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A case of disunity in the LCMS…from The Lutheran Witness


“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

The Lutheran Witness is the “official periodical of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” (Lutheran Witness, Dec 2012, p2).  Since the presidency of Pres. Matthew Harrison, elected in 2010, The Lutheran Witness has undergone a transformation.  The following letter may help illustrate this.  “Last night I read the October issue of The Lutheran Witness, and I could not help but praise the Lord for the content.  Here was the material that I have wanted to see in our church periodical for many years, clear biblical expositions of theological, doctrinal and life problems confronting clergy and laity in our Synod at this time.  We need more of this clear, open

of Scripture in common English for all to see” (The Lutheran Witness, Dec 2012, p22, 24).

I am in agreement with this observation.  The majority of articles now the in The Lutheran Witness are doctrinal, and thus, practical, in nature, directing the reader to the Word and to Christ, drawing distinctions where they should be maintained, and genuinely Lutheran.  I enjoy reading the articles and am encouraged greatly by them.

Before President Harrison was elected, The Lutheran Witness had a more “church growthy” approach, having the assumption that the gospel and the doctrine were “there,” but not explicitly indicated as such, generally speaking.  It seemed that the emphasis was more on human activity rather than God’s activity through Word and Sacrament, emphasizing the “mission,” minus the content.Walking together

Yet even as The Lutheran Witness has changed, for the better, I believe, others do not have this view, not at all.  Such a negative view of change towards The Lutheran Witness is illustrated by this letter from a more recent issue, “The March 2013 number of The Lutheran Witness is on of the most troubling I have ever read” (The Lutheran Witness, May 2013, p25).  Another letter illustrates a similar negative view, “I grew up in the ELCA and was active there until age 40, when I moved my family to the LCMS for doctrinal reasons.  The move was the right choice for our family.  That said, I had an extremely negative reaction to the March 2013 issue of The Lutheran Witness” (May 2013, p25).[1]

Reading even only a few of the letters offered in The Lutheran Witness gives a taste, albeit, only a nibble, of the discrepancy found within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).  One writer says, “More, more.”  Another says, “No, no.”  Such responses indicate that, like so many other denominations, we are not 100% united, specifically, in doctrine.  If one greatly appreciates what is right and true and another does not, what does this say of a united faith that we claim to possess?  It essentially demonstrates that we’re not as united as some claim us to be.  Of course, in Christ, true unity remains.  But then again, the question remains, “What does this mean?”

[1] The March 2013 issue of The Lutheran Witness, entitled, “Free in Christ” included articles such as, “Can’t we all just get along,” “Free in Christ,” “Finding a home,” “The Life of the baptized,” and a chart, “Differences and Distinctions” between the LCMS, Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic on such teachings as God’s Word, Justification & Sanctification, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.


The Church and What the Church is, Articles VII & VIII of the Augsburg Confession

Article VII: Of the Church.

1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6.

Article VIII: What the Church Is.

1] Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: The Scribes and 2] the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, etc. Matt. 23:2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men.

3] They condemn the Donatists, and such like, who denied it to be lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.

*Book of Concord

“Membership in the Christian Congregation”

St. Paul the apostle writes, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).

Times have not changed much.  Divisions abound in what is called Christendom today.  Some of the division does indeed have to do with personalities and individual conflict.  Others have to do with disagreement as to “how” something is to be done.  But the majority of conflict and division within visible Christendom has to do with doctrine, that is, the teaching.  Not all say the same thing.  This is important to note, for “not saying the same thing” indicates, not a joyous diversity, but a lamentable divide, a divide which cannot be reconciled unless doing the hard work of sitting down and hashing out the differences of content and substance.

If all churches within Christendom taught the same thing, all churches would be saying the same thing.  Then, it wouldn’t matter at all which church one attended, for they would be hearing the same Word, the same doctrine, and confessing the same Christ.

Unfortunately, such is not the case.  It seems like churches can’t even agree on what is divisive and what is not.  We don’t agree on what the chief article is, the use of the Sacraments, or the ‘way’ of doing church (Liturgical vs. ‘Contemporary’), just to name a few.  Yet, even with these disagreements, there is the overwhelming one—of Christ and His Word, the distinction between Law and Gospel, and salvation by God’s grace through faith alone (and the meaning of the all of these).

Such disunity demonstrates itself, not only in the doctrine between various congregations and church bodies, but also within the membership of a particular congregation itself.  American Christians generally have forgotten, it seems, the significance of membership in a congregation.  Some join and/or remain members of a congregation merely because of the ‘fellowship’ (not of doctrine, but of friends, family, etc.), on account of the school or programs and activities offered, or simply because that’s the only congregation that they’ve known.

Though these might be attractions and reasons for remaining a member of a certain congregation, clearly omitted from such consideration is that of doctrine.  In other words, what does the congregation believe, teach, and confess?  What does the pastor preach?  Is what the pastor preaches and what the congregation teaches and practices according to God’s Word?  If it is, that is THE reason to become a member and to remain a member of that congregation.  If it isn’t, that is reason to either try to bring about reform or to find a congregation where the preaching and teaching IS according to Holy Scripture and centered on Christ Jesus.

Contrary to what Frank Senn writes,[1] church can be the true Church.  The Lutheran Confessions (as in the Book of Concord, www.bookofconcord.org), and specifically Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, states, “1 It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. 2 For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. 3 It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. 4 It is as Paul says in Eph. 4:4, 5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

The true church consists of all who believe in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (according to the Bible, not according to the ‘church’ or individual interpretation).  Thus in the Third article of the Apostles’ Creed, Christians everywhere confess, “I believe in…the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.”

Of course, the reference here is to the unseen, or hidden, church, the body of all believers in Christ, that is, those still living, as well as of those who have already died, having faith in Jesus Christ.  Yet Article VII speaks of the Gospel preached and the holy sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion) administered.  This means the local congregation, not heaven, where these very things are going on and being given.

Thus, the true church is not only a possibility, but to be sought out.  Such true church preaches the Gospel in its purity and administers the holy sacraments according to the Gospel.  To infer as Senn does that such church is an impossibility is really to forfeit the true doctrine (if he ever claims that such exists), and to decry and denounce “gathering the faithful into a community of ‘pure doctrine’” as “sectarian strategy.”[2]

But what does the Lord say?  “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32) and, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me” (John 14:22-23).

Seeking to abide/remain/continue in Jesus’ Word and keeping that Word must not be a “sectarian strategy,” as Senn postulates, but must be what the Lord Himself desires of them that He calls His children and people.  To not do so, to seek something other than what the Lord says, is to go against God, and to seek not to be His people—a sure sign that one is in error and truly does not love God.

[1] Frank C. Senn, “Lutheran Identity and Denominational Loyalty,” Lutheran Forum, 44, no. 4  (Winter 2010): 56.  Senn writes, “I am under no illusion that my denomination is the one true holy catholic Church.  Precisely because of the reality of denominationalism no one denomination can make that claim.  Even the Roman Catholic church is but one denomination among others; it is not so ‘Catholic’ as to embrace in one fellowship all Christians and it is too ‘Roman’ for many.  No church can be the true Church, or even ‘a’ true church, because it lacks some quantity or quality of the notes of unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity that we confess in the Nicene Creed.”

[2] Ibid., 54.

We preach Christ


We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block

and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks,

Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:23-24


Foolishness!  It is utter foolishness—to preach Christ and Him crucified!  It is a stumbling block!  Who wants to hear such things?  It doesn’t “grow” the church.

Such is the way many perceive the preaching of Christ.  Of course, we should expect nonbelievers to take such a position, as St. Paul the apostle describes.  They do not believe in Christ.  They seek their own way, their own means of salvation.  The salvation of God they deplore.  But within the church?  How could this be?

Within the church, there is a battle going on.  Many would like to deny this and say that “all believe the same thing.”  But is this the truth?  Should we ask, “What is the Bible?” various answers will be given.  Should we ask, “What is the purpose of the Bible?” not all would say the same.  Should we ask, “What is Christianity?” we would hear a divided, not a united, response.

These “differences” demonstrate, not a unity, but a disunity.  They are not positives, but reveal the sinfulness of man, for if true external unity did exist, we would all say the same thing and be saying the same thing.  Our doctrine and confession would be one.  But as it is, we do not all confess the same doctrine.  Nor do Christians everywhere teach the same thing.

These things are so, not because of so called “interpretation” as many presume, but because not all take Christ at His Word—not all believe what Christ did and how He works.  Not all believe what God says.  It is a question of belief vs. unbelief.

Christ crucified is a stumbling block and foolishness because His way is not according to our way.  God saves by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone.  Reason and human nature would lay salvation on us somehow.  But God speaks differently.  He reveals life in death; strength in weakness; wisdom in folly; and honor in what is despised.  Thus do we see Christ, God in the flesh, dying for the sinner; strong, yet weak; wise, but foolish; honorable, yet despised.

God and His ways are opposite from our own ways and the ways of the world.  And thanks be to God that this is so, for those who are called, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God!


“True Christian theology does not present God to us in His majesty, as Moses and other teachings do, but Christ born of the Virgin as our Mediator and High Priest.  Therefore when we are embattled against the Law, sin, and death in the presence of God, nothing is more dangerous than to stray into heaven with our idle speculations, there to investigate God His incomprehensible power, wisdom, and majesty, to ask how He created the world and how He governs it.  If you attempt to comprehend God this way and want to make atonement to Him apart from Christ the Mediator, making your works, fasts, cowl, and tonsure the mediation between Him and yourself, you will inevitably fall, as Lucifer did (Is. 14:12), and in horrible despair lose God and everything.  For as in His own nature God is immense, incomprehensible, and infinite, so to man’s nature He is intolerable.  Therefore if you want to be safe and out of danger to your conscience and your salvation, put a check on this speculative spirit.  Take hold of God as Scripture instructs you (1 Cor. 1:23, 24): ‘Since, in wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, it please God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’  therefore begin where Christ began – in the Virgin’s womb, in the manger, and at His mother’s breasts.  For this purpose He came down, was born, lived among men, suffered, was crucified, and died, so that in every possible way He might present Himself to our sight.  He wanted us to fix the gaze of our hearts upon Himself and thus to prevent us form clambering into heaven and speculating about the Divine Majesty.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p29).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, keep us from presuming Your Word to be our own and Your ways to be our ways.  Humble us that we turn away from our self-righteousness and look to You alone for comfort and salvation.  Keep us in the true faith, that denying ourselves, we confess our sins and trust only in Christ for help and strength.  Amen.


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