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A compilation of essays and comments by concerned pastors, theologians and laypersons, challenging denominations who are denying Christ’s resurrection, ‘demythologizing’ Scripture, blessing same-sex relationships, ordaining non-celibate homosexuals.

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November conference

—"What of the church?"

by Pastor Randy Freund (WordAlone board member)

News: October 7, 2005

When speaking of the church, Article VII of the Augsburg Confession puts it succinctly: "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."

This seems simple enough. photo of Pr. FreundIn fact, I have heard some argue that this is so simple and clear that we should stop "quibbling" about theology and get on with the mission of the church. I will start with the last part of that statement, with which I am in full agreement. It has much to do with my own interest in forming an association of confessing churches as proposed by several renewal groups within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I have served as head of a task force looking into starting such an association within the ELCA.

Though I am clearly not interested in a new "institution," I think Alvin Rogness was asking the right questions about the unique calling of the church years ago. "Is there any institution that can take the place of the church? If it fails, who will pick up its mission for the world? From the time of Christ, the church has been commissioned to tell the story of God. Its mission is to bring [man] into responsible and grateful fellowship with God. Its task is to put [man] under the command of God and to nestle [him] in the care of God. Neither government nor labor unions nor any other institution in society is dedicated to this task. If the church does not do it, it will not be done."

Getting on with the mission of the church is, of course, our most basic and urgent calling. Who will tell the story of Jesus if we don't? So then what of theology and "quibbling?"

Theology and the mission of Christ's Gospel are inherently linked.

In the very simple statement of Article VII, which is quoted above, two words stand out. One is "Gospel" and the other is "purity." Here is where the task of theology is more than mere "quibbling" among learned theologians. Both within WordAlone and in renewal movements not associated with WordAlone, we have heard the warnings of "another" or a "different" gospel. Given Paul's warning in Galatians 1, this is a serious charge. But whenever the justification of the ungodly gets replaced with the affirmation of the unrepentant, one is dealing with another or a different gospel. Sorting this out is the important work of theology.

The second word (purity) doesn't make theology's task any easier. Comedy and tragedy come together when we sinners start to imagine that any of us can concoct a pure church. As Luther put it: "Farewell to those who want an entirely pure and purified church. This is plainly wanting no church at all." So what does it mean for the Gospel to be "preached in its purity?" To a great extent, again, we rely on the important task of theology.

All of which affirms an invitation to come the fall WordAlone theological conference where we will take up theology's task as it relates to the church. What can you expect if you come to the theological conference and stay for a meeting to form the association, Nov. 6-8 at Brooklyn Park Lutheran Church, Brooklyn Park, Minn.?

The speakers will be engaging and challenging—Dr. Dennis Bielfeldt, Dr. Mary Jane Haemig and Dr. Cynthia Jurisson—and will draw us into deeper reflection around the question: "What does 'church' mean to Lutherans?"

Bielfeldt is a professor of philosophy and religion at South Dakota State University, Brookings, S.D. Haemig is an associate professor of church history and director of the Thrivent Reformation Research Program at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. Jurisson was a professor of church history at Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, most recently.

If your church has joined the association of confessing churches or is thinking about it, their talks and the meeting's workshops and seminars will be especially informing and inspiring.

And after the main theological presentations on Sunday and Monday, Nov. 6-7, the first meeting of the members of the churches of the emerging association will begin.

We will envision together what association of confessing churches can look like and do. There will be a vote to form a steering committee to continue the work begun there in Brooklyn Park. The task force formed by WordAlone last spring to look into an association has recommended for voting status, "Anyone who represents a church that has joined the association or expects his or her church to come into the association may vote" during the association's plenary sessions. All participants will have voice.

The association meeting also provides WordAlone members the opportunity to meet people who may have not attended WordAlone events before, but who are very interested in learning more about and becoming involved in renewal and mission through an association of confessing churches.

Hope to see you at Brooklyn Park Lutheran Church!