Editor’s Note: This “Call to Confess Christ” was submitted and captures the concerns I share over the pattern of statements that the LCMS has been making in the civic sphere along with other Christians and non-Christians. With this article Pastor Deal is joining our regular authors at Steadfast.
Recently, the blog of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod published a post promoting an open letter that President Harrison and Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty signed representing our synod. The topic of the open letter was “God-given sexual identity”. The promotional post and its cross-posting on the synod’s Facebook page created some heated comments.
This open letter was composed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The focus was to bring the religious leaders together to affirm a “commitment to marriage as the union of one man and one woman and as the foundation of society.” It sounds great, but the strength of the letter was in the unity of the religious leaders who stood behind its voice, not at all in the unity of the theology. After reading this, you should understand that those who opposed this letter did not do it on the basis that they reject God’s ordered creation and marriage. The faithful Christian clergy are opposed to the manner in which it was done and want our confession to be more Christ-centered. This call to confess is an effort to make a better confession as the LCMS.
The comments online got heated after a handful of LCMS clergy caught the striking point of contention that next in line to President Harrison’s name was Imam Faizal Khan. Really, a Muslim imam? Think about it. Any letter in which both a confessional Lutheran and a Muslim imam can sign must say nothing of the true God. This suspicion is substantiated, only read the letter yourself. God is mentioned, but whose God? Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? The prophet Jesus, brother of Mohammed? Sadly, those answers are left to the reader’s interpretations.
Lies have crept into our synod because of all the concern about declining numbers of Christians in America. Evidenced by the handful of Lutherans commenting, it appears they believe we would have looked weaker had we stood alone and spoken a full confession of the one true Faith. This is a mistake. Numbers do not necessarily mean success. Even unity does not ensure victory. Certainly, there can be no unity apart from the One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of us all.
The confession of faith must stand true against the principalities of evil. We should not allow ourselves to be disillusioned that our unity is the great work which changes people. God’s work though the Word is a greater work than all our efforts, empty open letters, and lobbying. As Luther once spoke of God’s work in Baptism: “But the Scriptures teach thus: Even though we collect in one mass the works of all the monks, however splendidly they may shine, they would not be as noble and good as if God should pick up a straw” (LC Baptism 12). It may seem like this joint letter is a good work because it puts forth the objective truth of being created male or female and the union between one man and woman as God ordered. However, when we speak of God alongside of others who do not confess Jesus as Lord it is unfaithful to Christ. No matter how just the cause may be this truth remains: “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). Sadly, in order to have amicable confession between religious leaders something had to be sacrificed, and the sacrifice was the confession of Christ in creation and in marriage. The Scriptures teach us that this letter is less of a good work than the pure confession of Christ in creation and in marriage. When we signed this open letter we compromised the faith before the world, in order that many could join and so few would be offended. A weak confession was created to appease the masses and we signed our name to it.
One open letter signed by the LCMS president, the clergy and congregations would have been far mightier than a joint letter which compromised doctrine to agree on an objective truth. In this letter we prized the honor of being consulted by Roman Catholic bishops more than the honor of being the bride of Christ. The confessions speak of their erroneous confession on marriage and beyond (AC XXIII; LC 6th Commandment; TR 79). After reading many theologically sound articles written by President Harrison it stings to read on the LCMS blog that this was done “while acknowledging the ‘significant religious differences’ among the signers”. President Harrison later says: “When we are able to sign on with our partners and friends this way, we think it is significant to do so”.
“Partners and friends,” but not brothers in the faith. There is recognition in that statement that no unity in Christ exists, not with the bishops and certainly not with the Muslims. Then why join them? “The mission of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is vigorously to make known the love of Christ by word and deed within our churches, communities and the world.” Our Synod’s 500th Anniversary of the Reformation slogan was, “It’s Still All About Jesus.” The slogan, the mission statement, and the theology behind both was abandoned when we signed a joint letter with multiple faiths, including some that deny the nature and work of Christ. The Scriptures teach that you cannot speak of the triune God who creates without speaking of Jesus. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any made that was made” (John 1:3). Disappointingly, only Genesis 1:27 is quoted in this open letter: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
The Word of God is abundantly clear on the work of Christ in the creation and preservation of all things. Colossians 1:16-17 in speaking of Christ says: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” In our world we cannot, even for a second, stand to lose the foundation of Christ in the confession of God’s order of creation. Christ has dominion over all things, including government. Knowing this, we can be confident in our confession of Christ to the government like our fathers at Augsburg.
When they stood together before Emperor Charles V it was in the unity of the faith as the creeds confess. These men were truly “creedal Christians” willing to sacrifice their status as princes and electors, their wealth and even suffer death rather than fall away. The signers of this open letter were not all creedal Christians, Southern Baptist, Muslim, Church of God in Christ to name a few. In the LCMS blog, “Harrison noted that “on these significant issues where creedal Christians tend to agree, we have developed quite a surprisingly good relationship with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.” President Harrison had no control over who signed this open letter. He had probably hoped it would be “creedal Christians,” but such was not the case. The Scriptures, Creeds and Book of Concord do not support the false theology of these sects and in many cases condemn it. We need only look to our congregations to find Christians abiding in the Apostles’ doctrine. Our young catechumens are “creedal Christians” that we have brought through instruction and prepared to stand with Christ in their classrooms, amid their families and even confidently march at our nation’s capital. We have seasoned confessors who will see to it that they remain faithful though their bodies wither away.
It is time to be bold and so speak the truth before our government in word and letter. Give opportunity to the congregations, pastors, and synod officials to stand on the one foundation of Jesus Christ. Then, let the world see our confession in the light of day and watch as God draws men unto His Son. The LCMS may not have the strength in numbers compared to other religious groups. Numbers mean little when we have the strength of the Word of promise. Just as Gideon left the river with 300 of the 32,000 men, so we may march with far less in numbers and gain the victory by only the promise of God. By the gift of faith His children see far beyond what the world can see. The Scriptures testify that the Lord uses that which is perceived the weakest to show His strength and glory. Far be it from us to think that God’s Word is somehow weak. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
The Spirit works faith in the hearts of individuals by this Word. The object of faith is Christ. He is what our faith clings to each day and night. If we are to be the bride of Christ, the Church of God, or the elected leaders and representatives of the Church we must stand or fall on God’s Word. To do anything else is to be a sect or become a mere corporation recognized only by man. God does not look in shame upon the the confessors of truth. The Psalmist wrote, “I will speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame” (Psalm 119:46). Christ Himself promises that our confession before men on earth is then made by Him to the Father in heaven: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Mark 10:32 KJV). The Lord Himself blessed our confession before the world when He said to His Apostles: “Whoever hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16). The Church is the bride of Christ bought and paid for by His blood and cleansed from her impurities. A bride is to be faithful to her groom because she is joined to Him by God, not man. In signing this we entered the palace before the kings and advisors and removed our wedding ring. Even if just for that moment, we lost our boldness to stand with the dignity of Christ.
The pastors and laity who do not support the signing of this open letter are justly upset. They have judged the manner of unity not by feelings or movements of society, but by the very Word of God. These pastors continue in the line of the confessors who wrote: “We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone, as it is written Ps. 119:105: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (FC EP Introduction). The hope is to reconcile these matters and move forward in the unity of Christ as brothers in the faith. Parish pastors work tirelessly to teach and preach the good confession of Christ before the world, but joint statements signed by pastors, congregations, and Synod officials which are empty of Christ have confused our parishioners. In these matters how will anyone determine where to draw the line to what is acceptable and what is not?
It is time to humbly reform how we as a Church are confessing before the world. Our foundation is Christ. Our confession ought to also be Him through whom alone we can know the only true God. This call to confess reveals that brothers in the LCMS are ready to take a stand on these issues with our Synod. We are prepared to stand before our government and make the good confession of Christ and no other.