graphic website title banner

Admonition — for the Sake of the True Peace and Unity of the Church

“The Admonition” was a crucial document in the formation of WordAlone. It sets out the theological foundation and ecclesial consequences of the ELCA’s decision to impose the “historic episcopate” as a condition for ordination. Thousands of people over the past decade have taken a stand on this issue by “signing” the admonition. If you want to peruse the list of those signing you may do so using the following links:

These issues set forth in the Admonition are still valid today. We still get a regular stream of people who would like to add their name to the list of signatories. If you would like to join them in signing the Admonition you may do so by email or US Mail:


Please send an email to with your name, mailing address, phone number and home congregation.

U.S. Mail

Send us a letter stating that you wish to sign the Admonition. Please include your name, mailing address, phone number, email address and home congregation. Address the letter to:

  • Signing the Admonition
  • c/o WordAlone Ministries
    P.O. Box 111, Maple Lake, MN 55358

(The WordAlone Network’s Theological Advisory Board held their first meeting November 16-18, 2002 in Mahtomedi, Minn. This group of international Lutheran theologians issued an admonition to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.)

I. Theological Foundation

Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, “was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25, cf., Smalcald Articles II.1). We affirm together that we are justified by grace alone, that is, by faith alone through Christ alone. This comes about through the Holy Spirit by means of the gospel alone in its two forms of proclamation and sacrament. Whereas through the law God convicts, through the gospel God forgives, and raises the sinner unto new life. This is a life free from law, sin and death, and at the same time, rich in fruits of the new obedience.

The church of Christ is the communion of saints, that is, the communion of believers, the communion of those who are justified sinners. That means the church comes into being in the same way and at the same time with faith and justification: through the Holy Spirit by the proclamation of the gospel and the distribution of the sacraments. These two forms of the gospel, and only these, are the means through which the church is created and sustained; they and only they make the church apostolic; they and only they make the church catholic; they and only they make the church holy; they and only they make the church one. By them, and only by them, the church, its apostolicity, its catholicity, its holiness, and its unity is unequivocally made manifest.

As the creature of the gospel and communion of the believers, the church is called to proclaim the gospel which brings about justification. This ministry is divinely instituted and bestowed by God upon the whole church (Augsburg Confession 5). It is the responsibility of all believers to participate in it and to propagate the good news where they find themselves in life. For this purpose, the Holy Spirit graces the church and invests the gifts of that grace in all believers. To preach and administer the sacraments publicly in the name of the church is the specific calling of the ordained ministry (Augsburg Confession 14). Ordination does not confer any quality or special ability higher than that bestowed in baptism. Ordination is the call to proclaim the divine word entrusted to all publicly on behalf of the whole church.

There are many other elements and features which belong to the church, like worship, loving service for the world, discipline, and oversight. The church cannot be without them. But how they are shaped and lived out is dependent on circumstances, history and cultural background. Their specific shape is neither something that makes the church the church, nor that by which the church is recognized. In other words, their specific shape is necessary neither for justification, nor for the church to be the church. In this respect, their specific shaping is indifferent (adiaphoron).

Since what makes the church the church, and what makes it one, holy, catholic and apostolic, and is sufficient for this, is the pure proclamation of the gospel and the right administration of the sacraments, none of those elements which are indifferent as regards justification and the being of the church can be made necessary for its unity (Augsburg Confession 7). Therefore, it is wrong "when anyone imposes such ceremonies, commands, and prescriptions upon the community of God with coercive force as if they were necessary, against its Christian freedom, which it has in external matters" (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article X). The distinction between that which is necessary and that which is not necessary in the church must be absolutely clear, both in the teaching and practice of the church. If any "indifferent" element is made a condition for the being, the apostolicity or the unity of the church, this distinction is blurred. Thus Christian freedom, which is an essential dimension of the Christian faith, is destroyed, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ over His Church is compromised.

II. Ecclesial Consequences

In 1999 the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), in order to enter into full communion with the Episcopal Church USA, mandated on a churchwide scale episcopal succession and ordination by bishops for the sake of unity. It seems clear that the ELCA, by accepting these practices as a condition of unity, has made an adiaphoron into a theological necessity, thus contradicting its own confessional basis. What intimates that this might not be so is the by-law amendment (ELCA Constitution 7.31.17) allowing presbyteral ordination. In order to ensure that an adiaphoron has not been made a theological necessity, however, what is now an exception must be made an option of equal standing. Likewise the two practices of installing bishops, with or without the participation of (three) bishops in episcopal succession, must be options of equal standing.

Therefore, we ask the ELCA to amend its constitution and by-laws accordingly so that the constitution is brought back in line with its own confessional basis. Although this might be a difficult process, it is necessary for the sake of the truth of the gospel and the church's true peace and unity: "For weakening this article and forcing human commands upon the church as if they were necessary . . . already paves the way to idolatry" (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration X).

Drafted and Signed by:

  • Dr. James Bangsund, Senior Lecturer, Old Testament and Hebrew, Makumira University College, Tanzania
  • Dr. James Burtness, Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Dr. Gerhard Forde, Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Dr. George W. Forell, Carver Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
  • Dr. Roy A. Harrisville, Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Dr. Mary Jane Haemig, Associate Professor of Church History, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Dr. Jack Dean Kingsbury, Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia
  • Dr. Gerhard Krodel, Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • Dr. Gottfried Krodel, Emeritus Professor of Church History, Valparaiso University, Indiana
  • Dr. James Nestingen, Professor of Church History, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Dr. Steven D. Paulson, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Dr. Hans Schwarz, Professor of Systematic Theology and Contemporary Theological Issues, University of Regensburg, Germany
  • Dr. Walter Sundberg, Professor of Church History, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Dr. Martin Synnes, Associate Professor of New Testament, The Norwegian Lutheran School of Theology (Det Teologiske Menighetsfakultet), Oslo, Norway
  • Dr. Dorothea Wendebourg, Professor of Church History, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
  • Dr. Vitor Westhelle, Professor of Systematic Theology, Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, Illinois