Thoughtful Challenge from Pr. Charlie Mueller Jr. to Wilken’s Presentation on LCMS Exceptionalism at the BJS Conference

(Editor’s Note: Pastor Charlie Mueller Jr., Senior Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church –  Roselle, Illinois,  recently listened to Pastor Wilken’s presentation on LCMS Exceptionalism at the BJS conference and shared the following  thoughtful comment.  To listen to Pr. Wilken’s presentation and all of the Conference presentations click here. We thank James Blasius and Norm Fisher for thier fine techincal work in recording and posting the presentations.)

I have just finished listening to Wilken’s presentation on “The Myth of LCMS Exceptionalism.” As always in rhetoric, he who defines the issue wins the argument. If I understand his point, Pastor Wilken suggests an error in our denomination that allows us to take “non-Lutheran” and perhaps pan-Lutheran sources and “lutheranize” or “Missouri” them to utilize the best of their content among us to the detriment of the proclamation of the pure Gospel.

While I stand for the pure preaching of the Word of God and the administration of the holy Sacraments in accordance with their institution by Christ, Pastor Wilken seems to exempt us from the revelation of Scripture, our agreed theology and our experience in the LCMS.

For instance, let’s just look to our current hymnody. Maybe I missed it, but when exactly was Isaac Watts confirmed in the Lutheran Church? Was Charles Wesley certified by the Fort Wayne or the St. Louis faculty? Aren’t their hymns standards in our hymnal? Didn’t we have a fight in the early part of last century regarding the use of metrical hymns because of the infusion of their accompanying theology? And don’t we now sing the theology (melody and words) of the Methodists we railed against in the preceding century and call it our own (oh, yes

Pastor Wilken’s major theses also miss the revelation of Scripture and the experience of the early Church regarding the Body of Christ. Read Acts 10 and 11 (Peter’s revelation that God can speak to him though a gentile like Cornelius and the new revelation for the Church that God’s Holy Spirit can pour out even on unbaptized Gentiles

Are we exempt from the work of the Holy Spirit among those outside the LCMS

In other words, does the Holy Spirit through the means of grace only speak to the LCMS? Unless that is true, perhaps we ought to listen to the whole Christian Church on earth, determine what is doctrinally sound and pure from among it, and apply it to our lives today, adapting and adopting that which is in use in the Church with our faithful, confessional filter so that God’s Word might be taught in truth and purity.

By the way, check out John Wohlrabe’s January 1988 CTQ article “The Americanization of Walther’s Doctrine of the Church” to see how we’ve used influences and ideas outside of our denomination to mold who we are today.

  • we “altered” some of the words to make the hymn “doctrinally pure” but others, like LSB 814, we didn’t). Isn’t this a case from our LCMS history that runs counter to the speaker’s point?
  • especially Acts 11:17). Read Acts 15 again (how the Church faced the revelation of God from “outside” the Jerusalem church of “true believers” regarding circumcision).
  • or has God’s Spirit stopped leading the invisible Church and only leads us?

Wilken’s theses also speak against our theology in “Kirche und Amt” (see especially Walther’s latter theses on the Church). Has God revealed Himself in truth and purity only to the LCMS? Is God only in our synod (and those who are in fellowship with us)? Are there not members of the true “invisible” Church within heterodox churches? Will we be alone in heaven because the Holy Spirit does not work outside our denomination – that the true visible church seen among us is also the true and only invisible church on earth?

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.


Thoughtful Challenge from Pr. Charlie Mueller Jr. to Wilken’s Presentation on LCMS Exceptionalism at the BJS Conference — 48 Comments

  1. I think Pastor Wilken’s thesis was that there was/is a myth that anything the MO synod does is ok because it’s the MO synod doing it. As I see the thesis it asserts that there has been an erroneous transfer of infallibility to a corporation, of all things.

    It is as though some in the MO synod (let’s say not only Life Long Lutherans but those BORN LUTHERAN as though that were possible) act as though their MO-ness insulates them from any harm that could be caused by any doctrine or practice. They can handle snakes, eat fish made almost entirely of bones, get infatuated with and intoxicated by false teaching, and nothing will harm them!

    This is entirely different from proclaiming that the MO synod is exactly and essentially equal to the entire visible church on earth, as you seem to think he is saying.

    The Lutheran Church is a historic confessional movement within the church on earth. We assert that we must KEEP ON CONFESSING in the face of error.

  2. I’d agree with @Miles. As I was listening to Pastor Wilken, I was thinking about Israel before the deportation – having acquired all sorts of idolatry, but still thinking that it was untouchable because of its special standing with God. A perfect parallel.

    Perhaps I was reading in, but I think Pastor Wilken was speaking of the *unconsidered* incorporation of evangelical and pop-religious ideas into the church. There are something things you simply can’t incorporate into a Christian service (clowns? nudity? sticks? motorcycles? buddhas?); but the urge will always be there, if somebody else is making a sensation by doing so, to try to incorporate them anyway. Oh and don’t forget heresy; extremely popular in America, but you can’t incorporate it and still be a Christian church.

    I’ve been relistening to the conference. Quite a set of talks and some beautiful services.

  3. I think that Pr. Mueller misunderstands the thesis of Pr. Wilken.

    I understood Pr. Wilken to say that we as the LCMS have the mindset that we can adapt just about anything to our practice (regardless of doctrinal purity). But then we convince ourselves that because we, the LCMS are using it, it must be doctrinally pure (because, of course, the LCMS only uses doctrinally pure things). Pr. Wilken exposes the circular reasoning.

    So, the use of Isaac Watts’ hymns or Charles Wesley’s (who translated Paul Gerhardt!) does not contradict this thesis. We have incorporated them into the practice of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod *because* they are doctrinally pure. They have not become doctrinally pure because we, the LCMS, use them.

    Contrast this with the use of contemporary praise and worship texts from outside our confessional tradition. Most of them are at best theologically weak; some are downright doctrinally impure (I know from my experience of singing the bulk of them with gusto in former days). Yet we use them. And we think that because we use them, then it must be ok, because we, the LCMS, are using them and we are doctrinally pure.

    Nothing was said about Christians of erring confessions regarding their salvation. Certainly Walther’s thesis that Christians of heterodox churches can also be save was not challenged, as long as so much of God’s Word remains so as to make Christians. However a steady diet of doctrinally impure preaching and worship is like a little arsenic in your nightcap each night. A little might make you feel a little (spiritually) sick, but won’t cause any major damage. But over time it builds up and will eventually cause (spiritual) death.

  4. > And don’t we now sing the theology (melody and words) of the Methodists we railed against in the preceding century and call it our own (oh, yes

    If you mean words and music that happen to be doctrinally good, wholesome, useful and correct, then yes.

    If you mean distinctively Methodist doctrines, absolutely not. You don’t assert that, do you?

  5. > Wilken’s theses also speak against our theology in “Kirche und Amt” (see especially Walther’s latter theses on the Church). Has God revealed Himself in truth and purity only to the LCMS? Is God only in our synod (and those who are in fellowship with us)? Are there not members of the true “invisible” Church within heterodox churches? Will we be alone in heaven because the Holy Spirit does not work outside our denomination – that the true visible church seen among us is also the true and only invisible church on earth?

    His theses do not imply any of this. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The point is that the MO synod per se is not sacrosanct for all time. The human organization called a synod can fall into error.

  6. With all respect to the critique, I agree that Pastor Mueller may have misunderstood the point Pastor Wilken was attempting to make.

    If I understand his point, Pastor Wilken suggests an error in our denomination that allows us to take “non-Lutheran” and perhaps pan-Lutheran sources and “lutheranize” or “Missouri” them to utilize the best of their content among us to the detriment of the proclamation of the pure Gospel.

    Pastor Wilken’s point is that there is an apparent arrogance within Missouri, which believes we can take *any* “non-Lutheran” and perhaps “pan-Lutheran” sources and *always* “Lutheranize” them by the simple practice of using them. In this way, we have displayed an especial naivete regarding the dangers of leavened teaching, often unaware that as we claim to only utilizing the best content of the heterodox, in practice we in fact utilize the very worst elements. This, then, tends to the detriment of the pure Gospel.

    I don’t know if he who defines the argument always wins the debate, but I do know that we cannot have a debate if we do not address the actual status of the controversy. The status is not whether or not there is an *una sancta* which has much value. The status is whether or not Missouri has begun to believe she can offer “strange fire” before the Lord.

  7. I thought that Pastor Wilken’s thesis was that the myth of LC-MS exceptionalism has led people to stop being intentionally Lutheran. In other words, they use anti-Lutheran materials without discernment. Further, I think the idea that the Holy Spirit works only in the LC-MS is exactly the opposite of what Pastor Wilken said.

  8. Even if we granted Mueller, Jr., his points, we ought to note that he wants to use these premises not to correct Pastor Wilken or to lead Pastor Wilken to forsake any inconsistencies. Rather, Mueller, Jr. wants to score those points in order to facilitate his own indulgences with the heterodox.

    For example, Mueller, Jr. wants to use Walther’s tenet that not only Lutherans will be saved as an excuse to participate openly with those who hold believe, teach and practice such confessions as are contrary to the Word of God. That, however, is by no means what Walther intended. You will hear Mueller, Jr. citing Walther selectively, but you will never see Mueller, Jr. fleeing what Walther says to flee.

    If this is true, could there be a greater hypocrisy than that?

  9. @Scott Diekmann #10


    Your link leads to an article written by Rev. Charles S. Mueller, Sr. While it’s possible that you can safely assume they agree, you should have clarified that for those who may not have noticed.

    In reading over the comments here, I’m glad that teachers I had throughout my years of formal education were far kinder in explaining where I was mistaken than some the responses here have been. And that includes my time in public schools, where the Gospel was not at the forefront of the classroom.

    Maybe it’s reactions such as these that only further the split between what has been desribed as “Synod A” and “Synod B” in various threads on this site. Both “synods” should be ever mindful that we’re serving our Lord, not our sinful pride.

  10. I want to commend Pr. Mueller for his courage. For him to come to this venue and write a theological critique would be like me lecturing at Weight Watchers. It can’t be easy.

    It is always good to attempt to engage in these matters on a theological and confessional basis. We do not often hear that from the other side. Yes, there are flaws in his argument that have clearly been pointed out here, but it is a good argument to have.

    I hope we continue to hear from you, Pr. Mueller.

  11. Greetings to you Pastor Mueller,

    I don’t believe you misunderstood, I believe you disagree, with Todd. Scott, in post #10, gave a link to your article from 11/09. I believe your rebuttal listed here, to Pastor Wilken, runs along the lines, more so, of your article, posted in January, (you did mention Robert’s Rules, remember respect follows, common curtesy, “Wilken”, is either Todd or Pastor, per your article at Jesus First)

    Recognize at the Outset Basic Lutheran Differences About Change.

    Ultimately, this debate, is about change, or a change “agent”. Now in the article Recognize at the Outset…you mention the “transcendental no-change, (40%), transcendental change (40) and the “other worldly” (20%) basis. I believe in your example of hymnody above, you are using this principle? If so, then more than likely, you are looking at, I. Kant, in his, “Critique of Practical Reason”, or Schopenhauer. Considering Kant & Schopenhauer, that is rather a slippery slope, to use in theology. (I could be wrong, I often am)

    I must surmise, you refer to the hymns,

    Hark the Herald Angels Sing (Watts)
    Joy to the World (Wesley),

    when you mention their names in your rebuttal. Their hymns, do not merely
    “compliment or imply” but “reiterate”, not merely general, but specifically, Sola Scriptura. Do they not? Can this, truly be said of CCM or CW? Or is it so general, that the “god of your understanding, your seeking”, can fill in the blank, available?

    You also mention, as both you & Todd do, Walther. Now…are we the Waltherian Church Missouri Synod, or “Lutheran”? It is Luther, we are based upon, not merely Walther. Conformation, is based upon Luther, not Walther. So…it is not Walther we should use in debate, it should be Luther.

    So, in light of the above, how would this weigh, with Luther’s words and writings? Separate and apart from you or Todd, or Walther for that matter.
    How does, all brought in, in the last 2 decades, weigh with Scripture (always first) and Luther (as we are Lutheran), weighed second?

    You must follow Robert’s Rules, as it was you who envoked them. I have read most, of your articles at Jesus First, so I do see, the vein & direction you are tending to take.

  12. @Dutch #13


    I may be wrong here, but it looks to me like the articles you refer to (the first one linked by Scott Diekmann in comment 10) give authorship to Rev. Charles S. Mueller, Sr. If I’m reading everything correctly, according to the title up top, the response to Rev. Wilken’s presentation is by Rev. Charles S. Mueller, Jr. This is why I requested that Scott be more careful with posting links. Your concluding paragraph is not appropriate, because from what I can gather, the man you are responding to did not, in fact, write the articles cited here.

    While some may be comfortable assuming that these two agree on every aspect of the issues at hand, I am not, and I feel that names should be carefully clarified, so as to limit confusion.

    If I am mistaken, I apologize. Could someone clear this up for me?

  13. Rev. Gilbert,

    You are correct. The post was written by Charles Jr. I have not investigated the other links but if they were by Sr. then you are correct they are two different people – father and son, and should not be confused.


  14. Pastor Gilbert,
    If I in error referenced an article, not authored by Pastor Mueller, I do repent.
    However, if the premise of the rebuttal, debate, or question, is based on similarites, can this not be used for re-direct?

  15. After visiting Pr. Mueller’s church website ( His church has incorporated un-lutheran (contemporary worship w/praise bands), and therefore un-orthodox practices. So of course he disagrees with Pr. Wilken’s theses. I cannot attest to the orthodox-ness of the theology at that church outside of what I gathered by visiting the website, but as doctrine and practice ALWAYS go together; where one has loose practice there also is loose doctrine.


  16. Kudos Kiley, I gathered the same.
    This recent confusion, brings up a rather interesting point. Is it wise or prudent, to have “family” govern in the Divine Office, or governance of a congregation? By family I intend, father/son, brother/brother, etc. Or, by having individual family members holding offices or leadership positions within a congregation.
    I have seen this first hand, and know of many how have also seen this.
    Considering the basic & specifics of family dynamics, is this wise to support or encourage a
    “family governed” congregation?

  17. I watched a sermon from on the church website ( looking for the preaching of law and gospel, the edification and building up of the church as opposed to building up the preacher and preacher’s sense of what the people want to hear. Christians will have to come to the conclusion of whether doctrine and practice is in question.

    What I looked for was whether sin and forgiveness were preached. Did the sermon bring us to realize our sin, then ask us to repent, then build us up in the knowledge of forgiveness in Jesus? There was much to appreciate in the gospel message, but a serious lack of preaching on sin and showing the congregation their sin by the analogy used in the pastor’s stories.

    The other item I noticed which caused confusion is that seemed to be no concrete sermon text. There were references to Hebrews and Solomon in the preaching. The style was different from confessional Lutheran preaching as it was pretty informal, out front, focused a bit much on the messenger and not the message.


    @Kiley Campbell #18

  18. Dear BJS bloggers,

    (( edited by moderator to remove confusion of Rev Charles S Mueller Sr. v.s Rev Charles S Mueller Jr., who both serve at Trinity Lutheran Church ( )))

    The Rev. Charles Muller, Jr. addresses the question whether we can borrow from other Christians. Well, certainly! But it takes the “gift of discernment” to know what can and can’t be borrowed, and what can be borrowed with modification. After all, Luther did not reinvent the Mass, he amended it. I suspect that if Luther had to deal with a politicized structure like what we have in the LCMS, where everyone’s pet heresy has to be satisfied, then the Mass would have never been reformed.

    A case in point is “Amazing Grace.” LSB and LW did a good thing by deleting the verse in which “Grace taught my heart to fear.” But the committees missed the main point of the song. The main point of the song is that “I am a whole lot better person than I used to be, and a much, much better person than you!” I suspect that many LCMS people like “Amazing Grace” because they really believe that they are better people than the average Joe. They like to sing that song, because it is a group affirmation that we, as a group of people, are much better people than those who frequent the malls or bars or Starbucks on Sunday morning.

    I can’t sing that song, because it is blatant hypocrisy and Pelagian. I know I am a sinner, and that means I am not better than the average Joe–I am the average Joe. But God loves me anyway, because of the merits of Jesus and his work on the cross.

    Does the Holy Spirit work outside of the LCMS? Of course! Wherever the Scriptures are preached and the Sacraments properly administered, there the Spirit is at work. So we know that believers are created in Christian churches all around the world, in spite of the errors in their church, not because of those errors.

    I assume that when Pastor Mueller says the Spirit “leads” the invisible church, he means that the Spirit leads through the words and meaning of Holy Scripture, not apart from it. So when a church makes a statement in its confessions, official pronouncements, sermons, teachings, hymns, and liturgies that is CONTRARY to the words and meaning of the Holy Scripture, then that statement is not the leading of the Holy Spirit, but an error and sin against the First Table of the Law. I assume that Pastor Mueller is not saying that the Holy Spirit leads people by means of error or into error.

    A final point. Pastor Mueller comments about the fight about metrical hymns. I don’t know what fight he is talking about, and I have studied LCMS history pretty thoroughly. There was a concern at the founding of the LCMS that the Pietists had flattened the meter of the Reformation and post-Reformation hymns, leading to slow, dull, and boring tunes. Walther and his friends knew about the latest work in 19th century Germany at recovering the original tunes and meter, especially through the work of Fritz Layriz. These tunes and meter were more lively, and actually more singable.

    Walther encouraged the LCMS pastors and musicians to use Layriz’s music to accompany the hymns, and at the end of his career, succeeded in having an organ book published that used Layriz’s tunes and meter known as the “Hoelter Choralbuch,” after its editor Heinrich Hoelter. There are still copies lying around in choir lofts and organ benches. I think the synod in convention also encouraged congregations to use the recovered tunes and meter of Layriz/Hoelter, but I don’t remember seeing anything about a “fight.” Carl Schalk has written extensively and authoritatively on this subject

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  19. Apparently Dr. Kieschnick is one who also is confused as to what is meant by “the Evangelical Lutheran Church”, as can be seen from his recent deposition where he states that this is mere shorthand for the LCMS. Perhaps Rev. Mueller, Jr. should discuss this with his preferred candidate for synod president.

  20. Either we did not listen to the same talk or one of us doesn’t speak English. Holy cow!! How could you see it so opposite as it was presented and intended? And it comes through quite clear that you could not possibly have listened to Pastor Wilken or Issues Etc. on a regular basis nor all the great scholars he has interviewed, nor referenced the issues he has tackled and come to the conclusions that you have. All I can think of is a picture of an ostrich as this point.

  21. With all due respect to Dr. Noland whom I admire greatly….
    I”m not sure where you are coming from on what people are thinking, feeling or believing when they sing Amazing Grace. And I can only share what I get out of it…. but that is absolutely nothing as you describe.
    To me it is not an anthem of “I’m better than you…” Rather, it is a constant reminder that I am a lost and pathetic creature who can claim absolutely nothing before God except by grace and grace alone. To me it is the celebratory words of one who was “blind” theologically speaking, but now can see…why? Because of grace and grace alone. To me it is a reminder that God has brought me through many, many trials, not because I deserved it or because I’m better than you, but because of grace and grace alone. To me, the hymn speaks uniquely about “Sola Gratia” Could it be theologicaly deeper? I suppose. But so could Psalm 150 but that didn’t stop the ancient church from using that hymn in public worship.
    I dunno…. You’ve got me stumped on that one.

  22. From the Trinity Lutheran Church, Roselle, IL website.

    “No other Roselle area congregation is more committed to biblical teaching, community enrichment and meeting your needs at every season of life.”

    This sounds like a very exceptional church.

  23. Although we have tremendous potential for good, we are marred by an attitude of disobedience toward God called “sin.” This attitude separates us from God.

    This statement found on Trinity’s website is very questionable. I am no theologian, but does this coincide with our doctrine (and Scripture’s truth) regarding total depravity (Rom. 3:10-12; 5:12)? This sounds like the Eastern Church or an Arminian Church. We are just tainted and have just a little ability to do good? Huh? The conclusion could be, then, that the 1% of good in us can “make the decision to accept Jesus.” Compare that to, “…I cannot by my own reason or strenth believe in Jesus Christ…” They do cite Rom. 3:23, but the context in which they use without adding to it the above verses again gives the impression that we just fall “a little short.”

  24. @Steve #27
    Re: “Amazing Grace.” I have put on my flak jacket before writing this. I don’t agree with Dr. Noland’s characterization of “Amazing Grace” as “I’m better than you,” but it is not without some theological shortcomings. With all respect to John Newton, “Amazing Grace” needs a Christian context. For Christians, knowing Newton’s story, and their own experience, the song may be freighted with significance. However, if one looks closely at the words, Jesus is missing. Could this song be sung by a recovering non-Christian alcoholic? Or a reformed agnostic criiminal? Could a Muslim sing it? Christians have a unique understanding of grace, and for many of us, this song is full of meaning. But, without a specifically Christian context, it’s lukewarm.

    Johannes (incoming, incoming!)

  25. @boogie #31

    Thank-you for this award. I wish to thank my father who first taught me Orthodox Lutheran crankiness. I also want to thank those who made this award possible–the bloggers, Pr. Mueller, Pr. Wilken, the LCMS, and the BJS. Finally, (looking into the camera), I want to thank all my fans out there in cyberspace. I will treasure this award for the rest of today. Thank you all!

    Johannes (not THAT old!)

  26. @Rev. Jack Gilbert #11
    Rev. Gilbert:

    I’m troubled by your attack on the bloggerrs/commenters here. You seem to imply that the general tenor of the comments directed toward Pastor Mueller (Jr.) are mean-spirited and unkind. I’ve gone back and re-read most of the preceding comments and can’t find anything that is in any way unkind, uncivil or particularly uncordial.

    It’s always disipointing to me when arguments of unkindness are introduced, lacking any direct referrence to specific examples. It cheapens the debate, and feankly is unkind, in and of itself, due to it’s spurrious nature. As someone who is often attributed with unkind motives or spirit simply because it is the nature of my personality to point to the truth (as a matter of Christian kindness) I take offense…there seems to be something circular there…hmm.

    @johannes #33
    Good for you, looking at the camera. I’m amazed at the nunmber of public speakers, even those label as great orators, can’t manage that trick? Is it your grandfather’s Lutheran Cramkiness?

  27. Dear Steve (#27) and Johannes (#30),

    Thank you for your excellent comments and questions, responding to my comment #21! I don’t intend to get into an argument with either of you.

    I probably should not have mentioned “Amazing Grace,” because this happens all the time when I suggest it is not proper for Lutherans to sing verse one (e.g. LSB #744 v.1). I am definitely in the minority on this issue among conservative, orthodox, confessional, banner-waving Lutherans. I do not want in any way want to suggest or assert that you, or any other Lutheran who sings “Amazing Grace,” is heterodox or unLutheran or wrong or insensitive or anything else. You are good guys, and I love you!

    Besides all that, Johannes gave me a Curmudgeon Club Membership “honoris causa” in January, so we are definitely in the same camp! 🙂

    Seriously, now:

    What I said was “THAT SONG . . . is blatant hypocrisy and Pelagian.” I did not say that the people who sing it are. The distinction here is between the song itself and the people who sing it. I believe you, Steve and Johannes, that when you sing it you give it an orthodox interpretation. More on this below.

    I also said that “MANY LCMS people like “Amazing Grace” because they really believe that they are better people . . .” I did not say that ALL or MOST believe that. This observation comes from years of experience of talking to LCMS people for whom “Amazing Grace,” or another Evangelical song, is their favorite hymn to sing in church. Many, but not all of these folks, agree with its theology. There are many people in the LCMS who don’t really understand the differences between Lutheran theology and Evangelical theology, and who specificially don’t understand or accept the Lutheran doctrine of sinner/saint. I don’t know the percentages on this, but there is a sizeable number . . . let me guess at least 25%.

    These folks think that Lutherans are only different from Evangelicals in the matter of infant baptism and the real presence. These are not just laymen, but also a sizeable number of pastors too. These are the pastors who sell or throw away their Book of Concord as they are leaving seminary. Mentally and emotionally they are hybrid Lutheran-Evangelicals. These are the people about whom I was speaking.

    Why is Amazing Grace verse 1 hypocritical? The author claims to “see,” and what he talks about is his “wonderful” experience of conversion, but what he always needs to see is the wonderful work of Christ crucified and his own post-conversion sin. The author is like the Pharisees in John 9:39-41. To be “cross-focused” is to “see” not your conversion experience, but the cross of Christ. “Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes!” Now there is a great Lutheran sentence!

    Why is Amazing Grace verse 1 Pelagian? Pelagianism is, primarily and historically, the belief that Galatians 5:17 and Romans 7:13-25 refer to the believer before his baptism. It denies that Christians are really sinners after baptism or conversion. This doctrine was adopted by Wesley through his doctrine of conversion and holiness; and became official doctrine of the Methodists and Evangelicals who are his heirs. “Amazing Grace,” verse one, is a description of John Newton’s conversion experience, understood in a Methodist/Evangelical way.

    “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see” is the experience of an adult conversion. It does not apply, without a lot of qualifications, to those who are baptized as infants. John Newton and American Evangelicals sing that phrase in order to confess their adult conversion, or their reaching of the age of accountability and their experience of believer’s baptism. Their singing of that phrase is authentic, i.e., it matches the original author’s intent. Lutherans who sing that phrase have to qualify it, which makes their singing of it inauthentic. Their interpretation, privately, is orthodox, but their public statement is inauthentic.

    This brings us to the question of poetry and its interpretation. Psalms, hymns, and songs are poetry set to music. So the question of any poem is “What does it mean?” There is the school of Humpty Dumpty in Wonderland which proclaims “It means whatever I want it to mean. That’s all!” I do not belong to that school of thought. I belong to the schol that believes most poetry has some objective meaning, which we might call the “author’s intent.” Some poetry is intentionally obscure. Some is intentionally subversive. But then that obscurity or subversiveness was the author’s intent, and is its meaning and function.

    There is little or no doubt that the author’s intent, in “Amazing Grace,” was to sing about the wonderful experience of his conversion, understood in a Methodist-Evangelical way. I as a Lutheran have never had a Methodist-Evangelical conversion, so I shouldn’t sing that song – at least not as a hymn in church. I can sing any song for fun or entertainment. But the hymns or songs I sing IN CHURCH are either prayers (to God) or confession-encouragement (to my fellow Christian), and I should not be speaking falsely there. So that is why I should not sing “Amazing Grace,” verse one, because it does not describe my experience, and to pretend that it does is hypocritical.

    This points out the problem with “subjective” hymns, i.e., hymns written and sung from the standpoint of the “first person” (I, me, my, we, us, our). If they do not describe the faith and experience of all Christians of the church in which they are sung, then they shouldn’t be used there.

    Getting back to the original point of my comment #21, this does not mean that Lutherans cannot borrow hymns or songs from other Christians. But they have to do so with discernment.

    If you want a Lutheran version of verse one, of “Amazing Grace,” that I could sing, try this:

    Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
    God’s word–“Forgiveness”–was bestowed in baptism, full and free.

    I don’t claim to be a poet, although I am a critic of poetry. You need someone like Steve Starke or Jaroslav Vajda to word-smith this, if you want it to pass muster with the multitudes.

    What sort of “rule of thumb” can we use as Lutherans to determine whether hymns can be borrowed? One rule of thumb is that if a hymn talks about a doctrine in which the author is in error, then that hymn (or verse or sentence) is an error that we should not use without textual modification.

    Here is the logic for the present case: Evangelicals are wrong in the doctrine of conversion. John Newton was an Evangelical-Methodist. “Amazing Grace” verse one is about conversion. Therefore, Amazing Grace verse one is heterodox.

    This doesn’t always work, but it is a handy rule of thumb.

    So, let’s see: I will not use a hymn about election from a 5 point Calvinist. I will not use a hymn about Mary from a Marianist Catholic (e.g., Ave Maria). I will not use a hymn about the Trinity from a Unitarian, etc. I will not use a hymn about marriage from the pro-gay faction in the ELCA. But . . .

    I can sing “Joy to the World” from Isaac Watts, because it doesn’t say anything about bishops and the state church (he was a non-conformist Anglican).

    I can sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” from Charles Wesley, because it doesn’t say anything about a Methodist conversion experience.

    When we sing these, and other fine hymns, from Christians of every tribe and tongue and time, we affirm that the Holy Spirit has worked through the Word and Sacraments to create true faith in hearts outside of the Lutheran church. I agree with this point of Pastor Mueller.

    When we refuse to sing other hymns, or verses, that are false doctrine, we affirm that human pride, arrogant reason, and the devil himself has mixed his “dung” into the church of every tribe and tongue and time, including the LCMS. We in the LCMS are no exception in that respect, except that OFFICIALLY we subscribe to the canonical Scriptures and the Book of Concord. The REALITY is something less many times, but our church is still closer to the spirit and letter of the “Concordia” than anything else out there today.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  28. @Perry LUnd #20

    @Lutheran Lady #26

    If we are comfortable saying that Rev. Mueller, Jr. had such a misunderstanding based on listening to ONE of Rev. Wilken’s presentations (even to the point that he may not understand English) and, as Lutheran Lady surmises that he “… could not possibly have listened to Pastor Wilken or Issues Etc. on a regular basis nor all the great scholars he has interviewed, nor referenced the issues he has tackled and come to the conclusions that [he did]”, is it then appropriate for Perry LUnd to listen to ONE sermon from Rev. Mueller, Jr.’s website and file the complaints he listed? If it is felt that Rev. Mueller Jr.’s misunderstandings may spawn from an assumed unfamiliarity with Rev. Wilken’s past work, should Perry LUnd then be held to the same degree of familiarity with Rev. Mueller, Jr.’s work? I found far more than one mere sermon available on the website that Perry LUnd provided. There seems to be inconsistency afoot.

    @Eric Ramer #34


    I found callousness in comments 8 and 9.

    Rev. Brondos’s accusation of hypocrisy stands out boldly. I don’t know Rev. Mueller, Jr. personally, and I hope Rev. Brondos does when considering what he wrote in comment 8: “You will hear Mueller, Jr. citing Walther selectively, but you will never see Mueller, Jr. fleeing what Walther says to flee. If this is true, could there be a greater hypocrisy than that?” The very fact that Rev. Brondos included the statement, “If this is true…” indicates a problem, and gives the impression that quite a generalization has been employed.

    Also, if I ever felt that someone “misunderstood my point,” I would try to kindly explain that point further. This is why I alluded to teachers I had along my years of education. Thankfully, Rev. Wilken later provided an article that answers Rev. Mueller, Jr.’s writing. To me, that would have been the best response, rather than what we see in comment 9. It is frustrating when people misunderstand something we feel strongly about, so I was thankful to be able to read the article Rev. Wilken posted later, and see that he didn’t just leave the issue with his words in comment 9.

    I’m sorry my “attack” troubled you. Please know that it wasn’t intended as an attack, though I take responsibility as such. I should have been more specific, and I am thankful to be able to further explain myself. I acknowledge that by highlighting what I thought to be unkind responses, my own words may reflect the unkindness I didn’t like in the first place. This is a delicate issue, and I point you back to your statement regarding the circular nature of such conversations. We want to speak to those around us lovingly. In this situation with people responding to Rev. Mueller, Jr.’s response, where I do not believe sin is present but rather misunderstanding, I feel that it could have been done more lovingly. I know I have failed to do this many times in my life, including my dismissive comment that you take issue with. We can joke about Lutheran crankiness, but ultimately we should strive to demonstrate Christ’s love with each other in our communication and interactions at all times. Thankfully, we’re not alone as we strive to accomplish this!

  29. Since the “old, cranky Lutheran” remark has caused some problems, let me first apologize to anyone that I offended. Yes, it was said in fun, but it does have a serious side to it.

    Second, so that the definition is clear, let me define it:

    Old, cranky Lutheran: a Lutheran that believes in the doctrine and practice of the historic Lutheran Church. This Lutheran does not have to be “cranky” in word or action, but is often perceived as such because this individual will not “get with the times.” The “cranky” Lutheran often feels that he or she must recede into the woodwork of his or her parish, so as to not be accused of being “cranky.”

    Yes, church discipline and disagreements should be done in a spirit of love. At the same time, this “let’s just agree to disagree and go home” mentality is destroying this synod. The issue of Acts 15 was not resolved this way. The Jerusalem Council hashed it out until everyone came to an agreement, thank God.

    In regards to the “Amazing Grace” issue, I don’t recall anyone calling it a damnable hymn. The point, of which I agree, is that the hymn is not cathecetical. How was I saved? Why was I lost? By whom or how was I found? These answers are revealed to us that are in Christ, but the unbeliever that comes to church one Sunday needs more specifics. If “Amazing Grace” comforts you, okay; but since this hymn is in LSB’s “Hope and Comfort” section, may I also suggest #741, #746, #750, #755, #756, and #760.

    Okay, that’s enough. Time to don the flak jacket.

  30. @Rev. Jack Gilbert #36


    I also have other callous, bold, and striking comments for pastors who ought to know better when they complain about the _manner_ in which something was said instead of addressing the _substance_ of what was said.

    You don’t seem to think that what Mueller, Jr. said was callous or bold. I assume that you think Mueller, Jr. was being kind.

    Isn’t that interesting? You don’t offer any proof to the contrary that Mueller, Jr’s statement isn’t hypocritical. You don’t address the issue of whether or not the statement of hypocrisy is true, you simply decry it as being bold.

    But Mueller, Jr’s response to Wilken is altogether unkind if it is in fact hypocritical. It is the greatest unkindness of all because it leads people away from the truths which Wilken was confessing and directs them into thinking that it doesn’t matter if one is Lutheran or not.

    Is there a problem with a statement being bold if it is true? And if Mueller, Jr.’s hypocrisy is in fact pernicious, couldn’t an appropriate response appear to be “callous”?

    You accuse me of not understanding Mueller, Jr. If I didn’t understand him, then I would be wrong to speak boldly. But I do understand him.

    You want to defend Mueller, Jr. — and you thought you were being kind by doing so by claiming that those who criticized him sharply were being unkind.

    At the same time, you didn’t initially defend Todd Wilken. You said that you found his comment #9 to be callous. But after reading his further detailed explanation, you only said that was the best response without stating whether or not you believed it to be true. Perhaps after his detailed explanation, you might now agree that his statement #9 was true.

    Furthermore, if you want to defend Mueller, Jr. from charges of hypocrisy, then defend his statements, demonstrating that they are by no means hypocritical.

    Show how Mueller, Jr. not only addresses one side of Walther’s arguments while remaining silent on the others wherein Walther explicitly states that the Lutheran Church is the true visible church on earth. (If you can get Mueller, Jr. to quote publicly in accord with Walther that the Lutheran Church IS THE true visible church on earth in the same way that he likes to cite passages where he commends Walther’s statements that not only Lutherans will be saved, then I will withdraw my generalist intimations of hypocrisy and apologize.)

    I don’t apologize for bold words when they communicate bold truths. I don’t think it is inappropriate to give what appears to be a callous response to someone who is pertinacious.

    And I’ll be delighted to demonstrate with numerous examples of how my doing so is in faithful and godly keeping with the manner of conduct exemplified by our Lord Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, the apostle Paul and others.

    When I hear complaints like yours, I am reminded of a Bible study I was doing for our congregation’s Ladies Aid in which I described our Lord on judgment day sending those who had been unfaithful to hell. One of the ladies piped up, “Yes, but He’ll do it in a nice way.”

  31. @Rev. Jack Gilbert #36
    Rev. Gilbert:
    Thanks for the clarification. It’s interesting that first you refer to the previous commenters (presumably #1 – #10) as unkind, and then your clarification shows that what you thought was that comments 8 & 9 were “callous”. Unkind and callous do not mean the same thing in my personal lexicon, since unkind seems to carry a darker motive, ay least connotatively. That was the general source of my complaint – that it seems to ascribe motive, indiscriminately, where by best construction, none seems present, with the possible exception of Rev. Brondos in comment #8, which he has subsequently addressed himself. Pr. Wilken’s comment at #9 is perhaps callous in its frank and direct nature, but it is certainly correct, and in my opinion not demonstrably unkind.

    @boogie #38
    I, for one, found nothing offensive in your “Lutheran Crankiness” comment, nor do I recall anyone else displaying offense. Johannes ran with it in the vein in which it appeared to be offered and I tried to likewise extend that with a poor attempt to tie it to the infamous “Grandfather’s Church” quote. Please don’t apologize on my account.

    Finally, to all bloggers/commenters on this post and any others:
    As long as the discourse remains cordial and generally respectful, I will not apologize for the tenor of my comments, nor will I seriously ask for any of you to do likewise. This website is dedicated to the discussion, furtherance and preservation of Confessional Lutheranism which is the orthodox catholic faith. By definition, as provided by Jesus Christ and his Apostles in the New Testament text, that faith is, in and of itself, an offense and any discussion of it must be, to some degree, offensive where there is frank and open discussion of disagreement. That doesn’t mean it can’t be cordial, courteous and respectful, but if you don’t want to be offended, you’ve come to the wrong place. Sorry, that’s just my opinion. Thanks for the opportunity to express it.

  32. For instance, let’s just look to our current hymnody. Maybe I missed it, but when exactly was Isaac Watts confirmed in the Lutheran Church? Was Charles Wesley certified by the Fort Wayne or the St. Louis faculty? Aren’t their hymns standards in our hymnal? Didn’t we have a fight in the early part of last century regarding the use of metrical hymns because of the infusion of their accompanying theology? And don’t we now sing the theology (melody and words) of the Methodists we railed against in the preceding century and call it our own.

    Pr. Mueller is absolutely correct: the introduction of anti-Lutheran hymnody is the basis of the argument for the use of all sorts of other anti-Lutheran things…yet, the ‘average Lutheran’ seems to think that we have to ‘import’ such things (look at TLH; look at LSB), and, no doubt, many of ‘us’ have some non-Lutheran hymn considered ‘absolutely essential’ to our Christmas, Lent, or Easter observance (let’s see: Silent Night; Hark! the Herald Angels Sing; Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted; I Know that My Redeemer Lives).

    But, see, when we list those hymns, someone will say, “You’re going too far!”

    My response: all I’m doing is explaining Charlie Mueller’s argument. His desire is to take what he considers to be the orthodox portions of these false teachers’ body of work, JUST LIKE the hymnal committees have been doing for the past hundred years. Walther was, therefore, right when he wrote:

    January 23, 1883

    Honored Sir,

    This morning I received your worthy letter, written on the 19th of the month. In your letter you ask for my opinion on whether it is advisable to introduce the singing of Methodist songs in a Lutheran Sunday School. May what follows serve as a helpful reply to your questions:

    No, this is not advisable, rather very incorrect and pernicious.

    1. Our church is so rich in hymns that you could justifiably state that if one were to introduce Methodist hymns in a Lutheran school this would be like carrying coals to Newcastle. The singing of such hymns would make the rich Lutheran Church into a beggar which is forced to beg from a miserable sect. Thirty or forty years ago a Lutheran preacher might well have been forgiven this. For at that time the Lutheran Church in our country was in as poor as beggar when it comes to song books for Lutheran children. A preacher scarcely knew where he might obtain such little hymn books. Now, however, since our church itself has everything it needs, it is unpardonable when a preacher of our church causes little ones to suffer the shame of eating a foreign bread.

    2. A preacher of our church also has the holy duty to give souls entrusted to his care pure spiritual food, indeed, the very best which he can possibly obtain. In Methodist songs there is much which is false, and which contains spiritual poison for the soul. Therefore, it is soul-murder to set before children such poisonous food. If the preacher claims, that he allows only “correct” hymns to be sung, this does not excuse him. For, first of all, the true Lutheran spirit is found in none of them; second, our hymns are more powerful, more substantive, and more prosaic; third, those hymns which deal with the Holy Sacraments are completely in error; fourth, when these little sectarian hymnbooks come into the hands of our children, they openly read and sing false hymns.

    3. A preacher who introduces Methodist hymns, let alone Methodist hymnals, raises the suspicion that he is no true Lutheran at heart, and that he believes one religion is as good as the other, and that he thus a unionistic-man, a mingler of religion and churches.

    4. Through the introduction of Methodist hymn singing he also makes those children entrusted to his care of unionistic sentiment, and he himself leads them to leave the Lutheran Church and join the Methodists.

    5. By the purchase of Methodist hymn books he subsidizes the false church and strengthens the Methodist fanatics in their horrible errors. For the Methodists will think, and quite correctly so, that if the Lutheran preachers did not regard our religion as good as, or indeed, even better than their own, they would not introduce Methodist hymn books in their Sunday schools, but rather would use Lutheran hymn books.

    6. By introducing Methodist hymn books, the entire Lutheran congregation is given great offense, and the members of the same are lead to think that Methodists, the Albright people, and all such people have a better faith than we do.

    This may be a sufficient answer regarding this dismal matter. May God keep you in the true and genuine Lutheran faith, and help you not to be misled from the same, either to the right or to the left.

    Your unfamiliar, yet known friend, in the Lord Jesus Christ,

    C. F. W. Walther
    St. Louis, Missouri

    Translated by M. Harrison



  33. Dr. Noland, Johannes, et al.,

    The following was submitted to the Lutheran Hymnal Project of the LCMS and rejected in favor of the original (Christ-less) wording of Amazing Grace; nonetheless, it has been used in a good number of churches, where the pastor felt ‘trapped’ by people’s love of the tune. (It could, of course, be sung to another tune. The theme song from Gilligan’s Island,” unfortunately, fits, and is often suggested…

    It is available in copy-ready .pdf form at Scholia.

    Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
    That saved a wretch like me!
    I fast in Satan’s chains was bound,
    But Christ has set me free!

    God’s grace to me in Christ is shown—
    Indeed, in Him ’tis giv’n!
    The Father’s true, beloved Son
    Who came for us from Heav’n.

    The Son of God His life did give
    While hanging on the tree,
    That death-bound sinners yet might live
    From sin and hell set free.

    Christ’s blood has my atonement wrought,
    My sins have been forgiv’n!
    His righteousness—for me!—has bought
    Eternal life in Heav’n.

    Baptized into His precious blood,
    My trust is Him alone—
    He’ll keep me ’gainst the raging flood
    All by His grace alone!

    And when I am oppressed, beat down
    By devil, world, and flesh,
    His Supper does with grace abound,
    His blood shall e’er refresh.

    To God the Father, God the Son,
    And God the Holy Ghost
    Be praise from all that dwell on earth
    And from the heav’nly host. Amen.

    I think that any problems in the above should be easier to clean up than those in the original.


  34. @Rev. Joel A. Brondos #40

    Rev. Brondos,

    I don’t believe I was defending anything Mueller, Jr. said in his response. Instead, I noted my own thankfulness that in times of confusion during my education, I had teachers who were caring in their explanations as they sought to help me understand what they were saying or teaching. I did not see that in your comment or in comment 9.

    For the record, I said that your accusation of hypocrisy stands out boldly, not that it was a bold accusation. However, we can agree that boldness is fine if it’s true. Sadly, you provided no background information on whether or not you personally know Rev. Mueller, Jr. I could assume that you do, seeing as how you both serve in the same district, but I’m not crazy about making assumptions at this site, I’ve learned from my own past mistakes. This was my concern, as I feel I expressed.

    With respect to not initially defending Rev. Wilken, I would ask that you go back and consider the circular nature of this type of conversation, which Eric Ramer first pointed to in comment 34, and which I alluded to in my response to him.

    In a situation such responding to Rev. Mueller, Jr.’s response, I think the best way to win a brother over is through kindness, because I don’t believe any sin is on the line. If there is sin that you can clearly point to in hiresponse, please highlight it, so that I may understand your actions better. I’m not sure pertinacity is a sin in this case. Christ and His followers were very harsh at times when sin was on the line. I hope from my first comments that you could see that I didn’t feel that sin could be found in Rev. Mueller Jr.’s comments. Sin is of course on the line upon His return, so His harshness will be evident. I hope you can see my point more clearly now.

    @Eric Ramer #41

    Sorry for changing up the words. I stand by my taking issue with the comments, and I hope that was further explained in my response to Rev. Brondos. While I would argue that “callous” and “unkind” are synonyms, I think the best word would have been “uncaring” in describing the comments.

  35. @Rev. Eric J. Stefanski #43

    Great citation from CFWW via MCH. Once I was elder in a church where the new pastor, whom I knew well, wanted to use one good hymn from LW. This church had mandated KJV and TLH. The hymn was rejected purely because of the association with LW.

    WITHOUT implying that any Methodist songs should have been used: My question is, where does it end? Rev. ES, assume for the purpose of my question that TLH is perfect and sacrosanct.

  36. mbw :
    @Rev. Eric J. Stefanski #43
    Rev. ES, assume for the purpose of my question that TLH is perfect and sacrosanct.

    Since I cannot agree to that assumption, I am unable to answer the question.

    I do note, however, that very few hymns ‘make their initial appearance’ in a particular church body’s hymnal, so that the connection with a particular hymn book is not sufficient basis to judge the hymn for good or for ill. (E.g., “Thy Strong Word” appeared long before LW, so it is not “an LW hymn,” etc., and its judgment has nothing to do with who has included it in a hymnal, bought the rights to use it, etc.)


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