The pretense is over, the jig is up, and the powers to be within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have played their hand and have shown us their hole cards. As we suspected, it is now becoming questionable to speak of the The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as the church founded by C.F.W. Walther. On September 23-24 of this year, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, will convene a Theological Symposium entitled “Lutheran Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium: Beyond Walther.”
For some this may sound like the study of church architecture or chancel paraments used for worship. However, Lutheran Ecclesiology in this context is the study of the doctrine relating to the church, specifically, the Lutheran Confessions, and their application in the life of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in carrying out its mission of proclaiming the Gospel.
The focus of this year’s symposium is to continue the theme of last year’s major presenters: Mr. Robert Putnam, a Harvard researcher, and Rev. Tim Conder. Although billed as a Harvard researcher, in fact, Mr. Putnam is a political scientist and I find it telling that the LCMS needs a political scientist, a particularly secular function, to assist it in defining its future. The Rev. Tim Conder is described as an emerging church leader. A search of his credentials says only that he is the pastor of an international missional community in Durham, N.C. Most notable, neither of these two men are pastors, professors, or theologians within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. However, that seems to be the way the administrations of St. Louis, seminary and synod, desire to get their information. The Lutheran’s and the Lutheran Confessions are no longer relevant!
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Samuel Simon Schmucker and Benjamin Kurtz, two Lutheran pastors (said with tongue in cheek), led a revivalist movement within the American Lutheran community that was anything but Lutheran. Influenced by the revivalist worship agenda of Charles G. Finney (a non-Lutheran), they embarked on a crusade to transform American Lutheranism from its historical, confessional orthodoxy into the typical, emotion-filled, revival-tent worship of Protestant radicals. Finney’s theology rejected the idea of original sin and taught that man should rely on his “good works” because Jesus’ death on the cross was not sufficient to pay for the sins of man; it was only the beginning of salvation. Furthermore, Finney taught that man could and should make a decision to follow Christ, thus teaching decision theology.
Schmucker taught that the church was a melting pot of differing doctrines with a central core. He declared that if one could stack all church doctrines, one on top the other, making a large sandwich, then everything that hung out over the sides could simply be trimmed off, and you would have the true church. Therefore, this new church would merge men’s (false) doctrine with God’s (true) doctrine, false worship (glorifying man) with true worship (glorifying God), reliance on man’s work (work righteousness) with Christ’s work (His atoning sacrifice on the cross) and be a great testimony for man’s ability to get along with God.
What a horrible, confused mess that would be, what a horrible and confused mess that is in much of what is American Protestantism today. Schmucker and Kurtz embraced this un-Scriptural theology and their efforts went mostly unchallenged until a new, young upstart Lutheran pastor named Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther stepped onto the landscape.
C.F.W. Walther’s influence on American Lutheranism was to solidify the church by dependence on the Lutheran Confessions and the orthodoxy of the Lutheran reformers: Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz, et. al. His theology, preaching, and teaching directly opposed the teachings of Schmucker and Kurtz and called the church back to her founding roots. He called the church back to her grandfathers.
The axiom, “History has a way of repeating itself” could not be more relevant than what is happening within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod today. From the seminaries to the boardrooms of the synod, there is one clear and unmistakable message; “The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is no longer your grandfather’s church!” What synodical officials are saying is similar to what Schmucker and Kurtz preached two hundred years ago. To make the church relevant, we must change our ways and take on the ways of the world. How can we witness to others the Gospel of Jesus Christ unless we look like them? Let’s not try and change the world with God’s Word, instead, let’s change the church to conform to the world! Word and Sacrament, they are no longer relevant. Advertising, slogans, feel-good programs, secular assimilation methods, blending in, changing the message of the church from God’s message to man’s, these are the new methods by which they hope to transform the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod into just another American, feel good, works righteous, emotion relevant, theologically vacant mission society. Don’t look now, folks, but they seem to be succeeding.
However, there is still a remnant of confessional Lutherans within the body of the LCMS, those who desire to worship as did their grandfathers in the orthodox, liturgical, and traditional church of the Reformation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the true Christian church on earth.
To some, this sounds elitist, however, all who have been confirmed into this church body gave an oath to that truth, and all who have been ordained into this church gave an oath to the authenticity of that truth. To say today the oath you gave is no longer relevant because the church, which you confessed, is no longer relevant, is to say your word is not reliable. The Word of God has not changed and the church has not changed. What has changed is your confession. This accusation sticks in the craw of some people, but that is just the way it is. Truth is truth, and when you try to change the church to conform to your unorthodox theological position, you have made your confession a lie.
Some, I’m certain, tried to place this label on Martin Luther. He wants to change the church; therefore, his confession is no longer valid. However, Martin Luther wanted nothing less than we do in the Lutheran Mission Alliance. Luther desired to return to the true church of Holy Scripture, and he succeeded with the Reformation. We desire to remain in the true church of Holy Scripture, the church of the Reformation; a church based solely on God’s Word and the doctrines contained therein. This is not the position of those today who desire to lead the church in a new direction. The direction in which they desire to lead the church is away from the church of the Reformation and toward the church of the world, a church that leads people away from a reliance on the work of Christ to a church that leads people toward a reliance on self. The Ablaze initiative is a prime example of this theology. Yet, we take great comfort in that which we are, baptized children of God and in whom we believe, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
St. Peter writes to the children of God, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:4-10 ESV).
We take great comfort in these words from the apostle Peter during these trying and distressful times.
Our purpose is clear; we in the Lutheran Mission Alliance join C.F.W. Walther in preserving the church of our grandfather, the church of the Reformation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church. We implore all confessional Lutherans to join with us and preserve the orthodoxy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, here in America and throughout the world. We urge you to review our web site http://www.l-m-a.org/ for further information and to support us through your membership.
Rev. Toby Byrd
Chairman: The Lutheran Mission Alliance.