Denominational Loyalty

By Graham Glover

I’d love it if more of you were Lutheran. Specifically, it would be great if you were a member of or in fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It’s not that the LCMS has a monopoly on the truths of Christendom, but as I proclaimed in my ordination vows, I believe her confessions to be a correct exposition of the Holy Scriptures and a right exhibition of the Christian faith. This is why I am and will remain a loyal member of her communion.

I wonder though, does such loyalty mean all that much? It certainly means a lot to me and to the church body that baptized, confirmed, married, and ordained me. If I waivered in this commitment, I could not continue in my current vocation. In other words, if I was unable to confess the truths contained in the Book of Concord, there isn’t much reason for me to remain a Lutheran, much less an LCMS clergyman.

But to some (perhaps many), this type of loyalty is pointless. To them, loyalty to a particular denomination is an outdated and unnecessary relic of the past. They claim we live in an increasingly relativistic and ever transient society where people can’t possibly be expected to remain loyal to one particular denomination. Ours is a time that ranks among the most culturally and religiously diverse ever they say, where expectations of denominational loyalty make little sense. This is especially true to those believers that understand their faith and the god they worship to be primarily an individual thing. That is, what an individual believes is all that matters. The church body/denomination/religious organization where they practice this faith or to which they belong matters not. For example, if one were raised and baptized in a Pentecostal church, there’s no reason they couldn’t feel comfortable worshiping in an Episcopalian parish. A confirmed Lutheran should feel free to commune in a non-denominational mega church. A Roman Catholic might feel most “at home” within the walls of a Unitarian fellowship. A Reformed Jew could just as easily see the goodness in the teachings of a bible study with Latter-day Saints and feel closer to god when around this group of individuals. That these denominations and religions teach different and at times, contradictory doctrines, is irrelevant. Feeling trumps creed. Emotion supersedes denominational loyalty.

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But I just don’t get it. It boggles the mind how fluid people can be as they flow in and out of churches whose teachings stand in complete opposition to one another, yet I see it all the time. No matter how often I hear their explanations, I simply cannot fathom how one’s feelings can ever trump one’s creed. I think I’m an emotional guy, but under no circumstances can I ever imagine a scenario where my emotions will supersede my denominational loyalty or dictate my doctrinal indifference. While Christians seem more and more prone to take a lackadaisical attitude toward church membership, believers of all stripes put themselves in grave danger if this trend continues.

If denominational loyalty remains insignificant, then so is the faith that we confess. If church membership means nothing, then we ought not claim to be part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. If our feelings and emotions dictate where we worship and who we pray with, commune with, and fellowship with, then the god we call out to might as well be our own selfish egos. If doctrine becomes an afterthought, if adherence to a particular confession become passé, then the church has ultimately ceased to be church.

Denominational loyalty matters. It matters to me. It matters to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It should matter to you, even if you are not part of my communion.

Denominational loyalty matters because words mean something. It matters because doctrine informs how we understand these words. It matters because the doctrine contained in our confessions ultimately guide how we read and interpret the Word – they very Word that is our faith.

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7 thoughts on “Denominational Loyalty

  1. “While Christians seem more and more prone to take a lackadaisical attitude toward church membership, believers of all stripes put themselves in grave danger if this trend continues.” Really?

    I would like all loyalty to be given to Christ and His Gospel. Human institutions are temporal and quite temporary, relatively speaking, and are run by well meaning, but Simul people. Thus, it probably is prudent to maintain a healthy perspective as to the potential of such institutions.

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    1. Jean, I agree. Loyalty is given first and always to our Lord, His Word, and His Church.

      I’m not suggesting a denomination is more important than that which gives and sustains our faith. My point is that what denominations teach and confess – what they stand for – matters. I think there is a danger if Christians ignore what churches publicly confess or dismiss them as irrelevant, or as is more often the case, maintain membership in one body but fully participate in another (especially when those bodies teach fundamentally different things).

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  2. I agree. We can only be united by the truth,and how Scripture is interpreted is important. We don’t safely do that as individuals. Some of the groups mentioned in the article are cults,and the Christian embibes those teachings at his or her souls peril. It’s easy to say “I just believe in Jesus and the Bible.” Every so-called Christian group says that. No,I don’t believe Orthodox Lutherans have a corner on the truth,but I too believe that the. BOC is the most faithful interpretation of Holy Scripture. Christianity isn’t a Lone Ranger religion. While the LCMS has it’s share of problems,while it sticks to the Lutheran Confessions,I’ll stay. There is something to be said for loyalty.

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  3. Graham, you state: “. It boggles the mind how fluid people can be as they flow in and out of churches whose teachings stand in complete opposition to one another.” The various denominations of Christendom’s teachings do not ‘stand n complete opposition to one another.’ If they did they would not be part of Christendom. Thus while there are many differences between the denominations, if they are Christian then they stand united on the central teaching of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. You also state that “Denominational loyalty matters because words mean something.” I would agree that words matter, and so it also matters that the LCMS clergy take a quia subscription to the Confessions “because” they are a true exposition of the Word of God, and yet we as Lutherans say that we are a ‘sola scriptura’ church. If words mean something then we should be able to admit that as long as we have added the Confessions to Scripture of that which must be subscribed to then we are not a truly ‘scripture alone’ church. And besides that, how can we subscribe to the Confessions “because” instead of quatenus, ‘in so far as’, they are a true exposition of the word of God when they are neither inerrant nor verbally inspired? So, while I love being an LCMS preacher, and have no intent of leaving my beloved church body, I also recognize why some may not feel as strongly about it as I do and recognize that the key loyalty that matters is to Jesus and his church, and not to the Churches that we have established.

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    1. John, thanks for the reply. I think my friend and colleague, Rev. Ross Engel, answers your concerns beautifully in his post from today: https://thejaggedword.com/2016/07/14/anti-christian/ I commend it to your consideration.

      While our brothers and sisters in the faith that Ross references, many of whom I deal with on a daily basis in the Chaplain Corps, are indeed part of the Body of Christ, we are lying to ourselves if we say our teachings do not stand in opposition to one another. This is clearly not the case. You aren’t suggesting that things like how one interprets the Scriptures, how one views and teaches on things like Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Holy Absolution, the Mass (Divine Service), Office of the Ministry, etc. are incidental and not truly important to what it means to be a Christian, are you?

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      1. No, those things are all very important, especially when we are talking about church bodies being in altar and pulpit fellowship with each other, not as much when we are talking about individual Christians changing denominations, as was more the subject of the original post. But when we stand hand in hand before the throne of Christ in His kingdom of heaven we will see that those issues that distinguished us from one another as denominations on this earth will not have been so important as to separate us from each other, or Him. I would love it if all the kids that I have confirmed over the years would stay Lutheran, and LCMS at that, but they attend other churches in college (if at all) and they meet spouses of other church bodies, and they move to a community where there are no LCMS churches. That is the reality, and I’m just grateful and joyful if those kids that I once taught stay worshipping somewhere. I use to care more about denominational loyalty, and then I spent 10 years working inner city ministry in San Francisco, and then I moved to another Canaanite city, and my views changed. That a person knows Jesus, that I care about… that He ‘stays’ LCMS, that’s just icing on the cake. And if we are all about honesty, then let’s be honest about the LCMS too… we do our best to be faithful to God’s word, and we do a pretty good job in many areas of doctrine and ministry, but we fail miserably in other areas. We are at best a flawed church, as are all of our earthly institutions, and a little more humility in recognizing our own sin, and a little more repentance too, might do us well in following Christ’s commission to “disciple” the nations, not to “Lutheranize” them. Blessings

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  4. John, I think we agree more on this topic than our responses allow. At the end of the day, yes, I, like you, and all those who confess Christ as Lord, desire that this is the first and primary article of faith that people confess. Since most of my flock (98%+) are not Lutheran (much less, LCMS), I would find little joy in my vocation if I thought all had to be LCMS to be saved.

    That being said, I still think the original issue raised of denominational loyalty is important. That many Christians (to include many in our Synod) think it is perfectly acceptable and good to move in and out of denominations without so much as a second thought, is problematic. Denominations exist for a reason and the things they confess matter. That some (many?) don’t think this is important was the source of my critique.

    I agree that ours is not a perfect church and that like other denominations, we fail and sin, both collectively and individually. And yes, our priority is and will remain to do what our Lord has called the Church to do. But insofar as I am a Lutheran and believer her confessions to be the best interpretation of the Scriptures, I will seek to Lutheranize them as well.

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