(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?