There is confusion across Lutheranism in North America Today. It is confusion arising as a once mainline denomination has slipped away from its main confession into sideline social agendas resulting in the delivery of a false gospel (not that there is another gospel, according to Paul). More confusion arises as Lutherans must now take an increasingly firm stand against this false gospel and find ways to preserve biblically faithful, confessional Lutheranism in our era.
I'm reminded of Paul and what he faced with the church in Galatia:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again; if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:3-10
Paul didn't mince words. He learned that from Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus-a real in-your-face experience. He also found himself at odds with many church leaders and government officials, just like Jesus. Paul even found himself in conflict with Peter and later, Barnabas. It is only a few verses later in Galatians, chapter two, that Paul explains his opposition to what Peter was doing. We hear similar stories in the book of Acts and learn why Paul and Barnabas parted company. Conflict like this happened among the apostles, causing confusion then, too. But from this confusion, by the power and guidance of the Spirit, has arisen a vigorous church that has spread itself from continent to continent around the world.
The Reformation 500 years ago was a time when people separated themselves from the established church structure because they believed the truth of the Gospel was at stake. Aren't we at the same place today? Could it be that we have lost touch with our Reformation heritage in our fear of controversy? Is our embarrassment over current divisions within Lutheranism caused by letting unity have a higher value than truth? Can it be that we have let institutional loyalty take a higher priority than the true call to transformation at the scarred hands of our Savior?
It is time for confessional Lutherans to come to terms with the continuing Reformation of the church in our present day. It is a time of transformation and renewal of the true hidden church of Jesus Christ buried in, with and under the Living Word Himself. That body-united only in Him and not in our institutions or traditions or constitutions-cannot be created or destroyed by the likes of us as sinners. This Church, the real Church, transcends us so that even the gates of Hell shake and quake in its wake because the defeat of Satan is a done deal, a historic truth, a biblical reality. The unity of this true Church will remain intact, unhindered in any way by our human failings.
At the same time we assert that Jesus is not Lord of confusion but clarity. He is neither tepid nor timid. He means what He said, and He said what He meant. His exclusive claims about Himself were the only ones that can be made without arrogance or pretense because He is "self righteous" in the proper sense of the term. He holds divine righteousness in Himself. There is no righteousness; there is no salvation apart from Him. He comes from outside of you to save you from yourself, for Himself. This is the message-this is the person that the true church has to deliver. That is its mission. That is the only reason there is a church at all here on earth: to deliver the good news to sinners that they need not live a life of guilt and "acting out" and bondage to self, but can be forgiven and freed to live in "bondage" to their Savior-true freedom.
Bound to Him, not to yourself, you get to enjoy that moment of costly grace when the One who had no confusion about His Father or His mission-because He had no bondage to Himself (sin)-bound Himself to your sin on the cross and got Satan out of your face. To continue to listen to the evil one's hissing promises whispered into your itching ears and to act upon them causes you the ultimate identity crisis because, as a precious child of God, you are living in slavery and serving the enemy of your Lord-and your enemy, too. That is a crisis that brings horrific confusion. Into this confusion comes the One who does not lack clarity, for He is most clear: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me." Period. It doesn't come as a church institution; there is no propped up office of ministry; there is no self-actualization program; there is no development or assistance or self help... nothing. Nobody brings the sinner out of his or her ungodly, wretched state but Jesus Himself. You can dress up in fine clerics and hang crosses from your necks, but if you are preaching a word that is not His Word and leading His little ones astray, then what will be around your neck is a promised millstone. That brother or sister and their false teaching are to be witnessed to and separated from for the sake of the clarity of the Gospel.
Herein lies a very important truth for our confusing times. Paul and Peter and Barnabas continued to preach, teach and confess, knowing their differences but united in the truth of the Word of God. This type of "semi-confusion" is not an assault on the Gospel but differences in practice and calling. These need to be acknowledged and sorted out. However, this sort of "disunity" is not to be equated with the separation from those who seek to distort the Word of God. Exporting a message that is in direct opposition to eternal truth is blasphemy against our Lord, His story and His church. The latter disunity is not a mere difference of practice or specific calling. It must be opposed, taught against and not tolerated. To leave people of any age in this situation is to act as a hireling. The one Good Shepherd has not equipped us with a spirit of timidity, and to allow His flock to be bombarded with this message that leads to despair is neither right nor faithful.
That being said, I believe that some confusion comes within the confessional movement because we fear to be distinctive, in hopes that it will avoid the appearance of disunity. We are confused because we don't all understand the history that gave rise to the current Lutheran confessional movement in North America. Confusion occurs when attempts to attract membership and support for various elements within the movement accentuate distinctions at the expense of the underlying foundation in a shared understanding of Jesus' Gospel. This confusion does not threaten the Gospel, but it cries out for clarity. We need to trust Jesus in this and be open with each other about our differences for the sake of clarity. All such confusion can be dealt with as "second order" concerns, and therefore agreeing to disagree is a good option. Working together without duplication should be our common goal. Speaking well of each other privately as well as publicly is crucial. If there is not a common commitment to this understanding across the confessional "landscape," then Satan will be given reason to laugh and have his way with all of us.
Every day I am bombarded by emails, letters, phone calls, and personal conversations asking questions and begging for much needed clarity. I've concluded that people would rather hear something they totally disagree with than get vague responses that leave them hanging. Because I am unable to keep up in all my responses and because I know that more than a few are confused, I am going to take the time in upcoming articles in this Ministry Moments Newsletter to address some frequently asked questions under the theme of "For the Sake of Clarity." I am hoping this will be helpful to the many out there who are confused with the present situation.
And remember: because God is not a God of confusion, His Word is internally clear even in this world groaning in travail. As we sort through our own questions and issues we must remember with gladness that He did make Himself known in a Crucified and Risen Savior, His own Son Jesus, so clarity is always "relative" to the "Father" and the "Son" through the work of their "Holy Spirit." Clear as mud? That is how Jesus heals your blindness as He smears your lids and gives you sight!