Reclaiming the Gospel in the LCMS
By Rev. Jack Cascione
The current popularity of the Church Growth Movement and leadership training is removing the clear confession of the Gospel from Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod congregations. The assumption that correct preaching of God's Word is not enough to bring people to church or that correct preaching must be augmented with contemporary "style" and "leadership" is an insult to the Holy Spirit. Gathering people in the name of worship who are not actually worshipping and gathering people in the name of the church that does not present the marks of the church, is perpetrating fraud in the name of Christ. Were John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and Stephen preachers who shaped their message for their time or culture, or does the Gospel transcend all cultures and times regardless of when and where it is preached? Is their "style" going to work in 1998 or do we need to make changes in order to communicate more effectively? "But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." (1 Peter 1:25)
Dear brother pastor, this book is not written for you but to the lay people in the pew. If this book succeeds in its goal it will have awakened some lay people in the Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod to the imminent danger that they are losing the clear confession of the Gospel in their congregations.
Worship flows out of religious conviction and confession of one's faith. The Council of District Presidents in the LCMS is creating a generation of Missouri Synod Lutherans who don't use hymn books. They are freeing the church from the "legalism" of confessing the Gospel in the name of the Gospel.
This writer will not forget how many "conservatives" in the LCMS, particularly those associated with a publication called "Affirm," objected to a 1995 LCMS Convention resolution endorsing the name "Lutheran" on all LCMS congregations. I was called a "legalist," publicly ridiculed, and attacked for promoting a resolution to keep the name "Lutheran." It passed 67% to 33%.
Now in 1998 the task is much more difficult. There is far more animosity and confusion over the confession of the Gospel as stated in the three Creeds in LCMS congregations than there was against the name "Lutheran." The three Creeds are the official public confession of the Gospel published in the front of both LCMS hymn books.
The so called freedom to write a creed for others to confess in the church is really the self-expression of a dysfunctional faith. According to his ordination vows, no LCMS pastor has the right to invent his own creed and then lead others to confess it. The first four chapters of this book explain how wide ranging the issues actually are. The next three chapters, particularly chapter seven, explains the intensity of the struggle to maintain an identifiable and consistent confession of the Gospel in the LCMS.
There is a continuous harangue of legalism against me because I refuse to confess any Creed but the three Creeds published in the front of the Book of Concord. These charges will continue. But let me broaden the target a bit. I also require, demand, and mandate, (all good legalistic terms) that all members of Redeemer Lutheran Church in St. Clair Shores be baptized, confirmed, and then receive the Lord's Supper. My opponents have elevated the distinction between Law and Gospel above the Bible rather than applying its proper role as an interpreter of Scripture. With their view Christ's command to preach, believe, confess, absolve, baptize, teach, and receive the Lord's Supper are all legalism.
In order to help my opponents in the LCMS direct their criticism against me more accurately I will say that the confession of less than three or more than three of the Creeds in the Book of Concord is the refusal to confess three Creeds. This is a denial of the Gospel and the witness of the Church. According to his ordination vows, no LCMS pastor has the authority to write his own creeds and lead others to confess them.
There is no question that Luther encouraged the use of the creedal hymns such as one of the greatest hymns which he wrote himself, "We all Believe in One True God." Luther suggested that it could be sung in place of the confession of a Creed in a worship service. I agree, and have at times followed the same practice. However, Luther's hymn was never intended to be a fourth creed. He would have been horrified at the prospect of such a practice. His hymn lacks the phrases "and all things visible and invisible," "according to the Scriptures," "and shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead," and "I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins," just to name some of the necessary doctrines that are missing. Luther's hymn, beautifully written and doctrinally pure, was never intended to be a creed or to replace the Creeds. It is simply a magnificent creedal hymn.
Luther himself writes in the Book of Concord, Also our blessed fathers understood this well; for they all used the same form of the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. Therefore we, too, should [imitate their diligence and be at pains to] teach the young and simple people these parts in such a way as not to change a syllable, or set them forth and repeat them one year differently than in another [no matter how often we teach the Catechism].
(Concordia Triglotta, The Small Catechism. Preface of Dr. Martin Luther, page 535.)
Luther also endorsed the following statement about the Creeds, "But such as dare teach or to deliver a different Creed to those who wish to be converted to the knowledge of the truth from the Gentiles or Jews or any heresy whatever if they be Bishops or clerics let them be deposed, the Bishops from the Episcopate, the clerics from the clergy, but if they be monks or laics (laity?), let them be anathematized." (Council of Chalcedon, AD 451, Session 5)
Should we call the early church fathers, who made the number of books they chose to be placed in the Bible absolute law in the year 325, and then wrote the Nicene Creed as an explanation of Christian faith necessary for salvation, legalists? They made the law as to which books would be in the Bible. Without three and only three Creeds there is no Lutheran, Missouri Synod, and no local congregation, and we have all told a damnable lie to the world about the Gospel. No one forced the writers of the Book of Concord to place three Creeds in the front, in the middle, or the back of the Lutheran Confessions. The freedom to confess any creed is a denial of all. "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8)
The laity are keenly aware that a change in their insurance, wills, deeds, state and national constitutions, and tax laws can easily jeopardize every material thing they hold dear in this life. But the clergy are desensitizing the laity to believe that changing the confession of the Gospel into which they were baptized does not jeopardize their salvation.
As the reader proceeds through this book, please ask yourself this question: "If there is no problem with the confession of the Gospel in the LCMS why are so many LCMS clergy, particularly the Council of District Presidents, encouraging pastors to write their own creeds and having their congregations confess them?"
The name "Lutheran" made it to the Convention floor in 1995 and was passed by a 2/3 majority, but agreement on the confession of the Gospel will most likely not make it out of the floor committee. They will have a more pressing agenda on which to deliberate.
God willing, my goal is simply that there be a unified confession of the Gospel in the LCMS, namely, no more than and no less than three Creeds.
April 30, 1998
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