Project Wittenberg

The Nature and Implications of the
Concept of Fellowship

Part I

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod
April 1981

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Part I


- Introduction

- I. The Nature of Fellowship

- II. The Implications of the Nature of Fellowship for Church-Body-Level Relationships - Conclusion
- Postscript: A Plea for Responsible Freedom in the Contest of Responsible Commitment


Many complex and sensitive problems regarding inter-Christian relationships confront Christendom today. The multiplicity of denominations and movements, the high degree of mobility in the modern world, and the proliferation of ideologies and beliefs complicate the efforts of Christians to build relationships at both the individual and church-body levels which will be faithful not only to the Biblical mandates to proclaim and preserve the pure Gospel but also to the Scriptural exhortations to show love for all people and especially for fellow members of the household of faith.

Members of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod are not exempt from the effects of these developments. Lay members of the Synod are seeking guidance regarding participation in numerous kinds of joint activities with members of other Christian churches in Bible study groups, mass evangelism programs, interdenominational workshops and retreats, and a variety of religious associations. Pastors are increasingly confronted with requests to take part in ecumenical weddings, funerals, and occasional services and rallies of every description. Many congregations are discussing their policy for admission to Holy Communion, and the question is frequently asked: "How much agreement with another church body is necessary before altar and pulpit fellowship can be declared?" Some today are even questioning whether ecclesiastical declarations of altar and pulpit fellowship are workable in this age of "ambiguous denominationalism." [1] It is in the context of questions such as these that the Commission on Theology and Church Relations has prepared this report in response to a 1977 request of the Synod that it "prepare a comprehensive report on the nature and implications of the concept of fellowship." [2]

The CTCR has attempted to involve the entire Synod in the preparation of this report. In 1978 it conducted 55 synodwide conferences involving over 4,000 pastors, teachers, and directors of Christian education on the topic "Formula for Concord." A Bible Study on Fellowship, which included a response questionnaire for the use of congregations and individuals, was distributed in January of 1980 to all congregations of the Synod and to pastors not serving congregations. The CTCR is grateful to all those who took the time to participate in these discussions and to share with the Co mmission the insights which they gained through these studies of the S criptures and the Lutheran Confessions on the subject of fellowship.

The discussions which took place in the "Formula for Concord" conferences and the responses to the Bible Study on Fellowship indicate that both aspects of the Commission's assignment to prepare a report on the nature and implications of the concept of fellowship are in need of clarification. On the one hand, the discussion of the nature of fellowship is complicated by the fact that the word "fellowship" itself is frequently used to refer to a number of different relationships, often without an awareness that this is being done. On the other hand, the discussion of the implications of fellowship is made more difficult by the frequent failure to distinguish between the principles which should guide inter-Christian relationships and their application at different levels.

In the first part of this document the Commission presents an overview of what God's Word teaches about the nature of fellowship, together with a listing of the basic Scriptural principles which should guide Christians in the relationships with one another. Section 11 discusses the implications of the principles for church-body-level relationships. The CTCR concludes this report with a suggestion that the Synod continue to study the topic of fellowship by directing its attention specifically to the application of the principles of fellowship presented in this report at the congregation pastoral, and individuals levels. [3]





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Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary.

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