Re: Secondary Separation

From: George Murphy (
Date: Fri Sep 19 2003 - 12:52:06 EDT

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    John W Burgeson wrote:
    > George wrote: "E.g., the 1968 doctrinal statement _This We Believe_ of
    > the Wisconsin
    > Evangelical Lutheran Synod explicitly teaches that creation took place in
    > "six normal
    > days" and rejects evolution & any attempt to interpret scripture to bring
    > it into accord
    > with evolution. They would not say that everyone who thinks the earth is
    > old or accepts
    > evolution is going to hell, but they do say that that person teaches
    > false doctrine &
    > would refuse church fellowship with him or her."
    > Can I ask you to comment further on this?
    > What I understand is, that if I teach, in any venue, that the earth is
    > old, that I cannot be a member of that church? And that I cannot even
    > ATTEND that church? And that members of that church ought not have any
    > Christian fellowship with me?
    > When I first became a Christian, in 1961 or 1962, we attended an EUB
    > church, pastor Jim Miller, who was very fundamental. Jim and I became
    > friends -- we had fellowship as families, even long after we had both
    > moved to different cities, until the early 70s.
    > One day I received a letter from Jim. He had become a GARB, and had gone
    > over entirely to the fundamentalist camp. His letter was to tell me
    > that, since I was unable to renounce fellowship with my brother, an ELCA
    > minister, and my parents, ELCA members, that he, regretfully, was going
    > to have to break fellowship with me. The principle, he said, was that of
    > "secondary separation," which sounds much like what the Wisconsin
    > Lutherans are espousing.
    > Jim had been a close friend, and our families had been close, dining
    > together, vacationing together, worshipping together. I wrote him back,
    > but he declined to answer. It hurt to lose him. It still hurts.

    Burgy -
            I apologize (to the list & WELS members) for using the too-broad & ambiguous
    term "church fellowship." No, a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran congregation would not refuse
    to let you attend their services & many would be quite happy to have you there. They
    would not expect their members to avoid social interaction with you.
            They would, however, expect you not to to receive communion in a WELC church,
    nor are their members to commune in churches other than WELS and those with whom they
    are in formal fellowship - which requires, in their view, complete doctrinal agreement.
    Pastors who are not in such fellowship would not be allowed to preach in a WELS
            I should point out that this is not just a WELS peculiarity. It is the old
    "Galesburg Rule" of ~120 years ago, "Lutheran pulpits for Lutheran preachers and
    Lutheran altars for Lutheran communicants," which many Lutheran churches at that time
    observed. In fact, many other churches have practiced something like this "close
    communion" - & of course the RC church still does. The Missouri Synod also officially
    maintains "close communion" (distinguished, if you see a distinction, from "closed
    communion,"), though some LC-MS pastors & congregations in practice don't observe this
            The WELS also hold that _prayer_ fellowship between Christians who are not in
    full doctrinal agreement is inappropriate. This does not mean that if you invite a WELS
    member to dinner & begin by saying grace, he or she must get up & leave the room. But
    they are not to participate in religious services of which prayer is a part.
            Please note that this is a description of the WELS position by an ELCA pastor
    (who grew up in the Missouri Synod): If you want an official statement on these matters
    you should go to the WELS website. I'm also don't want to give the impression that I
    have no respect for either the WELS or don't see any theo-logic at all in their
    positions. But obviously - as an ELCA pastor now on staff at an Episcopal church - I
    don't hold all these positions.

    George L. Murphy

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