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Forde-Nestingen letter

by Drs. Gerhard Forde and James Nestingen (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN)

January, 2000

This letter has been sent to all ELCA congregations from Faith Lutheran church in Hutchinson, Minnesota and Abiding Savior Lutheran church in Mounds View, Minnesota.

January, 2000

Dear Pastors, Members and Friends of the ELCA,

These are perilous times for our church. Discussions and Assembly actions about "Called to Common Mission" and the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" have precipitated what can only be considered a grave confessional crisis. The confessional witness is being shunted aside by those who are supposed to expound and defend it. Like many of you, we are deeply troubled by this crisis.

The Crisis comes about not so much because the Confessions of the Church are overly ignored, although there is plenty of that, but rather because even when invoked there is little careful investigation or exegesis of the confessional documents themselves, their history and significance. Thus the confession is being emptied of content. Disputants will say, for example, "In my opinion the situation is not serious enough to warrant the claim that we find ourselves in statu confessionis." Individual opinion is substituted for careful interpretation. By what right is such judgment to be made? For that matter, what authority does a church assembly have over against the Confessional writings of the Church? There is a tendency to assume that since the assembly has spoken the case is closed. But if the assembly decision conflicts with the confession the case is just beginning. This, precisely, is what we need to talk about. By what right, for instance, does our leadership sign agreements with Rome? Judgments are made, but there is no "proof," no substantiation of the opinion, no confessional warrant for the action. Pastors and lay persons with legitimate confessional concerns are dismissed without reason. And so we are left with a collection of opinions with no reassured content. We are just adrift. This is our crisis.

When there is just a collection of opinions with no content, church officials provide an agenda of their own. Having lost our bearings, we succumb easily to thought and practices contrary to the confessions. What we need now is a return to the confessional teaching and practice of our church so that we know where we stand in times of peril. This should not be misunderstood as anti-ecumenical. We should support those who are concerned about the matters before us. Indeed we could profit from a series of Confessional Congresses to study these matters. There is a real danger that we will just grow tired of the whole matter and allow the momentous issues before us to be settled by default. We must not do that. We are called to be true to our confession. This is where we must stand.

Gerhard O. Forde, Luther Seminary

James A. Nestingen, Luther Seminary