Would Luther Recognize the “Lutheran” Church Today?
“If my Lutheran church actually believes this kind of doctrine, they should remove the name Lutheran from our church sign.” These words were spoken to me several years ago by one of the members of a large Lutheran congregation in our town. He had heard about our church and had visited us on several occasions; and, during our many conversations, he began to understand the errors that were rampant in his church and synod. For a time he seemed determined to be obedient to the Scriptural command to mark and avoid doctrinal error (Romans 16:17); but sadly, because of pressure from his wife, he decided to stay and fight against the errors in his church. However, he was much too late; the poison of error had so thoroughly infected his church that the pure Law and Gospel were gone. Today he is still a member of that Lutheran church, but he has stopped speaking out against error. Like thousands of others in the modern Lutheran synods, his refusal to separate from false doctrine finally resulted in a quiet surrender to error.
How far has the doctrinal deterioration of modern Lutheranism progressed? In this man’s ELCA Lutheran Church, every Tuesday night the entire community is invited to attend a support group specifically designed for the parents and so-called friends of practicing lesbians and homosexuals. The stated objective of this national organization is to encourage acceptance by others of the perverted sexual behavior of the “gay community.” This Lutheran church openly accepts and communes known homosexuals at their communion rail each Sunday without any concern for what the Word of God teaches about this lifestyle of death (Romans 1:26,27; 32). If their members ever desire to discuss their church’s doctrine and practice on this or any other issue, they are free to make an appointment with the church’s new female pastor. This woman can be found each Sunday entering from the sacristy in full robe and vestments prepared to proclaim the Word of God to her congregation, supposedly preaching from the very Bible that forbids her to preach (I Tim. 2:12).
If their members ever grow tired of the Sunday Service, they are welcome to attend the church’s Saturday evening contemporary praise service complete with drums, guitars, and amplifiers for an hour of mind numbing, hypnotic “praise choruses.” Of course this same worship experience is also available now at the local LCMS churches in our city. The simple worship of Word and Sacrament is too boring for modern Lutherans, so they feel compelled to imitate the Pentecostals and other enthusiasts who believe they can drum up the presence of the Holy Spirit and receive directly from God apart from the means of grace. This is all part of modern Lutheran Church Growth Strategy, an attempt to grow numerically by jettisoning historic Lutheran doctrine and liturgy. Doctrinal instruction is no longer required to join modern Lutheran churches, the pastor’s preaching seldom includes God’s Law for fear of appearing too negative to the unconverted, and the preaching and worship of the church is designed to make people feel good about themselves.
Added to these doctrinal aberrations in Lutheranism today are the common practice of open communion, religious unionism, syncretism, doctrinal indifference, lack of doctrinal unity, the absence of church discipline, and general doctrinal ignorance and confusion among both clergy and laity. The errors that are tolerated within modern Lutheranism demonstrate a consistent denial of the inerrancy and authority of the Holy Scriptures! Whenever churches deny the clear doctrine and practice of Holy Scripture, they are proclaiming before the world that the Bible lacks authority, reliability, or both. Luther’s insistence on Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) is no longer guiding the modern Lutheran synods. They have surrendered to the pressures of the modern world. Pragmatism and expediency are their new “standards” of doctrine, so that “soundness” in doctrine, based upon the norm of Scripture alone, no longer exists.
The Apostle Paul predicted such a time in church history. He predicted a time when men “will not endure [that is, tolerate] sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Timothy 4:3). He said that, in these perilous Last Days, many professing Christians and churches would possess “a form of godliness, but deny[ing] the power thereof; from such turn away” (II Timothy 3:5). The power spoken of in this verse is the Gospel received by faith, “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). The modern church’s rejection of the clear doctrines of the Word of God eventually leads them to a denial of the Gospel itself. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9).
As I wrote this article last evening, an advertisement appeared in our local newspaper from a local Missouri Synod church concerning a Bible Study they are planning. The ad reads: “Redeemer Lutheran Church will begin a two-year non-denominational Bible study program called Crossways! The Rev. Bill Roper and John Rathje will facilitate the class, which will not teach Lutheran doctrine, but will try to get people inspired to read the Bible.” [Stress added.] Would Luther recognize a “Lutheran” church today with this attitude toward the precious doctrines of God’s Word, doctrines that the Reformers of Augsburg dedicated their lives to rediscover, preach and establish, doctrines for the sake of which men and women were willing to sacrifice life and fortune that this precious Gospel of the Reformation would be proclaimed to the entire world?? Luther would indeed recognize such a church for what it is, namely, a heterodox church (and a heterodox synod of many other such churches) that tolerates false doctrine and refuses to be corrected by the clear Word of God.
The churches of the Concordia Lutheran Conference rejoice in these Last Days of unbelief and doctrinal confusion because of the grace of God that has been poured out upon the fellowship of our churches. By His mercy alone we still have, believe, profess, and practice the doctrines of the Word of God in their full truth and purity. We teach Lutheran doctrine without apology, simply and only because it is the doctrine clearly revealed in the written, verbally-inspired Word of God. We embrace the formal principle of the Reformation of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) not merely on paper but in practice. And in a day when the Sola Gratia (by Grace alone) and the Sola Fide (through Faith alone) are also being attacked and degraded by the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ, we joy in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, who comes to His people in and through the precious Word and Sacraments to offer, give, and seal to them the forgiveness of sins, and to work, strengthen, and preserve in them the saving faith by which they lay hold on all the blessings earned by Jesus Christ in His Redemption of the world. It is our prayer that these priceless blessings from God poured out upon our precious fellowship will continue to the end of the Day of Grace, that by faith in Christ we may stand in the Day of Judgment, dressed in the perfect robe of His righteousness, according to His promise. Amen.
—R. A. M.