Some questions that atheists and skeptics are commonly asked are “Why do you only criticize certain religions?” or “What do you have against Christianity specifically?” For me, the answer is that Christianity is by far the most popular religion in the United States, and I see it everywhere, whether it is at home, at school, or out in public. Specifically, my family are members and leaders in different congregations of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, or LCMS.
The LCMS is the second largest branch of the Lutheran Church, and it has almost 2.1 million baptized members (including me). I’ve grown up with the ultra-conservative LCMS teachings since I was a baby, but until about last week, I dared not read into the details of its doctrine. After reading for a while on Wikipedia, I came across A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod, a concise but clear summary of LCMS teachings written by Franz August Otto Pieper in 1932. I want to highlight some sections of the Statement that thoroughly dumbfounded me and truly left me at a loss for words, especially knowing that my own family and many of our close friends actually believe these ideas.
“Of the Holy Scriptures
1. We teach that the Holy Scriptures differ from all other books in the world in that they are the Word of God. They are the Word of God because the holy men of God who wrote the Scriptures wrote only that which the Holy Ghost communicated to them by inspiration, 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21. We teach also that the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is not a so-called “theological deduction,” but that it is taught by direct statements of the Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:16, John 10:35, Rom. 3:2; 1 Cor. 2:13. Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters, John 10:35.”
This the very first topic in the summary of LCMS doctrine, and when I first read it, I gave it the benefit of the doubt until I saw the words “historical” and “geographical”. Most of my Christian classmates understand that if one wants the bible to line up with historical and geographical facts, it simply can’t be interpreted literally (e.g. Genesis implying that the human race stemmed from one pair of adults less than 10,000 years ago). LCMS Lutherans deny this.
What is more disturbing though, is the fact that it uses the words “it goes without saying that [the Holy Scriptures] contain no errors or contradictions,” because obviously, Word of God or not, the Holy Scriptures are abundant with contradictions (Steve Wells found 492), moreso if interpreted literally. This is one instance in which Christians dare not question the Bible, no matter what contrary evidence may be presented to them. This is saddening, considering what LCMS believers might find if they were willing to discover truths to be found out in nature and history, outside the pages of Scripture.
“Of the Holy Scriptures
3. We reject the doctrine which under the name of science has gained wide popularity in the Church of our day that Holy Scripture is not in all its parts the Word of God, but in part the Word of God and in part the word of man and hence does, or at least, might contain error. We reject this erroneous doctrine as horrible and blasphemous, since it flatly contradicts Christ and His holy apostles, set up men as judges over the Word of God, and thus overthrows the foundation of the Christian Church and its faith.”
For the most part, this backs up #1’s statement that the LCMS teaches biblical inerrancy. I just think it’s funny because it declares the suggestion of biblical imperfection to be erroneous, horrible, and blasphemous.
5. We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: ‘I believe that God has made me and all creatures.'”
It’s not surprising that it states that God created heaven and earth in 6 weekdays, given that that’s how it would be understood if taken literally. What bothers me about this statement is that it claims that science asserts that the world came into existence through a process of evolution. It should go without saying that this is an obvious misunderstanding of what is meant by the word “evolution”: evolution is in no way synonymous with spontaneous generation or abiogenesis.
12. On the basis of these clear statements of the Holy Scriptures we reject every kind of synergism, that is, the doctrine that conversion is wrought not by the grace and power of God alone, but in part also by the co-operation of man himself, by man’s right conduct, his right attitude, his right self-determination, his lesser guilt or less evil conduct as compared with others, his refraining from willful resistance, or anything else whereby man’s conversion and salvation is taken out of the gracious hands of God and made to depend on what man does or leaves undone. For this refraining from willful resistance or from any kind of resistance is also solely a work of grace, which “changes unwilling into willing men,” Ezek. 36:26; Phil. 2:13. We reject also the doctrine that man is able to decide for conversion through “powers imparted by grace,” since this doctrine presupposes that before conversion man still possesses spiritual powers by which he can make the right use of such “powers imparted by grace.”
13. On the other hand, we reject also the Calvinistic perversion of the doctrine of conversion, that is, the doctrine that God does not desire to convert and save all hearers of the Word, but only a portion of them. Many hearers of the Word indeed remain unconverted and are not saved, not because God does not earnestly desire their conversion and salvation, but solely because they stubbornly resist the gracious operation of the Holy Ghost, as Scripture teaches, Acts 7:51; Matt. 23:37; Acts 13:46.
14. As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God’s grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess that we cannot answer it. From Scripture we know only this: A man owes his conversion and salvation, not to any lesser guilt or better conduct on his part, but solely to the grace of God. But any man’s non-conversion is due to himself alone; it is the result of his obstinate resistance against the converting operation of the Holy Ghost. Hos. 13:9.”
The LCMS statements on conversion to Christianity are probably my favorite of all of these statements. From what I’ve gathered, it says that since God is all powerful, if someone converts to Christianity, it is by none of his own works, but rather God who instills faith in this person. However, if someone is perhaps an atheist or what have you, and does not convert to Christianity upon hearing the Word of God, this stubborn resistance of the Holy Ghost is their own doing. In other words, God wants the unbeliever to convert, but he simply cannot overcome the stubbornness of this person that he himself created.
“Of Good Works
20. Before God only those works are good which are done for the glory of God and the good of man, according to the rule of divine Law. Such works, however, no man performs unless he first believes that God has forgiven him his sins and has given him eternal life by grace, for Christ’s sake, without any works of his own, John 15:4, 5. We reject as a great folly the assertion, frequently made in our day, that works must be placed in the fore, and “faith in dogmas” — meaning the Gospel of Christ crucified for the sins of the world — must be relegated to the rear. Since good works never precede faith, but are always and in every instance the result of faith in the Gospel, it is evident that the only means by which we Christians can become rich in good works (and God would have us to be rich in good works, Titus 2:14) is unceasingly to remember the grace of God which we have received in Christ, Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 8:9. Hence we reject as unchristian and foolish any attempt to produce good works by the compulsion of the Law or through carnal motives.”
This aspect of LCMS teaching really gets under my skin. It is the idea that no one that does not believe in God can do any good. First of all, I know that this contradicts other Lutheran and Christian teachings that humans can do no good whatsoever and only God can do good. Furthermore, this goes against the very core of humanism, which holds that we can be and should be good people without God.
“Of the Public Ministry
31. By the public ministry we mean the office by which the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are administered by order and in the name of a Christian congregation. Concerning this office we teach that it is a divine ordinance; that is, the Christians of a certain locality must apply the means of grace not only privately and within the circle of their families nor merely in their common intercourse with fellow-Christians, John 5:39; Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:16, but they are also required, by the divine order, to make provision that the Word of God be publicly preached in their midst, and the Sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, by persons qualified for such work, whose qualifications and official functions are exactly defined in Scripture, Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23; 20:28; 2 Tim. 2:2.”
My main problem with this topic of public ministry is that it urges Lutherans to preach the Word of God not only privately, with family members, or with other Christians, but in the public square and in all aspects of their lives. If it weren’t for “divine orders” like these, Christians probably wouldn’t have so many pesky atheists picking apart Christian doctrine for erroneous faults, because these atheists might be able to get some peace and quiet without religion infiltrating into every aspect of their lives, irking them to the point that they can’t help but point out these erroneous faults by which they are surrounded.
Anyways…, there are some ideas outlined in this Statement that I enjoyed reading. First of all, the LCMS teaches that church and state ought to be kept separate (other than the divine command of its members to preach in the public square), which is humble and beneficial to people of all religions and non-religious beliefs.
Additionally, statement #43 of this doctrinal outline declares that the Catholic Pope is basically the Antichrist. I’ll admit that I enjoyed seeing that Protestants subtly slipped into their doctrine the fact that they believe that the leader of the Catholic church is the Antichrist.