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?!

18 thoughts on “Lutherans Fear of Not-Lutherans

  1. Honestly, if there are Lutherans who are afraid, or just not sure about whether or not they should be Lutherans, I think its because we don’t know what we ourselves believe, teach, and confess.

    Often times, even when we do get into deeper waters, those who teach the faith only give us a cursory or even misleading view of what it is all about, and don’t really get into the actual content of the Confessions.

    They would rather reduce things to a “theology of glory/theology of the cross” dichotomy or filter everything, including the Scriptures, through the lens of Law and Gospel — or perhaps, “the Simul” — whereas in truth we get Law and Gospel from the Scriptures, our norm.

    Going along with I get the impression that the faith of a lot of Lutherans, even presumably well-informed ones, is rather shallow even if on the surface it seems to be very biblical and bold. Many who I know, however, I would not describe this way.

    Furthermore, many would see a man like Todd Wilken, for example, exemplifying a fear of non-Lutherans, since he basically upholds the theology of the Synodical Conference (which the LC-MS and others were involved in until the early 1960s), which was fiercedly anti-unionistic and anti-syncretistic.

    At the same time, he and many others like him thoroughly enjoy the company of, and conversation with, fellow Christians with whom they would not commune with or perhaps even not worship with.

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    1. Nathan, thanks for your input.

      I think most in our Synod know what the LCMS believes, teaches, and confesses. What I don’t understand is why this makes people afraid. We should be comfortable in our beliefs. We shouldn’t shy away from them!

      I’m really interested in your comment that: “They would rather reduce things to a “theology of glory/theology of the cross” dichotomy or filter everything, including the Scriptures, through the lens of Law and Gospel — or perhaps, “the Simul” — whereas in truth we get Law and Gospel from the Scriptures, our norm.” I think I agree with you…would you might expanding a bit?

      As for our Synod’s “fierce” anti-unionism and anti-syncretism, I think that’s a good example of where our fear of being perceived as unionistic or syncrestic prevents us from engaging in events that really aren’t worship, but rather public events with elements of “religious” things (i.e., prayers, etc.).

      And you are right that there are many in our circles that enjoy the company of and conversation with Christians we wouldn’t commune and/or worship with. Still though, I think there is a fear that prevents this from happening in a more robust way.

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      1. Graham,

        “We should be comfortable in our beliefs. We shouldn’t shy away from them!”

        I can’t say “Amen” to that enough, given how wonderful the doctrine is which has been given to us. Glad to hear you say that.

        “our fear of being perceived as unionistic or syncrestic…”

        In the Christian Cyclopedia we read that unionism is a:

        “Nonbiblical term applied to various degrees of coorganization, joint worship, and/or cooperation bet. religious groups of varying creeds and/or spiritual convictions.”

        We also read there that it is: “union of both [true believers and errorists] into an external ch. organization. It includes all ecclesiastical cooperation in which error is tolerated and the Luth. Confession is not given proper consideration (zu kurz kommt).”

        And:

        “The Concordia Cyclopedia (St. Louis, 1927), p. 774: “Religious unionism consists in joint worship and work of those not united in doctrine. Its essence is an agreement to disagree. In effect, it denies the doctrine of the clearness of Scripture.””

        For some of us, we don’t fear being perceived by others as unionistic — in part because they really don’t have that definition of unionism in their minds at all.

        But looking at that definition above and taking it seriously, some us are *not fearful* but are just very confident, for reasons related to experience and history, that that what is descried above, in general, is going to happen, and happens quite easily in fact given the power of the Spirit of the Age, etc. A lot of this relates to the question of “open questions,” which is indeed related to the “doctrine of the clearness of Scripture,” which was a difficult debate in the late 19th century between Lutherans.

        In any case, I realize that that confidence I speak of is not shared by others, but am speaking for myself and others I know who know this history well.

        I’m not against engaging in more real discussion here, in this public forum. That said, I am not sure it would be most helpful here. If you would like to contact me at NRinneatgmaildotcom I’d be happy to continue the conversation.

        Thanks,

        Nathan

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think we must identify ourselves as sinners saved grace, born again Christians, and Confessional Lutherans, in that order. We must walk humbly before God, avoiding spiritual pride. Our Lord is the author of salvation. He draws people to Himself and some join other denominations. Since He looks at the heart, God knows that goats and sheep reside in all the denominations, and at the end of the age He will sort it all out. Although we believe the LCMS to be a faithful church body, it is still filled with sinners and slaves to sin. We should not fear non-Lutheran Christians, but we must treat them as brothers and sisters in the Lord. No doubt there are liberal and progressive denominations, and churches which preach many erroneous doctrines in our day. We must be unflinching and unapologetic in sticking to our Lutheran doctrines, also being outspoken when God’s word is being subverted or watered down in order to accommodate cultural trends. Like the example of Jesus, we shouldn’t hesitate to approach others, believer and non believer, Lutheran or not, and engage them in conversation and friendship, but never compromising our faith in the process.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Regarding the post: Nonsense.

    LCMS laity happily live, work and engage non-Lutherans constantly in their daily vocations. They have no fear of them.

    LCMS pastors –at least the many, many whom I know– do the same, perhaps to a lesser extent since they are called to serve congregations made up of (gasp!) Lutherans. It’s a like accusing a dairy farmer of being afraid of horses, since he spends his days caring for cattle. Nonetheless, these pastors are not afraid of non-Lutherans either. They happily read, learn from, and interact with non-Lutheran thinkers and ideas without fear.

    The post is a tired (and rather sanctimonious) straw man, based on a caricature dreamt up by those who fancy themselves model religious cosmopolitans.

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    1. Todd, glad you could find reason to comment on a post you think is nonsense and from someone you characterize as sanctimonious! You are always welcome to The Jagged Word’s conversation, even if you liken us (rather, me) to a cosmopolitan! (Honestly, that’s a first for me!)

      You are absolutely correct, LCMS laity happily live, work and engage non-Lutherans every day, oftentimes with no fear. And our LCMS pastors do the same (I do it every day as an Active Duty Army Chaplain). Again, with no fear.

      What I don’t understand is what straw man you think I’m trying to tear down? I’m criticizing all corners of our little Synod and have no particular group of people in mind. Mine is an argument against all of us (myself included) whose fear of being mis-characterized or misjudged, or not wholly, entirely, 100% in agreement with all things Missouri Synod, prevent us from being more fully engaged with or in dialogue with those who aren’t like us.

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      1. Graham,

        You write, “Lutherans Fear of Not-Lutherans,” “we have an unusual fear of those outside our denominational walls,” “there is a fear amongst us LCMSers. It’s a fear of those who aren’t like us,” “We Lutherans really do fear what I can only describe as, not-Lutherans.”

        This is a straw man. Since you readily admit that LCMS laity and pastor engage non-Lutherans regularly, and have no fear of non-Lutherans, what in particular are you talking about?

        Perhaps it would be helpful if you provides some specific examples of LCMS laity and pastors who are afraid of non-Lutherans, and fail to engage and dialogue with those who aren’t like them.

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  4. Well, Graham, aren’t you glad you brought this subject up? Unlike many “Jagged Word” articles, this one brought up more than one response. Sometimes I think I’m the only idiot commenting about something written on “JW,” my goal not to be seen as simply a regular obnoxious troll, an annoying “know it all,” or the consummate critic who is usually factually ignorant. I actually post comments to begin a thread and hope a discussion of the issues will generate spirited debates from which each of us can learn. In effect, I take each of the articles seriously. Sometimes I agree with the writer, and sometimes I do not, but nothing critical I write is designed to belittle or insult. In any case, Graham, your article on the LCMS and how some of us Lutherans interact with other denominations has a ring of truth, but it is not a blanket statement, and I am sure you meant to encourage us to avoid spiritual pride and reach out without losing our Lutheran beliefs. I agree. The point is well taken.

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    1. John, always appreciate your input. And know that even when people don’t comment, they are reading the articles and engaging in dialogue.

      None of us “know it all” and all of us are wise to continue these type of conversations. I like to push the envelope at times and hope that in so doing, good discourse can occur.

      Absolutely agree that my article is not a blanket statement (I never said it was and criticized people on every side of the issues…to include myself!). Thanks again for your input!

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  5. Todd, I thought I offered examples in the original post. I’ll restate some of them again:

    1) Some Lutherans (laity and clergy) fear being called or perceived as too “Catholic” for the manner in which Lutherans worship and practice some of our daily piety (making the sign of the cross, etc.). This of course is a misplaced fear, but nonetheless it exists, and I think is the cause of some in our Synod from doing these “Catholic” things. This is unfortunate, especially when it causes some to abandon the historic Liturgy, etc.
    2) Some Lutherans (laity and clergy) fear being called or perceived as too “Protestant”. This fear rears its ugly head when we try to alienate ourselves from other Protestant communions for fear of being too Protestant. Look, I know there are key distinctives between the LCMS and most (if not all) other Protestants. But we are (perhaps not in the 21st definition of the word) Protestants. We remain in protest against Rome and we shouldn’t be fearful of this description.
    3) Some Lutherans (mainly clergy) fear citing non-Lutherans in scholarly journals or presentations, particularly LCMS journals or presentations, our of a false fear of others thinking we endorse everything that non-Lutheran stands for. This is absurd, but it exists.
    4) Some Lutherans (mainly clergy) fear participating in secular/community functions where there are elements of worship out of fear of being called or charged as unionistic or syncretistic. The sad part is that the vast majority of these functions are NOT worship. A prayer or a scripture reading, even a sermon of sorts, does not constitute worship. Hence, our fear drives us away from an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel.
    5) Some Lutherans (mainly clergy) fear their brother clergy, or rather fear being too closely associated with them, when their brother may not practice (namely, worship) in the same way. This fear causes unnecessary division among the brothers.
    6) Some Lutherans (laity sort of, but mainly clergy) remain fearful of engaging the world. I don’t have in mind engaging on theological issues (we do that well!). I have in mind an engagement with their community, their neighborhoods, etc. in things that are not necessarily theological. There remains, I think, a sense of seclusion, among some in our circles to leave the secular things to the secular. In other words, a sense that non-church things (whatever that means) ought not occupy the professional church-workers time.
    7) Some Lutherans (laity and clergy) shy from the term Lutheran, specifically LCMS. You see this on our parishes that don’t even have Lutheran in their name. You hear this when our people are reluctant to be proud of our Lutheran heritage, confessions, etc.

    Again, I ask where is the straw man? Or am I just to cosmopolitan to understand?

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    1. Graham,
      In your original post you didn’t write “Some Lutherans,” your wrote, “Lutherans Fear of Not-Lutherans,” “we have an unusual fear of those outside our denominational walls,” “there is a fear amongst us LCMSers. It’s a fear of those who aren’t like us,” and “We Lutherans really do fear what I can only describe as, not-Lutherans.”
      The statements in your original post are blanket assertions about, and accusations against LCMS Lutherans, not specific examples. Even narrowing your accusations to “some Lutherans,” as you do in your comment, is still a broad generalization without evidence.
      Please provide a specific examples of Lutherans who fear non-Lutherans.

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  6. Todd, I’m sorry my citing 7 examples (two times) doesn’t suffice for you. Must be the cosmopolitan in me.

    If you think any of my 7 examples are wrong, tell me why. If you’ve never seen them, experienced them, heard about them, etc., then I should come hang out with you and your LCMS foxhole, because it’s a lot different from the one I’ve seen all over this country and throughout the world.

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    1. Graham,
      You have made seven unsubstantiated, broad-brush assertions, but offered no specific examples.
      Please provide specific examples of Lutherans who fear non-Lutherans.
      Surely, from what you have seen all over the country and throughout the world, you can cite a few specific examples of specific Lutherans doing the things you accuse all LCMS Lutherans of doing.

      Like

      1. Todd, I’ve twice made 7 specific examples of how my experiences living and being stationed around the country and abroad lead me to think that to Lutherans fear not-Lutherans. If your desire is for me to offer names/dates/locations/etc., I’m sorry, I’m not going there on a blog.

        If you think my assertions are wrong, tell me. I’ve asked. You haven’t answered.

        Incidentally, the title of the blog (remember, it’s just a blog) and the assertions I made are clearly never meant to be an indictment of every single LCMS layman/clergyman. Context makes it clear that the examples I offer encompass a variety of different people and situations.

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  7. Graham,
    You write, “If you think my assertions are wrong, tell me. I’ve asked. You haven’t answered.”
    I told you that I think your assertions were wrong, unfair generalizations in my very first comment, where I wrote: “LCMS laity happily live, work and engage non-Lutherans constantly in their daily vocations. They have no fear of them. LCMS pastors –at least the many, many whom I know– do the same, perhaps to a lesser extent since they are called to serve congregations made up of (gasp!) Lutherans. It’s a like accusing a dairy farmer of being afraid of horses, since he spends his days caring for cattle. Nonetheless, these pastors are not afraid of non-Lutherans either. They happily read, learn from, and interact with non-Lutheran thinkers and ideas without fear.”

    Like

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