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What Luther Says

The Leprosy Of Unionism (Lutheranism Or Bust!)

A couple of tweets from yesterday got me thinking this morning.

Having been a "Spiritual Island Unto Myself" who believed that any and all denominations were "bad" no matter what, I think I now have a unique perspective than most who are perhaps the "Cradle To Grave" types of Lutherans.

No, not that I think I'm somehow "better" than them (not at all!), but just that I almost caused "shipwreck" to my faith (1 Timothy 1:19) due to the incorrect confessions, beliefs, and teachings I held onto, and so now I can appreciate the clear Biblical truth I have been exposed to and given, thanks be to God (Jude 1:3).

To put it another way, I can identify the "Trojan Horses" we've allowed to infect the pulpits and pews. I know the dangers present in inviting everyone to embrace and pet the wolves we've allowed into the narthex.

Unfortunately, I also know far too many lifelong Lutherans who tend to underestimate the importance of pure, sound doctrine and who could honestly care less about any and all attempts to discuss the very serious confessional differences between Christian denominations.

To them, I'm just a "judgmental" and "unloving" jerk who always has to complicate things by pointing out how a current belief and/or practice has no basis due to God's Word let alone our Lutheran Confessions.

An early 20th Century Lutheran once wrote: "The teachings of the Word of God are not a vague, luminous mist, but a clear, steady light. We re-examine the Scriptures and confess that in all its teachings the Bible is indeed, as Luther called it, 'The clearest book ever written.'"

Why should doctrine always matter to us? Because doctrine deals with matters of life and death! That's why we should always refute and resist any errors being taught as truth and being done in the name of God (1 Peter 3:15).

An acquaintance of mine on Facebook who writes for the From Geneva To Wittenberg blog shared his story recently and I recalled it this morning in light of the above truths, because it succinctly summarizes my own sentiments about being a Lutheran right now.

I am to the point where I have little patience, if any, for other branches of Christianity besides Lutheranism. And this not in a "cage stage" sort of way. (I converted to Lutheranism almost two years ago.) Instead, I am to this point because the more I grow in my Lutheranism, and in being so thankful for the pure Gospel found within Lutheranism, the more I see how *every single other branch* in some way, form, or fashion, turns a person within themselves, toward their own efforts. I absolutely abhor this. It is absolutely dangerous pastorally and practically speaking. Even those branches that have the full Sacraments -- such as Rome, the East, and some Anglicans -- even they end up turning the Sacraments into law, and turn them into our efforts toward God. To me, this is no different than the other branches which focus on "what am I doing for God?" Anyhoo, that's the point I am at. Honestly, I think it is a *good* point to be at. Why? Because it makes me impatient toward anything that obscures the Gospel. This sinner needs the pure, unadulterated, 200-proof Gospel of God's declaration external and outside of me, delivered in Words spoken and Sacraments given as Gifts. This sinner needs Lutheranism, and Lutheranism alone. God coming down to me. God speaking objective, gracious Words to me. God giving objective, gracious Sacraments to me. God continually forgiving my sins. Thank You Jesus! 
-- Josh Brisby

This is most certainly true.

I feel absolutely the same way too. What about you? Can you relate to that as well?

Now, this is not to say that "only Lutherans" are Christians. Still, there's a great spiritual danger that's inherent to "Get Alongism" in Christ's Church and it seems as though a majority of Christians (regardless of the denomination they belong to) have lost the ability to discern that truth.

Galatians 5:9 (ESV) A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

And yet, Unionism continues to rule the hearts and minds of many believers today!

What is Unionism? In short, it's church fellowship without unity in doctrine and practice. Worse, Unionism is a spiritual cancer within Christ's Church, and even though we know that His Church will always prevail (Matthew 16:18), that doesn't mean that we should ever become indifferent to His doctrines and the practices that are derived from them simply for the sake of "peace and unity" with our brothers and sisters.

Galatians 1:6-10 (ESV) 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 -- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 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. 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. 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.

I found a fitting critique of this predisposition to Unionism that was written by a Lutheran way back in 1918. It was written by a man named Dr. Theodore Graebner who was, for many years, a Professor at Concordia Lutheran Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and considered one of Lutheranism's theological giants.

He was a prolific writer and the author of many excellent books and treatises in which he clearly and boldly set forth the truth of Scripture on a variety of subjects. He proved himself a staunch defender of sound, conservative Lutheranism. This is evident also from essays that also appeared in the Lutheran Witness or what was the official publication of the LCMS back in 1918 that I would like to share with you at this time (along with an appropriate quote from our current Synod President).

The Leprosy of Unionism 
In all the catalog of diseases there is no more awful scourge than leprosy. True leprosy is incurable. In Bible-times the lepers were considered, in a special sense, unclean. They were shut out from the temple, the synagogues, and to a large extent from the social life of their fellow-beings. Their lot was truly pitiable. The tubercular blotches on the skin, soon covering the cheeks, the nose, the lips, and the forehead; then the ulcers in the mouth, followed soon by the tubercles on the face, encrusted with discharge; the falling out of the eyebrows, the ulceration of feet and hands, the progressive loss of fingers and toes, then of arms and limbs made leprosy the most dreaded of all diseases. It ended usually by the onset of tuberculosis, or led to mental decay, idiocy, coma, and death. There is a spiritual leprosy. We commonly call it unionism. Unionism is a diseased condition of the church. And it is a fatal disease. It ends in spiritual tuberculosis or a state of coma, the precursor of spiritual death. . . Moreover, and this makes the present subject so vital -- we all have within us the germs of unionism. (NOTE: Unionism is church fellowship without unity in doctrine and practice.)

". . . In my flesh dwelleth no good thing," (Romans 7:18) is the confession of Paul and of every Christian who knows his own heart. Pride, love of applause, and their counterparts, unwillingness to bear shame and reproach, these are the germs of unionism. And they are found in every human heart. When we confess Christ, we must bear reproach. And we can confess Christ in no other way than by confessing the truth as He taught it. But confession of the truth by word of mouth is inseparable from confession by deed and practice. Even if there were no single text in Scripture which commands us to separate ourselves from those who deny any part of the truth, we should still, by inner necessity, if we are faithful disciples, bear witness against error through the testimony of withdrawal from false teachers and their followers. Jesus says that He has come not to bring peace, but division. (Luke 12:51) The Word divides those who are faithful from those who are unfaithful. And when Scripture says: "Be ye separate," (2 Corinthians 6:17), "Avoid them," (Romans 16:17), these commands find a ready response in the attitude of the believer's heart. The Christian knows that false doctrine is sin. But here our spirit is put to a sore test. Separation from those who teach falsely will inevitably expose us to slurs and bitter reproach: "Pharisees!" "Holier - than - thou Christians!" is hurled at us. "A loveless Christianity!" "Proud aloofness!" "Unchristian intolerance!" These are bitter words, and our flesh is weak; we are tempted to look for some means of escape from such reproach. And that is the entering wedge of unionism! Satan sees his opportunity. "Yea, hath God said?" (Genesis 3:1) Doubts arise: "Is it really necessary to stand so uncompromisingly on details of doctrine? Are not some doctrines difficult to understand? Is it not reasonable to suppose that Christians may 'honestly differ,' because the Word of God 'has left some things obscure?' Why then be separate from those who at least hold the 'great essentials' of Christianity in common with us?" We recognize the serpent's hiss and strike down the tempter with the Sword of the Spirit: "It is written!" (Matthew 4) The teachings of the Word of God are not a vague, luminous mist, but a clear, steady light. We re-examine the Scriptures and confess that in all its teachings the Bible is indeed, as Luther called it, "The clearest book ever written." No, we cannot yield. The simple words of Scripture are too powerful; the Truth is ours, and those who deny it depart from the evident sense of the inspired Word. There can be no compromise. "Get thee behind me, Satan!" (Matthew 16:23) Thus we can escape the infection.

Without question, there is an epidemic of unionism raging in the body of Protestantism. There is an impatient demand: "Away with creeds; away with doctrine!" "The denominational wall must fall." "Christianity has no room for sects." This is the cry of so-called Christianity of our day. Our Synodical Conference, of which the Missouri Synod is part, has so far stood four-square against unionism. Will it continue to stand? Will it resist the tremendous pressure exerted by those who plead for unity, regardless of doctrinal agreement. . . (Will it continue) to offset the inroads of unbelief, and to oppose aggression of Romanism? Will it remain 100% Lutheran? . . . (COMMENTARY: This article was written in 1918. Unfortunately, the questions must be answered in the negative. The Synodical Conference officially dissolved in 1967. It had succumbed to unionism!)

Once we admit that the Word of God has not clearly spoken on points of Christian doctrine, and "the lid is off," faith disintegrates, and rationalism rules. . . Unionism works just like leprosy. First the disfigurement -- the entrance of unscriptural views and practices, then the decay of doctrinal preaching, followed by the sloughing off of one teaching after another, until the church-body is a walking death. Behold the final state of such a church: Because they tolerated error in their midst and permitted their faithful churches and pastors to remain in fellowship with unfaithful churches and pastors, the representatives of the so-called conservative element of the Reformed Churches round about are helpless over against the inroads of unbelief. The official publishing house of the Methodists is publishing Sunday School literature which is absolutely unchristian. . . . Everywhere sectarian preachers are openly denying the very fundamentals of Christian doctrine. Churches are rapidly degenerating into agencies of political reform, and in many cases have given up even the pretense to a spiritual mission. Such churches are dying of spiritual tuberculosis, the final stage of spiritual leprosy -- unionism.

Unionism is a disease which is 100% fatal. The outward organization sometimes continued to exist after the spiritual life had flown, but Christ, the Life of the Church, was no longer there. His Spirit had fled the polluted sanctuary. In the days of Isaiah, the Jews had arrived at this stage. . . True Christians there will always be where there are Bible-readers; but the organism dies. A church may be re-born, reformed, built up anew out of the debris of its former self, but that has ever been the case only after unionism had worked its final result, spiritual death. The place for unionistic Christianity is not the sanitarium, but the morgue.

The Lutheran Church in the United States has not been immune to unionism in the past, and it is not immune today. No one believes that any Missouri Synod man would dare to propose at this time (1918) official synodical collaboration with the Reformed sects in church-work. That is a late development at which one does not arrive at a jump. On the other hand, the danger is ever present that on the specious plea of advancing the cause of "Lutheranism," we be tempted to enter into fellowship with members of synods Lutheran in name, but only partly Lutheran in doctrine and practice. There is danger that we get a taste of applause and flattery; that we become eager for "recognition" as a great church-body; that we compromise our doctrinal stand for the purpose of meeting emergencies. And the time to become aware of that danger is NOW. It is a bad sign when hearers become angry at their pastor for "preaching against other churches." It is a worse sign when pastors, bowing to such disapproval, begin to withhold instructions concerning the errors of the sects. It is a most alarming symptom when pastors and parishoners fraternize. . . with those who represent a different conception of Lutheranism. It becomes denial of the Truth when they associate with such for the purpose of "making church-work more effective" or "keeping the Lutheran Church on the map." As we love our church, let us so teach our people so that they will fear the contagion of error as they would fear to breathe the air of a small-pox hospital. Let us exhibit to them the damnableness of false doctrine. Let us preach Luther on this point, who saw only the work of Satan in every deviation from the truth of Scripture. If our people learn to recognize every false doctrine as a snare of the devil, spread to catch victims for hell, they will not need to be held with a rein lest they stampede into unionism. . . Let it be understood that any undertaking or activity which is, in effect, the doing of religious work jointly with those from whom we ought, according to Scripture to separate, is unionism. Here, if ever, the old sayings must apply: "Nip the evil in the bud." Our first duty is that of watchfulness. There is no higher duty now because there is no greater danger. 
[This article was originally reproduced by the now sainted Rev. Waldemar Schuetze, Pastor at the time in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The undersigned retyped it and has added the Scripture references.] 
-- Daniel Fleischer (1995)

I hope you were nodding your head in agreement as you read that article from start to finish.

How spot on was that though? To think it was written almost 100 years ago, and yet, it reads as if a Lutheran Pastor had just written today speaks volumes I think, and demonstrates the importance as to why each and every generation needs to be on guard against the false teachers in the church, their apologists, and their damnable lies.

Ironically, and quite tragically, I have since learned that Dr. Graebner did not continue in this same firm position in the later years of his life. Can you believe it!?! In fact, he became quite the apostate or wolf in "sheep's clothing" (Matthew 7:14-15) within the LCMS by many accounts!

This, however, does not affect the soundness of his former confession of faith (as on full display in the above commentary on Unionism), because it clearly demonstrates the very real dangers present in making concessions when it comes to our Confessions. Even so, I wanted you to be aware of the fact that Graebner did not heed his very own warnings, which further illustrates why it's absolutely essential that we take this topic seriously ourselves.

Like Graebner wrote, "Unionism is a disease which is 100% fatal." To reiterate, what was true nearly 100 years ago was true from the very beginning, and it's still true today...

The Lutheran Church in the United States has not been immune to unionism in the past, and it is not immune today. ... It is a bad sign when hearers become angry at their pastor for "preaching against other churches." It is a worse sign when pastors, bowing to such disapproval, begin to withhold instructions concerning the errors of the sects. It is a most alarming symptom when pastors and parishoners fraternize. . . with those who represent a different conception of Lutheranism. It becomes denial of the Truth when they associate with such for the purpose of "making church-work more effective" or "keeping the Lutheran Church on the map." As we love our church, let us so teach our people so that they will fear the contagion of error as they would fear to breathe the air of a small-pox hospital. Let us exhibit to them the damnableness of false doctrine.

Today, it seems as if we have made Unionism an idol within our churches and local/regional communities of faith. Personally, I'm seeing it more and more here in the Eastern District-LCMS with each and every year that goes by.

Our false understandings of Christology, Ecclesiology, and Missiology (our false understandings of both doctrine and practice) as well as our sinful nature are continuing to fuel this trend as our congregations and schools are losing their distinct Lutheran identity (if they haven't already lost it) by becoming a unionistic melting pot of all brands of Christianity where "anything goes" as long as we can all agree on the truth of John 3:16 at the end of the day.

It's "Gospel Reductionism" and it's not a good thing at all.

My dear friends, whatever the reasons we use to justify such practices, it's never "good" and never "wise" at all to jettison one's historical and orthodox confession of the faith, and it will eventually only lead to disastrous results (1 Timothy 1:18-19).

In a Lutheran layman's terms, the leprosy of Unionism is a very real threat to the Christian and to Christ's Church (always has been, always will be), which is precisely why it's "Lutheranism or bust!" for me and my family.

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. 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 inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. 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 they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I 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). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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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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