A Message from Pastor Hale
The media made a big deal of a recent agreement signed at Lund, Sweden between a liberal, non-confessional Lutheran organization and the Roman pope: “Pope Francis and the global Lutheran leader have jointly pledged to remove the obstacles to full unity between their Churches, leading eventually to shared Eucharist.” Who is the global Lutheran leader? The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod does not have a pope or global leader. We in the LCMS claim to be ruled by the Word of God, which is correctly interpreted for us in the 1580 Book of Concord. It is composed of documents (including the Small Catechism) written by men such as Martin Luther and by others of a generation later.
The media cannot conceive that not all Lutherans follow this “global leader,” who is currently Bishop Munib Younan from Jerusalem. It is like saying “The Iowans are in the College Football Playoff.” But Iowa State and the University of Iowa are quite different teams and the fate of one has nothing to do with the other. This global leader heads the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), comprised of some 145 churches from 79 countries. Of the many denominations in the U.S. using the name Lutheran, it includes only one: the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). While the word “Lutheran” looks good, a word does not make a church orthodox, or even Christian. We know churches, however, by their teaching.
What does the ELCA believe? They are in full altar and pulpit fellowship with the Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, and United Methodist Church. There is no meaningful confessional difference between any of these churches, according to their own agreements. To commune at one (even the “Lutheran” ELCA) is to commune at and confess unity with all of them. Agreeing to communion fellowship is tacit agreement of unity in doctrine, though in practice that is rarely the case. Most of the churches in fellowship with the ELCA have never held that Baptism saves, or that the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper is in reality the same body that died and blood that was shed on the cross for the sins of the world. But from a doctrinal perspective these different churches are exactly the same. Their agreements are a sham, or else confess that the ELCA and its partner churches believe nothing. Is this really the kind of unity and teaching the Roman church seeks to recognize? Perhaps the Roman global leader wants to believe nothing like these Lutherans of the LWF.
Don't be fooled by the word “Lutheran,” it does not cover a multitude of sins. What exactly has the ELCA taken a stand on recently? In 2009 they made a momentous decision to allow its pastors (including females, who have been accepted as pastors from its inception, contrary to 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12) to be practicing homosexuals, as long as they are in “committed same-sex relationships.” All its partner churches agree on this, or else they would not have made a public agreement of unity and joint communion. The ELCA and all its partner churches agree that the right to murder is important. Their own health benefits plan pays for abortions, with no stipulations. In the ELCA's “A Social Statement on: Abortion,” approved by assembly vote in 1991, it states: “A developing life in the womb does not have an absolute right to be born, nor does a pregnant woman have an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy. ... This requires that we move beyond the usual ‘pro-life’ versus ‘pro-choice’ language in discussing abortion.” There is no absolute position: the ELCA officially states no baby has an absolute right to live (to not be murdered), if the mother decides against it. Conversely, a mother does not have the right to murder all the time. This is not a Christian stance, no matter how many times the words “Luther” or “Lutheran” are used. Murder cannot be both good and bad at the same time.
Those who take communion in the ELCA, even in a local congregation that seems more conservative than its official statements, makes a positive confession of the entire doctrinal position of the ELCA. To commune at a church is to state that you believe all that its fellowship teaches and holds. A synod, or group of congregations, by definition, implies unity. The radical nature of the ELCA is difficult to comprehend for those in the LCMS who do not think of doctrine as changing and man-based. We believe that the truth from God is no different than it was in 1580 or at the creation of the world, because Christ and His Word do not change. The ELCA was formed in 1988 from several Lutheran synods. When mergers and communion agreements are made to impress the world, Christ's saving teaching is what gets left on the cutting room floor. While divisions are sad, if they are real, we must follow and confess Christ, even if it means being separated from others’ visibly. To ignore real division at the expense of confessing Christ is to deny Him, by failing to speak His truth. We should fear and love nothing more than the Word of God, which is what Scripture is. There is no other way to receive life, than in the words which tell us who Christ is and what He has done for us. His Word is life itself.
So what does this agreement between the LWF and the Roman leader mean? Nothing to those who rely on Christ's Word. Does anyone really think the Roman pontiff will give up his privilege to speak for God and supersede Scripture? Will all Catholics be forced to stop praying to saints and to deny purgatory? Or will the liberal Lutheran churches repent of accepting homosexual acts, murder, and not preaching any real law? No, the agreement deals only with the social issues of this visible world, not the teaching of Christ.
Visible unity is the goal — merely to look united, but not actually to be united on the basis of scriptural teaching. The Lund agreement states: “We also confess and lament before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the Church.” But is it only a superficial matter when Luther said that we are saved without works of the Law only by faith in Christ's blood, against the Roman church's position? No, it is a spiritual, doctrinal disagreement that is not healed by wimpy agreements or pretending to be united. But to “celebrate” (or rather, deny) the Reformation, the LWF and the Pope want to “cast off the historical disagreements and conflicts that impede the ministry of reconciliation.” The actual preaching of the ministry must be judged by the position taken on these historical disagreements. Faith, dependence on Christ's grace won by the real death of God's Son, is central to any Christian “ministry of reconciliation.” The doctrinal differences Martin Luther identified define exactly how God receives sinners and we can know that we are forgiven. This teaching of justification before the Father on account of Christ's works is never obsolete for churches which preach a real Gospel to those who have offended God and His holy law.
It is a sin to disobey Christ's Word by not confessing it. Embracing palatable, gospel-sounding words does not lead to the forgiveness Christ earned. The Lund Roman-Lutheran agreement states: “Christ desires that we be one, so that the world may believe.” But the world cannot believe, it is of the evil one. Christ calls people out of the world through the Gospel. Bigger churches, extensive fellowship agreements, and splashy announcements of unity do not give eternal comfort. Nothing of man can give divine certainty of salvation. Modern churches long for differences and divisions to be resolved — without actually confessing the truth though. The meat of the recent Lund agreement reads:
We pray to God for inspiration, encouragement and strength so that we may stand together in service, upholding human dignity and rights, especially for the poor, working for justice, and rejecting all forms of violence. God summons us to be close to all those who yearn for dignity, justice, peace and reconciliation. Today in particular, we raise our voices for an end to the violence and extremism which affect so many countries and communities, and countless sisters and brothers in Christ. We urge Lutherans and Catholics to work together to welcome the stranger, to come to the aid of those forced to flee because of war and persecution, and to defend the rights of refugees and those who seek asylum.
Our self-chosen rights are nil and worthless before God. Sinners do not deserve anything but death. Helping refugees and the poor can be done wisely and in Christian love, but our deeds have nothing to do with the forgiveness of Christ and our trust in what Christ says. Note that there is nothing about helping the unborn or the elderly in this fake agreement. This is simply the social justice language the ELCA has long used to allow any aberrant behavior.
The other major thrust of the Joint Statement on the Occasion of the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation is environmental: “our joint service in this world must extend to God’s creation, which suffers exploitation and the effects of insatiable greed. We recognize the right of future generations to enjoy God’s world in all its potential and beauty. We pray for a change of hearts and minds that leads to a loving and responsible way to care for creation.” It would be hard to find an atheist who would find this offensive. It says nothing essentially Christian. Man's works in “saving the world” become more significant than Christ's glorious death on the cross. This is simply the false religion of the world. We know that this world in bondage to decay is passing away, along with the sinful desires of man. But the churches seeking to look good before the world find it easier to talk about recycling paper than preaching sinners into heaven through the flesh of Christ.
Real doctrinal discussion is important. But too often theological “dialogue” simply means compromise and re-crucifying Christ so the media can celebrate divisions being signed away. But the doctrine, what we say of Christ that is measured by Scripture, is the heart of Christianity that actually makes Christians. Take away that and nothing is left to believe, confess, or preach. But the faithful minister of Christ has a far more difficult task than ignoring past disagreements: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Tit. 1:9). Until the doctrinal substance of the rebukes made by Luther against the Roman church are dealt with, every attempt at visible unity is a hypocrisy and minimization of Christ, the Lord. To move past the issues the Reformation highlighted, is to move past Christianity itself, since they revolve around the blessed reception of Christ's forgiveness.
To commune together is to receive Christ the Lord in His body and blood. It is also a visible confession and public statement of unity. It is to be done only where the public confession of Christ is true and united. This cannot be solidly done between individuals or based on personal whims and relationships, but takes place officially between churches and fellowships on the basis of Scripture. In this way we uplift Christ, since it is His Supper and doctrine, not ours. We should take the particular church we belong to and receive His precious body and blood at extremely seriously, since it voices what we believe about the Lord, who will judge the living and the dead. It is a matter of life and death — God the Son's death to be exact.
The teaching of our God conceived and born in order to be sacrificed for sins is more important than the feelings and acceptance of our family, neighbors, and the world. A false unity, a vague agreement that says nothing, or a false confession of fellowship is not of Christ, it is of Satan, who is quite impressed with visible things. However, true Christians do not confess for positive media coverage or to make sinners (even relatives) happy. Believers who follow the crucified God must suffer and be persecuted, just as their Lord was humbled. A true confession of Jesus, in accordance with Scripture, is not revealed by flesh and blood, but the Father who is in heaven (Mt. 16). It is worth more than the whole world and our earthly existence. Amen.