Is the Missouri Synod Over?
By Rev. Jack Cascione


The Lutheran Witness Doesn't Know

"Is the Reformation Over?" is the title of an article in the September 1999 issue of the Lutheran Witness by Rev. David Mahsman in which he interviews Dr. Samuel Nafzger. The question is not answered in the article. The reader must come to his own conclusion.

In Augsburg Germany on Reformation Day, October 31, 1999, the once unthinkable agreement on the Doctrine of Justification between the Pope and some 50 million of the world’s 60 million Lutherans is scheduled to take place.

This surrender on the doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation to Rome in 1999 was predicted by Robert Preus in his book "Justification and Rome" which was published by C.A.P in 1997, two years after his death in 1995. It is available through CN.

In 1521 Luther stated: "Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason (for I believe neither the Pope nor Councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves) I am bound by the Scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God, and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen." (Schwiebert, CPH, page 504)

The following are few statements from the interview of Dr. Samuel Nafzger, the Executive Director of Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations: "They should remember, first of all that despite our differences, we have many important points of agreement."

Again: "Despite its teaching on justification, the Roman Catholic Church has many noteworthy blessings that were also recognized by Martin Luther and C.F.W. Walther... (Nafzger gives eleven points of doctrinal agreement)."

Again: "In some areas, these discussions have revealed more agreement with the Roman Catholic Church than the Catholics have with one of the larger church bodies that supports the declaration, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America-with respect to things like whether women should be pastors or not, or whether or not willful abortion is a sin, or whether or not homosexual behavior is something that should be condemned as contrary to God ’s will."

Again: "I believe some progress has been made. But I don’t believe that we are there yet."

In the interview Nafzger enumerates some of the remaining differences between the LCMS and Roman Catholic Church on justification, but with less passion and certainty than would be sufficient for a salesman to explain the advantages of a Ford versus a Chevrolet.

Nafzger can scarcely generate an emphatic, unqualified "We teach," We confess," or "We believe." Rather he says, "I think" or "I don’t think" or "It seems to me" more than a dozen times in the article. The answer to the question "Is the Reformation Over" reads more like the op-ed page of the Sunday paper. We know that Nafzger subscribes without reservation to the Lutheran Confessions, but one would have hoped for a little more confession and a little less use of guarded statements when dealing with the most significant challenge in 482 years to the Reformation and the very heart of the Christian faith.

Mahsman’s last question to Nafzger summarizes the tone of the entire article when he asks, " Why should this whole discussion, this joint declaration about which we have been talking make any difference whatsoever to the average church member? Why should they even want to read this article?" Those who read it may ask themselves, "What was all the fuss about the Reformation 482 years ago anyway?"

One wonders that if the article was titled "Is the Missouri Synod Over?" if the interest level of "the average church member" would be any different? Mahsman neglects to mention that if the Reformation is over the Missouri Synod must necessarily be over. Of course the separate corporate entities such as the Synod’s Foundation, Pension Fund, and Church Extension Fund will continue till the end of time with a treasurer promoted and protected by the COP regardless of the state of the Reformation.

Try Preus’ Book for the Right Perspective

If your looking for a different perspective on the importance of the Reformation from a man whose life was dedicated to the "whole discussion" on justification, try Robert Preus’ book "Justification and Rome." It is just 141 pages (including 25 pages of notes at the back) and is without question the finest paperback I’ve ever read.

Preus, with an earned doctorate in theology and another in philosophy, explains the issues with the clarity of scientist and lays them out with the skill of an artist. His book sparkles with facts, simple analysis of complex issues, and gives a master craftsman’s guide through the subject. No one known to us today could write this book.

Preus outlines his book in one sentence, "From the very first the Lutheran doctrine of justification has been reduced to the following classical summary formulations: a sinner (1) is justified [saved] (2) by grace, (3) for Christ’s sake, (4) through faith (5). (Page 27) He knows this because he read all the Latin tomes from the 16th century on this subject.

Try this sentence: "The historical-critical method and all new exegetical and historical "insights" not withstanding, the differences on the doctrine of justification between the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church still exist on such topics as original sin, concupiscence, bondage of the will, human passivity and conversion and justification, grace, sola fide, and good works, and the assurance of salvation." (Page 24) Preus says more in one sentence than the four-page article in the Witness. If you don’t know the meaning of those words he explains them in the book.

Are you looking for an authoritative and concise explanation of the Catholic versus the Lutheran view of infused grace, infused virtues, infused righteousness, and four other distinctions on grace, their importance, and the correct teaching on the subject? Read pages 45 through 47.

Here is Preus’ astute distinction on the Lord’s Supper: "The Lord’s Supper is not a source of grace but a means of grace, what the Apology calls a "sign of grace." The layman who pops up with this comment in Bible class could give his pastor an identity crisis. Buy the book, give it to your pastor and you might like what you hear in his sermons and Bible class after he reads it.

Anyone who wants to know the meaning of the following sentence on page 59 only has to read the previous three pages in the book. "This vicarious obedience under the Law and vicarious obedience unto death, results in the redemption of the world and the reconciliation of the world to God. This righteousness that constitutes the vicarious atonement is the basis of the sinner’s justification before God. It is precisely this righteousness which is imputed to the sinner who believes, and thereby becomes his righteousness.’

There isn’t a writer in print who could so deftly explain the relationship of Christ’s vicarious obedience, vicarious atonement, redemption, reconciliation of the world to God, and justification and imputation in the three sentences above. Preus’ explanation of divine imputation that describes the nature of conversion and faith and their relationship to the Gospel is matchless and worth the price of the book.

Preus quotes Luther, the confessions, and theologians from the 16th and 17th centuries and compares them with the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries as if he had just interviewed them.

Just the quotations and insights on a couple of pages are enough to give pas tors new preaching material for an entire sermon. By this calculation there is enough material for at least fifty sermons.

Just for once, imagine explaining in a sermon Friedrich Balduin’s distinction between cognitive and determinative imputation (2Cor.5:21); or Balthasar Mentzer’s definitions of justification; or Melanchthon’s refutation in the Apology of Thomas Aquinas’s confusion as to why concupiscence is not sin, instead of presenting the latest motivational tips from the Willow Creek Association or Promise Keepers, so popular with the COP. There is a lot more to the Gospel than saying "Jesus loves you" as the right motivation for stewardship.

Is the Reformation Over?

In the last chapter Preus sums up the current agreement with the Lutherans and Rome like a play-by-play sports commentator. Is the Lutheran Reformation over? Yes, it is over for those who don’t know or don’t care about what Preus is discussing in his book.

On page 112 he writes, "The Lutheran Church may well have to be prepared to lose its corporate identity some time in the future, and there may very well be many Lutheran leaders today who are prepared for this eventuality."

He ends the book with this quotation from the Apology, "Who would not gladly die in the confession of the article that we receive the forgiveness of sins freely given for Christ’s sake and that our works do not merit the forgiveness of sins?"

Walther Warned that Politics Would Replace Doctrine

Instead of theological agreement Preus states that the agreement between Rome and the Lutherans " a consensus diplomatically and politically achieved, a consensus which does not settle or try to settle past disputes, but creates a climate for future cooperation and work". (Page 112)

In his 1848 speech Walther warned that the surrender of doctrinal unity must lead to hierarchy and political unity. The advent of hierarchy means that the authority of God is replaced by the authority of man. He states: "Our chief battle would soon center on the execution of manufactured, external human ordinances and institutions and would swallow up the true blessed battle for the real treasure of the church, the purity and unity of doctrine."

Hundreds of us who gathered at Preus’ grave and hundreds more who couldn’t be there were well aware that the Missouri Synod had lost its greatest theologian. Such a man could not be tolerated by the Council of District Presidents, President Ralph Bohlmann, and the Seminary Board of Regents. Preus knew what he confessed, why he confessed it, and to the discomfort of many contemporaries, kept on confessing it in public places.

Preus had no tolerance for theological compromise. He saw no reason to see things from the other man’s theological perspective when his primary goal was to convince him of the surpassing brilliance of Lutheran doctrine. Preus’ opposition to the Church Growth/Leadership Training direction of the COP led the Board of Regents at Fort Wayne to fire him with the excuse that he had turned 65.

The Synod Can’t Keep Correct Teaching on Justification

The Synod now admits it is no longer able to maintain a clear teaching on the doctrine of justification in its member congregations. Minnesota South District President Lane Seitz continues to protect pastor and author Reverend Doctor Robert Nordlie of Wayzata Minn. from expulsion from the Synod by the Synod’s Praesidium. Nordlie refuses to change his public false teaching on justification. The Praesidium writes on March 19, 1999, "Unfortunately, the problems in Pastor Nordlie’s preaching and teaching are not unique to Pastor Nordlie. They are apparent elsewhere in the Synod at large as a result of the inroads of a Reformed-like articulation of the relationship of Justification and the Christian life."

Is the Reformation over? The Reformation is over wherever the doctrine of justification is no longer loved, confessed, and taught in its truth and purity as the Church’s greatest treasure. Is the Missouri Synod over? That depends on who one talks to. If you ask the Hyper-Euro-Lutherans, the entire premise for the Synod’s structure was in error.

If you ask the Church Growth-Leadership Training fanatics at the District Office, the Synod can no longer worship and be structured as taught by Walther.

If you ask the liberals, the Synod should be in fellowship with the ELCA.

If you ask the moderates, they have no opinion.

If you ask the charasmatics and RIM, Missouri shouldn’t limit its revelation to the printed Word of God.

If you ask those who loved the Synod’s theology more than life and statistics, Old Missouri will never be over where there is 100% adherence to its doctrine and the greatest jewel, the doctrine of justification. Old Missouri will soar forever among wings of angels before the throne of Christ, her Savior.

Rev. Jack Cascione is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church (LCMS - MI) in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. He has written numerous articles for Christian News and is the author of Reclaiming the Gospel in the LCMS: How to Keep Your Congregation Lutheran. He has also written a study on the Book of Revelation called In Search of the Biblical Order.
He can be reached by email at

October 5, 1999