Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

 

The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod

 

In 1976 there was a large exodus from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). About 300 congregations and 110,000 people left the LCMS. At the time, the claim was made that here was one instance where a denomination reformed by disciplining leaders who had adopted a liberal position contrary to the confessional stand of the LCMS. Those who left formed a new and more liberal denomination called the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC). Those interested can read more of the history on its Web Site (ELCA.org). As a general rule, when denominations depart from their earlier basis, the faithful are forced to leave. In this instance, the liberals (termed: “moderates”) left to form another denomination. Those of the ELC eventually joined with several other Lutheran denominations.

But sadly, after some 28 years it has become increasingly clear that the liberal element (again called the “moderates”) have taken over from the “conservatives.” World magazine, July 31, 2004, presents this report:

This month conservatives in the dissension-racked Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod barely missed ousting Gerald Kieschnick, 61, from the denomination’s leadership. The vote at the triennial meeting of the 2.6-million-member denomination was 52.8 percent for President Kieschnick’s reelection and 47.2 percent for four other candidates. (The three most conservative candidates split 46.5 percent of the vote.)

Kieschnick opponents have worked for a change ever since he approved the participation of Rev. David Benke, the church’s Atlantic District president, in a civic interfaith rally. The rally was held at Yankee Stadium 12 days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Rev. Benke offered a short prayer there. The critics said his involvement showed syncretism (worshipping the true God along with the gods of other religions) and unionism (formal fellowship with other denominations).

The LCMS officially opposes both. One leader, Wallace Schulz, lost his job as a speaker of The Lutheran Hour for trying, in his role as a synod vice president, to enforce the denomination’s stated position on the matter. The dispute has been doctrinal and emotional: “The dislike, I’ve never seen it worse,” LCMS pastor Greg Smith of St. Louis told reporters.

Overall, the LCMS is largely a conservative denomination, with both sides affirming commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture, justification by faith alone, and other biblical essentials. But some LCMS leaders want to make the denomination more like mainstream evangelicalism, and a few want to ordain women. The LCMS is known for practicing closed communion and liturgical worship; Kieschnick supporters often see both denominational teachings as obstacles to church growth.

The article points out other decisions taken by the LCMS. Guidelines were adopted to guide ministers who would participate in prayers with other Christian and non-Christians. They adopted a dispute-resolution process “that allows for only the denominational president and district presidents to file disciplinary charges.”

The article concludes:

In other business, the delegates voted 1,163-22 to affirm marriage as “the lifelong union of one man and one woman.” They also affirmed the biblical account of creation and said the church would not “tolerate” the teaching of evolution as the explanation for the origins of the universe (as seems to be the case in some LCMS classrooms).

The LCMS continues to struggle with finances….

…Some LCMS congregations already show their opposition to denominational trends by not giving to the synod. Their number is likely to swell as others dismayed by the convention actions follow suit. A split remains a real possibility.

The trend within the various denominations is toward increased modernism and liberalism. As the end of time rapidly approaches, doubtlessly this will become increasingly evident. Only by God’s grace will His people remain steadfast to the end.

“Universal salvation?”

Such is the headline in the religious section of the Grand Rapids Press, September 26, 2004. The headline added: “Christian leaders sound off on interfaith concerns.”

There is heard increasingly the claim that all religions somehow lead eventually to salvation and heavenly glory after death. Some have insisted that Christianity may be the best way to salvation—but not the only way. One was quoted in the GR Press, “We’re all in different stages of a journey, and none of us knows the dividing line between the saved stages and the not-saved stages.” These conclusions must follow from the teaching that man can save himself in part through his works.

The article states:

The heaven issue was among the topics raised during a panel discussion involving pastors from six denominations.

A group of six Christian pastors would tell their parishioners that devoted followers of other faiths will be saved by God, or at least have hope for heaven. But some of them also feel tension about how the Bible seems to limit salvation to disciples of Jesus.

Pastors from three branches of Christianity gathered Tuesday to grapple with interfaith issues in a discussion sponsored by Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism.

“We see clearly (in Scripture) overwhelming evidence of God, through Jesus, initiating a plan for universal salvation,” said the Rev. Tom Bolster, pastor of St James Roman Catholic Church. That harvest includes Buddhists, Muslims and others who emit the “spark of the divine” by living in good conscience and looking out for their neighbors, he said.

“That’s something we respect, regardless of one’s baptismal character.”

Catholic, Methodist and Christian Reformed pastors responded to hypothetical scenarios regarding salvation, interfaith prayer and the involvement of non-Christians in church activities.

About three dozen observers then met in small groups to talk through the issues.

Panelists across the board were willing to let a Hindu sing in the church choir but were less receptive to having that person lead a youth group.

They also agreed that interfaith prayer was permissible, especially in response to a national tragedy such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks….

…The Rev. Morris Greidanus, former pastor of First Christian Reformed Church, said the “tension is real” regarding biblical passages that describe heaven as a paradise for all God’s children and a reward only for those who follow Jesus.

But Greidanus said (the) apostle Paul “bent over backwards to extend a hand of welcome” to non-Christians, noting, “All of us are on a search for God.”

…The Rev. Tom DeYoung, pastor of the Basilica at St. Adalbert, echoed his Catholic colleague by suggesting God will save “anonymous Christians” who model their lives after Jesus without knowing it.

The Rev. Eleazar Merriweather, pastor of St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Zion, said Christians should be wary of viewing God as their own exclusive deity the way ancient Israelites did.

“I don’t think I can be exclusive of the rest of the world because they have not had the same (Christian) experience I’ve had,” he said. “The bottom line of what we believe is essentially the same.

“Who knows how long the arms of grace will reach?”

One would conclude that it is disappointing, discouraging, but not unexpected to hear these conclusions. First, such conclusions follow out of a denial of the infallible Scriptures. How else would one dare to say “Christians should be wary of viewing God as their own exclusive deity the way ancient Israelites did”? It was exactly the sin of Israel that they too often did not view God as their own exclusive deity when they followed after the gods of the heathen about them. For this God judged and punished them. How dare one make these claims when Jesus Himself said, “No man can come to the Father but by Me.” Did He not also say, “I am the Way, the truth, and the life”? He testified also, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Many other similar statements Jesus made.

Secondly, the conclusions follow inevitably from the denial of justification by faith alone. If one is justified by faith in Christ and works performed by himself (by grace, it is said), then what prevents one from concluding that others, even of different religions, can perform the works necessary to salvation also? Indeed, the Roman Catholics quoted above conclude that very thing. The question at the top of the article: “Universal salvation?” would have to be answered ultimately: “Yes, if salvation is in part or the whole dependent upon the works of man.” Then, of course, one would have to define those “works” not as does Scripture, but according to the standard of man himself.

 

Today’s Morality

 

What is the basis of morality in our day? In fact, what is the morality of this generation? These interesting questions are answered in part by John Leo (Universal Press Syndicate) in the Grand Rapids Press. He reflects on a book by Thomas Frank, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Frank’s complaint was that “Kansas” voted largely on the basis of social issues, while Frank believed they should be voting on their economic plight. Leo writes:

But “the hicks” had a point: Alleged art that traduces religion was now supported and often funded by the same sensitive people who quickly took down or painted over works of art that offended the sensibilities of blacks, American Indians or women. A new value system was descending on the culture. And under that system, not only were prayers disappearing from the schools (a good idea, in my opinion), but student valedictory speeches that included a line of praise for God were being censored, and small schoolchildren, asked to draw a picture of anyone they admired, were being reprimanded if they drew Jesus.

The impact of this cultural shift was profound. John O’Sullivan, an exceptional commentator on the culture, wrote that one morality was being replaced by another, though most of us were only dimly aware of it as it occurred. None of this was voted on or directly approved by the people (an indicator of how other dramatic change would arrive). What appeared to be a countercultural upsurge mostly confined to sex spread out to cover family, work, public affairs, welfare policies, crime, and almost the whole range of human experience.

O’Sullivan describes the combat between new vs. traditional (get ready for two laundry lists here): “Traditional morality was religious, duty-based, rooted in individual responsibility, governed by objective rules, self-controlled, ascetic, guilt-forgiving, repentant, hierarchical, patriotic and stern. The new morality was secular, rights-based, rooted in social causes, governed by subjective interpretation, self-asserting, hedonistic, guilt-denying, therapeutic, egalitarian, Universalist and indulgent.”

The new morality has mostly carried the day, taking over the bureaucracies, the schools, the universities, the big-time media, most legal judgment, Hollywood, and the leadership of the Democratic Party. Traditional morality still holds sway in most of the churches, small-town media, the working class, talk radio, police and firefighters, and much of the Republican Party.

Leo makes some very relevant conclusions concerning the state of morality in our land. It can only become worse. Sadly, many of the churches today also seem to favor this “new morality” and are willing to ignore the teaching of Scripture on important issues: on homosexuality, women in church office, abortion, gambling, etc. We ought to be very aware of these developments. The threat not only to us, but also especially to our children, ought to be clear. It is another sign of the soon return of our Lord from heaven.