A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod

Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk converted to Lutheranism, something we discussed at length not too long ago.  Many of us were dismayed that we went the route of the ELCA rather than the more conservative synods (LCMS, WELS, ELS). He addresses that, with reference to our discussions here, in a recent post entitled The Post-Evangelical Path and Wilderness Update.

One reason he said in that latter post is that he couldn’t join the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod because we insist on 7-day creationism and he has a different position.  I’ve heard that said by other folks who have a problem with that teaching and thus with the LCMS.  But that was new to me.  Where, I wondered, is that taught as a binding doctrine?

I found it in a document entitled “A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of he Missouri Synod,” which was put out in 1932.  Here is a link:  LCMS Documents.

The article on Creation does specify that we follow the Bible literally in its account of the creation, including that it happened in 6 days.  It does not, however, contrary to what I had heard, specify “24 hour days” or that this is a “young earth,” issues that came to the fore well after 1932.

I myself would have no problem subscribing to the “Brief Statement,” but I’m curious about its status and its authority.  The “Brief Statement” has lots of good stuff in it.  At the same time, I was surprised to see how much it leaves out.  There is a section on the means of grace, but I saw nothing specifically on the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and hardly anything  about Baptism.  Quite a bit on church & ministry, but nothing on worship.  It speaks of good works, but not vocation.  There is nothing on the Theology of the Cross.  It addresses Justification but not the Atonement.  There are sections on predestination and conversion that stress certain similarities of  Lutheranism to Calvinism.  In all, it seems to be a very Protestant document.

To be sure, it points to the Book of Concord as the definitive exposition of Lutheran theology, not in itself but only because it is derived from the Word of God, the only true authority.

Could someone who knows tell us a little about this document?  It can’t be on the level of the Book of Concord.  When we laypeople join the church we agree to the Word of God as confessed in the Small Catechism, as well as the confessions in the Book of Concord.  Does a layperson have to believe in everything in the “Brief Statement”?  Do pastors?

I believe the “Brief Statement” is one of those documents adopted by convention, along with other statements from the Commission on Theology & Church Relations and the like.  These too have an official status.  To what degree must a member of the LCMS subscribe to those?  (And do WELS, ELS, and other conservative Lutheran bodies–especially those in the old Synodical Council–also sign on to this?)

I agree that the church cannot just rest on its past confessions and must address new theological issues as they arise.  Should the LCMS come up with a rather less brief statement of its doctrinal position, setting forth Lutheran teachings more fully and dealing with recent theological controversies (the new perspective on Paul; the current questioning about justification and the atonement, the inerrancy of Scripture, etc.)?  Or is it better to stick with the historic confessions and leave some things open?

The ex-Lutheran Republican primary

Newt Gingrich grew up Lutheran!  So did Ron Paul.  So did Michele Bachmann.  And Jon Huntsman, though a Mormon, went to a Lutheran school in Los Angeles.

That Paul and Bachmann used to be Lutherans is common knowledge, but I did not know about Gingrich.  (The article, below, says that he grew up in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, which has three ELCA congregations, not that that body existed back then.  Paul also was raised in a non-LCMS congregation, as I recall, but perhaps someone else knows the details.  Bachmann was a lifelong member of the Wisconsin Synod until very recently, when she left that church body because her opponents were making much of its teaching that the pope is the antichrist.  Paul is now a Baptist.  Gingrich left Lutheranism in college to become a Baptist and recently converted to Roman Catholicism.  Huntsman, of course, was never a Lutheran, but in any Lutheran elementary school he would have studied the Small Catechism.)

I thank my friend Aaron Lewis for alerting me to these facts and for going to the trouble to find sources for the information (below).

So what are we to make of the fact that four of the seven Republican candidates for the presidential nomination have some sort of Lutheran backgrounds?

Aaron finds a common theme:  “It could be that their proclivity for constitutionalism could go back to the ad fontes mood of the Small Catechism.”

Maybe.  On the other hand, I’m dismayed at the prospect of voting for anyone who can not be trusted to keep his or her confirmation vows!  (“Do you as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”  That confession, by the way, is earlier defined in the rite as holding to the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God and as agreeing with the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as taught in the Small Catechism as being drawn from those Scriptures.)

Probably the ELCA doesn’t use that kind of vow anymore.  I don’t know what the different churches that merged to form that body in 1988 did in the old days.  Does WELS have that confirmation promise?  We Missouri Synod Lutherans do, as does the ELS.  We don’t need to discuss again whether requiring such a life-long promise is a good practice.  But surely if someone makes that commitment, it is a commitment!  To say it is “just a ritual” or “just something we make kids do” is to beg the question:  A promise is a promise, and it is wrong to take it lightly.)

Anyway, what do you make of all of this Lutheran background of the candidates?  (To me, this is not Lutheran triumphalism but rather the opposite!)

Do you see any trace of a Lutheran influence  in any of the candidates?  Are they testimonies of the need for better catechesis than they perhaps received?  Or does this just show that Lutheranism more or less lets people have whatever politics they want?

Newt Gingrich – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

New Gingrich’s Faith Journey

Jon Huntsman–Wikipedia

Confessing churches in Canada

In the Reformation, the catalytic issue was the sale of indulgences, but the underlying issue was the authority of the Word of God.  Today the catalytic issue has to do with sexuality, but the underlying issue, again, is the authority of the Word of God.  So says Matthew Block, Communications Manager for the Lutheran Church-Canada and editor of The Canadian Lutheran.   (He comments sometimes here as “Captain Thin”!)

He has written an interesting article about how this is playing out in Canada, specifically in the Anglican Church of that nation, which, as here, has split over the issue.  Matthew also notes the new affinity that is being explored between the new conservative Anglican bodies in Canada and the USA and conservative Lutheran church bodies (the LCMS and the LCC).

See Standing firm: The cost of confessing the Word of God.

Matthew also has an interview with J. I. Packer, the evangelical Anglican (I bet a lot of you didn’t know this popular writer is both Anglican and Canadian) whose church was one of the first to break away.   Note the distinction he makes between “ecumenism” and the possibilities of “partnership” among “confessing” church bodies: J. I. Packer on Biblical Authority, World Anglicanism, and Ecumenism.

I do like the terminology:  “confessing churches” is better than “conservative churches.”   “Confessing” means that they confess their faith rather than change or downplay it.  We Lutherans speak of being “confessional,” meaning adhering to our Lutheran confessions of faith.  I suppose “confessing” can refer to various churches that confess their own various theologies–Anglican, Calvinist, etc.–as opposed to those that have no particular theology.

Chaplain Mike on the Sacraments

The third installment from Chaplain Mike on what he is appreciating so much from  his new Lutheranism.  This time he focuses on the Sacraments.  Read the whole post, but here is a sample:

The sacramental perspective takes God’s presence and action in the midst of his creation seriously. Some expressions of faith are essentially world-denying and more akin to forms of Platonism or gnosticism that make radical distinctions between the material and spiritual worlds. From this perspective, God works and we grow “spiritually,” and this world is one we are “passing through” on our way to an ethereal heaven. The Lutheran tradition, on the other hand, rejoices that God is present and working throughout his creation, and that he especially works in and through simple elements like water, bread, wine, paper and ink to communicate his truth and love to his people. He meets us here, and he is leading us to a renewed creation.

Sacramental theology takes the Incarnation seriously. Jesus the Eternal Word, “became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). Sharing fully in our humanity and the experiences of life in this world, God visited his creation personally, spoke, broke bread with us, wept, touched broken bodies, and even died himself to identify with and redeem all who are in bondage to sin, evil, and death. The Spirit he sent now works through the Word and the Sacraments in the midst of his gathered people to apply the benefits of his saving work.

There is  much to learn about the Sacraments, but the primary shift for me, coming from the evangelical world, was simple. It involved coming to understand them as God’s works, not mine.

I no longer see baptism as something I do to profess my faith in Christ. I see it as something done to me through which God acts savingly. I no longer see Communion merely as something I do to remember Jesus. I see it as his Table, to which he invites me and at which he feeds me.

These practices are the means by which God’s grace in Christ is communicated to me, for in them his promises are made real in my life.

via How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (3) | internetmonk.com.

 

The beam in our Missouri Synod eyes

Friends, you should read the comments on Chaplain Mike’s sacrament post at Internet monk, linked above.  It’s touching how some of his evangelical readers are responding to what he is saying.

I have to say, though, that I’m kind of ashamed that some of these potential Lutherans have come to THIS blog, which Chaplain Mike links to, and are marveling about how all we Missouri Synod Lutherans can say about his joy in discovering Lutheran theology  is to castigate him for joining the ELCA!  There are comments to the effect that, I’m staying away from those LCMS types, but I might investigate the ELCA.   Thus our polemics against the ELCA turn people away from us and make the ELCA more attractive!  That’s not very effective argumentation, to make people agree more with your opponent than with you!

But there is something else that we Missouri Synod Lutherans need to face up to.  Say you are a disaffected “post-evangelical” who hears about Lutheranism.  It sounds like the kind of Christianity you are yearning for.  You are especially fed up with what passes for worship where you are now, and the sacramental spirituality that you are reading about in Lutheranism is more than compelling.  So you visit the local Missouri Synod congregation.   Isn’t it true that it is extremely likely that you will walk into a contemporary worship service with a pastor that is trying to out-evangelical the evangelicals?  You will go into an LCMS congregation looking for Lutheranism, but it may well be that you won’t find it!

I don’t know how many times I have heard about this happening, including from people who read my book Spirituality of the Cross:  The Way of the First Evangelicals.  (In fact, I know that this happened with some of you regular readers and commenters on this blog.)  So if someone finds Lutheranism in another synod–WELS, ELS, even ELCA–do we have the standing to complain?

What percentage of LCMS congregations do you think follow the historical Lutheran liturgy?  Half?  Less than half?  In some areas of the country, far less than that?   I have been in lots of Lutheran services and heard lots of sermons, not all of which distinguished Law & Gospel or even preached the Gospel.  Some of them were as therapeutic and as “theology of glory” and as “power of positive thinking” oriented as Joel Osteen.

I know these congregations all pledge allegiance to the same doctrinal standards, to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.   But do they really hold them in actuality?  Perhaps someone could explain to me, humble layman that I am, why, if we demand doctrinal agreement for pulpit and altar fellowship, we can commune with a congregation that exhibits no visible Lutheranism in its public teaching but simply is on the same LCMS roster.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m as supportive of the LCMS and as critical of liberal theology as anyone can be.  But to say that Chaplain Mike, in joining the ELCA, is just joining mainline liberal Protestantism is manifestly not true.  What he is finding in his congregation that he is responding to so gladly is not leftwing politics or feminism or gay marriages.  Rather, as he says, he is finding the centrality of Christ, Law & Gospel, vocation, worship, the sacraments, and the other things he is discussing in his three posts.

Now the problem with the ELCA is that many of their congregations do not concentrate on those Lutheran teachings and that our hypothetical seeker-after-Lutheranism may well not find them there either.  I would go so far as to say that he or she would be more likely to find them in the LCMS, for all of our problems, or in WELS or ELS or another conservative synod.  The problem in American Lutheranism has always been the temptation to conform to some variety of American Protestantism–whether mainline liberal (the ELCA’s temptation) or generic evangelicalism (the LCMS’s temptation)–rather than just being Lutheran.   Chaplain Mike will doubtless find that out.  In the meantime, we Lutherans need to welcome him into our tradition.  We might also think how we might welcome more like him, rather than scaring them away.

 

 

More from Chaplain Mike on Lutheranism

Chaplain Mike over at the blog Internet Monk has more to say about his conversion to Lutheranism. He focuses here on how helpful he is finding the Christ-centeredness of Lutheranism and the distinction between Law and Gospel:  How the Lutheran Tradition Answers Many Post-Evangelical Concerns (2) | internetmonk.com.

Read the comments too.  Other evangelicals there are drawn to these teachings, though some of them are stumbling over major misconceptions.  Maybe some of you could help.

[The discussion yesterday focused nearly exclusively on how Chaplain Mike has ended up at an ELCA congregation rather than at a more conservative congregation, such as one affiliated with the LCMS. Perhaps now we could discuss his larger point, how he has found his “post-evangelical concerns” answered in the Lutheran tradition.]


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