Reaching the churched in the LCMS

Thanks to Lutheran Kantor and Dan at Necessary Roughness for mining the data in that Pew Survey we blogged about, which gives some embarrassing data about Missouri Synod Lutherans. From Atheists That Believe in a God and Lutherans That Don’t:

Gene Veith blogs on the recent Pew Religion Survey (full report PDF):
My favorite fact of the study:

One out of five ATHEISTS believe in God or a universal spirit. And nearly half of all AGNOSTICS (defined as someone who does not know whether or not God exists) report believing in God or a universal spirit.

That’s worth a chuckle, but the Lutheran Kantor finds disturbing numbers:

The survey classified the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) to be an Evangelical denomination. Based on the survey results of the 588 LCMS respondents, the LCMS is very open minded and tolerant. So open minded and tolerant that 78% of the LCMS respondents believe that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” We beat the national average! That’s not something to be proud of.

Other statistics about the 588 surveyed:
Only 84% are absolutely certain there is a god; 12% are fairly certain.
9% seldom go to church; 2% never do.
Only 42% said the Bible should be taken literally.
28% believe there is one correct way to interpret scripture.

For all our efforts to divide the human populace between “churched” and “unchurched” for programmatic and spending purposes, this data shows that we cannot take the beliefs of the “churched” for granted.

You non-Lutheran readers may be sick of the Lutheran triumphalism sometimes evident on this blog, though I’ve also been criticized for airing the LCMS dirty laundry in my writings. I do think Lutheran theology gets it right–comprehending the best of every other Christian tradition–and is the quintessential EVANGELICAL theology, in which the Gospel of salvation through Christ on the Cross is central to every other article. If Lutherans would become Lutherans, maybe others would.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://cyberbrethren.typepad.com/cyberbrethren/2008/06/to-live-with-christ-daily-devotions-by-bo-giertz.html Rev. PTM

    I’ve been reading in the survey, which is truly a “must read” — very, very interesting indeed.

    I was wondering what you think of this.

    I think a lot of us are shocked at the thought that such a very high percentage, apparently even members of our own congregations, are indicating that “other religions lead to heaven.”

    But, as I am reading the survey, I’m thinking that just perhaps there is a problem in what the question said, or didn’t say.

    Let me explain.

    I think that many conservative Christians may hear the word “other religions” to mean, effectively, other Christian denominations. There are lots of people when asked “What religion are you?” will answer with a denominational affiliation.

    I’ll look forward to reading the survey more closely, but I’m pretty sure that if the question put to conservative Christians was:

    “Do non-Christian religions lead people to heaven?” the response would have been significantly different.

    Perhaps somebody has already read the Pew survey closely enough to be able to correct my assumptions, but so far I’m thinking the wording of that question and how people understand the word “religion’ may well have skewed the response.

    What do you think?

  • http://cyberbrethren.typepad.com/cyberbrethren/2008/06/to-live-with-christ-daily-devotions-by-bo-giertz.html Rev. PTM

    I’ve been reading in the survey, which is truly a “must read” — very, very interesting indeed.

    I was wondering what you think of this.

    I think a lot of us are shocked at the thought that such a very high percentage, apparently even members of our own congregations, are indicating that “other religions lead to heaven.”

    But, as I am reading the survey, I’m thinking that just perhaps there is a problem in what the question said, or didn’t say.

    Let me explain.

    I think that many conservative Christians may hear the word “other religions” to mean, effectively, other Christian denominations. There are lots of people when asked “What religion are you?” will answer with a denominational affiliation.

    I’ll look forward to reading the survey more closely, but I’m pretty sure that if the question put to conservative Christians was:

    “Do non-Christian religions lead people to heaven?” the response would have been significantly different.

    Perhaps somebody has already read the Pew survey closely enough to be able to correct my assumptions, but so far I’m thinking the wording of that question and how people understand the word “religion’ may well have skewed the response.

    What do you think?

  • Steve Rowe

    I have never known how to deal with the entire issue of “Absolute Metaphysical Certainly”. Can anyone who reads this blog honesty say absolutely certain of any thing short of perhaps the existence of God? One of the reasons that I left main stream evangelicalism for Anglicanism is that the preaching and pastoral care I received recognized that such certainty was probably impossible and that I should stop trying to eliminate my doubts and instead learns to live with them. It was amazingly liberating, like when my 10th grade English teacher stop trying to teach me (a profound dyslexic) to spell and instead told me just to write what I wanted and fix the spelling latter. Yes I still have doubts (some very deep and profound) but I am learning to lead a life of faith in spite of them.

  • Steve Rowe

    I have never known how to deal with the entire issue of “Absolute Metaphysical Certainly”. Can anyone who reads this blog honesty say absolutely certain of any thing short of perhaps the existence of God? One of the reasons that I left main stream evangelicalism for Anglicanism is that the preaching and pastoral care I received recognized that such certainty was probably impossible and that I should stop trying to eliminate my doubts and instead learns to live with them. It was amazingly liberating, like when my 10th grade English teacher stop trying to teach me (a profound dyslexic) to spell and instead told me just to write what I wanted and fix the spelling latter. Yes I still have doubts (some very deep and profound) but I am learning to lead a life of faith in spite of them.

  • Matt L

    “9% seldom go to church; 2% never do”

    That’s an interesting, and yet significant statistic, as well over half of those who identify themselves as Missouri Synod Lutherans seldomly or never go to church… sad to say… the picture might even be worse if the survey reflected that reality.

  • Matt L

    “9% seldom go to church; 2% never do”

    That’s an interesting, and yet significant statistic, as well over half of those who identify themselves as Missouri Synod Lutherans seldomly or never go to church… sad to say… the picture might even be worse if the survey reflected that reality.

  • Carl Vehse

    When one LCMS pastor co-officiates a prayer service with heathen clerics, writes “The Muslim god is also the true God”, and is supported by the synodical president, and when the LCMS official who suspends that pastor and calls his actions the “spiritually copulative act of adultery”, is fired from one job and voted out of another job by the synodical convention, it is not surprising the Pew Survey data shows a significant number of members of Missouri Synod congregations have doctrinal IQs below freezing.

  • Carl Vehse

    When one LCMS pastor co-officiates a prayer service with heathen clerics, writes “The Muslim god is also the true God”, and is supported by the synodical president, and when the LCMS official who suspends that pastor and calls his actions the “spiritually copulative act of adultery”, is fired from one job and voted out of another job by the synodical convention, it is not surprising the Pew Survey data shows a significant number of members of Missouri Synod congregations have doctrinal IQs below freezing.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer TK

    I’m sad, though not completely surprised, that some WELS Lutherans described themselves at “born-again or evangelical Christian”. I wonder if they (and some LCMS Lutherans) were trying to make a statement about the true meaning of evangelical. Or were they merely indicating their belief in being born-again of their own choice?

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer TK

    I’m sad, though not completely surprised, that some WELS Lutherans described themselves at “born-again or evangelical Christian”. I wonder if they (and some LCMS Lutherans) were trying to make a statement about the true meaning of evangelical. Or were they merely indicating their belief in being born-again of their own choice?

  • http://heresyhunter.blogspot.com Bob Hunter

    Rev. PTM makes a good point. I’d like to see some Lutheran pastors do a similar survey in their own churches just to see what they’re congregation believes. This might give a more accurate result.

  • http://heresyhunter.blogspot.com Bob Hunter

    Rev. PTM makes a good point. I’d like to see some Lutheran pastors do a similar survey in their own churches just to see what they’re congregation believes. This might give a more accurate result.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    For the record, here is the question asked about other “religions” leading to eternal life: “Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. First/next: My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, OR Many religions can lead to eternal life.” I tend to agree with PTM (@1) on this one, that I might agree with the second answer because I’m thinking of Catholics, say, as a different religion.

    And here is the question asked about literal interpretation of scripture for Christians: “Which comes closest to your view? The Bible is the word of God, OR the Bible is a book written by men and is not the word of God? [IF BELIEVE THE BIBLE IS WORD OF GOD, ASK:] And would you say that the Bible is to be taken literally, word for word, OR Not everything in the Bible should be taken literally, word for word?”

    Myself, perhaps thinking about corner cases too much, I’d have a hard time on the second question, because while I believe I take the Bible literally, I can also imagine a Reformed person asking, “But you don’t believe in a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ, do you?” And it’s true — I don’t take the Bible literally in that sense, because I believe that’s figurative language. I’m not sure how many other Lutherans would hem and haw over the definition of “literal” in this case, but it could muddy the results.

    As for other questions, the 28% figure in the quote above isn’t very accurate. Here’s the question: “Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. First/next: There is only ONE true way to interpret the teachings of my religion, OR There is MORE than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion.” It’s not just about “scripture”. Again, depending on what I’m thinking is included in “the teachings of my religion” (Biblical teaching vs. the other trappings of my denomination) when I answer, I might go either way.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    For the record, here is the question asked about other “religions” leading to eternal life: “Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. First/next: My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life, OR Many religions can lead to eternal life.” I tend to agree with PTM (@1) on this one, that I might agree with the second answer because I’m thinking of Catholics, say, as a different religion.

    And here is the question asked about literal interpretation of scripture for Christians: “Which comes closest to your view? The Bible is the word of God, OR the Bible is a book written by men and is not the word of God? [IF BELIEVE THE BIBLE IS WORD OF GOD, ASK:] And would you say that the Bible is to be taken literally, word for word, OR Not everything in the Bible should be taken literally, word for word?”

    Myself, perhaps thinking about corner cases too much, I’d have a hard time on the second question, because while I believe I take the Bible literally, I can also imagine a Reformed person asking, “But you don’t believe in a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ, do you?” And it’s true — I don’t take the Bible literally in that sense, because I believe that’s figurative language. I’m not sure how many other Lutherans would hem and haw over the definition of “literal” in this case, but it could muddy the results.

    As for other questions, the 28% figure in the quote above isn’t very accurate. Here’s the question: “Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right. First/next: There is only ONE true way to interpret the teachings of my religion, OR There is MORE than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion.” It’s not just about “scripture”. Again, depending on what I’m thinking is included in “the teachings of my religion” (Biblical teaching vs. the other trappings of my denomination) when I answer, I might go either way.

  • http://necessaryroughness.org Dan at Necessary Roughness

    Dr. Veith, thanks for linking to the blog post. I’ve fixed the title to be grammatically correct, so you may want to update the post.

    Also, great analysis from the gang here on What Does This (survey) Mean? :)

  • http://necessaryroughness.org Dan at Necessary Roughness

    Dr. Veith, thanks for linking to the blog post. I’ve fixed the title to be grammatically correct, so you may want to update the post.

    Also, great analysis from the gang here on What Does This (survey) Mean? :)

  • Bruce

    tODD: “Myself, perhaps thinking about corner cases too much, I’d have a hard time on the second question, because while I believe I take the Bible literally, I can also imagine a Reformed person asking, “But you don’t believe in a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ, do you?” And it’s true — I don’t take the Bible literally in that sense, because I believe that’s figurative language. I’m not sure how many other Lutherans would hem and haw over the definition of “literal” in this case, but it could muddy the results.”

    I’ve always understood that understanding scripture as scripture is written, e.g., poetry as poetry, history as history, apocryphal language as such–in other words, “in context”– was what is meant by taking the Bible literally. Any other understanding, seems to me, is stupid.

    Most of these comments bring up a main problem with these polls. A common understanding of terms does not exist in the populace, so what we get is fuzzy, fuzzy, fuzzy. I tend to take these with a large grain, even when they do confirm what I see and understand to be the case.

  • Bruce

    tODD: “Myself, perhaps thinking about corner cases too much, I’d have a hard time on the second question, because while I believe I take the Bible literally, I can also imagine a Reformed person asking, “But you don’t believe in a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ, do you?” And it’s true — I don’t take the Bible literally in that sense, because I believe that’s figurative language. I’m not sure how many other Lutherans would hem and haw over the definition of “literal” in this case, but it could muddy the results.”

    I’ve always understood that understanding scripture as scripture is written, e.g., poetry as poetry, history as history, apocryphal language as such–in other words, “in context”– was what is meant by taking the Bible literally. Any other understanding, seems to me, is stupid.

    Most of these comments bring up a main problem with these polls. A common understanding of terms does not exist in the populace, so what we get is fuzzy, fuzzy, fuzzy. I tend to take these with a large grain, even when they do confirm what I see and understand to be the case.

  • http://lutheranguest.blogspot.com/ Jim

    I’m unsure the LCMS numbers are as bad as all that:

    [1] Any pastor who believes that the Bible should “be taken literally word for word,” would not be ordained in the LCMS. Is Jesus literally a lamb and a lion? Does he literally have a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth? Further, the Augsburg expressly rejects every form of millenarianism, so no confessional Lutheran can affirm a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ.

    81 percent of LCMS respondents believed that the Bible is the Word of God. That’s pretty high.

    [2] On the “my religion is the one true faith” question: For many people, “religion” means “denomination.” (“What’s your religion?” “Why, I’m a Lutheran.”) It’s a sloppy question, so I don’t make much of the LCMS result, since LCMS Christians do not affirm that only LCMS Christians (and those in altar fellowship with the LCMS) are saved.

  • http://lutheranguest.blogspot.com/ Jim

    I’m unsure the LCMS numbers are as bad as all that:

    [1] Any pastor who believes that the Bible should “be taken literally word for word,” would not be ordained in the LCMS. Is Jesus literally a lamb and a lion? Does he literally have a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth? Further, the Augsburg expressly rejects every form of millenarianism, so no confessional Lutheran can affirm a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ.

    81 percent of LCMS respondents believed that the Bible is the Word of God. That’s pretty high.

    [2] On the “my religion is the one true faith” question: For many people, “religion” means “denomination.” (“What’s your religion?” “Why, I’m a Lutheran.”) It’s a sloppy question, so I don’t make much of the LCMS result, since LCMS Christians do not affirm that only LCMS Christians (and those in altar fellowship with the LCMS) are saved.

  • Neely Owen ["Rocky"]

    It reminds me of Ghandi’s supposed comment that he liked our Christ but didn’t like our Christians.

  • Neely Owen ["Rocky"]

    It reminds me of Ghandi’s supposed comment that he liked our Christ but didn’t like our Christians.

  • http://necessaryroughness.org Dan at Necessary Roughness

    Jim:

    I tried to address your comment on my post. Thanks for visiting!

  • http://necessaryroughness.org Dan at Necessary Roughness

    Jim:

    I tried to address your comment on my post. Thanks for visiting!

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  • http://www.RadicalGraceRadio.com Matthew Pancake

    We’re doing our show about this tomorrow at 2PM eastern. It’s going to be a tough one for me because I have a place in my heart for people who are so muddled in their understanding… Because I used to be just like them.

    How can people believe this and say they love Jesus? “Oh, you didn’t die for them Jesus, you died for me”… What utter hubris. This gives me some new things to listen for when I hear evangelicals talk and preach. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the survey doesn’t imply that the statement I just quoted is what evangelicals really mean when they say that other religions can lead to God and salvation, but I do think there is at least a history to it. The proclamation went from “the Gospel is for all people” to “It’s only for a select few” to “It’s for us and not you” to “It’s for just us and your religion is just fine for you”.

    I think there is a definate connection.

  • http://www.RadicalGraceRadio.com Matthew Pancake

    We’re doing our show about this tomorrow at 2PM eastern. It’s going to be a tough one for me because I have a place in my heart for people who are so muddled in their understanding… Because I used to be just like them.

    How can people believe this and say they love Jesus? “Oh, you didn’t die for them Jesus, you died for me”… What utter hubris. This gives me some new things to listen for when I hear evangelicals talk and preach. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the survey doesn’t imply that the statement I just quoted is what evangelicals really mean when they say that other religions can lead to God and salvation, but I do think there is at least a history to it. The proclamation went from “the Gospel is for all people” to “It’s only for a select few” to “It’s for us and not you” to “It’s for just us and your religion is just fine for you”.

    I think there is a definate connection.

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