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“Part of the problem . . .”

No doubt you too have read lately about the formation of another “branch” (synod?) within Lutheranism. We speak of a group or association calling itself “Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ” (LCMC) within the 10,000-congregation and three-million-plus-member Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

The association (also called the WordAlone Network) claims to number about 160 congregations and 80,000 members. It is made up of dissenters to the “full communion” agreement announced last year by the ELCA and the Episcopal church. That agreement (which took effect January 1, 2001) allows the two denominations to share clergy. According to the dissenters, one of the problems with the agreement is that new pastors have to be ordained by a bishop who is a member of the “historic episcopate”–bishops who claim to represent an unbroken line dating to the beginning of the Christian Church.

The dissenters object, we’re told, on the basis of Luther’s Reformation teaching about the universal priesthood of all believers–a teaching to which we in the conservative, orthodox Lutheran church have always subscribed. In our circles–and on the basis of Reformation teaching–it doesn’t take a special bishop to ordain, but ordinary pastors can and do ordain other pastors.

Now, on the one hand, we commend the dissenters. It is rare in our day for anybody anymore within the visible Christian church–be it an individual or a group–to take a stand for (or against) something, particularly if church doctrine is involved. The prevailing attitude goes something like this: “The epitome of Christianity is love–a love which sees differences of doctrine to be a strictly personal and private matter, and surely not divisive of religious fellowship (or joint worship).” We in the CLC are among the ever-shrinking minority of those within the Christian church in general and the Lutheran church in particular who object to this liberal, postmodern idea.

That being said–as our heading puts it, we are also of the conviction that the ELCA dissenters (and any others who protest against but refuse to “come out and be separate” from false teachers) are part of the problem. The problem of which we speak is unionism–religious unionism.

By unionism we mean remaining in the bonds of church fellowship with those with whom one is not agreed in Bible doctrine and practice. Such unionism is rampant today in spite of the fact that many passages of Scripture show clearly that it is sinful. It is sinful because it is disobedience to the Word of the Lord.

When it comes to false teachers and their teachings, the Lord God commands His children to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17); God’s children are not to receive “deceivers” “into your house nor greet them” (2 Jn. 10-11), not to mention having fellowship with them within the “house” of a synod; false teachers are to be “avoided” like the plague (Rom. 16:17-18); as the kingdom work goes forward, there are to be “no divisions among you” so that “you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10).

Also among us religious unionism has been characterized as “agreeing to disagree agreeably.” That characterization is not just a caricature. The good–though mistaken and misguided–intent of remaining in synodical fellowship (though one disagrees with some established doctrine or practice of the larger body) is that fighting for the truth from within is the way to go.

According to human reason and opinion, perhaps. The fact is, however, that such “internal fighters for truth” or “error-exposers” are themselves disobedient for such a stance. They are also in danger–according to Scripture itself!–of becoming victims to the very errors they are seeking to eradicate from the false teaching body. The Bible teaches that, like yeast in dough, the leaven of error is continually at work to permeate the whole (1 Cor. 5:6, Gal. 5:9); Scripture teaches that “internal error-exposers” are guilty in that they “share in other people’s sins” (1 Tim. 5:22, cf. 2 Jn. 11).

There is more to say. Today the application of the separation principle is to be faulted, according to some, as violating or sinning against Christian love. We disagree. The love of a child of God for his Heavenly Father and His Word will include childlike obedience to that Word. “If you abide in My Word,” says Jesus, “you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). Love for–and obedience to–the Word comes before all other love.

It is for such reasons that we say: let dissenters within the doctrinally bankrupt ELCA make a clear and clean break from that body. It may cost such things as earthly property (we recently read that the ELCA is demanding a 90% “pro” vote before any protesting congregation can withdraw and take its property with it); it may also cost the breaking up of one’s earthly family. Such sacrifices have always been part of the cost of Christian cross-bearing and discipleship. Jesus said: “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt. 10:38).

In a number of places Dr. Luther wrote, in effect, that Bible doctrine is “of heaven” and that therefore conscientious Christians will not want to part with one iota of its clear teachings.

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word!

–Pastor Paul Fleischer