Crisis in the LCMS

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A Letter of Encouragement from Rev. Daniel Preus

Sunday, August 01, 2004

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, faithful confessors and fellow saints,

I get the distinct impression that many are discouraged by events that took place at our LCMS convention three weeks ago and I can certainly understand such discouragement. As far as the elections are concerned, since I was a candidate for office, I will not comment, but let you draw your own conclusion as to what they signify. In my opinion, far more significant than what happened in the election process was what the assembly did in adopting certain resolutions. Some of the resolutions adopted represent a serious change from our historic LCMS polity, others a disenfranchising of God’s people in the matter of their right to judge their shepherds and still others, direct attacks upon the Word of God. When, for example, people are exempted from accountability for violations of the teaching of Scripture, simply because an “ecclesiastical supervisor” has given permission, such exemption is not simply a change in the way we deal with dispute resolution, but a clear and presumptuous rejection of God’s Holy Word which makes every person accountable to God for his own speech and behavior. There is no question that much happened at our convention to discourage those who love the doctrine and the teaching for which the Missouri Synod has stood for so many years.

So what shall we who are discouraged do? Whine and complain? Withdraw into a shell? Act as though nothing has happened? Give up? Permit ourselves to move from discouragement to depression?

One of my favorite parts of our Lutheran Confessions is found in the Smalcald Articles where Luther says, “Thank God, a seven year old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” (Tappert, p. 315) Those words are no less true today than they were a month ago before the most recent convention of the LCMS. We who are Christians continue to possess everything that has always been ours as God’s children – forgiveness, life, salvation and God’s kingdom; we have been deprived of nothing as a result of what happened in St. Louis in July. We may make any number of decisions as a result of what took place at our convention, but our place in the church has not changed and therefore our faith and our hope have not changed.

I, for one, do not believe that the life of the church is seen and expressed most clearly at a synodical convention. I believe that the life of the church is expressed and seen most clearly when God’s people gather around Word and Sacrament. Life in Christ’s Church, therefore, will not change one whit as a result of what happened in St. Louis in July. As I drove to church this morning, I heard the carillon playing the melody to A Mighty Fortress is our God. I could not help but think of the words, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife; though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.” What more do we need than God’s kingdom?

Besides, shouldn’t we who understand the nature of the church as the church militant actually expect to witness the sorts of things we have witnessed in our church recently? We teach a theology of the cross. We condemn those who preach a theology of glory. Why then should we be surprised when we actually see this theology of the cross being taught to us so vividly through events in the life of our own church? Does not Jesus tell us that those who follow Him will bear a cross? Thus, Wallace Schulz loses his job because he proclaims the truth. And Satan attacks the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod because she is a bearer of the truth. Of course he wishes to destroy this church body with its incessant emphasis on pure doctrine and its insistence that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 He hates the truth and he hates the Gospel. Why, then, are we surprised when our church body that has loved the truth and the Gospel is the focus of his attacks?

But what will become of the Missouri Synod? We all know that Christ’s Church can never be equated with a human institution such as the Missouri Synod – but we have loved this church body. It has been blessed greatly by God through the pure proclamation of His Word. It has been honored by God to be the bearer of a confession that has been neither ambiguous nor weak. It has been faithful in its teaching and its practice. Thus, the Holy Spirit has led us to love this church body, not because of those who belong to it, but because in it the treasures of God’s Gospel have been given to us.

It is not wrong for us to love this institution called the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. It is not wrong for us to want to preserve this church body. It is not wrong for us to try to protect this church body from error and unfaithfulness. Councils can err. So can conventions. Church bodies can make mistakes. Church bodies can also be reformed. So what will become of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod? I don’t know. Only God knows. But I do know that if those of us who are committed to the Lutheran Confessions and to our historic doctrine and practice give up on the LCMS, then it is certain that she will never again be what she once was. The Lord saved the LCMS over 25 years ago from the unbelief of the Higher Critical Method that threatened to send us the way of liberal American Protestantism. Can He not have mercy again?

I do not believe that the delegates at our convention were thoroughly informed about the consequences of the actions they were about to take. I do not believe that if they had been permitted to hear a proper and Scriptural explanation of some of the issues that were before them, they would have made some of the decisions they did. I do not believe that this is the time for us to give up on the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I do not believe that now is the time to be talking about leaving to form independent Lutheran congregations or to form new church bodies.

I do believe that it is a time to discuss how we can go forward with clear consciences in the face of error in our own fellowship. I also believe that it is time for us to speak the truth in love and to speak it clearly in order to protect our church body from those who would lead it into unfamiliar and unLutheran ways. It is a time for us to discuss how this can best be done and I am confident that the opportunities to hold such discussions will come soon.

Let’s not be rash. Let’s not be impetuous. Let’s not make quick decisions that we may later regret. For the sake of the church, for the sake of the people of God who belong to our LCMS congregations, let’s talk to each other about how God may use us to bring about a clear and uncompromising confession of Christ and His Word to the church that the true peace of Christ may reign among us. In this way, we pray, the Holy Spirit will bring about healing in our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, a healing that flows out of His Word and brings upon us His blessing.

Sincerely in Christ our Savior,

Rev. Daniel Preus

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