Lutherans Fear of Not-Lutherans

By Graham Glover

We Lutherans, that is, we Lutherans of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, are an interesting bunch.

For a denomination that prides itself on doctrinal purity, remaining steadfastly loyal to the creeds and confessions that define what it means to be a Missouri Synod Lutheran, we have an unusual fear of those outside our denominational walls.

I’m not altogether sure why we have such fear. Nobody who seeks to understand the LCMS can ever doubt what it is that we believe, teach, and confess. Our subscription to the Book of Concord and our adherence to the constitution and bylaws of the LCMS, leave little wiggle room for someone to craft their own understanding of what it means to be a member of the LCMS. In other words, it’s quite clear to any theological observer what a Missouri Synod Lutheran is and is not. Consequently, there shouldn’t be much fear among those in the LCMS about those who aren’t. We know who we are. And we know who we aren’t.

But there is a fear amongst us LCMSers. It’s a fear of those who aren’t like us. A fear of those who don’t believe like we do. A fear especially of those Christians who practice the Christian faith in ways that our foreign to our Missouri Synod sensibilities. We Lutherans really do fear what I can only describe as, not-Lutherans.

I’m keenly aware of our denominational history. I know why our theological forbearers came to this country, fleeing a government that sought to mitigate our theological distinctives. To be a member of the LCMS ties one to this history and its theological significance.

But this history doesn’t mean we Lutherans should continue to fear not-Lutherans.

Why then do we do so?

Why do we fear being perceived as too Catholic when we worship in a manner more similar to those in communion with the Bishop of Rome, than those of other Christian denominations?

Why do we fear being called Protestant when our churches remain in an obvious protest against the teachings and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church?

Why do we fear quoting, citing, referencing, or simply applauding those theologians (Christian or non-Christian) outside of our denomination who say things that are theologically profound and worthy of our reception?

Why do we fear being unionistic or syncretistic when our communities call on us to participate in things that are clearly not worship?

Why do we fear when our brother clergy or our sister churches don’t do things like we do? I’m not referring to the extreme outliers in our tiny church body. I’m talking about our fellow LCMS pastors and parishes who talk about our faith and practice it in a way that is only marginally different than our own particular custom.

Why do fear a more robust engagement with those not like us? If we know what we believe and continue to remain steadfastly loyal to these beliefs, do we really need to fear the not-Lutheran? Does our denominational history preclude us from this? Has our experience proven that cannot do so while maintaining our theological integrity? I think not…

And finally, and perhaps most puzzling to me, why are we afraid to just be Lutheran? Here I have in mind those who are fearful that such a label – such a description, might be off-putting to the not-Lutheran. Look, you’re either a Lutheran or you’re not. If you are, claim it. If you’re fearful of doing so, then maybe being a Lutheran isn’t your thing.

I think though that being a Lutheran is a great thing. Being a Lutheran is a freeing thing. And I absolutely think being a Lutheran is not a fearful thing.

So my fellow Missouri Synod Lutherans, help me understand, why we are so afraid of not-Lutherans?!