Has Lutheranism Avoided Denominationalism?

Has Lutheranism Avoided Denominationalism? August 10, 2022

Widespread Lutheran Compromise & Caving on Abortion & Same-Sex “Marriage”

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Dr. Victor Andrade is a Brazilian Lutheran (IELB), a medical doctor with a postgraduate in psychiatry, who also has a degree in theology from the Lutheran University of Brazil, and a degree in philosophy from the Atlantic Academy (UNINGÁ).

This is a reply to the final portion of his article, Como Lutero e os teólogos evangélicos consideravam as comunidades “calvinistas”? [How did Luther and evangelical theologians view “Calvinist” communities?] (Instituto Areté, 8-9-22). I used Google Translate to render his Portugese into English.

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Here is that final section:

A few days ago I just commented in passing on my Facebook page about this aspect of our ecclesiology, which is not denominational. Lutheranism is not a denomination and doesn’t have denominations. Calvinists have denominations. If we read the list of ecclesiastical bodies on the World Reformed Community website, we will find there hundreds of religious communities with hundreds of different doctrines and practices, which mutually recognize each other. They are not concerned that there is only one truth, one baptism, one faith.  . . .

[D]enominationalism is a unique characteristic of Calvinists and the other evangelicals that came from them. All other ancient Christian traditions also maintain an ecclesiological perspective similar to ours.

This is quite the novelty: to read one Protestant denomination among the multiple hundreds and thousands of Protestant sects claim that it is not denominational or sectarian. Talk about tunnel vision! Somehow Dr. Andrade has this notion in his head that Lutheranism has avoided this universal shortcoming of all Protestant sects. But that’s the game that both Lutherans and Calvinists play: deluding themselves — somehow, in some fashion — that they represent the unique historical continuation of the early Church and the theological legacy and tradition of the Church fathers, over against Catholicism and Orthodoxy, which supposedly don’t do so. Hence, he implies that Lutheranism is an “ancient Christian tradition” among others. How, pray tell, does he define “ancient”?

My present purpose is not to defend the Catholic historical pedigree and absolute uniqueness and status as the one true Church established by Jesus Christ, with St. Peter as its first leader and pope. I’ve done that many times elsewhere. Here I am concentrating on this novel interpretation set forth: that Lutheranism is supposedly not “denominational” in the way that Reformed Protestants / Calvinists are.

I recently wrote a paper thoroughly condemning “Unbiblical Denominationalism” from the Bible and reason. I need not reiterate all those arguments here. As far as I am concerned, they refute (beyond repair) the ecclesiology of Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism and every other Protestant denomination. Only God knows the huge total number of them and the incalculable number of contradictions and individual falsehoods logically entailed. I will simply show that Lutheranism is not immune from this characteristic that is (and must, by nature, be) in the “Protestant DNA.” Dr. Andrade is living in a fantasy world insofar as he claims that it is.

Note, before we begin, that Dr. Andrade observed how the Reformed denominations “mutually recognize each other.” He hasn’t made it a debate-point to concentrate on “mutual anathemas” or institutional disunity and clashing, although he does recognize “hundreds of different doctrines and practices” among them. Therefore, if the various Lutheran denominations “mutually recognize each other” (despite the usual dozens of doctrinal and moral contradictions) it’s the same scenario that he condemns in the Reformed Protestants: making his proposition all the more absurd and self-refuting.

First, we go to the well-known work, Handbook of Denominations in the United States, by Frank S. Mead (Nashville / New York: Abingdon Press). Unfortunately, I have the 5th edition from 1970 in my own library. But it will suffice to make my point. Its section on “Lutherans” runs from pages 126-136. It lists eleven different Lutheran groups, just in America. Under “Presbyterians” it lists ten different bodies, from pages 168-179, and under “Reformed Bodies” (pp. 184-188), six more. This is not a vast difference: 11 independent Lutheran bodies vs. 16 Presbyterian / Reformed. From where we sit as Catholics, that’s “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.” See also the Wikipedia article, “List of Lutheran denominations.”

One large Lutheran body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), came from a merger of three groups in 1988: The American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Lutheran Church in America. ELCA now has 3.3 million members: making it the largest Lutheran body in America (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod: the traditional denomination, has 1.8 million members). In its 1991 policy statement, it supported legal abortion up to the time of viability:

The position of this church is that, in cases where the life of the mother is threatened, where pregnancy results from rape or incest, or where the embryo or fetus has lethal abnormalities incompatible with life, abortion prior to viability should not be prohibited by law or by lack of public funding of abortions for low income women.

The statement (in typical secularist / leftist fashion) tries to be nuanced and sophisticated about ending pre-viability baby’s lives:

Although abortion raises significant moral issues at any stage of fetal development, the closer the life in the womb comes to full term the more serious such issues become. When a child can survive outside a womb, it becomes possible for other people, and not only the mother, to nourish and care for the child. This church opposes ending intrauterine life when a fetus is developed enough to live outside a uterus with the aid of reasonable and necessary technology.

It’s been the pro-abortion mentality all along to focus almost obsessively on the “hard cases”: when in fact, in the US, abortion has been legal for all nine months of pregnancy in all states, prior to Roe v. Wade recently being overturned. THE ELCA buys into this barbaric secular “standard” of morality. The “Presiding Bishop” of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, issued a “pastoral message” after Roe was overturned. Among other things, she wrote:

Overturning Roe v. Wade and placing decisions about abortion regulation at the state level encumbers and endangers the lives of all persons who need to make decisions about unexpected pregnancies. . . . [she seems utterly oblivious to the tragic and pathetic irony of these words]

Further, our church teaching holds that there are no exclusive rights in pregnancy. A pregnant person does not have an exclusive right to abort a fetus at all points during the pregnancy. A developing life does not have an exclusive right to be born (p. 2). This church does not support abortion as a normative form of birth control but rather understands it as necessary in some morally responsible circumstances.

In the ELCA, “gay marriage” and ordination of homosexual persons are encouraged:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran church body in the United States, allows for LGBTQ+ marriage and ordination of LGBTQ+ clergy. ELCA policy states that LGBTQ+ individuals are welcome and encouraged to become members and to participate in the life of the congregation. The ELCA has provided supplemental resources for the rite of marriage in Evangelical Lutheran Worship which use inclusive language and are suitable for use in LGBTQ+ marriage ceremonies. . . .

In 2013, Guy Erwin, who has lived in a gay partnership for 19 years, was installed in California as Bishop of the ELCA’s Southwest California Synod, becoming the first openly gay person to serve as a Bishop in the ELCA. (Wikipedia: “Homosexuality and Lutheranism” [“Evangelical Lutheran Church in America”])

Female pastors have long since been accepted in ELCA:

The ELCA ordains women as pastors, a practice that all three of its predecessor churches adopted in the 1970s (The ALC and LCA in 1970, the AELC in 1976). Some women have become bishops, though the number is still low. The first female bishop, April Ulring Larson, was elected in the La Crosse area synod in 1992. (Wikipedia: “Evangelical Lutheran Church in America”: “Role of Women”)

In Germany, Lutherans are virtually entirely compromised on the issue of homosexuality and homosexual unions:

The Evangelical Church in Germany (GermanEvangelische Kirche in Deutschland, abbreviated EKD) is a federation of twenty LutheranReformed (Calvinist) and United (e.g. Prussian UnionProtestant regional churches and denominations in Germany, which collectively encompasses the vast majority of Protestants in that country. In 2020, the EKD had a membership of 20,236,000 members, or 24.3% of the German population. (Wikipedia: “Evangelical Church in Germany”).

In the year 2000, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) passed the resolution Verantwortung und Verlässlichkeit stärken, in which same-gender partnerships are supported. In November 2010, EKD passed a new right for LGBT ordination of homosexual ministers, who live in civil unions. All churches within the EKD allowed blessing of same-sex marriages. (Wikipedia: “Homosexuality and Lutheranism”: “Synods allowing homosexual relationships”)

Lutherans form eight of the 20 bodies in the EKD:

  1. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria (Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche in Bayern). [2,252,159]
  2. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brunswick (Evangelisch-Lutherische Landeskirche in Braunschweig). [311,518]
  3. Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Hanover (Evangelisch-Lutherische Landeskirche Hannovers). [2,426,686]
  4. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche in Norddeutschland). [1,892,749]
  5. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Oldenburg (Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche in Oldenburg). [390,072]
  6. Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony (Evangelisch-Lutherische Landeskirche Sachsens). [647,238]
  7. Evangelical Lutheran Church of Schaumburg-Lippe (Evangelisch-Lutherische Landeskirche Schaumburg-Lippe). [48,171]
  8. Evangelical Church in Württemberg (Evangelische Landeskirche in Württemberg). [1,914,425]

But ten more denominations in Germany in the EKD are combined Lutheran and Reformed. Are there any Lutheran denominations in Germany that actually continue historic Lutheran teachings? Sure, there are a few: Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church, with 33,000 members, “does not ordain women as pastors, and is strictly against the blessing of gay couples.” Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (Germany) has “1,300 members in 17 congregations.”

So we see that traditional, historic Lutheranism is alive and well in Germany. It’s just that  liberal/ heterodox Lutherans in Germany outnumber them by a ratio of 590 to one (20.24 million vs. 34,300). If we add up the numbers of the Lutheran-only members of the EKD (the eight above) it comes out to 9,883,018, which is a much better 288-to-one ration (heterodox / compromised vs. traditional orthodox). But they are all one, and one Church, so we’re told.

The situation with Lutherans in Nordic countries in Europe is no less dismal:

The Church of Iceland [229,146] allows same-sex marriage. The Church of Sweden [5,628,067] has permitted the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of partnered gays and lesbians since 2006. Starting in November 2009, the church officiates same-sex marriage, after the Riksdag allowed same-sex marriage starting 1 May 2009 – however, individual priests can choose not to perform marriages for couples of the same gender. The Church of Denmark [4,296,800] also provides for such blessings, as does the Church of Norway [3,686,715], which also ordains gays and lesbians. (Wikipedia: “Homosexuality and Lutheranism”: “Nordic countries”)

But all these Lutheran denominations, whether favoring female ordination or abortion or same-sex “marriages”; homosexual ordination, etc., are really one, and one big happy family. Remember, Dr. Andrade “informed” us that “Lutheranism is not a denomination and doesn’t have denominations.” Lutherans, unlike Calvinists (so he says) are “concerned that there is only one truth, one baptism, one faith.”

Right. So despite the fact that the vast majority of Lutherans in the world are members of Lutheran sects that now officially think that sodomy is fine and that those practicing it can be pastors and bishops, and that abortion is fine and dandy, they’re all “one” and don’t suffer from the sectarianism that plagues Calvinism.

Dr. Andrade’s own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil [Igreja Evangélica Luterana do Brasil, IELB), has 243,093 baptized members and is historically connected with the traditional Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. See its website in Portugese. Because of its pedigree, I am assuming it is traditional in theology and morality. If not, my Brazilian readers (or Dr. Andrade himself) can correct me with regard to that educated guess.

There are also (I am happy to note) Lutherans in the world still that recognize that marriage is between a man and a woman and that homosexual sex is intrinsically disordered. Wikipedia: (“Homosexuality and Lutheranism”) lists them:

In North America

In Europe

The problem is that there just aren’t that many total numbers of Lutherans who follow traditional, historic, orthodox Lutheranism on this score, compared to the exponentially greater number of Lutherans who no longer do so. I have listed the numbers of members in each Lutheran sect above, for a sense of perspective. Here are the sad numbers (for Europe and North America only) of Lutherans who accept “gay marriage” or who bless same-sex “marriages” vs. those who hold to traditional Lutheran morality. I have used membership numbers for the Lutheran denominations only, in the EDK (9,883,018).

Against Traditional Lutheran Morality on Marriage and Sexuality

European Lutheran sects (membership): 23,723,746

American Lutheran sects (membership): 3,300,000

Total: 27,023,746

Follow Traditional Lutheran Morality on Marriage and Sexuality

European Lutheran sects (membership): 830,832

American Lutheran sects (membership): 2,720,767

Total: 3,551,599

Thus, by a ration of 7.6 to one, Lutherans in Europe and North America reject traditional sexual teachings of Lutheranism. Out of 30.6 million Lutherans, only 12% actually hold to the moral teachings of historic Lutheranism on sexuality and marriage.

On the issue of abortion, it’s pretty much the same. The Lutheran denominations in America besides ELCA oppose it, just as Luther and historic Lutheranism did.  The Lutheran groups in Europe are overwhelmingly in favor of childkilling. America has far more theological and moral traditionalism within Lutheranism, but still a majority are against that: going by official statements and numbers of members (it goes without saying that members often are unaware of what their denominations have officially espoused).

But by numbers alone, there are 6,020,767 Lutherans in the United States. 55% of them are in denomination that is doctrinally and morally liberal. In Europe it is far worse. Out of 24,554,578 professed Lutherans, only 3.4% follow traditional Lutheran moral teachings.

This being the case, how could Lutheranism be “one church”? It’s ludicrous. There are Lutherans elsewhere in the world, too, of course, and the numbers might become more even if they were taken into account. But in any event, there is much division on these moral issues, and in no way can world Lutheranism be described as one unified church with no denominations.

The Catholic Church is the one Church of the Bible. We oppose abortion. Period. We oppose sodomy and so-called “gay marriage.” Period. We don’t ordain women. We’re against cohabitation and contraception and euthanasia and infanticide and divorce. These are all our official positions, and this moral and apostolic traditionalism makes us absolutely unique. No other Christian communion of any size is that morally consistent.

Even the Orthodox, who pride themselves on their traditionalism, allow divorce and contraception. It was for these reasons that I never seriously considered them when I was considering leaving evangelical Protestantism for the “apostolic” faith: because their position on those two issues is not apostolic, and completely reverses the teachings of the Bible and the early Church. A reversal or rejection is obviously not a consistent development.

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Another member of Dr. Andrade’s Lutheran communion (the IELB), Fabio Bighetti, chimed in, in my combox. His words will be in blue. I have edited a bit for topical focus. The original can be read on my blog.

[Victor’s] Church is not in communion with those other Lutheran bodies that you pointed out in the article, like the ELCA, the Church of Sweden, etc. The IELB is a Lutheran Church planted by and in communion with the LCMS and SELK, which are not part of the LWF and do not recognise other ecclesiastical bodies who are in communion with Calvinists and/or practice lawlessness. IELB is part of the ILC and is only in communion and recognises other Lutheran churches that are part of it. So your whole point that Lutherans are denominational and your attempt to prove it through the variety of churches in the LFW is useless, since he, as an orthodox Lutheran, also does not approve or recognise these as anything more than also, as you called them, sects.

Whether he happens to be in a traditional denomination has absolutely no bearing on my point, which is that Lutheranism is split into diametrically opposed parts (if we are talking abortion and sodomy). It’s typical Protestant splintering and sectarianism. There are relative good guys and bad guys (I cheer the conservative Lutherans, as far as they go), but it doesn’t change the fact that there are divisions and that it’s ludicrous to claim that this is the “one true Church” and that it’s fundamentally different from Calvinist splintering. Denominationalism is utterly unbiblical and indefensible. Playing word games doesn’t change that fact.

Your whole approach towards Andrade’s argument is to point out said inconsistencies in Lutheranism, pointing out other Lutheran bodies with doctrinal differences that he would have to recognise, but you fail to understand that Andrade’s Lutheran Church body does not recognise them and neither does he. Actually, he and his Church are very consistent on pointing out that these other said Lutheran bodies that got in communion with Calvinists and now have different faiths and practices are also sects. Your whole argument falls apart. He agrees that these are sects and he does not take part in being in communion or recognising them, just as his Church does not. You missed the whole view of your opponent and his Church, how it operates and its theology.

You’re the one who doesn’t get it. You don’t grasp my argument at all. But that’s how many Protestants are. You’re like fish in an aquarium that can’t comprehend a world larger than that or how those outside the “aquarium” view you.

If he or you want to argue that your denomination with 243,000 people represents historic Lutheranism or Lutheranism, period, you and/or he can try to make that laughable argument. That would really reflect God’s power and providence and protection, wouldn’t it? 243,000 people (or perhaps your group + other traditional Lutheran groups) represent the one true Church . . .

If Lutheranism was truly God’s one true Church, it would have grown to tremendous numbers like Catholicism and Orthodoxy have. Instead we have maybe 85 million worldwide, and a huge proportion of those don’t even accept the wrongness of childkilling and sodomy? That makes a mockery of God and His providence to even make such a ludicrous “argument.” A tiny tiny number would ever be able to locate the “one true Church” if that were the case. And this is contrary to God’s mercy.

The same criticism, of course, applies to Tourinho’s Calvinism, too. Five-point Calvinism is a tiny, tiny group among all the world’s Christians today. I critiqued Victor Andrade in this paper, but the same exact criticism could be made against the Reformed / Calvinists, or indeed against any Protestant sect / denomination. It’s because fundamental premises of ecclesiology are wrong in all of them.

***

Dr. Andrade is already attempting to deflect my argument by talking about the dissident Catholics in Germany. I replied on his Facebook page:

Your answer to my critique is not helped by invoking the good old “your dad’s uglier than mine” fallacy. The critique has to do with Protestant internal contradictions. Your burden is to explain those differently, and to show that my critique is invalid, so that there are no such contradictions in your view.

Hence, appealing to supposed difficulties in Catholicism is not the solution to your dilemma. It’s a non sequitur, and I will ignore it if you try to use that silly and evasive tactic.
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It seems like the Protestant answer to every critique sent their way by Catholics is: “But Catholics . . . [some terrible thing, real or imagined] . . .” One must never defend one’s own view; only attack other views: seems to be the mentality there.
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You went after the Calvinists, now you are coming after Catholicism. But your task is to defend your view.
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It already looks like this will be a fruitless, futile, worthless effort, especially since subtle personal attacks (albeit mild ones so far) are starting. If Dr. Andrade makes a reply along these lines, I wouldn’t waste my time interacting with it. Just so my readers know why, if I don’t reply . . .

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Lastly, a big issue has been made by Dr. Andrade and his cheerleading fan club about a simple mistake I made in my original draft. He is in a Brazilian Lutheran communion abbreviated “IELB” and I confused it with another known by “IECLB” I wrongly assumed that they were both referring to the same group. He corrected me on my Facebook page, saying, “I’m not a member of the IECLB. Please correct your article as it contains untruths. My synod is IELB.” I replied: “Sorry! It’s confusing with the Lutheran alphabet soup (one-letter difference). I am modifying that right now. Of course it has no bearing on my overall point.”
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All that occurred 18 hours ago, as I write. Yet on Dr. Andrade’s page, he still has up a screenshot of my error that I retracted and removed. So I protested on his page:

I corrected the mistake about your affiliation (including saying I was sorry) within 12 minutes of you informing me about it on my Facebook page. But here you are still showing a screenshot of it 17 hours later, knowing that I corrected it. Is that Christian charity?
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You really think it was a terrible mistake, to confuse IELB with IECLB? I thought it was the same group, just abbreviated differently. It’s not easy to keep all the thousands of Protestant denominations straight: and in this case the abbreviation was for Portugese words. As soon as I was informed that I made the mistake, it was corrected, and I publicly apologized.
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I was taught as an evangelical (and also as a Catholic) that if someone apologizes for a mistake, you forgive them and stop making it an issue: stop throwing it in their face. I assume that ethical principle is held by Brazilian Lutherans, too, no? If so, one sure wouldn’t know it by reading this thread.
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Forgiven? Yet you keep talking about it and keeping the screenshot? That’s not how Christian forgiveness works.
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That received a snide remark back, so it looks like this dialogue is over before it even begins. Likely, this mistake will continue to be talked about if the whole thing breaks down. And because that is likely, I wanted to have everything on the record as to what actually happened. I made an innocent, completely understandable mistake; corrected it immediately when I was informed of it, yet it continued to be thrown in my face.
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That’s not conducive to constructive dialogue. I have better things to do. Now I’ll likely be accused of having a thin skin and being a coward if I don’t reply a second time. I’ve been through it all before. Let them make all the false charges they want. I will continue with the same outlook about dialogue I have always had. It can only be done in an atmosphere of mutual respect and a lack of acrimony and “gossip” carried on behind the scenes. Preferably, some minimal degree of friendship should be present, too, for a truly good dialogue.
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In my very in-depth (presently ongoing) dialogue on justification with Brazilian Calvinist Francisco Tourinho (see my first reply of what will be a book in Brazil), we have both worked very hard on making it a substantive, educational exchange, minus all personal attacks. We’ve each gained the other’s respect. Consequently, it’s one of the best, most substantive dialogues I have ever been involved in (out of more than a thousand online). That being the case, I’m all the more reluctant to spend valuable time engaging in exchanges that are of a low quality. Once one has achieved the gold standard, one doesn’t go back to cheap imitations.
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Dr. Andrade — who continues to display a screenshot of what I apologized for — is still talking trash on his Facebook page more than 22 hours later: “I’m not getting revenge on you. Just wanted to show how rushed your analysis is. This shows reckless judgement on your part.”
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Again, I don’t have time for juvenile fools.
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Summary: Brazilian Lutheran apologist Dr. Victor Andrade says Lutheranism is unified & lacks competing denominations, like (so he says) Calvinists do. I cut through this fantasy.


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