He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore,
to send out workers into his harvest field.” Luke 10:2
It is . . . . A Venture of Faith
- It is an attempt to build an effective and orderly Christian fellowship with a minimum of human organization. It is an experiment in extreme ecclesiastical democracy and decentralization. It is a searching test of faith in the power of the Spirit of God.
It is . . . .A Fellowship of Independent Lutheran Congregations
- It is congregations bound together by the bonds of loyalty to a common cause and common tasks. It is a specific and direct rejection of the superior authority of every ecclesiastical organization above the congregation. It is an attempt to test seriously the uniting power of Christian love and cooperation. It is a call to spiritual pilgrimage with no endeavor to organize the pilgrims into the rigid battalions of an army.
It is . . . .A Cooperative Venture
- It is a venture in building Lutheran congregations by means of a dominant emphasis neither upon organization nor upon the intricacies of doctrine but upon a living and personal Christian experience. It is an attempt to carry out in everyday practice the Reformation principle of the universal priesthood of believers. It is a concrete expression of revolt against ritualism and formalism, and of the desire to nourish the spiritual life in utter simplicity upon the Word of God. It is an effort to provide orderly channels for the cultivation of the laity’s personal witness for Christ, both in public and in private. Yet it cherishes the ordered ministry of consecrated and trained men, and the noble heritage of Christian worship, that its people may know themselves to be one with Christ of all the ages.
It is . . . .Not a Synod
- It does not have the authority, save by consent of its congregations, to unite with Lutheran synods in an effort to bring about an organically unified Lutheran Church. It is one of the smaller Lutheran groups, standing deeply in need of the varied contributions of other and larger bodies if it is to do its work effectively in its various fields of endeavor. It is an effort to achieve not a specific form of Church organization but a high quality of Christian life, in the faith that true spiritual life will tend to mold for itself a fitting form of organization. It was conceived to be a kind of ecclesiastical and spiritual leaven in American Lutheranism.
An Organization Born in a Dream of Spiritual Power and Vitality
Yet it has been able to carry on even when its power and spiritual vitality seemed at lower ebb. It was launched under a great and inspiring leadership in a period of intense struggle; yet it has not perished when led through calmer seas and by spirits less flaming. It has been ridiculed as small, impractical, and visionary; yet those who know it best know that none of these words is a fatal indictment. It has been accused of ‘separatism;’ yet it has throughout all of its history been earnestly in favor of full spiritual cooperation. Its dissolution has long and often been foretold; but it still lives. The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations is an attempt to translate a high spiritual vision into reality, even at the cost of being suspected of turning reality into a dream.
The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations is sincerely grateful for the work of other Lutherans; yet it desires to have its own peculiar share in the mighty work and witness of the Lutheran Church. It does not seek to pass judgment on the relative contribution to Lutheranism of groups small or large; it earnestly seeks to be kept truly humble because of the imperfection of its achievements, and rightly proud because of the greatness of its heritage. Limited in numbers so that not even its name is known in many Lutheran circles of our country, and conscious that it will probably never be regarded as ‘successful’ in the eyes of the world, it still believes in the continuing urgency of its message. Willing if necessary to find its success in seeming failure, the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations is committed, together with others of like mind, to the struggle for true congregational life in the Lutheran Church, in America.
The above statements were both inspired by and partially taken from an article originally published under the title of “What is the Lutheran Free Church?” by Dr. B. M. Christensen in The Lutheran Messenger. All references to ‘Lutheran Free Church’ have been changed to ‘Association of Free Lutheran Congregations.’ The Lutheran Free Church was the predecessor of the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, which is founded upon its Fundamental Principles.
Having a common purpose and seeking one goal, we join together as free congregations for Christian fellowship, mutual edification, the salvation of souls, and whatever work may be necessary that the Kingdom of God may come among us and our fellow men. No bonds of compulsion bind us, save those which the Holy Spirit lays upon us.
No man fully understands the times and the situations in which he lives. At best we see through a glass darkly. Nevertheless, each Christian must decide in the light of God’s Word and the evidence which he has what course of action he should take and to what causes his life should be given. It is the same for the Christian congregations. Imperfect as it is, it must decide in what fellowship of other congregations it can best live out its purpose for being. Out of considerable soul-searching and prayer we have chosen to continue as Lutheran free churches.
As we stand at this particular moment of time, we give thanks for the heritage of the past. We recognize and confess our indebtedness to many noble souls of the faith, both the relatively unknown who are faithful in their places and the ones on whom God placed the mantle of leadership. Even as it is true that before the Cross of Christ there are no self-made men, so it is true that we have shared in blessings from many and are debtors.
It seems good to us as we join together for common work and fellowship to state our beliefs in regard to the following matters.
- We accept and believe in the Holy Bible as the complete written Word of God, preserved to us by the Holy Spirit for our salvation and instruction.
- We endorse the statement on the Word as found in the United Testimony on Faith and Life and would quote here the following: “We bear witness that the Bible is our only authentic and infallible source of God’s revelation to us and all men, and that it is the only inerrant and completely adequate source and norm of Christian doctrine and life. We hold that the Bible, as a whole and in all its parts, is the Word of God under all circumstances regardless of man’s attitude toward it.”
- We accept the ancient ecumenical symbols, namely, the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds; Luther’s Small Catechism and the unaltered Augsburg Confession as the true expression of the Christian faith and life.
- We reject any affiliations or associations which do not accept the Bible alone as definitive for the life and practice of man and the church.
- We submit all religious teaching to the test of II John 7-11.
- We endorse no one version or revision of the Bible to the exclusion of others. We recommend all which are reverent and true translations.
II. Christian Unity
- He who believes in and accepts the sufficient work of Jesus for his salvation and is baptized, is a child of God.
- The Christian is united by the strongest bonds to those who share this faith with him whether they come from his own denomination or another.
- We believe that Jesus, in His High Priestly Prayer, prayed that those who believe in Him might find and accept each other.
- In some situations it is possible that unions of groups of congregations may be desirable.
- We recommend that our congregations cooperate wherever possible with like-minded Lutheran congregations and movements in programs of evangelism and witness.
- We envision opportunities for our congregations to cooperate with the Protestant churches in the areas of evangelism and witness to their communities. However, care must be taken not to compromise the Lutheran understanding of the Scriptures.
III. Church Polity
- We believe that final human authority in the churches is vested in the local congregations, subject to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.
- Scripture does not command or forbid any particular organization for fellowship of congregations. In the absence of this, we believe it is most safe to operate in a democratic way.
- Conferences of the congregations of our fellowship do not enact law for the congregations, but simply recommend actions and practices to them.
- In a free association of congregations such as this, neither its officers or conferences can negotiate the union of any or all of the congregations with another fellowship of congregations. This is an individual matter of the congregation.
- We accept the Guiding Principles of the Lutheran Free Church as a true statement of our belief in regard to church polity.
- The Holy Christian Church consists of those who in their hearts truly believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
- A free congregation selects and calls its own pastors, conducts its own program of worship, fellowship and service and owns and maintains its own property.
IV. Practical Life
- The Christian seeks to refrain from those acts, thoughts, and words which are against a stated law of God.
- Where actions and practices are neither forbidden nor encouraged in Scripture by name, the earnest believer will search in the Scriptures for principles to guide his decisions and conduct.
- He is aware that there is a separation which is necessary between the Christian and the world.
- Ultimately every Christian makes his own decisions as to life and practice in the presence of his God. But he welcomes the sincere counsel of fellow believers.
- Every Christian is responsible for the witness of his life to others and will govern himself, with the Lord’s help, accordingly.
- The Christian will refrain from belonging to organizations which practice a religion without Christ as the only Savior. Belonging to such a group places the believer in a hopelessly compromised position and destroys his witness for Christ.
V. Church Life
- We make no recommendation as to the use of liturgy and vestments except that we encourage simplicity in worship.
- We believe the earliest Christians were extremely simple in their order of service. Whatever is added to the service carries the danger of becoming only form.
- Even the simple parts of the service may become only form.
- The preaching of the Word of God must be the central part of the service.
- True Gospel preaching endeavors to meet the needs of all who hear: the believer who desires to grow in his life with God, the seeking and uncertain souls who want to see Him, the hypocrite who must be awakened from his self-righteousness, and the hardened sinner who must still be called to saving faith.
- The Sacraments must always be met by the response of faith in the heart of the recipient to be efficacious.
- Hymn books should be such as will give honor to the Word of God and the Sacraments.
- Congregations will cherish opportunities for Bible study and prayer fellowship.
- The Lord has given talents and gifts to Christian lay people as well as pastors, and opportunity should be given for the practice of these gifts in the life of the congregations, also in meetings of fellowship outside the congregation, and in service to a needy world.
See more information to download and read about the AFLC
(Submitted to the Special Conference of Lutheran Congregations at Thief River Falls, October 25-28, 1962).
Download Creeds (pdf files)
The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations Fundamental Principles
(Guiding Principles of the Lutheran Free Church since 1897) – see Adobe PDF version
(Rules for work with Guiding Principles) – pdf file
- According to the Word of God, the congregation is the right form of the Kingdom of God on earth.
- The congregation consists of believers who, by using the means of grace and the spiritual gifts as directed by the Word of God, seek salvation and eternal blessedness for themselves and for their fellow men.
- According to the New Testament, the congregation needs an external organization with membership roll, election of officers, stated times and places for its gatherings, and other similar provisions.
- Members of the organized congregation are not, in every instance, believers, and such members often derive false hope from their external connection with the congregation. It is therefore the sacred obligation of the congregation to purify itself by the quickening preaching of the Word of God, by earnest admonition and exhortation, and by expelling the openly sinful and perverse.
- The congregation directs its own affairs, subject to the authority of the Word and the Spirit of God, and acknowledges no other ecclesiastical authority or government above itself.
- A free congregation esteems and cherishes all the spiritual gifts which the Lord gives for its edification, and seeks to stimulate and encourage their use.
- A free congregation gladly accepts the mutual assistance which congregations can give one another in the work for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
- Such assistance consists partly in the mutual sharings of spiritual gifts among the congregations through conferences, exchange visits, lay activities, etc., whereby congregations are mutually edified, and partly in the voluntary and Spirit-prompted cooperation of congregations for the accomplishing of such tasks as exceed the ability of the individual congregation.
- Among such tasks may be mentioned specifically the training of pastors, distribution of Bibles and other Christian literature, home missions, foreign missions, Jewish missions, deaconess homes, children’s homes and other work of mercy.
- Free congregations have no right to demand that other congregations shall submit to their opinion, will, judgment, or decision; therefore, domination by a majority of congregations over a minority is to be rejected.
- Agencies found desirable for conducting the joint activities of congregations, such as conferences, committees, officers, etc., cannot in a Lutheran Free Church, impose any obligations or restrictions, exert any compulsions, or lay any burden upon the individual congregation, but have the right only to make recommendations to, and requests of, congregations and individuals.
- Every free congregation, as well as every individual believer, is constrained by the Spirit of God and by the privileges of Christian love to do good and to work for the salvation of souls and the quickening of the spiritual life, as far as its abilities and power permit. Such free spiritual activity is limited neither by parish nor by synodical boundaries.