Chosen and Precious Stones, by Pr. Toby Byrd (regular columnist for the Lutheran Mission Alliance)

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.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

Chosen and Precious Stones, by Pr. Toby Byrd (regular columnist for the Lutheran Mission Alliance) — 10 Comments

  1. I’m sorry, I have respect for Walther, but none of us founds a church. He founded a synod, not a church – big difference. And Walther did not do it alone. There were many others involved besides Walther, otherwise he would have been a synod of one.

    History only “repeats” itself because we do not learn the lessons of history. But a Christian view of history is from Alpha to Omega. We live in the end times and have for a long time.

    But let’s not white-wash the history of the LCMS as if it ever was pristine or not still in recovery from Pietism and the frontier conditions that established a lot of exceptions as the rule. I do not wish to worship as our forefathers in the LCMS did – 4 times a year communion – no way! “Page 5” – no thanks. Communion liturgy without communion… We could point to other troubles as well. God’s Word is a body of teaching, a unity. Old Missouri also had areas to recover authentic confessional teaching and practice in line with the Book of Concord.

  2. It was written:

    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.

    and responded:

    I’m sorry, I have respect for Walther, but none of us founds a church. He founded a synod, not a church – big difference.

    and Walther would agree with the response, whereas the original quote is more in line with what the St. Louis sem profs have recently wrongly asserted. The LCMS is not “a church”; it is ‘churchly’ (and even ‘church’, but not ‘a church’) only because it is comprised of those who are the Church–the local congregations.

    If you’re going to retain Waltherianism, retain actual Waltherianism.

    EJG

  3. Somehow I feel Jack and Eric have missed the point, the questionable practice is the removal of Walther and his doctrinal understanding from the theology of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Not whether synod is church.

    If one makes the decision that they no longer desire to be a member of the LCMS, okay, fine, go do whatever makes you feel good. However, the original doctrine which guided the formation of the LCMS, Waltherian doctrine, is based solely on Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, not pietism nor a proscriptive formula regarding the frequency of receiving communion. Page 5? Page 5 didn’t exist in Walther’s time. Old Missouri? Now where have I heard that before? Oh yes, from those who would support the Theological Symposium entitled “Lutheran Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium: Beyond Walther.”

    Walther taught that it is okay to be a member of a heterodox congregation as long as one was trying to make it orthodox. The present trend within Missouri though is just the opposite. Our prayer and goal within the LMA is to return the LCMS to orthodoxy. If the Holy Spirit wills it so, it will happen. If not, He will show us how to proceed.

  4. Pr. Byrd wrote:
    “…Waltherian doctrine, is based solely on Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, not pietism nor a proscriptive formula regarding the frequency of receiving communion.”

    1. Walther would want to be subject to Scripture and the Confessions, not be the exclusive rabbinic Talmud by which Scripture and the Confessions may be approached.

    2. Our current English translations of Walther are very suspect and faulty. That’s the access to most of Walther for most of the Missouri Synod. And many of the Walther apologists misrepresent and dogmatize what Walther actually said, or existentially take him out of historical context.

    3. While we honor Walther, we wouldn’t want to make him the article by which the church or Lutheranism stands or falls.

    4. Let’s not forget that often the political winner gets the write (or even distort) the telling of history (eg. Zion the Mississippi).

    The point of my response and Pr. Stefanski’s response is not to “go do whatever we want” but to use Walther’s writings properly and not to assert some inerrancy for Walther. Walther cannot be put on the same level as the Book of Concord – otherwise what do you do to all the other Lutherans with whom we or some are in fellowship who do not have Walther in their synodical heritage in other parts of the world. Is Walther a mark of the church that would break fellowship? I think not. A father is a father, but one church father can never stand in isolation nor can that father be said to trump all others, but should be taken in his context and valued on the chief issues that he dealt with and be received charitably on the controversies that were not of his day where his speaking was perhaps less than circumspect.

  5. I would disagree on Walther and Pietism. While he lost much of his Pietism and went a long way toward recovering (late) Lutheran orthodoxy, he did not completely rid himself of Pietistic notions. He also, at times, leaned a little heavily on early Luther.

  6. Walther and Pietism:

    “A person who cannot say, in accordance with Ps. 34:8, that he has tasted and seen that the Lord is good must not regard himself as being in a state of true faith. Moreover, the Apostle Paul says, Rom 8:16: ‘The Spirit indeed beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.’ Can the Holy Spirit bear this witness in us without our feeling it? The witness in court must speak loud enough for the judge to hear. The same is necessary in this case. According to God’s Word any person who has never felt the testimony of the Spirit that he is the child of God is spiritually dead. He can offer no testimony in his favor and does wrong by considering himself a Christian nevertheless.”
    Ask any person who has all the criteria of a true, living Christian whether he has experienced all the things of which he speaks, and he will answer in the affirmative, telling you that, after experiencing the terror which God sends to the sinner whom He wants to rescue, he had an experience of the sweetness of God’s grace in Christ. He will tell you that his heart is melting within him at every remembrance of the Savior’s love. . .
    Note, then that our statement that no one must base his salvation and his state of grace on his feeling does not mean that he can be a good Christian without having experienced any feeling in regard to religious matters. That is not what we teach.
    Walther, Law and Gospel, p. 196.

  7. Somehow I feel Jack and Eric have missed the point, the questionable practice is the removal of Walther and his doctrinal understanding from the theology of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Not whether synod is church.

    We got the point just fine, thanks. Unfortunately, you missed the point that was made in response: if you desire not to have Walther and his teaching removed, you should actually use it–instead of contradicting it–in your post.

    Now, look: I know that you didn’t intend to contradict Walther (nor to over-glorify him), but you unwittingly did…by using the general (wrong) usage that has grown so popular in the LCMS today. The very guys who want to keep Walther’s teaching have to fight the hardest against such terminology infiltrating their speech through the theological muck that surrounds them. Please understand that these responses are not to condemn you, but to sharpen you, to a) make sure that no one gets the wrong idea and b) to refine your speech so that it actually agress with your doctrine. (It’s sort of like how we have to purge our vocabularies of words like ‘accept’, because they don’t convey our passivity in justification as well as they need to, etc.)

    EJG (Full Disclosure: Not a Member of the LCMS [Anymore])

  8. Finished everything for tomorrow and now to respond.

    I must admit, I am scratching my head trying to figure where Jack is coming from. Jack wrote, “Walther cannot be put on the same level as the Book of Concord – otherwise what do you do to all the other Lutherans with whom we or some are in fellowship who do not have Walther in their synodical heritage in other parts of the world.”

    I do believe that Walther would say, no, he is not on the same level of the Book of Concord, however, it and Holy Scripture are his foundation. Regarding those Lutherans of other stripes, I would do as Walther and other orthodox Lutherans, ensure that our doctrine was in unison before there could be altar and pulpit fellowship. Those who do not subscribe to a quia subscription of the Lutheran Confessions would not be eligible for fellowship.

    As Luther commented on 2 Cor. 6:15, “Therefore this passage and others like it should be carefully observed, in order that we may learn from them that the pope and his adherents are not the church. But if the objection is raised: “Yet they have Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc.,” I reply: “Those who have the pure Word and Baptism belong to us and to the true church. But those who have pomp in addition are not the church. Even though they have Baptism, the text of the Gospel, etc., yet they have these in vain, because Christ and Belial are not in accord
    Luther, M. (1999, c1968). Vol. 5: Luther’s works, vol. 5 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 26-30 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Ge 28:18). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

    However, the issue is the Theological Symposium entitled “Lutheran Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium: Beyond Walther.” I fear this is nothing more than an attempt to supress doctrine in order to promote a missional mentality devoid of Law and Gospel preaching. They are trying to get the message out, but the message is not straight.

    Eric, I lost the word “accept” long before I was ordained. My confirmation and defining Scripture is Titus 3:3-7, no acceptance there, only reception.

  9. Hmmm — Not wanting to be part of the argument here . . . just to point out the most obvious thing in the world, namely, that if it is midnite without a moon, you are drawn to the farmhouse light a mile+ away simply because it IS the light shining in the darkness. Would that light be “relevant” if it was a dark as the night? Yet THAT is what some within our beloved Synod want this Synod to be/do — in the interest of being relevant, we should mimic our culture. How WRONG-MINDED can a person get? You HAVE to be different in order to finally be truly “relevant.” If we are different, then the unbelievers will have someplace to come to when their whole world comes crashing down (and it will, it’s just a matter of when). Come, Lord Jesus.

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