Fellowship in Its Necessary Context of the Doctrine of the Church
(Statement of the Overseas Committee)

Presented by Dr. Henry Hamann, Jr.
(From the Proceedings of the Recessed Forty-Sixth Convention of the Synodical Conference, 1961)

The following abbreviations will be used in the References to the various paragraphs:
SC - Small Catechism
CA - Augsburg Confession
Ap - Apology
AS - Smalcald Articles
FC - Formula of Concord
SD - Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord
WA - Weimer edition of Luther’s Works
par - parallels

1. The holy, catholic, and apostolic church is one body in Christ, incorporating all believers whose faith is created, sustained, fulfilled, and known by God alone. The church and the faith of the heart (fides qua) are outside the competence and direct comprehension of men.
Matt 16:16; John 10:16, 27-29; Gal 3:26-28; Eph 1:20-23; 2:14,15; 2:19-21; 4:3-6, 15, 16 (Stoeckhardt, Lehre und Wehre, 1901, 97ff.) - Nicene Creed; SC, Second and Third Articles, CA V and VII; Ap VII:5-8
John 6:44; Acts 13:48; Col 2:12; 3:3,4; II Tim 2:19.

2. Faith is created and sustained by God through the means of grace. Where the means of grace (Gospel and sacraments) are in use, even where much impeded, there believers are present. We know this by faith and not by empirical experience. This knowledge rests on the promise of God in the means of grace outside of us (extra nos) and not on criteria in us (in nobis); sanctification, or any assessment of men, their works, polity, or discipline.
Is 55:10; Luke 8:11-15; Rom 10:5-17; I Peter 1:23-25; Titus 3:5,6, CA V: “That we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.” Ap IV: 67,346 (225); SC, Third Article (cf. Large Catechism, Third Article: 43-45); SD II:50; XI 29,50. No other criterion; AP VII:10,11,18,19.
I Sam 16:7; Acts 15:8.

3. Where the means of grace are in operation, there the church is to be found - whole, local and tangible. The assembly regularly gathered about the pure teaching and the right administration of the sacraments is called by God Himself the church at that place, irrespective of the hypocrites who may be attached outwardly to such assembly. This is no mere organizational form or association of individuals, but the one church that will remain forever (Una Sancta perpetuo mansura) in the exercise of its God-given, spiritual functions (office of the keys). This church is only one. Though locally apprehended, it must not be thought of as isolated, intermittent, or individual with reference to persons, time, or place.
Matt 18:18-20; Acts 6:7, 12-24; 19:20; Eph 4:13-16; 5:25-27 CA VII and VII; LC, Third Article: 51-58, 61f; AS, Part 3, VII:1; Tractatus: 24-67-69; SD X:9 - Luther (WA 18:652,743): “The church is hidden, the saints latent … The whole life of the church and its being is in the Word of God.” Disputation of 1542 (Drews, 655f.): “The church is recognized by its confession . . . it is in other words visible by its confession.”
The addresses of the epistles and Acts, chs. 2-5; 9:31.

4. The means of grace, which are the means of uniting the church to Christ, its Head, are a given whole, inseparable from the total revelation of Law and Gospel as set forth in the Scriptures (cf. the whole definition in CA VII).
John 10:34,35; 16:12-15; 17:20; I John 2:26,27; Rom 1:1,2; II Tim 3:14-17 par. - AS, Part 2, II:15: “The Word of God shall establish articles of faith. . .” CA: first paragraph of transition from Art. XXI to XXII; SD, Rule and Norm. Note the singulars “doctrine”, “form of sound words”, “deposit”, etc. I Tim 3:15; Luke 24:47 and I Tim 1:8,9 par - SD V and VI.

5. The means of grace create the fellowship of believers with God and thereby fellowship with all believers. This fellowship is, accordingly, given by God, not achieved by any human effort. Its existence can be believed and known only on the basis of the marks of the church (notae ecclesiae).
Acts 2:42: I Cor 1:7, 10:16,17; 12:13; Eph 4:3-6; I John 1:1-4; 3 John 3-8 - Ap VII:5f., 12,19,20. - Hollax, Examen (1707 and 1750), p 1300: “The inner and essential form of the church consists in the spiritual unity of those who truly believe, of the saints who are tied together (John 13:35) as members of the church with Christ the Head, by means of a true and living faith (John 1:12; Gal 3:27; I Cor 6:17), which is followed by a fellowship of mutual love.
Gal 2:6,9,11-14; II Thess 3:14,15; I John 1:5-7. - Ap VII:22; SD X:3.

6. Where the marks of the church are opposed by false teaching, not only is this double fellowship (in the Una Sancta) endangered, but a power is set up which is in contradiction to the fellowship manifested on earth (see 12). Where the pure marks of the church (notae purae) hold sway, this disrupting power is repudiated and overcome through refusal to recognize its right to exist, for Christ alone must reign in His church through His Word. Where the sway of the pure marks of the church is rejected, the fellowship is broken. A rupture of fellowship for any other reason is impermissible. The restoring of a broken fellowship must be brought about by use of the pure marks of the church, as they cleanse out the impurity.
Matt 7:15; 16:6; Acts 20:27-30; Rom 16:16-20; Gal 1:8,9; 5:9; 2 Cor 6:14-18; 11:4, 13-15; Phil 3:2; I Tim 1:3; 18,19; 4:1-3; 5:22; 6:3-5; II Tim 2:15-21; 3:5,8,9; Titus 1:9,10; 3:10; I John 2:18-23; 4:1-6; II John 8-11. - CA VII: SD XI:94-96. The negatives of all Symbols; CA XXVIII:20-28; Ap VII:20-22, 48-50; XV:18; AS Part 2, 11:10; Tractatus: 38,41,42,71; Preface to the SD: 6-10; X:5,6,31.
Acts 15; II Cor 10:4-6; Eph 4:11-14; 6:17.
I Cor 1:10; chs. 12-14. - CA VII:2,3; Ap IV:231 (110).
It is understood that the church takes action through the office of the keys committed to it by Christ (see 3).

7. Impurity can be discerned only by the standard of the pure marks of the church. The subjective faith of any man or group cannot be judged by us, but only what is actually taught or confessed, as it conforms or does not conform to the pure marks.
John 8:31,32; Rom 6:17; 1 Tim 6:13,20; II Tim 1:13. - The passages from the Symbols referred to under 4 and 6.

8. The purity of the marks is defined by the Symbols. The Symbols (norma normata) as the true interpretation of the Word of God (norma normans) are a continuous standard of public teaching in the church from generation to generation and bind together not only all true confessors at any particular time but those of all ages in oneness of teaching (cf. the durative present tenses in “is taught” and “are administered” and also the adverbs “purely” and “rightly” in AC VII). In the Symbols we have a safeguard against those who hold God’s Word to be present only as God wills from time to time, as they are also a safeguard of the truth against reliance upon a traditional exegesis and ecclesiastical success, and against a method of hermeneutics which uses the Bible as a book of oracles to the neglect of the rule of faith.
Is 8:20; Matt 16:16,17 par: I Cor 15:1-5; I Tim 6:12-14; II Tim 1:13,14; 2:2; Heb 4:14 - Article 1 in each CA, Ap, and AS; CA VII: “Also they teach that one holy church is to continue forever. The church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. And to the true unity of the church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.” See also FC, Norm and Rule, together with Prefaces.
Matt 10:32,33; Rom 10:9,10

9. A quantitative approach is as misleading as an unhistorical one. The inexhaustible wholeness of the marks of the church calls for constant and complete submission and acceptance. The Symbols do not speak fully on every doctrine, but as presentations of the marks they have abiding validity, as have also their rejections of what they recognize as falsifications of or subtractions from the marks.
Matt 23:8; John 10:5,27; II Cor 5:18-20. - AS Part 3, VII; SD X:31; XI:95,96; XII:39,40.

10. The faith which is taught in a church is first of all the formal and official confession of a church. This may, however, be called in question or rendered doubtful by actual or practical negation of it. In that case a distinction must be made between sporadic contradiction and persistent approval or toleration of contradiction. In the latter case, the official confession, no matter how excellent, is negated.
For Scripture, see under 6 and under 8. - SC, Second Commandment and First Petition; End of Preface to the Book of Concord; SD VII:1; X:5,6,10,11,28,29.

11. The marks of the church are all-decisive. Everything must be referred to them. This duty is hindered by presumptuous judgments or statements concerning the faith or lack of it in individuals. It is Enthusiasm to build on subjective faith (fides qua) and love, for faith is hidden and love is variable. Both are in man. The means of grace are objective, solid, apprehensible. Since these are God’s own means, we must attend entirely upon them and draw from them the distinction between the orthodox church and heterodox church.
See under 4,6,8,10. Observe that of the abounding polemics in the Book of Concord more than one third is directed against pseudo-Lutheranism.

12. The fellowship created by Word and sacraments shows itself fundamentally in pulpit and altar fellowship. It can show itself in many other ways, some of which, like prayer and worship and love of the brethren, the church cannot do without; others of which, like the holy kiss or the handshake or the reception into one’s house, vary from place to place and from time to time. In whatever way the fellowship created by Word and sacraments shows itself, all visible manifestations of fellowship must be truthful and in accordance with the supreme demands of the marks of the church. The “sacred things” (sacra) are the means of grace, and only by way of them is anything else a “sacred thing” (sacrum).
Acts 2:41-47; I Cor 1:10; cf. 15:1f; 10:16,17; 11:22f; 12:13; ch.14; II Cor 8,9. See also material under 2,6, and 7.

13. Prayer is not one of the marks of the church and should not be co-ordinated with Word and sacraments, as though it were essentially of the same nature as they. As a response to the divine Word, it is an expression of faith and a fruit of the faith, and when spoken before others, a profession of faith. As a profession of faith it must be spoken in harmony with and under control of the marks of the church.
Dan 9:18; Acts 9:11; Rom 10:8-14; I Tim. 2:1,2; Acts 27:35. - Ap XIII:16; XXIII:30,31; LC, Lord’s Prayer:13-30. Also see under 12.

This statement bears within it
a) the implication that the member churches of the Synodical Conference have not enunciated and carried through the principles outlined in it in their documents of fellowship with the necessary clarity and consistency, and
b) the suggestion that the goal of the Synodical Conference discussion is to be reached by the traditional highway of the doctrine of the church. Since the premature turning off into the byway of fellowship has led to a dead end, it would seem best, first of all, to return to the highway and there move forward together guided only by the marks of the church.

Finally, the members of the Overseas Committee on Fellowship feel they will not have done what is expected of them if they do not indicate, in at least a general way, in the concrete case of prayer fellowship, how the approach here developed may lead to a happy solution of this vexing matter. It seems to them that statements on prayer fellowship like the following could be suggested as flowing directly from the principles enunciated:

1) Prayer between Christians belonging to church which have a conflicting relation to the marks of the church must avoid the ever-present suspicion that the marks of the church are being disregarded.

2) When joint prayer shows the marks of characteristics of unionism it must be condemned and avoided. Such marks characteristic of unionism are:
a) failure to confess the whole truth of the divine Word (in statu confessionis);
b) failure to reject and denounce every opposing error;
c) assigning error equal right with truth;
d) creating the impression of unity in faith or of church fellowship where it does not exist.” (Australian Theses of Agreement, II, 2)
These four characteristics of unionism are clearly negations of the marks of the church.

3) Joint prayer of the kind described in 1) cannot in the very nature of the case be normal or regular, but will rather be exceptional (see 2 d above).

4) Situations, however, can be imagined, and have actually occurred in the history of the church, where joint prayer of the kind mentioned in 1) can be practiced, for it can be shown that the marks of the church have not been or are not in such cases disregarded, jeopardized, or surrendered. These instances cannot be judged by a flat rule beforehand, for the situation differs with each case, and so a decision on the permissibility of joint prayer in any particular situation will have to be made by a fair and adequate judgment of that case. And in such individual cases one must reckon with the fact that Christians will differ in their judgment. Such differences in judgment will have to be tolerated in the Church Militant, as long as there is evident loyalty to the demands of the divine Word and sacraments.
Gal 2 - SC, Commandments 1,2, and 3 and the First Petition. LC, Second Commandment: 53-56; First Petition: 39-48.
Gal 5:1; Col 2:16,20. - CA VII:2,3; XV; XXVIII:30ff, and the correspondence in Ap and AS, SD X.

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