By Roland Lovstad
In a statement titled “Steps Toward Reconciliation,” issued in early June, LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick and representatives of a group called Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans (NICL) list two points of agreement and encourage that doctrine and practice be discussed face-to-face, as well as in printed documents.
The statement resulted from a March 27 meeting to discuss “That They May Be One,” a document NICL produced more than six years ago reacting to events that followed the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. For some readers, the document left an impression that only those who agreed with the document would be in fellowship with its signers. In a May 2003 memo, Kieschnick responded, cited a Commission on Constitutional Matters opinion, and referred to the document and its signers as “divisive and schismatic.”
At several points in the March 27 conversation, the statement says, ” … It became clear to all that the matter had resulted in some misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions.” The statement says President Kieschnick became aware that linking the “divisive and schismatic” terminology to the document was in error.
The statement continued: “Upon this realization, along with hearing the assurances of the NICL pastors that their document was meant only for discussion and not for an expression of and requirement for fellowship, Kieschnick expressed his regret that he did not meet or talk personally with the authors of the document prior to his May 2003 memo. He also noted that doing so would possibly have spared everyone a lot of grief.”
The statement said the president apologized and the four NICL pastors expressed their appreciation and forgiveness.
The statement cited two points of agreement:
- Kieschnick communicates to the Synod his understanding that the act of signing “That They May Be One” did not of itself render a signer “divisive and schismatic” and regrets the misunderstanding that resulted from his May 2003 memo, and
- In light of the explanation the joint statement said, ” … NICL reiterates to the Synod its understanding that members of the Synod need not sign ‘That They May Be One’ in order to continue to be in fellowship with those who did, and regrets the confusion resulting from the wording in the document that some interpreted to mean otherwise.”
The statement concluded, “We also encourage all within this Synod we love to continue to discuss with each other, fraternally and collegially, on the basis of Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, matters of doctrine and practice and not to do so only in printed documents but also in face-to-face discussion.”
In a comment for Reporter, Kieschnick said, “In the context of face-to-face conversation, genuine differences between or among brothers and sisters in Christ are more likely to be able to be addressed, resolved, and reconciled in a godly way than is the case without such personal dialogue.”
One NICL pastor, Rev. Walter Otten, pastoral assistant at Good Shepherd Our Redeemer, Berwyn, Ill., commented by e-mail. He wrote, “In the March 27 meeting, the fifth part of the catechism came to life. There was Confession and Absolution and therefore ‘Steps Toward Reconciliation’ with thankfulness.”
Other representatives of NICL who attended the March 27 meeting were Rev. Mark Hein, St. Paul, Lockport; Rev. Roger Gallup, Bethlehem, River Grove; and Dr. Tim Rossow, Bethany, Naperville. All are residents of Illinois.
Also attending the March meeting were Dr. William Diekelman, LCMS first vice president: Dr. Samuel Nafzger and Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, members of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations staff; and Rev. Dan Gilbert, president of the Northern Illinois District.
Observing that no further meetings are planned with NICL, Kieschnick added, “I hope, pray, and encourage that discussions throughout the Synod will be held around the topic of how congregations, leaders, and members of our beloved Synod can work even more closely and intentionally on how to continue to be a biblical, confessional, evangelical, Christian church body, so, in the words of the LCMS mission statement, we may ‘vigorously make known the love of Christ, by word and deed, within our churches, communities, and the world.’ This is a significant challenge, especially in the context of a world often indifferent or even hostile toward Christianity and a country in danger of losing its moral compass.”
The statement was distributed by e-mail June 6 from the LCMS President’s Office to the Council of Presidents, the Board of Directors, corporate entity presidents, Concordia University System presidents, seminary presidents, International Center unit executives, and the LCMS Information Center. The full text may be read on the LCMS Web site at www.lcms.org?13579.
Posted June 26, 2008