We in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod consider ourselves orthodox Lutherans, as we accept the Scriptures as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and we subscribe unconditionally to all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God. There are other Lutherans in America who claim the same stance (such as the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the 3rd largest Lutheran body), but other issues, such as type of hymnal, gender identity, roles of men and women in church, and form of church government, keep us apart. Why?
Lutherans in America grew to be the third-largest Protestant church group from 600,000 baptized in 1875 to more than 2 million by 1900, segregated mostly by ethnicity, rather than doctrine. But that would change as not only doctrine, but semantics would create a chasm between the two largest Lutheran church bodies in the U.S. in the 1920s, the more liberal United Lutheran Church of America (ULCA), with its roots in the Pennsylvania Ministerium of 1748 (and created through a series of mergers; through more mergers, it would eventually become a shadow of today’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or ELCA), and the Missouri Synod.
While there had been great hope and enthusiasm for a united Lutheran front in America, at least on the part of the ULCA, the controversy over doctrinal subscription would keep the notion of one united American Lutheran Church body beyond arm’s reach. Most of the midwestern Lutherans agreed to the use of the terms inerrant and infallible, both because they believed it correctly expressed the nature of biblical authority and because it brought them into harmony with the Missouri Synod on the issue. The ULCA and others resisted using these terms, and another Lutheran body at the time, the American Lutheran Church, used one, but not the other. The ULCA tried again in 1949 for national unity among the numerous Lutheran bodies, but to no avail.
A vivid example of the fence between the Missouri Synod and the largest American Lutheran body, the ELCA, comes directly from its website in these statements which they contend justifies their altar fellowship with the Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, The Moravian Church, and United Methodist Church:
“Full communion is when two denominations develop a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith and a mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing of the Lord’s Supper. This does not mean the two denominations merge; rather, in reaching agreements, denominations also respect differences.”
I know, all of this perhaps presents our Synod as proprietary among other Lutherans, even among other Christian denominations; however, when the very confessional documents that were presented during the Reformation by Luther and his colleagues and followers to defend God’s Word are altered, ignored, or simply forgotten because popular culture and society deem them legalistic or no longer relevant…well, there can never be unity as long as the world, not God, influence the direction of the Church.
That’s it for now. Look for “Confessional Unity: Part 3” next month. Until then, may the Lord bless you and keep you!Pastor E.B.