A Look at a Lutheran Doctrine

A Look at a Lutheran Doctrine

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.

Circular Logic: The Infallibility of Scripture

“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), more so 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.

Hiding from Textual Criticism

“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.

Rejecting Scientific Facts

“Of Creation

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.

When God is Not Omnipotent

“Of Conversion

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.

Without God, There is No Morality

“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.

Promoting Christian Nationalism?

“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.

20 thoughts on “A Look at a Lutheran Doctrine

  • January 1, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    I tend these days to slide right over church doctrines, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, etc. partly because they have so little to do with my life these days and partly because they are so self-absorbed in their own importance. This is a scary piece of stuff, though. Lutherans do seem to like to suffer for their faith, don’t they. They make Baptists look sloppy.

    I read a statement recently that resonates right down to my slippers, which states that if God had written the bible as Christians are convinced he did, there would be no mistakes. No contradictions, no stories, apocryphal or otherwise, that war with each other as to accuracy. Nothing would be left to interpretation, and it would be, in effect, a perfect book. There would also be no need for in-fighting among sects, since there would be no need for religion, sects, covens, or confessions.

    ( Frankly it sounds pretty boring, and we would also probably resemble automatons doing his bidding, listening, listening for the Voice. )

    eeee I just scared myself.

    • January 4, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      I’ve heard that idea before, and it makes a good point. I understand where the LCMS comes from, interpreting the Bible in one of the easiest ways possible, which is that it’s true just as it has been written, but that kind of interpretation is so narrow and constricting, definitely requiring believers to put blinders on and suffer for their faith.

  • January 1, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    When Protestants say “The pope is the Antichrist,” which pope do they mean? There have been 266 popes. They can’t all have been the Antichrist.

    • January 4, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      I’m not totally sure, but on their FAQ page, it looks like they identify the office of the papacy with the Antichrist, and there can be many Antichrists, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that each individual pope was, is, and will be the Antichrist… I’m not sure what all the nonsense means either, Timothy. 🙂 https://www.lcms.org/faqs/lcmsviews#pope

      • January 4, 2017 at 2:39 pm

        Ah, OK.

        Thank you for your feedback, and for the link. 🙂 I hope all is well.

  • January 2, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    This doctrine sounds a great deal to me, like a phase one step to being indoctrinated into a cult.

    You must pretty much give up everything for the god. Then they get your money/personal goods next, right after you give up your rational independent thought.

    Just my humble opinion… Of course I do not interpret wearing bible glasses.

    • January 4, 2017 at 1:43 pm

      Being a closet atheist who has been living in an LCMS household almost all her life, I’ve almost gotten used to hearing this way of thinking and seeing it as normal. I’m glad I looked into it further and saw it for the unnecessary sacrifice of rational independent thought that it really is.

      • January 4, 2017 at 5:32 pm

        So am I. 🙂

        It takes a certain ability to see the reality that lies behind the curtain. Most folks just accept that the Wizard of Oz is the all powerful Oz without giving it any thought. 😉

  • January 4, 2017 at 9:30 am

    “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.”

    This is so very well stated. If you want to believe I have not problem with that because I can choose not to believe. If you want to post on facebook how much you love god and jesus I have no problem with that because I can stop following you. When you add “under god” to the pledge of allegiance to my country, you force it on me. When you add “in god we trust” to the currency I use every day, you force it one me. When you make false claims publicly to further your goal to make everyone believe as you do then you drive me to rise up against you.

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  • January 20, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Having done a little digging into doctrine myself, I too was shocked that only Christians could be good… I mean surely some atheists lives put mine to shame. Honestly, I know they do. Digressing a little though, although not a Lutheran personally, I think it is clear that the goodness that is listed would be better referred to as righteousness. For example, both an atheist and a Christian donate their year’s salary to a charity that brings clean water to Guatemalan children. Both of those were good things. If I choose not to rape someone.. that was a good choice.. morally speaking. The Bible does make a difference between ethics/moral goodness and righteousness. Something that the Lutheran Doctrinal statements appear not to. Hopefully this helps with the skin tearing feeling you’re feeling.

    • January 22, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      I think it would make a lot more sense if they clarified goodness and righteousness. Thanks for pointing that out!

      • February 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm

        I could start by saying “goodness and righteousness” don’t even exist, but that would be contrary to what I really want to say. You will never get anywhere if you spend your life trying to refute the Bible to bible believers. You are wasting your time. People cannot become atheists by convincing others to be atheists. Let then go their way, and you go yours. I’ve only read a couple of your blogs, and some of the comments on them, and this may be because I am not reading every word of everything written by you or the people that follow you. What I really want to say is if you are an atheist, be proud of it. Atheism is not a sin, nor is pride. Both of those are choices to be made by the person conflicted by atheism vs theism. Atheism is a way of life. And you can hide it if you want, that is your choice too.
        Regarding your family situation, you could test the waters by first telling your mother you are pregnant, and see how she responds. If you are still welcome in her house the next time you are alone with her tell her you are lesbian, and your baby was conceived by artificial insemination. If, after that, you are still allowed to be part of the family, tell her, “Actually , Mom, I’m not lesbian, nor am I pregnant, but I am a Atheist. She’ll be so relieved that she will hug you and tell you : ” It’s okay, my love. You are my daughter and I can’t stop loving you.” I myself, would just tell her the truth, and face the consequences, whatever they are, but I’m not you. Maybe you could lose a big inheritance or something, I don’t know, but better to be a happy pauper than a scared, stressed out Princess.
        As for all the reading you are doing on Atheism, even including My Blog, take everything with a few grains of salt. Atheism, for me, has never been a community affair. Each Atheist is on their own path into the future, and only YOU know what your path is. So let your Atheism shine through. Tell your six-days a week professor that you want to play “Devil’s Advocate” in your class. You will get lots of opportunities there to bring out your questions on the validity of the Bible, but away from the classroom, be yourself. At least that is how I see it.
        I have so much more I would love to say to you, like a distant grandfather might want to do, but I will wait to see if you have anything to say about what I’ve written so far.But please remember, though I often get carried away and talk like an expert, or even a professor, I’m neither. I’ve just lived a lot longer than you, and I announced myself an Atheist the first day I became one, so I don’t know what is involved in hiding yourself away. Maybe you can tell me.
        And please do not be offended that I am not going to tell you I will be following your blog. I don’t play those kind of social media games. I am forthright and outspoken. If I have something to say to you, you can bet on that.
        rawgod (presently known here as therealrawgod)

        • February 8, 2017 at 3:31 pm

          Tell your six-days a week professor that you want to play “Devil’s Advocate” in your class.

          Great advice!

          • February 16, 2017 at 5:11 pm

            I would not say great until you find out whether the prof will allow this. But thanks for the kudos

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  • January 15, 2018 at 8:46 am

    I have just a comment and a couple of questions

    “God wants the unbeliever to convert, but he simply cannot overcome the stubbornness of this person that he himself created. “ Oops, does this mean god is not all-powerful.

    Is the separation doctrine there because the Lutherans were not supported by the state in England before they came to America, where there was fear of a government dictating what church would be the church of America, so they supported separation?

    Why do you appear to enjoy pope bashing, or at least reading about it?

    Again, good job.

  • January 19, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    In my opinion. “god” can only be as powerful as the men/women who created and believe in him, which is to say not at all. All-Powerless is the truer word, I think.
    But, I have to ask, what did the Lutheran Church have to do with England? Martin Luther nailed his disbelief in the Catholic Church to a church door in Germany. He and his followers had nothing to do with England, in my limited knowledge.
    Meanwhile, what’s the use of bashing the pope. He is as trapped in his position is as is the Dalai Lama as spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Anyone-bashing (except Donald Trump of course) is just a waste of time.

  • April 19, 2024 at 3:26 pm

    I know this is a few years late but i stumbled upon this article and wanted to clarify some of the LCMS positions.

    The emphasis on conversion for Lutherans is God because of the belief that man is unable to come to God on His own because of his sinfulness. If man had the compacity to convert through his own will then that would considered working towards our salvation. The emphasis isnt really that God is all powerful (and we do believe He is) but rather it is on mans inability to save himself because of the fall into sin. Its impossible to read into the mind of God (and I don’t pretend to) so I cannot speak as to why some convert and some remain hardened.
    When Lutherans speak of good works they mean good works (done through faith) in the eyes of God. Of course nonbelievers can do good works in the eyes of man.
    When Lutherans speak of public preaching they mean preaching publicly with in the church, the Sunday morning Divine Service. It has nothing to do with going out on the corner and preaching to random people who walk by. The divine mandate is the command to gather publicly so that the members can hear the Word of God preached and receive the forgiveness of sins through holy absolution and the Lords Supper. In their midst means in the midst of the believers gathered in the church and not in the privacy of their homes. The mandate states that we should go to church atleast once a week where we can gather with the other members publicly (at church )so that we can receive God’s gift through the Word and sacraments. Church is an extremely important part of the Christian life. Be rest assured we Lutherans arent going to be screaming in your face on the street.
    The LCMS holds that the Papal office is one of the offices of the antichrist (one of many antichrists) because the papacy leads Christians astray by their teaching of works righteouness (we have to cooperate with God by doing good works to earn our way to heaven) along with unbiblical practices that lead the Christian away from the comfort of Christ and the cross (as we see in the worship of the saints, Maryology, purgatory, ect…).


What do you think?