FROM: THE REPORTER
Vol. 9, No. 17
May 2, 1983
THE MISSOURI SYNOD AND JOINT WORSHIP
At the February meeting of the Council of Presidents, Synod president Ralph
A. Bohlmann presented a brief paper outlining the Synod's position on joint
worship. The need for such a paper stemmed from recognition by the council of
the need for guidance regarding participation in inter-Lutheran events,
particularly during this 500th anniversary year of Martin Luther's birth, and
prior to the completion of a proposed church-wide study of inter-Christian
Previously in that meeting, the council had supported a long-term study
process presented by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations for
developing guidelines for all inter-Christian relationships. Such guidelines
were requested by the 1981 synodical convention. Stages of the study process
include development of case studies through widespread regional and District
pastoral conferences before guidelines would be distributed for study in early
The council endorsed the principles in Dr. Bohlmann's paper and agreed to use
it as counsel in the church; it is presented here for that purpose.
Commenting on the paper, Dr. Bohlmann said, "Participation in joint
worship services is often a cause of confusion or discord; no other question
creates more problems for us. Our handling of it requires great churchmanship on
the part of all - particularly now as we await the completion of our church-wide
study and the development of new guidelines. Theses I and II - and presumably V
- are the official Missouri Synod position, and should therefore be
honored and upheld by all. Theses III and IV are an exploratory effort to apply
our traditional criteria to some current questions in a responsible manner.
Taken together, the theses uphold our Synod's position on joint worship services
while offering possible ways for meaningful involvement with other
How does the LCMS position on joint worship apply to our participation in
various inter-Lutheran events?... Its importance:
- For continued faithfulness to God's Truth
- For LCMS solidarity
- For maintaining the bond of peace within Lutheranism
- For clarity in broader ecumenical relationships
- Unionism implied doctrinal compromise or indifference
- Scriptural injunctions to avoid, separate, and beware
- Fear of causing offense
- Concerning with witness given by all joint actions
- Focus on the use of the means of grace
- Distinction between fellowship in sacred matters and cooperation
in external matters
- Differences in application to various forms of worship 8. Efforts to
manifest unity inadequate?
THESES FOR DISCUSSION:
I. The members of the Synod (that is, pastors, teachers, and congregations)
are expected to observe the positions and policies of the Synod. Deliberate
failure to do so breaks our covenant, creates discord, and often causes offense.
II. It is the position of the Synod that its members are free to engage in
joint worship only with the pastors, teachers, and congregations of the Synod,
its partner churches, and church bodies with whom the Synod is in altar and
pulpit fellowship. (See Constitution, Article VI, which renounces unionism
and syncretism of every description, such as taking part in the services and
sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed
confession. Several synodical resolutions have also spoken against holding
joint worship services with those with whom we have not established pulpit and
altar fellowship: see, e.g., 1965 Resolution 2-16. 1967 Resolution 2-18 and
2-19, and 1969 Resolution 3-18.)
III. Members of the Synod may conduct, co-sponsor, or participate jointly
with other Christians in certain public events (such as celebrations,
gatherings, rallies, convocations, exhibition, pageants, concerts, colloquia, or
conferences), provided the following principles are observed:
- The event is not a joint worship service. This would mean that any clergy
participants would not be vested and that program components would not
include either sermon or sacrament;
- The event does not imply that doctrinal unity exists among the sponsors or
- The purpose of the event is fully consistent with the position, policies,
and objectives of the Synod;
- Program components should be consistent with the inter-Lutheran,
inter-Christian, inter-religious, or civic nature of the event, as the case
- Participation in the event does not compromise or weaken the witness of
the Synod in any respect;
- Permission to conduct, cosponsor, or participate in the event has been
granted by the responsible synodical official (namely District presidents
for events within their Districts, and the synodical president for regional,
national, or international events).
IV. Members of the Synod may find it particularly desirable to conduct,
co-sponsor or participate in such public events with other Lutherans for
purposes such as the following:
- Commemoration of a significant event in our common Lutheran
history, such as the birth of Luther, the beginning of the Reformation, or
the adoption of our confessional documents;
- Thanksgiving for the doctrinal heritage of Lutheranism;
- Education of participants in one or more aspects of Lutheran
history or doctrine, or in a subject of special interest and importance to
all participating Lutheran church bodies;
- Exchange of information and viewpoints on issues that divide
Lutherans from each other and/or from other Christians;
- Prayer for greater doctrinal unity on the basis of God's Word and
for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to better understand and love each
- Encouragement of appropriate cooperative efforts (in externis).
V. Members of the Synod will make every effort to honor and uphold the
positions and policies of the Synod (responsible commitment), to respect and
trust each other's judgements in matters where the Synod has no corporate
position (responsible freedom), and to straighten and expand the solidarity and
the confessional witness of the Synod.
POSSIBLE THESES DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
- (Thesis 1): Are our synodical procedures for adopting statements,
expressing dissent, and seeking change (e.g., Bylaws 1:03, c. 7-10. 1.19 e)
adequate? Are they effective? If not, what changes are needed?
- (Thesis 1): How can we achieve greater clarity and consensus in
determining which corporate decisions a congregation may regard as
inexpedient (ungeeignet)? Does congregational autonomy in such cases
extend to a congregation's pastors and teachers?
- (Thesis II): Do we need to distinguish between various forms of joint
worship? If so, why and on what basis?
- (Thesis II): We have applied the same limitations to the official
participation of others in our services, and, ordinarily, to our official
participation in the services of others. What criteria should govern any
exceptions to this policy?
- (Thesis II): Does the same principle apply to individual laymen? If not,
why not? Have we adequately prepared our laymen to make responsible
decisions in such matters?
- (Thesis III): How do we measure the potential witness value, for good or
bad, of such events?
- (Thesis III.d.): Is it valid to assume that program components may to some
extent reflect the measure of doctrinal consensus of the participants?
- (Thesis III.f): Is this proviso consistent with the authority presently
granted to synodical officials?
- (Thesis IV): Are there other valid reasons for such inter-Lutheran events?
Can we reasonably expect other Lutherans, as well as our own members, to
understand a distinction between inter-Lutheran events and
inter-Lutheran worship? Granted that this distinction may be somewhat
artificial in certain respects, does it nevertheless make a valid point in
terms of our witness by symbolizing the priority we give to prior doctrinal
- (Thesis V): Is it proper to give such a high priority to the impact of our
actions on our own synodical fellowship?
Posted May 7, 2002