The Word of God and the Church
A Report on my Expulsion from the Evangelical
By Pastor Rolf David Preus
January 22, 2007
It would be helpful, but not necessary, for the reader to read through my written
appeal and its appendix for
background information on the topic of this paper.
Much documentation of my case is available at www.christforus.org.)
I: John Moldstad Junior’s False Doctrine of Church Fellowship
The Holy Spirit joins us together
in the unity of the faith. This
is why we may never express fellowship with false teaching.
The Holy Spirit establishes fellowship by means of the saving
truth. True church fellowship
is expressed when we agree on the pure teaching of the gospel and the
right administration of the sacraments of Christ.
The means of grace are the marks of the church.
The pure marks of the church are the basis for establishing church
fellowship. The truth for
which we contend is always centered in the gospel of justification by
faith alone. We insist on
full agreement in all Christian doctrine as the basis for church
fellowship. We do not do so
because we must agree with each other or with a synod in order to enjoy
true Christian fellowship. We
do so because everything God teaches pertains to the gospel by which we
are forgiven of our sins and joined in holy fellowship with God and with
one another. Fellowship does
not come from agreeing with each other, but from agreeing with God. The Holy Spirit produces faith in our hearts to receive the
forgiveness of sins promised in the gospel.
This faith lives on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of
A synodically adopted doctrinal
statement to which nearly 40% of the synod was opposed immediately became
the basis for excluding from the fellowship of the synod those who
dissented from it. This was a
rejection of the scriptural and evangelical doctrine of church fellowship
to which the ELS has historically been devoted.
The ELS today practices a false
doctrine of fellowship. I do
not say that she teaches a false doctrine of fellowship.
The best representation of the official teaching of the ELS on
church fellowship is an excellent essay authored by the late Rev. Theodore
Aaberg, delivered at the 1977 General Pastoral Conference of the ELS.
This essay is a sound and evangelical explanation of the Lutheran
doctrine of church fellowship. For
this reason I feel obliged, under the circumstances, to reaffirm my
agreement with Prof. Aaberg’s fine study as well as the historic
teaching of the ELS, the Norwegian Synod, and the old Missouri Synod on
the doctrine of church fellowship.
However, the doctrine of church
fellowship is not merely taught in essays, Bible classes, and sermons.
It is practiced. In
its practice the doctrine is made clear.
The doctrine of fellowship of the ELS as practiced by the
administration of John Moldstad, Jr. is a false doctrine, not to be
tolerated in the church of God, much less excused and defended.
It is a false doctrine for five reasons:
On January 27, 2006, President
Moldstad informed me and the chairman of the congregation I was serving
that the congregation had until February 1, 2006 to suspend me from office
or to be excluded from the ELS and her fellowship.
He told them that they could put me on a two week paid leave of
absence (that is, suspension with pay) while they considered whether or
not to remove me permanently as their pastor or be removed from and be out
of fellowship with the ELS. If
I were to continue to serve as their pastor beyond the date of February 1
they would be removed from the ELS.
The congregation voted by a one
vote margin to put me on a two week paid leave of absence.
Later they voted to rescind my call.
They wanted to remain in the ELS.
At no time before, during, or
after this process did John Moldstad, Jr. show me or my congregation that
I taught any error. Why did
he take such an unprecedented action?
Why did he force my congregation to choose between their pastor and
their synod and give them less than a week to do so?
Why did he require them to fire their faithful pastor as a
condition for continued membership in the ELS?
His doctrine of fellowship demanded it.
His doctrine of fellowship did not require him to show me guilty of
false doctrine. It did not
require him to go to the Holy Scriptures and to compare my teaching to the
teaching of God’s word and to show that my teaching was at variance with
the teaching of God’s word. It
did not require him to tell my congregation of their duty to follow
God’s word in the removal of their pastor.
It required my immediate removal from the ELS and the immediate
suspension of fellowship with me by every congregation and pastor in the
Why was it necessary for the ELS and every congregation and pastor
in the ELS to break fellowship with me?
Did I teach anything contrary to God’s word?
No, I did not and he did not accuse me of teaching anything
contrary to God’s word. Was
I guilty of immoral living? No,
and he did not accuse me of immoral living.
Had I neglected to carry out my duties?
No, and he did not accuse me of neglecting my duties.
Neither President Moldstad nor any member of my congregation
accused me of teaching falsely, living an ungodly life, or failing to
carry out my pastoral duties. Why
then was it necessary for the ELS and every member of the ELS to mark and
avoid me? What did I do to
“sow the seeds of discord among brethren” as his formal charge stated
I said that the synod had erred. I pointed out the error.
I claimed that a doctrinal statement adopted by the ELS in
convention was in certain respects unbiblical.
I made this claim because it is true.
I demonstrated the truth of this claim in my paper. I also claimed that the adopted statement departed from the
pattern of sound words as set forth in the Lutheran Confessions.
That is true, too. I made it clear that I would not regard the adopted statement
as having any authority over my teaching.
Here is the logic of President Moldstad’s doctrine of church fellowship:
The synod becomes its own standard
of truth. The word of God is
wholly subordinated to the authority of the synod itself.
John Moldstad Jr. did not need to appeal to the Bible to answer the
biblical criticism of the adopted document that I raised in the paper that
he demanded I retract. Nor
did he need to consult God’s written word to see what it tells us about
how to resolve controversies among us.
Indeed, what the word of God says is irrelevant.
We don’t need to know what it says.
We only need to know that we may not belong to a synod that teaches
false doctrine. This is
fundamental. Therefore, if
Pastor Preus is claiming that the ELS teaches false doctrine then he may
not belong to the ELS and the ELS must break fellowship with him.
Moldstad claims that when the
synod, by a 62% majority, adopts a doctrinal statement that doctrinal
statement must be accepted unconditionally by the 38% that voted against
it. No longer does a confession of faith derive its authority
from being drawn from the written word of God.
It now draws its authority from the “orthodox” synod that
adopted it. The synod is
placed over the word of God in service to Moldstad’s false doctrine of
His refusal to show that I wrote
anything contrary to the Holy Scriptures in the paper that he demanded I
retract constitutes a denial of the normative authority of the Scriptures.
This is not just a theoretical authority. It is not an authority that can be transferred to an entity
such as a synod. The
normative authority of the Scriptures requires that the Scriptures are
actually to be used in judging the doctrine of the church’s teachers.
This Moldstad repeatedly refused to do.
For Moldstad to exclude me from the fellowship of the synod without
showing from the Scriptures that I taught contrary to God’s word is to
reject the Scriptures as the norm and to replace the Scriptures with the
Two features of the confessional
subscription of the original signatories of the Lutheran Confessions are
instructive on this point. First,
subscription was voluntary. Second,
it was unanimous. The very
idea that one can agree to accept “unconditionally” a document that
one has voted against is a direct assault on the confessional principle.
We subscribe only because the document agrees with the Bible.
We do not acknowledge any other authority over our doctrine than
the written word of God. This is why I was conscience bound to say clearly and
publicly that I could not acknowledge the authority of the adopted
document over me. To accept
as normative a document that one is not convinced agrees with the written
word of God on every point is to reject the normative authority of the
Holy Scriptures. This is a
denial of the very foundation of the confessional principle.
This denial is precisely what John Moldstad Jr. required of me as a
condition of remaining a member of the ELS.
I was required to choose between the Bible and the synod.
But Moldstad’s false doctrine of fellowship required him to
require this of me. If the
synod erred even on a single point she would no longer be an orthodox
synod. If that were the case,
Moldstad’s doctrine of fellowship would fall of its own weight.
Synodically adopted doctrinal statements must, in obedience to this
false doctrine of church fellowship, be accepted unconditionally even when
asserting as divine doctrine what the written word of God does not teach.
John Moldstad Jr. required River
Heights Lutheran Church to choose between her pastor and her synod.
He gave them less than a week to decide whether to suspend their
pastor from office or be excluded from the fellowship of their synod.
It was impossible for RHLC to follow the requirements of God’s
word within the timeframe available to them.
Moldstad was perfectly aware of this.
Knowing that they could not possibly provide due process for their
pastor but would be required to remove him for the sole reason that he was
no longer a member of the synod he nevertheless required this of them.
He required that they sin. He
did so with his eyes wide open. I
appealed to him to back away from his ultimatum when he visited the
congregation. He refused. I
specifically told him in the presence of the congregation that they could
not do what he was requiring them to do without going against God’s
word. He nevertheless
insisted that they do just that or be excluded from the fellowship of
their own synod. In this way
Moldstad’s false doctrine of fellowship led Christian men into sin.
This again places the synod over
the word of God, replacing the Holy Scriptures as the only rule and norm
according to which all teachers and teachings in the church are to be
judged with the authority of the synod itself.
President Moldstad’s false
doctrine of church fellowship is sectarian.
The sect becomes the standard for her own truth.
Casual error becomes entrenched false doctrine.
This will of necessity happen for the simple reason that, if the
synod adopts a doctrinal statement, the statement cannot be corrected on
the basis of God’s word because the one doing the correcting will in so
doing have violated the conditions of membership in the synod.
Thus, doing what is incumbent for a minister of the gospel to do
becomes the grounds for exclusion from the synod.
Simply put, John Moldstad Jr.
threw me out of the ELS because I wrote the truth and refused to retract
it. He did so in obedience to a false and sectarian doctrine of
fellowship that subordinates the Bible to the synod. This false doctrine of fellowship requires its adherents to
reject the normative authority of the Bible, the confessional principle of
the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and it leads God’s children into
grievous sin as they obey a synodical authority that requires them to sin
against God as a condition of synodical membership.
The true doctrine of church
fellowship subordinates the church to the word of God.
Moldstad’s false doctrine of church fellowship subordinates the
word of God to the church. In
service to this false doctrine John Moldstad, Jr. has run away from the
Holy Scriptures throughout this debate and controversy.
During the single meeting that he and I had prior to his expulsion
of me from the ELS I repeatedly asked him to show me where the Bible
teaches anything about a “limited public use of the keys,” a concept
that the adopted statement claims is taught in God’s word.
He evaded my question seven times in a row.
On my eighth effort to convince him to go to the Scriptures as his
authority he finally acquiesced to my request and attempted to show a
limited public use of the keys from the Bible.
He failed to do so. He
cannot do so because it cannot be done.
This is why he runs away from an open and honest debate of the
issue with the authority of the Holy Scriptures as the only judge.
He relies on the authority of the synod in doctrinal matters and
rejects the authority of God’s word.
Confessional Lutherans insist that our doctrine be judged by the
Scriptures. President Moldstad has refused to apply this confessional
Lutheran standard to my teaching. His
false doctrine of fellowship does not require that he do so.
He need only make a plausible argument that in criticizing a
doctrinal statement that the ELS has adopted I have accused the synod of
false doctrine. According to
his false doctrine of fellowship, such an accusation on my part requires
that I be excluded from the fellowship.
The purge of confessional Lutheran
pastors and congregations in the ELS continues as I write these words.
This purge is driven by Moldstad’s false doctrine of church
II: The Commission on Appeals
On August 22 I met with the
Commission on Appeals. The
Commission consisted of five men: Revs. Charles Keeler, Kincaid Smith,
William Kessel, and Bob Smith and Ron Younge.
Keeler explained the agenda for the meeting.
He would do all of the talking on behalf of the Commission.
I would be given 20 minutes to make a presentation.
This would be followed by questions to me from the Commission.
After the questions and answers we would take a recess, I would be
excused, and they would come up with more questions.
Then I would make a closing statement.
That’s how the meeting went.
I spoke for about 15 minutes,
making my presentation.
I gave the written copy (that I read verbatim) to Chairman Keeler
after I read it.
They asked me about a dozen
questions. They did not ask
me any questions about any of my charges against President John Moldstad,
Jr. They did not ask me any questions about my removal as pastor
of River Heights Lutheran Church. They
did not ask me any questions about any of the facts surrounding my
suspension from the synod. Indeed,
none of the questions I was asked was in any way responsive to my written appeal.
They asked no questions at all about the biblical and confessional
arguments I raised in my written appeal.
From the questions they asked me I saw no evidence that the men on
the Commission had even read my appeal.
They asked me if when I said the PCM document said things that were “unscriptural” was I saying that this was false doctrine. I said no and gave the example of the pious opinion concerning the bodily assumption of Mary. This is an unscriptural opinion but it is not false doctrine. Yet one may not permit this to be imposed as dogma.
They asked several questions about
why I did not or could not retract my paper.
I reiterated what I said in my one page explanation, “Should
I Retract my ‘Clarifying the Issues’ Paper?”
I did this several times. Then
they asked why I didn’t retract when Glenn Obenberger asked me to.
I said that Glenn meant well, but I reiterated my reasons. It is based on my belief that FC SD Rule and Norm paragraph
three will not permit me to permit my doctrine to be judged by any other
standard than Scripture alone. I
told them to read “Should I Retract my ‘Clarifying the Issues’
They asked me if I supported the
constitution that requires unconditional acceptance of the Confessions and
teachings of the Synod. I
said yes, and I also explained that the teachings of synod are not to be
identified solely with the adopted doctrinal statements.
I told them that I agreed with what H. A. Preus, Bjug Harstad, and
the 1862 Theses on lay preachers said about the public ministry of the
word. I told them that I
agreed with the “We Believe, Teach, and Confess” document of the ELS.
I said that I did not believe I should be judged to be attacking
the Synod because I dissent from a single doctrinal statement to which a
significant minority of the Synod has objected.
When asked if I saw any possible
resolution to the problem I suggested that they ask President John
Moldstad, Jr. and me to meet with each other in an effort to come up with
a joint statement. I also said that I would be happy to issue a clarifying
statement expressing my respect for the synod, that I am not leveling
charges against the synod, etc.
On September 10 the Commission on
Appeals announced that they had ruled to support my expulsion from the
ELS. President John Moldstad, Jr. sent this information out via
email to the ministerium of the ELS on September 11.
He informed me by U. S. Mail (that I received on September 14).
On or about November 25 the
Commission on Appeals issued its opinion.
It has no date.
There is little to say in response
to the opinion of the COA. The
facts speak for themselves. The
claim that Moldstad acted biblically is false on the face of it as I have
already shown. They asked me not one question about how Moldstad dealt with
me and yet concluded that he handled the situation according to the
Scriptures. It is obvious
that they had decided the case before meeting with me.
The fact that Kincaid Smith did not recuse himself and was
appointed secretary by the COA confirms what I wrote in the appendix to my
appeal. A minister of the word tells me “I rue the day you joined
our synod.” He writes a
letter to the entire ministerium of the synod and puts words in my mouth
that I never said. When I
correct him, he publicly stands behind his false assertions.
Then, a few years later when I remind him of what he said to me and
ask him to recuse himself from judging whether or not I should be expelled
from the synod he walks away from me while I am talking to him.
He refuses to recuse himself.
The men of the COA support him in this refusal.
When the normative authority of God’s written word is set aside
in favor of the normative authority of a synod such corruption is not
recognized as corruption. Not
once did John Moldstad Jr. or any of his representatives ever confront me
with an alleged falsehood I had spoken.
If the members of the COA read my written appeal they were fully
aware of this. Yet these men
presumed to cite God’s word against me, finding me guilty as charged of,
as they put it in their report:
seeds of discord among the brethren. (Proverbs 6:19) vs. 16:
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to
him…19) a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up
dissention among brothers.” NIV
They accuse me of this while
neglecting to point out where I have said anything that is untrue or
There is one particular error that
should be addressed. The COA
the Appellant claims that he did not intend to accuse the Statement of the
E.L.S. on doctrine of the Public Ministry of containing false doctrine,
his words, “flawed, falsely claims, unscriptural” lead to the
conclusion that he is accusing the document of false doctrine.
This is not true.
I did not claim that I “did not intend to accuse the Statement of
the E.L.S. on doctrine of the Public Ministry of containing false
doctrine.” I said that I
was not accusing the Synod of false doctrine.
When the COA asked me directly if I believed that the adopted
statement contained false doctrine I replied, “It certainly appears
to.” I then proceeded to
explain that while it appeared to me that the PCM document contained false
doctrine I would not accuse one who subscribes to it of false doctrine.
I knew that the document had been interpreted to teach mutually
exclusive things and that there was great confusion on what it actually
taught. I was unwilling to
accuse those who subscribed to it of false doctrine, but I made it clear
that it did appear to me that the document contained false doctrine.
Indeed, I went to great lengths to explain to the COA that my
criticism of a document adopted by the synod should not be construed as an
accusation of false doctrine against the synod that adopted it.
Despite my repeated assertions to this effect it appears from the
above garbled account of what I said that they did not understand what I
was talking about.
Throughout this process I have
argued that I may point out a brother’s error without thereby accusing
him of false doctrine. I
remain of the same opinion today. However,
there does come a time when the casual intrusion of error becomes
entrenched false doctrine. I
do not know that I am competent to judge just when that occurs.
The next day President Moldstad
left the chair for the purpose of making a speech against the Sparley
proposal. It was defeated. The opportunity to back away from a continuing purge on the
basis of synodical rather than biblical authority was lost.
The church submits to God’s
word. God’s word does not submit to the church.
This is one of the fundamental principles of the Lutheran
Reformation. Orthodoxy cannot
be inherited from the fathers. The
spirit of confessional Lutheranism flows from a deep reverence for the
sacred text of the Bible. When
we approach God’s word we take off our shoes for we are standing on holy
I left the Missouri Synod for the
ELS in 1997 because I believed that the Missouri Synod as an institution
was not serious about upholding the doctrine it confessed.
When asked why I left I pointed to the doctrine of church
fellowship. The Missouri
Synod did not practice what it preached.
She did not take her doctrine seriously.
Ironically, it was by the authority of a false doctrine of church fellowship that I was expelled from the ELS. During the past several years I have witnessed a profound disrespect for the written word of God on the part of men who stand in judgment of the Missouri Synod for her doctrinal unfaithfulness. I grew up in the Missouri Synod. I grew up on the campus of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. I witnessed the “Battle for the Bible” when I was a young man. I do not believe that I witnessed then a greater disregard for the authority of God’s written word than I have witnessed in recent years as a member of the ELS. I pray that my brothers who remain members of the ELS will find a way to confront this and, under God’s grace, return to the foundation of our fathers with the Holy Scriptures as the only source of our doctrine and the only standard by which all teaching and teachers in the church must be judged.