On Unionism

Unionism is the practice of participating in fellowship with those with whom there is not unity in Christian doctrine. It is a false show of unity with those with whom there is no agreement concerning the teaching of the Gospel or the administration of the sacraments (cf. AC VII); with those with whom there is not unity in teaching and in all articles of the faith (cf. SD X.31).

Unionism takes place because of the doctrinal indifference which prevails not just in Christianity in general, but also in the LCMS and LCC in particular. Doctrinal agreement is seen either as impossible, or as unimportant.

As Francis Pieper points out, unionism is contrary to Christ’s warning to beware of false prophets (Matt. 7:15) and Paul’s admonition to “avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). It ignores John’s instructions, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” (II John 10-11)

Scripture clearly teaches that doctrinal agreement is important, and necessary for fellowship. To be indifferent to doctrinal differences and participate in a unionistic service with those who are false teachers is to take part in their wicked works and be a partaker in the sins of others (I Tim. 5:22).

To say that it is impossible to have doctrinal unity is to say that Scripture is unclear. It is to show that one is uncertain as to what is truth and what is error. As Pieper also points out, “indifferentism is the signature of uncertainty. One who is certain of the truth is never indifferent to doctrine, but insists uncompromisingly on pure doctrine, even as Scripture, both in the Old and in the New Testament, insistently demands that the doctrine be ‘pure,’ uncontaminated by any human Ego product.” (Christian Dogmatics I, 118)

This is not to deny that there are Christians in heterodox church bodies. Rather, it is to stand firm on the truth of God’s Word so that those Christians would also hear the truth in all matters of doctrine.

Unionism claims to unify Christians, but the opposite is true. True unity can exist in the church only if it is united in the truth. Worship together in services that are watered down theologically so that no one is offended is the key result of unionism. The truth is pushed far away from such false fellowship, causing further division.

There is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism (Eph. 4:5) and we are appealed to, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of us would agree, and that there be no divisions among us, but that we be united in the same mind and the same judgment (I Cor. 1:10). Where there is disagreement in doctrine, where the one Baptism instituted by Christ is rejected as the work of man, where there is a different mind and different judgment, there is not unity in faith.

For the sake of our fellow Christians in different church bodies, let us hold fast to our confession, without wavering, knowing that the truth sets us free. Let us gladly talk about our differences in the light of what God’s Word says, instead of sweeping them under the table and participating in false fellowship. Let us strive for true unity in the church, which is unity in doctrine. This is worked towards through a diligent use of the means of grace, and a serious study of the Word of God and the Confessions to which our pastors and churches have subscribed.

About Pastor Johannes Nieminen

Pastor Johannes (John) Nieminen serves St Andrew's Lutheran Church in the Atlantic provinces of Canada, with Divine Service held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Middleton, Nova Scotia, Charlottetown, PE, and other locations on occasion. He attended Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St Catharines, Ontario, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 2014. He is married to Lydia and they have been blessed with three children: Ethan, Summerlee, and Jacob.


On Unionism — 13 Comments

  1. “All members of synod are obligated unconditionally on account of the fraternal bond of synodical affiliation established by signing the Constitution to participate in all required aspects of synodical life, including participation in all in sacris activities of the synod, such as the opening services of conventions and conferences, ordinations, installations, etc. It is improper to withhold fellowship, to avoid, to withdraw or to cease to participate, even for the sake of perceived heterodox teaching and practice, for that would be an offense against love, create a church within a church, and amount to an improper selective fellowship. Since the synod’s public confession remains the public confession of individual members of synod by virtue of their membership, the synod’s doctrinal unity remains in tact, despite individual aberrations in teaching and practice. Since perfect doctrinal unity will never be attained within the Christian Church on earth, members of synod ought to rejoice at the level of unity the synod actually has, and continue to work toward a more complete and comprehensive unity.”

    Dr. Jemand Bekloppt

  2. What is the status of LCMS / WELS relationship? Is the official LCMS that WELS is a heterodox church body even if the large part they agree?

  3. Pastor Nieminen’s words ought to be taken to heart, where he says, “Let us gladly talk about our differences in the light of what God’s Word says, instead of sweeping them under the table and participating in false fellowship. Let us strive for true unity in the church, which is unity in doctrine.”

    Of course, Dr. Bekloppt is bekloppt (nuts). My little pseudo quotation, however, expresses a widely-held sentiment in the LCMS/LCC. That sentiment is incorrect, for it remains a divine obligation and our duty to the evangelical truth to refuse fellowship to public errorists (Romans 16:17). The “renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description” must begin at home, so to speak.

    “A truly faithful orthodox church is in a permanent status confessionis over against all others and so is each individual Christian. In instances where sound doctrine or practice are publicly deviated from in any way, faithful believers must publicly avoid such errors. This is what status confessionis requires! It is the only form of selective fellowship which follows the true doctrine of the Church. Not to observe it is a violation of that doctrine, a failure or refusal to put it into practice. It is the only form of selective fellowship which is permissible and sanctioned by the Lutheran Confessions.” (Wilhelm Oesch)

  4. @Pastor Gerhard Maag #3

    Pastor Maag, thank you for your comments. You are indeed right concerning the widely-held sentiment in our synods, which sees unity as the ultimate goal, even if that unity is nothing more than empty words. As if pretending that doctrinal divisions don’t exist creates unity, and as if calling those in error’s way to repentance causes division.

  5. How would a congregational member be guilty of unionism? Is it by participating in programs with other church denominations? Please, provide some examples.

  6. @Timothy Schenks

    So, if I understand this correctly, would it be considered unionism is the congregation member works with Operation Christmas Child? What about Feed My Starving Children? If this is true, I’ve seen many of these type activities creep into our churches. I’ve always wondered about the correctness of these activities.

  7. @Dennis Parham #9

    Strictly speaking, being involved in charitable events or such programs with errant church bodies is not unionism since it is not worship. However, I would argue that to outsiders it gives the appearance of fellowship. Some church bodies also do not understand what fellowship is and would call such a participation fellowship. These are considerations to make when deciding to participate or not, or simply to do acts of charity independently or in conjunction with those with whom we are in fellowship.

  8. @Dennis Parham #9

    Dennis, I appreciated your question regarding programs such as Operation Christmas Child. What isn’t really said, although it is in their materials, is that participants are not to put any church related materials (Small Catechism for example) in the shoeboxes, because they include their own proselytizing materials in every package.

    Also, per the LCMS constitution, Article 6.2.c:
    “Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following:
    Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as: participation in heterodox tract and missionary activities.”

    Pretty interesting, when you consider which bodies within the synodical structure support OCC.

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