Beware the headlines

Mark G. Schroeder

Last fall, you may have seen a headline that caught your attention. Even though it was a story about religion, it appeared in many secular news publications. The headline blared, “U.S. Lutherans Approve Historic Agreement With Catholic Church” (Huffington Post, 8/17/2016). Only by reading the article would you have noticed this very important piece of information: “Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. [emphasis added] has approved a declaration recognizing ‘there are no longer church-dividing issues’ on many points with the Roman Catholic Church.”

The Lutherans who approved the “historic agreement” with the Roman Catholic Church were in fact Lutherans belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). While the ELCA is for the moment the largest Lutheran church body in America, it has gone from a membership of 5.2 million in 1988 to 3.6 million today and has lost more than 1,500 congre-gations. It now represents less than half of the Lutherans in America. A more accurate headline would have been “One Lutheran Group Approves Historic Agreement With Catholic Church.” In other words, a majority of the Lutheran churches in the United States—WELS, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod included—has not reached any such agreement with the Catholic Church. Headlines can be deceiving, and this one is a perfect example of that.

The ELCA has worked very hard to reach this kind of agreement. From its formation in 1988, the ELCA has made it clear that holding to biblical teachings is not exactly one of its priorities. That’s not surprising for a church body that does not believe in the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. When a church body no longer believes that the Bible is the Word of God in its entirety, the teachings of God are soon replaced

by the teachings of humans. With no scriptural foundation or moorings, a church like the ELCA will inevitably drift into false teaching and unbiblical practice, as the ELCA has done. It will ignore what God says about the sanctity of human life. It will ignore what God says about the roles of men and women in the church. It will align its views on marriage and sexuality with a corrupt culture. It will reduce the gospel to nothing more than a means to achieve social justice. And, as has happened with the agreement with the Roman Catholic Church, it will view scriptural doctrines and Lutheran teachings not as treasures to be held on to but as obstacles to unity among Christian churches. When biblical teaching no longer matters, agreements such as the one reached between the ELCA and the Catholic Church become possible.

There are still Lutheran church bodies that strive to hold on faithfully to the truths that God has revealed in his Word. By God’s grace alone, ours is one of those. Certainly, we would all agree that unity in the Christian church is a noble goal for which to strive. But that goal should never be sought by setting aside or moving away from the teachings of the Scriptures. True unity among churches is achieved when there is unity of teaching based on the Word of God.

It is sad that as the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation approaches, a church that has Lutheran in its name appears to have thoroughly rejected its Lutheran heritage—a heritage that should lead us to stand with Luther on Scripture alone. We pray that God will continue to move us to stand on that Word and to confess boldly, even when others no longer do.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 02
Issue: February 2017

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