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Are all Lutherans the same?

 

 

No.  Not all Lutherans are the same for not all Lutherans teach or practice according to what God says in His Holy Word, the Bible.

The three largest Lutheran Church bodies in North America are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA, www.elca.org), the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS, www.lcms.org), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Synod (WELS, www.wels.net).  Visit their respective Question/Answer pages and you will find a great deal of difference between ELCA and the other two.

ELCA fundamentally has a different understanding of the Gospel, Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and the Sacraments than do the others.  If the definitions or explanations given by ELCA sound similar, it is only because they use similar words, but with entirely different meanings (meanings and usage which are foreign to Holy Scripture).  In practice, these differences clearly show themselves (i.e. the ordination of unrepentant homosexuals and of women, contrary to the Lord’s mandate; the toleration and acceptance of behavior contrary to God’s will; fellowship with “Christian” church bodies that teach doctrines contrary to God’s Word [open communion];  worship nonChristians [i.e. Jews, muslims, etc.], and not least of all, preaching which is devoid of the vicarious satisfaction of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life through faith in Jesus [the preaching that unrepentant (nonbelieving) sinners are saved is ever increasing].

By far, the doctrine and practices of the ELCA are quite distinct from LCMS and WELS.  However, between the latter two, noticeable differences do exist.

LCMS permits women to vote in congregational assemblies.  WELS does not.  LCMS permits its young people (and even encourages in some cases) to join boy/girl scouts.  WELS encourages it young people to participate in a WELS group somewhat similar to the scouts.  LCMS has military chaplains.  WELS has civilian chaplains, but no military chaplains.  Also, LCMS and the WELS have a different teaching of The Office of the Ministry and its relation to the priesthood of all believers (however, in practice, differences are not so readily recognizable due to the fact that the LCMS seminaries and colleges in the Concordia University system of the LCMS do not consistently teach similarly, nor are pastors and laypeople always so clear on the distinctives).

LCMS and WELS both accept the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) to be God’s Word (and without error) and the only “rule and norm for faith and life.”  Both also subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions.  The ELCA does not accept either the Bible or the Lutherans Confessions as the LCMS and WELS do (if the ELCA does in word, then certainly not in practice).

Both LCMS and WELS also clearly teach Christ and Him crucified as the only means of salvation (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 4:5).  The ELCA is not clear on the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ and fails to distinguish between what is sin before God and what is not.

There will be exceptions to the above comparisons.  ELCA pastors and congregations who seek to be more faithful to the Bible than their church body as a whole do exist.  In the same way, LCMS and WELS pastors and congregations exist who do not teach and practice according Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions (i.e. using worship practices and innovations that are foreign to biblical doctrine).

Simply because someone says that they are a member of an ELCA, LCMS, WELS, or other Lutheran Congregation does not immediately mean that they are genuinely Lutheran.  Nor does the word Lutheran attached to the name of a church body immediately indicate that the church body is genuinely Lutheran.  Only by discerning according to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions is one able to make such a judgment.

The Church’s Confidence

17 But “he who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”  18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 10:17-18

These words of our Lord through St. Paul the Apostle are a stark contrast to the ways of the world.  St. Paul writes similar things in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth.  Likely referencing Jeremiah 9,[1] he writes the same thing, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31).

That word “glories” could be translated with the similar word “boasts,” and it is, in various places in the New Testament.  Sometimes the Greek word is translated with the verb “glory” and sometimes not.[2]  It would be worth looking into see if a consistency exists.

If we translate the verse above with “boasts,” the contrast between the way of the God and the way of the world perhaps becomes more clear.

The way of the world is to draw attention to one’s successes, strengths, abilities.  Yet the way of the Lord is to draw one’s attention to the paradox, the reality behind what is seen.

For example, Paul in 1 Corinthians bears this out, where he writes of God’s work in that which is contrary to human reason,:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are…(1 Corinthians 1:18-28).

God works differently than the world does.  Where the world praises success, God chastises.  Where man exalts himself, God humbles (Luke 14:11).

These things the Christian might recognize more outside the church than inside it.  Yet human pride, arrogance, and boastfulness stand ready and waiting at the door to make entrance, if not already having an abode.

A phrase that I have seen on a sign for a baptist church reads, “Maximizing, magnifying, multiplying.”  But one might wonder who the actor is!  If it’s God, then why advance what God already knows, as if He needs our recognition.  To remind ourselves that it is God doing these things?  I think not.

On the other hand, and more likely, such phraseology would seem to try to indicate that a church with such a sign is doing these things.  However, if this is the case, an honest question is simply, “Why?”  What is the purpose of such a phrase except to try to give an appearance of activity in the eyes of the world?  And to what end, to say that “the church is doing something?”  Why need it if it actually is?

Should the church ever need to defend her activity before the world, or before one another if she is being faithful to the Lord and preaching the truth?  Should the church ever need to tout its activities to demonstrate its “doingness when it’s not the world’s approval that counts, but God’s?”   Does the church now thrive on (or need) the praise of men?

Should the church seek to please men and the world, she ceases to be a servant of Christ.  Should the Christian pride his or her own activity, humbling is sure to come.

The church finds her confidence in her Lord and Head—not in what she is doing, how many people she reaches, or how many lives are changed as a result of her activity.  She rests her joy in her Lord who bought her, who purchased her with His own blood (Acts 20:28).  What she is to be doing is only what her Lord has given her to do (i.e. Matthew 28).  As she does this, she can only say, “I have only done what was commanded of me” (Luke 17:10).

Should the church find herself doing other than what the Lord has given her to do, and boasting in her own activities and not God’s, then she ceases to be the Lord’s church.  Thus will the bride of Christ and the body of Christ seek to please Him, boast in His grace, and in genuine humility, draw all attention to Christ seek commendation, not from the world, but from God.

It’s not he who commends himself who is approved, but whom the Lord commends.


[1] Jeremiah 9:23-24: 23 Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; 24 But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD.

[2] At least in the New King James Version.

L2 Live Loud–Theologically sound?

Where are the Lutherans?  I’m not asking about those who call themselves “Lutherans.”  I’m asking about those who genuinely are Lutherans, not only by their words, but who confess the Lutheran faith, the Christian faith, by their practice.

To a larger degree today, it seems, more and more are calling themselves “Lutheran” only with their words, whereas their practices strongly indicate otherwise.  Their confession of doctrine and practice are greatly inconsistent.

Take for example the joint youth gathering of the North Wisconsin, South Wisconsin, and English Districts, dated for November 11, 2011, entitled, “L2 Live Loud.”  Highlights include a worship band from the LCMS national youth gathering, Bob Lenz (see here about Lenz, Lifest, and The Shack), and youth “testimonies.”

Interestingly, “worship bands,” and youth “testimonies” are not historically Lutheran practices.  They have as their foundation a different theology, a theology which places greater emphasis on the sinner and less on the Savior.

“Worship bands” often (though not always) play music that drowns out the lyrics (the beat becomes more important than what is actually said).  Also, the content of the songs which are sung often lack theological substance and don’t always clearly confess the truth of God’s Word.  Rather than glorify God as “contemporary songs” claim to do, many profane God’s Holy Name by not rightly confessing that which is according to Holy Scripture.  Indiscriminant use of such lyrics and songs by negligent pastors (and worship leaders) indicates less attention to Word and Sacrament (what God is doing) and more on what man is doing.

One might rightly conclude then that the use of “worship bands” and “contemporary music,” derived from a theology which is foreign to genuine Lutheran Theology[1]  is finding greater acceptance in Lutheran circles because genuine Lutheran doctrine and practice (i.e. Christ-centered and using the liturgy and clear hymns and songs which confess Christ and the true doctrine) is believed to be somehow deficient for young people (as well as for the church), though the church is called to be faithful (and in her faithfulness to God’s Word, she is relevant; Jeremiah 23:28; John 14:21, 23; 8:31-32; Revelation 2:10).

Another conclusion one might make is that being  “Lutheran” today doesn’t mean holding to Holy Scripture (the Word of God) as the rule for faith and life and subscribing to the Lutheran Confessions because they are in accordance with Holy Scripture,  but believing and doing whatever one believes to be right (Judges 21:25).  A great lack of genuine ecclesiastical supervision over doctrine and practice remains ever prevalent in our congregations, districts, and church body.

 Youth “testimonies,” like “worship bands,” have also as their foundation a nonLutheran theology.  If testimony here meant in accordance with the true doctrine, that is, a witness or confession of that which is according to the Word, well and good.  But more often than not, testimonies are more about the person giving the testimony rather than God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness in Christ.  The center, once again, is on the one giving the testimony rather than on the Giver of all things.

Rather than attend such a youth gathering that only advocates nonLutheran theology and nonChristian practices, better to be in the Word of the living God, hear the Word preached in truth, and receive the blessed Sacrament of the Lord’s very body and blood.  Better to stay away from false teaching and erring teachers (Romans 16:17-18); better to remain Lutheran, that is, Christian, and faithful Christ, than giving up the truth for popularity and acceptance.

The Christian faith is too precious to “play” or experiment with.  True doctrine is not ours to change or altar.  It is only ours to confess, and to confess by what we say and by what we do, whether it be as God’s people gathered for worship (Divine Service) or throughout the week.


[1] Genuine Lutheran Theology and Practice centers on what Christ has done (and does) for sinners.  The center of worship (Divine Service) is Word and Sacrament, Christ giving His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

“It gets better”?

Having seen a note again on It Gets Better, I can’t help but further lament the current condition today’s society.  The false hope that well intentioned people are giving astounds me.  Surely bullying, threatening, name calling, beating, persecution, and physical and emotional abuse of another, regardless of sex, ‘orientation’ or religion, all fall under God’s just judgment, as does all sinful behavior.

What we fail to realize, however, is that it is just as sinful to tolerate, advocate, and support that which is contrary to God’s Word and will.  Yes, we certainly do want to help and serve others as neighbors to all in need, even the lowliest of the low, the social outcasts, and the sinners all (1 John 4:11-12, Note: John is talking about the love of God through Jesus, not unconditional tolerance and acceptance of that which God calls sin).  Yet love of neighbor does not mean supporting the sinful behavior.  Love of neighbor does not condone the infliction of any kind of pain or duress on any other.  Nor does love of neighbor advocate speaking untruths to secure sinners in their sin.

The latter is exactly what  the advance of It Gets Better does.  It, and the participants, advocate and encourage sin.  In addition, they contribute to the false notion that sin does not have consequences.  Sin does (Romans 6:23).  It leads to death-eternal death.  There is only One who gives true and everlasting hope, now and through eternity—Jesus Christ!

The It Gets Better campaign tries to encourage those who are suffering (as a result of others and their own decisions and behavior) that things will “get better.”  But this is a false hope.  For the sinner who remains in their sin, the end will not be pretty.  Though life in this world may improve a little as a result of advocacy, the acceptance of sin, the cessation of struggle, in the end, it will not.  This is because the world can only offer limited hope and limited help.  Only Jesus gives hope and help which is unlimited and never ending (2 Corinthians 4:18).

God does not promise that things will “get better.”  In fact, just the opposite does He say will be, as exampled also by this campaign, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

This is precisely what we see happening with It Gets Better and campaigns like it. Encouraging sin does not and will not make things better.  Nor can we sinners end all problems of society, no matter how hard we try.  God does command that we love our neighbor and defend him and all in need (also the unborn, the aged, and all who suffer), but we do not do this to improve society, but to care for one another, and because they have need.  Man can help us only a little, and only temporarily.  Only God can give the help, now and eternally, that all sinners need—through Jesus Christ.

Rather than giving a false hope of fleeting improvement which is full of lies and hypocrisy, speak the truth, in love, (according to God’s Word) that one not only be confident of God’s grace in this life, but into eternity.

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