Missions or Pure Doctrine? by Pr. Andrew Simcak, (regular columnists for the Texas Confessional Lutherans)

(Editor’s Note: Pastor Simcak touches on a theme that will get much attention on this site in the weeks to come. Defining “missions” and understanding its place in the church is a fundamental part of the LCMS Task Force’s justification for their proposals for structural change and so needs to be clearly understood by all LCMS members.)

It is extremely distressing to know that in our synod division and controversy exist and continue to escalate about the relative importance of missions and pure doctrine, their relationship to each other, and which one should be more important and emphasized. The undersigned cannot recall in his many years in the parish ministry that such intense tension ever existed as it now does!

There are many indications that this tension continues to flourish in our midst and has become very divisive.

While there has always existed in one degree or another tension in our church body between the relationship of missions and pure doctrine to each other, this tension has been increasing in our midst and is now threatening to fracture our walking together as a synod, a fracture that will hasten the demise of the synod as a confessional Lutheran church body!

Stoking the fires of this tension were statements made by Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, synod’s president:

  1. “We have not the luxury of time and energy spent on incessant internal purification at the expense of the eternal destiny of the souls of men and women for whom Christ died, but who know not His name and have not accepted His saving grace.”
  2. The church “cannot afford to waste time on incessant internal purification at the expense of the lost in the world.”
  3. “My concern is that we spend so much time in incessant internal purification that we do so at the expense of the eternal destiny of people who are dying every minute.”
  4. “People, this is not a game. Our incessant internal purification at the expense of the eternal destiny of souls of men and women for whom Christ died must stop!”

While such comments emphatically and rightly emphasize the dire urgency of doing mission work, as Scripture so clearly commands, it appears to minimize any emphasis on pure doctrine! Evidently “incessant internal purification” is restricting God’s work!

The Scriptures very clearly command God’s people to keep all of His Word pure (1 Timothy 6, 3-4; John 8, 31; 2 Timothy 1, 13-14; Jude 3). And they also very clearly command us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28, 19-20; Acts 1,8). There is no doubt that millions are perishing in their sins because they do not believe that Jesus Christ is the only Savior Who alone can rescue them from their sins and that salvation for time and eternity is only possible because of what Jesus Christ accomplished for us through His suffering, death, and resurrection. It’s a false and dangerous emphasis, not pleasing to our Lord, and shattering beyond repair our synod as a confessional Lutheran church body, to pit missions and pure doctrine against each other and/or to believe that one is more important than the other and/or to emphasize one at the expense of the other.

There exists the real danger that God’s Word may and can be compromised in the quest to attain specific numerical gains in congregational, district, national and foreign mission fields.

The sainted Dr. A. L. Barry, a former synodical president, stated it very well: “Missouri, keep the message straight! Missouri, get the message out!” God wants it to be both pure doctrine and missions! Not EITHER-OR, but BOTH-AND!

Consider the following two statements by Dr. C.F.W. Walther, the first President of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod:

Yet now I seem to hear all our enemies say sneeringly: “Reine Lehre, pure doctrine, orthodoxy – that’s it and that’s about all you glory in. Vainglory!” But, my brethren, let them mock us if they will; by such mockery they reveal of what manner of spirit they are. Surely theirs is a different spirit from David’s, who, after beseeching God not to take the Word of Truth from his mouth, adds: “For I have hoped in Thy judgments.” These judgments, these pronouncements of God, in other words, this pure doctrine of the divine Word, that was the only hope of his soul. And so has it ever been with all the true children and servants of God. For what is “reine Lehre”? Pure doctrine is the pure Word of God, the pure bread of life eternal, the pure seed of the children of the Kingdom, a pure fountain of faith and love, a pure well of divine comfort, in a word, it is the clean, sure, and straight way to Christ and into heaven. Truly pure doctrine, then, is more precious than silver and gold, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, stronger than sin, death, devil, and hell, more than heaven and earth. And pure doctrine is never an idle or dead thing; from it, and from it alone, flows spiritual, Christian divine life. . . .Wherever there is purity of doctrine, there will be found miracles of divine grace.”

Many say, ‘Instead of disputing over doctrine so much, we should rather be concerned with souls and with leading them to Christ.’ But all who speak in this way do not really know what they are saying or what they are doing. As foolish as it would be to scold a farmer for being concerned about sowing good seed and to demand of him simply to be concerned about a good harvest, so foolish it is to scold those who are concerned first and foremost with the doctrine and to demand of them that they should rather seek to rescue souls. For just as the farmer who wants a good crop must above all be concerned about good seed, so the church must above all be concerned about right doctrine if it would save souls.

Let it be the prayer and goal of every blood bought, redeemed child of God to both “contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints” and to “go and tell,” proclaiming the saving Gospel into all the world to every creature! Not EITHER-OR, but BOTH-AND!

Rev. Andrew Simcak, Jr.
Texas Confessional Lutherans

First quote from Walther above, found in “Ebenezer. Reviews of the Work of the Missouri Synod dring Three Quarters of a Century” by W.H.T. Dau.

Second quote found in Essays for the Church [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992], Vol. I)

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.


Missions or Pure Doctrine? by Pr. Andrew Simcak, (regular columnists for the Texas Confessional Lutherans) — 9 Comments

  1. Andrew,

    You have put your finger on the very heart of the problem.

    I have spent years observing other mainline liberal Protestant church bodies in America (most of which are in serious numerical decline), and talking with the reform-minded within those bodies.

    This common feature emerges. The leadership of every one of these church bodies has adopted the “either-or” mentality.

    Be it the ECUSA, the PCUSA, the UCC, the UMC or the ELCA, it is the same –the leadership of each considers concern for pure doctrine an obstacle to their “mission work.” Pres. Kieschnick’s statements can be found almost verbatim in the mouths of their leaders.

    Observe for yourself what this has produced in each of these church bodies. More mission work? No. Growth? No, decline. Doctrinal compromise? Yes, and worse.


  2. Brother Simcak, you have, as always, hit the nail quite squarely on the head. Why, oh, why, must we always try to juxtapose doctrine and the mission? Doctrine gives us our mission, NOT the other way around! It is in the realization of the reality of Christ’s saving work and of natural man’s fallen state that we find ourselves drawn to the mission of reaching out to this fallen world with the glorious Gospel! On top of other concerns, it is plain laziness on our parts to think that we should somehow ignore clear doctrine in the interest of reaching out to the lost. It is another sign of our natural laziness when, instead of trying to reach the lost, we are sometimes tempted to resort to sheep-stealing from other church bodies (or even from neighboring Lutheran churches). May the Lord preserve us safely in the true faith AND keep us faithful in all aspects of His service.

  3. This may be a dumb way to put it, but isn’t doctrine pretty much integral to or even almost the same as mission at times?

    It seems to me that if one does not proclaim doctrine, then there is no mission and there is nothing for the church to give to sinners. One needs to hear doctrine in order to be saved. One needs to hear doctrine so they can know to receive the sacraments. One needs to hear doctrine to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. If there is no doctrine to be received, then there can be no church.

    Or did I mangled this?

  4. “There is no doubt that millions are perishing in their sins because they do not believe that Jesus Christ is the only Savior Who alone can rescue them from their sins and that salvation for time and eternity is only possible because of what Jesus Christ accomplished for us through His suffering, death, and resurrection.”

    Where are these millions that are dying without saving faith because they have not heard the Gospel message? In the US or abroad? In Europe? China?

    Is the Gospel truly silenced completely in all these places or are the millions that are dying without saving faith confirmed only in their unbelief despite having heard and continuing to hear the Gospel?

    It seems to me that building an urgency like this by default directs the responsibility of their eternal damnation on Christians yet living who have failed to save them. A rather law-oriented perspective.

    I see my call to mission as loving and serving my neighbor (family, friends, co-workers, individuals that God places clearly in my path) and to support my church/synod financially. Synod’s responsibility being to send missionaries to those fields of need that I or my fellow congregation members can not go to. Whether they are doing that or not is a different discussion

    If someone could expound on this “millions dying” urgency, I would appreciate the proper Law-Gospel perspective on this.

  5. Barbara Szofran raises a point that has bothered me as well. My (layman’s) impression is that the “millions dying urgency” talk that struck her as odd is basically inconsistent w/ our doctrine of justification.
    If there are millions of men and women living amongst us right now, whom God will eventually damn only because I never knocked on their door Bible in hand, how can I justify the time I spend working at my job, mowing my lawn, with my family, or even drinking my little glass of [Anchorage] beer? How do these people sleep nights if they really think that God sits on His hands in heaven waiting for us to do the work of saving sinners, and regretfully sighing and damning another one to hell whenever in our laziness or lack of inventive methodology we fail to convince him or her to “join up?” Where in this “millions dying urgency” mess is Matt 28’s focus on baptism and catechesis, or Rom 8:28-30 or Eph 2:8-9?
    I’m compelled to say there are folks in our Synod who have “a different spirit.”
    Pax Christi +,
    Matt Mills

  6. I once read in one of Southerland’s articles found at pastors.com that emphasizing “mission, mission, mission” is simply one of many tools to bring about transition in a church. The idea was to keep your members so busy that they don’t have time to sweat the “little things”. While they’re out “doing”, you can be working behind the scenes “transitioning”. Furthermore, the more people they bring in through “mission, mission, mission,” the more successful you will appear, and the more you’ll be able to get away with–er, I mean the more you’ll be able to enact your vision–and the more money you’ll have to do it with.

  7. I was also wondering about “God’s timing”. Isn’t His timing perfect? I heard an “Ablaze” mission speaker talk about how he was surrounded by Christians for 24 years, but they never told him about Jesus. It finally took a Lutheran to do that, but does that mean that all those other Christians had failed him all his life, or was God’s timing perfect? He won’t let one of His chosen die without Christ, will He? I’ve been wondering about this. Did they all fail him in their mission? Or wasn’t it the right time? I just felt like we were all put under law listening to it. Like we fail every day. Which I know we do, but….?

  8. If you take doctrine out of mission, you have nothing. Without doctrine, the mission has no message but to prop up whatever trend or movement is coming down the pike. Sadly, that happens too often. For example, some unsuspecting or often wilful folks get drowned in forty days of purpose. Folks get Oprafied and catch the latest New Age fad. Some folks think that this generation’s “church” is “emerging” into ful bloom.

    It saddens me that Synod Inc. has initiated and continued to fan into flame the Ablaze m program, which they dream is a movement of the Holy Spirit. Rather than dec supporting the proclamation of the Gospel, Synod Inc. p promotes what isn’t Lutheran at all and calls it mission work.

    There need be no real distinction between sound doctrine and the mission of the Church. As the promos on Issues Etc. have declared for years: The mission is the message. That message is Jesus Christ alone as Savior by His grace through faith. It is not about us; it’s for us.

    It hit me today as the celebration of Holy Communion drew to a close during the divine service how much the post-communion collect relates to sound doctrine and mission. I quote it in full here:

    “O God the Father, the fountain and source of all goodness, who in loving-kindness sent Your Only-Begotten Son into the flesh, we thank You that for His sake You have given us pardon and peace in this Sacrament, and we ask you not to forsake Your children but always to rule our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit that we may be enabled constantly to serve You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” (LSB page 212)

    The same Lord who is our living bread from heaven is He who calls us to our vocations to serve our neighbor. He lives and works in us parents, children, brothers, sisters, doctors, teachers, pastors, garbage collectors, etc. in whatever ways He sees fit to get the Word to others.

    We don’t have to invent some program for that. Jesus prepares in advance His mission that we may walk in it. (Eph. 2:10) Just as Matt. 25:35-40 points out, we don’t always have to know every time someone receives the Gospel from us. At least for me, I’m usually oblivious to it. Thanks be to God. Otherwise, I’d get a fat head and inflated ego.

    Without the life-giving nourishment from the pure Word and Sacraments, our service to others is really a pious and Paraisical show of what we can do, even though psychologists may call it altruism. Without the truly taught Gospel, we consciously count the costs of clarity and usually back down from the tasks at hand. With pure doctrine, our Lord’s call to preach Him to all people is very clear. His promise is sure. D Despite anything in us, His Word doesn’t return void but accomplishes what He sends Him to do. (Is. 55:10-11)

    Why not be ashamed of the Gospel, the power of God which saves all who trust in Jesus Christ alone? Because it is the righteousness of God by faith for faith. (Rom. 1:16-17) Jesus has saved us freely by means of Baptism (Titus 3:3-7, 1 Pet. 3:21) He still sustains us through His declared Word of forgiveness (John 20:21-23) and body and blood (1 Cor. 11:23-25) Nourished by these gifts distributed to us freely, we proclaim the ord’s death till He comes. (1 Cor. 11:26)

    It’s between that or finding some nebulous, guilt-driven purpose. Thanks be to God I don’t have to make that decision. I simply receive it just you all do everytime our Lord gifts us with His Word.

    David Rosenkoetter
    Matt. 28:19-20

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