Who Are Confessional Lutherans?

By Caleb Keith

I would like to begin by apologizing. If you are not an LCMS Lutheran, what I am about to say may not matter to you. I hate writing about explicitly in-house issues, but some recent events have led me to this blog.

Do you ever ponder why Christianity is so divided? My knee-jerk reaction is always to point to broad doctrinal differences and incompatibility. It is especially easy to go to the sacraments and point out the flaws of Calvinists, Evangelicals, and Roman Catholics as a Lutheran. While these differences are part of the separation, I have begun to realize that the real problem is more nuanced and quiet. I now understand that the main issue and the source of all doctrinal division is what each group or denomination holds to be the central article of the Christian faith. Now, I realize that this is sort of a “well duh” statement and something every Lutheran who has studied the Reformation will remember as obvious. However, I also know that this focus can be lost when Christians debate and argue amongst themselves. In Lutheranism, I find this to be particularly relevant given some growing divisions within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Theoretically, the central article of faith should be the same for all Lutherans. One would think that this would be the case within one particular synod of Lutheranism. But I am day by day more convinced that this is not true within the LCMS. From what I have observed on social media, blogs, podcasts, and even sermons, there are at least two distinct camps—one whose central focus is the organization of the Law and the Gospel and the other the proclamation of the justification of sinners on account of Christ. To be fair, this is simply my observation I am not quoting any particular doctrinal statement. I am about to lead myself into trouble because I believe there are those who hold one view yet demonstrate something entirely different in their work. I know that everyone can fall prey to this from time to time.  However, If I am correct that there are two camps who consistently exhibit a different central article of faith then confessional Lutheranism is in a serious struggle. It is serious because the central matter is becoming unclear, and it is unfortunate because the battle is happening in the blogosphere and podcast land, which usually attracts comments of hate and vitriol rather than debate. I am not writing this to call anybody out.  Instead, I hope it will make some people think about what I see as a growing issue. I do not know if there is a peaceful solution to this, but I like the idea of hosting Reformation-style debates about what it means to be a Confessional Lutheran.