The Care Required of Lutheran Christians in the Present State of Confessional Confusion
"The Care Required of Lutheran Christians in the Present State of Confessional Confusion," was the title of Johann Kilian's 1845 Reformation Day sermon in Germany. Pastor Kilian was on the verge of leaving the German State Church because it was pushing Lutherans into fellowship with the Reformed. Kilian left for a small, but faithful, independent Lutheran Church in 1848. In 1854 he took that church and immigrated to Texas; they founded Serbin, and became the first Missouri Synod pastor and church in Texas. Kilian didn't join the Texas Synod which was well established here because those Lutherans had already given up the liturgy and were compromised by Protestant errors.
Today, just like Kilian in 1845 we celebrate the Reformation of the Church which began with Luther posting the 95 Theses on Oct. 31. We live 159 years after Kilian, but there's still Confessional confusion. To some of you I'm sure it's like the 60's song "Everyday People." "There is a rich man who doesn't like a poor man for being such a..." "There is Confessional Lutheran who doesn't like a conservative Lutheran for being such a moderate Lutheran..." It's all jumbled up in your mind, but should it be?
Doesn't it tell you that something is wrong when Lutherans want to distance themselves from the name? Why are so many people afraid of the name Lutheran? There are no more Concordia Lutheran Universities. They've all changed their names to, "Concordia University." There are LCMS mission starts advertizing without the name Lutheran.
If you care about Lutheran theology you should be concerned when people avoid the name. Before Kilian's church left for America they had a bell cast for the church inscribed in German which translated, "God's Word and Luther's teaching pure, shall to eternity endure." Lutherans aren't just another conservative Bible thumping group of Protestants proclaiming, "We believe the Bible!" No, we believe the Lutheran exposition of Biblical doctrine in our Confessions is pure as well. That's why we aren't afraid to say, "I'm a Lutheran." But whenever you say, "I'm a...whatever," you've drawn a line. The great melting pot of America doesn't like lines, and the modern spirit that believes everything is relative, nothing is sure, truth can't be known believe's it's the height of arrogance to proclaim your doctrine is true.
So people avoid the name Lutheran. You hear people say, "I'm a Christian first and a Lutheran second." O really. So tell me what is there in your Lutheranism that is not Christian? Our Lutheran Confessions say we are prepared to stand before Christ on the last day and say, "We wish to be judged on the basis of these things we have taught." We don't believe there is anything in our Lutheran confession of faith that is not Christian. We do believe there are things in the Protestant, Catholic, and liberal Lutheran faiths that are not Christian. That's why we don't commune them, don't do evangelism with them, don't trade pulpits with them.
That shocks some of you, but that is what all Lutherans believed at one time. But in the present state of confessional confusion you can go to our churches and find that, "Holy Communion is for any baptized Christian." You can read obituaries where one of our pastors officiates at a funeral with a pastor we're not in fellowship with. You can see on PBS a LCMS pastor defending his participation in a pagan prayer service.
Where have all the Lutherans gone? They've gone into hiding. Why? One word "evangelism." In the 50s the LCMS got bit with the evangelism bug. Read your Lutheran confessions. You won't find an emphasis on evangelism. O the Gospel is to go out. This is the will of Christ. But Christ knows them that are His. Christ will to see it that not one of His elect is lost. Christ not men grows and protects His Church.
From the 50s through the 70s, we used Protestant programs to evangelize people to genuine Lutheran worship services. But that didn't work well. It was bait and switch. We tried to look like a conservative Protestant church when we invited people to church, but when they came they found we were really a liturgical, sacramental Lutheran one. And far from being able to join our Church by a simple profession of faith, there was, in the 50's, a 6 month course of study drawing lines in the doctrines Protestants agree to disagree on.
Lutheran liturgy and doctrine, was a road block to evangelism. So these were sacrificed in the name of the Gospel, for the sake of souls Jesus died for. Praying with pagans happened this same way. It could to be done in some situations for the sake of the Gospel. Let me be clear. The Protestant errors that Kilian was so afraid of in 1845, the LCMS embraced bit by bit from the 50s on in the name of evangelism. Then in the 20th century idolatry which no 19th century Lutheran ever accepted was embraced by liberal Lutherans in the name of broad-mindedness. Now in the 21st century the LCMS is starting down this same path in the name of evangelism.
How can I best care for you in this state of confessional confusion? I can ignore these things. I can stand on the rock of God's Word and Lutheran doctrine while the flood waters of change sweep by. By keeping the liturgy, emphasizing justification not sanctification, and keeping closed communion false doctrine and practice can be kept at bay. You and I can watch in safety while others are swept away in the flood waters of contemporary worship and water downed doctrine. We can watch as they are swept into the sea of paganism where spirituality and religion count but doctrine and truth do not.
Another option I have is jumping into the flood waters. I can introduce you to blended worship, move on to contemporary, and then immerse you in praise bands. I can make one day Lutherans like other churches do. I can remove the road blocks of closed communion, male leadership, and a gospel that doesn't tell you what to do but what Jesus did. This works. This puts people in the pews. And rest assured you will get used to swimming in the sea of paganism. All the mainline churches have.
The last option I have is to swim against the flood. My feeling is this is the option the majority of you don't want me to take, but this isn't an option or a choice. It's a demand laid on me by my office. Ezekiel 33, on pain of my own damnation, requires me to warn you of dangers to your soul whether you listen or not. 2 Timothy 4 requires me to preach not just in season but out of season, and it doesn't require that I comfort, console or entertain, but that I reprove, rebuke, and exhort. All this it requires of me and then promises me, "The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching."
With all of this in my mind and heavy on my heart, I care for Lutheran Christians in these times of confessional confusion by telling them 3 things. 1) Faithfulness can't be measured by numbers. Those on the side of truth are always less than those on the side of error. 2) Jesus only grows His Church by Word and Sacrament. Those brought into a church by other things such as youth events, athletics, schools, small groups are not people Jesus has gathered. 3) False teaching or practice never leads a person to Jesus, but always away from Jesus and eternal salvation. Jesus says only those who continue in His Word are His disciples. When people depart from a Word of God, in so far as they do that, they are no longer disciples.
I care for genuinely Lutheran Christians in this state of confessional confusion by pointing you to Jesus. Every week I have 2 Bible classes, an adult confirmation class, and a sermon where I point to Jesus. I've never said, "Believe me," but, "Believe Him." I've never said, "I'm your savior," but "Jesus is your savior." All my preaching and teaching is centered on the doctrine of justification, the free forgiveness of sins by grace for Jesus' sake which is yours through faith. Kilian said he was opposed to all the errors of the Protestants for one reason because he stood on the doctrine of justification.
Justification not sanctification is our Mighty Fortress against the errors of today. Being told what Jesus did for you, how He kept the law of God that you can never keep, how He suffered, bled, and died to pay for your sins against the law is what you need to hear to remain faithful to the end. The Protestant error we have embraced as a Synod is that we can do something, must do something to combat sin, death and the devil. If we train our kids to say no, they can defeat premarital sex and drugs. If we train our people to do evangelism, they can defeat unbelief and hell. If we train ourselves to take care of our bodies we can overcome death for awhile.
You would think people have never sung "A Mighty Fortress." There we say that no one earth is a match for the devil. "On earth is not his equal." Our Mighty Fortress is not what we do, how well we are trained, or how much we desire to help others. Everything we can do is swept away with the line, "With might of ours can naught be done." We can only win against sin, death and the devil by Jesus Christ who doesn't fight "with" us but as we sing fights "for us."
Jesus has fought for us and won for us the kingdom. In your Baptism, in my absolving of you, in our Communing, you receive the kingdom. That means you don't have to be afraid even if the earth gives way, the mountains fall into the sea, and the sea roars. We don't have to be afraid if synods split, denominations apostatize, or governments fall. An eternal kingdom is ours for the sake of what Jesus has done on the cross and still does for us in the Means of Grace. In this kingdom we will be fed, led, and protected through the gapping jaws of sin, death, and the devil himself.
The care required of Lutherans in this state of confessional confusion is the same care Pastor Kilian gave. They need to be told the kingdom is their's for Jesus' sake. They need to be told this not, "Yes the kingdom is ours but what matters more is spreading the kingdom." This error leads to spreading the kingdom by any means even if those means go against the King's own Words." So are you going to swim upstream with me or not? Are you going to swim in a kingdom that can only be spread if men cooperate with their prayers and programs? Or are you going to swim in the kingdom which only Christ can spread and does spread each day through His means of grace? Doesn't Lutheran doctrine answer this for you? Don't we confess in Luther's Explanation of the Lord's Prayer, "The kingdom of God indeed comes without our prayer, of itself?" Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Reformation Day (10-31-04); John 8: 31-36