LCMS Constitution’s Renunciation of Syncretism

The Constitution of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has clearly and vigorously rejected syncretism, in principle and in practice, since it was adopted by its members in Chicago in 1847. The reason for this rejection is that “the teaching of God’s Word must never be compromised.” An essay recently published by the LC-MS’s Commission on Constitutional Matters, and authored by the Saint Louis seminary’s professor, Dr. Gerhard Bode, makes all this very clear and indisputable.

For a copy of the essay, click on this link, scroll down to the section labeled “Resources,” click on the tab “Other Helpful Documents,” and then download the article titled “Historical Background and Interpretation of Article VI.2 of the Constitution of The Lutheran—Church Missouri Synod – a Research Study Document provided for and on behalf of the CCM by Gerhard Bode January, 2012.”

This essay will, undoubtedly, be part of the discussion and debate required by 2010 Resolution 8-30B “To Study Article VI of Synod’s Constitution.” Anyone in the LCMS concerned about preserving its historic doctrinal standards and avoiding compromise in biblical teaching should download and study this essay.

Dr. Bode has done his homework and lets us see it! He has dug into all the relevant sources, provided translations of important texts from the German and Latin, and offered short and relevant historical background. The result is that anyone who wants to talk intelligently about Article VI.2 and syncretism will have to start here first, with this useful essay by Bode.

I have three comments. First, it is interesting to see that in 1847 the Missouri Synod defined altar fellowship for laymen, such “that when they receive the Lord’s Supper from the hand of a servant of the Lutheran church, that thereby they publicly enter into fellowship with the Lutheran Church” (ibid., p. 17). This has obvious application for the practice of “closed communion.”

Second, in a 1868 article in Lehre und Wehre, Walther permitted LCMS pastors to preach in the pulpit of heterodox churches, if and only if they were invited, and that in such cases of exceptions to the rule against syncretism, it was the preacher’s “duty at least through the positive setting forth of the sound Gospel regarding some article of the faith to bring such people to the conviction that their attitude toward the Scripture is a false one” (ibid., p. 40). In other words, in such cases, the LCMS pastor should not preach if he will not teach the correct doctrine in points where the heterodox congregation errs.

Third, on page 42 of his essay, Bode quotes an anecdote in Toward Lutheran Union (by Theodore Graebner and Paul Kretzmann [St Louis: CPH, 1943], 180). Julius A. Friedrich supposedly related a story in which Walther allegedly contradicted his 1868 Lehre und Wehre article, mentioned above. Graebner gave no citation for the source of this story. J.A. Friedrich retired in 1915, so the story probably came to the authors second-hand, possibly from his son E.J. Friedrich, in which case details of the story cannot be trusted.

We also have a right to be suspicious of anything on this topic in Toward Lutheran Union, since its author Theodore Graebner was the most prominent signer of “A Statement” of September 7, 1945. E.J. Friedrich was also a signer. The real purpose of this document, known as the “Statement of the 44,” was to overturn the LCMS doctrine and practice in matters of “syncretism.” Bode resolves the apparent contradiction in Walther by concluding that if an LCMS pastor does preach to a heterodox congregation, “over time the reproval of error must follow and with it must come the true teaching of God’s Word.” I resolve the apparent contradiction by concluding that Graebner’s anecdotal evidence is in error.

I commend Professor Gerhard Bode for a brilliant and very useful essay. I also give high praise to the Commission on Constitutional Matters for publishing the essay in its present form!

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