Halfway to Concord

Concord is a Lutheran word. We have the Book of Concord of 1580 and the Formula of Concord of 1577, and yet we never seem more than halfway there. Despite having a formula  for it and book of it. Something is askew here.

Having left the soft middle of Confessional Lutheranism in the United States (the LCMS), I have talked enough to others outside that comfortable, pliable, broad-church middle to know the divisive issues coalesce around Church and Ministry, the Lord’s Supper, Worship, and the Order of Creation. And outside the mushy walls of LCMS has something of the flavor of the Wild West. Everyone is armed and ready to draw on any and every point of doctrine. One pastor, outside the LCMS for some years, says that he feels the pull back to the accepting, broad-church, soft middle of the road Missouri because no two pastors can agree on anything. Apparently, we’ve lost the formula and can’t find the book that concord is in.

With all of the confessional synods essentially punting on these issues, fellowship is determined not by agreement but by law. You know whom you’re in fellowship with by the letters following your name. Even if you know someone believes, teaches, or confesses differently than you do, you are in fellowship with them based on those letters. Conversely, you’re not in fellowship with anyone not having those letters even if you do believe, teach, and confess the same things.

This fellowship by law rather than by actual confession is why many of us left, and it won’t change; it can’t change. Because though made by man, the system of fellowship by letters is confessed by all the guilty parties involved to be divine. It is always a problem when you identify a teaching of men as a precept of God. Who wants to be found fighting against God? Not me. Pass the synodical Kool-Aid, I need another hit.

I’ve talked to some who say we need a 21st century Formula of Concord. The Sainted Herman Otten said that back when it was still the 20th century. I suspect it will be said even if we get to Zager and Evans fabled year. (Look it up.) I too use to be of this mind. Then I remembered the 1932 Brief Statement. You think it’s called ‘Brief’ for it’s brevity of expression. Nope, it’s named that because of how briefly it impacted Missouri’s slip-sliding away.

So, methinks if we’re ever going to get more than halfway to concord we have to go back to those who wrote the formula and the book. These men were the Concordists. They didn’t take the so-called Gnesio-Lutheran position, which were usually more right than wrong, and they certainly didn’t take the Philippists’ (followers of Philip Melanchthon’s errors) positions which were almost all totally wrong, they took a position which rejected the errors on both side and tempered the extremes on the Genuine Lutheran side.

They didn’t do what FDR (Look it up.) did. He would ask two different staffers to write right two different positions on a policy and then have a third write one paper using both. The Concordists were firm and clear where Scripture was and put the kibosh on debate that wasn’t helpful (See Paul Raabe’s article, “‘Daddy, Will Animals Be in Heaven?’: The Future New Earth” (https://www.csl.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/DaddyWillAnimalsBeInHeaven.pdf). Concordists are big-brained, theological, pastoral, and wise. There are few in any generation. Confessional Lutheranism needs one now.

“Halfway to Concord” is where Confessional Lutherans have been mired for perhaps 100 years, but the expression originated with Ben Franklin. He coined it as a term for drunkenness. (Offerman, Nick, Gumption, 29-30). And I feel the room rolling as I hear or read of another Philippists position being adopted (We practice neither open nor closed Communion.), or another Gnesio-Lutheran position being championed (You must use only one cup).

Luther said that we tended to be like drunken peasants. When put on the horse from one side, we fall off on the other. I’ve been halfway to concord long enough. I refuse to believe the heirs of those who wrote the formula of and the book on concord can’t get back on the horse that threw us.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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