A Comparative Study of Christian Church Bodies
1. Some Definitions:
* The Holy Christian Church
* Christian churches
* Unity of Faith
* Unity of Doctrine
1 Corinthians 1:10
2. The Purpose of the Study
* Identify common ground between denominations
* Identify differences between denominations
* Explore logical and historical explanations for these differences
* Discuss the effect which various doctrines have on an individual’s faith or life
* Increase our understanding of Confessional Lutheranism
* Allow God to speak to us through his Word
* Let the Holy Spirit create true unity of doctrine
3. The Format of this Study
* Loosely chronological
* grouped according to doctrine
* compared to the Lutheran position
* apologetic, but not polemical
4. Some Reminders
* Necessary to judge a denomination on the basis of its confession
* Not on the personal faith or sincerity of an individual member
* Bring your questions, personal experiences with/from other denominations
The Post-Apostolic Church
1. There have always been “divisions” in the visible Christian Church
1 Corinthians 1:10-13
1 John 4:1
2. The three Ecumenical Creeds were written to combat false doctrine within the visible church.
* Apostles’ Creed (a summary of Christian faith, 1st or 2nd century)
* Nicene Creed (written to defend the teaching that Jesus is true God, 324 AD)
* Athanasian Creed (written to defend the doctrine of the Trinity, attributed to Athanasius, but likely not written by him)
3. Despite such controversies, the church remained essentially united until the schism of 1054.
4. The development of papal power
* the ministers of larger congregations came to be called “bishops”
* bishops in larger cities gradually exercised influence over bishops in surrounding areas
* the bishops of Rome and Constantinople became the two most powerful bishops
The Great Schism (1054 AD)
1. The Pope in Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicate one another based on:
* liturgical differences (dates for Christmas and Easter; leavened or unleavened bread; hallelujahs during Lent)
* cultural differences (Latin vs. Greek language)
* minor doctrinal differences (Spirit proceeds from Father and Son)
* political differences (The Pope claimed to be the final authority in the church in settling questions of doctrine and practice)
2. The Schism resulted in a relatively “clean break.”
* The Western Church (Roman Catholic)
* The Eastern Orthodox Church (Greek, Russian Orthodox)
1. characterized by a strict adherence to old liturgical forms, a spirit of mysticism, intercession and invocation of the saints, reverence of icons
2. generally the Christian faith of the Middle East and Eastern Europe
3. many Eastern Orthodox countries have now been overrun by Islam
4. primarily national churches
The Roman Catholic Church
1. The Catholic Church bases its doctrine on tradition and Scripture.
2. This fundamental philosophy has given rise to a number of uniquely Roman doctrines.
Purgatory (593 AD)
“It is of faith that there is a place we call purgatory, where petty faults, or the temporal punishment due to sin, are expiated.” (The Catholic Church, the True Church of the Bible).
“If anyone saith, that God always remits the whole punishment together with the guilt, and that the satisfaction of the penitents is no other than the faith whereby they apprehend that Christ has satisfied for them, let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent) Luke 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 16:26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
Heb 10:10 We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Clergy Forbidden to Marry (1075 AD)
Gregory VII declared all clerical marriages invalid.
“Our judgment upon marriages contracted by persons of this kind (the clergy) is that they must be broken.” (First Lateran Council) Mark 10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Mark 1:30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her.
1 Tim 3:2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife…”
1 Tim 4:1-3 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits….They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.
Money for Masses (1100 AD)
“The practice of giving the priest a money alms for a Mass dates from the seventh or eighth century, and became a universal practice in the twelfth. If more masses are asked for than a priest can say, he is bound to send them to priests in poor parishes where few offerings are made.” Acts 8:20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!
(The Question Box)
Indulgences (1190 AD)
Who can grant indulgences:
“The Pope, as supreme head of the Church on earth, can grant all kinds of indulgences to any and all of the faithful.” (Pope Pius X)
Basis for teaching:
“An essential element in indulgences is the application to one person of the satisfaction performed by others. Besides the satisfaction of Christ, there are the satisfactory works of the Blessed Virgin Mary, undiminished by any penalty due to sin, and the virtues, penances and sufferings of the saints vastly exceeding any temporal punishment which these servants of God might have incurred. These are added to the treasury of the Church as a secondary deposit.” (Catholic Encyclopedia)
John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
1 John 1:7 The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Psa 49:7-8 No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him–the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough.
Transubstantiation (1215 AD)
“By the consecration of the bread and of the wine a conversion is made of the whole substance of the Body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His Blood; which conversion is by the Holy Catholic Church suitably and properly called transubstantiation.” (Council of Trent) 1 Cor 10:16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?
Bible (1229 AD)
“The attitude of the Church toward the Bible societies is one of unmistakable opposition. Believing herself to be the divinely appointed custodian and interpreter of the Holy Writ, she cannot, without turning traitor to herself, approve the distribution of Scripture without note or comment. It would be the violation of one of the first principles of the Catholic Faith–a principle arrived at through observation as well as by revelation–the insufficiency of the Scriptures alone to convey to the general reader a sure knowledge of faith and morals.” (Catholic Encyclopedia II) 2 Tim 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Claim of the Pope to Political Supremacy (1303 AD)
“The temporal power is subordinate to the ecclesiastical, as to the higher. The supremacy of the Pope, even in temporal things is to be enforced.” (Cath. Enc. XII) Mat 22:21 ” Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Tradition Made Equal in Authority to the Bible (1545 AD)
“The Protestant principle is: The Bible and nothing but the Bible; the Bible according to them, is the sole theological source: there are no revealed truths save the truths contained in the Bible.”
“The Catholics on the other hand, hold that there may be, that there is in fact, and that there must be of necessity certain revealed truths apart from those contained in the Bible.”
“Holy Scripture is not the only theological source of Revelation made by God to His Church. Side by side with Scripture there is tradition.”
(Catholic Encyclopedia XV). 2 Pet 1:16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
1 Cor 2:2-5 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
Mark 7:9 And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Justification (1545 AD)
“If anyone saith that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake or that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified, let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent) Rom 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Eph 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Immaculate Conception of Mary (1854 AD)
“In the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the human race, the Virgin Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.” (Pope Pius IX) Eccl 7:20 There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
Luke 1:46-47 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
The Infallibility of the Pope (1870 AD)
“The Vatican Council has defined as a ‘divinely revealed dogma’ that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wishes His Church to be endowed in defining doctrines of faith and morals. The Pope, teaching ex cathedra, is an independent organ of infallibility.”
“It must be sufficiently evident that he intends to teach with all the fullness and finality of his supreme Apostolic authority, in other words, that he wishes to determine some point of doctrine in an absolutely final and irrevocable way.” (Catholic Encyclopedia VII) 2 Th 2:3-4 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
The Assumption of the Virgin Mary (1950 AD)
The new dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII. It makes the Roman Catholic teaching that Mary was “assumed (taken up) body and soul” into heaven an article of faith, to be believed on pain of eternal damnation. Roman Catholic theologians differ on the time and place of this supposed event.
“The Bible furnishes much information, which would make the doctrine of the Assumption seem extremely plausible. St. Paul tells us that death is a punishment for sin. Therefore Mary who was conceived without original sin needed not to die at all…It is repugnant to believe that God, who could choose His own mother, and who did choose her, would have permitted her to have been under the influence of sin, actual or original.”
There is no Scriptural proof for Mary’s assumption.
Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death
Mark 7:9 And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!
3. The most damaging Roman doctrine: Salvation by faith and good works (work-righteousness).
4. The effect of such a doctrine:
1. Uncertainty of salvation
2. Fear of God’s punishment
5. Inasmuch as the Roman Church accepts the ecumenical creeds, it still teaches much that is true.
– The doctrine of the Trinity
– The deity and incarnation of Christ
– His suffering and death for the redemption of fallen man
– The efficacy of Holy Baptism
6. Yet the truth can be hard to find amidst the maze of human teachings which have been added through the centuries.
7. By God’s grace, there will always be Catholics who continue to cling to Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.
The Lutheran Church
1. Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546), a former priest, objected to the work-righteous system of the Roman Catholic church. His Biblical preaching and teaching sparked the Protestant Reformation. This marked the first major break from Roman Church since the Schism of 1054.
2. The cornerstone teachings of the Lutheran Church include:
a. Justification by faith alone
b. Universal priesthood of all believers
c. Scripture is the only authority for Christian faith and life
d. The means of grace are the Bible, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
3. The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church are: the three Ecumenical Creeds, the Large and Small Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, the Smalcald Articles and the Formula of Concord.
4. Today the Lutheran Church is predominant in Germany, and is the state church of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, and Latvia.
The Reformed Movement
1. The Leaders
a. Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), a Swiss pastor who was interested in uniting the Protestants politically against the threat of Roman Catholic suppression. He was willing to make theological compromises to achieve this goal. In a debate with Luther at Marburg, he rejected the doctrine of the Real Presence. His influence was limited primarily to Switzerland.
b. John Calvin (1509-1564) a Frenchman who carried out most of his reforms in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin was a gifted organizer. He sought to organize the various Reformed doctrines in his book Institutes of the Christian Religion. His ultimate goal was the reformation of society, often by working hand in hand with the government. He wanted a well-disciplined church, city, country. Calvin was a very influential reformer, and his teachings are evident in many of the reformed church bodies today.
c. Jacob Arminius (1560-1606) led a group of people who disagreed with the 5 chief points of Calvinistic Doctrine (“TULIP”). The tenets of Arminian doctrine are predominant in many of the reformed churches.
2. The Reformed Churches
a. The Calvinist tradition
* Dutch Reformed
* German Reformed
* Episcopalian (Anglicans)
b. The Arminian tradition
the Holiness groups (Nazarenes, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals)
c. However, these are not clear-cut distinctions. There is great deal of overlap between the two traditions
d. Generally, the Reformed churches are more ready to compromise matters of doctrine than questions relating to Christian living and church structure. Therefore, the names of some Reformed church bodies are derived from their organizational structure instead: episcopalian (bishop rule)
presbyterian (elder rule)
congregational (people rule).
The Reformed Interpretation of Scripture
1. The common denominator in Reformed doctrine is the misguided use of reason.
2. Calvin’s presuppositions:
1. “The Lord has instituted nothing that is at variance with reason.”
2. “Reason and faith are not opposed to each other. Hence we maintain that we must not admit anything, even in religious matters, which is contrary to right reason.”
3. Luther’s presuppositions:
1. “Man is to render his reason captive and to submit to divine truth.”
2. “The knowledge of lawyers and poets comes from reason and may, in turn, be understood and grasped by reason. But what Moses and the prophets teach does not stem from reason and the wisdom of men. Therefore, he who presumes to comprehend Moses and the prophets with his reason and to measure and evaluate Scripture according to its agreement with reason will get away from the Bible entirely. From the very beginning all heretics owed their rise to the notion that what they had read in Scripture they were at liberty to explain according to the teachings of reason.”
4. Luther insisted that reason helps us “understand” Scripture, but hinders our “believing” Scripture.
5. Reason is to be appreciated as a gift from God and used ministerially (as a servant) rather than magisterially (as a master).
6. Reason, by its nature, judges by what it sees, feels, or grasps by the senses. Faith, however, judges independently of and even against the data furnished by the senses, and
clings to what God says in his Word. (cf. 1 Cor 1:25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.”)
7. Consider how “unreasonable” the following Scriptural truths are:
God condemned Adam (and all mankind) for eating one piece of fruit
God freely forgives every person for every sin
The Christian is a sinner and a saint
Without faith it is impossible to please God
8. Remember God’s declaration in Isaiah 55:9: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
9. Question: If the heart of the gospel is unreasonable to the human mind, how can we trust the human mind to be the judge of anything else God says? Answer: We can’t. We must let God’s Word overrule our reason.
10. The primary principle of Lutheran interpretation: Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture (rather than by human reason or experience)
11. The Reformed “rationalistic” approach to Scripture is especially evident in their view of the following doctrines:
The Lord’s Supper
The Five Points of Calvinism (TULIP)
(Christian Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregational churches)
1. Total Depravity
“All men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto; and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, or to dispose themselves to reformation.” (This and the following quotations are taken from the Doctrinal Standards of the Christian Reformed Church – Canons of Dort)
2. Unconditional Election (to salvation or damnation)
“That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree. According to which decree He graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe; while He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.”
3. Limited Atonement
“It was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chose to salvation and given to Him by the Father.”
4. Irresistible Grace
“As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly (genuinely) called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him.”
“We reject those who teach that God in the regeneration of man does not use the powers of His omnipotence as potently and infallibly bend man’s will to faith and conversion; but that all the works of grace having been accomplished, which God employs to convert man, man may yet so resist God and the Holy Spirit, when God intends man’s regeneration and wills to regenerate him, and indeed that man often does so resist that he prevents entirely his regeneration, and that it therefore remains in man’s power to be regenerated or not.”
5. Perseverance of the Saints
“God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people even in their grievous falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.”
The Five Points of Arminianism
(Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal churches)
1. God predestined people “in view of” their faith (conditional election).
2. Jesus made atonement for all people (universal redemption)
3. Free will enables a person to cooperate in his conversion (i.e. decide to accept Christ)
“In order not to be condemned you must make a choice–you must choose to believe.” (Dr. Billy Graham)
“We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.” (Dr. Bill Bright, CCC)
4. Grace can be resisted.
5. A believer may fall from grace.
Some Differences between Lutheranism and Reformed
1. Calvinism restricts saving grace to the elect.
2. Arminianism extends saving grace to all on the condition of faith.
3. Scripture extends God’s grace to all, unconditionally.
Isa 53:6 The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
John 19:30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
Heb 7:27 He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
Rom 5:18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
2 Cor 5:19 God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
4. The Reformed View of Conversion
The will of God The will of man
2. The Scriptural View of Conversion
The will of God The will of man
John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
1 Tim 2:4 “God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Rom 8:7 “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.
Mat 23:37 “Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
The Reformed View of the Means of Grace
1. Zwingli objected to the medieval sacramental system in which the grace of God (forgiveness and salvation) was supposed to gradually filter down through the use of the seven sacraments of the Roman church.
2. In an overreaction to this sacramentalism (and the veneration of relics), Zwingli decided that God did not need any external means in his dealings with man. Zwingli declared, “The Holy Spirit needs no vehicle.” This became a fundamental tenet in Reformed doctrine, namely, that The Holy Spirit works directly on man apart from, or independent of, the Word and Sacraments.
3. Calvin expanded on this idea and drew a distinction between the outward word of the Bible and the “inner word” by which the Holy Spirit speaks only to the elect. This belief is sometimes referred to as “enthusiasm.” It has paved the way for some Reformed sects to discard the Bible as their source of doctrine in favor of their own visions, dreams, revelations or emotions.
4. Scripture teaches that God converts man and keeps him in the saving faith through the Word.
John 17:17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
John 17:20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
Rom 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
1 Cor 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
5. That same Word of God is also connected with the water in Baptism and with the true body and blood of Jesus under the bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar. Through these instruments, the Holy Spirit transmits to us God’s saving grace in Christ.
6. The Reformed deny that the sacraments are means or instruments through which God creates or preserves faith. Instead, they are regarded as merely symbols and outward ceremonies of what the Holy Spirit does in the heart directly and immediately without any means.
7. The Reformed view of the sacraments, combined with Arminian emphasis on “decision” theology” makes infant baptism both ineffective and unnecessary.
8. Other implications of this view of the means of grace include:
* a de-emphasis on regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper
* baptism becomes an act of obedience (dedication) to God
* in the search for certainty of salvation, the focus is shifted from the objective (Word and sacraments) to the subjective (faith, experience, emotions, reason)
The Reformed View of the Lord’s Supper
1. Calvin’s rational approach to Jesus’ words of institution:
1. “We repudiate as preposterous interpreters, those who in the solemn words of the Supper, ‘This is my body, this is my blood,’ urge a precisely literal sense, as they say. For we hold it to be indisputable that these words are to be accepted figuratively, so that bread and wine are called that which they signify.”
2. “The finite cannot contain the infinite.”
2. This view of the Lord’s Supper is referred to as “Representation.” (The bread and wine merely “represent” or “symbolize” Jesus’ body and blood.) Jesus’ body and blood are
not actually present in the sacrament.
3. Consider the words of Scripture: Matthew 26:26 “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.'”
4. The plain words of Scripture support the “Real Presence” of Jesus’ body and blood, given with the bread and wine. (cf. also 1 Cor 10:16 “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation (‘communion’) in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation (‘communion’) in the body of Christ?”)
5. The human mind cannot comprehend the sacramental union of Christ’s body and the bread any better than it can comprehend the union of a human nature and divine nature in the person of Jesus Christ.
6. The Reformed place the emphasis on the Lord’s Supper as “a memorial” to Jesus death (cf. Luke 22:19 “Do this in remembrance of me.”). Their emphasis is on what we do, rather than what God gives in the Sacrament.
7. The Reformed reject the concept of the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace (an divinely instituted act through which God transfers to a person the blessings earned by Christ’s substitutionary life and death)
8. Consider Jesus’ words again. Mathew 26:28 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many (Luke, ” for you”) for the forgiveness of sins.” In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives something to us (a work of God, not man).
9. In addition, the Reformed rarely regard the Lord’s Supper as an expression of fellowship for those who are united in their Christian confession. (cf. 1 Cor 10:17 “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”)
Additional Characteristics of the Reformed Churches
1. An emphasis on God’s Law
a. Calvin viewed God as the sovereign Judge. God is primarily the Master; man is His servant.
b. The Bible is regarded as chiefly a code of ethics and rules for good behavior to the glory of the Master.
c. Luther viewed God primarily as a gracious Father. The Bible is his love letter to his dear children.
d. Certainty of salvation for the Reformed is largely based upon how well they are obeying the law.
2. “Deeds, not creeds”
a. Much of the Reformed movement (Methodism, etc) began as a protest against the cold formalism of the church and the moral laxity of the people.
b. John and Charles Wesley attempted to revitalize their national church by inducing people to live sanctified lives. Their concern was Christian life rather than Christian doctrine.
3. Attempts to reform society (and the church) by means of the law
a. This involves a confusion of the purpose and power of the law and the gospel.
b. This is evident in the political activism of some Reformed churches.
4. The doctrine of the “inner witness” and “sure salvation”
a. Both of these terms refer to an emotional experience as proof of faith.
b. Because Wesley passed through a serious struggle under the conviction of sin and then suddenly experienced the assurance of salvation, he believed that this experience was necessary for salvation. (“Salvation must be felt.”)
c. This contributed to the emotional excesses of American Revivalism (cf. also Quakers).
5. An emphasis on charismatic gifts (e.g. speaking in tongues)
a. This is most prominent in the Pentecostal churches (Assemblies of God, Churches of God, etc.)
b. The gift of tongues is the most sought after charismatic gift.
c. It is often regarded as “proof” of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in a person.
Strengths of the “Fundamentalist” Reformed Churches
* A high regard for the inerrancy and authority of Scripture
* A clear proclamation of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone
* A strong desire to live a moral life
* A willingness to testify to society
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
1. Background Sketch
* Began on January 1, 1988 as a result of a merger of three church bodies:
ALC (American Lutheran Church; moderate; Midwestern)
LCA (Lutheran Church in America; liberal; MN, IL, PA)
AELC (Assoc. of Ev. Lutheran Churches; splinter group from LCMS; “Seminex”)
* Contains almost two-thirds of the Lutherans in the USA (5.2 million members)
* Headquarters are in Chicago, IL
* Presiding Bishop is Rev. Mark S. Hanson
* Publishing House is Augsburg-Fortress
2. Relationship with the WELS in the past
* For a short time, we were in fellowship with the old Norwegian Synod and the Ohio Synod (1872-1882)
* The AELC was a break-off from the Missouri Synod in the 1960’s. We were in fellowship with these congregations prior to 1961 when they were still in the LCMS.
* Otherwise, we have never been in fellowship with the church bodies which have merged to become the ELCA.
A Comparison of Doctrine in Lutheranism Today
WELS, ELS, LC-MS(?) The Moderate Viewpoint
The Nature of the Controversy
There is a doctrinal struggle in which the gospel is endangered and ultimately destroyed because much of the Bible is “questioned” and denied. The only real differences among Lutherans today are minor, “picky” points of doctrine which don’t affect the gospel. The real issues are more political than doctrinal.
Inspiration and inerrancy
1. All Scripture was inspired by God. 1. All Scripture was “inspired” in the same sense that someone is inspired to write poetry, etc.
2. The Holy Scriptures are absolutely true because God gave the writers the very words they wrote (verbal inspiration). 2. The Holy Scriptures were written by well-intentioned men of God. They wrote what they believed to be from God, but they were also affected by the cultural beliefs and influences of their times.
3. The Holy Scriptures contain no errors or contradictions. 3. The Holy Scriptures contain errors and contradictions.
4. Since God is the author of all Scripture, its teachings do not contradict one another. 4. Since the Scriptures were written by many different men, their various teachings often contradict one another.
5. Only the canonical books of the Holy Scriptures are to be regarded as inspired. 5. The traditions of the church and the witness of Christians today may be just as “inspired” as the Holy Scriptures.
1. God created all things, including man, within the six days of creation. 1. The story of creation in Genesis is a myth.
2. It is contrary to Scripture to hold that man evolved from lower forms of life. 2. The world developed by a chance process of evolution that God directed or at least used.
Adam and Eve
1. Adam and Eve were two real historical people created by God. 1. Adam and Eve are symbols of humanity and not real people. They never really existed. “Adam” means “humankind.”
2. The Bible contains no myths. 2. The story of Adam, Noah, Jonah, etc. are myths containing some spiritual truth.
The Old Testament
1. Moses was the author of those sections of the Old Testament that are ascribed to him–the first five books, commonly referred to as the Pentateuch. Jesus himself witnessed to this fact. 1. The first five books of the Bible were written centuries after Modes died and came from various sources.
2. The Old Testament predicts the person and work of Christ. 2. There are few or no direct prophecies referring to Christ in the Old Testament.
3. Whatever the New Testament teaches about the authorship of books of the Old Testament is true. 3. Matters of authorship of the Old Testament books or sections cannot be determined by New Testament authority.
4. The books of Isaiah and Daniel were written by these men. 4. Isaiah and Daniel were written, at least in part, by others and our Lord either accommodated himself to error or did not know better.
The Virgin Birth
1. The virgin birth is a biological miracle as taught in the Holy Scriptures. 1. Jesus was not actually born of a virgin. The early church honored Jesus by pretending his only Father was God
2. Jesus Christ did not have a human father. 2. We are not sure who Jesus’ physical father was.
The Words of Jesus
Jesus Christ really made all the statements attributed to him and recorded in the New Testament. Many, if not all, of the statements, attributed to Jesus Christ in the New Testament were not made by Jesus but were added by the early church.
1. Jesus died for the sins of the world. God took his anger for our sins out on his Son to save us.
1. Jesus Christ “died for us” in the sense of a man dying for his friends, not in the sense of God punishing him for the sins of others.
2. God is not angry with us anymore. We are forgiven and reconciled. to God because of Jesus. This is the heart and core of the Christian faith. 2. Such would portray an unjust God. God has always loved us. Jesus has shown us this.
1. The resurrection of the body will occur on the last day of history. The souls of all who died in faith will be reunited with their glorified bodies to live forever in heaven with Jesus. 1. It is doubtful what the “body” is. The corpse that is buried is not the body. Therefore, “resurrection” concerns some kind of “spiritual body,” not our earthly remains.
2. Jesus actually physically rose from the dead and physically showed himself to the disciples. 2. Jesus did not “physically” rise from the dead. The “resurrection” occurred in the minds of his disciples.
The immortality of the soul
1. The Bible teaches that man has a soul that survives death. 1. We should not speak of the soul, because the Bible does not teach that we have an immortal soul.
2. At death, the soul of the Christian goes to heaven, while the unbeliever’s soul goes to hell. 2. We cannot speak of what may happen beyond death. Perhaps in some sense, we may “be with Jesus.”
The Way to Heaven
1. Jesus is the only way to heaven and no one can be saved without faith in him. 1. Sincere followers of non-Christian religions may also get to heaven.
The New Morality
1. Moral absolutes are clearly taught in Scripture. Moral teaching in the Bible is clear and does not allow for exceptions dependent upon the situation. 1. Many questions of moral behavior must responsibly take all circumstances in a given situation into account.
2. Extramarital and premarital sexual relations are sins clearly condemned in the Holy Scriptures. 2. Extramarital and premarital relations are not always sinful but must be judged by the situation and the precept of love.
3. Homosexuality, both the act and the thoughts (lust) are sin and are condemned in Scripture. (Yet, there is still forgiveness for the repentant homosexual.) 3. Homosexuality in the life of a responsible, loving Christian should be tolerated and accepted as a valid lifestyle.
4. Except in cases where the life of the mother is seriously threatened, abortion is a violation of the Fifth Commandment. 4. Abortion is an individual matter and should be left to the decision of the individuals involved.
1. The primary mission of the church is the proclamation of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. 1. The chief concern of Jesus was the elimination of poverty and oppression.
2. Genuine Christian love will also show itself in a concern for the earthly needs of people. 2. Christians should not seek to “convert” sincere followers of other religions that also teach love and concern for mankind.
The Ecumenical Movement
1. All doctrines of the Bible are important and provide support for the chief doctrine, the gospel. Fellowship is an outward expression of unity in faith and doctrine. Therefore, Lutherans should join in fellowship with those bodies that subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions and whose teaching and practice is consistent with their confessions. 1 Joining with non-Lutherans, both in worship and eventually merging with them, is desirable as long as we agree with them, in a sense, that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Our differences can be worked out through dialogue and compromise.
2. Lutherans should not join the National Council of Churches or the World Council of Churches. Not only are these organizations not Lutheran, but their primary emphasis is political and social, and leans heavily on Marxism. 2. Lutherans should join the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches.
Source: What’s Going on Among the Lutheran? By Rev. J. Kincaid Smith
Clergy vs. Laity
The ELCA clergy are more likely to espouse the “moderate” (i.e. liberal) view than the average lay person (cf. chart below). However, more and more laity are conforming to the views of their pastors and church leaders.
The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LC-MS)
1. Background Sketch
* The LCMS was organized in 1847 with leadership from C.F.W. Walther and others who settled in Perry County, Missouri in 1839. Walther is considered by many to be the father of confessional Lutheranism in America.
* From the start, this church body was a conservative Lutheran church solidly based on the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions.
* Like the WELS, it has churches in all 50 states. LCMS membership is approximately 2.44 million souls (vs. 400,000 in WELS).
* The LCMS operates 10 colleges. Its elementary and secondary system of more than 1,100 schools is the largest of any Protestant denomination in the U.S.
* Its two seminaries are in St. Louis, Missouri and Fort Wayne, Indiana.
* Its headquarters are in St. Louis, Missouri. The publishing house is Concordia Publishing House. Rev. Gerald B. Kieschnick serves as the president of the LCMS.
2. Relationship with the WELS in the past
* Early in its history, the LCMS led WELS away from its unionistic roots and toward a greater appreciation of confessional Lutheranism.
* The Wisconsin Synod was in fellowship with Missouri from 1869-1961. We were co-participants in the Synodical Conference from 1871-1961.
* We broke fellowship in 1961 after an agonizing decade or more of admonition and doctrinal discussions. We broke when it became evident that there was an impasse on the doctrine of church fellowship.
3. A Critical Point in LCMS history
1936 LCMS begins doctrinal discussions with LCA & ALC
1955 ELS terminates fellowship with LCMS
1961 WELS terminates fellowship with LCMS
1969 LCMS declares fellowship with ALC
1964-1974 Historical-Critical method taught at St. Louis Seminary
1974 H-C professors and students form “Seminex” and AELC (1976)
1981 LCMS terminates fellowship with ALC
1988 AELC merges into ELCA
4. Doctrinal differences
* The LCMS has produced a number of fine doctrinal statements. Their seminaries are now staffed with professors who teach the inerrancy of the Bible. This is an improvement over the period in the 1950’s – 1970’s, when the historical-critical method was prevalent.
* The doctrine of fellowship still divides the LCMS and WELS. LCMS allows for different “levels” of fellowship, based on the degree of doctrinal unity between church bodies (e.g. sharing the Lord’s Supper requires a higher doctrinal unity than a joint prayer or worship service.) The WELS finds no such distinction in Scripture.
(1 Cor 1:10) I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
(Rom 16:17) I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.
(2 John 1:10-11) If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.
* In 1969, the LCMS began to allow women to vote in congregations, serve as elders and on church councils. The position of the LCMS is that women can exercise authority over men, but cannot be parish pastors. The WELS regards this as a position which is impossible to defend on the basis of Scripture. There are also many in the LCMS urging that women serve as pastors (29.4% in a recent survey).
(1 Corinthians 11:3) Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
(1 Timothy 2:12) I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
(Ephesians 5:22,25) Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
* The doctrine of church and ministry remains a stumbling block since many in the LCMS regard the local congregation to be the only divinely instituted grouping of believers. Only the local congregation has the right to call (or discipline) a pastor. This has compounded the problem of maintaining doctrinal unity throughout the congregations of the synod.
* There has been a toleration of the charismatic movement within the LCMS. A number of congregations promote speaking in tongues.
* The LCMS allows membership in the Boy Scouts. The WELS opposes such membership because of the mandatory Scout Oath and Scout Law which promote a spirit of self-righteousness. (“I will do my best to do my duty to God…and…keep myself morally straight.”)
5. Some observations
* The LCMS is regarded as the first major mainline church denomination to successfully defeat the infiltration of liberalism into its church body. This was a tremendous victory for confessional Lutheranism and the doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy.
* Yet LCMS remains a house divided between the conservatives, the middle-of-the-roaders, and the liberals. This internal division is illustrated by the following two contradictory memorials submitted to the 1986 LCMS Convention:
#1 The faculty of Concordia Seminary (Fort Wayne) called on the synod to “record its conviction, with deep regret that the doctrine and practice of the merging churches of the ELCA are such that they are no longer genuine Lutheran churches from a traditional and confessional point of view.”
#2 The Eastern District of LCMS called on the synod to “reconsider its decision of declining to become a part of the new Lutheran church” since “more effective mission and ministry, as well as elimination of duplicate efforts, can be carried out within a united church body.”
* There is a wide range of doctrinal diversity among the pastors and congregations of the LCMS. Some appear more conservative than WELS, some much more liberal. This can be confusing to lay people in both synods.
The Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC)
1. Background sketch
* The CLC was organized in 1960 by pastors and congregations who had withdrawn from the WELS because of the continuation of fellowship with the LCMS
* Their headquarters are in Eau Claire, WI.
* They operate Immanuel Lutheran College and Seminary in Eau Claire, WI
2. Relationship with the WELS
* The CLC holds the same chief doctrines of the WELS. The only difference is in the area of fellowship.
* Specifically, the point of controversy has been what to do with a church body in which error has surfaced. How long should one admonish them? When should one separate? How does one determine if the church is a “weak brother” or a “persistent errorist?”
* Now that both the WELS and CLC have separated from LCMS, one would think that doctrinal agreement could be reached. Discussions continue between the two church bodies.
* One recognizable difference which developed in the 1970’s is that the CLC has forbidden its members to hold AAL or Lutheran Brotherhood (now Thrivent) life insurance policies. They look upon membership in these organizations as unionism or joint church work with people not of the same faith.
The American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC)
1. Background sketch
* Constituted in 1987, it comprised pastors and congregations from the former ALC and LCA who resisted the creation of the ELCA.
* Its headquarters are in Minneapolis, MN. Its American Lutheran Theological Seminary is located on the campus of Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.
* It has 86 pastors serving 150 congregations in 23 states.
2. Doctrinal Differences
* Doctrinally, it is most closely associated with the LCMS.
* It contains a charismatic element (openness to speaking in tongues).
The Association of Free Lutheran Congregations
1. Background sketch
* Organized in 1962 by congregations of the Lutheran Free Church which did not want to merge into the ALC.
* Headquarters and seminary are in Plymouth, MN.
* Has 26,000 members in 192 churches, chiefly in Minnesota and North Dakota
2. Doctrinal Differences
* Emphasis on the autonomy of congregations.
* A desire to “uphold the best of Lutheran pietism.”
* Millennialism promoted (cf. “Maranatha Lutheran”)
The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS)
1. Background sketch
* Founded in 1918 by a small minority in the Norwegian Synod who protested the merger of that body into what later became the American Lutheran Church.
* Its Bethany Lutheran College and Bethany Lutheran Seminary are located in Mankato, MN.
* It numbers more than 21,000 members, 150 pastors and 100 congregations.
2. Doctrinal Differences
* The ELS has been in fellowship with the WELS since 1920.
The Apostolic Lutheran Church in America
1. Background Sketch
* The roots of this church are found in a 19th century revival movement, which began in Finland under the influence of Lars Fastidious (1800-1861), a Swedish revival preacher. Fastidious had experienced his own spiritual “awakening” and became a type of “John the Baptist to the Lapps.” Laestadian meetings were often accompanied by much emotional excitement (e.g. trances, visions, etc.).
* Juhani Raattama (1811-1899), a Finnish lay preacher, gave to the Laestadian Movement a distinct emphasis on lay preaching.
* A controversy over who would succeed Raattama led to a claim of apostolic succession based on Zechariah 6:8 (thus the name, “Apostolic Lutherans”).
* Finnish immigrants to the United States affiliated themselves with one of three distinct groups:
1. The Laestadian Movement (The Apostolic Lutherans)
2. The Church of Finland (The Suomi Synod)
3. The Evangelical Movement (The Finnish National Lutheran Church)
* The first Apostolic Lutheran congregation was organized in Hancock, MI, in 1872, by a lay preacher, Salomon Korteniemi. This set the pattern for other Laestadian congregations which were organized as independent congregations unaffiliated with any larger organizations. A loosely knit national church body was formed in 1928.
* The Apostolic Lutherans have been characterized by several factions, internal conflicts and attempts at reconciliation. Such divisions offer a wide variety of doctrinal differences.
2. Distinctive Doctrines
Confession of sins and individual (aural) absolution To be considered a Christian, a person must have his sins forgiven by a fellow Christian. In some cases, public confession of sins is required.
A narrow view of the Holy Christian Church Some regard the Apostolic Church to be the HCC (the only saving church).
A legalistic approach to matters of adiaphora Some (“Old Apostolics”) regard television, jewelry, bright clothes, as sinful.
Oral proclamation of the Gospel Some regard the written word as powerless to convey forgiveness and create faith.
Non-liturgical worship Worship services range from highly emotional (“holy rollers”) to somber, law-oriented, to a fundamental, Baptist-style worship.
Lay preachers Although some of the Apostolic pastors have received seminary training, many preachers have not.
Becker, Siegbert. The Foolishness of God. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. 1982.
Gerlach, Joel. God’s Master Plan: New Testament. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. 1994
Mead, Frank S. Handbook of Denominations in the United States. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1990.
Prange, Victor H. Why So Many Churches? Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1985.
Senkbeil, Harold L. Sanctification: Christ in Action. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. 1989.
Skaates, J.M. “A Historical Survey of the Finnish Lutheran Churches in America.” Lake Superior Pastor Teacher Conference Paper. Peshtigo, WI. April 11, 1978.
Smith, J. Kincaid and Leppien, Patsy A. What’s Going on Among the Lutherans? Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. 1992.
Theological paper. The Split between Roman Catholicism and Christ. New York: Lutheran Press. 1963
Theological paper. . “A Comparison of Lutheran Church Bodies.” Onalaska, WI: Christian Growth Seminar. October 10, 1992.