DOCTRINAL STABILITY? By Pr. Andy Simcak, Texas Confessional Lutherans

A few months ago THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE featured an article about the Greek Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Isaiah, the spiritual head of the 14-state Metropolis of Denver, which includes Texas, boldly stated, “One feature of Orthodox Christianity that newcomers find attractive is its emphasis on unchanging truth and doctrine.” The headline of the article proclaims, “Church Offers Doctrinal Stability.”

While the LCMS does not agree with the Greek Orthodox Church in all doctrines and practices, the Orthodox Church must be commended because for the most part it is a church of doctrinal stability. Can the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod claim that it offers doctrinal stability?

When you are present at a Roman Catholic Holy Communion (Mass) service, you will notice a liturgy or order of service that is followed the same way in the greatest majority of Roman Catholic congregations. Can we say that of our synod?

In the days of our grandfathers one could worship at any Missouri Synod Lutheran church and easily participate in an order of service that was followed throughout the synod. This is no longer true since the escalating use of contemporary worship services as well as different hymnals and songbooks that are not doctrinally pure. One of the conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod is “Exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school” (Article VI 4 Constitution of the LCMS).

Does our church body offer doctrinal stability? Is our church body stable in her doctrine? My dictionary defines “stable” as “fixed, steadfast, not changing or fluctuating.” Not steadfastly adhering to the full truth of God’s inerrant Word has also led to an ever increasing number of practices which are not in accord with the Holy Scriptures.

Luther’s Small Catechism affirms that “God’s name is hallowed when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and is profaned when anyone teaches otherwise than God’s Word teaches” (Questions 219 & 220, 1943 edition). Are we being true to God’s Word in all its truth and purity when the following are being preached, taught, sanctioned, or defended in our synod? Allow me to mention four of the problems we confront. There are many more problems.

  • participating in syncretism at the Yankee Stadium Prayer Service on September 23, 2001. This is not only contrary to the 2nd Condition of Membership in Synod, “Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description” (2007 Handbook, Article VI 2), but it is not pleasing in God’s eyes! Dr. Wallace Schulz gets to the crux of the matter when he asks, “exactly what part of the First Commandment is it that you don’t understand?” (Pacific Southwest District Theological Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada, February 16-19, 2004).
  • permitting “open” Communion. It is no secret that an ever increasing number of our congregations practice “open” Communion” (“y’all” come!). Is there stability in our practice of Holy Communion? Luther’s Small Catechism states that the Lord’s Supper must be denied “to those of a different faith, since the Lord’s Supper is a testimony of the unity of faith” (Question 326, 1943 edition). See Romans 16, 17.
  • the teaching of evolution is permitted in our Concordia University system.
  • God’s order of creation is not being followed in regard to the service of men and women in the congregation (women elders and presidents).

What does this mean? Our church clearly does not offer doctrinal stability. It has dramatically changed in its doctrine and practices to such a degree that many of us do not recognize our present church as our grandfather’s church.

Our prayer is to plead with the Lord of the Church to steer the ship, Missouri,” back to her original theological moorings. May that same Lord use us, both pastors and laity, to continually “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). For all doctrine and practice God’s Word and God’s Word alone is the absolute truth, all of it, for all times and seasons.

God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations. (LSB 582)

Rev. Andrew Simcak, Jr.
President, Texas Confessional Lutherans

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

DOCTRINAL STABILITY? By Pr. Andy Simcak, Texas Confessional Lutherans — 17 Comments

  1. “the teaching of evolution is permitted in our Concordia University system.”

    I assume you are referring to “evolution” as “the evolutionary ascent of man from other organisms,” which is non-Biblical, rather than evolution as a change in the genetic structure of a species, which is demonstrable. Or do we deny contemporary evolution of organisms?

    Being a proselyte from “non-Lutheran” and having fallen by grace into a most excellent church, I always give thanks for doctrinal purity and therefore the stability and soundness of the divine service as an expression of it.

  2. Timothy,

    We are tolerant and inclusive of night owls on this site. 🙂

    Thanks for your support of the Brothers.

    BTW – We are also inclusive of “Timothys.”

    Pastor Timothy A. Rossow

  3. James the far lesser,
    As to the evolution question, you will probably find people all over the map. So it will be hard to nail it down to any firm statement of belief. I don’t know what the LCMS current or past statement is/was.

    With that said I think it is safe to say that most realize that Micro Evolution does indeed take place and does not conflict with scripture.

    However Macro Evolution does conflict with scripture and the actual evidence for it is dubious at best.

    If you would like to hear some really good discussion on the subject please check out the Issues Etc archives on both KFUO AM and the current Issues Etc site. They both have some excellent shows which cover the subject very well.

    Sam

  4. Sam wrote: ”As to the evolution question, you will probably find people all over the map. So it will be hard to nail it down to any firm statement of belief. I don’t know what the LCMS current or past statement is/was.”

    It’s true that you will find people all over the map on evolution in the LCMS. I have spoken to several pastors who proudly reject the plain and simple reading of Genesis 1-3. There is at least one professor at one of our Universities that openly teaches evolution (and has been affirmed in his error by his theological supervisors). I’ve talked to a few pastors who opt to remain silent on the issue of creation because they consider it “too controversial.”

    At a pastors’ conference in Northern Illinois, a retired pastor took me aside and scolded me for teaching a six-day creation ex nihilo. He told me that in his parish days, he had stopped teaching the doctrine of creation because, “Nobody believes it anymore.”

    So, yes, you will find people all over the map on the subject in the LCMS.

    HOWEVER, the official position of the LCMS on Creation is crystal clear: The 1932 document, “A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod,” states:

    We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.”

    The 1973 document, “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles,” states:

    We affirm that Adam and Eve were real historical human beings, the first two people in the world, and that their fall was a historical occurrence which brought sin into the world…

    We therefore reject the following: …The notion that man did not come into being through the direct creative action of God, but through a process ofevolution from lower forms oflife,which in turn developed from matter that is either eternal, autonomous or self-generating. …The notion that Adam and Eve were not real historical persons and that their fall was not a real historical event which brought sin and death into the world.

    So, we have a clear position, but everyone is allowed to teach whatever they want. Typical of the LCMS, what we affirm on paper, we deny in practice.

    Does anyone think that “A Brief Statement” or “A Statement” could be passed in synodical convention today?

    TW

  5. Pastor Wilken,
    Thanks for the references. I’m happy that at least on paper Synod holds scripture as true.
    Sam

  6. It’s a shame that so many of our pastors and professors avoid areas of controversy.

    If the people don’t believe something is that a really a good reason not to teach it? It seems to me that is exactly the reason to teach it.

    But I’m just an ignorant layman who actually believes what scriptures say.
    Sam

  7. I hate to be nitpicky, but the quotes in the article that claim to be from Luther’s Small Catechism are in fact from the Synodical Catechism in which Luther’s Small Catechism is included. I am not disagreeing with the quotes, and I am not saying that they are not agreement with Confessions or the Small Catechism. I am just being nitpicky

  8. I am an educator not a pastor so I don’t know why the DP’s do not crack down on our ‘open communion’ churches/pastors. What about the CC’s? I have not seen a CC at our church in the last 5 years. What do they do? Is it a ceremonial position? I know that a fellow pastor must make a complaint against another pastor as the laity have no power to make a complaint even against their own pastor. With no supervision or peer pressure does that mean a pastor can do whatever he likes? I don’t mean to be flip as this is a serious problem (talking about discipline).

  9. Nitpicky #9,
    The quotes match segments of questions 219, 229 and 326 in my Luther’s Small Catechism AKA Little Blue Book.

    I’m not sure what your point is?
    Sam

  10. I’ve been reading that a lot lately — people emphasizing that the numbered explanations (from Dietrich, Walther, Schwan, etc. over the years) are not Luther’s Small Catechism. Yet catechumens and seminarians were using Explanations to learn the Catechism and Holy Scripture prior to the founding of the Missouri Synod. What is the problem?

  11. Well I don’t read German. So I can’t read the original Catechism.

    I have the 1912 “A Short Exposition of Dr. Luthers Small Catechism. The numbering is different but it has the same points, numbers 227 and 350, as the 1943 version which is titled “A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism”.

    I guess the 1912 version doesn’t count since it is my Grandpa’s Catechism.

    So in short we commonly use short expositions or explanations of the Small Catechism. Do people have a problem with that? Is the original Dr. Martin Luther Catechism the only one we should be using? Or is that an excuse for not studying the Catechism because we don’t have the original readily available?

    Am I too cynical?
    Sam

  12. Let me state again, that I do not disagree with the substance of the quotes just the way that they were cited. The reason for this is partly because I was being nitpicky, but also because we are Confessionally bound to Luther’s Small Catechism. We are not bound by the Synodical explanations. To confuse the two as was done in the above article is not beneficial, but like I stated in the earlier post I was being nitpicky because the quotes are built on the foundation of Luther’s actual (the first 20 pages or so of the Blue book) Small Catechism. The first quote is an expansion of the first part of Luther’s explanation of the 1st petition:

    When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God also lead holy lives in accordance with it. To this end help us, dear Father in heaven. But he that teaches and lives otherwise than God’s Word teaches profanes the name of God among us. From this preserve us, Heavenly Father (emphasis mine)

    The second quote is an expansion and deduction (a deduction with which I agree) from Luther’s explanation of what the Lord’s Supper is:

    It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself

    I apologize for derailing this thread.

  13. Pastor Simcak:

    There is hope, if only up north. I’ve been serving on Sundays throughout the North Dakota District and, at least liturgically, all of our churches here still use the Divine Service, usually Setting 3 from the Lutheran Service Book.

  14. Am I too cynical?

    Yes.

    Just as you should not confuse the notes in a study Bible with the text of the Bible itself, you should not confuse a synodical (or other) ‘explanation/exposition/whatever’ of the Small Catechism with the Small Catechism itself. The exposition is not binding in the way that the Catechism itself is; that is, the Catechism, like the rest of the Confessions, has been accepted as true and in keeping with the standard and norm of the faith, Holy Scripture, and, therefore, it has a norming/judging function itself. The explanations/expositions do not; that’s why those things change–often in quite unfortunate ways.

    For example, anyone with the 1912 A Short Exposition of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, take a look at question #351. There is no ambiguous close/closed talk, but a giving account of one’s doctrine and “adherence to the orthodox Church”–i.e., “I don’t care if you once belonged here, you’re a Methodist now, so, no, you are not communing, because you do not adhere to the orthodox Church.” None of the ‘explanations’ since then have come near to that clarity, imo.

    Another example would be the newer LCMS explanation doing away with the teaching that prayer is an act of worship. (Tomorrow makes seven years that y’all–and world Lutheranism–have been paying for that one, doesn’t it? A sin so grievous that even the secular government and MLB had to tear down the venue of such rank syncretism as was foisted upon the Church there? 😉

    What about actual error in synodical explanations? All of the LCMS expositions previous to 1991 define a sacrament in such a way as to contradict the Lutheran Confessions! That is, for all of its faults, it wasn’t until the 1991 Explanation that the Confessions’ declaration of Absolution to also be a sacrament was recognized at all. And, yes, I have seen pastors (not me) beaten over the head by district officials and labeled as false teachers for asserting this teaching of the Lutheran Confessions.

    At any rate, yes, you are being too cynical, as Steven G. never in his wildest dreams suggested what you concluded; he simply put forth the truth about the unchanging text of the Confessions and the changing text of synodical expositions. Such expositions can be beneficial, and to a certain extent quoted as authoritative or exemplary, but not in the absolute sense as Scripture can, nor in the way the Catechism itself is cited. To do so invites mischief, because, among other things, calling an explanation “the Catechism” is simply not the truth. Don’t we want our testimony to be clear and sure? Then even the way we cite our references should be scrupulously true.

    Please remain cynical, just not that cynical! 😉

    EJG

  15. I thought it was supposed to be an Explanation of the Small Catechism, not an Explanation of the Lutheran Confessions. There are better books for that, like Robert Preus’ Getting into the Theology of Concord or even the Book of Concord itself.

    I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve corrected people who stated that the Explanations are the Small Catechism or who get the “meanings” (Luther’s) confused with the “explanations” (synod’s).

    Why do pastors call the whole thing the Catechism? Wouldn’t they be better off teaching Luther’s Small Catechism (the six chief parts, Table of Duties, Daily Prayers, Christian Questions and Their Answers), followed by Luther’s Large Catechism instead of an entire course covering the Explanations?

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