ST. LUKE'S LUTHERAN CHURCH OF BAY SHORE
An Open Letter of Concern August 2017
Dear fellow LCMCers,
Greetings to you in the Name of Our Dear Lord Jesus Christ in this celebratory year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation!
As we all know the hallmark of Lutheranism since October 31, 1517 has been the clarity of her gospel confession of the theology of the cross with its focus on justification by grace through faith alone, the bondage of the will, and the proper distinction of law and gospel. “Purity of doctrine” has always been her watchword (CA 7) and a bane to her critics. It was muddled messaging that was the reason many Lutherans left larger ecclesial institutions to form an association called LCMC. But as Luther warned, wherever God builds his church, the devil builds a chapel right next to it, meaning no association is immune from the same confessional drift, from the “in-creep” of theological banalities and pseudo-Protestant “feel good” sentiments that are all too easily substituted for sound Lutheran teaching. Given that — I fear that we’ve come to a place of late where some official LCMC messaging has begun to go off kilter.
The latest issue of the 2nd Qtr. LCMC newsletter is a case in point. While the cover article excites with the title of the 17th Annual Gathering in October, “We Confess Faith” (by Mark Vander Tuig), what it appears to “confess” can hardly be thought of as Lutheran. And since it presumes to speak publicly for me and all of LCMC with its repeated use of “we,” I feel compelled to reply publicly — not in complaint — but out of concern for the mixed messaging it sends out.
The article says:
“We believe that the Lord is continuing to reform His church and doing so around the world. At this Gathering, we want to acknowledge that this is both a world-wide confession and an on-going movement.”
We do? Good Lord, I certainly don’t! When exactly did “we” start believing this? When did Lutherans ever confess such a thing? This appears to be a regurgitation of the phrase ecclesia semper reformans (“the church always reforming/being reformed,” attributed to the Dutch Reformed theologian Jodocus van Lodenstein, 1620-1677), a slogan that is not Lutheran in origin nor theology. The idea was a theological non sequitur for Luther and the Wittenberg reformers given that the reformed are already the forensically justified by baptism and runs counter to the 3rd Article of the Luther’s Catechism. He mocked the hyper-Romanist Heinz von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel for trying to promote this notion which suggests the insufficiency of Christ’s justification and the present holiness of his church, writing in 1541:
“If your church is holy, why is it afraid of a council? Why does it need reforming or a council? If it needs a council, how is it holy? Do you wish to reform her holiness too? We, for our part, have never desired a council to reform our church. God and the Holy Spirit already sanctified our church through his holy word and, indeed, purged away all papal whoredom and idolatry, so that we have everything (God be praised) pure and holy — the word, baptism, the sacrament, the keys, and everything that belongs to the true church — without the addition and filth of human doctrine.”
(WA 51, 528-529)
The claim that “the Lord is continuing to reform his church and doing so around the world” is Aquinas’ old argument recycled by such neo-Scholastic folks as Carl Braaten & Robert Jensen’s “Evangelical Catholics,” who maintain the synergistic free-will false teaching that the holiness of the church remains a goal to be pursued. It contradicts the Creeds and all of CA 4. So with all due respect, no, I/we do not “believe that,” nor do “we want to acknowledge” this as “both a world-wide confession and an on-going movement” — except as a globally erroneous one.
The LCMC newsletter further insists congregations need to have a “mission,” a word not found anywhere in scripture and the confessions. Christ has declared “mission accomplished” once and for all on the cross (Tetelestai: It is accomplished). The church therefore doesn’t have a mission. We have instead been “commissioned” (Mt. 28), that is, sent forth — not to “make disciples” (an English mistranslation) — but to “teach all nations.” And so what are we teaching them? That “every congregation is a mission church — or it will die,” even though where the word is present and the sacraments are administered according to it the church can never die? That “we must strengthen the churches we have, absolutely”, though we can neither strengthen nor “plant” the church which the Holy Spirit alone does? Well meaning “spiritual” thoughts though these may be, they give succor to so much fundagelical flatulence that is passed off as sound theology in the church today. Truth be told, we aren’t even “in mission for Christ” for the simple reason that “no one is for him, no not even one” (Romans 3); instead he is for us, he who by his death has already reformed us, justified us, redeemed us and declared us righteous and holy for his name’s sake.
Lastly the author says of a presenter’s words:
“The first was that he spoke constantly about planting churches where there were Lutherans who were being under-served. Really? That’s what we need — more Lutherans? Today that has all changed. We are surrounded by people who don’t know Jesus — and if they do, are not connected to a local church.”
For one thing, that pretty well describes most Lutherans today. And the idea that we need fewer Lutherans is the ecumenical enthusiasm of Evangelical Catholics. For another, it isn’t good enough to simply connect them to a “local church.” Critical to ask is what is that local church teaching? That God continuously needs to reform his church because it isn’t holy enough? That he is doing this around the world and that we should acknowledge this as our confession and mission in an on-going movement? That each congregation must have a mission or it will die and therefore we must strengthen it? Such sentiments go down well with everyone from Fundagelicals, to Catholics, to Baptists and nearly every religious sort in-between. But they must never do so with Lutherans.
“Really? That’s what we need — more Lutherans?” In this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, A-B-S-O-L-U-T-E-L-Y, and more than ever! But of the CA 7 kind! They are literally God’s gift to the world. So fair warning: I for one, as a Lutheran pastor, plan to unleash as many of these buggers as possible upon an unsuspecting and totally confused world and her equally confused church to the glory of God.
Thanks be to God,
St. Luke’s Lutheran Church
Bay Shore, NY