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You read in the secular press how the largest Lutheran synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), approved fellowship relations this summer with three major Reformed synods {the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America}. Now ELCA Lutherans can commune with, and its pastors can exchange pulpits with, those synods.

Rejected by a slim vote (six votes short of a two-thirds majority) was a similar relationship with the Episcopal Church. Some synod delegates were concerned about the fact that they would be approving the “historic episcopate” of the Episcopal Church which states that there is “an unbroken succession of bishops dating back 2,000 years to Saint Peter.”

From our view, it’s just a matter of time before another vote will be taken and the ELCA will declare fellowship also with the Episcopal church. After all, if the synod could so easily push aside the doctrinal differences* which for centuries have separated Lutherans from Reformed (Calvinistic) churches — which difference re: the Lord’s Supper one participant called “no big deal” — the same synod will soon find a way to work around and even accept the “succession of bishops.” The next logical step will be finding a way to accept the leadership and authority of the Pope, thus returning this largest of Lutheran synods to fellowship with the Roman Catholic Church.

It is sad. How easily, even blithely, doctrinal differences are set aside these days by church leaders and “theologians” as well as, apparently, by lay-delegates.

The newspaper accounts stated that one of the hymns sung after the vote to establish Lutheran/Reformed fellowship ties was “The Church’s One Foundation.” Let’s look at it (cf. #473 in The Lutheran Hymnal). Yes, that hymn sings of a unity among those who are members of Christ’s Church–one line reads: “one Lord, one faith, one birth”. But careful reading indicates that the reference is not to a unity which overlooks doctrinal differences for the sake of superficial unity. Rather, the hymnwriter would have us rejoice in and sing the praises of a unity which is already found within “the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.”

There is also ample evidence for the fact that the hymn writer understands the need for, and praises, an orthodox confession of the doctrines of God’s Word. Words such as these are used: “false sons,” “foe,” “traitor,” “schisms,” “heresies”. . . . Who are “false sons” and “traitors” in the church if not false teachers (cf. Jeremiah 23:21ff)? To what does “schism” and “heresy” refer if not to rifts brought about by doctrines contrary to that which we have learned (cf. Romans 16:17f)? Who is a “foe” of Christ’s Church except those who, according to the words of Christ Himself, are “false prophets (who) come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matt. 7:15)? Of such Jesus adds: “Watch out” for them.

False teachings and their teachers were and are a “big deal” to the Master.

We of the CLC are where we are and what we are in Protestantism — a small, orthodox Lutheran synod separate from mainline Lutheran and Reformed denominations — as on on-going protest against the doctrinal compromising we are here witnessing. We are where we are because we knew we had to “resist the beginnings” of the leaven of error. When false doctrine in the form of elevating human judgment above Holy Scripture made its way into the Wisconsin Synod (over the fellowship doctrine, by the way), we went our separate way for conscience reasons grounded in the Word. Still today, for the same reasons, we cannot join in religious fellowship with any church body, Lutheran or Reformed, unless and until there is agreement in doctrine and practice. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10).

To that end, God help us.

In these last days of sore distress Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness That pure we keep, till life is spent, Thy holy Word and Sacrament.

The haughty spirits, Lord, restrain Who o’er Thy Church with might would reign And always set forth something new, Devised to change Thy doctrine true.

And since the cause and glory, Lord, Are Thine, not ours, to us afford Thy help and strength and constancy, With all our heart we trust in Thee.

* Among the Doctrinal Differences:

True Reformation Lutheranism teaches that Christ’s body and blood are truly present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine, and that the Supper is a Means of Grace in which God actually gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The Reformed churches deny the Real Presence and that the sacrament is a Means of Grace. Rather, they embrace the teaching that bread and wine only represent Christ’s body and blood, so cannot offer forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. When Luther, the “Reformer,” debated this doctrinal point with Ulrich Zwingli, the “Reformed,” at the Marburg Colloquy (A.D. 1529), Luther refused to give Zwingli the hand of fellowship for lack of agreement on the issue at hand.

Most Reformed churches likewise err with regard to Baptism. To us Baptism too is a sacrament–a Means of Grace in which God, through the Spirit working through water and the Word, brings about regeneration and actually washes away sins. Put another way, in Baptism, as in the Lord’s Supper, God is the doer and man, the sinner, is on the receiving end of His grace (cf. Titus 3:5-6, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Romans 6:4). By contrast Baptism to the Reformed is reduced to a “holy ordinance” in which man is the doer with God being placed on the receiving end of a human commitment.

Other areas of historical disagreements between the two churches include the doctrines of 1) predestination and 2) the proper use of the Law in the Christian life. On the former, the orthodox Lutheran position has always been that God wants all people to be saved (cf. 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4), whereas the Reformed teach that God chose some to be saved and others to be damned. On the latter, the Reformed emphasis is on the Law of God as a rule book for God-pleasing living (sanctification). By contrast, the traditional and orthodox Lutheran emphasis is on the Law of God as a mirror to reveal the sinner’s lost condition (cf. Rom. 3:19-20) and subsequent desperate need for a God-provided Savior from sin (justification).