From the May – June 1996 issue of The Concordia Lutheran
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written originally for a local church member for his private use.]
For almost one hundred years the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was a truly orthodox (doctrinally sound) Lutheran synod. The Synod was founded in 1847 under the able leadership of Dr. C.F. W. Walther who became the first President of what was eventually called The Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States. The Missouri Synod was blessed with a goodly number of truly gifted theologians, pastors and teachers. Their chief strength, however, was their unwavering and uncompromising adherence to the pure teachings of God’s Word.
In the early decades of the Synod’s history, there were genuine efforts on the part of Walther to have the Synod reach out to other Lutheran synods. Walther sought to have doctrinal discussions with those synods which were reputedly confessional, that is, which held, at least in principle, to the historic Lutheran Confessions. Time does not permit elaboration on the success or lack of success these efforts had. At no time did Walther seek unity at the expense of the truth.
Such reaching out continued into the next century under the leadership of men who succeeded Walther. For example, in the 1930’s, there were doctrinal discussions with the old American Lutheran Church, but such discussions concluded with the recognition that the American Lutheran Church was in error on the doctrine of Election. The error was labeled with the Latin phrase, in tuitu fidei, which means “in view of faith.” The error consisted of the false notion that in eternity God looked ahead into time and saw who would believe and thereby elected or chose them unto eternal life. Hence, it was in view of faith that God chose and elected. This is an error in that God in eternity and out of His grace alone in Christ chose and elected those who are saved, and this election was therefore not contingent upon any merit or worthiness or even faith which God foresaw in man. God’s election is an election of grace, and not of works. Even prior to this, errors concerning election had been encountered by the Missouri men, but always rejected as error.
However, the most serious erosion in the orthodox position of the Missouri Synod came in 1945 when 44 men signed a document which came to be known as “The Statement of the 44.” This document contained statements which weakened and essentially denied the Scriptural fellowship principle based on Romans 16:17. Romans 16:17 says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Always the Missouri men applied this principle to any and all errorists, even if they be Lutheran errorists. However the signers of“A Statement” came to a common agreement that Romans 16:17 need not and therefore should not be applied to other Lutheran synods since they were already Lutheran. As such they were to be recognized as brethren in the faith. Dr. Behnken, the President of the Synod at the time, recognized this as false doctrine and knew it must be retracted and renounced. However, the synod was soon to meet in convention and the celebration of the synod’s 100th anniversary was to be inaugurated. It was felt that the synod would split if the signers of the statement were required to retract and renounce this statement. However, the signers were allowed simply to withdraw their statement, but not retract it as error. In short, error was for the first time publicly tolerated, and the breach in the Synod had begun. This little leaven then spread and mushroomed to the point that in 1950 the Synod jointly signed a document with the American Lutheran Church, a document called, “The Common Confession.” The signing of this joint document with the old ALC marked publicly and officially that the Synod had ceased to be orthodox and had become heterodox.
Subsequently the Synod’s oldest, largest, and most prestigious seminary, Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, was rapidly tolerating false doctrine. Some of its “shining lights,” such as Dr. Martin Scharlemann, began to teach that we cannot say that the Holy Scriptures are inerrant. His case was brought before the 1959 and 1962 Synodical Conventions. (Shortly thereafter Scharlemann withdrew his erroneous view, but was not required to retract and repent of it!) During the decade of the 1950’s and 1960’s, more and more professors at St. Louis were beginning to espouse the Historical Critical Method of Bible Interpretation. The Historical Critical Method approached the Holy Scriptures as being no different than any human writing to which must be applied the same rules of literary criticism. In short, the divine, infallible authority of Scripture was being denied. Indeed, the word, inerrancy, became a “dirty” word in St. Louis.
Since the dike had been broken, Missouri was soon flooded with all sorts of false doctrine and practice. Though not an exhaustive list, the errors currently entrenched in the Synod are as follows:
1. Continued toleration of professors who privately or publicly deny the inerrancy of Scripture
2. Continued acceptance of the Historical Critical Method of Bible interpretation
3. In league with the above, toleration of individual professors, teachers, and pastors who deny the historicity or factuality of
a) The Creation account and the entire first eleven chapters of Genesis, including the universal Flood
b) The parting of the Red Sea;
c) Jonah and the Whale;
d) Direct Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament;
e) Some of the miracles of Christ;
4. Denial of specific doctrines of the Bible such as
a) The Creation account; (Note: Many synodical parochial schools permit the teaching of Evolution.)
b) The Virgin Birth of Christ; **
c) The bodily resurrection of Christ;**
d) The Divinity of Christ; **
** Perhaps not as openly and blatantly as in the present-day Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
5. Permitting false practice, that is, practice which is contrary to sound doctrine such as
a) Open Communion where visitors of different faiths are permitted to take the Lord’s Supper;
b) Unionism or uniting for worship, prayer, and joint church work with those who teach false doctrine; for example, Missouri Synod pastors conducting joint worship services with Roman Catholic priests, Episcopal priests, and Reformed Church minister
c) Charismatic congregations and pastors, that is, those who believe the miracles of the Apostolic Church are still being performed today—speaking in tongues, healing, visions, and dreams; (Reportedly some 25% of Missouri Synod congregations claim to be Charismatic.)
d) Women to be voters in the Voters Assembly and to hold congregational offices, which is the giving of women authority over the man which is contrary to I Timothy 2:11-15;
e) Permitting ungodly feminism to be promoted in synodical schools;
f) Having little or no doctrinal discipline in the Synod such that erring pastors, professors, and teachers are not required to repent or else be removed from office.
g) Synodical Conventions whose ecclesiastical politicking and “power-plays” and ugly campaigning for synodical offices rival that of the national Republican Party and Democratic Party Conventions!
h) At all levels of the Synod there is the three-fold division of conservatives, moderates, and liberals, with the conservatives being compromisers who talk strong but do nothing. Such “conservatives” are no longer truly orthodox. If they were, they would no longer continue to disobey God by staying in a heterodox synod to fight the fight of synodical politics which is not “fighting the good fight of faith.” Here the words of Christ apply, “A house divided against a house falleth.” (Luke 11:17)
As stated, the above list is by no means exhaustive, but comprehensive enough to reveal that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is a heterodox church body whose reputation as being a very conservative synod is most deceptive and misleading. Compared with the most liberal of synods, Missouri appears quite conservative, Compared to Scripture, the Missouri Synod is a permissive, liberal synod which is committed to preserving itself as an ecclesiastical organization rather preserving the purity of God’s Word in its midst at all costs. The Synod has forgotten the words of Jesus Christ, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” (John 10:35)