(Scott’s posts are archived on the Regular Columns page under the title “Apologetics: Apply Liberally.” This article is also posted on his website Stand Firm.)
One of the resolutions that will be presented for adoption at the Northwest District Convention (June 18-20) is Resolution 2-07, the text of which follows:
TO WORK WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS TO REACH THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW CHRIST AND MEMORIALIZE SYNOD TO DO THE SAME
WHEREAS, the Lord has given a command to all His followers to “make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:18-20) and
WHEREAS, we members of the Northwest District are part of the followers of Christ who make up the “One, Holy, Christian (catholic), and Apostolic Church,” and
WHEREAS, the task of reaching those who do not know Christ is greater than we can do alone, therefore be it
RESOLVED, that we give thanks and praise to God for all our brothers and sisters in Christ in the whole Christian Church on earth, and be it finally
RESOLVED, that the Northwest District encourage congregations, boards and agencies of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, to work with congregations, boards and agencies of various Christian bodies to give direction as to how we can more effectively and appropriately work with other Christian church bodies in reaching out to those who do not know Christ.
This resolution certainly has a commendable goal – to further spread the Gospel, yet it also does so at the expense of that very same Gospel, by promulgating church fellowship with unspecified entities which do not necessarily hold to an orthodox understanding of the Gospel.
The resolution seems to operate under the assumption that since “the task of reaching those who do not know Christ is greater than we can do alone,” it is therefore acceptable to unite with non-Lutherans to perform outreach efforts. While the Formula of Concord is clear that we desire union with other Christians, “We do yearn with heartfelt pleasure and love for unity. On our part, we are sincerely willing and anxious to advance that unity (according to our utmost power)…,” that union can only be achieved in a manner “…by which God’s glory remains unharmed. We willingly advance unity where nothing of the divine truth of the Holy Gospel is surrendered, no room is given to the least error, and poor sinners are brought to true, genuine repentance, raised up by faith, confirmed in new obedience, and justified and eternally saved alone through the sole merit of Christ” (FC, SD, XI, 96). In the case of the resolution, the cart seems to come before the horse, abandoning any consideration of doctrinal truth in favor of a pragmatic missional outcome. There can be no church fellowship with entities which do not share our Confession, because our Confession is a correct presentation of Scriptural truth, and uniting with those who do not hold to the teaching of Scripture is sinful.
This proposed joint effort falls under the definition of unionism, defined in the Christian Cyclopedia as the “non-biblical term applied to various degrees of coorganization, joint worship, and/or cooperation between religious groups of varying creeds and/or spiritual convictions.” While you might not consider a joint effort between your church and the Methodist church next door to repaint your mutually shared fence unionism, a joint evangelistic effort certainly would be.
The Constitution of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, in Article VI, contains the conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod, including the following condition:
Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as:
a. Serving congregations of mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church;
b. Taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession;
c. Participating in heterodox tract and missionary activities.
Some people may not view this resolution as unionism, because it doesn’t involve “pulpit and altar fellowship.” But fellowship involving churchly functions is pulpit and altar fellowship. God grows and sustains His Church through the means of grace – Word and Sacrament. These means of grace flow from the pulpit and the altar, and all other forms of church fellowship begin here, whether it is joint prayer, a worship service, or a joint evangelistic effort that is involved.
This resolution lacks discernment. It makes reference to the Great Commission, “(Matthew 28:18-20),” but omits the majority of its content, ignoring Christ’s mandate to baptize and teach, thus minimizing any doctrinal differences between Lutherans and other denominations. It references the “followers of Christ who make up the ‘One, Holy, Christian (catholic), and Apostolic Church,'” yet it ignores Augsburg Confession Article VII, which defines the Church as “the congregation of the saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered.” It also promotes an individualistic effort towards church fellowship, a sort of cafeteria-style arrangement, encouraging fellowship with groups as small as individual congregations, again ignoring the possibly heterodox confession of the church body to which that particular congregation is attached.
It should come as no surprise that this resolution exists, coming at a time when the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod welcomes, embraces, and adopts the doctrinal errors of “internationally known consultants,” “strategists,” “facilitators,” and “futurists” from the four corners of the doctrinal globe. What a contrast with that of the biblical witness found in Galatians chapter 2, in which James, Peter, and John would not extend the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas until they were convinced of their unity in the grace of Jesus Christ, in which Paul would not yield in submission to false brothers even for a moment, so that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved, and in which Paul opposed Peter to his face because his conduct was not in step with the truth of the Gospel.
While our postmodern times revel in unionism at the expense of truth, for the sake of the Gospel, we cannot afford to do the same.
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. 2 John 1:9-11 ESV