Home > Lutheran Confessions, Lutheran History, Lutheranism > Why We Lutherans Reject Denominationalism and Why We are So Hard to Figure Out: Overheard on a Lutheran Forum

Why We Lutherans Reject Denominationalism and Why We are So Hard to Figure Out: Overheard on a Lutheran Forum

August 31st, 2011
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My good friend Pastor Weedon made a comment on a Lutheran forum and a few of you have drawn it to my attention. So, I’m passing it along to the rest of you. I think Pr. Weedon is making a point that is lost on many Lutherans, or, to be more charitable about it, not clearly understood, neither by Lutherans or non-Lutherans. Lutherans are very hard for Calvinists, Evangelicals, Baptists, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthdoox to figure out. Just when they think they’ve got us nightly shut up tightly into our “denominational” box we go and say something, or do something, that jumbles their well ordered “systems.”

Here then is why this is so, as explained by Pr. Weedon:

We in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod do not accept denominationalism.  We do not believe in the “branch theory” of the Church.  We recognize that our practice of closed communion is exactly what would be appropriate for the entire visible Church on earth.  We believe that what we believe is precisely what every jurisdiction/communion should believe, because it is—we hold—nothing other than what the Scriptures teach.

In other words, we don’t regard those who hold to a different Confession as just “another denomination.”  We regard the other confessions to the extent they differ from ours to be falsifications of the truth.  As offensive and prideful as they may sound, it’s not intended to be anything less than what (until very recent times) everyone believed about their own confession.

So we act in our communion discipline as what we believe the Lutheran confession of the Faith actually is: the legitimate heir and successor to the Catholic Church of the West. That’s a self-understanding derived from our Lutheran Symbols.  We do not claim to be the only jurisdiction in this Catholic Church of the West, purified by the Gospel.  We recognize other particular churches around the globe in whom the same faith resides—from the churches of the Archbishop of Latvia, to the churches of the Archbishop of Kenya and the Bishop of Southern Africa and the President of the Lutheran Church—Canada, and a bunch of others.  Consequently the notion that our altars are closed to non-Missourians is actually not at all accurate.

In the corrupted state of the Church in which doctrine that we cannot but regard as false and dangerous is enshrined in the confessions of other jurisdictions, this leads invariably to acknowledging in them that while members of the Church Catholic may well reside in their midst (in fact, most certainly DO), nonetheless those Churches by the acceptance of various falsehoods alongside the truth of God, cannot be acknowledged as true sister churches on a par with our Synod.  Again, I know it sounds horrific to the ears of those who think denominationally, but if you think confessionally it makes perfect sense:  confessions can be entirely pure, somewhat corrupted, or totally destructive of the Christian faith.  We tend to put almost all the other confessions (Anglican, Reformed, Roman, Orthodox) as “somewhat corrupted.”  Totally destructive would be something like a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness confession.

So back to the assumption that an LCMS person holds the pure confession – that IS the assumption we would make, unless the person in question gives evidence that his participation at our altars is in fact a lie – that he disagrees with our Lutheran confession of the Christian faith as expressed in our Lutheran Symbols.

I’ve probably offended all my ELCA friends and many of my Missouri ones by the above, but I think it’s clear that until we can get the differing ecclesiologies understood, there’s no hope of anyone understanding our practice of responsible communion (my preferred term), which takes seriously into account the nature of one’s public profession at a given altar.

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  1. EGK
    August 31st, 2011 at 10:40 | #1

    When the Lutheran Church – Canada Commission on Theology and Church Relations prepared its document on Closed Communion (we did use the “d” without parentheses!), we (I was on the commission at the time) studiously avoided using the term “denomination” in the document, preferring “confession.” Pr. Weedon’s statements are “spot on,” as Dr. Kleinig would say. Charles Porterfield Krauth, in his book “The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology,” makes the same points in the introduction to that book.

  2. Jack Keene
    August 31st, 2011 at 10:55 | #2

    Good article. As far as offending ELCA, good. They have abandoned the faith by supporting abortion, and homosexual and women pastors. They don’t seem too worried about offending Christians who hold to the historic Lutheran Faith. They are simply Episcopagans in Lutheran sheep’s clothing.

  3. Jack Keene
    August 31st, 2011 at 11:27 | #3

    Luther would beat them with a knotted cudgel .

  4. luckycat
    August 31st, 2011 at 11:28 | #4

    Some years ago my immediate supervisor — a well-educated and devout Baptist — informed me that she had been “insulted” at a Lutheran service she attended while visiting a family member. She told me that she was unable to participate in Communion, and felt her Christian faith was discredited. I explained to her that we differed in our view of Communion, and that we believe in the Real Presence while her church did not. “I know that,” she replied. “I still felt insulted.”

    Yes, we are difficult for others to “figure out.”

  5. ELCA in Texas
    August 31st, 2011 at 12:03 | #5

    @Jack Keene

    “They have abandoned the faith by supporting abortion, and homosexual and women pastors.”
    No. My faith is that I’m saved by God’s grace according to faith and not my own accomplishments. My faith is not in abortion, homosexuality, or the ordination of women. I’m not an “Episcopagan”, I’m a follower of the living Christ.

    • August 31st, 2011 at 12:25 | #6

      As Jesus said, “He loves me, will obey my commandments.” Being a part of a church body that pays for the abortion of unborn children is not faithful to Christ’s word.

  6. Jonathan Trost
    August 31st, 2011 at 14:15 | #7

    I’m sure that the love of each of us for Christ is imperfect, if that love is measured by the degree to which we keep his commandments. None is in all ways faithful to Christ’s word. How we all have fallen and do fall short! “None is righteous; no, not one!” Fortunately for each of us, our justification and salvation comes by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. As Pastor Weedon affirms, it is my confession as given to me by God’s grace that matters, rather than my denominational affiliation, or that denomination’s pronouncements made on a certain day, by a certain few, in a certain place, as faithful or unfaithful to God’s word as that pronouncement may be. Do the institutional churches err from time to time? You bet they do, have done throughout the ages, and will continue to do. But, God’s word endures forever, and so, too, his loving graciousness, notwithstanding the foolishness or disobedience of his children, individually or collectively.

  7. David Schultz
    August 31st, 2011 at 15:15 | #8

    Out of curiosity, why does our Synodical catechism include the concept of denominations? (I think this article is very clear, but it would help if we stayed consistent…)

  8. Jack Keene
    August 31st, 2011 at 15:19 | #9

    In Matthew 25 Jesus said, “Whatever you have done to the least of my brethren (smallest, most helpless) you have done to me. Then he says, “depart from me for I never knew you”

    Anyone who sanctions killing little babies , cannot have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Abortion is akin to Deicide, plain and simple. Read Matthew 25.

  9. Theresa K
    August 31st, 2011 at 19:16 | #10

    Since you already know that I greatly respect you, I’m gonna be brave and ask what you think about the 3 Lutheran synods that have separated themselves from the LCMS citing doctrinal error. Most LCMSers resort to cliche insults.

  10. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    August 31st, 2011 at 23:07 | #12

    I can’t answer for PTM, but, insofar as one of those Lutheran synods may be WELS, to which I belonged, what I think about WELS is, it appeared to me LCMS is right and they are wrong on those points of doctrine and I joined LCMS.

  11. Kevin Jennings
    September 1st, 2011 at 18:37 | #13

    Offending anyone aside, I believe a lot of the offense taken even by those attend churches of our confession is a result of a lack of confidence in the truth. Many who claim to belong to our confession consider the confession of the truth to be arrogant and self-righteous.

    The Missouri Synod has historically held up doctrine and practice as the axis on which everything terms. If I remember correctly, many of those bodies which broke with Missouri did so because of fellowship issues, not doctrine – what I usually call the sandbox principle – if you play with them, then you’re not my friend.

  12. Gulliver
    September 2nd, 2011 at 14:47 | #14

    Kevin (#13) demonstrates the problem in his reply. Fellowship is an “issue” and not a “doctrine”? Romans 16:17 does not teach doctrine or inform our practice as Lutherans? It took discussions over a span of 30 years before the ELS and WELS broke fellowship with the Missouri Synod over its false practice and doctrine of fellowship. This was a heart-rending decision that was made, and should not be dismissed as a “sandbox principle.” Please read Pres. Mark Schroeder’s essay from the Emmaus Conference for some background before dismissing this action.

  13. Darren
    September 2nd, 2011 at 14:58 | #15

    @luckycat
    Luckycat, I know I’m a few days behind so I don’t know if you’ll see this, but you might share this article with your Baptist friend: http://www.russellmoore.com/2011/08/23/who-can-take-the-lords-supper/

    Dr. Moore is at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and I thought handled the subject pretty well in thie recent posting.

  14. Karen Keil
    September 3rd, 2011 at 00:14 | #16

    @Darren
    Dr. Moore’s article on Communion from a Baptist viewpoint was rather informative. Also interesting was the one of the criteria they use to exclude/include at the Lord’s Supper–the mode and age of baptism. Despite this, one Baptist said he attends a Lutheran church a few times a year and goes to Comunion there despite not agreeing with the Lutheran view of the Supper.

    One thing that bothered me was the assumption in the article and comments that all people baptized in non-Baptist/non-immersionist churches were “sprinkled.” Not necessarily so. My church congregation baptized infants, children and adults by pouring, not sprinkling. I preferred the pouring as it was a very visible and unmistakable use of water in connection with the words of baptism.

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