The Brothers of John the Steadfast is an advocacy group formed by LCMS laymen in reaction to the termination of the Issues, Etc. radio program and the firing of its host and producer during Holy Week. The new organization is named after John the Steadfast, a brother of Frederick the Wise, a layman, and a stalwart defender of the Reformation. Its purpose is to promote the truth of the Lutheran Confessions in an age of anti-truth, and does this primarily by supporting the resurrected Issues, Etc.™
However, the greatest achievement of the Lutheran Confessions was in unifying Lutherans around the truth. I hope that unity in truth will also be one of the achievements of Brothers of John the Steadfast. Among Lutherans, a declaration of fellowship says that there is complete unity of doctrine and practice of doctrine. True Christian unity is unity in truth.
If they can resurrect Issues, Etc., maybe they can also resurrect the old Synodical Conference. That would be amazing. The Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America was a joint Lutheran fellowship organization between the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). It dissolved in 1963 over fellowship issues.
• Past Fractures
Confessional Lutherans are fractured. The 75 congregation Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) which broke away from the WELS in 1960 is a good example. To get a flavor of the challenges Lutheran unity faces, read the CLC’s explanation as to their current differences with the WELS.
The CLC’s differences with the WELS are entirely about fellowship. For example, the CLC says that even though the WELS split with the LCMS in 1961 over fellowship issues, they should have split in 1955. In their defense, the CLC says this is not just a question of speed or timing, but of doctrine. Is the speed with which fellowship is broken a doctrinal issue? Or is it simply a matter of how fellowship doctrine is applied? Is there a difference?
• Fellowship Issues Continue
Today, many Lutherans face similar issues. How do we maintain unity in truth? How do we exercise doctrinal authority? Do we have a new Martin Chemnitz? Or are we forever doomed to split into smaller groups in the search for doctrinal purity?
Lutheranism seems to have taken the path of splitting into ever smaller synods. This may not be wrong per se, but it is not the best leadership either. As Christians we are at our best when we fight, not just heresy, but also division.
• All Christians
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for his disciples and then for all Christians. He prayed that all Christians would be united through his word of truth. Jesus prayed for unity in truth.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. [John 17:20-23].
• Further Reading
For further reading please read the satire “Folks Like Us” by Pastor Todd Wilken to emphasize the point that unity should never be obtained at the expense of truth. (The ELCA is a good example of “Lutheran” unity at the expense of truth).