What’s Wrong with LCMS Congregations?

July 19th, 2012 Post by

Nothing is “wrong” with 99% of the congregations of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod! That means one of out of a hundred might have a significant problem. Nothing is “wrong” with 98% of the pastors that serve this church! That means one out of fifty pastors might have a significant problem. These are my observations after nearly thirty years in the LCMS pastoral ministry. Those are actually pretty good percentages, compared to any other industry or institution. Yet ever since I have been in the ministry, we have been led to believe by some synodical “leaders” that something is “wrong” with nearly all of our congregations, because most aren’t “growing.”

When the laymen in LCMS congregations hear these synodical leaders, or the recommended consultants, and then do some “navel-gazing,” they conclude it can’t be their fault, so it must be their pastor—and out he goes! I have witnessed far too many situations like this. And the results are predictable. The next pastor either proves to be just like the previous, which is no “improvement—and out he goes. Or the new guy “turns over all the apple carts” and scares away the best and the brightest laymen in his congregation, with the net result being real decline—and out he goes too, soon enough.

More and more LCMS congregations are seeing “revolving door ministries,” i.e., pastors who only stay a year or two because they don’t “grow their church,” which only aggravates the decline in membership. The Lutheran way of being the church requires pastors with long tenure in the parish, since the chief pastoral function of privatseelsorge requires years of getting to know people and earning their trust. The bad counsel of some synodical “leaders” is, in fact, accelerating the numerical decline of our congregations and is the direct cause of bad morale all around.

What, then, is the true story about numerical decline and what’s “wrong” with LCMS congregations?

The June 2012 issue of Christianity Today has a short article titled “Mainline Conservative’s Dilemma” (see page 7). It reports on a study conducted by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. The study proves that in the matter of growth “it’s the denomination’s theology that tends to matter, not the congregation’s. Churches in evangelical [i.e., conservative] denominations are more than twice as likely to grow as churches in mainline [i.e., liberal] denominations, but within those denominations theological orientation doesn’t have much effect.” This presents a dilemma for conservative congregations and conservative pastors who are members of liberal denominations; but is encouraging news for churches like the LCMS. It also confirms the results of the 1970’s study by Dean M. Kelly titled Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (New York: Harper & Row, 1972).

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is a conservative denomination and is defined by many as an “evangelical” one. Why, then, as Gerald Kieschnick argued, has it “experienced a slow but steady decline in numbers of members of our 6,160 congregations” (Gerald Kieschnick, Waking the Sleeping Giant: The Birth, Growth, Decline, and Rebirth of an American Church [St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009], 16)? The causes are complex, and cannot be reduced to one or two factors. But, let me say up front, there is nothing “wrong” with 99% of our LCMS congregations, in spite of what our so-called “church growth” experts tell us. Those “experts” are simply wrong and/or incompetent.

LCMS “church growth” experts will typically point to the change in baptized membership in the LCMS from 1971 to the present (latest statistics are from 2010). In 1971 we had 2,886,207 baptized, the highest number for that statistic on record, and in 2010 we had 2,278,586 baptized. That is a loss of 607,621 members in about 40 years. It is a loss of 21% of the members we had in 1971; or a loss of about half of one percent per year. That is a significant figure, but numbers don’t give explanations for why these things happen. Let me give just four factors that explain this decline; admitting that there are many more that could be considered.

The first, and most obvious, explanation for this statistic is that LCMS membership peaked in 1971, because that was the last year of the United States’ demographic “baby boom.” One way of explaining LCMS growth from 1947 (1,567,453 members) to 1971 (2,886,207 members) was that it was caused by the abnormal “baby boom.” Once the “baby boom” stopped, the denomination started shrinking back to its “normal size,” due to normal and unavoidable factors of attrition.

The second, and usually unmentioned, explanation for the 1971-2010 decline statistic is that the LCMS was hurt significantly by the “Seminex” walkout and the resulting exit of congregations and pastors into the AELC (Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches) in the late 1970s. The AELC consisted of 680 pastors, 279 congregations, and 112,169 baptized members. Although that membership loss is only 18% of the 1971-2010 decline statistic, it also included a disproportionate number of young and middle-aged adults in child-bearing years. The AELC also had a disproportionate number of large and wealthy urban and suburban congregations. Over the years, the LCMS had invested much of its resources into these large and wealthy congregations, so that their transfer into the AELC was more of a blow to the LCMS than mere numbers can tell.

The third, and never mentioned, explanation for the 1971-2010 decline statistic is that the LCMS’ outreach to youth and young adults was dealt a mortal blow by the controversies in the 1960s and 1970s. The Junior Walther League (for high school students), the Senior Walther League (for college age people), the Gamma Delta Fraternity (for college and graduate students), as well as full-time and part-time campus ministries were a BIG part of LCMS mission and ministry, until it all came to a screeching halt. The Walther League was banned by most congregations, because of its political activism in the 1960s. Nothing of significant size or impact replaced it at the local congregational level. Campus ministry went “on the back burner” of priorities in districts and is still there, as witnessed by the recent case of the Minnesota South Board of Directors’ actions against University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis.

All this down-sizing of youth and young adult ministry in the LCMS happened at the same time that the evangelical and conservative churches were up-sizing their youth and young adult ministries. Thomas E. Berger in his “When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity” Christianity Today 56 #6 (June 2012):18-24, rightly credits the youth ministries of the Evangelicals for some of the growth of Evangelical churches in the last forty years. He states “Some of the growth of conservative churches over the subsequent decades [post-1960s] would come from this expertise in recruiting and retaining young people. . . . The white evangelical churches that are growing the fastest in America are the ones that look most like the successful youth ministries of the 1950s and 1960s” (pp. 22-23). The purpose of Berger’s article is to point out how this success has resulted in spiritual immaturity in those Evangelical churches; nevertheless, they are the churches that everyone points to as examples of “success.”

I am not saying or even implying that the LCMS should imitate these Evangelical churches by providing an “informal, entertaining, fast-paced worship experience set to upbeat music.” (Berger, p. 23). Certainly not! Berger doesn’t recommend that approach either. I am saying that the lack of effective, local youth ministry in LCMS congregations led many LCMS youth to leave the Lutheran church in the period in question. This has had a double or triple impact on membership statistics, since the same young people who left soon had children, and now some of them have grandchildren. Youth ministry and campus ministry of a Lutheran sort needs to get back on the front burner of priorities, folks, and it needs to come back at the local and congregational level, not just the national or regional level!

Finally, the LCMS decline has been partially due to national demographic shifts, because the LCMS is not equally distributed across the United States. Something like 85% of the baptized membership of the LCMS is located in an area bounded on the west by the 105th parallel, on the north by the Canadian border, on the east by the 80th parallel, and on the south by the Ohio, Mississippi, and Arkansas Rivers. This same area is designated, with slightly different boundaries, the “Midlands” by Colin Woodard in his recent book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Viking, 2011). The “Midlands,” where Germans, Scandinavians, and Central Europeans once settled, are the one region in the US that has seen significant population decline in the last forty years. And that region may not see a recovery in population, for a variety of reasons, for many years.

Where people live and settle is determined by where they can make a living. LCMS leaders can’t change that. What they can do is look at demographic studies, both locally and nationally, and plant new congregations where the population growth is happening. No great rocket science there and the LCMS leaders are doing that! But if the LCMS leaders are smart, they will also study the “Regional Cultures” described by Woodard (read his book, guys!). It will help them understand the regional history and cultures of the areas they are trying to serve. Dividing the LCMS into five regions was, perhaps, a good idea, but it is only half-baked. The resulting boundaries don’t match the American cultural boundaries, because the regional division was done for political purposes, not for mission and evangelism purposes.

In closing, there is nothing “wrong” with LCMS congregations. Let’s get over the “guilt trip” and “fear” that “leaders” use to exploit us and our pocketbooks. Instead let’s work on improving what we have in our local congregations. There’s always room for improvement, enough to keep us busy until our Lord calls us home.


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  1. Carl Vehse
    July 21st, 2012 at 15:16 | #1

    @ralph luedtke #50 : “i heard that there was a rush to seminary to avoid the draft-and thus there might not have been a real desire to do God’s work.”

    Ralph, do you have a reference to where you heard that accusation made about the motives of those seminarians? Was it in reference to LCMS seminaries or to some other Lutheran seminaries? Also, are you referring to the military draft during WWII or the Vietnam conflict?

    For the Vietnam conflict, the graph and data for LCMS clergy at the ARDA site doesn’t seem to indicate such a “rush.” Neither do the ARDA’s graphs and data for the American Lutheran Church (1960-1987), and the Lutheran Church in America (1962-1986).

  2. ralph luedtke
    July 21st, 2012 at 18:01 | #2

    Different eras of reference in general which may have worked to hurt the church in the last century

  3. ralph luedtke
    July 21st, 2012 at 18:03 | #3

    @Carl Vehse #1
    Different eras of reference in general which may have further worked to hurt the church in the last century

  4. Win
    July 21st, 2012 at 18:54 | #4

    Robert :
    Marty, this is absolute nonsense.
    The primary cause of the decline in ALL mainline denominations is the decline in number of births per family, i.e., contraception. Thus, to suggest that youth and campus ministry are the panacea is ridiculous.
    Do you simply rewrite the talking points the IC hands out to you? Good Lord, man, you have a reputation as a scholar to uphold.

    If nothing else, campus ministry is essential to maintain and build the faith of our young people. It also represents a great opportunity for witness. I’m not sure that “‘panacea” is the correct term, but don’t sell campus ministry short.

    Your second paragraph is unkind and unnecessary and hardly speaks well of you.

  5. David Hartung
    July 21st, 2012 at 20:52 | #5

    helen :
    @David Hartung #48
    Have you considered the possibility that the good people at ACELC might not be seeing things accurately?
    The ones I read seem to be fairly clear sighted, but I’ll withdraw the comment about ACELC’s list, if you like, David.
    How about mine?
    What I see on Carl’s membership graphs is that all of the ‘business methods’, “consultants”, and ‘entertainment’ church touted to “bring in the lost” did…. not much.
    Except that they have driven a fair number of committed Lutherans into “church shopping” or “church hopping” in an effort to find Lutheran Christianity in their own synod.
    @Martin R. Noland #44
    These “large and wealthy LCMS congregations” were mostly “synod and mission starts” in origin, but also the focus of a lot of interest and resources as their communities continued to grow and gain wealth.
    Thank you for explaining how the ‘large and wealthy’ got that way!
    (I should have remembered “Guido’s church”.)
    So the little congregations of our fathers’ generation financed the buildings, besides sending their children to town to be members, and now the “large and wealthy’ want to have two votes and lord it over those little congregations?
    [“Worst construction”, no doubt!]

    Helen, there is much I do not know about many of these issues. As a result, I am hesitant to express an opinion.

  6. Lumpenkönig
    July 21st, 2012 at 23:30 | #6

    With the formation of the Lutheran Church – Canada in 1988, the LCMS lost most of the Canadian congregations:

    http://www.lutheranchurch-canada.ca/congregations.php?location=all

    I do understand that some congregations in Canada belong to the non-geographical Slovak district:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lutheran_Church–Canada

    Please consider these factors for your statistics.

    By the way, is the Lutheran Church – Canada growing, shrinking, or staying the same?

  7. Lumpenkönig
    July 21st, 2012 at 23:38 | #7

    By the way, have any Seminex-era congregations expressed any interest in rejoining the LCMS, or are they forever lost to the ELCA/NALC/LCMC? I always had the impression that membership in the NALC and LCMC were easy and temporary places for ex-ELCA congregations to park until they can sort out their theology and eventually become confessional Lutherans.

    (It is so tempting to say to those ex-LCMS congregations: “Look at what the ELCA has done to you. I told you so! Now come back to the LCMS, you prodigal sons and daughters!”)

  8. Carl Vehse
    July 22nd, 2012 at 06:18 | #8

    @Lumpenkönig #7 : “By the way, have any Seminex-era congregations expressed any interest in rejoining the LCMS, or are they forever lost to the ELCA/NALC/LCMC?”

    No need. The LCMS is going to meet with them. In a WMLT blog, “Second meeting held between Missouri Synod Lutherans, North American Lutheran Church” (the LCMS News site didn’t mention anything about it), we have some titillating tidbits about a threesome (LCMS, LC-C, and NALC) get-together at NALC HQ with the agenda to… well, us layfolk are not told the agenda.

    What we are told is that one focus was a “discussion of areas of practical cooperation, such as the Lutheran Malaria Initiative and disaster relief.” One stated agreement hammered out at the meeting was the wording of a draft goal,

    “to consider ways by which our churches may work together to make Christ known, and to strengthen the Lutheran witness by word and deed in the church and community.”

    This goal would be part of an “Inter-Lutheran Consultation” agreement, like the LCMS has/had with the apostate XXXA, and now would have with NALC (aka XXXA-lite), along with the LC-C, if everything goes along over the next five dialogue dates.

    A December Inter-Lutheran Consultation dialogue will deal with “the relationship between the Gospel and the Scriptures.”

    Hey, really! I’m not making this stuff up!

  9. Lumpenkönig
    July 22nd, 2012 at 14:39 | #9

    @Carl Vehse #8
    Carl: Yeah, I have seen announcements of talks between the LCMS and the ACNA as well.

    I suppose the LCMS will make more progress with these groups than with the WELS and ELS.

  10. Martin R. Noland
    July 23rd, 2012 at 16:50 | #10

    @Noreen #45

    Dear Noreen,

    Thanks for your heartfelt concern, comments, and outspoken support for University Lutheran Chapel!

    You said: “Until we as a synod face the sin at the root of things such as this we will never truly be walking together.” Amen!

    You have in a few words summarized the other side of my little essay “What is Wrong with LCMS Congregations?” The other side is what IS wrong with the LCMS. It is not 99% of our congregations and their laymen, laywomen, and children. It is not 98% of our pastors. It’s the other stuff. The other stuff that has been corrupted intentionally, but not irreformably, by the pro-Seminex generation of pastors and their lay allies.

    Most people do not realize the overwhelming influence of pro-Seminex people in our church-body. This is not an imagined “vast left-wing conspiracy.” These are real people and they are still in positions of power and influence. I know a lot of them personally. How do I know this?

    In his Memoirs in Exile, John Tietjen “spilled the beans” about the real “left-wing conspiracy” in the LCMS. He wrote: “The number of congregations that helped form the synods of the AELC or that joined it later was considerably less than the leaders of the Coordinating Council had anticipated. It had been expected that twelve hundred Missouri Synod congregations would join the new church, but only 250 did so. . . . Pastors who wanted to join could not bring their congregations along because . . .” (page 269). Then he goes on to explain why these congregations did not leave.

    When you think about what Tietjen said here, you see that he was in communication with 1200 senior or sole pastors of LCMS congregations, who had pledged some sort of loyalty to Seminex, and were thus later called “Seminex sympathizers.” 250 of these left the LCMS, the other 950 stayed and most are still with us. These 950 “Seminex sympathizers” were mostly graduates of the Saint Louis seminary from 1953 to 1973; although some were also friends and relatives who had attended Springfield. That doesn’t mean all of the students in those classes (i.e., 1953-1973 Saint Louis) were “pro Seminex,” but they all had the same professors who attempted to corrupt their theology and pervert their Lutheran loyalties.

    The youngest pastor who graduated in 1973 would now be 64. The pro-Seminex pastors are now either senior pastors in some parish, or at the top levels of “management” in our district offices, synodical offices, synod-wide corporations, colleges, and related organizations (like the RSOs).

    When the “pro-Seminex” clergy made the decision to stay inside the LCMS, they knew that they could not, without committing career suicide, openly contradict LCMS doctrine. Most of them have not taught false doctrine, unless they knew they had the backing of their ecclesiastical superiors, such as was the case at Concordia University in Portland (I am hoping for better things there now).

    Instead of teaching false doctrine, the pro-Seminex pastors (and their lay allies) changed the ecclesial practices of various agencies and congregations of our church to sub-Lutheran or non-Lutheran practice. It is much more difficult to criticize a bad practice once instituted, because people can hide it behind a veneer of “good intentions.” False doctrine doesn’t hide as well as false or bad practice.

    The pro-Seminex people also put an enormous amount of energy into electing and appointing “their type of people.” Where possible, they have hired staff and brought in people onto boards and commissions who think just like them. Where possible, they have fired or prevented the election or appointment of people who support the doctrinal position of the LCMS. Of course, these pro-Seminex folks have to do this with the utmost duplicity. That is pretty much the history of the LCMS, its main theme, from 1974 to the present.

    I don’t know any of the members of the Minnesota South District Board of Directors. I don’t know where they stand theologically, who their friends and allies are, or whether they are pro-Seminex or not.

    But I do know John Pless and David Kind. I know that Pastors Pless and Kind are precisely the type of Lutheran pastor that pro-Seminex guys absolutely hate. I know “hate” is a strong word, but there is no other word to explain it. I have seen it countless times. It is some kind of irrational anger that comes bubbling up in these people, when they start hearing Lutheran pastors like David Kind and John Pless speak. It brings back all those painful memories, of hopes and heartaches from 1973–when the Seminex tribe went marching out against the “evil empire” of the Missouri Synod.

    These pro-Seminex people can’t help themselves. So when they can attack the ministries of pastors like John Pless, David Kind, Wallace Schulz, Robert Preus, etc., they will do so, with a vengeance and . . .

    THEY DON’T CARE WHO GETS HURT IN THE PROCESS

    Seminex is the sin at the root of things such as this. The minority report on the Seminary Walkout in the 1975 Convention Workbook said “It may take another generation for our beloved Missouri Synod to recover.” That didn’t mean twenty years, the length of human generations. It meant forty years, the career period of LCMS pastors.

    The good news is that we are almost there. Be patient, folks! Ne desperamus We are almost there. :)

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

    P.S. for those unfamiliar with the Seminex story, I recommend for your reading: Paul A. Zimmerman, A Seminary in Crisis (CPH, 2007). Also important relevant documents with commentary can be found in: August R. Suelflow, Heritage in Motion (CPH, 1998), pp. 1-41 and 423-462. These books may be purchased at http://www.cph.org

  11. helen
    July 23rd, 2012 at 17:32 | #11

    @Martin R. Noland #10
    These pro-Seminex people can’t help themselves. So when they can attack the ministries of pastors like John Pless, David Kind, Wallace Schulz, Robert Preus, etc., they will do so, with a vengeance and . . .
    THEY DON’T CARE WHO GETS HURT IN THE PROCESS

    Real Christian people you’re describing!
    By your reckoning no less than 950, which must be more than 2% of the pastorate who have “gone wrong”. Besides that, I’ve heard the same line from people way too young to have been in CSL before 1974. These pastors and bureaucrats (I’d guess more bureaucrats) are making “disciples”. When one retires, two will take his place. Meanwhile, they freeze out the faithful pastors… the names ‘big enough’ to be recognized are only the tip of that iceberg!

  12. July 23rd, 2012 at 18:02 | #12

    @Martin R. Noland #10
    “Instead of teaching false doctrine, the pro-Seminex pastors (and their lay allies) changed the ecclesial practices of various agencies and congregations of our church to sub-Lutheran or non-Lutheran practice.”

    Yes, like DP Benke did when he joined hands and prayed with those praying to false gods in that worship service led by Oprah. And like that RSO did when they fired Pastor Schulz for calling him to repent of that sinful ecclesial practice.

    “they will do so, with a vengeance and . . .
    THEY DON’T CARE WHO GETS HURT IN THE PROCESS”

    Yes, and somehow they get labeled nice, while confessional pastors are supposedly the mean ones. That probably has a lot to do with their utmost duplicity…

  13. jeff
    July 24th, 2012 at 07:52 | #13

    So , in a strange way ,the 250 that joined the AELC/ELCA had some intregrity and the other 950 liberal pastors became a fifth column within the LCMS

  14. Rev. Loren C. Zell
    July 25th, 2012 at 12:18 | #14

    Can we really say there is NOTHING WRONG with 99% of LCMS congregations when we have so many who practice open communion?

  15. Martin R. Noland
    July 25th, 2012 at 13:50 | #15

    @jeff #13

    Jeff, you got the gist of my comment #10 on page 2.

    We need to thank President Kieschnick for pointing out that the LCMS “infighting” is a primary cause of our lack of growth in the period under discussion. On that point, see his “Waking the Sleeping Giant: The Birth, Growth, Decline, and Rebirth of an American Church” (St Louis: CPH, 2009), pp. 35-88. That chapter is sub-titled “What Has Caused Us to Become Non-Productive–Becoming Our Own Worst Enemy.”

    Kieschnick correctly points out the divisive issues, but he fails to explain WHY we have been unable to resolve those issues in a reasonable way. I think he was frustrated by this, too!

    After all, the Lutheran church is, if nothing else, a reasonable approach to the Christian religion as found in the Bible. We attract reasonable people, who place a high value on education and reasonable approaches to life’s challenges. We attract these people both into the ministry and into our congregations.

    So why haven’t we been able, before Harrison’s presidency and the Koinonia Project, to solve our problems in a reasonable way?

    That Seminex sympathizer “fifth column” (for definition, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_column ) is the real reason why. They have been doing everything in their power to sabotage the LCMS with utmost duplicity. They have: 1) spread subversive ideas and bad morale (as seen in the publications of Lutherans Alive, Jesus First, and Day Star); 2) bad-mouthed the hard labors of conservative-traditional congregations and pastors (as seen in many writings of so-called “church growth” experts); 3) undermined loyalty to Lutheran traditions (as happens when “contemporary worship” replaces Lutheran worship in a congregation); 4) undercut the work of good LCMS officers (as happened to President Barry during his tenure); 5) destroyed the work and career of loyal LCMS leaders (as happened to Robert Preus, Wallace Schulz, Todd Wilken, and now David Kind); 6) elected their allies to office (through the voting lists of “Lutheran Alive” and “Jesus First”); and 7) now tarnished the reputations of deceased loyal LCMS leaders (as seen in James Burkee’s book).

    Gee . . . I wonder what else they COULD do to damage the LCMS? They have attacked it and undermined it in every way possible that is not prosecutable under civil law.

    Not all church growth ideas and contemporary worship practices come from these fifth column folks; of course not, but these folks have encouraged and fostered such things. Most “church growth” and contemporary worship we see simply comes from our surrounding religious culture, with no “fifth column” connection at all.

    I agree that those 250 who left the LCMS had integrity to follow their convictions into a church body that agreed with their convictions. I respect them for that, even while I disagree with their theology.

    @Rev. Loren C. Zell #14

    Pastor Zell, you may not have seen my previous comments that explain the term “wrong,” which I intentionally put in quotes. See comment #24 (page 1), in the responses to Gauis Kurious and Paul McCain, and comment #36 (page 1), in the responses to Carl Vehse and PrTim.

    I believe that the errors out there, in the matter of open communion, are reformable. These errors in practice are qualitatively different from the problems of pastors who abuse their members, congregations who abuse their pastors (and family), or congregations where the means of grace are denied in their essential features.

    Okay, okay, you forced me to reveal the sources of my thinking on this matter. :)

    My thinking on what is “wrong” with congregations comes from Walther’s “Church and Ministry,” Church Thesis VIII: “Although God gathers for Himself a holy church of elect also where His Word is not taught in its perfect purity and the sacraments are not administereted altogether according to the institution fo Jesus Christ, if only God’s Word and the sacraments are not denied entirely but both remain in their essential parts.” You can read the rest of that Thesis and its discussion to see what he means.

    I contend that in 99% of LCMS congregations “God’s Word and the sacraments are not denied entirely but both remain in their essential parts.” And this is sufficient to produce children of God and grow the church. That does not mean that all those 99% are without significant error, minor error, or can’t be improved.

    I hope this clarifies my article.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  16. Rev. Loren C. Zell
    July 25th, 2012 at 15:12 | #16

    So let me get this straight Martin. If this is your criteria, then there is nothing wrong with most Roman Catholic and US Episcopalian churches, where the sacraments are administered and God’s word is read and heard. Is that what you are saying?

  17. Martin R. Noland
    July 25th, 2012 at 16:35 | #17

    @Rev. Loren C. Zell #16

    Pastor Zell, if you have read Walther’s treatise, which I assume you have at some point in your career, you will see what he means. That is all that I am saying.

    In the Roman Catholic church, the essence of the Office of the Keys and the Lord’s Supper are denied entirely. The Word is not denied entirely in that church, but it is mixed with Pelagian doctrines and human traditions.

    In the US Episcopalean church, I believe that the Word is denied in its entirety, on the basis of historical criticism; and therefore I believe that the efficacy and essence of the Sacraments are also denied.

    In LCMS churches, in those that practice “open communion,” the biblical doctrine of church fellowship is denied, the unqualified are admitted to the Sacrament, and (in many cases) the authority of the pastor to administer the Keys is denied to him. But, as far as I know, those congregations still confess the true body and blood that is received orally by all communicants for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting–which is the essence of Lutheran doctrine in this doctrinal locus.

    Of course, those errors mentioned are all “wrong.” But you need to remember the doctrinal insight that started the LCMS, developed by Walther at the Altenburg Debate. That insight is that imperfect, erring churches are still the Christian church; and its corrollary, that you are not likely to find a perfect inerrant church on this earth. Walther explained that further in his “Church and Ministry” essay, by noting that believers will seek out orthodox churches, and not settle for heterodox ones. His distinction is not between perfect and imperfect churches, but between orthodox and heterodox churches.

    I won’t comment further on my use of the term “wrong” in quotes, since I have already explained that I was using the term as “church growth” folks use it. My essay was a response to their ideas, not a general treatise on heterodoxy or errors in the church.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  18. Eric
    August 1st, 2012 at 09:37 | #18

    Martin–

    I’m not sure that the picture of the LCMS outside of the Midlands is as rosy as you paint it. Having lived in the South (Georgia and Louisiana) for quite some time now, I have found it nearly impossible to find a conservative Missouri-Synod church. (I’v actually heard that the farther from St. Louis…the less likely one is to find any semblance to Lutheran orthodoxy.) I keep running into Seminex guys or ones upfront enough to tell me that if I’m looking for a traditional LCMS congregation, I’ve come to the wrong place.

    –Eric

  19. August 5th, 2012 at 05:44 | #19

    @Eric #18
    “Having lived in the South (Georgia and Louisiana) for quite some time now, I have found it nearly impossible to find a conservative Missouri-Synod church.”

    That has also been my experience in the South. It has gotten more Lutheran in my circuit, but I discovered recently that open Communion (all baptized Christians are welcome) is defended and practiced by the majority of the pastors here.

    In fairness to the coasts, though, the Midlands ain’t what they used to be, either… Concordia, St. Louis? Didn’t that congregation (not the seminary) spawn and nourish Jesus First?

  20. August 28th, 2012 at 16:26 | #20

    I’m not sure this is a mystery. The ethnicity/country of origin of many in America has changed. The unholy alliance of both political parties with illegal immigration allowing mass immigration over a short amount of time from mainly a few countries has affected churches, schools, politics, health, and everything else. America has not had a ton of Lutherans immigrate into the country. Additionally, many congregations and pastors over the past 50 years have sought entertainment, fun, and fame rather than the Word. That mirrors the same mentality in schools, politics, and the like. Also, teachers and textbook publishers have been scared off from the learning of religions in school. When you don’t have comparative faith studies, the study of civics, the study of home economics, etc. you change society. Maybe the root of all this can be traced to the Baby Boomer and Me generations. The world today exists as they created it. In the end, we must remember the road is wide and the gate is narrow. Focus on your own faith and relationship with God, stop perpetuating myths that you think the Bible says, and remember the A-B-C’s of Faith: “Action based upon a Belief sustained by Confidence.”–Pastor Scott. http://pointeviven.blogspot.com/2012/06/roots-of-christianity-with-pastor-gene.html

  21. August 29th, 2012 at 05:19 | #21

    @Jesse #20
    A-B-C’s of Faith: “Action based upon a Belief sustained by Confidence.

    This would be vastly improved if it included some reference to being informed by Scripture. Otherwise, the belief could very well be in a lie.

  22. Robert
    October 12th, 2012 at 19:38 | #22

    The politics and the role of women in the LCMS is why I left for a WELS congregation and are still happily with them. The “President” of our LCMS church was a woman who walked around and played the part of a ruling queen and expected everyone to “kiss her ring” she even loved to gossip and broadcast members problem to other members she had to be sternly scolded by our pastor to make her stop and of course she tried to get her “faction” of members to go against our pastor, thank God he was stubborn and stuck to his guns! But all of that may have helped him accept a call to another church out of state. I truly pray and hope the LCMS and WELS can come together again and show the door to any liberal or moderate and send them packing , with all the zeal and passion of Luther, to the satanic ELCA.

  23. Matt
    January 25th, 2013 at 17:54 | #23

    I grew up in an LCMS congregation in California which has been continually racked by infighting and petty bickering from the 1970s until the present time. It has gone through pastors like Liz Taylor went through husbands.

    When you’re in the belly of the beast, you don’t realize how bad a situation is until you return to it with fresh eyes. I left the congregation at 18 and returned while on vacations, and found it to be a caricature of the small-minded farm town I grew up in. I ended up attending the Newman center in college, and went Roman Catholic. The hierarchical structure deals with petty bickering swiftly and efficiently.

    “Not perfect, just forgiven”, is a loophole that the more self-righteous and vindictive LCMS members (we’ve all known them) drive a truck through in order to divide weaken their congregations for their own narrow-minded reasons. I think we all are familiar with the problems that bleed congregations, burn out pastors, and make people vote with their feet:

    Contemporary vs. Traditional services
    Location of the baptismal font
    Accusations of autocratic pastoring styles
    Obvious limits of congregational autonomy
    Dogmatists who insist on shutting down Voters’ Assembly Meetings
    Congregational presidents who overstep their roles
    The intellectual gutting of the LCMS by the Seminex walkout
    A lack of adults under 50 in congregations, especially strong, male adults
    A very narrow demographic (a social club for older uptight, easily offended midwesterners)
    Legacy members who insist on having their way at the expense of unity
    The sanctimonious dogmatism of members, earning the LCMS such nicknames as “The Misery Synod”, and “The Frozen Chosen”
    The parking lot gossip

    The world has changed since Pearl Harbor, since the 1960s. The older members still react with destructive nostalgia for a pre- Atomic Bomb America, and adopt an attitude that somehow the LCMS will fix itself with platitudes, fatalism, and denial. The numbers refute this, full stop.

    Islam and the Latter Day Saints aren’t wringing their hands about their massive gains in the past 10 years.

  24. Brian
    January 31st, 2013 at 14:36 | #24

    Perhaps a more meaningful way to look at the data is to compare apples to apples. For instance, look at church membership deltas for the same period in the US. Compare LCMS against other synods, against the RC, etc. It seems that the data above is just looking at one part of the elephant through the knothole.

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