Black Bread and Leadership in the LCMS by Uwe Siemon-Netto

(Editor’s Note: Uwe Siemon-Netto directs the Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life in St. Louis. He wrote the following stunning commentary on the present and future of the Lutheran church and the upcoming LCMS election. BJS owes Uwe a great debt. Before few people even knew who we were he was willing to join our steering group as an advisory member.)

Wanted: A Chief Distributor of Black Bread


Martin Luther called the Gospel Schwarzbrot, meaning black bread, which he considered the most nourishing fare. Luther’s metaphor is magnificent in that it addresses the nutritional value of this spiritual kind of bread. It’s called Heilsgewissheit, or certainty of salvation. It frees the believer to roll up his sleeves and manage the challenges of secular life in the left-hand kingdom, as we Lutherans say.

I cannot think of any period in history when this message has been more pertinent than now. This world is in a frightening state: terror, wars, nuclear threats, the impending bankruptcy of entire nations, the ongoing genocide of unborn life, a spiraling collective ignorance, the breakdown of the family, one natural calamity after another, manmade disasters of unprecedented dimensions. Only a fool can feel safe in this situation where we have become witnesses of an “ecstasy of power and madness… [and] have seen a poisonous atmosphere envelop our globe,” as the late German theologian Helmut Thielicke observed in his powerful sermon on the Lord’s Prayer toward the end of World War II. Thielicke spoke of evil as a very real force “brooding over the world, its continents and seas.”

It takes good, healthy Lutheran theology to address this reality; it takes, more specifically, a confessional theology that has not been reduced to a museum piece. I am talking about “black bread” theology here, not mega church numbers games of the kind I am observing close to my new home in Orange County, California. Nor do we need the lethal theologies of “false clerics and schismatic spirits,” as Luther phrased it, a term I find particularly descriptive of the contemporary worldview that edits one or the other element out of Luther’s definition of the Christian as simul iustus et peccator (at the same time justified and sinner).

Theology without reference to sin amounts to a “Satanic attack upon the Church,” to quote a famous remark by Nigerian archbishop Peter Akinola about the sexualization of parts of Western Anglicanism and related post-Christian heresies. Theology without reference to justification, such as we hear in the sermons devoid of the Gospel preached to auditoriums filled with thousands of hand-waving enthusiasts is equally dangerous, and huge numbers don’t make it right.

We cry out for the “black bread” of the Gospel that never goes stale and provides the certainty we cannot find in “the world,” where we nonetheless dwell. This is the Lutheran moment. This is the moment when the true nutritious Gospel must urgently be posited against the multitude of absurd homemade gospels bombarding us from all directions. This I the moment when we must tell our fellow Christians how to worship once again in a manner based on Scripture as opposed to the trivial gobbledygook springing from the imagination of liturgists holding themselves in higher esteem than God’s word.

This is the moment that calls for a powerfully eloquent theologian-cum-pastor at the helm of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and this is why in my capacities as a simple Lutheran layman and as a writer on religious affairs I am endorsing the candidacy of Rev. Matthew Harrison for LCMS president. May he be elected chief distributor of black bread at this church body’s convention on July 14-19 in Houston.

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.


Black Bread and Leadership in the LCMS by Uwe Siemon-Netto — 22 Comments

  1. I doubt that Pr. Harrison will -tell- anyone how to worship if he’s elected.

    FYI Editor: Dr. Siemon-Netto moved the center to California some time ago. It’s no longer in St. Louis.

  2. Timothy,

    Thanks – I did know that he moved to California. I left it at St. Louis since the website still says St. Louis.

    Pastor Harrison’s will not make anyone worship a certain way but what he will do is use teaching and the Gospel to gently move the synod to it historic and Biblical roots.


  3. Having just come from Divine Service during which we worshipped in a certain way, LSB setting IV, to be precise, having rejoiced with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, I cannot imagine anyone not wanting to be moved in this direction. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church, only the Gospel moves, only the Word persuades. It remains to be seen if we have the will and desire to still be that church or not.

  4. Heilsgewissheit, or certainty of salvation.

    Hmmm …. I didn’t think Lutherans believed in an absolute certainty of salvation. I always thought that was a mark of the Baptists and their “decisions for Christ.” Rather, I thought Lutherans believed in a “reasonable hope of salvation” , a hope contingent on remaining faithful unto death, and not despising the Word and Sacraments. Perhaps I am wrong, but I thought Lutherans believed in the absolute certainty of the Savior, not their own salvation.

    What is the need for “certainty” of salvation anyway? I just don’t see this even being a question in historic Lutheran thought. Could this be a result of American Evangelical thought upon the Lutheran ethos? I wonder.

    I am reminded of two things: Number one, Luther’s Christian questions, specifically question 5 from the 1943 “Blue” Catechism of the LCMS, on page 32, where it reads:

    “Do you also hope to be saved? Yes, such is my hope.”

    Note well the answer is not “I am saved.” Nor it is “I am certain of my salvation.” It is more humble than that. It is “I hope to be saved.”

    Number two: A quote from TLH hymn number 421 “Come Follow Me, the Savior Spake”. In verse 5 we read:

    Then let us follow Christ our Lord,
    and take His cross appointed
    And, firmly clinging to His Word,
    In suffering be undaunted.
    For who bears not the battle’s strain,
    The crown of life shall not obtain.

    Note the last two lines well: For who bears not the battle’s strain, the crown of life shall NOT obtain.

    Personally, I think this “certainty” of salvation idea is not something taught in the Lutheran Confessions or by the historic Lutheran church. Even Luther himself was assailed by doubts and torments his whole life, and often felt personally tormented by Satan. But he endured to the end, and that’s what made the difference.

    Does anyone else feel this way?

  5. The devil is always trying to make us feel that we are just too bad to be forgiven, however when Christ said “It is finished” that meant just that, our sins of today, yesterday and tomorrow are gone and we are saved, there is no room for doubt here, just repent and believe.

  6. Boris, if anyone has the true certainty of salvation it is us. And thanks be to God that such certainty comes from outside of us… from externals. Because if it originated within us it would not, nor could not be, certain. Our certainty of salvation is in fact the Gospel Schwarzbrot as well as the blessed Sacraments. Our certainty of salvation is the cross. It is the empty tomb.

    What is not understood by many is that Christian hope is certain hope. What makes it “certain” is what I just mentioned – God’s Word and the the Sacraments. What makes it “hope” is the simply fact that we cannot see it or fully realize it now in time.

    , meaning black bread, which he considered the most nourishing fare. Luther’s metaphor is magnificent in that it addresses the nutritional value of this spiritual kind of bread. It’s called Heilsgewissheit, or certainty of salvation.

  7. “It is finished” that meant just that, our sins of today, yesterday and tomorrow are gone and we are saved,

    I still don’t get it. This sounds suspicious close to Calvinism’s perseverance of the saints. I thought Lutherans believed that apostacy was a real danger and a possibility for the Christian. Hence all the warnings in the NT about falling away and the need to remain faithful unto death.

    Are you saying that Christians cannot fall away? I don’t see how God can forgive sins in the future we haven’t committed yet. To me that thinking is kind of a Lutheran reversal of Tetzel’s indulgence selling, a kind of “sin insurance” that allows for carnal security and a despising of the means of grace.

    I don’t feel my questions have been addressed at all.

    More later. But I have enjoyed the discussion.

  8. Boris,

    What sins did Jesus death on the cross not pay for? All sins have been paid for. That is all Uwe is trying to say.

    Is everyone saved? Only those who believe that Christ has paid for thier sins.

    Can someone believe that for a while and then lose faith? Yes. Uwe has not contradicted any of these Biblical truths.

    Hope that helps.


  9. Boris is missing the obvious.

    God, knowing everything from alpha to omega, knows the sins he hasn’t committed yet, will repent of and be forgiven for.
    Christ has paid for the sins of the whole world.

    The majority of “the whole world”, admittedly, does not believe a word of this.

  10. Pastor Rossow:

    Thank you for your comments. I have found them more helpful than any other things that have been posted here. I think we may be confusing redemption with personal salvation here. Obviously redemption was accomplished by Christ on Calvary when He said “It is finished.” I’m not debating that. I rejoice in that and I find it a great comfort. However, since Lutherans believe in the real possibility that a Christian can fall away and loose his salvation, I would like to discuss this “certainty of salvation” idea in more detail. I was an adult convert to the Lutheran Church, and in the 17 years I spent in it, I never once heard or read in any Lutheran source about “certainty” of salvation. Now I admit, I am no authority, and I might have missed something along the way, but I read the entire Book of Concord cover to cover before I became Lutheran. I don’t remember anything in it about “certainty of salvation.” I was catechized by a pious and scholarly Wisconsin Synod pastor who did a lot of one-on-one teaching with me. I later enrolled in the Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota and took many courses in Lutheran history, Lutheran theology and Bible courses. I studied the Lutheran confessions there and learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew as well. I had some great professors, many of who were graduates of Concordia: Fort Wayne, men I deeply respected. In all of that I never recall hearing any talk of “certainty of salvation.” I think we can indeed have certainty of Redemption because Christ has already accomplished that. But I don’t see how we can have “certainty” of individual salvation unless we are faithful unto death. It seems to me that the “certainty” of individual salvation will come when we hear Christ say “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” and not before. We can boast that we supposedly have “certainty of salvation” but what good is that? If we don’t endure to the end, such a claim won’t save us, and we’ll still end up going to hell. And since we don’t know if we will endure to the end and be faithful unto death (because none of us knows the future and what trials and persecutions it will bring), is it not a bit premature and downright presumptuous to claim that we have “certainty of salvation” when the truth is we might commit apostasy from the faith? Am I going too far to ask Lutheran to have a “reasonable hope” of salvation, based on faith in Christ and REMAINING IN that faith unto death? If we die without faith in Christ, if we lose our faith, will the faith that we had in our childhood or the faith we had 20 years ago save us? I don’t think so.

    I smell something non-Lutheran here in this urge to have “certainty of salvation.” I smell Pietism and perhaps the influence of American evangelicalism on the Lutheran mind. Can anyone show me where the Lutheran Confessions speak like this? Can anyone show me where the great Lutheran fathers (Blessed Martin, Philip Melanchton, Martin Chemintz, Johann Bugenhage et al) speak like this?

    Why does the Small Catechism of Martin Luther say “Do you hope to be saved? Yes, such is my hope.” I find it interesting that Luther’s reply is so humble and meek. No bragging, no boasting, a mere “such is my hope” rather than “I am saved and secure. I have absolutely certainty of my salvation”.

    Is the Lutheran hymn I quoted earlier wrong? Was the Lutheran author Johann Scheffler in error when he wrote those words back in 1668? His magnificent hymn, “Come, follow Me, the Savior spake” ends with these words “For who bears not the battle’s strain, the crown of life shall not obtain.” (TLH 421, v.5).

    In the old General Prayer from The Lutheran Hymnal (page 13) we find this phrase I remember well, ” and may we, in communion with Thy Church, and in brotherly unity with our fellow Christians, fight the good fight of faith and IN THE END receive the salvation of our souls.”

    If we ALREADY have ‘certainty of salvation’, there isn’t any good fight let to fight. Something has changed in the Lutheran Church and it isn’t for the good. Or were our Lutheran fathers wrong in saying that IN THE END we receive the salvation of our souls? Perhaps they need some modern Evangelical in 2010 to remind them that salvation is certain and guaranteed?

  11. As long as we are in this world we are both “Sinner” and “Saint”. As the bible says, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. We should not feel that we have to do something it has all been done when Christ died on the cross and then rose on Easter morning. If we reject that or reject His Word and Sacraments that is a different story. Of course realizing the love that Christ had for us and the forgiveness he won we will naturally want to reach out with this good news to others in the world around us.

  12. @Pastor Tim Rossow #2

    While the main page of the website may say St. Louis, it should have been updated to say Irvine. CSL no longer wanted to fund it. It is currently being funded by Faith Lutheran Church in Capistrano Beach (Faith Capo) and being housed at Concordia University Irvine. I haven’t seen Uwe since Matt Harrison was in Orange County back in December, but Uwe was going to teach some journalism classes at CUI and at Crean Lutheran High School. I don’t know whether that has happened yet.

  13. Boris – I think you are making a valid point but I wonder if it is semantics that is causing the confusion. My personal salvation is certain, as in not dependent on any positive action by me- I can’t work it out. It is all Christ’s work and his work is perfect and certain. Now, that does not mean that I cannot take that perfect and certain work of Christ and toss it in the trash and walk away. It does not make that work some how ineffectual – its just means that I have rejected that perfect and certain work of Christ – i.e. my salvation.

    I think this discussion is an example of the struggle the Lutherans often have over how to properly express this truth.

  14. Joe. thank you for your comments. Perhaps this is a case of semantics causing confusion. But it does seem to me that one’s personal salvation most certainly IS contingent on doing something, and that something is partaking of the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments. IF the Word and Sacraments are means of grace (as the Lutheran Confession say they are) then one must continually avail one’s self of the means of grace in order to remain in a state of faith and in the end receive the salvation of your soul. What is the big deal about saying we have to do something in order to remain in the grace of God? If we despise the Word and Sacraments, cut ourselves off from the Church’s means of grace, then by doing that we will eventually lose our salvation. However, if we avail ourselves of the Word and Sacraments, we will be given the grace to persevere in the faith unto death and thus inherit eternal life. I am not saying that we earn anything here. The Grace given in the means of grace is free and unmerited. But at the same time, we have to make USE of it. And I don’t see how a person can say that anyone’s salvation is supposedly “certain” because we don’t know for certain if we will make use of the means of grace unto death or not. The very same afflictions that drive some people closer to the Lord can drive others away from Him. We may THINK we will never fall away or never deny Christ, but that’s no guarantee we won’t. I don’t think Judas became an apostle with the avowed intention of betraying Christ, but that was what happened. St. Peter even bragged that he would never deny Christ, yet he ended up denying Him three times. Fortunately, St. Peter repented, but if he hadn’t and fell into despair like Judas did, he very well might have been lost as well.

    Again I ask the question, can ANYONE show me in any of the Lutheran church fathers or in the Book of Concord where they speak of the absolute certainty of individual salvation? The best I can think of is absolute certainty of Redemption. Christ completely, fully, freely, and utterly has redeemed us. However, how do I appropriate that redemption? It isn’t just automatic. If one is saved by grace, one has to USE to means of grace to get that grace. If one begins to despise the means of grace, stops using them, and cuts one’s self off from the Body of Christ, what hope of salvation does one have? And how can anybody flippantly say that they are CERTAIN they will endure to the end? None of us knows that for certain because we don’t know what the future holds and how we will act in the future. I think it is far more realistic and humble to say (in harmony with Luther’s Christian Questions) that we have a “reasonable hope” of salvation rather than absolute certainty. The certainty won’t be there until we behold Christ face to face in heaven and are not able to fall away or sin any more.

  15. Quoting Dr. Martin Luther:

    Away, now, with Sceptics and Academics from the company of us Christians; let us have men who will assert, men twice as inflexible as very Stoics! Take the Apostle Paul—how often does he call for that ‘full assurance’ which is, simply an assertion of conscience, of the highest degree of certainty and conviction. In Rom. 10 he calls it ‘confession’—‘with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’ (v. 10). Christ says, ‘Whosoever confesseth me before me, him will I confess before my Father’ (Matt. 10.32). Peter commands us to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3.15). And what need is there of a multitude of proofs? Nothing is more familiar or characteristic among Christians than assertion. Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity.

    Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, Trans. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1957) 67.

  16. Boris: You have spoken the same things that I struggle with all the time. Even though I believe and make use of the Word and Sacraments, I still do not feel absolutely sure of my salvation. I have expressed recently to my pastor that I have a faith problem (I think). And it is very frustrating. I also expressed years ago to a co-teacher I was working with that I felt that if God were to send me to hell that He would be right because He will judge perfectly. But then I wonder, how can I believe and understand spiritual things unless I have the Holy Spirit? Why would I care? Why would I keep going to church? There is indeed a conflict in me that I can’t seem to resolve. It seems to sound like yours.

    One of my favorite verses from Revelation is: “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life.” I have recently begun to study the word, “imputation.” And, “propitiation.” Logically I believe that I should know assurance based on, if nothing else, the thief on the cross. Jesus told him he would be in Paradise that very day. He knew very little and he didn’t produce “works.”

    My mother was a staunch believer and worked in the church all of her life. At the end of her life I made a comment about “when she got to heaven.” She replied, “If I get in.” I was shocked to hear her say that. I think more people than we know have these same doubts right to our death.

  17. Abby: Thanks for your response, but I think you misunderstand me. I’m not talking about assurance. I do think a person can have a reasonable assurance of salvation, especially if that person has a genuine faith in Christ and is a regular partaker of the Means of Grace. I think such a person has what I would call a “general assurance” of salvation. In other words, there is no reason to believe that that person wouldn’t under normal circumstances go to heaven when he or she dies. But that is as far as I would go with it. I would not go beyond the reasonable hope of salvation that Luther speaks of in the Christian Questions in the Small Catechism to this strange idea of absolute individual “certainty” of salvation because I think it is a bit too presumptuous. Hopefully we will all be faithful unto death and receive the crown of life. But that isn’t 100% guaranteed. We still have the temptations of the flesh, the world and the devil. Lutherans aren’t Calvinists or Baptists and believe that the Christian can fall from grace, fall into apostasy even go to hell if he dies in such an unrepentant and unbelieving condition.

    I get the feeling I am making some people very nervous by reminding them that Lutherans believe that the Christian can fall from grace and go to hell. Much of American Evangelicalism disagrees with that and likes to toot its own horn and manifest its spiritual pride by bragging about how “saved” and how “secure” they are. I think the difference is this: Evangelicalism says that a one time ACT of faith can save you. Lutheranism teaches that a faith that is faithful unto death can save you. There really is no doctrine of “eternal security” in Lutheranism. Such an idea is Baptist madness, pride and lunacy. The Lutheran view is far more sober-minded and takes into account the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

  18. Boris,

    I suggest you go online and buy a cop of Koehler’s Christian Doctrine (,, etc.) and read up on these matters. Your speculation shows good thought that you have put into these things but you would greatly benefit from reading a summary like Koehler who piles up Bible passage upon Bilbe passage on these matters.

    Yes, there is eternal security – it is called divine election. This is a clear teaching of Scripture. I know that I am secure for eternity because I look to the cross and see my savior there. What you are confusing is the teaching of once saved always saved. The difference is the means of grace. My security lies in the certainty of the means of grace. Baptism does save me as Peter says. The Lord’s Supper forgives my sins. Faith comes from hearing the Word. The “once saved alsways saved” crowd does not believe in the power of the means of grace and so they wrongly put their trust in an eternal decree of God and look for verification in their works. The right believing Christian looks to the cross (and the means of grace that delivers the goods of the cross) and receives the gift of faith and then receives with joy the mysterious steaching of Scripture that this salvation is secure. And, one last thing, should that person stray from the faith giving means of grace then his faith would diminish possibly even to the point of extinction.

    There you have it in a nutshell.


  19. Thank you, Pastor Rossow, for your insight and summary of this issue. I think you hit the nail on the head. I remember studying Koehler’s Christian Doctrine at Bethany College, and although I haven’t read any Koehler in years, I do remember him being adept at explaining things concisely and convincingly. You do have me intrigued by the doctrine of election. I had not thought of that as being related to this discussion, but after you explained it, I can see that it is. I’m going to have to read up on what the Formula of Concord has to say about election. You have given me more than enough food for thought. Thank you for taking time to answer my questions.

  20. The first thought I had is that pastors don’t get a lot of time in sermons or Bible classes to talk about what Boris and Abby are struggling with. I thought of Hebrews 11:1-2 right away and faith being sure of what we hope for. Here is also a little Bible study on two words gleaned from the ESV.
    DEPOSIT: 2 TIMOTHY 2:8-14 AND 1 TIMOTHY 6:20-21
    GUARANTEE(D): Romans 4:16-25, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 2 Corinthians 4:1-10, and Ephesians 1:11-14.
    Our assurance is not based on our works, but on Christ’s work in us and given us through faith. Faith takes the blessings out of the Sacraments poured into them by Christ. If you don’t believe that you receive grace from God in the Lord’s Supper, you don’t get God’s Grace.
    We need more teaching from the Bible coming from the top down and not directives from convention proceedings and CCM opinions like we were just blessed with in”THIS WE BELIEVE”. I would rather have more books like A.L. Barry’s (remember those) which went through the Scriptures and the Confessions. What a difference leadership makes in the life of the church and we need dedicated pastors to take us there instead of to the by-laws.

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