Straight from Their Official Website: ELCA Members No Longer Need to Believe in the Devil, by Pastor Rossow

I had a really interesting question in Bible class today that led me to this post on the ELCA. As I was talking about the ELCA’s quatenus subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, as opposed to the proper quia subscription, and their position that the scriptures contain errors, one of our members who is a former ALC Lutheran (the old German Lutheran denomination that joined with the LCA  to form the ELCA) made an interesting point.  He said that he was taught in the ALC in confirmation class in the 1970’s that the Bible is without error. I explained to him that it is not a black and white issue from congregation to congregation. There are still some ELCA congregations yet today that do not accept all of the liberal teachings of their denomination just as there were and still are LCMS congregations and pastors that do not believe the scriptures are without error.

As you can see, this is an important issue for the Brothers of John the Steadfast to consider. The further point I went on to make about the ELCA and the existence of the devil is also important for us to understand as we continue our quest to remain steadfastly Lutheran and scriptural.

After making the point about how liberalism and conservatism vary from congregation to congregation within Lutheran synods I felt compelled to share a clear example of how the ELCA has given up on the truth of the Bible as a denomination.

A few weeks ago when I was doing a Bible study on the Lutheran Manifesto (I  hope to get it on the website one of these days  but it still needs a lot of editing and cleaning up)  I was doing some research on the existence of the devil. Thesis three of the Manifesto asserts this:

With Article 19 we affirm that there exists an evil angel known as Satan, who, with his demons, is the originator and perpetuator of all evil, and continues to afflict men with lies and temptations.

The ELCA website says this on their  “Dig Deeper” page:

Does this evil being exist?
We must begin by saying that there are ELCA Lutherans who understand Satan (or the Devil) to be a very real being, author of evil, prompter of sin, destroyer of humankind. Other ELCA Lutherans view Satan metaphorically — as the personification of evil forces in this world that oppose and obstruct God’s will in every age, be they human or spiritual. Adherents of both views would agree that sinful, evil forces do exist and oppose God’s will for humankind, that in God’s plan for humankind these forces were defeated on the cross, are under God’s power and authority, and will ultimately be destroyed under God’s judgement.

There you have it. In the ELCA it is your choice as to whether or not you want to believe in a real being known as Satan or the devil. This is what happens when a church body gives up on the truth of Scripture.

This prompted me to see exactly what they say publicly about Scripture. For years the ELCA has held the doctrinal position that the Bible contains errors and is not the word of God but only “contains” the word of God but the little bit of checking of their official website over the years has led me to beleive that they were not quick to make overtly public statements about such things but that has now changed. Check out this definition of scripture, again from their official website, After asserting that the Bible is God’s word they qualify it with this:

At the same time, we also find in the Bible human emotion, testimony, opinion, cultural limitation and bias. ELCA Lutherans recognize that human testimony and writing are related to and often limited by culture, customs and world view. Today we know that the earth is not flat and that rabbits do not chew their cud (Leviticus 11:6 ). These are examples of time-bound cultural understandings or practices. Christians do not follow biblically prescribed dietary laws such as eliminating pork from one’s diet (Leviticus 11:7) because the new covenant we have with God has replaced the Old Testament covenant God had with his people. Because Biblical writers, editors and compilers were limited by their times and world views, even as we are, the Bible contains material wedded to those times and places. It also means that writers sometimes provide differing and even contradictory views of God’s word, ways and will.

Listening to the living Jesus in the context of the church, we therefore have the task of deciding among these. Having done this listening, we sometimes conclude either that the writer’s culture or personal experience (e.g., subordination of women or keeping of slaves) seems to have prompted his missing what God was saying or doing, or that God now is saying or doing something new.

The Bible’s authority is interpreted through Jesus
By no means does that human presence in sacred Scripture detract from the Bible’s testimony to God. Rather, this human testimony provides layers of faith and insight by those who contributed to the canon. The Bible’s reliability lies not in reading it as science or proscription, but as humankind’s chief witness to God, reflecting on faith as it is to be lived.

Notice that in the last sentence above they state that the Bible is “humankind’s chief witness to God, reflecting on faith as it is to be lived.” That is entirely upside down and backwards. The Bible is not man’s witness to God but God’s witness to man.

It is crucial that the Brothers of John the Steadfast understand what is going on in Lutheranism today. President Kieschnick is right. This is not your grandfather’s church. It is this view of scripture, still existing in the LCMS, that leads congregations such as Bethlehem, Renton – Washington, to promote lesbian and gay activities on their website  and to hire a gay and lesbian activist as a music director. While President Kieshcnick says that he believes in the inerrancy of scripture, he has yet to do anything about this situation in Washington in the synod he is responsible to supervise. Besides that, in practice, President Kieshcnick’s promotion of the church growth movement  in the LCMS undermines  his stated position on the inerrancy of scripture. He and others like to claim that we all believe the same doctrine but just have different forms of practice. Don’t be fooled by that for a minute. Doctrine and practice are inextricably tied together. Godly practice grows out of good doctrine. Check out this church  in President Kieschnicks own back yard and you will see that there are plenty of LCMS churches that claim to have true doctrine but their practice is not in keeping with the theology of scripture as spelled out in the Lutheran Confessions. (Be sure to check out the page on “communion nights” where elders of the church are administering holy communion in members homes and small groups.) You can also see more of the Ablaze hall of shame at the Save the LCMS website.

Upholding the truth of God’s word is a part of a steadfast Christian life. All around us, the word of God is being abused and compromised by Lutherans. According to the largest Lutheran denomination one doesn’t even have to believe in the devil anymore. What’s next, belief in God being  optional? Stay steadfast! Resist the temptation to compromise the pure Gospel of Christ.

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.


Straight from Their Official Website: ELCA Members No Longer Need to Believe in the Devil, by Pastor Rossow — 21 Comments

  1. I wonder if the ELCA’s position on the reality or lack of reality of the devil will cause any to leave the denomination? It would seem to me to be a deal breaker, but then what do I know about how “ELCAites” think, there have been more than a few in the last few years. On the other hand, the ELCA breakaway groups seem fairly robust. Of course, I haven’t heard of them rejecting woman’s ordination.

  2. I know it’s a very minor point. But, regarding rabbits chewing their cud. Answers in Genesis has a decent (IMO) treatment of this here:

    Do rabbits chew their cud?
    The Bible beats the sceptics (again) …

    I guess per the subtitle of that article, you could lump the ELCA with the sceptics or at least friendly to the sceptics.

  3. Elnathan,

    You are correct that many of the “conservative” ELCAites still accept women’s ordination. This was the first step in the slippery slope that then led to compromise on sexual sin and now the existence of the devil. Once one gives up on the innerancy of the Bible, all sorts of heresy will follow.

    Pastor Rossow

  4. Mark Y,

    I have not checked out your references but I am sure they make minced meat of this claim. I have a philosphico-historical critique to offer.

    Aristotle, as far as I know, is the pioneer of the genus/species distinction. So in the time of Moses, there was not available an air tight classification of animals. In ancient times there was no consistent distinction among the species so I think our translation of ancient Hebrew texts will always be a bit shaky on precise genus and species of animals. So, for the ELCA to hang hits hat on this is rather specious (I couldn’t help but use the pun) argument is silly. Is this the best they have to offer to show that God’s word is full of holes? This is absolutely laughable.

    Pastor Rossow

  5. Pr. Rossow. The essence of the AiG piece is more regarding what ‘chewing the cud’ means than particular methods of biological classification. But, yes, the different methods of classification (from Aristotle to modern times) versus “Biblical kinds” is also typically an issue for these sorts of things.

    Here’s the relevant part from the AiG article (more supporting details contained in the article itself):

    “It is not an error of Scripture that ‘chewing the cud’ now has a more restrictive meaning than it did in Moses’ day. Indeed, rabbits and hares do ‘chew the cud’ in an even more specific sense. Once again, the Bible is right and the sceptics are wrong.”

  6. Check out that link to JeffersonHills Church (with their too-hip-uber-edgy-emergent web page design). See if you can even find out that they are associated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod from that site. See if there is any identification other than the one spot you can find it in – it’s like playing “Where’s Waldo” so have fun.

    That page shows me just how much trouble the LCMS is in, and how deep the problems in this synod go. What that web site shows, about that church and what is going on there, and what that portends for this synod, gives me chills.

  7. Pr Rossow,
    I think, like some others I have read, C.S. Lewis for one,that Satan’s best trick is to convince us of his non-existence. Once that is accopmplished all of our inhibitions fall and our salvation becomes based on our own ability to sin or not sin. Please stay steadfast to the true Doctrine of Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our sins.

  8. The American Lutheran Church (ALC) was not “an old German Lutheran denomination”. It was formed by a merger of predominantly Scandinavian-American synods in the Midwest (its national headquarters was in Minneapolis, Minnesota). The Missouri Synod was in complete pulpit-and-altar fellowship with the ALC from about 1962 to 1981, just a few years before the formation of the ELCA. During this time, public perception of the three major Lutheran church-bodies in the U.S. was Missouri Synod, most conservative; ALC, middle-of-the-road; Lutheran Church in America (LCA), most liberal. The decision by the LCMS to declare pulpit-and-altar fellowship with the ALC was the main reason for the breaking of fellowship with the Wisconsin Synod (indeed a German-Lutheran synod) and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (also of Scandinavian background, but more conservative than the ALC). In practice, the ALC kept swinging back and forth between confessional Lutheranism and the type of Lutheranism represented by the LCA. A series of events (such as the approval of women’s ordination by ALC) convinced a narrow majority of Missouri Synod representatives that the ALC really was being pulled into the LCA orbit, which proved to be the case.

  9. Instead of church, the next question will be do you go to “Social Interaction Meetings”. These are meetings where people of faith get togehter and talk about faith and life.

    Well what type of faith? One can certainly have faith in oneself, another person other than Christ, or a piece of wood! After all many people fashion a piece of wood, set a meal before it ( I think of Buddhists in this context), and pray to it. What type of life? Oh the life of our group is one of “luv”. I have news for you'” Perfect love drives out all fear”. This is the love the Christ has for sinners and the it is the “luv” that he condemns.

    When we look at Christ through the lens of”luv” we offend and insult the very Lord who bought and paid for all souls. Because, the practice of “luv” and refusal to retain doctrine and practice does not sustain the church. Rather, it opens the door to heresy such as this.

  10. David E, #8

    The ALC was always characterized to me as more German than Scandinavian and the LCA as more Scandinavian. I do not have my church history books with me here at home but a quick check of Wikipedia shows that both former denominations have a mix of Germans and Scandinavians.

    Pastor Rossow

  11. The American Lutheran Church (which later was absorbed into the ELCA) was formed in 1960 from a merger of:

    * American Lutheran Church (note lack of “the”) which was formed in 1930 from a merger of the German Iowa Synod (1854) and the Joint Synod of Ohio (1818);

    * United Evangelical Lutheran Church formerly known as the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church founded in 1896;

    * Evangelical Lutheran Church founded in 1917 as the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. The NLCA had been formed from a merger of the Hauge Synod (1876) , Norwegian Synod (1853) and the United Norwegian Lutheran Church (1890). The NLCA changed its name in 1946 to Evangelical Lutheran Church.

    * Lutheran Free Church which had broken away from the United Norwegian Lutheran Church in 1897 joined the ALC in 1963.

    My great-grandfather, Andrew John Hemmingson, was a member of the old Norwegian Synod, which in its day was more conservative than the Missouri Synod. He was somewhat concerned when his son (my grandfather) wanted to marry a German woman of the Missouri Synod, but he got over it. Nearly all of the ALC people that I have known in my life have identified themselves as Scandinavian-Americans.

  12. Does anyone know exactly where the slippery slope started? David Ernst mentioned the approval of women’s ordination by ALC, but were there indicators that preceded this? For example, a change in faculty at the seminary?

  13. Elnathan, #1:

    You ask if this latest position (on the existence of Satan) will cause members to leave ELCA. I was in the ALC before and after the ELCA merger and I can tell you that things have gotten a lot worse since I left 15 years ago.

    If someone has put up with as much heresy as has been tolerated in the ELCA up until now, I can imagine they will put up with almost anything. Therefore, I doubt this will sway people to leave.

  14. Left Coast:

    I found the reference in two clicks. From home page to about us. I am not sure what is problematic about that.


  15. This ‘quatenus subscription’ is interesting.

    I could say I hold a ‘quatenus subscription’ to the Book of Mormon. I agree with the Book of Mormon insofar as it agrees with Holy Scripture.

    I could say I hold a ‘quatenus subscription’ with the 1974 Sears catalog. I also hold a ‘quatenus subscription’ with the Yellow Pages and my Sudoku book.

  16. Totliso,

    The slippery slope started with the Enlightenment’s scientific approach to Scripture which slowly made its way into the church. Basically, scripture was submitted to the test of human reason. Over time, more and more of the supernatural claims of scripture were questioned.

    I am no expert on these things but as I recall, in the late 18th century this approach made its way into the universities and seminaries of Europe. In the middle of the last century these ideas started to become prominent in Lutheran seminaries in the United States, including the LCMS. In the 1970’s the conservative, Bible-beleiving group one out in the LCMS. In the ALC and LCA, such was not the case.

    Eventually, what was simply a scientific critique of the supernatural, mushroomed into a full-blown cultural critique including the tossing of scriptural mandates on sexuality and male headship.

    This approach to the Bible is called “higher criticism.” If you do a search on that phrase in Wikipedia you will find a helpful article. You cannot always trust Wikipedia but I glanced over the article and it will give you the basics of this approach. There is also a nice quote from Martin Luther showing that if he we were around now, he would reject such an approach.

    Hope that helps.

    Pastor Rossow

  17. Now that I think of it, I’ve seen this transition played out in the former ALC-turned-ELCA home church of some people I know. Until perhaps some time in the 80s, it was quite conservative. The Gospel put in an occasional appearance in the 90s and this decade under the last pastor, who I believe was a pre-70s sem grad. The current pastor is extremely liberal.

  18. No matter how we view the scriptures (and I view it as the Word of God) there are always differing interpretations based on a person’s background, culture, education, experience, knowledge of language, knowledge of the old languages, etc. We don’t have the original scriptures in the original languages. We have copies of translations. Being a Biblical literalist therefore is problematic by definition.

    There is no denomination which follows all the parts of the Bible literally. This is because people pick and choose, because of the complexity, and yes, because of some things being “apparently” contrary in different places. I think it is a slippery slope when some Christians put down others who don’t follow certain scriptures while overlooking what they, themselves, ignore.

    But an even bigger problem that is so often overlooked is that we can only interpret anything in light of our experience and knowledge. That is why some specific scriptures are followed in differing ways in different parts of the world. If you have ever had a misunderstanding with a loved one that you later found out was based on both of you interpreting something literally, but differently, you know what I mean. If you have been in contact with people from other countries you have often run into this issue.

    Does that mean I am wishy washy about my belief in the Scriptures? No, not at all. It means that I try to remain open minded about scriptural interpretation rather than falsely over confident about interpretation of specif verses. It does mean that I do not base my Faith on a specific verse interpreted a specific way, but rather my faith is based on what Holy Spirit’s work in my life. Christ is the Living Word of God, at work in the world and in my life.

    I find it problematic that certain Lutheran groups talk about Biblical inerrancy, etc. and then add that true worship requires worshiping with certain forms and music, etc., as I’ve seen stated on a number of blogs of some prominent Lutherans. Doesn’t this by default render judgment on Christians throughout the world who aren’t “Confessional Lutherans?” Do such believers really think that God doesn’t accept the sincere worship of other types of Christians?

  19. PS,

    You make a good point that we should be open to other understandings of a given passage. Let me offer you a different way of processing those different views.

    Words carry meaning. They refer to things. I use a word correctly when I use it to refer to the thing that it actually refers to. If I use the word “dog” to refer to a cat then I am in error because everyone else who speaks English uses the word “dog” to refer to a dog. There is not a single meaningful word used in language that does not refer to a thing. We have a word for people who use words that do not refer to things or to things that exist only in their own mind. We say that they are “crazy.”

    The Romantic idea that dominates our culture’s view of words today is actually silly, even crazy. It states that words have meaning in the interpreter’s mind. If this is true, we can never arrive at any truth, and this is where our culture is. It is happy to say that all things are relative. This is why the ELCA can claim that is not important to believe in a real devil even though the Bible speaks that way. Because I have my own experiences and you have your own, we can never communicate in truth because, according to this false approach, meaning is not in the things that we refer to but in our minds.

    The job of the Bible reader is to determine the meaning of the words in the Bible. When one only knows English he is at the mercy of the translator, but not to worry, translations such as the KJV and ESV very accurately convey the meaning of the original languages. (BTW – the manuscripts that we have of the Old and New Testament are numerous and reliable. Your concern that we do not have the originals is not a firm basis for suspicion of the truth of the Bible.)

    When we translate from one language to another it does complicate things but not hopelessly so. Translators are skilled in knowing what things and concepts foreign words refer to. They then find the matching word or words in English and make the translation.

    So now, back to your point about learning from other understandings of a given verse. I regularly read Bible commentaries written by non-Lutherans. They often help me to understand what the words on the page mean by referring me to ancient history, customs and language usage. This is not a mysterious process. It is very rational and open.

    Concerning this misunderstanding in the ELCA about the nature of the devil, they simply get the meaning of the words wrong. The Bible is very simple and clear about the existence of the devil. He is not some invisible force that symbolizes all evil. He is a real person that talks, roams about, and tempts you and me to sin. That is the plain and simple meaning of the Bible. That is what the words say and these words refer to real things.

    Now sometimes the Bible and other literature for that matter, gives us clear evidence that the things being referred to be imaginary. For instance when Jesus says let me tell you a parable; we know that the things in the story are imaginary. (However, notice that we are able to understand the imaginary story because all of the words refer to things – that is how we understand words, i.e. by understanding what they refer to.) By studying the context, we can tell if the Bible is giving us imaginary things or real things.

    When you say that your faith is based on the Holy Spirit’s work in your life, I have to ask if the Holy Spirit ever asks you to do anything contrary to the Holy Scripture that He inspired. Of course the answer is no. The reason we know that is because we can figure out what the words mean in Scripture because words so carry meaning and are decipherable. If the Holy Spirit ever guided you to do something that is contrary to God’s word, you would know that is not the Holy Spirit wouldn’t you? The reason I bring this up is to illustrate the significance of the Scriptures. They are the God-given source of truth.

    Concerning worship, no one should ever require certain forms. What is defended on this web-site and others like is that the form of worship match what is actually going on in worship. What goes on in worship is the reception of the forgiveness of sins and then praise of God in objective words that carry truth. What this web-site and others like condemn is worship that does not carry the forgiveness of sins to us (including the reception of the real body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins) and also condemned is worship that is so saucy, of syrupy – overflowing with emotion, that the feel good experience of the worshiper starts to become more important than the actual praise of God.

    I hope this helps. There is a lot for us to discuss in my post and yours. I look forward to your future posts.

    Pastor Rossow

  20. Early Lutheran congregations and synods in the United States were organized along ethnic/geographic lines, although there were some doctrinal issues from the very beginning. Over time ethnic/geographic identity became less and less important as the children and grandchildren of northern European immigrants were assimilated into the mainstream of American life. The dream of one, united, national Lutheran church-body (like world peace, not in itself a bad thing) began to look like it could become a reality.

    The former ALC and LCA (itself a 20th Century product of many synodical mergers) represented separate attempts to achieve such a united Lutheran church-body. Unfortunately, the cost of these unions was a steady loss of doctrinal integrity. The strategy for maintaining external, organizational unity was to dodge difficult doctrinal issues with deliberately ambiguous language which could be interpreted according to the listener´s preferences. The end-result of this process is the ELCA today (the end in the sense that the only way the ELCA could become less Lutheran is to drop “Lutheran” from its name altogether). Every news item we hear about the ELCA prompts my mother to say Great-grandfather A.J. must be rolling over in his grave again (purely a figure of speech, of course).

    The challenge that faces confessional Lutheran today, as in generations past, is how long do you hang in there and keep trying to restore an increasingly heterodox organization to its doctrinal foundations before removing yourself from its roster and seeking a community more faithful in practice to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions? This is an especially difficult decision if loyalty to a particular denomination is part of your personal and family history.

    But we really need not fear straightforward doctrinal debate. Part of what we mean by saying the Bible is the inspired Word of God is that is both sufficient and clear. Sufficient in that there is nothing necessary for our salvation that needs to be revealed. Clear in that the meaning of the text is accessible to people in different times and places.

    Because the Scriptures are sufficient and clear, we can be confident in a quia subscription to the Lutheran Confessions. Either the Lutheran Confession conform to Scriptural teaching 100 percent or they do not. If there is a point of departure from Scripture in the Lutheran Confessions, it should be pointed out so that we can all move on from Lutheranism. But if you say the Confessions are true only “insofar” as they agree with the Scriptures, without being able to point out specific points of difference, then you are denying that the Scriptures themselves are sufficient and clear.

  21. The devil is in the ELCA’s details. They publicly tell us they do not accept abortion, except when the life of the mother is in doubt. On the other hand, they pay for abortion on demand through their pension plan. Of course the advice for a candidate undergoing ordination through the Anglican historic episcopate is for the candidate to just do it; you don’t have to believe it. And that is the way they approach scripture.

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