What Does the LCMS Reap by Sowing Confusion Among its Members?

Anecdotal evidence indicates that the average LCMS pew-dweller has a superficial grasp of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, mixed with a distaste for Synodical machinations. What happens to this half of the Synod membership when they are confused by the careless “cooperation in externals” by LCMS entities?

This is not a call to play to the lowest common denominator (our seminaries, synodocrats, and pastors have a duty to fix the catechism problem). It is a plea to take greater care lest we weaken or destroy the faith of others by ‘disappearing’ what is essential for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Unfortunately, our leadership and institutions can be too casual in dismissing objections to their activities as the wailings of fragile pietists, or pharisaism, or a lack of education and sophistication, or the old favorite – breaking the Eighth Commandment.

It is attractive to dwell on “Christian unity” where it focuses on areas of agreement whilst sweeping disagreements under the rug. The problem is that the disagreements invariably reduce to blaming doctrine, and the people who desire to uphold pure doctrine, as divisive. Pure doctrine becomes the problem rather than the solution it is.

In November 1974 the CTCR published A Lutheran Stance Toward Ecumenism. It makes many fine points, and the Preface has this zinger about what the church is, and what its mission is:

The Lutheran Confessions speak in plain and simple terms about the nature and mission of the church. “Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd” (SA III, xii, 2). Through this community on earth, the Holy Spirit “speaks and does all his work” (LC II, 61). “It is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God” (LC II, 42). In these words the Confessions describe the church’s mission in the world, namely, to make disciples of all nations through the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments, for “through these, as through means, he [God] gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith.” (AC V, 2)

The “missional / discipling” faction within the LCMS has deformed the plain and simple understanding of the church such that a seven-year-old child needs a business school degree to recognize it. Within this church growth movement there is a strong inclination to ecumenism. There is also an inclination to a peculiar inter-“Lutheran” fraternalism in the LCMS’s human care institutions. This amounts to a creeping disavowal of our identity. We would do well to heed the CTCR in this regard:

The preservation of confessional unanimity within our own church body ought by all means to head the list of priorities. Whenever fellowship in our own immediate community is threatened by disagreement and dissension, our efforts must be focused on pursuing peace and harmony within our own household. Unless we have agreement among ourselves it is difficult, if not impossible, to form any clear conception of the kind and degree of agreement we seek with other Christians outside our church body.

Just as our human care priority must be for those within the church, so must our doctrinal priority be “full confessional unanimity throughout Christendom with respect to all the articles of faith… It is in the interest of preserving the pure teaching of the Gospel that Lutherans seek by the light and power of the Gospel to reach full agreement in all the articles of faith.”

We have an obligation to consistently confess the truth and expose error; first for ourselves and then for others, which is exactly as our Confessions are structured.

Whilst a conference or a relief organization is not the church, it would be tendentious to argue that we set aside AC V or AC VII just because we left church on Sunday. For example, many of our “not church” institutions deliberately employ ordained ministers for their senior ranks, and we accept this as a form of the call. In so doing there is clearly the intent and desire to communicate and transmit our articles of faith through their respective activities. Likewise, we confess AC IV on Sundays as well as Monday through Saturday. Our formal and material principles are evergreen.

Suggesting that our Confessions are not compromised by “cooperation in externals”, especially with organizations that reject the Gospel, leaves us dancing on the head of a pin. The pin has consequences as it pierces the faith of the weak or collapses genuine Lutheran evangelism.

Our Synod demands that churches seeking altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS should jump through all manner of hoops to get the St. Louis nod. What must those seeking fellowship think when they see the LCMS splashing its money around with heterodox groups, some of which literally hate the Gospel?

Here are some recent examples of the threats to our identity and confession:

Lutheran World Relief

The LCMS says that its human care activities must take place in close proximity to Word and Sacrament ministry. Yet LWR, funded by the LCMS and ELCA (a wildly heterodox tax-exempt agency), has severed any connection to AC IV as it performs human care around the world.

The organization describes itself thusly: “Lutheran World Relief is a non-profit organization that works with local partners to provide lasting solutions to poverty, injustice and human suffering.”

That description is so generic that it fits a thousand NGOs in the same line of work. Yet the LCMS is not directly partnered with any of them; only with the“Lutheran” one. Therefore, “Lutheran” must be valued by the LCMS as having a specific import in connection with “World Relief”. There is a reason the LCMS does not pursue partnership with Samaritan’s Purse or the Red Crescent – it is not interested primarily in performance or competence, but in identity and association.

Don’t go looking for Lutheran distinctives at LWR though. Rather, you’ll get sappy universalism:

Following Jesus

As Lutherans, we wholeheartedly believe that true justice, authentic dignity and holistic peace cannot be externally imposed. The life of Jesus is our model for accompaniment, and we strive to walk with others as he did — openly, with compassion and understanding, encouraging one another. [emphasis original]

Alternatively, you can enjoy blasphemy like this: “If you and your family support LWR with your money, you will be helping Jesus to satisfy a person’s real thirst.

How do we answer someone who points to these words as Lutheran doctrine? Do we tell them that it is inconsequential “external” Lutheran theology, but that “internal” Lutheran theology is the real deal? What do we do with the Synod member who imbibes LWR’s social gospel on the basis that it has been endorsed by the fact of LCMS’s partnership? Should she also assume that the indirect partnership with the politically-driven ACT Alliance encompasses the LCMS worldview?

Concordia University Irvine Great Commission Summit

CUI seems to have sidelined the original partners for its Great Commission Summit which included an AME Church and the Catholic Diocese of Orange. Mariner’s Church remains involved, and it has very little in common with CUI’s supposed Lutheran identity.

The CUI conference partners send a signal to the lightly informed that Lutherans generally, and the LCMS specifically, have an “all-roads lead to heaven” insouciance. Does it rise to the level of false ecumenism? Probably not, but we cannot have catholicity with denominations that deny the Gospel, and we should not be papering over the cracks with conferences like this.

CUI’s apparent permissiveness is accentuated by the selection of keynote speakers. The first, Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church, and a social gospel advocate whose Liberality is confirmed by a seat on the Board of Sojourners (which cannot even abide Jesus in its mission statement).

The second speaker is Ed Stetzer. He is a Director of Lifeway and Executive Director of its propagation division, LifeWay Research. He is also pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, TN. All are Southern Baptist Convention entities, and Stetzer is at the center of the SBC’s internecine war over its future as a primarily Calvinist or Arminian denomination. LifeWay’s publishing business is certainly guilty of false ecumenism and a case of outright deception.

Can these speakers really convey the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments better than Confessional Lutherans can? Even if you agree with CUI’s premise for the conference (that foreigners will replace Americans in church) are there really no Lutheran resources qualified to teach on the topic? Should we risk a single Lutheran thinking that Lifeway book stores are purveyors of sound doctrine?

Tullian Tchividjian at Concordia Seminary St. Louis

Our Seminaries (and universities) have a difficult task balancing academic freedom and enquiry with faithfulness to the Lutheran Confessions and the teachings of the LCMS. If our Seminaries get it wrong then the entire Synod is jeopardized since Pastors may carry false doctrine and new measures to the flock. Consequently, the Seminaries and their faculty need to be under the brightest spotlight and tightly reined at all times, and they should certainly not chafe against this oversight.

When a Seminary provides a non- or heterodox Lutheran with a platform we have to be especially mindful of the consequences. A lecture on homiletics can be neutral ground, but a presentation on Law & Gospel absent the sacraments is not.

That is the confusion surrounding Tchividjian speaking at the Reformation500 series at CSL. Oddly, CSL describes Tchividjian as “an important voice within American evangelicalism”. Tchividjian is a Reformed Presbyterian who is quite disliked by American evangelicals because he is regarded as promoting antinomianism.

CSL described the purpose of the lecture as “hearing his perspective on the challenges and opportunities that the theology of the Reformation brings to the contemporary American religious landscape.”

That is incredibly confusing to the poorly catechized or “new” Lutherans . It implies that the Reformation was a homogeneous event with a single outcome. Yet Tchividjian represents Calvinism which we reject as sectarian for many reasons, not the least of which is the dispute over the sacraments.

Tchividjian’s good grasp of Law & Gospel makes him attractive to Lutherans. Yet, what good is a proper distinction of Law & Gospel it if we disagree on the means of grace that changes L&G from a hermeneutic to the actual salvation of the sinner?

To academics and the well catechized this is petty. What of the majority that will have a very hard time understanding that Tchividjian in fact rejects the means of grace even as he embraces Law & Gospel, and hails Luther as a hero? How has CSL helped to make it clear that, say, on a vacation in Florida, Joe & Susie Lutheran should not go to Coral Ridge and take communion?

Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services

LIRS has nearly identical problems to LWR that we have documented previously. So we will not reprise the issues here save to say that the LCMS has an unreserved and uncritical relationship with LIRS that needs to be dealt with.


We struggle continually with syncretism and unionism questions, but the Small Catechism keeps it simple. It teaches: “we should avoid false teachers, false churches, and all organizations that promote a religion that is contrary to God’s Word” (Question 179, Answer C).

The SC makes it clear that our standard for “collaboration in externals” is not whether full altar and pulpit fellowship is being pursued, but simply to avoid false teachers, churches and organizations.

There are too many instances where we run toward them and embrace them. Our LCMS institutions can be far too careless with the articles of faith when it is convenient. That has a great cost.


What Does the LCMS Reap by Sowing Confusion Among its Members? — 69 Comments

  1. @jb #45
    The star struck comment was not meant for you! There are plenty of people though who seem to be enamored of him because he is Billy’s grandson. My point was, if this was just some unknown Calvinist pastor spouting the same theology would we be inviting him to our seminary to present? Would we be praising him with TWO articles on BJS (as happened in the not so distant past)?

  2. @jb #50

    I don’t think anybody said TT was the biggest threat to Lutheranism anywhere. But I also don’t think he will be much help to us in getting our Church and Ministry right either! 😉
    God’s richest blessings to you in Christ, our crucified King, this Holy Week!

  3. @Diane #49

    Hi Diane,
    Because of the reasons you cite above, I actually consider myself very blessed to not be a life-long LCMSer. I came into the church in my late teens (never formally catechized! egad!) and floated along for over 20 years before even beginning to understand (or caring about) Lutheran doctrine. It simply isn’t discussed or taught in any of the many LCMS churches I’ve attended.
    I’ve spent considerable time in the past decade with the Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians (PCA and PCUSA), Episcopalians, non-denoms, the ELCA, etc., both in worship and Bible study. It was exposure to all those different churches (and the working of the Holy Spirit) that got me interested in the doctrine of the LCMS. I wanted to make sure I was in the “right” place. And our church is blessed with, by far, the strongest confession of any church in the world. What doctrine I do know I have learned from Lutheran books (Luther, Walther, Pieper, etc.) and, of course, the Book of Concord.
    So I’ve been reading and learning. What disturbs me is how little doctrine is actually known by some (most?) life-long LCMSers. I mention something like divine monergism and the errors of “decision theology” and I actually get some people very upset in my men’s group! I can point to the writings of Walther or Luther, or better yet, Article II of the Solid Declaration of the Formula, but nobody is reading any of this stuff.
    Worse yet, many of our pastors don’t seem to teach doctrine at all, or try to correct errors. The nail in the coffin is when our synod supports (in the past) the decision theology language of Walter A. Maier!
    So, although this is off-topic, that’s my 2 cents on why members of our churches flock to Beth Moore and Rick Warren and their ilk. They don’t know any better, and our pastors aren’t correcting them.

  4. @Martin R. Noland #46

    I listen to some of them simply to test my discernment, and for entertainment purposes. My wife loves watching me scream at Charles Stanley on the TV! And his son is even worse!

  5. @JWSkud #53

    Hi JWSkud,
    I think pastors who were trained in the 50’s and 60’s were told not to criticize other Christian denominations at the seminary. Like you, I have been on the receiving end of angry LCMS people who think decision theology is what we as Lutherans teach! Or it doesn’t matter how they think they were saved, just as long as they are. It causes so much confusion amongst our people. The Biblical/Lutheran understanding of sin and grace, law and gospel, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper is so comforting and it gives so much assurance to us sinners. As I heard on KFUO the other day, someone wrote in and said, ‘I love being Lutheran’! Me too!

    Also, I didn’t realize the founding Lutheran Hour speaker, Walter A. Maier had decision theology language in his sermons. My father just loved listening to him.

    Blessings to you,

  6. @JWSkud #53
    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! It both saddens my heart and brings me great joy to hear a new-to-LCMS say the things you do. Sad, because what you are saying about the scarcity of real, solid, and substantial catechesis among far too many pastors is so true. Joy, because of the knowledge that the Holy Spirit has indeed opened the eyes of another person for whom Christ has shed His blood, believing and confessing the Gospel!

    When you have life-long “lcmsers” transfer into your congregation who have NEVER HEARD OF THE BOOK OF CONCORD we have a real tragedy on our hands. Is it any wonder so many members believe and act more like Evangelicals than Lutherans! When you have a pervious synodical president declare that there are no doctrinal issues in our synod only “differences in practice” you know we have a real tragedy on our hands. When we have members accuse LCMS pastors of being unloving for doing nothing more than acting as faithful Lutheran pastors (i.e., practicing closed communion, not participating in unionistic services, calling members to repentance, etc.) often with the support of the dp, we have a real tragedy on our hands. When we have pastors being “fired” for such faithfulness with the full support of the dp WE HAVE A REAL TRAGEDY ON OUR HANDS. When we have synodical officials acting more like bureaucrats than theologians or pastors we have real tragedy on our hands. When we have so many people in the church (both lay and clergy) who respond to the telling of such departures within the synod with anger over speaking ill of our “beloved mother church” rather than calling it back to faithfulness as Walther himself taught,
    “Whether our Synod gains friends or makes enemies, wins honor or invites disgrace, grows or declines in numbers, brings peace or incites enmity, all this must be unimportant to us–just so our Synod may keep the jewel of purity of doctrine and knowledge. However, should our Synod ever grow indifferent toward purity of doctrine, through ingratitude forget this prize, or betray or barter it away to the false church, then let our church body perish and the name ‘Missourian’ decay in disgrace”

    Thank you again for speaking the truth that more ears may see the truth of your witness and strive to positively affect real change in the LCMS that she may continue to be that “light on a hill” in a climate today of religious confusion and rejection of God’s Word.

  7. @Pastor Rick Pettey #56

    Thanks for the kind words!

    Sadly, for 2 decades within the LCMS, I didn’t even realize the importance of where I was. It wasn’t until 2 other adult/teen converts (one Baptist, another Episcopalian) told me about the incredible doctrine of the LCMS that I even became aware of our doctrine! 20 years in the the LCMS and I had never heard this, never heard that conversion is God’s work, never heard of the Book of Concord, etc.

    There are many faithful pastors and many dedicated laypeople within our churches trying to spread proper Lutheran doctrine, in addition to sites such as this one. May God bless them all in this challenging work!

    And I’ll recommend Fisk’s Worldview Everlasting as a great, high-energy, doctrinally sound (and entertaining) site for all those looking for a great resource. He takes on the toughest issues and questions and gives clear, Lutheran responses. Wonderful!

  8. @Diane #55

    Yes, Maier has such language in his sermons, especially his later ones. Here’s an old article about it:

    See pages 18-21 for the gist of it.

    Maier was a magnificent preacher of the Gospel (I’ve read 2 of his collected sermon books); he simply “tainted” his legacy near the end of his life with decision-oriented talk. The 4 million confirmed (via letters to his show) conversions came as a result of his listeners hearing Law and Gospel preached passionately, not because of their “decision”…and of course Billy Graham took on his mantle after his death, and “decision” became the #1 message.

  9. Father McCall –

    I am too old and too flipping Lutheran to take offense at much of anyting, so I, likwise, took no offense at your words. If we have been cross-talking – blame me.

    I was being flippant about Church and Ministry, which I believe we can agree has never been presented and accepted satisfactorily.

    Tullian? Whether either of us likes it or not, he IS high-profile, and he IS saying some great stuff. Rod is doing a yeoman’s work with him – that he is still weaving from lane-to-lane – welpers – it is what it is.

    My concern is that – we have enough problems staring us straight in the face. Giving T2 a platform is most definitely NOT one of those problems we need to solve. He is a potential convert, just like Joe and Jane Everyone down the street whose door we might knock. The fact the he is BG’s grandson is not the issue, but we ought not to ignore the impact his swimming the Mississippi would have.

    May never happen. But Jesus’ call for us to show compassion is, I believe, the foremost task in our sanctification.

    That is where I am at, and I really wish not to p/o anyone saying so.

    Hope that explains where I was coming from. Pax – jb

  10. @JWSkud #57

    You are right about worldvieweverlasting. Both that and Issues, Etc. (which both of my congregations support financially) are wonderful sources of solid, Lutheran catechesis. I publicly promote both of these web-sites. I would also encourage you to go to the web-site of Association of Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Congregations (if you haven’t already). Both of my congregations are members of this organization that desires to address the issues afflicting our synod biblically and confessionally, rather than simply bureaucratically through convention resolutions.
    Again, thank you for your honesty and welcome to confessional Lutheranism.

  11. Getting back to this author’s (Tim Wood) point in opposition to unionism and syncretism, here is yet another prime example of unionism being openly, unashamedly practiced by LCMS pastors, and being left unchecked by LCMS ecclesiastical supervisors: http://www.fairhavenmemorial.com/BookingRetrieve.aspx?ID=246092. The LCMS pastor participating in this joint worship service is from St. John’s Lutheran Church, Orange, California; that is the congregation at which Tim Klinkenberg is the senior pastor. The joint worship service was an Easter Sunrise Service, yesterday at Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary. As you can see by the event announcement, the pastor from St. John’s Lutheran Church jointly led the service with a pastor from an Assemblies of God church, and with a “leader” from an organization called Christian Business Men’s Connection (CBMC) http://cbmcsocal.com/about-cbmc/.

    Back to the initial question, “What Does the LCMS Reap by Sowing Confusion Among its Members?” Yes, the answer is obvious, the LCMS reaps a growing majority of confused members with confused consciences, who in turn, work, play, vote, raise their young, and interact on every level, according to their confused consciences. But you see, neither the confused leaders, nor their followers think they are confused. On the contrary, they are proud of their views, they are certain they are right, and they are certain that those who reject their views are confused. So there you have it. If Synod wants a growing majority of confused members, it should keep doing business just the way it is doing it now.

  12. @SJLC been there done that #61

    Yes, Pr. Klinkenberg has been discussed here and has even participated. I am not surprised by this, as to what I have been able to look up, read and hear what he has said even on this site. I find him greatly confused on what unionism and syncretism are. He is in the Pacific Southwest, but all three west coast districts are led in ways I believe are contrary to Lutheranism. When things appear online, I read up on their conventions, workbooks and eventual proceedings. He who has ears to hear….

  13. Great, great article by Tim Wood. Odd that only we “new” Lutherans seem to get it when it comes to spotting syncretism and we are generally told to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. This is so frustrating. Even those who seem the most resolute Lutherans are pulled into the “can’t we all just get along” web of deceit. Problem in trying to fool us is that we feed on all things that the BOC has to teach us because we were so hoodwinked by evangelical shysters in our past. Please don’t give up the fight. I won’t either. The truth cannot be friends with deception.

  14. @jb #59

    “Tullian? Whether either of us likes it or not, he IS high-profile, and he IS saying some great stuff. Rod is doing a yeoman’s work with him – that he is still weaving from lane-to-lane – welpers – it is what it is.”

    He’s also saying some lame stuff and cavorting around doing seminars with outright heretics (Nadia, TBN types, etc.) & tweets quotes from pagans and unbelievers as if they understand grace. I don’t see much difference from a Nadia Bolz Weber sermon or the hyper grace bunch from TBN in his message. And they apparently can’t see it either because they are lapping it up like pigs at slop.

    I have enjoyed him since about early 2010 when he started to change from his typical evangelical neo-calvinist message, and that lasted till about 2012 when I started hearing the law very dumbed down to something Nadia would say, more personal anecdotes, and less exegesis of the text. The people who have been saying he is antinomianism are starting to look like they have a point. I do agree some of the critiques against him have been unfair, but it’s almost as if in response he has gotten worse just to stick it to those ‘religious folk.’

    Saying “it is what it is” is kind of a cop out. It is NOT GOOD is what it is. It is more evidence that people shouldn’t be too quick to embrace these celebrity pastors and boost their careers.

  15. I believe the Bible when is says that Satan walks about seeking those whom he can lead away from Christ and those who are true in faith and true Christians are his prey. Pastors and church leaders are likely Satan’s best prey to lead many away from Christ.

  16. “Tullian?”

    Last year Concordia Seminary celebrated and commemorated the Lutheran Reformation with Tullian Tchividjian as its Reformation500 speaker – how did that work out?!?

    And if one thinks it couldn’t get worse, this year Concordia Seminary, presumably with the approval of its President (and now nominee for Synodical President) Dale Meyer, celebrated and commemorated the Lutheran Reformation with Miroslav ‘Allahu Akbar‘ Volf, author of the book, Allah: A Christian Response, which hawks the notion that Muslims worship the same God as Christians. Volf also implied that Martin Luther considered whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God (p. 60).

    Odds are that for the 2017 Reformation500 speaker Concordia Seminary may be looking to this guy or this.

  17. I am constantly amazed by speakers from outside Lutheran orthodoxy coming to speak at supposedly orthodox Lutheran gatherings on Lutheran topics as if they are some sort of authority or expert. If they are so smart I would think that they would recognize they should be Lutherans instead of whatever they are.

    Then you have the intermixing of the not so orthodox with outside groups trying to say new things or restate accepted things using new definitions, all adding to the collective mush. To use a legal term many of their topics are “settled law” so just get off the “stage” and go home. The idea of having “celebrity” pastors in our midst is appalling. Luther must be turning over in his grave!

  18. @Carl Vehse #68

    If a theologian is so smart, why isn’t he Lutheran?

    We’ve subsequently seen how “smart” Tullian is, and I’m thankful that he isn’t one of ours.
    Not that all Lutheran leadership is innocent!

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