Unionism in the Northwest District? By Scott Diekmann

(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:



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

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.


Unionism in the Northwest District? By Scott Diekmann — 14 Comments

  1. Yeah, I had seen this on Jim Pierce’s Confessional Bytes blog and I was wondering, what gives? Are the various districts TRYING to out-do each other to see who can be the most theologically liberal district? I know we have Pr. Cwirla and some others in California, but what about Oregon and Washington?

  2. It would seem that according to one synod official, it is just silly to worry about those German Methodists anyways. After all, aren’t there bigger fish to fry? 😉

    Not according to the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration. Even during persecution, we are not to “comply with the enemies of the Holy Gospel (which leads to the detriment of truth).” (FCSD, X:28).

    While the section refers specifically to matters of adiaphora during persecution, how much more does it apply to times of peace and freedom, where core teachings of the Gospel are at stake!

    Lets work toward mending the fence and making it whole before we paint it together. The LCMS enjoyed almost a century of altar and pulpit fellowship with WELS because we ironed out our differences FIRST (and they were significant differences).

  3. Was any indication given as to which “various Christian bodies” this resolution recommends the LC-MS abandon the Word and Sacraments so we may “unite”? Really, the current rage is Joel Osteen – he can draw sixty thousand per service. How about Trinity Broadcasting Network – they’ve gone worldwide (which should be a real boost to the Ablaze counter). Rome still claims the largest audience – I’m sure they’d welcome us back to their “teachings.” Or perhaps we should just mount our high horse and ride off like Saul of Tarsus in search of christianity. Someone should teach the authors of this resolution the task of reaching lost souls never was ours alone; without the Holy Spirit we’re just as lost as Israel wandering in the desert.

    If, by the grace of God, we should stumble upon a lost soul, which Christ are we prepared to proclaim. When Nicodemus approached Jesus in the dark of night to hear the Good News, Jesus didn’t give him John 3:16 first. He gave the pharisee Baptism (saw that in Matthew somewhere); He gave him the Law of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness; He taught him Christ crucified as the Son of Man must be lifted up so that we may have eternal life in Him. Then Jesus gave Nicodemus the “God so loved the world” after the Law and the Holy Spirit first prepared the way. Which part of this does this resolution propose to surrender – and what “gospel” does this resolution wish to proclaim?

  4. If, as some commenters on this site have suggested, the LCMS is a heterodox church body already, what’s the big deal? Unionism no longer applies in that case.

  5. Is it unionism the majority of the LCMS believes the same thing as the rest of these guys anyway?

  6. Where isn’t there unionism today or open communion? Have we become a heterodox tract and missionary society, using curricula, sacramental rites, and worship forms from heterodox communions?

  7. Pr. Frahm, uh…the Catholic church? I was at Mass with my girlfriend (she’s Catholic) one Sunday, and they had a pretty specific closed communion notice on their bulletin. Other than that, no American churches or denominations that I can think of, sadly. That seems to be the way it is in this current age.

  8. Scott – Thanks for the link. The information was very depressing. And please advise me how I get the picture of Elmer Fudd in a clerical collar out of my mind. That comment said volumes concerning TTS; “”Shhhhhh! Be vewy quiet. We’we twacking the Spiwit. Huhuhuhuhu.”

  9. So what! We will be electing an only vaguely Lutheran Prez (I know him personally), in an already only vaguely Lutheran Dist. To the extent he does anything at all, we will move farther away from Lutheran doctrine and practice. Pray for those Lutherans remaining out here!


  10. I’m not sure you’ll ever erase that image from your mind Dennis. How about switch instead of fight? I’ve got a graphic of Mr. Fudd that someone sent me, that’s related to “Tracking the Spirit,” as well as a different graphic that I created myself for the original post, but decided not to use, thinking it wasn’t charitable. If any of you would like a copy you can email me at [email protected] and I’ll send you a copy.

  11. Someone spoke of Lutheran bodies with true closed communion and I believe that WELS, ELS and CLC fall into that company of believers. I also think many LCMS churches are still practicing closed communion, though it is not as uniformly practiced as it should be.

  12. It seems to me that the NW District, of whose juridstiction my family and I fall under, has for the past several years chosen to operate under a “Mere Lutheranity” banner.

    Don’t take that to mean that I abhor Lewis; quite the contrary, I enjoy much of his fiction, and remain sufficiently mixed on his theological reflections. Take the metaphor to mean something akin to ‘operating under the auspices and by the powers of (Grayskull?!?) the LCMS-at-large, but bending over backwards so as almost to break with regard to doctrinal purity and inclusionism.’

    It seems that we (speaking for the powers-that-be of the NWD) are so mission-minded that we neglect the latter half of the Great Comission in favor of registering ‘critical events.’

    Aren’t proper exposition of Law and Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments critical enough events?


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