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The ELCA and ‘Easy’ Lutheranism*

Not long after retiring and relocating to another city, this writer had a backyard “over the fence” (literally) get-acquainted visit with a next-door neighbor. Upon my mentioning that I was a retired Lutheran minister, the friendly chat quickly turned to the subject of religion. And when I noted that I was a long-time member of the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC), a conservative Bible-teaching Lutheran synod, our friendly neighbor responded: “I’m on the outreach board of the local ELCA church…we’re one of those easy Lutherans, you know…”, to which he added with a hearty guffaw, “and proud of it! You gotta do what you gotta do!”

After a few more neighborly pleasantries, we soon bid one another a hearty “Good day!”

We indeed think we know what our neighbor meant when he referred to his congregation and its synod, the largest Lutheran synod in the land, as the Easy Lutheran Church of America. As far as we are concerned, his church and synod have chosen a path of easy discipleship to Jesus Christ.

What’s not to like about such a path? “All the benefits and rewards with few if any risks or dangers along the pilgrim way?!? Count me as a ‘member’ of such a brotherhood!” [So says human nature, which is spiritually blind, deaf and dumb, dead in trespasses and sins—an ally of Satan, the god of this sin-sick, fallen world.]

More to the point, if you’re going to be an ‘easy’ Lutheran, what’s not to like about a qualified “this we believe” path of liberation theology and social gospel, even as one reduces the true gospel to the lowest common denominator of “Jesus saves” [termed ‘gospel reductionism’]?

Along the same lines, if you’re going to be an ‘easy’ Lutheran, what’s not to like about abandoning any creedal or confessional “this we reject” statements [as contrary to Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions] on the burning issues of the day, such as the divine inspiration of every word of the Bible, the matter of origins (creation or evolution), abortion, same-sex marriage, the role of women in the church—and a host of other doctrines?

To summarize:

If you’re going to be an ‘easy’ Lutheran, what’s not to like about jumping on the ‘all truth is relative’ and ‘anything goes’ bandwagon, echoing and putting into practice (“you gotta do what you gotta do, you know!”) such liberal and/or politically correct ideas as unionism’s ‘reconciled diversity’ of doctrine and practice under the spiritually hackneyed mantra of ‘agreeing to disagree agreeably’ on whatever the subject under discussion or debate?

Yes, much more could be said, but let’s take a good hard look at some holy facts which belie the idea that Christian discipleship—for those who wear the Lutheran label or any other would-be Christian denomination—is ever God-pleasingly ‘easy.’

According to the Master Himself,
discipleship to Him involves:

? Numbing and inescapable divisions within the blood-family: “’Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead’….Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 8:22, 10:34-36).

† Total self-denial and unrelenting cross-bearing: “Then Jesus said to His disciples: If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whosever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24f). “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).

Regarding what is ‘easy’ and what is ‘hard’ when it comes to entering His kingdom, Jesus put it this way to His disciples: “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23f).

Such passages expose as devilish (!) any idea that allegiance to Jesus Christ and His Word of truth ever was, is, or will be an ‘easy’ matter.

Countless other Scriptures might be given to extend the list of “hard sayings” as far as disciples of Jesus Christ are concerned—sayings which, in fact, caused many to go away and walk no more with Him. When Jesus asked His inner circle of disciples whether they too would abandon Him, Peter answered for them (and for us!): “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:60ff).

In closing, for all our friendly neighbors we have words of supreme hope, peace, comfort, and joy—words which teach that there is indeed something about the gospel of Jesus, the Savior of sinners, that is ‘easy.’ It is the paradoxical truth that, while following Jesus is hard, yet He adds, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

That is spoken in the context of those who, while weary and heavy laden with sin and woe, hear His invitation to come to Him in simple child-like faith to find rest—the rest of forgiveness of all sins in Him! Yes, fellow-believers, because Jesus walked the taxing path which led to our redemption—we are heaven-bound!

 *An Aside:Religious RINOS

This article might be considered a follow-up to a writing which appeared in the Lutheran Spokesman twenty-five years ago (July 1989, authored by this writer). That article—which was titled “THE ELCA AND BANKRUPT LUTHERANISM” and is quoted on page 354 in the 1992 book What’s Going On Among the Lutherans?—set forth the hard evidence which revealed the ‘easy’ path mainline Lutheranism was already then choosing for itself [see p. 18ff].

The same article defended unqualified subscription to and faithful practice of a ‘hard’ confessional Lutheran stance from the standpoint of Holy Scripture as well as from the testimony of the Lutheran Confessions. As Scripture asserts (1 Corinthians 5:6, Galatians 5:9), and as church history bears out, the leaven of doctrinal error spreads inexorably through the whole church body, from the “leaders” to the lay-members. May God mercifully spare the members of the CLC from embarking on a discipleship path of ‘easy’ Lutheranism!

Please consider the following. RINOS—an acronym for Republicans In Name Only—refers to those who, rather than standing fast on their political party’s platform with its conservative stance on many ‘hard’ issues, are more interested in compromise, ‘crossing the aisle’ to make peace with those of a different and even opposite persuasion.

When it comes to the far more serious—containing eternal consequences—matter under discussion here, we would coin another word: LINOS. That would refer to Lutherans In Name Only and/or to ‘easy,’ Low Information Nominal Only disciples.

And how would the exalted Lord assess LINOS? Listen to His stern rebuke of first-century nominal Christians belonging to the church in Sardis: “…You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead….Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent….He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:1ff).