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Floundering In A Sea

Those who keep abreast of what is going on within the churches know that the larger Lutheran synods are often recipients these days of many thousands of dollars of fraternal grant monies. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS — and its little sister, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod {ELS}), are regular beneficiaries of grant money from fraternal insurance companies known as Lutheran Brotherhood (LB) and Aid Association for Lutherans (AAL).

It will not be news to anyone who reads the Lutheran Spokesman that our CLC synod, long ago now, adopted a stance, for conscience reasons, against receiving and accepting such fraternal monies. We were uneasy, and said so, when we perceived that connections with the AAL would involve us in fraternal activities with those with whom we were not doctrinally like-minded (known in the church as “unionism”).

The uneasiness of which we speak was the result of extended careful and in depth study of the issues involved. The uneasiness was, furthermore and most importantly, the result of a consistent application of copious scripture passages in which God warns His believing children against compromising their Christian faith, and their confession of that faith, before the watching world.

Ecumenical Endeavors

As the world watches the following for example what must it conclude?:

* AAL awards grants totaling $600,000 to the three major church bodies

within the Lutheran denomination for a 1994 “Church Membership

Initiative Grant Program” to study trends and attitudes about

membership in the Lutheran church… (May 25 1994 AAL news release)

* Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Maplewood, has been awarded an $800 grant

from AAL. The funds will help the church in conjunction with

Transfiguration Catholic Church, to conduct an ecumenical Vacation

Bible School June 20-24. Children aged 4 through second grade will meet

at Gethsemane Lutheran Church. Those in grades 3-5 will meet at

Transfiguration Catholic Church… (May 20 1994 release)

* The Inter-Lutheran Seminary, Hancock, has been awarded a $2500 grant

from AAL. The grant will provide tuition assistance to seminary

students. AAL awarded the grant through its Church Vocations

Enrichment Program, which gives financial support to 16 Lutheran

seminaries in the United States… (July 1 1994 release)

* The Council of Lutheran Churches of Greater St Louis has been awarded

$500 to help fund the Oct. 15 Lutheran Octoberfest in St. Louis

(July 5 1994 release)

* Etc. (such releases come to our desk almost monthly)

As the world reads about such obviously ecumenical and inter-Lutheran activities on a regular basis there is only one conclusion: that the “big three” Lutheran synods are “in this business” (pun intended) together. The world has the right to conclude that at times these Lutheran “big three” are even willing to do church work together with the Roman Catholic Church.

Some “Dirty Little Secrets”

And as far as we are concerned there is more involved than simple sinful unionism Financial support from AAL — which, by the way, includes members of all three major synods on its national policy board — turns up here and there for questionable purposes. There is the report of how a $2200 AAL grant helped fund a new magazine called “Appropriate”. This magazine which bills itself as a Christian humor magazine was founded last year by a California couple. To us it approaches blasphemy. The first issue, for example, talked about “The Gospel of RuPaul”, in which “the transvestite entertainer is presented as a disciple of St. Paul”.

Equally as telling can be some activities to which AAL chooses not to lend its financial support. Under the headline “AALs Dirty Little Secret” is this report: “Aid Association for Lutherans has a policy of not funding pro-life efforts in the Missouri Synod because this might alienate some of its customer base, particularly within the ELCA. AAL’s dirty little secret is that it is not willing to defend the life of the unborn, but prefers to protect its market share in the Lutheran insurance business instead.” (Christian News March 27 1995).

Knowing how the ELCA has embraced totally the new theology of liberalism, and how the LCMS has long allowed pockets of liberals to exist within its fellowship, we are not surprised when these synods see no problem with the confessionally-compromising activities of the fraternal insurance companies.

What continues to perplex, however, is how the WELS and the ELS can continue to flounder about in the sea of Lutheran fraternities. When we of the CLC meet with them — officially or individually — to discuss fellowship questions on the basis of Scripture their representatives often speak good words.

Guilt By Association?!

For example, listen to these good words spoken by a WELS church leader. In answer to a reader’s question about “guilt by association” and whether “a persons membership in a church body or organization (i.e. lodges) indicate acceptance and support for the beliefs and standards of that organization”, this was said:

The Bible teaches guilt by association especially in the area of religious confession, membership and practice, for what is at stake is: the glory of God, the truth of Scripture, the witness of the church, the integrity of a Christian, and — ultimately — the salvation of the misguided. 1 Corinthians 10:18 asks rhetorically ‘Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?’… To participate in, subscribe to, and subject oneself to the influence of spiritual falsehood is to contaminate one’s own faith and understanding with error. Paul’s metaphor for that demonstrable fact is: ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough’ (Galatians 5:9).” (Paul E. Kelm Northwestern Lutheran, p. 279, August, 1991)

We have often noted in recent years that the WELS and ELS speak well in the area of the doctrine of church fellowship and its practice But apparently both synods have floundered about so long and so far now in the sea of fraternal dollars that there’s no turning back

Well spoken. but now what about the practical application of the doctrine? Isn’t it “participating at the altar” of false religions when one uses fraternal monies to support liberal Lutheran seminaries and even activities with Roman Catholic Churches? Isn’t it clear that the yeast is in the dough when unChristian practices are supported and/or condoned by my fraternity? How can one participate in these things and claim before God one is free of contamination? Pilate washed his hands, but they were still dirty.

Apparently WELS and ELS have floundered about so long and so far in the sea of fraternal dollars that there’s no turning back. What’s worse, from a spiritual standpoint, is that apparently most of them are getting used to, and even enjoying, something which at one time we know gave many of their pastors and people a bad case of seasickness.

It is sad. Especially when essential things like “the glory of God, the truth of Scripture, the witness of the church, the integrity of a Christian” (Kelm quote above) are stashed in the hold of the ship as the craft flounders at sea.

— Pastor Paul Fleischer

(Note: Since the time of this writing, a letter in which AAL explains its gift to “Appropriate” appeared in Christian News. In effect, it is said that the gift was channeled indirectly through its Lutheran Network grant program. The AAL Grant Program Manager writes that “(we) feel we were deceived” by the way in which these particular grant funds were used, and adds: “We are saddened by the offense caused by what was promoted to be a Christian publication.”)