get it right. I just think they have a pretty good track record in comparison to a lot of Protestantism (like my UMC!).

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    Paul,

    Regarding the history of the congregation you are serving now, would you say that its turbulent history was due to the character of the church itself or are you saying that each Lutheran denomination it joined was to blame? I’m having a hard time imagining a CLC congregation going back to the LCMS (lol!). Just asking because it is hard to read into written comments.

    In my brief history with the ELS (5 years), it has remained pretty stable for the 100+ years it has been in America. Totally off topic warning: I am excited to get to know it even better in the future: my daughter was just accepted as a student at the synod’s college, Bethany, in Mankato, MN. The rich faith and history that pours out from those campus buildings, and the vibrancy of the students, gives me great hope for a strong ELS future. That college is producing smart and creative Christian citizens!

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    Paul,

    Regarding the history of the congregation you are serving now, would you say that its turbulent history was due to the character of the church itself or are you saying that each Lutheran denomination it joined was to blame? I’m having a hard time imagining a CLC congregation going back to the LCMS (lol!). Just asking because it is hard to read into written comments.

    In my brief history with the ELS (5 years), it has remained pretty stable for the 100+ years it has been in America. Totally off topic warning: I am excited to get to know it even better in the future: my daughter was just accepted as a student at the synod’s college, Bethany, in Mankato, MN. The rich faith and history that pours out from those campus buildings, and the vibrancy of the students, gives me great hope for a strong ELS future. That college is producing smart and creative Christian citizens!

  • Paul

    Theresa:

    As a matter of fact, this all happened in Mankato! Yes, I would also say that the ELS is stable in itself. I would say that the original congregation in all of that was not unified in doctrine and therefore continued to split until it broke into doctrinal groups along the range from LCMS, ELS, WELS, and CLC. The most conservative kept the building. Each group that left found stability and doctrinal unity while the group that remained continued to be divided until there was no where else to go. I’m sure, however, that they would describe this differently.

    I believe that this example applies to the point initially made by Dr Veith quoted in #11 above as an example of doctrinal unity for all concerned through division. We’re all still part of the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church, but being one only in name would not have kept us one in theology and practice.

    Consequently, I do not subscribe to the idea that “bigger is better” or that external unity without unity in doctrine and practice is good for anyone. I have no problem with my neighbors having their own home and their own family dining room table. Neither do I believe that having different Lutheran ‘homes’ or ‘tables’ in the same community is a bad thing. We can and must continue to discuss our doctrinal differences toward reconciliation and a combined witness (as we enjoy in the 4 LCMS congregations in town); but in the meantime, we have the luxury (which we may not always have) of having unity within our congregations.

  • Paul

    Theresa:

    As a matter of fact, this all happened in Mankato! Yes, I would also say that the ELS is stable in itself. I would say that the original congregation in all of that was not unified in doctrine and therefore continued to split until it broke into doctrinal groups along the range from LCMS, ELS, WELS, and CLC. The most conservative kept the building. Each group that left found stability and doctrinal unity while the group that remained continued to be divided until there was no where else to go. I’m sure, however, that they would describe this differently.

    I believe that this example applies to the point initially made by Dr Veith quoted in #11 above as an example of doctrinal unity for all concerned through division. We’re all still part of the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church, but being one only in name would not have kept us one in theology and practice.

    Consequently, I do not subscribe to the idea that “bigger is better” or that external unity without unity in doctrine and practice is good for anyone. I have no problem with my neighbors having their own home and their own family dining room table. Neither do I believe that having different Lutheran ‘homes’ or ‘tables’ in the same community is a bad thing. We can and must continue to discuss our doctrinal differences toward reconciliation and a combined witness (as we enjoy in the 4 LCMS congregations in town); but in the meantime, we have the luxury (which we may not always have) of having unity within our congregations.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    1 Cor. 1:10 (ESV)
    I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

    Being united in the same mind and judgement, is never a matter of putting doctrinal differences aside, or glossing over them. and teaching false doctrine is an open and manifest sin the church has a duty to deal with, just as much as it does with any other sin.
    In so far as we are all Christians we are unified in Christ, but we still need to work for the unity of mind and judgement. We do this not by putting aside doctrinal differences but by discussing them and their implications, even arguing over them.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    1 Cor. 1:10 (ESV)
    I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

    Being united in the same mind and judgement, is never a matter of putting doctrinal differences aside, or glossing over them. and teaching false doctrine is an open and manifest sin the church has a duty to deal with, just as much as it does with any other sin.
    In so far as we are all Christians we are unified in Christ, but we still need to work for the unity of mind and judgement. We do this not by putting aside doctrinal differences but by discussing them and their implications, even arguing over them.

  • Don S

    Dr. Veith has stated, with eloquence, the very point I was trying to make in yesterday’s thread.

    Regarding splits, I have been involved in a couple, as probably have we all, if we have been in the faith for any length of time. The most serious was about 10 years ago, and was a wrenching matter involving significant doctrinal differences. 40% of us left the church over that issue. Although painful at the time, it was the right thing to do. We have been reconciled as individuals, remain close, and those who left have seeded some 20 or 30 different churches in our area and are engaged in vibrant ministries throughout the county. Somewhat like a pine cone in a hot fire, it was God’s way, I believe, of shaking us out of our comfortable existence and spreading the seeds of the Gospel far and wide. Our individual ministries were freshened and re-vitalized.

    Paul and Barnabas were probably the most famous example of a split of this nature, over the issue of John Mark. That split was obviously a good thing, and it is instructive that Paul was ultimately reconciled with John Mark, who ended up being one of the most faithful of companions for him late in life.

  • Don S

    Dr. Veith has stated, with eloquence, the very point I was trying to make in yesterday’s thread.

    Regarding splits, I have been involved in a couple, as probably have we all, if we have been in the faith for any length of time. The most serious was about 10 years ago, and was a wrenching matter involving significant doctrinal differences. 40% of us left the church over that issue. Although painful at the time, it was the right thing to do. We have been reconciled as individuals, remain close, and those who left have seeded some 20 or 30 different churches in our area and are engaged in vibrant ministries throughout the county. Somewhat like a pine cone in a hot fire, it was God’s way, I believe, of shaking us out of our comfortable existence and spreading the seeds of the Gospel far and wide. Our individual ministries were freshened and re-vitalized.

    Paul and Barnabas were probably the most famous example of a split of this nature, over the issue of John Mark. That split was obviously a good thing, and it is instructive that Paul was ultimately reconciled with John Mark, who ended up being one of the most faithful of companions for him late in life.

  • zana

    Webmonk, you asked for an example of a split causing a church to increase. Well, check the growth numbers of the new Anglican parishes who left the Episcopal Church after 2003. Many of them are growing by leaps and bounds. Their new congregations are more unified (perhaps because of working through those trials together?) and have a clear message of the Good News to present to their communities. I’m not asserting that this is occuring for EVERY Anglican/Episcopal split, but it is certainly happening. One excellent example would be my old parish from Tallahassee (though the split happened after we left). St Peter’s Anglican is the new church (leaving St. John’s Episcopal) and St Petes has grown dramatically in the years since they left TEC. Indeed, I would venture a guess that their average Sunday attendence is now as large as or even larger than it was when they were a single congregation at St. Johns.

  • zana

    Webmonk, you asked for an example of a split causing a church to increase. Well, check the growth numbers of the new Anglican parishes who left the Episcopal Church after 2003. Many of them are growing by leaps and bounds. Their new congregations are more unified (perhaps because of working through those trials together?) and have a clear message of the Good News to present to their communities. I’m not asserting that this is occuring for EVERY Anglican/Episcopal split, but it is certainly happening. One excellent example would be my old parish from Tallahassee (though the split happened after we left). St Peter’s Anglican is the new church (leaving St. John’s Episcopal) and St Petes has grown dramatically in the years since they left TEC. Indeed, I would venture a guess that their average Sunday attendence is now as large as or even larger than it was when they were a single congregation at St. Johns.

  • WebMonk

    Oh, I know of plenty of churches that have increased in size after a split. That’s not quite what I meant. I was asking about an increase _in_unity_ BECAUSE of the split.

    I’ve attended (and heard of) churches that have come back together after a split and healed and become stronger than before. What I’ve never heard of, is a church that had theological/other issues over which they disagreed and finally split, and was blessed by the split itself. Churches that split never seem to do so in a good manner.

    I can imagine a church splitting with equanimity in which unity and love increases, but I’ve never heard of it actually happening. Splits always seem to be characterized by hard feelings and grudges, even if the split is for a deep theologically important reason.

    I have friends who are on both sides of the TEC split, and there is very little “unity” and even less charity toward brothers and sisters in Christ in that whole situation. I don’t know if you happen to frequent the blogs and message boards of those who are active in that splitting process, but there is definitely no “unity” anywhere to be found. The TEC split off and after the split churches are splitting again.

    Increase in size – sure. Increase in unity – no.

  • WebMonk

    Oh, I know of plenty of churches that have increased in size after a split. That’s not quite what I meant. I was asking about an increase _in_unity_ BECAUSE of the split.

    I’ve attended (and heard of) churches that have come back together after a split and healed and become stronger than before. What I’ve never heard of, is a church that had theological/other issues over which they disagreed and finally split, and was blessed by the split itself. Churches that split never seem to do so in a good manner.

    I can imagine a church splitting with equanimity in which unity and love increases, but I’ve never heard of it actually happening. Splits always seem to be characterized by hard feelings and grudges, even if the split is for a deep theologically important reason.

    I have friends who are on both sides of the TEC split, and there is very little “unity” and even less charity toward brothers and sisters in Christ in that whole situation. I don’t know if you happen to frequent the blogs and message boards of those who are active in that splitting process, but there is definitely no “unity” anywhere to be found. The TEC split off and after the split churches are splitting again.

    Increase in size – sure. Increase in unity – no.

  • WebMonk

    Ok, “friends” might be a strong term. I have people that I know “well” on the Internet on both sides of that split.

    I have one set of real life friends who are involved in it. They have a really good attitude about it which I hope to emulate if I’m ever in a similar situation, but even for them I couldn’t say there’s an increase in unity from that split.

  • WebMonk

    Ok, “friends” might be a strong term. I have people that I know “well” on the Internet on both sides of that split.

    I have one set of real life friends who are involved in it. They have a really good attitude about it which I hope to emulate if I’m ever in a similar situation, but even for them I couldn’t say there’s an increase in unity from that split.

  • Anon

    Christ taught us that our unity – the unity of all Christians – is the testimony to the world that the Father has sent the Son.

    In the LCMS we have people communing and on boards who do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture or the real presence. This is unity of doctrine? Yet there are those who nonetheless insist on disobeying the prayers of Christ and commands of the Trinity in John 17 and 1 Corinthians 1. Is this not a case of straining at gnats and swallowing camels?

  • Anon

    Christ taught us that our unity – the unity of all Christians – is the testimony to the world that the Father has sent the Son.

    In the LCMS we have people communing and on boards who do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture or the real presence. This is unity of doctrine? Yet there are those who nonetheless insist on disobeying the prayers of Christ and commands of the Trinity in John 17 and 1 Corinthians 1. Is this not a case of straining at gnats and swallowing camels?

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    Re WebMonk’s comment: “What I’ve never heard of, is a church that had theological/other issues over which they disagreed and finally split, and was blessed by the split itself.”

    You have described my own synod. It has been blessed by a split that goes back 40 years. Were some people’s feelings hurt or remain hurt? Yes. Was the synod blessed by the split? Yes.

    Is there a difference between a church split and a synod/denominational split?

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    Re WebMonk’s comment: “What I’ve never heard of, is a church that had theological/other issues over which they disagreed and finally split, and was blessed by the split itself.”

    You have described my own synod. It has been blessed by a split that goes back 40 years. Were some people’s feelings hurt or remain hurt? Yes. Was the synod blessed by the split? Yes.

    Is there a difference between a church split and a synod/denominational split?

  • Matt L

    If I may respectfully disagree. Doctrine does divide… and it is a good thing. It divides as it shows the false brethren, the heterodox, from those who confess the genuine faith.

  • Matt L

    If I may respectfully disagree. Doctrine does divide… and it is a good thing. It divides as it shows the false brethren, the heterodox, from those who confess the genuine faith.

  • Anon

    Might I suggest that there is a difference between doctrine dividing between truth and error, and doctrine dividing fellow regenerate Christians from truly and visibly loving one another?

  • Anon

    Might I suggest that there is a difference between doctrine dividing between truth and error, and doctrine dividing fellow regenerate Christians from truly and visibly loving one another?


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