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A few weeks back we wrote something in our church bulletin (cf. January, Lutheran Spokesman, p. 16) in which we took exception to what a local pastor wrote in the clergy column of the Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch.

You may recall we referred to the fact that the pastor of a local Community Church “caved in” to the ecumenicism of the day when he changed his mind about “How we can pray in unity?” Previously, he said, he had always believed (on the basis of Scripture!) that people of different religions could not and should not pray together. No more. He has changed his mind. Now, in his view, it is all right (also on the basis of Scripture?). His rationale, briefly, was that it is both necessary and proper to make a distinction between state-sponsored and church-sponsored religious activities. In church-sponsored activities there should be no joint prayer. However, in state-sponsored activities, according to this pastor, the lay of the land is different. In such activities (the way we understood him) the God of the Bible apparently doesn’t care if His believers pray together with those who believe in other gods.

We begged to differ. We don’t find anywhere in God’s Word where He makes such suggested distinctions. Yes, there is a distinction between Church and State. These two spheres have different aims and ends (the Church operates with the Word and the spiritual for the soul; the State is concerned about civil matters and laws, protecting the body and its citizenry). While acknowledging that, however, we also believe that since it’s wrong to pray to false gods and with their adherents in the one setting (church-sponsored activities), it’s also wrong in the other setting (state-sponsored activities). In fact, if we are consistent, we find that the first commandment itself (“Thou shalt have no other gods”) applies across the spectrum of religious interaction. “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him,” (1 Kings 18:21) said Elijah to the people on Mount Carmel.

Our title suggests that we intend now to take exception with someone else who, in our view, has “caved in” to the prevailing ecumenicism. We have in mind Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, the president of the once staunchly conservative, orthodox Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). The same scenario–the events following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks–prompted considerable unrest when Dr. Kieschnick gave his approval to certain Missouri Synod leaders praying with people of other denominations and faiths (Moslems, Jews, Buddhists) in an ecumenical worship service at Yankee stadium.

To make a long story short–subscribers to Christian News have been reading story after story about it for weeks–two conservative LCMS pastors undertook to oust the synod president as being guilty of false doctrine. In their support, says one article, “the synod’s 1847 constitution demands that its congregations and pastors reject both the mingling of Christian and non-Christian beliefs. Traditionally, Missouri Synod leaders have not led prayer services with leaders of other religions, or even other Lutheran denominations” (Christian News, Dec. 17, 2001, p. 7). Yet these two pastors seeking Kieschnick’s ouster, or at least his disciplining, soon hit a roadblock. The same issue of Christian News reported that the synod’s Commission on Constitutional Matters said that “only a national convention of the church body could deal with the charges.”

Problem is, the next LCMS convention isn’t until July 2004. By then, you can almost count on it, the turmoil will pretty much have ceased. We read that the 35 LCMS district presidents, aware of the turmoil, gave Kieschnick a standing ovation at a post 9/11 convention. And we’re told that “about 97 percent of (his) mail, phone calls, and e-mail has been supportive of the president.”

One of the pastors who brought the original charges against President Kieschnick concluded that “the matter of debate in regards to Christians and non-Christians leading prayer together will continue in our synod. It will hopefully be resolved with honest, loving conversation between the saints.”

In other words, the matter won’t be swept totally under the rug. President Kieschnick has asked the synod’s district presidents, together with the synod’s Commission on Theology and Church relations, to “come up with specific guidelines to help pastors and lay people understand the difference between praying with others in civic events and in joint worship services.”

We will be watching, for such a statement intrigues. As does this quote from President Kieschnick in the current context: “Fifty years ago, there were few Hindus or Muslims in America. . . . This is not your grandfather’s United States of America.”

Perhaps, yet the Bible is your grandfather’s Bible. We wonder what support from that Bible will be found to alter the position of the 1847 LCMS Constitution and its 150-year tradition based on that Bible and that Constitution?

For our part, the following statements from a 70-year-old document have bearing on the current debate in Missouri: ” . . . We hold that all teachers and communions that deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity are outside the pale of the Christian Church . . . “ (Of God); ” . . . Since God has reconciled the whole world unto Himself through the vicarious life and death of His Son . . . therefore faith in Christ is the only way for men to obtain personal reconciliation with God, that is, forgiveness of sins. . . . “ (Of Faith in Christ); ” . . . We repudiate unionism, that is, church-fellowship with the adherents of false doctrine, as disobedience to God’s command, as causing divisions in the Church, Rom. 16:17; 2 John 9:10, and as involving the constant danger of losing the Word of God entirely, 2 Tim. 2:17-21″ (Of the Church, On Church-Fellowship). (Brief Statement of the Missouri Synod, 1932)

--Pastor Paul Fleischer
Grace Ev. Lutheran Church
Sleepy Eye, Minnesota