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This is What the ELCA’s Move Away from Biblical Christianity Means

April 25th, 2010
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I heard today from a couple who wrote to me, in response to my post about baptism, and said, “Pastor McCain, because of what happened in our ELCA church we are now attending a church that teaches that only adults should be baptized. Here is what they said:

“This issue is of great interest to my wife and I. Since leaving an ELCA congregation we have been attending a church that preaches adult baptism and does not recognize infant baptism. Personally I am skeptical of the entire infant baptism vs. adult baptism debate. I don’t even know if baptism should be considered a sacrament. The story about the penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23: 39-43) seems to undermine both sides in that argument, since I doubt that fellow was ever baptized. Arguments about baptism remind me somewhat about arguments concerning eating meat offered to idols (1 Cor eight) – lots of heat, but little light.”

Yes, dear reader, this is the tragedy of the ELCA situation. And make no mistake about it. It is a tragedy of immense proportions. The ELCA decisions regarding homosexuality have scandalized the faithful to the point that people are now abandoning the simple faith taught to them in their basic confirmation course.

How should we respond?

Reach out! For God’s sake, reach out a helping hand of love and concern, and invite them back to the truth of God’s Word! Extend to them friendship. Do more listening, than talking. Bear their burden, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Now is not the time for timidity, but for great boldness!  Boldness in the Lord! Boldness for the sake of the Gospel of Christ! Boldness for the sake of the eternal welfare of souls!

Here is how I responded to the message I received this late-afternoon.

Dear Brother and Sister in Christ,

May I make an appeal to you, in the name of Christ?

Please, oh, please, do not let the horrendous troubles in the ELCA drive you away from the Gospel of Christ! A church that teaches that only adults should be baptized is teaching contrary to Jesus words, “Let the little children come to me.” Please do not abandon Lutheranism.

How may I help you find a new church home that is faithful to God’s precious, holy Word and His blessed Sacraments?

Paul McCain

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  1. April 25th, 2010 at 22:19 | #1

    Good post.
    The “thief on the cross” arguments always get me. It has no place whatsoever, no bearing at all in any debate on baptism. Yes, Jesus had been baptized – but he had not yet given his Great Commission.
    The thief was not a Roman citizen; if he were, he wouldn’t have been crucified. We can’t say much more beyond that.
    Since he was being crucified outside Jerusalem, tt would’ve been likely that he was a Jew – and if he was, he would have been circumcised [arguably the Old Testament equivalent to infant baptism - but circumcision was limited to boys; I digress] at the 8th day, according to the Jewish calendar. The question of whether or not he was baptized has no bearing, has no point, and is as answerable – or even less answerable, if that were possible – than the question whether he had been circumcised or not.

  2. Michael Mohr
    April 25th, 2010 at 23:04 | #2

    I liked the way that Pastors Weedon and Cwirla addressed the whole thief on the cross vis a vis the necessity of baptism – who needs the sacrament when the One who is working through the sacrament is there to deliver that grace Himself? It doesn’t negate the necessity of baptism, but it affirms the necessity of grace.

    Thank you, Pastor McCain, for reminding us to be engaging of those who are in need of hearing the Gospel.

  3. April 25th, 2010 at 23:14 | #3

    I don’t know that this will be of any comfort, but I’ve gone the opposite direction. I had been in Evangelicalism for thirty years (SBC churches for the last 13; I was licensed at one time and graduated from a major Evangelical Seminary). Because of, among other things, the sacraments, I finally left Evangelicalism for a Lutheran congregation: one that preaches Christ first and foremost, one that clearly distinguishes Law and Gospel, one that, in life and practice, holds Scripture as the arbiter of our faith. This congregation happens to be a member of the ELCA member (there isn’t an LCMS church in my town).

    I meant to join the church last August. However, I followed the ELCA convention and after the vote on the Sexuality Statement, I couldn’t leave my SBC church… yet. But, eventually — and with great pain, counsel, and deliberation — I did.

    I can’t say that I’m fully reconciled with the Statement or the denominational leadership’s general push toward heresy an apostasy, but I couldn’t bear any more Sundays in Evangelicalism. I hadn’t taken Communion in two years and was starving. I couldn’t sing another pop song to “feel” the presence of Christ when I knew that he was in the sacrament for me, for the forgiveness of sins. I couldn’t stand to hear another baptismal testimony that completely rejected Christ’s saving work in the water and the word. I just couldn’t take it and finally joined a Lutheran congregation in January.

    One of the things that has been difficult is listening to so many LCMS folks tear apart the ELCA, arguing that it has ceased to be a church. I don’t defend the Sexuality Statement or many of the other things that the ELCA has done wrongly (or heretically) as a denomination. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t faithful pastors and congregations. Many LCMS people aren’t helping the situation by casting the whole body off, sometimes with a sense of oblivious understanding of both the LCMS’s history and current difficulties (I’m not accusing you of this Pastor McCain, but I think you would acknowledge this happens from some circles).

    As someone who breathes freely on Sundays now, who delights in Word and Sacrament, has fallen in love with the Augsburg Confession, and hears Christ preached from the Scriptures every week, I’m thankful for these faithful congregations. I wish they were the majority. In my town, they are.

    I’m not saying that criticism isn’t merited; I only argue that any wholesale description of the ELCA isn’t accurate and may simply not help the situation or those Lutherans who have nowhere else to go.

    In your example above, if you’re upset with the ELCA, I think it’s for the wrong thing. Perhaps those parishioners’ church was a mess; maybe it ceased to qualify as a church. But you must also see the irony of their convictions. They were so bothered by homosexuality that they left, but they were so unsure of the promises of Christ that a few Sundays in Evangelicalism made them forsake their baptisms.

    I appreciate your heart in this. I know why you’re so passionate about this problem. I want to say that there is still hope. The faith that Luther and his descendants fought so hard to keep still matters. In the case of this couple, it seems that the problem was not their congregation’s apparent acceptance of homosexual union/ordination. Rather, it seems that they failed to hold to the convictions and perspectives that are at the core of Lutheranism. I’m not saying this isn’t a tragedy, only that you have the order backwards. They didn’t leave their Lutheran convictions because the church approved of homosexuality; they were so unsure of their Lutheran convictions that they may have contributed to a situation that finally gave way to a church’s approval of homosexuality.

  4. April 26th, 2010 at 03:05 | #4

    What Luther wrote in the forewords of the Large Cathechism is true also at our times.
    It is sad that many members of the church don’t know what the Holy Baptism is.
    I’m glad about the way you answered to this couple. I pray they find their way back.

  5. Michael Mapus
    April 26th, 2010 at 09:37 | #5

    Should we reach out? Of course!! I have many times over, that includes my parents also. Yet every time I reach out over and against their “feelings” with scripture, they look at me as though I have a third eye. There is a slippery slope that needs to be discussed. Many who want to stay in the ELCA, but know what there doing is wrong, not from scripture, but from their conscience. The other side is those who rediscover the scriptures, usually run 360 degrees in the other direction into a law based denomination. I know, the latter happened to me for a short time. At the end of the day, the question needs to be asked, and answered; is the bible the Infallible, Inerrant Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions the correct explanation of that Word?

    The battle over the bible is not over!!!!

  6. Pr. Tom Fast
    April 26th, 2010 at 09:44 | #6

    What Mr. Johnson wrote (#3) is, perhaps, one of the most clear headed observations about the situation that I have read in a long, long time. Thank you for that. I’d like to copy it, frame it, and put it on my desk in my study.

  7. April 26th, 2010 at 18:47 | #7

    I’ve seen more than one LCMS family “converted” into rejecting infant baptism. Usually these are the more biblically-literate (if naive) of the congregation. Baptists present Bible proof texts for adult-only baptism. Lutherans gotta due the same, or they’ll (“we’ll”) lose.

    What’s the bumper sticker? “I used to be a Baptist, too. Keep reading your Bible.”

  8. Mike Mapus
    April 27th, 2010 at 06:13 | #8


    Where can I get one of those (bumber sticker)?

  9. Purple Koolaid
    April 30th, 2010 at 22:44 | #9

    Mr. Johnson, I’m glad you finally left the ELCA, but how did you ever stay before this w/ their blessings on abortion?

    All this fuss about the ELCA leaving biblical faith NOW is so confusing to me. What about vacuuming babies out of their mother’s wombs?? Was that not a departure of faith?

  10. Kelly
    May 1st, 2010 at 01:41 | #10


    Certainly more Lutherans need more study and fluency in God’s Word, but even beyond doing proof texting, they need to understand just *why* they are reading these Scripture passages on Baptism differently than a Baptist does. Otherwise it just becomes “my proof text against yours.” Christians on both sides of the fence tend to think, “If only those other people would just read their Bible, they’d understand!” But of course, that’s not how it works. Hermeneutics and first principles come into play, as well as wrong assumptions that can keep people from taking a text at face value.

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