What, Now, for the Moderate Lutherans?

During the 1970s in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), the “liberal” faction referred to itself as the “moderates.” Richard John Neuhaus advised against this term, observing dryly that the LCMS never did anything in moderation. I always thought that, contra Neuhaus, and in the context of world Lutheranism, the term “moderate” was pretty close to the truth.

The Lutheran moderate was someone who appreciated the scholarly veneer of the higher-criticism of the Bible, but who also believed in the basic assertions of the creed, including the divinity of Jesus.

The Lutheran moderate was someone who appreciated the social advances of feminism, but who balked at the thought of homosexual activity being approved by the church.

The Lutheran moderate was someone who believed in “open communion,” but who agreed with Luther that the body and blood was received by communicants.

The Lutheran moderate was someone who, most of all, wanted to be involved in the ecumenical movement, first with American Lutherans, then with other Christians all around the world (e.g., see the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology).

History has bypassed the Lutheran moderates, both in the LCMS and in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

As I have written previously at the “Brothers of John the Steadfast” website, we are now seeing a passing of a generation in the LCMS (see my posts at Nomination Numbers: What Does This Mean?, My Salute to the Passing Generation of LCMS Leadership, and What does this Election Mean? )

This means that the moderates’ hopes and dreams for the LCMS are now, practically speaking, a lost cause.

The 2009 convention of the ELCA, which institutionalized the ordination and marriage of homosexuals, means that, practically speaking, the moderates’ hopes and dreams for the ELCA are also a lost cause.

At least for the next generation, the LCMS is going to be affirming and teaching the plenary-inspiration-and-inerrancy of Scripture and the normative authority of the Lutheran Confessions.

The LCMS will continue to affirm and teach the traditional social conservatism that has characterized the Lutheran church, due to Luther’s view that God has ordained the left-hand kingdom and its particular vocations (as described in the Small Catechism), including the unique relationship of husband and wife.

The LCMS will continue to affirm and discuss the issue of “closed communion,” and its practice will vary, but Luther’s complete doctrine of the Lord’s Supper will be affirmed and taught as found in the Book of Concord.

The LCMS will continue to reach out in love, mercy, and fraternity to fellow Lutherans around the world, but continue to remain at arm’s length from those Lutherans whose agenda agrees with the ELCA.

For its part, the ELCA will follow the left-wing of the Democratic Party wherever it goes.

The ELCA will harbor those in its fellowship who deny every traditional doctrine of the Christian church.

The ELCA will expand its notion of “church fellowship” to include non-Christian religions.

And, to the complete abhorrence of moderate Lutherans, the ELCA will become one of the centers for propagandizing the “Christian homosexual” movement around the globe, using “mission monies” and its colleges and seminaries for that purpose.

How do I know what the ELCA will do? I am a graduate of Union Theological Seminary-New York (a.k.a. UTS; 1990 M.Phil.; 1996 Ph.D.), which is also the alma mater of ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson. I lived at UTS for four years. I know exactly the aims and goals of UTS professors, graduates and their networks. I sat in their classrooms, read all required and suggested books, and discussed theology, world religions, the ecumenical movement, social justice, feminism, and the gay movement with anyone willing to talk civilly to an LCMS pastor.

The LCMS position has the advantage of being biblically and confessionally consistent. The ELCA position has the advantage of being socially consistent, i.e., “politically correct.” The moderate Lutheran position has no such advantages and never did.

What, NOW, for the moderate Lutherans?

It will be too hard for them to admit that their position was an amalgam of various teachings and practices that were joined together because they “felt good.” That would require abandoning their hopes and dreams, which they cannot do, because their ties to these things were emotional, not logically consistent.

More likely, the moderate Lutherans will join together in a moderate Lutheran church-body, expressing their hopes and dreams in their constitution, with clear limits, so that the future members of their church will not fall into the LCMS or ELCA ways-of-thinking-and-doing.

There are seeds of such a church-body in the Lutheran CORE Network; the Word Alone Network; the Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ; and the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau; as well as other groups and small church-bodies not mentioned.

This will only work if the leaders of these smaller groups can put the needs of their people and churches first, their egos second, and pool their resources.

If they don’t institutionalize their hopes and dreams in such a church-body NOW, starting in the next couple of years, those hopes and dreams will die with their owners. I say this, not to be mean, but to give them a fair warning from my perspective as a historian.

The clock is ticking . . .


What, Now, for the Moderate Lutherans? — 74 Comments

  1. Just wondering out loud. I am not trying to be combative or insulting here, I am just wondering if all of us fall into this grouping. Could the church in Laodicea from Revelation 3 be substituted with the LCMS and then insert whatever faction you want?

  2. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #48
    Referring to those with whom we disagree as a “cancer”?

    Luther was quite firm with Zwingli and for the same reasons.
    People who have swallowed the protestant “growth” kool-aid (which does not lead to growth as we must be able to see by now) “have a different spirit” if that language sounds better to you.

    Will our present leadership persuade them to cast it out? I pray it will.

    Noland said above, “The Lutheran moderate was someone who believed in “open communion,” but who agreed with Luther that the body and blood was received by communicants.”
    * If the ‘moderate’ has any of that “love for the lost” we have heard so much about, (and not just love for DINK’s, which I have also heard from the same group) he will not invite them to their damnation by open communion, for starters.

    Zwingli didn’t believe in the Real Presence and Luther broke with him although they agreed on other things. How much worse to claim to believe in it and still hand it out indiscriminately!?

    * You will not corrupt the Lutheran church with Saturday night entertainment.

    * You will not be head of a group (as GK was) that did all the wrong things GK listed in his complaining letter and allow them to go on, let alone blame them on other people!

    People who deny that they have a cancer, die of it, Pr. McCain.

  3. @Andrew Strickland #51
    Could the church in Laodicea from Revelation 3 be substituted with the LCMS and then insert whatever faction you want?

    The Laodiceans were “spit out” because they were lukewarm in the faith, as I remember. “Confessional Lutherans” in LCMS are usually complained of because they are “too hot” on the subject of sound doctrine awa the need to believe and practice it!

  4. Let’s try this one more time.

    We are speaking about people in our church fellowship whom we are trying to talk to, and about the people whom we are trying to persuade on a given topic.

    It may make “us” feel great to indulge in a lot of chest-thumping, “war words” but to what end?

    Calling people names and generally behaving like jackasses in how we express our concerns does not help.

    I’ve been guilty of this myself, and have much to confess. As do we all.

  5. @Helen #53
    Helen, I was not just referring to confessionals. I mean the whole of the LCMS.

    One can be on fire for Scripture and doctrine, but can be downright icy when it comes to compassion therefore lukewarm. Look at this thread and some of the others, sometimes domination and destruction are the tools to be used against those who do not agree. Sometimes the words are kind which can guide someone in error towards correcting the error.

    The much maligned “GK” group is hot on missions and cold on doctrine, therefore lukewarm as well.

    I believe all of the factions sometimes hit the lukewarm category.

  6. @Helen #56

    Defending a hurtful way of speaking by saying that another sinner (Luther) condoned it does not make it okay. Luther did much, but he was not perfect, blameless, or sinless. Much of what he wrote was good, but some of what he wrote was offensive, anti-Semitic, and chauvinistic.

  7. Per my earlier post (#45) our standing on the Rock means we do not move from our confessional pilings. Discussion sounds as if both sides have something to contribute to the “conversation”. Rev McCain, I sincerely respect you and agree with what you are saying in that we need to show compassion and forgiveness as Christ has forgiven us. I do not necessarily agree that we have a discussion with those that hold to false doctrine, rather we should call out our brother’s sin and hopefully bring them to repentance. Is that a discussion?

    I certainly am not trying to be a jackass, or anything but a member of Christ’s church. But I think we all need to be vigilant for false doctrine. I may be more sensitive to that since I am in a congregation where many hold heterodox views of a significant nature. Most are not interested in discussing, only telling you that you need to do more investigation into the “errors” of the Bible.

    For those genuinely interested in understanding true doctrine and practice, then that can and should happen – in the context of a Bible study. I would even gladly discuss issues over a beer, but I would fear doing so in the wrong context would only provide a soapbox for them.

  8. Pastor McCain,
    To stretch Helen’s Marburg Colloquy allusion, I think you make a lot of sense reining us in during this post-election period of discussion, and I thank you for jumping in and doing so. If we are in a potentially fruitful discussion w/ the for the lack of a better term “moderate” wing of the LC-MS, I agree; it’s a bad time to use our “war words.” My question is, how will we know when the Colloquy is over, and it’s time to shake hands, or not shake hands. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but drawing out the discussion past a certain point just serves to legitimize dissent. When does discussion become stalling, and how will we know?
    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  9. In reality there are no moderates in the synod. Instead of the weight of the opinions looking like a parabola it looks more like a v.

    Maybe neutral ground on the web could be set up, inviting people from the synod to participate in a discussion involving the issues that are troubling the synod. Arguments could be put forth and defenses could also be put forth on all sides of the matter.

    This could be something that the brothers initiate. There are few liberal LCMS bloggers on the web and I have heard reasons for why this is the case, but I do not think they are true. I honestly believe many pastors who are more liberal minded have “a leave me alone” type of mindset . There is much distrust on all sides and I feel a lack of understanding where the other is coming from.

    While this site is great and provides a wealth of worthwhile information, mostly one sided conversations only increase the fervor for or against an opinion. It is valuable, but to have an honest discussion with people from both sides of the v may give better insight to the root causes of the problems.

    I do believe that both sides of the v are needed to anchor each other if the synod is going to last.

    I know Jesus was talking about the world and chasing after it in Mark 8:36 but I think it applies to us as well. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

  10. “Calling people names and generally behaving like jackasses…” seems quite self-indicting, brother McCain. This site provides good confessional brothers/sisters with a sympathetic and therapeutic forum to express their long-standing frustrations with a tolerance of doctrinal diversity that it is now, to be sure, imbedded and spreading in synod. Antiseptic words sting, but applying antiseptics to infections is not unloving… and laymen will do it, especially if those charged with ecclesial supervision didn’t or won’t.

  11. Matthew, that was a great assessment of the matter, something that I (and perhaps others) have been wondering for a long time. When do we cease the discussions and, as you say, “how will we know when the Colloquy is over, and it’s time to shake hands, or not shake hands?” For some, it would be when we are drawn into the ELCA and agree to what they want to teach! “When and how” are questions that never seem to be answered in
    a conclusive way, unfortunately and leaves many in the dark. @Matthew Mills #59

  12. Crayburn,
    If folks have wandered in ignorance from orthodoxy and orthopraxis, dialogue might reclaim some, but if they knew exactly what they were doing, it’s going to be a waste of time, and just serve to give the wanderers more time to consolidate their position(s), and more credibility than they deserve.
    I trust the newly-elected SP, but it’s a tricky issue. At the risk of sounding “moderate” myself, neither the extreme of endless schism nor the extreme of big-tent anything-goes apathy seem to match the Apostolic model. Perhaps holding member congregations to our officially non-negotiable standards of doctrine and praxis would be a good place to start (but recent conventions have chipped away at the later to the point that I wonder if we have any praxis standards left.) It might not meet most folks definition of dialogue, but could the SP task the DP’s to run congregational visitations, and report back to him as a first step?
    Still more questions than answers I’m afraid.
    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  13. @Pr. Dennis Bestul #61
    you speak of anti-septic words being applied.
    — are they to be applied to a person?
    meaning — removing yourself from fellowship with that person
    — are they to be applied to ideas?
    meaning — challenging the ideas of those you disagree with while still acknowledging their place in the body of Christ.

    The conversation begins when you speak with one another as fellows sinner whose souls were purchased with the same blood. The body is broken by schism when you see yourself needing to seperate from another.

  14. Matthew Mills :Perhaps holding member congregations to our officially non-negotiable standards of doctrine and praxis would be a good place to start (but recent conventions have chipped away at the later to the point that I wonder if we have any praxis standards left.)

    According to the LCMS Constitution and Bylaws, the only “officially non-negotiable standards of doctrine and praxis” are Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, and obviously those norms are not being interpreted consistently across the Synod. Convention resolutions, including doctrinal resolutions, are not binding on any individual congregation that judges them to be contrary to the Word of God or merely “inexpedient.” Doctrinal statements are supposed to be “honored and upheld,” but apparently only A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (1932) and A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles (1973) fall into that category. There simply is no mechanism, as far as I can tell, for the SP to “enforce” doctrine and praxis across the Synod; it is not a top-down organization, even with this year’s structural changes.

  15. As you are cutting out the cancer from the midst of Missouri Synod, and ushering out the door those moderates with whom you do not need to discuss since they are simply wrong and why do we need to discuss with those who are wrong, better they be gone. Be careful. Once you have cleansed Missouri, what will you use to rally the troops? One of the easiest and surest ways to organize and get people unified is to give them an enemy to oppose, that must be fought, who endangers everything? How will you keep the people unified once you have cleaned out the dreaded moderates and shown them the door?

    You can always encourage them to look for those who have not left but went underground. Eternal vigilence! Anyone who does not support what we have agreed is correct, who questions, or is not properly enthusiastic is a potential enemy. Look out for them and expose them.

    Look around, perhaps some who were your allies do, after all, have some strange ideas. Why stop rooting out error once the obvious ones are gone? Isn’t there always more error and errorists to be found? More reasons to rally the troops?

    “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”
    Galatians 5:15

  16. @John, an Unlikely Pastor #64

    How do you separate words from those who speak them? Words are merely extensions of thoughts which are either true or false. The Word of God is the standard by which we determine which is which, as well as being the antiseptic which cleanses our sinful “thoughts, words, and deeds.”
    Unfortunately, the Body of Christ —the Church— is ridden with the scars and wounds of false doctrine being stubbornly maintained [thus, papists, Zwinglians, Calvinists, pseudo-Lutherans, etc.] and we love them all. Because we do, we HAVE eucharistically separated ourselves from them. But that’s not ‘schismatic.’ It’s simply the recognition of differences which need to be addressed and resolved before we can eucharistically celebrate unity of doctrine. The notion that there can be ‘diversity of doctrine’ in synod defies the very definition of ‘synod.’ That there IS a diversity of doctrine is nothing more than an admission that we have not addressed these important issues for too long a time.

  17. Dear Brothers In Christ,

    As a newly confirmed adult LCMS Lutheran I must say that I find the posts here both interesting and troubling. For as Lutherans we believe in the scripture as the inspired word of God and therefore unchangeable and eternal. What I see here with the divisions within the Lutheran faith is the age-old problem of men attempting to change God to suit the ideas of men. Is it not written in Malachi 3:6 “For I the Lord do not change therefore you O children of Jacob are not consumed” (ESV). He has set his gospel and law before us that we may have faith and be saved. God is not conservative or liberal or moderate or something in-between, GOD is GOD. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV) Far be it for me, a mere babe in faith and simple laymen in scripture to even attempt to quote scripture to obviously educated pastors but this is the only way I know to make my point. As we are scripture based denomination it is scripture we should turn for guidance.

  18. Pastor Fienen,

    You make a good point. If anyone is raising these issues for the sake of getting their jollies from it then this is sad enterprise. I do not see anyone doing that however. No one has mentioned anything about ushering people out the door or getting rid of cancerous members. Those were your words.

    Instead, what is spoken of in this article and throughout this website is basing fellowship on agreement on the truth of Scripture. If that is not our basis what would the basis be? What would you propose?


  19. @Pastor Tim Rossow #69
    I believe I mentioned “cancer” when I was a little impatient with Rev. McCain on one of these topics. But the point of recognizing “cancer” is to cure it, if possible.

    Few can argue truthfully that foreign influences have not been brought into “Missouri” to its detriment. The discussion should be centered on the ways we can get back to historic Lutheranism, (as you say, back to Scripture & the Confessions) in all our parishes, if possible.

    I am NOT going to say, “Like it or leave” because I’ve been told that a couple of times in the last ten years. It was not a convincing defense for what was going on. [I left.]

  20. Once Lost,
    Welcome home!
    I can’t speak for everyone who posts here, but I believe you have put your finger on the point of contention between the factions that sadly exist today in the LC-MS. The Word of God is the issue that divides us. There is, implicit in the philosophy and theology of the Church Growth and contemporary worship movements, the belief that God’s Word and sacraments are no longer enough to make disciples. God’s Word and Sacraments need our “help” to make them relevant and efficacious in today’s culture. The folks who hang out here, both clergy and lay, agree with you that man has no business changing God to suit our society’s current norms. We are still sinful human beings with differing levels of knowledge, patience, and a few intriguing personality quirks thrown in, but we are fighting for the purity and sufficiency of our Lord Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  21. Dear BJS bloggers,

    I appreciate all comments here, both pro and con. But let me make a clarification.

    The essence of my post has not been understood. The essence of my article is “the hopes and dreams of moderate Lutherans.” The question is: “What are the moderate Lutherans going to do about their hopes and dreams for the American Lutheran church, when LCMS and ELCA will not embrace those hopes and dreams?”

    This post was NOT about ushering people out the door. It was an attempt to be sympathetic to the moderate Lutheran plight. I am not telling those folks what they need to do. I am trying to offer them some hope (both those in the ELCA and the LCMS) for the perpetuation of their hopes and dreams.

    Ever since my call to Saint Louis in 2002, I have been discussion with about a dozen ELCA pastors, privately, about their hopes and dreams, which are now bearing fruition in the new groups and churches I mentioned in my post.

    My OWN hopes and dreams are centered around my children, and their children someday.

    I hope and dream (and work for) a Lutheran church in America that they will attend, that affirms the Scriptures without apologies, that teaches Luther’s Small Catechism, that continues to preach and teach all the wonderful doctrines we know and benefit from, and that worships in harmony with that teaching. I hope and dream that the LCMS will be that church, and in my opinion, it is that church now.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  22. Rev. Dr. Francis Pieper in his “Christian Dogmatics”, vol. 3, p. 427 wrote:

    “Such, however, as separate from a church body because it tenaciously clings to false doctrine are unjustly called schismatics, separatists, etc. This separation is commanded in Scripture (Rom. 16:17) and is the only means of restoring and maintaining the true unity in the Christian Church.”

    The separation of truth from heterodoxy must take place if the unity of the Church (where the Word of God is taught in all its truth and purity and where the Sacraments are administered in accord with Christ’s institution), it is be obtained. In these later days, the situation for the maintenance of this precious unity grows more difficult. Consider these words:

    “However, the words of [Rev. 3:10] nevertheless contain a serious truth, namely the Church of the Reformation will have to pass through the fiery trial of the last great temptation, a temptation which consists of a general falling away from faith. And this falling away will take place in particular in the Church of the Reformation, that church which has the word of “His patience,” namely that word of the cross, that pure Gospel.
    “At that time the true Church of the Reformation, which is called the Lutheran Church, will be but a small body. Large masses will bear the name Lutheran, but in name only; namely, there will be a great deal of talk about Luther and his works … yet Luther’s spirit and interpretation, his faithfulness to the Truth, his zeal to retain God’s honor only, his courage to confess this, these will not exist or be known, yes, there will be no desire to know this. On the contrary, those who will immovably insist on clinging to the whole truth AS LUTHER TAUGHT it will be despised, they will be reviled as being destroyers of peace, troublemakers, and schismatics.
    “In Luther’s days it was the Pope who did this … However, in the last days, in that hour of great temptation, this time the true evangelical Christians will not be branded schismatics by the Pope, but by those who CARRY the name Lutheran. This will be a time in which the “Lutherans” will not be satisfied to leave the old confirmed teachings as they are, but they will nevertheless cling to the name Lutheran, and this will help to fill the measure of confusion, through which untold numbers of weak Christians will be offended, since the so-called Lutheran Christians will separate into many factions, but nevertheless calling themselves brethren. WE ARE NOW LIVING IN THESE SAD DAYS, the days which are portrayed to us in the picture of the congregation of Laodicea.
    “When here we speak of the Church of the Reformation which we see pictured in the congregation at Philadelphia, we are not referring to that church body which carries the name of Luther, but to all real believers among that despised body of true believers, including the many innocent souls who are scattered here and there among the sects, namely as our Confession says: Those who walk in simpleness of heart, who do not understand correctly, and who would, if they were properly instructed, come to the Church which holds the truth, who therefore worship at the feet of the body of true believers, at the feet of the Church of the Reformation.
    “It was Luther who prophesied that it would get so bad that the true word of God would in time be found only in the homes. That time is at hand, and we may yet live to see the day that the Church of the Reformation, namely the Church of the true doctrine, will not be found in any external body or synod named Lutheran.”

    (“The Judge Is At the Door”, was written by an Australian German Lutheran pastor in 1899 in his commentary on the book of Revelation, Der Richter ist vor der Thur!, by Rev. J.F. Peters, who served as the pastor at Murtoa, Victoria, Australia. In the 1960’s it was translated into English by an American lady, Helma Stenske. In 1989 it was republished in Australia by Rev. Bryce Winter of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregations of the Reformation (ELCR) with a few corrections with the approval of Helma Stenske. It was published at Kingaroy, Queensland, Australia and the quotation is found on page 53 of that publication.)

    Is there a need for true theological realignment among Lutherans in the United States and throughout the world? Yes, of course there is. From time-to-time such realignment of orthodox Christians has occurred throughout history and prompted the writing of Creeds and Confessions to prompt the identification of differences in theology and to resolve them. If Pieper is correct, the relignment of Lutheranism is not only necessary, but required for the maintenance of the One, True Faith. Dick Bolland

  23. Moderation by any other word in today’s world means non-committal, wishy-washy, waiting to see what the poll says to do, on the fence, not worth dying for, don’t want to rock the boat, don’t talk religion in polite society, stay out of politics, lukewarm, doing my own thing, and on and on and on. We may be moderate in our food consumption, our entertainment choices, in spending our dollars but to be moderate in areas of theology is just not going to cut it these days when we are seeing the Bible ripped to shreds by so-called modern/moderate Christians. Our children are so confused as to what is and is not acceptable by the church of God because their moderate parents can’t take a chance their kids will not “like” them if they set a standard that is different from their peers. How can our LCMS survive if our internal disputes are allowed to continue because we are counting bodies in the pews rather than concentrating on the souls who have strayed far from God’s teaching? I don’t know why we think we can align ourselves with the world in moderation and still think the extreme of the cross holds water with those who don’t want to go to extremes. It is a puzzle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.