One of our brethren has shared these reflections on the relationship of the LCMS and ELCA. It is thoughtful and timely.
The Church Needs A Constant Reformation
Each year at the end of October we celebrate Reformation Sunday. This year it will take place on October 28, just three days before the actual anniversary of that great event. On October 31st, 1517, the eve of All Saints’ Day, Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenburg Germany. These were 95 points that he found wrong with the church of his day. By posting these 95 Theses it was Luther’s intent to debate these statements and to show where the church had erred. Luther never intended to break from the Roman Church – he simply wanted them to correct the false teachings that were not in accordance with the Bible.
Refusing to consider Luther’s claims the church excommunicated him and referred to him as a heretic. All of this is brought out very clearly in the movie called “Luther.” I suggest if you haven’t watched this movie that you either purchase it or rent it from the library and that you view it for yourself. It presents the struggles that Luther endured as he tried to bring the truth of the Gospel back to light. I especially like the part where he is asked to recant (to take back) his teachings. In that scene Luther makes his famous statement. “Unless convinced by Scripture or plain reason, – for I believe neither the Pope nor the councils alone, since it is certain they have often erred and contradicted one another, – I am overcome by the Scriptures quoted and my conscience is bound to the Word of God, I cannot and will not revoke anything, for it is unsafe and dishonest to act against conscience.”
Aware that God’s Word was the only authority Luther would not give up his stand against those who were teaching contrary to the Bible. He could not tolerate any teaching that overlook-
ed the truth of God’s Word. Even in the face of the threat of death he would not back down. By holding firmly to the truth Luther is credited for bringing the clear teachings of Scripture back to light. All of this paved the way for what would become known as “The Lutheran Church.” It is a church that is not formed by the teachings of Luther, but on the clear and unchanging Word of God. This is why on each Reformation Sunday the Gospel for the day is John 8:31-36. Verses 31-32 read: “If you continue in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Hopefully you catch the significance of this passage for Reformation Sunday. There is one word that should stand out to you. That one word is “CONTINUE.” Jesus said: “If you continue in My Word.” What does it mean to continue in His Word? It means to hold firmly to it and not be swayed by what anyone might think. I as your pastor must do this because this is what I promised on the day of my ordination/installation. As Luther said: “My conscience is bound to the Word of God.”
Today, we are living in a time when people are tolerant of everything, everything but the truth. We see this in all kinds of ecumenical agreements between various church bodies. It no longer matters to some of these denominations that they do not all agree on the teachings of Scripture.
But is that being faithful to what Jesus said? Can we all join together as one big happy family when the clear teachings of the Bible are overlooked? Our Lord tells us to: “Beware of the leaven of Pharisees.” Leaven is yeast. You know what yeast does. It spreads throughout bread dough and makes it rise. What Jesus means is that a little false doctrine, a little false teaching, will spread and corrupt the rest of our Lord’s teachings. We see how this has happened among the ELCA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
First it was the toleration and promotion of women preachers since the early 70s. Then in 1997 it was the decision to join together with three Reformed churches: The United Church of Christ, The Reformed Church of America, and The Presbyterian Church – USA. Sometime later they also voted to be in fellowship with the Episcopal Church, who as you know recently allowed an openly gay person to become bishop. And just this past summer on August 8, 2007, at its national assembly in Chicago, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted that practicing homosexual pastors on the ELCA clergy roster should not be removed.
Imagine that, a so-called Lutheran Church body, one that supposedly confesses the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, joining together with these churches who only see the Lord’s Supper as a symbol of the true body and blood. Imagine a so-called Lutheran Church body allowing openly homosexual pastors to remain in their parishes despite what the Word of God has stated. How can I possibly allow someone from the ELCA to commune at our altars when this is what is going on in their church body? We certainly don’t believe these things in our church body. We believe what the Word of God teaches concerning the Lord’s Supper and what it says about homosexuality. If I were to allow them to come to this altar I would not be faithful to the Word of God. In 1817 the Prussian Union tried to force the Lutherans into celebrating communion with the Reformed churches. When they would not many fled to the United States and elsewhere instead of joining together with those who denied the real presence in the Lord’s Supper. What this union failed to do, the ELCA has openly embraced. How can they possibly tolerate these false teachings along with other false doctrines? I’ll tell you why. Because they have disregarded Christ’s clear words: “If you continue in My ‘WORD’ then you are My disciples.”
Just because people say they believe in Jesus, or just because they call themselves “Lutheran” doesn’t mean that they can overlook the clear teachings of Scripture. We cannot and should not be tolerant of any false doctrine no matter what others might think or say. We need to do as Luther did and not be ashamed of what we teach. We need to hold to the truth of God’s Word which never changes. More than that, we need to speak out as Luther did and not accept the false teachings of other churches. Here’s why the Church is in need of constant Reformation. After all, there still are huge differences in what many of these churches teach about such things as: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Person of Christ, the roll of good works, the Second Coming of Christ, and the list goes on and on.
As True, Confessional Lutherans, who hold to the truth of God’s Word we need to cling firmly to this Word and not be led astray by every wind of doctrine that sounds good to the ears. To this end we pray: “Lord, Keep us steadfast in Thy Word.”