First Person Life


Doctrine AND Practice AND Fellowship

I recently found myself engaged by a discussion over at Steadfast Lutherans on the topic of Doctrine and Practice. In the course of that discussion, my verbosity got the better of me (those who know me know this isn't a surprise).

Anyway, the following "essay" is a further response to that discussion (the post which prompted this reply can be found here). It's posted here mostly because I didn't want to post a 3 page comment in the comments section of the original post and also because this is actually a different discussion (about Fellowship) than the one started (about Doctrine and Practice). If there is a desire to repost on Steadfast Lutherans, I'd appreciate a heads up in case I want to rephrase anything before it goes up -- and, as with anything of this sort, this isn't intended to be the "Last Word" so if you have thoughts/comments, do share.

A reply to comments on Steadfast Lutherans

Previous Commenter:

I’d like to push this a bit further though: by fellowship, we mean specifically the fellowship that we have in Christ — this is not just earthly guys getting together and hanging out.

My Reply:

I'm not sure I can agree. In fact, it would appear that Ephesians 4:1-6 precludes this understanding.

We have been called in our baptism to ONE faith. Having been reborn by the ONE Spirit, the new man clings to this ONE faith, holds it perfectly and undefiled. Therefore, by virtue of our baptism and the faith received therein, all Christians (AS Christians - i.e., in the "new man") are already united and are, therefore, of ONE mind (even on all matters of doctrine).

The problem comes in when we recognize that this "new man" is born within the flesh of the old recitrant donkey that is the "Old Adam" and thus does not show forth this unity of faith. This occurs not only in various day-to-day interactions with others but even on Sunday morning when we all purport to worship this ONE God in the unanimity of the Spirit united under Christ the ONE head of the church [Just how many "liturgies" do you think exist in the throne room of God?]. Instead of seeking uniformity in practice and doctrine, the Old Adam wars and fights against the true faith and sets up "self-chosen worship" that acts and teaches contrary to God's Word and not only undercuts the faith but also the unity in the Spirit that God's Word creates.

I think FC 6.18-20 applies quite directly to the current discussion:


But since believers are not completely renewed in this world, but the old Adam clings to them even to the grave, there also remains in them the struggle between the spirit and the flesh. . . . as far as the old Adam is concerned . . . he must be driven not only with the Law, but also with punishments; nevertheless he does everything against his will and under coercion . . . So, too, this doctrine of the Law is needful for believers, in order that they may not hit upon a holiness and devotion of their own, and under the pretext of the Spirit of God set up a self-chosen worship, without God's Word and command, as it is written [in] Deut. 12:8,28,32.

If, according to the "New Man" born of water and the Word (what Paul calls the Spiritual Man), we are all of one mind - in concord with the one Faith bestowed upon us by the One God and Father of All, then it really is with relation to "just earthly guys getting together and hanging out" that the topic of fellowship finds its proper place. Our fellowship "in Christ" is a GIFT that is given by God and preserved by Him. It is our OUTWARD fellowship that is at issue because it gives witness to this inward unity (or lack thereof).

There are those who, according to the OUTWARD man, conform their practices and teaching to the doctrine (teachings/faith) held by the INNER man (although not even close to perfectly in this life). The INNER man received this ONE FAITH by virtue of his baptism (we are talking here specifically of all Christians - non-Christians have no "INNER MAN" in the Pauline sense). This "One Faith" is the same doctrine which is revealed to the whole world and can be seen also by the OUTER MAN through God's revelation in Scripture.

On the other hand, there are those who have been reborn and are Christian that do not seek to conform their practices and teachings to the "One Faith" (i.e., teaching/doctrine) bestowed through baptism and revealed in Holy Scripture. These do not seek to outwardly exhibit through teaching and practice this unity of faith which all Christians share by virtue of their being born anew from above. (For the moment, we will leave aside whether this non-conformance is from rebellion or ignorance. There is also the issue of those who break from an outward exhibition of unity in order to be more faithful to the truth revealed in Scripture which will be briefly touched on below.)

The unity of the Spirit which is a gift in our baptism SHOULD show itself forth in the unity of our thinking about all things spiritual (even the interpretation of the Good Samaritan) and even in our outward teaching and practice. This is what Paul means when He says, being diligent/laboring/striving (σπουδάζοντες) to keep/guard/treasure/hold fast (τηρεῖν) the unity/one-ness/*unanimity* (ενοτητα) of the Spirit in the bond/union (συνδεσμω) of THE PEACE (της ειρηνης) (REF EPH 2:14).

Notice it is "to KEEP the unity of the Spirit". The one-ness that we have is something GIVEN to us that can be lost, it is not something acquired by our effort. Yet it takes effort to maintain because without such effort, the Old Adam which inheres would overpower us and destroy that bond and separate us from the Peace made by God through the forgiveness won by Christ.

When and where the outward expression of this unanimity of the Spirit is disrupted, one or both parties (usually both, by the way) are permitting their sinful flesh which desires innovation, uniqueness, egoism, and the ability to hold our own "rightness" over someone else to hold sway over the unity prompted by the Spirit.

So, "How much wiggle room do we allow OURSELVES here?" The answer is "NONE!" Because "wiggle room" is what is desired by the Old Adam rebelling against the truth. Now, "How much wiggle room do we allow OTHERS?" The answer can be found (among other places) in Ephesians 4:1-3, "walk worthy of the calling ... with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love." The implication being, do this as you seek to retain -- or perhaps in our current context we would better say "acquire outwardly" -- the unity of faith bestowed and which is already yours according to the INNER MAN.

However, as for ourselves, we ought to adhere to Paul's words in 4:17-24:


". . . you should no longer walk as the rest of the gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them . . . But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and BE RENEWED IN THE SPIRIT OF YOUR MIND, and that you put on the new man WHICH WAS CREATED ACCORDING TO GOD, IN TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS (emphasis added).


  • Unity/unanimity of the ONE faith is a gift of our baptism and is something held by the INNER man perfectly as the new creation born of the ONE Spirit.
  • The recognition of this inward unity/unanimity ought to result in its outward expression (eg., uniformity in teaching and practice).
  • Those things which disrupt the outward expression of this unity/unanimity (eg., non-uniform teachings and practices) mitigate against fellowship because such disruptions give witness to a disruption in the inward unity/unanimity that exists among believers by virtue of their possession of the ONE SPIRIT bestowed in Baptism (cxref EPH 4:4-6).

The obvious question is the one you raised, "where do we draw the line?" But I don't think it's a question of "where" but of "how". Is the disruption the result of ignorance or of rebellion? Ignorance should be dealt with patiently, according to St. Paul's admonition. Rebellion (whether it's against the established practices or against a right desire for greater faithfulness to what has been given to us) is evidence that true unity in the Spirit is already lacking. I would define rebellion as continued non-uniform teaching/practice without regard or concern for (a) its disruptive effects on outward unity AND (more importantly) (b) the standard of truth by which all teaching and practice ought to be measured (eg., Luther's disruption was in favor of greater fidelity to the faith given to us). Thus the breaking of the outward ties (i.e., fellowship) is simply a confirmation of the underlying disunity that exists because the Old Adam has won out over the New Man (eg., in the case of Luther, Rome confirmed it did not share the Scriptural faith of Luther by excommunicating him. In so doing, Rome confirmed its lust for power over fidelity to the Scriptural Revelation of the free gift of Grace by Faith in Christ).

NOTE: The above has different implications for the ESTABLISHMENT of outward fellowship where it does not yet exist, but I believe those implications are consistent with how the LCMS handles such matters. As always, I seek clarification or correction if I am wrong.

NOTE2: (Given the contentiousness of the underlying issues that give rise to this thread, this must be said explicitly) The above does NOT purport to answer the question of whether or not the varieties of worship practices within the LCMS necessitate the severing of outward fellowship nor does it presuppose whether any given practice is right or wrong - those things are outside the purview of this discussion. Given what HAS been said above, such determinations CANNOT be made in a wholesale manner, but can ONLY be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

-- Rev. Matthew Dent

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