Altar & Pulpit Fellowship with Partner Churches Around the World

Concurrent with the 2023 LCMS Convention in Milwaukee this week, two of President Harrison’s assistants, Rev. Michael Frese and Rev. Jonathan Shaw, are hosting an International Church Relations Forum for the pastors and bishops representing the churches with whom we are in partnership or friendship from around the world. It has been a special joy for me to attend and participate in this Forum, even though it has involved dividing my time somewhat. I’ve heard some excellent papers from colleagues, enjoyed the ensuing conversations, and had the privilege of presenting a paper on “Unity in the Way of Worship” on Tuesday morning. The feedback and questions in response to my paper were gratifying, and I hope to make it available on the District website for the benefit of our own pastors and congregations, as well.

Especially in light of the opportunity to meet and spend time with our international guests and friends, I found it all the more moving and profound when the Synod in Convention, on Sunday afternoon, recognized fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Sudan/Sudan and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, declared fellowship with the Lutheran Church of Uganda and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, and recognized the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sri Lanka as a self-governing, full partner church of the LCMS. These public actions of Church Fellowship are surely among the most important and significant things that we do as a Synod in Convention, and I thank God for the beautiful relationships that we share with our brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe, all by the grace of His Gospel.

When we speak of Church Fellowship, we are speaking of pastoral fellowship in the Ministry of the Gospel and the Means of Grace – typically described as Altar & Pulpit Fellowship. We take these matters seriously, because they are sacred and serious matters. We recognize that “Word and Sacrament” is not simply a cliché or an abstraction, but that the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of the Word of God go hand-in-hand with the celebration of the Holy Communion, and that they must necessarily be in harmony with each other. With that in mind, the integrity of our own Ministerium and the internal Fellowship of our own Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod require the same seriousness and the same harmony of preaching and practice that we exercise and insist upon in the case of our external Fellowship with partner churches worldwide. What is more, we owe it to our friends and partners around the globe to be consistent in our practice, as it has bearing and consequences upon our relationship with each and all of them.

While celebrating the Fellowship that we share with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Sudan/Sudan, the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, the Lutheran Church of Uganda, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, and the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sri Lanka, our Synod in Convention also had the sad duty to acknowledge and announce that we are no longer in fellowship with the Japan Lutheran Church, because that body has officially endorsed and adopted the ordination of women to the Office of the Holy Ministry. As painful and sorrowful as that action was, it demonstrated the same commitment to the same standards of fellowship as found in the case of the other churches. For ourselves and all our neighbors, we pray that the Lord in His mercy would call us daily to repentance and strengthen our faith and confidence in His Word, that we should boldly confess His Name in all things.

Link to President Stuckwisch’s paper presented to the 2023 LCMS International Church Relations Forum:
Unity in the Way of Worship (Ordo): Altar & Pulpit Fellowship and Liturgical Integrity