Rightly Judging the Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod – CL Sept-Oct 2006
Rightly Judging the Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod
“Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them.” —Romans 16:17
In the March-April 2006 issue of the Concordia Lutheran, we began a series of articles pinpointing persistent, ongoing errors in doctrine and in practice which make it necessary for us to “mark” certain other Lutheran church bodies as heterodox. Heterodox bodies are those in which there are open, public, and known preaching, teaching, or practice which are “contrary to the doctrine which [we] have learned” from the Holy Scriptures. Furthermore, in these heterodox bodies, the persistent errors and the persistent errorists are tolerated and are allowed to remain without being opposed and without being removed by means of doctrinal discipline (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10; I Timothy 5:22 and 6:3-5; Brief Statement, ¶29).
This series of articles on heterodox Lutheran bodies fulfills one of the proper, God-pleasing functions, both of our Conference and of our official organ, the Concordia Lutheran, as clearly set forth in our Statement of Purpose on the inside front cover of our periodical: “To expose particularly the false teaching and practice of the various so-called ‘Lutheran’ church bodies by comparing their teachings and practices with what is plainly recorded in the Word of God, in the Lutheran Confessions, and in the old orthodox Lutheran writings… To expose false teaching and practice wherever it makes its appearance and to keep abreast of the current happenings in the church and among the nations as signs of the times.” While we cannot, for the sake of space, identify every false doctrine and every evidence of false practice in every heterodox body, we nevertheless intend to continue this series of articles as a service to our readers, judging righteously (John 7:24) the well-documented facts-in-evidence according to the perfect, completely trustworthy standard of Holy Scripture, and thus to help them to “mark” and to “avoid” persistent errorists who “lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14) the hearts of unwary, uninformed and ignorant sheep by their “good words and fair speeches” (Romans 16:18).
In this present article we righteously judge as heterodox the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) —as we righteously judged it already in 1951 when our Conference had its beginnings as the Orthodox Lutheran Conference. Our judgment is, therefore, “nothing new;” but we repeat it anyway fifty-five years later because it is still a true, right, and Godly judging of the LCMS. In fact, today, the heterodoxy of the Missouri Synod is so pronounced, so blatant, and yet so commonplace, so far-reaching, and yet so well supported and vigorously defended, that many LCMS laymen and pastors do not even recognize the false heterodox doctrine and practice as being false and heterodox! This is not only tragic, but it is very, very sad to behold! We will focus in this present article upon some of the early-on “leaven” of the Missouri Synod’s heterodoxy, which has today grown into huge, grotesque, and out-of-control spiritual “tumors.” The LCMS is a chilling and shocking illustration of the truthfulness of Galatians 5: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (v. 9). Every genuine Christian should be able rightly to judge the LCMS on the basis of the Word of God and the irrefutable documentation set forth just in this brief article.
The LCMS’s “roots” can be traced back to 1839, when about 1,000 immigrants came to America because of religious oppression in Germany. They settled in St. Louis, Missouri, and in Perry County, south of St. Louis. The organization of this church body took place in 1847. In 1922, at the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Missouri Synod, a special book, Ebenezer, was published in gratitude to their gracious, merciful, and faithful God and Savior for His bountiful blessings. “Ebenezer,”…“Hitherto hath the Lord helped us” (I Samuel 7:12) was the slogan for this anniversary. Another verse which was closely associated with this anniversary was from Psalm 115: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy and for Thy truth’s sake” (v. 1). Both of these verses pin-pointed very appropriately the Source of the LCMS’s overflowing gifts and benefits during the first seventy-five years, especially the treasure of God-pleasing, true unity in doctrine and practice (I Corinthians 1:10) based alone on God’s inerrant Word (John 17:17; II Timothy 3:16), without compromise, without any “intention of yielding aught of the eternal, immutable truth of God for the sake of temporal peace, tranquility, and unity” (Thorough Declaration, Formula of Concord, XI, 95-96, Concordia Triglotta, page 1095). This confession by the Reformation “fathers” was also the Gospel-motivated confession of the LCMS after 75 years.
But, in spite of being so abundantly, amazingly, astoundingly, and graciously blessed by the Triune God for so many years, especially in the preservation of orthodox, Scriptural doctrine and practice [“practice” being the on-going, consistent application of Scriptural doctrine – Exodus 34:11; James 1:22; Luke 6:46], the LCMS soon began to show the “small cracks” of ingratitude toward and rebellion against God’s Word. Pressure was especially being applied by the American Lutheran Church (the ALC), a heterodox Lutheran body now merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). To counteract that pressure, the Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod was adopted by the LCMS in 1932.
But suddenly and shockingly, those “small cracks” of ingratitude toward and rebellion against God’s Word became public “gushers” of gross ingratitude and brazen rebellion against God’s Word, especially against Romans 16:17-18, when in September, 1945, forty-four pastors and professors, many of them well-known theologians in the Missouri Synod (Dr. William Arndt, Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, Dr. Theodore Graebner, etc.), made it abundantly clear that they were no longer in agreement with the Scriptural position of the LCMS on church fellowship. They issued A Statement as the vehicle for their offensive, arrogant objections to Scriptural doctrine and practice. We will quote from two sections of A Statement to document the “fruits” (Matthew 7:16a) and the “leaven” (Galatians 5:9) of false doctrine and practice of “the FORTY-FOUR” in 1945:
Section Five: We affirm our conviction that sound exegetical procedure is the basis for sound Lutheran theology. We therefore deplore the fact that Romans 16:17-18 has been applied to all Christians who differ from us in certain points of doctrine. It is our conviction based on sound exegetical and hermeneutical principles, that this text does not apply to the present situation in the Lutheran Church in America.
Examination of Section Five: 1. First Sentence: The only solid, sound basis for Scriptural, truly Lutheran theology is clear Scripture itself, the clear and certain proof passages of God’s Word [sedes doctrinae], the passages which constitute the “analogy” or “rule of faith” which stand on their own and neither need nor permit of any interpretation. They are so clear in and of themselves that both the learned and unlearned alike can understand them. “If Scripture did not have this quality, it would not be for all Christians ‘a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their path,’ nor would all Christians be able to establish the truth of their faith by Scripture, and in the light of Scripture to mark and avoid false teachers” (Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, I, pp. 359-60). Note Dr. Pieper’s direct reference to Romans 16:17! Therefore, the idea that “exegetical procedure” (the method of interpreting the less clear passages of Scripture in the light of the crystal clear sedes), even if it be “sound,” is “the basis for sound Lutheran theology” must be rejected because it establishes a false principle which robs Scripture of its own light, injects fog into its clarity, and holds prooftexts hostage to a “procedure” on the basis of which their authority and certainty are held captive to the judgment of men. Many false doctrines and many false prophets have thus been built on and anchored to what their adherents represented as “sound exegetical procedure” (Cf. Matthew 7:22-23). This first sentence of Section Five “affirms the conviction” of the FORTY-FOUR that they had the legitimate right to question the clarity, authority and application of Romans 16:17 on the basis of “exegetical procedure” which they falsely represented to be “sound” and thus cleverly disguised themselves in “sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15) and in “good words and fair speeches [to] deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18)! Far from being “sound,” however, such procedure is false, arrogant, and deceitful, and is deserving only of renunciation!
2. Second Sentence [from Section Five]: Now, because of their “sound exegetical procedure,” the FORTY-FOUR placed themselves over God Himself, as He reveals Himself in His Word, by “throwing out” and rejecting Romans 16:17-18. These forty-four men said: “We therefore deplore the fact that Romans 16:17-18 has been applied to all Christians who differ from us in certain points of doctrine.” These two verses do most certainly apply to ALL PEOPLE, including professing Christians who keep on causing and persist in making divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine from God’s Word. Is there anything in these two verses which clearly and plainly teaches that these verses do not apply to Christians? Do these verses say: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them [except for Christians] which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such [except for Christians] serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by good works and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18). It is absolutely disgusting and shameful that the FORTY-FOUR foisted a new meaning on Romans 16:17-18, a meaning which is NOWHERE to be found in these two verses. God does apply Romans 16:17-18 to professing Christians. He speaks directly to THEM: “Now I beseech you, brethren…”; and He does not exempt professing Christians from those “which cause divisions and offenses.” In fact, He shows the very opposite: The errorists represent themselves as “serv[ing] our Lord Jesus Christ” while serving their own wicked self-interests, and they use the “good words and fair speeches” of Christian profession, the disguise of “sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15), to “deceive the hearts of the simple.”
3. Third Sentence [from Section Five]: Once again, as in the first sentence, it is the conviction of the FORTY-FOUR, based on “sound exegetical and hermeneutical principles,” that, since they have earlier concluded that Romans 16:17-18 does not apply to Christians who differ in doctrine and practice, then surely they now furthermore conclude that Romans 16:17-18 “does not apply to the present situation in the Lutheran Church in America.” Where in Romans 16:17-18 does it say that these two verses do not apply to “the present situation in the Lutheran Church in America? These FORTYFOUR well-known LCMS theologians who signed A Statement in September, 1945, showed themselves to be “false prophets …by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16a) and furthermore revealed themselves, according to I Timothy 6, to be “proud, knowing nothing, …destitute of the truth” (vv. 3-5). They and their eager adherents fulfilled the Holy Spirit’s prophecy in II Timothy 4: “They shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables” (v. 4).
Section Eleven: “We affirm our conviction that …fellowship is possible without complete agreement in details of doctrine and practice which have never been considered divisive in the Lutheran Church.”
Now it is crystal clear that after these FORTY-FOUR LCMS “theologians” (?) arbitrarily removed Romans 16:17-18 from having any “say” concerning fellowship with heterodox Lutheran churches (Section Five), they considered themselves free to have fellowship with heterodox Lutherans, the very opposite of what the fellowship “pillar” of Romans 16 teaches: “Avoid them.” The FORTY-FOUR have given us a striking example of Bible abuse, Scripture abuse, lording it over the Word of God, and making the Word of God say and teach whatever they wanted it to say and to teach in order to fit their own theological thoughts and ideas.
What happened to these FORTY-FOUR men who publicly and openly rebelled against God’s Word in A Statement and distributed it far-and wide in the LCMS, seeking to get others to “sign on” to it? Nothing! Were they dealt with according to the instruction of God’s Word: “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject” (Titus 3:10)? No! They were allowed to keep and retain their positions and their fellowship in the LCMS without any doctrinal discipline! Were they told to repent of this shameful, offensive, and ungodly document which they had drafted, approved and supported, and required to bring forth the fruits of repentance? And, failing such repentance, were they told that they could no longer be in fellowship with the LCMS, lest “a little leaven leaven the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9)? No! They were not required to retract, nor did they retract or renounce ANYTHING in A Statement. The president of the LCMS at that time, Dr. J. W. Behnken, verified this in a public letter dated January 18, 1947. This tragic toleration of public, open false doctrine and practice in A Statement by the FORTY-FOUR in 1945 not only brought heterodoxy (different, conflicting doctrines and practices contrary to Scripture which were allowed to remain alongside of the truths of God’s Word) into the LCMS, but it also has demonstrated the absolute, changeless truth of the words of Scripture: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9); for what was the RESULT?
It comes as no surprise, as we study and observe in horror how the uncombated and unremoved (Brief Statement ¶29) cancer-like gangrene (II Timothy 2:17) of the “leaven” of the FORTY-FOUR in the LCMS has worked during the past 61 years (1945 – 2006), that the current heterodox “state” of the LCMS is as sad, as pronounced, and shocking as the following illustrations clearly demonstrate:
—There is vast, offensive disunity in doctrine and practice in the Missouri Synod today, in sharp contrast to the unity in doctrine and practice which Scripture teaches should exist according to the clear instruction of St. Paul in I Corinthians 1: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (v. 10). The Scriptures abhor the “leaven” of the FORTY-FOUR that “fellowship is possible without complete agreement in details of doctrine and practice” (Section Eleven of A Statement). According to this declaration by the FORTY-FOUR, God is a liar; they know better than He does; His words don’t count. The current, persistent, everworsening disunity in LCMS doctrine and practice is public proof and documentation that this church body has cast its “lot” with the “leaven” of the FORTY-FOUR and has openly and persistently rejected God’s own requirement in I Corinthians 1:10 that complete unity in doctrine and practice exist between those who are “brethren.” Therefore, since the “leaven” of the FORTY-FOUR has not been rejected and removed, this “leaven” of false doctrine and practice IS the doctrine and practice of the LCMS today. The LCMS cannot honestly claim that it stands on Scripture alone. Now, and for almost sixty years, the LCMS has stood on God’s Word AND man’s word (the different, heterodox doctrine and practice of the FORTY-FOUR plus over 250 subsequent signers). The LCMS today, that is, all who are members of or in fellowship with this heterodox body, have placed the words of men in A Statement OVER and ABOVE the clear words of God in Romans 16:17-18, I Corinthians 1:10, I Timothy 6:3-5, Titus 3:10, Amos 3:3, etc., etc.
—The early cry of so-called “conservatives” back in the late forties and early fifties to “stay in and fight” became in most cases their lifetime attitude and permanent fall-back position of retreat; and they ended up just “staying in” without a “fight.” That attitude was NOT based on God’s Word, and therefore it was not God-pleasing; for it was and is the exact opposite of the “Mark…and avoid” (Romans 16:17) teaching of the Holy Spirit in God’s Word of truth (John 17:17). Here we see that the “leaven” of the FORTY-FOUR “Korahs” (Numbers 16) from 1945 has indeed thoroughly leavened “the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9) of the doctrine of fellowship in the LCMS, so that today Romans 16:17 is not and will not be applied by the Synod to “Christians who differ from us in certain points of doctrine” (Section Five of A Statement). This shows the devastating effect of the persistent lies of false doctrine and practice, even though they are “dressed up” in the “good words and fair speeches” (v. 18) of “false prophets” (Matthew 7:15) who by “sleight…and cunning craftiness…lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14)!
—Dr. David Benke, the president of the Atlantic District of the LCMS, on September 23, 2001 (twelve days after 9/11), at Yankee Stadium in New York City, openly prayed with Muslims, Jews, a Hindu, Roman Catholics, and other non-Lutherans. By his action, he gave evidence, in a very public way, that “the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7), the “leaven” of the FORTY-FOUR, took the place of “the commandment of God” (Mark 7:8) in Romans 16:17. Due to a “backlash” from “conservatives,” he was temporarily suspended from his office as district president; but he appealed his suspension to a synodical committee, had the suspension overturned because he had not violated any rule of the Synod, and then returned to his district president’s office without one word of regret, admission of sin, expression of repentance, or apology for the grievous offense he had given to many. And even more shameful, the president of the LCMS, Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, supported Dr. Benke, as he had from the beginning, and defended him all the way through this process. Both of these men are still in their respective offices as of this very day! This is absolutely disgusting, especially in regard to the pastors and laypeople of the Missouri Synod, and also in regard to the officers and theological professors, who all by their silence and/or inaction became and still are accomplices in the offensive conduct of these two leaders (I Timothy 5:22) and in the shameful way in which Dr. Benke’s ungodly conduct on September 23, 2001, was “white-washed” in clear violation of the instruction of God’s Word (Romans 16:17-18; II Corinthians 6:14-18; Romans 12:9; etc., etc.)! The above are just a very few illustrations of well-documented, pervasive, and ever-worsening heterodoxy in the LCMS. Because of this sad fact, we cannot help but continue, by God’s grace, to “mark” and rightly judge this once-orthodox body as one which “keeps on causing divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which [we] have learned” from the precious Word God, leaving us with only one Godgiven choice, that is, to “avoid them” (Romans 16:17). We do this, not out of spite or malice (Ephesians 4:31), but out of genuine love and concern for our own souls and spiritual welfare, as well as for theirs, wanting them to take heed to the warning in Hebrews 10: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” (v. 26). In gratitude to our gracious God for His many mercies toward our Conference for fifty-five years, let us learn from the tragic downfall and spiritual crash of the Missouri Synod (LCMS) and, with His promised strength and help (Isaiah 41:10), remember the words of our dear Savior: “Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Revelation 3:11).
—R. J. L.