Some Quotations Pertaining to the Subject of Prayer Fellowship
(and Church Fellowship in General)

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:9-10, New King James Version)

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:4-6, New King James Version)

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. (Romans 16:16-18, English Standard Version)

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18, New King James Version)

Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:19-20, New American Bible)

Now they who received his word were baptized, and ... they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of the breaking of the bread and in the prayers. (Acts 2:41-42, Confraternity)

It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. It is as Paul says in Eph. 4:4,5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Augsburg Confession VII:1-4 [German], The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959], p. 32)

...churches will not condemn each other because of a difference in ceremonies, when in Christian liberty one uses fewer or more of them, as long as they are otherwise agreed in doctrine and in all its articles and are also agreed concerning the right use of the holy sacraments, according to the well-known axiom [from Irenaeus], “Disagreement in fasting should not destroy agreement in faith.” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration X:31, Tappert p. 616)

We concede that in this life hypocrites and evil men are mingled with the church and are members of the church according to the outward associations of the church’s marks – that is, Word, confession, and sacraments – especially if they have not been excommunicated. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession VII/VIII:3, Tappert p. 169)

With the abrogation of Levitical worship, the New Testament teaches that there should be a new and pure sacrifice; that is faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession and proclamation of the Gospel, suffering because of the Gospel, etc. About such sacrifices Malachi says (1:11), “From the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering.” ...the prophet’s own words give us his meaning. They say, first, that the name of the Lord will be great. This takes place through the proclamation of the Gospel, which makes known the name of Christ and the Father’s mercy promised in Christ. The proclamation of the Gospel produces faith in those who accept it. They call upon God, they give thanks to God, they bear afflictions in confession, they do good works for the glory of Christ. This is how the name of the Lord becomes great among the nations. Therefore “incense” and “a pure offering” do not refer to a ceremony ex opere operato but to all those sacrifices through which the name of the Lord becomes great, like faith, prayer, proclamation of the Gospel, confession, etc. ... Among the praises of God or sacrifices of praise we include the proclamation of the Word. In the same way, the reception of the Lord’s Supper itself can be praise or thanksgiving... (Apology XXIV:30-33, Tappert pp. 255-56)

We are perfectly willing for the Mass to be understood as a daily sacrifice, provided this means the whole Mass, the ceremony and also the proclamation of the Gospel, faith, prayer, and thanksgiving. Taken together, these are the daily sacrifice of the New Testament; the ceremony was instituted because of them and ought not be separated from them. Therefore Paul says (I Cor. 11:26), “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.” (Apology XXIV:35, Tappert p. 256)

...we keep holy days so that people may have time and opportunity, which otherwise would not be available, to participate in public worship, that is, that they may assemble to hear and discuss God’s Word and then praise God with song and prayer. (Large Catechism I:84, Tappert p. 376). order that the unity of Christendom might be preserved against the sects and heretics, ...the church cannot be better ruled and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ, and all the bishops are equal according to the office – although they may be unequal in their gifts – holding diligently together one unanimous doctrine, creed, sacraments, prayers, and performing works of love, etc. (Schmalkald Articles II, IV:7,9, in William R. Russell, Luther’s Theological Testament [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995], pp. 129-30)

From our exposition friends and foes may clearly understand that we have no intention (since we have no authority to do so) to yield anything of the eternal and unchangeable truth of God for the sake of temporal peace, tranquility, and outward harmony. Nor would such peace and harmony last, because it would be contrary to the truth and actually intended for its suppression. Still less by far are we minded to whitewash or cover up any falsification of true doctrine or any publicly condemned errors. We have a sincere delight in and deep love for true harmony and are cordially inclined and determined on our part to do everything in our power to further the same. We desire such harmony as will not violate God’s honor, that will not detract anything from the divine truth of the holy Gospel, that will not give place to the smallest error but will lead the poor sinner to true and sincere repentance, raise him up through faith, strengthen him in his new obedience, and thus justify and save him for ever through the sole merit of Christ, and so forth. (Solid Declaration XI:95-96, Tappert p. 632)

In order to preserve the pure doctrine and to maintain a thorough, lasting, and God-pleasing concord within the church, it is essential not only to present the true and wholesome doctrine correctly, but also to accuse the adversaries who teach otherwise (I Tim. 3:9; Titus 1:9; II Tim. 2:24; 3:16). “Faithful shepherds,” as Luther states, “must both pasture or feed the lambs and guard against wolves so that they will flee from strange voices and separate the precious from the vile” (John 10:12-16,27; Jer. 15:19). On this point we have reached a basic and mutual agreement that we shall at all times make a sharp distinction between needless and unprofitable contentions (which, since they destroy rather than edify, should never be allowed to disturb the church) and necessary controversy (dissension concerning articles of the Creed or the chief parts of our Christian doctrine, when the contrary error must be refuted in order to preserve the truth). (Solid Declaration, Rule & Norm: 14-15, Tappert pp. 506-07)

...all Christians ought to beware of becoming participants in the impious doctrines, blasphemies, and unjust cruelties of the pope. They ought rather to abandon and execrate the pope and his adherents as the kingdom of the Antichrist. Christ commanded, “Beware of false prophets” (Matt. 7:15). Paul also commanded that ungodly teachers should be shunned and execrated as accursed [cf. Titus 3:10], and he wrote in 2 Cor. 6:14, “Do not be mismated with unbelievers, for what fellowship has light with darkness?” To dissent from the consensus of so many nations and to be called schismatics is a serious matter. But divine authority commands us all not to be associated with and not to support impiety and unjust cruelty. Consequently our consciences are sufficiently excused. The errors of the pope’s kingdom are manifest, and the Scriptures unanimously declare these errors to be doctrines of demons and of the Antichrist [cf. 1 Tim. 4:1]. (Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, 41-42, Tappert pp. 327-28)

Dr. Luther, who understood the true intention of the Augsburg Confession better than any one else, remained by it steadfastly and defended it constantly until he died. Shortly before his death, in his last confession, he repeated his faith in this article with great fervor and wrote as follows: “I reckon them all as belonging together (that is, as Sacramentarians and enthusiasts), for that is what they are who will not believe that the Lord’s bread in the Supper is his true, natural body, which the godless or Judas receive orally as well as St. Peter and all the saints. Whoever, I say, will not believe this, will please let me alone and expect no fellowship from me. This is final.” (Solid Declaration VII:33, Tappert p. 575)

No one shall join in prayers with heretics or schismatics. (Canon XXXIII of the Synod of Laodicea, A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. XIV [The Seven Ecumenical Councils] [Reprint: Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983], p. 149)

...we reply [to the sectarians] with Paul: “A little yeast leavens the whole lump” [1 Cor. 5:6]. In philosophy a tiny error in the beginning is very great at the end. Thus in theology a tiny error overthrows the whole teaching. Therefore doctrine and life should be distinguished as sharply as possible. Doctrine belongs to God, not to us; and we are called only as its ministers. Therefore we cannot give up or change even one dot of it (Matt. 5:18). Life belongs to us; therefore when it comes to this, there is nothing that the Sacramentarians can demand of us that we are not willing and obliged to undertake, condone, and tolerate, with the exception of doctrine and faith, about which we always say what Paul says: “A little yeast, etc.” On this score we cannot yield even a hairbreadth. For doctrine is like a mathematical point. Therefore it cannot be divided; that is, it cannot stand either subtraction or addition. On the other hand, life is like a physical point. Therefore it can always be divided and can always yield something. ... We are surely prepared to observe peace and love with all men, provided that they leave the doctrine of faith perfect and sound for us. If we cannot obtain this, it is useless for them to demand love from us. A curse on a love that is observed at the expense of the doctrine of faith, to which everything must yield – love, an apostle, an angel from heaven, etc.! ... If they believed that it is the Word of God, they would not play around with it this way. No, they would treat it with the utmost respect; they would put their faith in it without any disputing or doubting; and they would know that one Word of God is all and that all are one, that one doctrine is all doctrines and all are one, so that when one is lost all are eventually lost, because they belong together and are held together by a common bond. Therefore let us leave the praise of harmony and of Christian love to them. We, on the other hand, praise faith and the majesty of the Word. Love can sometimes be neglected without danger, but the Word and faith cannot. It belongs to love to bear everything and to yield to everyone. On the other hand, it belongs to faith to bear nothing whatever and to yield to no one. Love yields freely, believes, condones, and tolerates everything. Therefore it is often deceived. Yet when it is deceived, it does not suffer any hardship that can really be called a hardship; that is, it does not lose Christ, and therefore it is not offended but keeps its constancy in doing good even toward those who are unthankful and unworthy. In the issue of salvation, on the other hand, when fanatics teach lies and errors under the guise of truth and make an impression on many, there love is certainly not to be exercised, and error is not to be approved. For what is lost here is not merely a good deed done for someone who is unthankful, but the Word, faith, Christ, and eternal life. Therefore if you deny God in one article of faith, you have denied Him in all; for God is not divided into many articles of faith, but He is everything in each article and He is one in all the articles of faith. (Martin Luther, “Lectures on Galatians” [1535], Luther’s Works, Vol. 27 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964], pp. 37-39)

And he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. [Galatians 5:10b]
With this sentence Paul acts as a judge seated in tribunal and condemns the false apostles; he gives them the exceedingly hateful name “troublers of the Galatians,” even though the latter regarded them as very godly teachers who were far better than Paul. At the same time he wants to arouse the Galatians by means of this horrible sentence which he pronounces on the false apostles with such assurance, so that they will avoid them as the deadliest pestilence. It is as though he were to say: “Why do you listen to those pests, who do not teach you but only trouble you? The doctrine they give you is nothing but the troubling of the conscience. Therefore no matter how great they are, they will have their condemnation.” From the words “whoever he is” it is evident enough that the false apostles were men who appeared to be very good and saintly; and perhaps there was among them some outstanding pupil of the apostles, a man of great prestige and authority. For Paul does not use such powerful and meaningful words without reason. He speaks the same way in the eighth verse of the first chapter: “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” And there is no doubt that they were deeply offended by this violent language of the apostle and thought to themselves: “Why does Paul sin against love? Why is he so stubborn about such a trifle? Why is he so precipitate in pronouncing a sentence of eternal condemnation on those who are just as much ministers of Christ as he is?” He does not hesitate on account of any of this, but with confidence and assurance he goes ahead to curse and condemn those who offend against the doctrine of faith, even though in their outward appearance they are saintly, learned, and highly esteemed men.
In a similar way we today regard those men as excommunicated and condemned who say that the doctrine of the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ is uncertain or who do violence to the words of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. With the utmost rigor we demand that all the articles of Christian doctrine, both large and small – although we do not regard any of them as small – be kept pure and certain. This is supremely necessary. For this doctrine is our only light, which illumines and directs us and shows the way to heaven; if it is overthrown in one point, it must be overthrown completely. And when that happens, our love will not be of any use to us. We can be saved without love and concord with the Sacramentarians, but not without pure doctrine and faith. Otherwise we shall be happy to observe love and concord toward those who faithfully agree with us on all the articles of Christian doctrine. In fact, so far as we are concerned, we shall have peace with our enemies; and we shall pray for those who slander our doctrine and persecute us out of ignorance, but not with those [alternate translation: but we cannot maintain peace with those] who knowingly offend against one or more articles of Christian doctrine and against their conscience.
By his example Paul teaches us to be as firm as he is when he predicts with complete assurance that they will bear their judgment on account of a matter that seemed not only trivial but even wicked to the false apostles and their disciples; for both groups thought they were teaching in a proper and godly way. Therefore, as I often warn you, doctrine must be carefully distinguished from life. Doctrine is heaven; life is earth. In life there is sin, error, uncleanness, and misery, mixed, as the saying goes, “with vinegar.” Here love should condone, tolerate, be deceived, trust, hope, and endure all things (1 Cor. 13:7); here the forgiveness of sins should have complete sway, provided that sin and error are not defended. But just as there is no error in doctrine, so there is no need for any forgiveness of sins. Therefore there is no comparison at all between doctrine and life. “One dot” of doctrine is worth more than “heaven and earth” (Matt. 5:18); therefore we do not permit the slightest offense against it. But we can be lenient toward errors of life. For we, too, err daily in our life and conduct; so do all the saints, as they earnestly confess in the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. But by the grace of God our doctrine is pure; we have all the articles of faith solidly established in Sacred Scripture. The devil would dearly love to corrupt and overthrow these; that is why he attacks us so cleverly with this specious argument about not offending against love and the harmony among the churches. (Luther, “Lectures on Galatians” [1535], Luther’s Works, Vol. 27, pp. 40-42)

By no means is the Word to be considered as lightly as the world considers it, and as some foolish spirits, deceived by the devil in regard to the Sacrament or other heresies, represent it to be. They tell us that one is not to quarrel so violently over one article and disrupt Christian love because of it. Nor should we consign one another to the devil because of it. But, they say, one might well yield and surrender a bit and keep up fraternal and Christian unity and fellowship with those who err in an unimportant point – as long as one agrees with them otherwise. No, my good man, for me none of that peace and unity one gains by the loss of God’s Word! For in that case eternal life and everything else would already be lost. In this matter we dare not budge or concede anything to please you or any man; but all things must yield to the Word, be they friendly or hostile. For the Word is given not in order to achieve external and secular unity and peace but life eternal. Word and doctrine are to create unity or fellowship. Where they are one and the same, the rest will naturally follow; if not, no unity will abide anyway. Therefore do not speak to me of love or friendship when anything is to be detracted from the Word or the faith; for we are told that not love but the Word brings eternal life, God’s grace, and all heavenly treasures. We will gladly keep the peace with them in an external way, as we should do with everybody in the world, even with our worst enemies ... but in doctrine and Christian fellowship we want to have nothing to do with them. Nor do we want to consider them brethren. They are enemies, because they knowingly insist on their error; and we intend to fight against them in our spiritual struggle. Therefore nothing but a satanic, seductive, and sinister strategy is involved when we are called upon to yield a bit and to connive at an error for the sake of unity. In this way the devil is trying cunningly to lead us away from the Word. For if we adopt this course and get together in this matter, he has already gained ground; and if we were to yield him a fingerbreadth, he would soon have an ell. (Luther, Sermon on Ephesians 6:10-17, quoted in What Luther Says [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959], pp. 1411-12)

Because so many of God’s great warnings and admonitions have simply had no effect on them..., I must leave them to their devices and avoid them as the “self-condemned” [autokatakritos, Titus 3:11] who knowingly and intentionally want to be condemned. I must not have any kind of fellowship with any of them, neither by letters, writings, and words, nor in works, as the Lord commands in Matthew 18[:17], whether he is called Stenckefeld [Schwenckfeld], Zwingli, or whatever he is called. I regard them all as being cut from the same piece of cloth, as indeed they are. For they do not want to believe that the Lord’s bread in the Supper is his true, natural body which the godless person or Judas receives orally just as well as St. Peter and all the saints. Whoever (I say) does not want to believe that, let him not trouble me with letters, writings, or words and let him not expect to have fellowship with me. This is final. (Luther, “Brief Confession Concerning the Holy Sacrament,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 38 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971], p. 304)

For it is certain that whoever does not rightly believe in one article of faith, or does not want to believe (after he has been admonished and instructed), he surely believes no article with an earnest and true faith. And whoever is so bold that he dares to deny God or to accuse him of lying in one word, and he does this maliciously in opposition to that about which he was once or twice admonished and instructed, he also dares (and he certainly does it, too) to deny God in all of his words and to accuse him of lying.
For this reason we say that everything is to be believed completely and without exception, or nothing is to be believed. The Holy Spirit does not let himself be divided or cut up so that he should let one point be taught and believed as trustworthy and another as false – except in the case where there are weak believers who are willing to let themselves be instructed and are not stubbornly opposing his truth. Otherwise, if this attitude should obtain that it does not harm anyone if he desires to deny one article of the faith because he still regards all the others as true (although basically this is impossible), then no heretic would ever be condemned, indeed, there could not even be a heretic on earth. For it is characteristic of all heretics that they start by denying one article of the faith; after that, all the articles must suffer the same fate and they must all be denied, just as the ring, when it gets a crack or a chink, is totally worthless. And if a bell cracks at one place, it does not chime any more and is completely useless. (Luther, “Brief Confession Concerning the Holy Sacrament,” p. 308)

How often and repeatedly have I desired that the people in Bohemia who are called the Waldensians or Pikarts would show me their faith plainly and clearly, so that I might be able to discern how near or far they are from us, or from the right Christian understanding, especially since they have been so vehemently condemned and denounced as heretics by the Papists...
I have now read many of their writings and books, and yet I am still not able to understand some of the words and expressions that they use in discussing the Sacraments and matters of faith (for they sound to my ears much different than the way we speak of them). And I know, to be sure, that one ought not to dispute about words and expressions where there is no conflict otherwise in their sense and intention. “A bird sings in accord with the shape of its beak,” and each language has its own idiom for speaking about things, as is discovered quickly enough when one language must be translated into another. Because of this, we finally came together to talk about it orally as well.
After much discussion, especially concerning the Sacrament of our Lord Jesus Christ’s body and blood (since I was very suspicious of them on this point), I found that they speak a little differently from our own creed in their words or speech, on account of the Papists (concerning transubstantiation and the opus operatum). Yet fundamentally they agree with us and believe just as we do, that the true body and blood of Christ are received in the Sacrament, etc. When I understood this, I became more kindly disposed toward their actions, since, in all other respects, they did not teach falsely, or hold to a false view of the Holy Trinity, Christ, eternal life, or any other articles of faith. And I concluded that, since they had remained so close to the Scriptures, it was unjust that they had been accused as heretics...
Because I would like to see all the world living in concord with us and us with the world in the same faith in Christ – and if this could not be achieved in words, then at least in heart and mind – I have had this little book, by the aforementioned Brethren in Bohemia, published so that all good Christians may read and see for themselves how close to each other or how far from each other we are, and whether God, the Father of all mercy [2 Cor. 1:3], through His dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, would give His rich grace so that division would diminish and the factions might, in part, be reconciled in concord in the same understanding and spirit, until at last we might together with one accord praise Christ with the same words and manner of speech. For though I am unable to adopt the manner of speaking of the aforementioned Brethren, I will not, on the other hand, pressure them or force them to speak exactly the way I do, as long as we otherwise come to and remain in agreement concerning the substance, until God further disposes matters according to His will.
... I recommend that this little book be read and judged by all good Christians. And I ask that they, together with us, would pray to God our Father for unanimity of doctrine and faith. But if somebody should say that this little book does not go far enough, let him look at how humbly they present themselves. And even if this has earned them nothing else, nevertheless it is only fair that they should be acknowledged as the broken reed and smoldering wick [Isa. 42:3], for we ourselves are not yet entirely complete and perfect either. But since we do not intend to persecute or harm each other, but to assist and help, let St. Paul, in the meantime, be our arbitrator and mediator. For he says in Romans 15[:7]: “Receive one another as Christ has received you, for the glory of God.” And again in Romans 14[:1]: “As for the one who is weak in faith, receive him,” etc., until everything becomes clear and complete. May the Father of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Father of all peace and unity, praised and blessed in eternity, grant this to us! Amen. (Luther, “Preface to Account of the Faith, Worship, and Ceremonies of the Brethren in Bohemia and Moravia” [1533], Luther’s Works, Vol. 60 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011], pp. 20-23. Emphases added.).

Since my Most Gracious Lord [the Elector] has requested an answer to the question of how far one could go in making concessions to the King of England regarding the articles [the “Wittenberg Articles,” a doctrinal statement drafted in 1536 by Saxon and English theologians], it is my judgment, dear Mr. Vice-Chancellor, that in this matter we are unable to concede anything beyond what has been already conceded. If one wishes to talk about the issues or to formulate the results in different words it suits me fine (so that we do not appear to be contemptuous of the ability of other people). Yet it is impossible that the articles and the central points be believed or taught differently. ... Of course it is true that one must patiently realize that in England not everything can be abruptly put into practice according to the teaching (just as among us it also did not go swiftly). Nevertheless the central points must not be changed or abandoned. (Luther, Letter to Francis Burchart [1536], Luther’s Works, Vol. 50 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975], pp. 140-41)

It is by your silence and cloaking that you cast suspicion upon yourself. If you believe as you declare in my presence, then speak so also in the church, in public lectures, in sermons, and in private conversations, and strengthen your brethren, and lead the erring back to the right path, and contradict the contumacious spirits; otherwise your confession is sham pure and simple, and worth nothing. Whoever really regards his doctrine, faith and confession as true, right, and certain cannot remain in the same stall with such as teach, or adhere to, false doctrine; nor can he keep on giving friendly words to Satan and his minions. A teacher who remains silent when errors are taught, and nevertheless pretends to be a true teacher, is worse than an open fanatic and by his hypocrisy does greater damage than a heretic. Nor can he be trusted. He is a wolf and a fox, a hireling and a servant of his belly, and ready to despise and to sacrifice doctrine, Word, faith, Sacrament, churches, and schools. He is either a secret bedfellow of the enemies or a skeptic and a weathervane, waiting to see whether Christ or the devil will prove victorious; or he has no convictions of his own whatever, and is not worthy to be called a pupil, let alone a teacher; nor does he want to offend anybody, or say a word in favor of Christ, or hurt the devil and the world. (Luther, Statement to George Major, in F. Bente, “Historical Introduction to the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church,” Concordia Triglotta [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921], p. 94)

We observe the Lord’s Day, Christmas, Easter, and similar holidays in a way that is completely free. We do not burden consciences with these observances; nor do we teach, as did the false apostles and as do the papists, that they are necessary for justification or that we can make satisfaction for our sins through them. But their purpose is that everything be done in the church in an orderly way and without confusion, so that external harmony may not be disturbed; for in the spirit we have another kind of harmony. ... Most of all, however, we observe such holidays to preserve the ministry of the Word, so that the people may gather on certain days and at certain seasons to hear the Word, to learn to know God, to have Communion, to pray together for every need, and to thank God for His spiritual and temporal blessings. And I believe that this was the chief reason why the fathers instituted the Lord’s Day, Easter, Pentecost, etc. (Luther, “Lectures on Galatians” [1535], Luther’s Works, Vol. 26 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963], pp. 411-12) their nature preaching and prayer are connected with each other. It is impossible to pray unless one has first instructed the people concerning God. In fact, you will never pray successfully in private unless you have preached to yourself either the Creed or some other passage of Scripture that draws your attention to the goodness of God as the One who has not only commanded you to pray but has also added the promise that He will hear you. Through this private sermon, which you direct to yourself, your heart is impelled to pray. The same thing takes place publicly in our churches. We have no silent forms of worship, but the voice of the Gospel is always heard. Through it men are taught about the will of God. And to the sermons we add prayers or thanksgivings. Similarly in 1 Cor. 14[:13] Paul desires that the churches should first be taught and exhorted. Then thanksgiving or prayer may properly follow. Zechariah (12:10) promises that the Lord will pour out the Spirit of grace and of supplication. It is the Spirit of grace who gives instruction concerning the will of God and incites men to faith by praising the mercy of God. The Spirit of prayer follows Him, for those who know that God is reconciled and propitious call upon Him in danger with a firm hope of deliverance. Thus preaching and prayer are always together. (Luther, “Lectures on Genesis,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 2 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1960], p. 333)

...the holy Christian people are externally recognized by prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God. Where you see and hear the Lord’s Prayer prayed and taught; or psalms or other spiritual songs sung, in accordance with the word of God and the true faith; also the creed, the Ten Commandments, and the catechism used in public, you may rest assured that a holy Christian people of God are present. For prayer, too, is one of the precious holy possessions whereby everything is sanctified, as St. Paul says [I Tim. 4:5]. The psalms too are nothing but prayers in which we praise, thank, and glorify God. The creed and the Ten Commandments are also God’s word and belong to the holy possession, whereby the Holy Spirit sanctifies the holy people of Christ. However, we are now speaking of prayers and songs which are intelligible and from which we can learn and by means of which we can mend our ways. The clamor of monks and nuns and priests is not prayer, nor is it praise to God; for they do not understand it, nor do they learn anything from it; they do it like a donkey, only for the sake of the belly and not at all in quest of any reform or sanctification or of the will of God. (Luther, “On the Councils and the Church,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 41 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966], p. 164)

Our adversary says that mere bread and wine are present, not the body and blood of the Lord. If they believe and teach wrongly here, then they blaspheme God and are giving the lie to the Holy Spirit, betray Christ, and seduce the world. One side must be of the devil, and God’s enemy. There is no middle ground. Now let every faithful Christian see whether this is a minor matter, as they say, or whether God’s Word is to be trifled with. Here you have the fanatics and their spirit. I have often said, no ungodly man can have a high regard for God’s Word. These fanatics demonstrate forthrightly that they regard the words and works of Christ as nothing but human prattle, like the opinions of academic hairsplitters, which ought fairly to yield to love and unity. But a faithful Christian knows clearly that God’s Word concerns God’s glory, the Spirit, Christ, grace, everlasting life, death, sin, and all things. These, however, are not minor matters! You see, this is how they seek God’s glory, as they boast everywhere.
Neither does it help them to assert that at all other points they have a high and noble regard for God’s words and the entire gospel, except in this matter. My friend, God’s Word is God’s Word; this point does not require much haggling! When one blasphemously gives the lie to God in a single word, or says it is a minor matter if God is blasphemed or called a liar, one blasphemes the entire God and makes light of all blasphemy. There is only one God who does not permit himself to be divided, praised at one place and chided at another, glorified in one word and scorned in another. The Jews believe the Old Testament, but because they do not believe Christ, it does them no good. You see, the circumcision of Abraham [Gen. 17:10 ff.] is now an old dead thing and no longer necessary or useful. But if I were to say that God did not command it in its time, it would do me no good even if I believed the gospel. So St. James asserts, “Whoever offends in one point is guilty in all respects” [James 2:10]. He possibly heard the apostles say that all the words of God must be believed or none, although he applies their interpretation to the works of the law.
Why is it any wonder, then, if fickle fanatics juggle and play the clown with the words of the Supper according to their fancy, since at this point they are convicted of belittling God’s words and concerns, and making them secondary to human love? Just as if God must yield to men, and let the authority of his Word depend on whether men are at one or at odds over it. How can one believe that these fanatics teach rightly and well, when they are clearly found to be entertaining such devilish ideas and advising things which make for the despising, blaspheming, and disgrace of God and our eternal death and destruction, and who yet think they have acted wisely and presented a salutary Christian teaching?
But we poor sinners, who are altogether devoid of Spirit, have this to say out of the holy gospel against these holy Christians, “He who loves father and mother, wife and child, house and home, or even his own soul more than me is not worthy of me” [Matt. 10:37]. And again, “I have not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword” [Matt. 10:34]. And Paul, “What accord has Christ with Belial?” [II Cor. 6:15]. If we are to practice Christian unity with them and extend Christian love to them, we must also love and be satisfied with, or at least tolerate, their doctrine and behavior. Let anyone do that if he wishes. Not I. For Christian unity consists in the Spirit, when we are of one faith, one mind, one heart, Ephesians 4[:3 ff.]. This, however, we will gladly do: in civil matters we are glad to be one with them, i.e. to maintain outward, temporal peace. But in spiritual matters, as long as we have breath, we intend to shun, condemn, and censure them, as idolaters, corrupters of God’s Word, blasphemers, and liars; and meanwhile, to endure from them, as from enemies, their persecution and schism as far and as long as God endures them; and to pray for them, and admonish them to stop. But to acquiesce in, keep silence over, or approve their blaspheming, this we shall not and cannot do. (Luther, “That These Words of Christ, ‘This is my Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], pp. 26-27)

We must confess that the doctrine which was declared and submitted at Augsburg is the true and pure Word of God, and that all who believe and keep it are children of God and will be saved, whether they already believe it or will be illuminated later. For this Confession will endure to the end of the world on Judgment Day. It is indeed written that whosoever believeth on Him and shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom. 10:11,13). And we must take note not only of those who will be added in the future, but also of the Christian church, which preaches the Word, and of our own people, according to the word: “As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), which passage excludes none; therefore all who believe and live according to the teaching of the [Augsburg] Confession and its Apology are our brethren, and their peril concerns us as much as does our own. As members of the true church we dare not forsake them, regardless of when they join us, whether they do so secretly or openly, whether they live among us or in the diaspora. This we say and confess. (Luther, “Opinion on the Recess of the Imperial Diet” [1530]; quoted in C. F. W. Walther, The True Visible Church [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961], p. 44)

We regard the Calvinistic-Reformed as an irregular (anwmalw) part of the church universal and as a very corrupted ecclesiastical body (systema) with which we must not practice fellowship of worship, least of all in celebrating the Lord’s Supper, because with regard to it they tolerate no little corruption. (Valentin Ernst Loescher, Unschuldige Nachrichten von alten und neuen theologischen Sachen [1709], p. 293; quoted in Walther, The True Visible Church, p. 19)

From the first quarter of the nineteenth century there has been a general breaking down of the old landmarks in this country. Popular and influential forms of embodying union sentiment have become more and more common. We have Sunday School and Tract Unions, union revivals, union prayer meetings, the Evangelical Alliance, Young Men’s Christian Associations, all involving compromise on the [basis of the] principles of individualism and all tending to laxity and indifferentism. The world has been coming into the church with its easygoing policy. There has been a large influx of unworthy professors [of the faith], a relaxation of discipline, a spirit of social complaisance taking the place of principle. ... The struggle of indifferentism was at first against making the doctrines in which “the Evangelical denominations” differ a test. But the struggle at this hour is against making any doctrines a test. Denominationalism with spread sails filling in the gale of unionism, and without pilot or helmsman, is bearing full upon the rock of absolute individualism. When the rock is fairly struck, the vessel will go to the bottom. (Charles Porterfield Krauth, “The Right Relation to Denominations in America,” Lutheran Confessional Theology in America, 1840-1880 [New York: Oxford University Press, 1972], pp. 112-13)

The voice of the Holy Spirit is heard through the voice of the preacher or the voices of the united congregation in confession, prayer and hymn (which are also different forms of preaching...). (Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith [Philadelphia: The United Lutheran Publication House, 1905], pp. 290-91)

On this subject [of union services] there is a great variety of opinion in our Lutheran Church. Some Lutheran bodies are quite strict, and will hold fellowship only with those with whom they are in full doctrinal agreement. Others are more lax and are ready at least occasionally to hold united services with those who do not see eye to eye with them upon certain doctrines. Which is right?
This is not a new question in the Church. The Reformation of the sixteenth century took place because of the conviction of the Reformers that the outward, organized Church of their day had departed in many respects from the teaching of the Scriptures. If the formal principle of the Reformation is correct, viz., that the Scriptures are the only source and standard of faith and life, this principle ought still to hold good.
Luther held firmly to this principle and carried it out consistently. When Zwingli and his co-reformers, without full agreement, offered to him the hand of fellowship, he rejected it saying, “You have a different spirit from us.” And it is agreed by Church historians that by this attitude Luther saved the Reformation from degenerating into rationalism and splitting up into sects. By this action he exalted and glorified the Word of God and assigned to it its rightful position in the Church.
But there are many in the Lutheran Church today who would reverse his action. Zwingli was magnanimous in their eyes and Luther was narrow-minded and obstinate. They are ready to acknowledge the Reformed as their brethren and to join with them in special services and in the observance of “weeks of prayer,” and even to admit them to their own pulpits and altars. Whether this is right or not, the Word of God must decide.
Let us see what is the sort of union that our Lord desires. Is He interested in a big Church in which are found all sorts of doctrines or opinions? He says, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” [John 8:32]. His idea is not union, but unity. In His High-priestly prayer for His own He prays, “That they all may be one as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” [John 17:21]. This is certainly not a prayer for outward union, but for such a union in faith as characterizes the union between the Father and the Son in the Holy Trinity, where no differences can possibly exist. Further, He says, “And ye also shall bear witness” [John 15:27], and again, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me” [Acts 1:8]. He thus designates the Church as His witness-bearer.
Now the Church cannot be true to Him or bear effective witness to Him and deny any truth that He proclaims or compromise that truth. When it does so it is departing from the Word of the Lord and is teaching in its stead the doctrines and commandments of men.
Against such action the New Testament utters frequent warning. We are urged to “try the spirits whether they are of God” [1 John 4:1]. We are admonished to be on our guard against perverters of God’s Word: “If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him godspeed” [2 John 10]. We are admonished to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” [Jude 3].
St. Paul tells us expressly, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” And, lest this should not be sufficiently impressive, he repeats the injunction in the very next verse in similar words: “And as we said before, so say I now again. If any man preach any other Gospel unto you than that which ye have received, let him be accursed” [Galatians 1:8-9].
And in the last book and the last chapter of our Holy Bible, stern warning is administered against adding to or subtracting from the Word [Revelation 22:18-19]. The Word is the Lord’s and must prevail. It has been entrusted to the Church to keep it and preserve it, not to alter, compromise or change it. The Church has no right to withhold confession of any revealed truth. It is nothing short of spiritual adultery to reject any known truth of God’s Word. We may be very liberal in our estimation of rites and ceremonies and all other matters of purely human institution; but we must ever bow to the authority of God’s Holy Word.
It is not in vain that our Augsburg Confession says that for the true unity of the Church there must be agreement on the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. And if the differences between the Lutherans and the Reformed in Reformation times were sufficient to prevent fellowship between them and to justify the organization and perpetuation of different Church bodies, these differences still hold good and should prevent all union between them, whether permanent, or occasional.
Faithfulness to the one and only standard, the Holy Word of God, should be the determinative factor in all fellowship. Some may call this “narrow”; but it is no narrower than God’s Word. The Church that does not stand for definite teaching has no right to separate existence, and it dare not keep silence or compromise or yield its definite teaching. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” [Isaiah 8:20]. (C. H. Little, “Question of Union Services,” Disputed Doctrines [Burlington, Iowa: Lutheran Literary Board, 1933], pp. 80-82)

The Church was founded by the apostles through the outpouring of the Holy Ghost and the institution of Baptism. From the Day of Pentecost the requirement for all who would connect themselves with the Church was that they should be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38,41; 8:12; 10:48; 18:8). The Lord’s Supper was also observed and became the central bond of union by which the Church was preserved in brotherly fellowship in common participation in the doctrine of the apostles and in prayer (Acts 2:42). This fellowship expressed itself in provision for the poor through the voluntary selling of possessions and the turning of proceeds from the same into the common treasury (Acts 4:37; 5:4). (Little, New Testament Handbook [1939], p. 121)

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 churches. ...
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; 1 Cor. 1:10; cf. 15:1-4; 10:16,17; 11:22-34; 12:13; ch. 14; 2 Cor. Chs. 8,9. ...
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 faith, and when spoken before others, a profession of faith. As a profession of faith it must be in harmony with and under the control of the marks of the church. Dan. 9:18; Acts 9:11; Gal. 4:6; Rom. 10:8-14; 1 Tim. 2:1,2; Acts 27:35. – Ap XIII:16; XXIII:30,31; LC, Lord’s Prayer: 13-30. (Theses 11-13 of Fellowship in Its Necessary Context of the Doctrine of the Church [Statement of the Overseas Committee], Proceedings of the Recessed Forty-sixth Convention of the Lutheran Synodical Conference, 1961, pp. 11-12)

The Overseas Brethren sent a delegation to the United States in April, 1961, to present their evaluations of the papers on fellowship [that had been prepared by representatives of the ELS, LCMS, SELC, and WELS], as well as their own presentation, to the individual committees of the Synodical Conference. ... Their presentation on church fellowship was entitled: “Fellowship in Its Necessary Context of the Doctrine of the Church”... The ELS Committee was favorably impressed with the presentation on church fellowship by the Overseas Brethren. In a preliminary evaluation, the Committee stated: “As especially pertinent we throughout all of the theses note the emphasis placed on the notae ecclesiae [marks of the church, i.e. Word and sacraments] as bestowing faith, bringing the Church into existence, and as being the standard by which all the doctrine and practice in the church are to be regulated. Equally important is the attempt in these theses to eliminate the subjective element for recognizing the presence of the true Church and for setting up principles for Church Fellowship... We also find it particularly gratifying to note the importance of making the actual confession of a church (i.e., what is taught, written, practiced, or officially resolved by it) the basis upon which church fellowship can be established and maintained.” (Theodore A. Aaberg, A City Set on a Hill [Mankato, Minnesota: Board of Publications, Evangelical Lutheran Synod, 1968], pp. 232-33)

...we agree with the substance of the Overseas Statement “Fellowship in Its Necessary Context of the Doctrine of the Church” (not including the addendum beginning with the words “This statement bears...”) as being in accord with Scriptures. ...we do not expect church bodies in fellowship with us to formulate their position on church fellowship according to our approach or in line with our terminology, but only that our position be acknowledged as being in harmony with the Scriptures. (Statement from the WELS Commission on Doctrinal Matters to the Representatives of the SELK [1973], Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 4 [Oct. 1973], pp. 276-77)

Let us be frank to admit that we ourselves are not always as clear and sharp as we should be in distinguishing and repudiating subjective faith as the basis for the acknowledgment and exercise of church fellowship. We all need the admonition contained in Thesis 11 of the Overseas Brethren Theses on Church Fellowship... It is fides quae, that which is believed, that is, the doctrine, the objective truth of God’s Word that is the basis for the Christian’s acknowledgment and exercise of church fellowship with other Christians here on earth. (Aaberg, “The Doctrine of Church Fellowship” [Mankato, Minnesota: Evangelical Lutheran Synod], p. 9)

The Overseas Brethren, in their theses of 1961, in keeping with their emphasis on the marks of the church, the Word and sacraments, distinguish between pulpit and altar fellowship, on the one hand, and prayer fellowship on the other hand, but not in such a way as to set a different standard for the one or the other. (Aaberg, “The Doctrine of Church Fellowship,” pp. 17-18)

Joint prayer, praying with someone, is always an act of Christian fellowship even as it is always an act of Christian fellowship to go to Holy Communion together at the same altar. Of a handshake I may say: This handshake as you are installed as pastor is an expression of our unity of faith and is an act of Christian fellowship. Another handshake may be a mere friendly greeting with no religious fellowship implications. When we pray together, however, we cannot say: This prayer is nothing more than an act of friendship. The fact is that joint prayer always has religious implications, simply because prayer always is, or should be, a religious action. (Armin Schuetze, “Joining Together in Prayer and the Lord’s Supper: The Scriptural Principles of Fellowship Applied to Prayer and Holy Communion,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 93, No. 2 [Spring 1996], p. 123)

From the outset prayer fellowship has been common worship of God, and where common worship cannot be practiced, Christians are not to carry on prayer fellowship. Take note of it well: with whom they were of one mind and continued in the Apostles’ doctrine and in the breaking of bread, with whom they were united in hearing the Word of God and in the use of the sacraments, in the use of the means of grace, with those the first Christians also continued to observe prayer fellowship [Acts 2:42]. ... Prayer is a part of the divine worship. (August L. Graebner, Nebraska District Proceedings, 1903, p. 74; quoted in “Fellowship Then and Now,” Essays on Church Fellowship [Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1996], p. 364)

The passages which prohibit pulpit fellowship and altar fellowship apply with equal force to prayer fellowship. Uniting with errorists in joint worship in general, and common prayer in particular, is not avoiding them, Rom. 16:17, but recognizing their position as God-pleasing, 2 John 10:11. Furthermore joint prayer like joint communion is the outward expression of inward fellowship. ... If we could fellowship the representatives of false teaching in uniting with them in prayer, we could consistently exchange pulpits with them and meet with them at a common altar. (Theodore Engelder, quoted in the Confessional Lutheran, Feb. 1946, pp. 18-19; quoted in turn in “Fellowship Then and Now,” p. 366)

These scriptural principles of church fellowship were upheld by the Lutherans in Poland under the leadership of the seventeenth century dogmaticians [Abraham] Calov and [Johann] Huelsemann at the Colloquy of Thorn in 1645. The King of Poland convened this Colloquy hoping to resolve the disagreements between the Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and the Reformed in his domain. The Roman Catholics and the Reformed favored opening the meeting with prayer. Although they found no fault with the content of the prayer suggested, the Lutherans declined to practice prayer fellowship with the Roman Catholics and the Reformed. It appears that there could be no joint prayer for these Lutheran fathers without complete agreement in doctrine. (Gaylin Schmeling, “The Theology of Church Fellowship,” Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2 [June 1993], p. 44)

It must be added that unity of faith and doctrine in the Church is not a perfect and absolute one in this life; for at times controversies occur between members of the true Church through which this holy unity is torn. We therefore have to distinguish between that absolute, perfect unity, free from every form of disharmony, which is found nowhere except in the Church Triumphant, and that fundamental unity, which consists in agreement concerning the principal articles of doctrine, while with respect to a few less important points of faith (fidei capitibus) or to ceremonies which are a matter of indifference or to the interpretation of some Scripture passages controversies will arise. And this is the unity obtaining in the Church Militant; for in this Church there is never found such a definite harmony that no disagreements arise in it. “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part,” 1 Cor. 13:9. ... The truly pious are not yet perfectly renewed but retain remnants of the flesh. Hence they do not arrive at an accurate and perfect knowledge of the mysteries of faith but err and waver with respect to some of them. The flesh in the regenerate still strives against the spirit, for which reason it can easily happen, especially if the temptation of the devil also enters, that, giving way to wrong, carnal ideas, they create dissensions in the Church; however, if they do not become guilty of stubbornness and if the foundation is not shaken, they are not at once cut off from the body of the Church on this account. This is proved by the examples given in Acts 11:2; Gal. 2:11; Acts 15:39. In the Corinthian church divisions had arisen, profanations of the Eucharist had crept in, there were acrimonious debates about adiaphora, some persons doubted the article of the resurrection, etc.; in spite of all this, however, Paul does not refuse to call the assembly a church, but in addressing it, he terms it still a church of God, 1 Cor. 1:2. In the church of the Galatians the article of justification had been corrupted through the adulterations of false apostles; but since the members were still open to instruction and some of them still retained the true faith, Paul still calls the Galatian congregations, churches, Gal. 1: 2. ... Hence it is certain that a total and real absolute unity cannot be hoped for in this life. And therefore not every disagreement at once dissolves union and unity in the Church. (John Gerhard, Loc. de Eccles., 5, 231; quoted in C. F. W. Walther, “The False Arguments for the Modern Theory of Open Questions” [Die falschen Stuetzen der modernen Theorie von den offenen Fragen] [translated by William Arndt and Alexander Guebert], Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. 10 [1939], No. 5, pp. 351-52)

...the sessions of the Free Conferences, called by Dr. [C. F. W.] Walther and conducted during the years 1856 to 1859, were opened with joint prayer although the participants came from synods that were not in confessional fellowship. What was the situation? ... At that time a great number of Lutheran synods were united in the General Synod, organized in 1820. The confessional stance of that body was, generally speaking, unionistic. In the General Synod’s constitution, the Lutheran Confessions were not even mentioned. There was, however, also an increasing number of men in the General Synod who defended the Confessions. ... The confessional stand of the nominally Lutheran General Synod and of its constituent districts was indeed in flux and in confusion. In 1856 Dr. Walther...suggested the calling of free conferences of such Lutherans as subscribed to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession without reservation, to discuss the situation and to pave the way for a doctrinally united, truly Lutheran Church in North America. Having received encouragement from numerous favorable replies, he published an invitation, signed by himself and four other men from St. Louis. It read: “The undersigned ministers of the Ev. Luth. Church in the United States, with the conviction that the unity and the well-being of our Lutheran Zion will be greatly advanced through the free expression of opinions regarding the various interests of our church in this land by brethren who are united in faith, herewith extend an invitation to all members of the Ev. Luth. Church in the United States who hold the Unaltered Augsburg Confession to be a true presentation of the teachings of the Word of God to meet with a free and brotherly conference concerning the status and needs of the church in America” [Lehre und Wehre, 1856, p. 186f. – emphasis ours.]. ... The invitation was based on a wholehearted acceptance of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. ... Under the circumstances, wholehearted acceptance of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession showed a readiness to submit to the full truth of the Scriptures. ... The invitation was not extended to church bodies, but was a general call for individuals who wanted to be confessional Lutherans to step forth. reported in the Lutheraner: “This led to the question as to how we are to look upon those who indeed for themselves accept the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, but who belong to a church body that does not recognize the binding force of this confession as a symbol. ... This question was answered in this way, that we acknowledge such as brethren as long as they testify with vigor against the prevailing errors and for the truth. It was also stated that we consider it their duty to continue membership in their respective church bodies as long as there still is a basis for hope of improvement” [Lutheraner, 1856, p. 50.]. Thus the fellowship expressed at the Free Conferences was not with the unionistic General Synod, but with whoever stepped forward with a positive confession for the truth and against the General Synod’s laxness. Therefore, since the Free Conferences consisted of men who confessed unreserved acceptance of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, there was present a fundamental unity. Whatever errors one or the other may have held, was a matter of weakness and not of persistence. To refuse joint prayer under such circumstances would have been a violation of the brotherhood.
In 1866, representatives of the Missouri Synod met in a colloquy with representatives of the Buffalo Synod. In the following year, a similar meeting was held with representatives of the Iowa Synod. The reports of both colloquies make mention of the devotional services with which all meetings were opened. ... The confessional position of the Lutheran church bodies in America was still in flux. ... The Buffalo Synod accepted the invitation of the Missouri Synod for a colloquy, stating that they wanted to do everything they could “with the gracious help of God to arrive at unity of doctrine and peace and reconciliation” [Lutheraner, 1866, p. 28.]. Under the circumstances, they could hardly be considered as such who were set and hardened in error. They were men whose doctrinal position was somewhat uncertain, but who were looking for the truth and willing to bow to the Word of God. To understand the Missouri Synod’s relationship toward the Iowa Synod at the colloquy of 1867, we must remember that in 1866 and 1867 the General Council was organized. Since the General Synod continued in its unionism, the General Council was to provide a spiritual home for such Lutherans as held faithfully to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. However, the General Council also proved inadequate because it failed to take a clear and definite stand with regard to the so-called Four Points (Lodgery, Pulpit Fellowship, Altar Fellowship, Chiliasm). Among the synods which for this reason refused to join the General Council was the Iowa Synod. This showed that the Iowa Synod was in earnest with its acceptance of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. (The Wisconsin Synod had first joined the General Council, but then left it when further testimony appeared to be of no avail.) The dividing line separating the various synods was the stand a body confessed with respect to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. There was a fundamental unity drawing these confessional bodies together, although clarity was often woefully lacking. Thus, when representatives of the Missouri and of the Iowa Synods met for a colloquy, the question was not, Can unity be attained? but, Can unity, threatened by some error, be preserved? The aim was to overcome the unclarity and to avert a breach. Since basic unity of confession, though threatened by error, was present between Missouri and Iowa, opening the session of the colloquy with joint prayer was in place. This was hardly joint prayer with representatives of bodies who were persistently adhering to an error. (“Fellowship Then and Now,” pp. 353-57)

Those are in fundamental agreement who, without any reservation, submit to the Word of God. When the Word of God has spoken in any matter, that matter is settled. There may be things that some men have not yet found in their study of the Bible; there may be matters with reference to which they have accustomed themselves to an inadequate mode of expression; yet, no matter what their deficiency may be, they are determined to accept the Bible doctrine. Where such is the case, there is fundamental agreement. ... A fundamental agreement is all the church can ever hope to attain here on earth. We are not all equally gifted; one has a much clearer and a much more comprehensive insight into God’s doctrines than another. We all strive to grow daily in understanding. Besides, when once we have accustomed ourselves to a faulty or an inadequate expression, it is not only difficult to unlearn the particular phrase and to acquire a proper one, but the inadequate term may tend also to warp our views on other points. Yet, in spite of all such differences, where there is an unconditional willingness to hear what God has to say in his Word, there is fundamental agreement. (John P. Meyer, “Unionism,” Essays on Church Fellowship, pp. 63-64)

Complete uniformity in the use of doctrinal terminology is not necessary for church fellowship. We should not battle about mere words (2 Timothy 2:14-26). In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, Paul warns against a false teacher called the “man of sin” (KJV) or the “man of lawlessness” (NIV). In 1 John 4:3, John calls this same false teacher the “Antichrist.” Even though they used different names for this false teacher, Paul and John agreed on the doctrine concerning his coming. It, therefore, would not be right to deny fellowship to someone who had the same teaching that we have, but who used different words to express it. (John F. Brug, Church Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth [Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1996], pp. 36-37)

...Jesus stated that even the law against work on the Sabbath permitted exceptions for the priests offering sacrifices or for anyone helping individuals or even animals in distress. The Pharisees’ mistake was that they had forgotten that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). We shouldn’t forget that fellowship principles were made for man; man wasn’t made for fellowship principles. If we remember that God desires “mercy, not sacrifice,” we won’t condemn the innocent (Matthew 12:7). (Brug, p. 119)

Do we hold that the exercise of church fellowship, especially prayer and altar fellowship, can be decided in every instance solely on the basis of formal church membership, that is, on whether or not the person belongs to a congregation or synod in affiliation with us? No. Ordinarily this is the basis on which such a question is decided since church fellowship is exercised on the basis of one’s confession to the pure marks of the church, and ordinarily we express our confession by our church membership. There may be cases in the exercise of church fellowship where a person’s informal confession of faith must also be considered. This is especially true regarding the weak. But whether one is guided by a person’s formal or informal confession of faith, in either instance it must in principle be a confession to the full truth of God’s Word. In addition, special care must be exercised so as not to cause offense to others or to interfere with another man’s ministry. Further, we are not to judge harshly concerning the manner in which a brother pastor after much agonizing handles such difficult cases. (“A reply of the WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations and of the ELS Board of Theology and Church Relations based on their synods’ public confession on the doctrine of church fellowship to a question regarding church fellowship raised by pastors from the Conference of Authentic Lutherans,” Lutheran Sentinel, Vol. 59, No. 14 [July 22, 1976], pp. 220-21)

The principles of church fellowship set forth in the Scriptures do not change. God’s Word always remains the same; however, the manner in which these principles are applied may vary as different circumstances arise. The principles of church fellowship are not legalistic rules but loving directives of the Lord for the good of his church. They must be applied in the spirit of the gracious Savior who loved us so much that he gave his life for us. There will be times when prayer together with other Lutheran Christians or even with Christians of other denominations may be proper, such as when it is apparent that their membership in the false church body is the result of a weak faith which does not fully understand the error of the church body, or it is clear that they actually do not share in the error at all. In such situations one must consider more than the confession of their church membership. There will be times when it will be necessary to attend the worship services of an erring church, such as at the wedding or funeral of a loved one. Here care must be taken so that such attendance is not understood as agreement with the doctrine of the erring church.
The highly individualistic spirit of the times and the abandonment in practice of formal confessions of faith by many church bodies have resulted in many individuals being put in a state of flux regarding their religious convictions and confessions. They do not necessarily hold to the teaching of the church body to which they belong. They may indeed be open to instruction from the Word and may be seeking direction. When such individuals come to us, we cannot always deal with them solely on the basis of their formal confession of faith which they make by their formal church membership. One has to also consider their informal confession of faith. However, this informal confession too must be considered on the basis of the true marks of the church. (Schmeling, pp. 46-47) private situations the same biblical principles must be applied that guide us in our public actions. There is, however, this difference. In public actions the matter of offense more readily becomes a factor. This may not be present in private situations. In public we must carefully guard lest our prayer practices give the impression of indifference to doctrine, or even of agreement with false doctrine, either of which may be harmful to someone’s faith. In private situations the personal confession of the individual may be expressed in such a way that calls for recognition. Not to acknowledge it could prove harmful to that person’s faith. Particularly weakness in faith and understanding may in private situations call for action that may not be possible in public. (Schuetze, p. 127)

We may visit a sick relative or friend who is not of our fellowship. What do I do? Must I avoid any religious discussion and prayer? This may be a fruitful opportunity for Christian witness, to strengthen the sick person’s faith, to proclaim the Lord’s forgiveness, mercy, power to help, and faithfulness. But what about prayer? A simple confession of faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior from sin and the only hope for salvation may be the only confession I need to join this sick person in approaching the throne of grace in prayer. This confession may well show that a person’s membership in a heterodox church is a weakness, that in this private situation his personal confession supersedes anything else I may know. When a confession is lacking I can still pray for the person, also in his presence. This is a time to build and strengthen faith.
We may come upon a person who is seriously hurt, a total stranger. What if that person should request that I pray with him? If there is no possibility for any kind of confession, I can speak a prayer to the Lord Jesus in his behalf. This may well comfort and meet the needs of someone who has faith in the Lord Jesus. If the person was a pious pagan, the Christian message in the prayer is the Holy Spirit’s means that may prove effective. On the other hand, if there is opportunity for a gospel witness and a response of faith, under these circumstances this is the only confession I need to join this person in prayer in his desperate need. (Schuetze, p. 128)

It is the public confession of their church that governs our public fellowship relationships with our family or friends. ... In our private relationships with them, we may also consider their personal confession. For example, if they are dissenting members of a heterodox Lutheran church, who object to its false teaching and are fighting against it, we may recognize them as one in faith with us in our private relationships with them. We will encourage them to battle for the truth, but we will also warn them that they must leave that false church if their admonition is rejected. The private confession of faith they make to us and the public confession they are making by their church membership are in contradiction, and they must take steps to bring them into harmony. If they are unaware of the unscriptural beliefs or practices of their church and, thus, are not knowingly adherents of false doctrine, we will urge them to become accurately informed about the teachings and activities of their church, which they are supporting by their offerings. Here too they should take steps to remove the compromise from their confession. (Brug, pp. 147-48)

If one spouse is a non-Christian, the Christian partner may pray for and in the presence of the non-Christian husband or wife. Obviously, they cannot pray together. If the other spouse is a member of a heterodox church and ridicules or rejects the beliefs of our member, joint prayer is hardly possible. If the other spouse’s membership in a heterodox church is seen as a matter of weakness in understanding, joint prayer may be possible in the privacy of the home. (Brug, p. 149)

The whole issue revolves around the pure means of grace, the pure marks of the church. Through the pure means of grace the Holy Spirit brings the Christian to faith, and preserves him in faith. The same means of grace serve as marks of the church, enabling the Christian to locate other Christians for purposes of church fellowship. On the basis of the pure marks of the church Christians unite to acknowledge and exercise church fellowship. If we all agree on the doctrine of church fellowship we can profitably consider and discuss its application, which we readily grant can at times be perplexing to a faithful, dedicated pastor. A person can go a long way in agreeing to applications of this doctrine in exceptional situations if there is the firm assurance through word and deed that there is on the part of the pastor or teacher or church member making the application the wholehearted acceptance of the Scriptural principle of the pure marks of the church as the basis of church fellowship. (Aaberg, “The Doctrine of Church Fellowship,” p. 17)

In laying great emphasis on the pure marks of the church as the basis for acknowledging and exercising church fellowship here on earth, we must keep before our eyes not only the “ism” of unionism but also that of separatism. Both are a sin. We cannot as Christians be indifferent to the spiritual condition and welfare of others beyond our own circles. Wherever the marks of the church are taught in conformity with a pure understanding of them we are in duty bound to acknowledge and exercise church fellowship with such. Distance and other earthly matters may determine somewhat the extent of the exercise of that fellowship, but earthly considerations, even churchly considerations such as church rites and ceremonies, must never keep us from the acknowledgment and exercise of church fellowship where true unity in doctrine prevails. (Aaberg, “The Doctrine of Church Fellowship,” pp. 19-20)

We are all confronted today with the problem of where Church fellowship is possible and where not. This is the issue which at present divides conservative Lutherans. The principle is clear since the beginning of the Church. There ought not to be “communicatio in sacris cum haereticis et schismaticis.” According to the usage of the Roman Law the “sacra” are the religious rites characteristic of a religious society (see the Acts of the Martyrs of Scilly). To the Church the “sacra” were mainly the celebration of the Mass, in a special way the participation of the body and blood of Christ which presupposes...the full unity of faith and brotherly love. For us Lutherans it means the administration of the means of grace, the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of Christ’s sacraments. But what about prayer outside the solemn service of the Church? Since the “Apostolic Canons” also private common prayer with heretics and schismatics was forbidden again and again. However, the constant repetition of this rule seems to indicate that it was not always kept. In the last great persecutions it sometimes happened that Christians of various denominations were waiting in prison for their execution. Could they who in a few days or even hours would stand before Christ and live in the fellowship of the Church Triumphant pray together or not? Some did it, others refused it. Even the great Church fathers were not united in this question. While the Donatists did not recognize the Catholics as Christians, men like Optatus and Augustine regarded their Donatist adversaries as brethren, as “fratres sejuncti,” separated brethren... As a matter of fact, no one has been able to define with absolute certainty the borderline between that which is tolerable and that which is not. ... There are questions to which we do not have and cannot have a definite answer. The Church has never dogmatized on them, and should not try to dogmatize on them either. (Hermann Sasse, Letter to Alvin E. Wagner [January 25, 1971]; in Missing Letters to Lutheran Pastors, edited by Herman J. Otten [New Haven, Missouri: Lutheran News, Inc., 2015], pp. 119-20. Printed text slightly corrected.)

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