Pastors Answer Frequently-Asked Questions
No. Yes. “Conservative” means different things to different people. For some,
a conservative church is one that uses a traditional liturgy or sings from the old hymnal. For others, conservative equals “strict,” as in, “You mean that your church is more conservative (strict) than the Missouri Synod?”
A better word is “confessional.” This means that we carefully spell out what we believe and how those beliefs apply in our modern world. For example, the Bible nowhere mentions the Masonic Lodge. But confessional Lutherans are opposed to Lodge membership because it violates key teachings of Scripture, such as the fact that we are saved by grace and not by works, and the fact that the true God alone deserves our allegiance and trust.
Being confessional is biblical. In 1 Corinthians 1:10, the Bible tells us, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” We are to be perfectly united, not on the basis of our traditions or personal preferences, but on the basis of our teaching and practice. To be of the same mind in doctrine and of the same judgment in how the doctrine applies, we need to spell out our position clearly.
We share many things in common with other confessional Lutheran churches. From a distance we look practically alike. We hold to the verbal inspiration of Scripture—that the very words of the Bible are God-breathed—and we bow to its authority in all matters of faith and life. Confessional Lutherans stand together in our position on the Means of Grace, teaching that God creates and sustains faith through the ordinary means He has chosen, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. We share the same position on the separation of Church and State, the doctrine of the last things, the Real Presence, and so forth. Compared with the vast majority of churches, it may seem hard to distinguish one confessional Lutheran church from another.
But doctrine is not meant to be viewed from a distance. Unity is not determined by the number of things we agree on, but by the absence of things we disagree on. The Common Confession of 1950 was a faulty attempt to bring together two different doctrinal positions and unite them through intentionally vague and ambiguous wording. This ultimately resulted in the formation of the CLC and the breakup of the Synodical Conference.
Sometimes the differences between confessional Lutheran churches are found in their doctrine, sometimes in the application of the doctrine, and sometimes in the way in which the application is carried out. A church might be against lodge membership and agree to everything on paper, but it never puts it into practice. Or if it does practice it, it doesn’t handle the issue in an evangelical way. Like an electrical circuit, if the connection is broken in any of the three—doctrine, application, practice—the unity that God desires is lost.
Being united with other confessional Lutheran churches would be a great blessing and should be our goal as long as it can be done without doctrinal compromise. This is the purpose that inter-synodical meetings can serve. They provide an opportunity to determine whether there is unity, and they do it apart from the heat of the original conflict.
Your pastor can give you additional information about how we differ from other confessional Lutheran churches.
James Albrecht is pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Okabena, Minnesota.