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What Luther Says

I Shot A Giant Elephant Last Night, But Not Before It Killed My Congregation!

Please pray for Christ's Church, for those who are a part of it though they are currently deceived, and for me and my family.

Some of you may have noticed an ominous type of tweet I sent out at roughly 2am last night (or is it early this morning? either way, it wasn't good).

In short, I shot a giant elephant last night, but not before it killed my congregation...or were they already dead to begin with!?!

How do I know this? Well, what does it say about lifelong Lutherans at an LCMS Church who believe, teach, and confess the following?

*- "Baptism isn't all that important, a person can be saved without being baptized, and so it's not necessary for one's salvation at all! I mean, the thief on the cross clearly proves that." 
*- "A person can be saved as God works through me to develop a relationship with that person and so me just going out and telling them about my faith and my life's story about what God has done for me can cause them to become saved for sure." 
*- "Jesus is our example in life and we should try to be more like Him more and more every day so I want to always at least try to do all the things that Jesus did." 
*- "That's why 'everyone is a minister' and we need to fulfill the Great Commission! Plus, our church -- like many others -- is in decline and we can do better so that we can grow and make a greater impact for Christ in this world!"  
*- "At the end of the day, none of this really matters to me as much as it matters to you. When I get to heaven, Jesus isn't going to ask me if I was a Lutheran!" 
*- "Well, I hear what you're saying, but having been a member at Trinity for a lot longer than you, I can tell you that there's probably not a single person who feels the way you do about wanting our church to 'be more Lutheran' so I would say that if you're not being fed what you need to be fed, then maybe it is best for you and your family to just go somewhere else."

There was so much more, but these are the comments that have plagued my conscience the most, and the ones that are still with me today.

The ACELC is right to express their concerns and everything they identified as doctrine and practice that needs our immediate attention is everything I heard to a varying degree last night.

Things like...

*- "Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions identify the mission of the Church as proclaiming the Word of God in all its truth and purity and administering the Sacraments in accord with Christ’s institution. Today some in the LCMS have misidentified the mission of the Church as the completion of the so-called Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) which is the result of the Church doing her mission, not the mission itself. We reject the toleration of this error.
*- "Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions teach that God knows His elect, and that not one of these will be lost. Today some in the LCMS teach that it is indeed possible to increase the population of heaven, and therefore decrease the population of hell, if we are doing our evangelistic task properly. We reject the toleration of this error.
*- "Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions teach that it is the power of the Holy Spirit alone (working through Word and Sacrament) which brings about conversion in the life of an unbeliever. Today some in the LCMS teach that our zeal, passion, and intentionality for the evangelistic task are necessary to effect such conversions. We reject the toleration of this error.
*- "Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions declare that pure doctrine clarifies and supports the Gospel, while false doctrine obscures and hinders the Gospel. Today some in the LCMS, for the sake of growing the church numerically, receive those who are uninstructed, or marginally instructed in the faith into membership in LCMS congregations, thus bringing people with false beliefs into the life of the church. We reject this error.
*- "Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions identify the marks of the Church as the Word of God taught in all its truth and purity and the Sacraments administered in accord with Christ’s institution. Today many in the LCMS have advanced numerical growth as a sign of the 'legitimacy' of a congregation, essentially making numerical growth a mark of the Church. We reject the toleration of this error.
*- "Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, as well as Dr. C.F.W. Walther, clearly teach that the Office of the Holy Ministry and the royal priesthood of the baptized are distinct from one another. The notion promoted by some that 'everyone is a minister' distorts both the use of the term 'ministry' in the Lutheran Confessions as well as the royal priesthood of the baptized so that what any Christian does is measured against the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and the doctrine of vocation is lost. This error has not been corrected within The LCMS.
*- "Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions condemn every expression of unionistic worship (that is, joint worship with other Christians with whom we are not in doctrinal agreement), or syncretistic worship (that is, joint worship with those who are not Christian). Yet in our day there are some LCMS officers, pastors and congregations who, with impunity, have joined in worship services with those with whom we are not in doctrinal agreement, and even with those of non- Christian, false religions. We reject this error."

I just sat there and couldn't believe what I was hearing!

I mean, I always suspected that this is what he truly believed, but we never sat down together and actually went "elephant hunting" like this so it was still a complete surprise to me.

It was like I was listening to some mega-mix "Sermon Jam" on YouTube that combined teachings from the likes of Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Max Lucado, Andy Stanley, Francis Chan, and Carl Lentz if not also the "FiveTwo/Wiki14" crowd and their brand of ear tickling trash (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

All of these words came from a person who has been publicly called "one of our congregation's most influential leaders" and a person who teaches Religion classes at the Lutheran Day School as well as a person who leads the Small Groups Ministries at our church...and he's a lifelong Lutheran too!

Plus, this isn't the first time that I've tried to point out where he is erring in his beliefs, teachings, and confessions. In fact, there have been numerous times over the course of the past 2 years when I've painstakingly and begrudgingly decided that the best thing to do was for me to sit down with him one-on-one to lovingly point these things out to him.

This was the first time we got very specific though (hence, the "elephant hunting" statement). Sadly, as time goes by, he only seems to be falling further and further away from the truth and it breaks my heart and I'm concerned about him and those he's teaching!

How can we not be reminded of Galatians 5:9 that says "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" in this case? How do I know that he's strayed too far off course and that hes flirting with having "made shipwreck" (1 Timothy 1:19) to his faith and the faith of others?

Let's just look at the correct Lutheran position on all these things to help answer that question.

*- "Calling people to faith is God's doing. He does this through the power of His Word and in the action of His Sacraments. If people end up in Heaven, then God alone receives the credit. If others end up in Hell, then this is due alone to their own unbelief. The mission of the Church is to proclaim the pure doctrine of the Word of God and to lead them to the Sacraments and to fellowship in Christ's Church. The primary venue for Christian witness is in the very God-given vocations that God has provided each and every one of us. What an honor and privilege to be His conduit to His grace for others!" 
*- "While always being concerned with giving a Christian witness to unbelievers, The Lutheran Church understood its mission to 'make disciples' as meaning that the Church carries out that disciple-making by teaching the Word of God in all its truth and purity and by administering the Sacraments in accord with Christ’s institution, thus feeding God’s sheep on the means of grace and preparing them to enter their various God-given vocations to give witness to their faith. The Synod historically and theologically avoided attempting to motivate Christians by means of guilt regarding unbelievers going to hell because it correctly understood that the number of the elect, chosen by God in Christ before the foundations of the world is a static, not a dynamic number and that God has promised that He will not lose one of His elect. This never meant that Lutherans do not care about the lost, nor believe as Calvinists teach, that some are predestined to heaven while others to eternal damnation in hell. Rather, it simply means that it is the joy of all Christians to proclaim their faith in the Good News of Christ crucified and risen to all people, in all places, and at all times, knowing that it is only God who does the saving and that He accomplishes this as He wills. In other words making disciples is the result of the Church rightly carrying out her mission of rightly proclaiming God’s Word and rightly administering His Sacraments, and not the mission itself." 
*- "Lutherans have always understood that it is only through the means of grace -- Word and Sacraments -- that such conversions are brought about by God and that these means of grace are completely sufficient to accomplish what God has promised they will accomplish. Such God-given conversions are not at all dependent on the 'zeal,' 'commitment,' 'passion' or 'missional mindset' of the Christian, but only on the power of God’s Word. Additionally, Lutherans have always believed that they hold the one, true faith of the Apostles and the Prophets and that it is only by means of giving clear voice to this faith in all its articles that the witness of Christians is most clearly heard. Therefore down-playing the importance of pure doctrine or pitting doctrine in opposition to the evangelistic task is a theological foolishness. It is precisely through the right doctrine that the beauty of salvation in Christ is clearly seen. False doctrine mixed into a Christian witness only obfuscates the Gospel and misdirects one’s hope of salvation away from Christ and toward human good works and merits, thus obscuring one’s assurance of salvation."

That's all straight from the faithful folks who make up ACELC.

You know, on second thought, I guess this all shouldn't be a complete shock to me. Last year's "Christmas Sermon" (yes, I put that in quotation marks for a reason!) was anything but a message of hope that is centered on preaching Christ crucified for the sins of all mankind or one that clearly communicates "Jesus Christ FOR YOU!!!"

I guess it's my own fault for not wanting to see the truth from the very beginning. I mean, what does it say about a Christian church -- a Lutheran Church no less! -- that has as its "Mission Statement" to "Make More And Better Disciples of Jesus Christ!" when that is COMPLETELY CONTRARY to what we say we believe, teach, and confess as being Lutheran and that which makes us distinct when it comes to rightly dividing Law and Gospel?

As Scott Diekmann once wrote...

So apparently it is about "you." It’s about you and what you’re doin’ for the Lord. It’s about your personal obedience. It’s about a Law-driven, guilt ridden, message. This prodding to "MAKE disciples" turns God’s good Law, in this case the third use of the Law as a guide, into a club and naked moralism, confounding Law and Gospel. Coercing people with the Law produces hypocrites, Pharisees, and despairing Christians, rather than the good works that flow from faith. (Reference C.F.W. Walther’s Thesis XXIII in The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel).

Precisely the point I was trying to make repeatedly last night to no avail.

This twisted notion of "What Makes For Healthy Churches" is absurd and, quite frankly, dangerous too. I'll defer once more to Scott Diekmann...

This thought is completely foreign to Scripture and our Confession. Healthy churches are “made” through the power of the Word, preached, joined with water, given and shed, in which unworthy sinners are declared righteous through the substitutionary death and resurrection of their Savior Jesus Christ. It’s not about us and what we’re doing -- it’s about Jesus Christ and what He is doing to daily recreate us in the waters of Baptism, in His body and blood, and in the hearing of His Word. 
Here’s how the Solid Declaration puts it:

Out of His immense goodness and mercy, God provides for the public preaching of His divine eternal Law and His wonderful plan for our redemption, that of the holy, only saving Gospel of His eternal Son, our only Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. By this preaching He gathers an eternal Church for Himself from the human race and works in people’s hearts true repentance, knowledge of sins, and true faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. By this means, and in no other way (i.e., through His holy Word, when people hear it preached or read it, and through the holy Sacraments when they are used according to His Word), God desires to call people to eternal salvation. He desires to draw them to Himself and convert, regenerate, and sanctify them. SD II, 50.

After years of pragmatism trumping doctrine, it has come to this: for those to whom numbers are so important that the Great Commission has become the material principle, rather than justification by grace through faith, the Book of Concord is no longer relevant, and doctrine takes a back seat to whatever works. This is a hard, sobering fact. It’s also a testament to lex orandi, lex credendi -- that practice influences doctrine and vice versa. These are not deductions on my part, or assumptions made from observation, they are the words from the mouths of district officials. It’s something they’re proud of, and trumpet as though they will not be held accountable. 
I take no pleasure in writing these things, but they are the facts. And it is unlikely that this attitude towards our Confession is limited to this particular district. I am not attempting to single out specific people, but rather point out the problems that exist, so that we would return to the teaching of Christ. The time has come to speak out. We can no longer ignore these problems and pretend that things will be better in the morning. We must fight false doctrine, and the erosion of the true doctrine, wherever it is found. 
Let us walk together in our Confession as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, building His Church through the means which He provides given from pulpit, altar, and font. Repent and believe the Gospel.

Look, I recognize that my church's emphasis on "discipleship" and the "relational sharing of the Gospel" is a good one, and that it's coming from a sincere and well-meaning place, but it's un-Biblical (and non-Lutheran) if we do so without emphasizing one's vocations.

Far too often (if not all the time), the Doctrine of Vocation is ignored completely and it's simply not part of the equation.

All of this I knew going into yesterday's meeting. That still didn't make it easy.

"We would emphasize particularly that confession by deed and action is here demanded of every Christian. Many are often of the opinion that they are not responsible for what their pastors do or do not do, or that they have no right to do anything against the majority which depart from the confession. That is, however, a dangerous error! Does not every individual belong to the whole? And ought he not to be responsible for everything he permits to be done? If church discipline languishes, if false doctrine forces its way into the church, if wrong remains unrebuked, then the responsibility rests on every member who does not witness against it. Truly, the great liberty of a Christian also imposes a great responsibility on him!" 
*- C.F.W. Walther 
Essays For The Church, Vol. 1 
(St. Louis: Concordia, 1992) 198.

Ok, so how did this meeting and the things that were said all come about, you ask?

Well, I was driving home from work yesterday when I learned about an incident that had occurred at the Lutheran Day School where my kids attend and where my wife volunteers as both a Teacher's Aide and the PTO President (vocations she's been blessed with for the last few years now).

In a moment of desperation and weakness (and perhaps a moment of sin; I don't know though, because I wasn't there and don't know everything that was said), she broke down in the teacher's lounge under the weight of all kinds of emotional and spiritual stress.

Lately, the Lord has been opening her eyes and ears to all of the things I have been voicing a concern about within the past year -- serious concerns related to what we believe, teach, and confess at both the church and school.

Naturally, it's causing a bit of an "identity crisis" for her not to mention putting a strain on several relationships she has with people who would rather choose to ignore things instead of confronting them honestly with confession, repentance, mercy, and forgiveness being proclaimed.

Instead, her -- no, our -- doctrinal/theological concerns have been repeatedly ignored (as have we) while the individual demands upon her have increased significantly.

So, for better or for worse, whether right or wrong, a sin or not a sin, she broke down in tears I was told and poured her heart out. I'm told she let it all out too!
To this point, we had never hinted that we were even considering finding a new local church. Not yet anyway. I know I've already written about an elephant so I hope you'll excuse me when I say this and mix metaphors, but the cat was finally let out of the bag, and it definitely left some bite and scratch marks on a few people it attacked.

One of those people, a dear brother in Christ who I've already brought many of my concerns to in the past, and someone who is very influential at both our church and school despite being a laymen, called me to talk. I was at work at the time so we agreed to meet for coffee in the evening after work and after our kids were put to bed.

As difficult as it would be, I knew what had to be done. I had to shoot the giant elephant in the room and my hope was that he would want to join me on the hunt.

This has been a long time coming. See, for approximately one year now, I have been learning all I could learn about what it means to be a Lutheran. I wanted to know not just WHAT we believe, teach, and confess but WHY we believe, teach, and confess it.

Here's what I wrote as far back as last November 2013 to give you an idea of how we got here...

The Heavy Heart of A So-Called 'Confessional Pharisee' 
Despite that dichotomy between the "good" and the "bad" that you'd expect, this constant struggle within has made my heart is heavy over the thought that His Church is under attack from within at the local church I attend and that there are those I know who loudly proclaim His holy name although they're actually perverting it. 
In the span of approximately 3 months, I've been refined through various afflictions and burdened with a broken heart and a convicted conscience due to the knowledge of certain truths involving those I love. 
See, I believe in using the written Word of God as the firm foundation for everything I believe about God and how one is to honor and worship Him. When confronted with certain errors and outright lies, I tend to take the road less traveled with my family members, friends, and strangers alike and that means I will always strive to speak "the truth in love" in such cases in pursuit of unity in faith and not just unity in love (Ephesians 4). For that, I have been accused of being a "judgmental," "pious," "self-righteous "Pharisee" (a "Confessional Pharisee") by those who would rather lead the Body of Christ away from the clear teachings of Scripture, and into areas which are questionable (at best) and/or heretical (at worst).

That being said, naturally, the problem is that due to the fact that I've spoken up like this a few times within the past year alone (most notably when it came to my concerns about how Deacons and the laity were being used in our church; my concerns about the lack of doctrinal clarity from LCMS-Eastern District leadershipmy concerns about the use of non-Lutheran and dare I say un-Biblical "Christian" bestsellers as study aides; and my concerns about the lack of on-going Lutheran catechesis to prevent things like this from happening), I now have a reputation of being "that guy" who is "way too concerned about doctrine!" to the point where it's "borderline legalistic if not akin to being like the Pharisees!"

So, since March 2014, I've been choosing my battles very carefully out of concern for its impact on others as well as its impact on me and my family. Table Talk Radio's "Comfort The Christian, Kick The Dog" game is always fresh in my mind in each and every unique circumstance.

I remained silent all this time (a full 8 months!) while praying and studying so that I could be sure that I wasn't the misguided one. What I found time and time again was that our church has strayed so far from THE BASICS OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE LUTHERAN that the only thing distinctly Lutheran about us is that it says "Lutheran" on the church sign out front.

I even asked this individual at the outset last night what he would say is the one thing that makes our church distinctly Lutheran. Guess what? Sadly, he couldn't think of a single thing either.

At least I can find comfort in the Word of God.

2 Corinthians 11:3-4 (ESV) 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

Galatians 1:6-10 (ESV) 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

John 6:44 (ESV) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

1 Corinthians 11:18-19 (ESV) 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

1 John 2:18-19 (ESV) 18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

What does a young Confessional Lutheran like me do (one who has also only recently re-discovered Lutheran doctrine too) when he comes face-to-face with the reality that those who claim to be "Confessional" let alone "Lutheran" are merely giving lip service to such pronouncements?

What does a young Christian like me do when he comes face-to-face with the reality that those who claim to be fellow Christians themselves have several doubts about the truthfulness of the Bible and our Confessions if not openly reject it?

That's easy. What he doesn't do is bite his tongue or look the other way to preserve the status quo in a relationship. I believe there are many verses in Scripture that make that quite clear (Romans 1:16; 1 Peter 4:16; Luke 9:25-26 and Mark 8:37-38).

No offense to my present company, but oh how I crave genuine flesh-and-blood fellowship with others who share my fidelity to the Lord and His Word!

Such a sad turn of events and I pray that the Lord will open their hearts, minds, eyes, and ears to the truth sooner rather than later even if I can't be there to see if happen.

I'm left wondering what happened to this LCMS and how long before I got there did this take place? Whatever happened to contending for "for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) or not yielding "in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you" (Galatians 2:4-5)?

Nowadays, "Thou Shall Not Offend" has become the 11th Commandment and those who stand up in church and/or approach another believer privately to discuss certain concerns one-on-one are called "divisive" and "judgmental" and "unloving" and treated as though they are modern-day Pharisees. Pharisees divided FROM Biblical truth, while we so-called "Confessional Pharisees" divide from error TO Biblical truth. That’s a huge difference.

But "Who are you to question another person's faith!?!" they cry. Well, if you must know, I am no one. I'm only a wretched sinner saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and He expects me to judge, but to judge righteously (John 7:24).

Folks, I can assure you that I'm not one to go looking for a debate. I really don't. Contrary to what I've shared in this forum in recent weeks (particularly those challenges and spiritual struggles with others within my own local church), my life is not characterized by constantly looking at other people's lives just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on them and point out the inconsistencies with the faith that they proclaim to possess.

I know who I am (Romans 7:24; Philippians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 13:5). Unfortunately, I'm learning that many people who I thought were brothers and sisters in Christ actually don't know who they are in Christ, or why upholding a Lutheran confession of faith is important.

They think that as long as they love people and do good works, then that's all that matters. "Who cares about doctrine?" they often say. Well, um, Jesus does.

I guess I just can't get over how easily and quickly "Christians" can abandon the basics for other things they've set their hearts and minds upon in this world all while doing it "In Jesus' Name!" they'll say too.

Matthew 7:15-29 (ESV) 15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' 24 Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it." 28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.

Though I continue to be completely blindsided and shocked by some close friends within my church who have revealed little by little just what it is that they truly believe and don't believe when it comes to our cherished faith, I will gladly continue to serve Him faithfully knowing what He promises in Isaiah 55:11, Romans 10:14-17, and 1 Corinthians 3:5-9.

Still, I'll admit that my stomach was doing back flips for hours leading up to our meeting last night. Knowing the main topics that I was going to point to in order to help explain to him why my dear wife and I are concerned and why we are actively looking for a new church, I spent a couple of hours on the ACELC website and not only printed off a couple of their excellent study guides, but I even took the time to highlight the key areas of concern as they applied directly to the current situation at our church (and school by extension).

By the way, the fact that this all took place rather unexpectedly last night of all nights seems absolutely ridiculous to me. That's because it was a year ago to the very day that my lifelong Catholic grandfather passed away. The intense Bible study, conversations with family members and friends (including the ones I had with him before he died), and soul searching was instrumental in comforting us at that time and it also led to solidifying my conversion from being an American Evangelical to becoming a Confessional Lutheran.

At the same time that we were all grieving, preparing for his death, and comforting each other with the promises of his Baptism, the promises found in God's Word, and thanking the Lord for my grandpa's God-given faith in Christ that he never rejected, I also approached the leadership at the LCMS Church where I'm a member to gently and lovingly point out how dangerous it would be for us to move forward with an 8-week small group series on Francis Chan's bestseller CRAZY LOVE.

You'll recall that the lay leader who organized all of that (the very same person who I met with last night) had not only asked me to review the book before he decided to promote it, but he ultimately agreed with me about how dangerous it was after meeting several times over the course of 3-4 weeks to the point where he manually ripped out several pages from each copy of the book before distributing it to each participant.

And yet, he still proceeded to move forward with the study! Why? Because at my church, "fellowship" or "personal relationships with one another" have been elevated to sacramental status ("sacramental entrepreneurship" anyone?), and they are to be protected at all costs, which means we rarely (if ever) are supposed to approach another brother or sister with heartfelt, legitimate concerns (even if it is speaking "the truth in love" in accordance with Ephesians 4:15 and even if it's completely backed up by Scripture and our Confessions) since that would threaten to damage the relationship by hurting people's feelings.

That brings us to last night's one-on-one meeting. Yes, I shot a giant elephant last night, put it out of its misery actually, but not before it killed my congregation! More specifically, I attempted to kill an elephant that's been in the room for at least an entire year since I first started noticing it, and I asked a dear brother in Christ to join me in the hunt.

To my horror and shock, it turns out that he was quite happy to help, but not because he agreed that we can't have elephants standing in the Narthex, sitting in the pews, or blocking the altar.

No! He wanted to go elephant hunting so that he, along with all the other "ravenous wolves" in "sheep's clothing" (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29), could feast indefinitely on the elephant's carcass, because even though the elephant may be dead, it still tastes so good.

Never mind my urgent pleas to him that if he agrees with me that the elephant is a problem and that we needed to kill it together, then he should also want to remove any traces of it from within our church.

He disagreed. He unashamedly admitted that he liked things just they way they are since everything about the place, the people, the style of preaching, and the style of worship made him "feel good" and so he wasn't too concerned about the presence of a dead, rotting elephant. 

He didn't mind that the carcass would just sit there all the time and be in the way, that it would continue to rot and smell most disgusting, or that it could potentially cause our other brothers and sisters to eventually get sick and die.

Why? Because, apparently, the "loving" thing to do is to not point out and warn others about the dangers of going near or feeding on the dead elephant's body, but to "just let them make up their own minds and decide what's best for them."

At that point, I pointed out that he and I have a mutual close friend -- a very close friend, actually (who remained nameless) -- who never misses church or a church function, but who has revealed to me during the last year that he believes in God, but has come to the conclusion that 80% of the Bible is untrue, and that Jesus Christ was just a "good man" and "great teacher" though not the Son of God.

This mutual friend of ours has rejected it all and is in danger of losing his salvation if he hasn't lost it already! I shared what this mutual friend shared -- that he is broken by the church and that a big reason for his rejection of it all is that all the sermons he ever hears week-in-and-week-out are "Do, Do, Do!" and "Do More, Do Better!" and "Be More Like Jesus!" and he's lived long enough to know that he can't do that, that he's failing repeatedly, and that if that's what Christianity is all about, then who needs it!

I proposed that this mutual friend is Exhibit A when it comes to the importance of making sure the Word is properly preached and that the Sacraments are rightly administered on a regular basis while Lutheran catechesis doesn't just end when someone becomes Confirmed.  In other words, this friend was merely one prime example of the dangers of letting the elephant stay without warning people about it.

But enough with the metaphor! As previously mentioned, things got deadly serious and took a turn for the worst when this lifelong Lutheran told me he didn't think Baptism was all that important and that it most certainly wasn't necessary nor did it save us!

He then took a page out of the Baptist-Evangelical-Methodist-Pentecostal playbooks when he went on and on for several minutes about the thief on the cross and how that "proves" that Baptism isn't all that important when you get right down to it.

My dear friends, when I heard that I paused, collected myself as best as I could, and calmly repeated what I just heard him say and asked him to tell me if that's what he really believes or if he just misspoke. Sadly, that's what he REALLY believes!

Is Baptism Necessary? 
QUESTION: I’ve been watching WE for about a month now. The only area which I’m unclear about is how Lutherans can say that salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) but at the same time say that baptism is necessary for salvation. First, am I understanding correctly when Lutherans say baptism is necessary for faith? Second, could you please contrast works and baptism? I’m not sure how something we do can be thought of as something other than a work. Is this a mystery which we cannot logically reconcile? 
ANSWER: You’re correct in noting that there is an element to Baptism is that “law.” Christians, those who have been saved by grace through faith, come to Baptism. They either come to Baptism themselves for the gift and promise of God for themselves, or they bring their children to Baptism for the gift and promise given to them. Either way, “coming to Baptism” is a response to the Gospel (i.e. a work). But Baptism gives faith and salvation (i.e. not our work, but God’s work). In that way, Baptism delivers the Gospel, because God makes promises about the Baptized. The parents of a child simply trust in God and his promises. Baptism is “necessary” in the technical, philosophical use of the term “necessary.” That is, it’s not something that can be ignored or dispensed with. The opposite of “necessary” is optional. Baptism is not “optional” for the Christians. Christians either are Baptized or they pursue Baptism. The only way that baptism would be opposed to the “faith alone” which we confess would be if baptism were something other than “Christ alone.” Since baptism is simply and solely the delivery of Christ’s death and resurrection, it is nothing other than Christ. Faith simply trusts the promise given in baptism, which is Christ Himself. 
QUESTION: We in the LCMS church teach that baptism is salvation, but, clearly, belief is also necessary for saving faith. So what about someone who comes to belief, but dies before they are baptized? In Mark 23:40-42, when the thief on the cross turns to Jesus after rebuking the other thief he asks Jesus “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus tells him in verse 43, “truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”. We don’t know if the thief was baptized or not. 
ANSWER: Salvation is first and foremost about God’s Word and promise. The thief on the cross receives the Word and promise from Christ, “Today, you will be with me, etc.” Faith clings to the Word of the promise. Baptism is a “thief on the cross” moment for the one being Baptized — young or old. It is the Word and promise of God delivered personally to an individual. Rev. Robert O. Riebau 
 VIDEO: Holy Shark Boxing -- Is Baptism Necessary? What About The Thief On The Cross Then? 
 VIDEO: Tying Up Loose Ends On Baptism And The Thief On The Cross...

At that point, I tried to gently point out that his assessment of me being "too concerned with deep doctrinal and theological things that are 'important' but 'not that important'" was grossly inaccurate and unfair, because I'm concerned that we say we're a Lutheran Church, but we have it completely wrong on so many of the "Lutheran basics" if you will as evidenced by his beliefs on Baptism and the fact that many others at my church feel the same way according to him.

When I pressed him a bit on this issue, I reminded him that what we believe, teach, and confess should most certainly match what the sign says out front. Otherwise, what's the point of putting our "Core Beliefs" on the website if we don't practice what we preach or if what we claim we preach isn't actually determining our practice?

"But Jeff, why does it even matter if we're actually Lutherans or not when we don't get to heaven simply because of the denomination we belong to?"

This objection was coming from someone who earlier told me he's a member of the Lutheran Church because he personally believes Lutherans teach what the Bible says!

Now do you see why I was left scratching my head in both confusion and disbelief due to the hypocrisy as he seemed to want to have it both ways?

I wish I had remembered this at the time, but the BEST ANALOGY that I ever heard to support the importance of insisting on sound doctrine was something that Pastor Matt Richard once referenced.

Why Heart Disease And Traumatic Head Injuries Should Be Avoided 
[RELATED VISUAL TEACHING CHART: The Shape of Christian Teaching]

Just Relax, A Little Liquid Drano Won't Hurt Anyone

Thankfully, I discovered that Pastor Richard has an entire section of his website devoted to Lutheran Bible Study Materials in the form of various PDF one-sheets that are EXCELLENT visual aids that can be used for catechizing the "Newtherans" and the "Lifelong-Lutherans-In-Name-Only" too so please be sure to check them out.

Our conversation last night finally ended when he stated that he's "a simple man" and so he likes things that are "simple and straightforward" and "easy to understand" when it comes to learning about "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3). I replied, "That's great! The good news is that Luther's Small Catechism is perfect for someone like you then!"

Lord please forgive me, because I have to admit that a big part of me left there last night thinking that I was done with him. This wasn't the first time I have tried to point out his major doctrinal errors and encouraged him to repent of his sins so that absolution could be pronounced after confession from one believer to another.

To be blunt, part of me wanted to just "shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them" (Mark 6:11; Matthew 10:14; Luke 9:5). However, it's not entirely his fault that there hasn't been any on-going catechesis offered to him since he was confirmed some 20+ years ago and been a member of our church for 10+ years.

Plus, as an ex-Evangelical, I'm grateful for those who continued to proclaim the truth to me even though I repeatedly ignored and rejected it too. So, when I got home and discovered those resources from Pastor Matt Richard, I sent some 22 one-sheet attachments to him via email with the following note.

Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me tonight! I know it got "heated" at times since we're both so passionate about things, but I'm glad we can both talk like that every now and then and still part as friends who are both forgiven by the grace of God through His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection for you and for me. Hey, here are some AWESOME one-sheets on the distinct Lutheran views of all the many things we talked about tonight (all put together by Pastor Matt Richard in chart/picture form on a single page so it's perfect for a self-described "simple man" like you, my friend! haha). Anyway, I thought they might be way more helpful than the written material I gave to you tonight so enjoy! Grace And Peace, Jeff

I pray it leaves an impression and will take God at His Word (Isaiah 55:11 "so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it").

My dear friends, please forgive me for my VERY LONG rant today. I know I was redundant in a lot of places too. I hope I haven't broken the 8th Commandment either (I don't believe I have), but I really don't have anyone else I can talk to about these things. For what it's worth, I thank you for taking the time to read this if you made it this far.

Bottom line, I'm just so overwhelmed by the sheer lack of conviction and faithfulness to Him and His Word that I've seen over the course of the past year. This was just one of several occasions where my conscience was screaming at me.

Worse, each case called for me to do the right thing, and yet, each case ended up casting me as the "bad guy" who's "causing division and trouble" all because I can't be a team player and just keep my mouth shut. After all, if "Jesus Is The Main Thing!" then what's the matter? Why all the fuss?

Besides, "Every Member Is A Minister" and far too many churches are in decline these days. Unfortunately, the answer for my church isn't to preach Christ crucified let alone give a faithful confession of faith in His Word and His Sacraments, but there's an emphasis on a "Can We Do It Better?" approach.

I suppose nothing can build a church bigger and faster than you and me doing it all in the name of God by any means possible, right? That must be why the majority also stresses our need to study other "successful" churches to see what works so that we can can apply those tactics here at Trinity.

Our church is in trouble and I did my very best to stand firm with the help of God. There's a reason why God gave each one of us a conscience, and there's a reason why Acts 24:16 says what it says, and there's a reason why Martin Luther himself alluded to that verse when he said what he said so famously.

Acts 24:16 (ESV) So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.

"Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason…my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen." 
*- Martin Luther

How depressing for sure, especially when I've tried my very best to be as considerate, patient, loving, and long-suffering as possible when communicating my concerns. Please, no pity party, just prayers. Please pray indeed!

I know what the Bible has to say about the "wheat" and the "tares" and the "sheep" and the "goats," but I'm still so heartbroken over this and don't want bitterness to take root in my heart, especially now that it's even more clear than ever that it's time for me and my family to find another church.

As that search continues, I realize that there is no "perfect" church, but I can only hope that the next church we become members of will have a "No Wolves Allowed! / No Elephants Allowed!" sign prominently posted on the church's front door just like Luther's 95 Theses.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, I shot a giant elephant last night, but not before it killed my congregation! Please join me in praying that the Lord has protected a remnant there who will survive despite this tragedy from within.

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.


  1. This is worth listening to given its obvious connection. This is a 6-year-old interview of Issues, Etc. featuring Rev. Klemet Preus discussing the relationship between doctrine and practice: http://www.lutheranlayman.com/2014/02/the-church-today-rev-klemet-preus.html

    Grace And Peace,

  2. This just in! I received a hopeful text.

    First, I must caution that he's done this same thing before (reaching out to me within 24 hours of us talking and making it seem like he does agree with what I was trying to point out and wants to repent, only to go right back to to believing, teaching, and confessing the same errors a day later!), but if I'm going to try to "put the best construction on things" then this could certainly be promising.

    Here's a text I received from him...

    "Thanks very much again for last night. I read over your material you gave me last night. I really been focusing on baptism and being saved. Luther is very clear about it! Still struggling with it. I know you pray for me in that. Talk to you soon brother."

    Gosh, I really hope that this is a sign that the Word of God shared last night is going to bear the fruits of repentance, forgiveness, and faith!

    Grace And Peace,


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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