Monday, February 13, 2012

Dissent in the LCMS

All Martin Luther wanted to do with those 95 theses was to discuss them with his academic peers and ecclesiastical supervisors. He wasn't out to divide or destroy the church; he merely wished to discuss his ideas about reforming it. Over time, though, his concern about the sale of indulgences gave way to deeper concerns about the church as a human, fallible institution and about the abuses of church authority. He was threatened with excommunication, then excommunicated, then made into an outlaw, and subject to all sorts of punishments. As a result of his spiritual and mental sufferings, he was driven back to Christ and to Scripture. Gradually, his understanding of the gospel sharpened as he encountered further resistance from church authorities (and ultimately the Pope), and this sharpening led him to take positions that were critical of other church beliefs and practices, some quite ancient and venerable, that he judged to be contrary to the Scriptural gospel and Christian freedom.

While no one showed up to debate those 95 bullet points in the fall of 1517, church leaders certainly took note of them and began to act against the Wittenberg heretic. Their actions and words against him, especially when he perceived that they fell short of his reference to specific Scriptural and historical evidence, led him to adopt a more radical position against the hierarchical church and its coercive power. While holding firm to conciliar decisions about the dogmas of God and of Christ, which serve the truth of the gospel, he held that the authority of the church resides solely in its proclamation of the evangelical sense of the prophetic and apostolic words of Scripture. This gospel proclamation, delivered through evangelical preaching and the administration of the sacraments in accord with the gospel, bears witness to Christ, the living Word of God. Luther thus rejected Roman tradition as an authority, even as he also criticized Protestant sectarianism for its denial of the evangelical and sacramental means of grace.

When attacked, Luther appealed to his baptism and to the fact that he had been made a doctor of theology. He frequently had to defend his callings, especially against those who sought "[to make] sport of the authority of all doctors of theology" ("Disputation against Scholastic Theology"). While he rightly distrusted his own wisdom (Prov. 3:5), he distrusted even more the received "wisdom" of the medieval Scholastic theologians, when it ran contrary to clear Scriptural teaching and the truth of the gospel, and he thus dared to present publicly his arguments and Scriptural interpretation before the judgment of all, so that they could decide if his arguments and interpretation had been deduced well or poorly from St. Paul and St. John and the other authentic prophets and apostles.

I've been thinking a lot about Luther's struggles with the church authorities of his day because I, too, am a baptized doctor of theology who finds himself presently in conflict with a few church authorities (even as I fully and humbly acknowledge that I'm no Martin Luther!). 

For more than a decade I have been involved in discussions with my "peers" in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod (inclusive of both clergy and educated laity) about the interpretation of the first chapters of the Bible and the practice of ordaining only men to the office of the holy ministry. (These issues are related in the LC-MS, since the latter practice is based partly on a commonly-held interpretation of the former Scriptural texts.) During this time I have honored and upheld the LC-MS's doctrinal positions, in accordance with guidelines and definitions provided by the synod, the synod's Board for Higher Education, at least one of the boards of regents of one of the synod's universities, several current and former district presidents, a former synod president, a former seminary president, and a district board (on which I served as secretary for many years).

While I would have preferred that my questions and probing about these theological matters be discussed and debated freely within the synod, especially in its academic institutions, without the threat of expulsion from the brotherhood, given the way the synod is currently structured, matters of theological difference within the synod get quickly put into the adjudicatory process that is outlined in the synod's Handbook (viewed by many as almost on the same level as Scripture and the Evangelical Confessions). According to Section 1.8 of the 2010 edition, "Dissent from doctrinal resolutions and statements is to be expressed first within the fellowship of peers and then brought to the attention of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) before finding expression as an overture to the convention calling for revision or recision." The Handbook does not specify how one is to bring such dissent to the attention of the CTCR, nor does the Handbook indicate how long one must express one's concerns "within the fellowship of peers" before bringing the concerns to the attention of the CTCR.

Over the course of twenty years of publicly teaching theology as a member of the synod, when I have publicly expressed concerns about the synod's position on women or on the interpretation of the Bible's cosmological passages in light of modern scientific knowledge, I have been formally charged with teaching false doctrine. In all cases, the charges have been resolved in my favor or dismissed or not pursued after a certain amount of time. In all cases, too, there has been very little theological discussion about the pertinent issues. Rather, the accuser always assumes that because the synod has a clear position against women pastors, a member of synod who might question this position is guilty of advocating false doctrine."Because Mother Missouri has spoken, how dare you to question her interpretation of Scripture?!" That seems to be the sentiment. (And let's be clear here: We're not talking here about the essential dogmas of the church, the doctrine of God, the person and work of Christ, sin, faith and good works, or the means of grace, etc. The matters to which I am referring concern the interpretation of Scripture with respect to church order and the contemporary understanding and application of biblical cosmology and anthropology.)

Perhaps because of what happened to LC-MS theologians back in the 1970s, there has developed a climate of fear within the synod that stifles theological discussion and debate. The synod lacks "free space" to discuss intellectual matters that are peripheral to the gospel yet still related to it and to the freedom that gospel creates in the life of the Christian and in the life of the church. Because of the real possibility of being removed from the synodical roster for questioning even seemingly peripheral matters, like church order and biblical cosmology, the structures of the synod insure that very few are willing to question a synodical practice or a widely-held interpretation of some verses in the Bible for fear that they will have to undergo a heresy trial, spend time defending themselves, and face possible expulsion from their gainful vocation.

The synod, at least on paper, allows for dissent. I have tried to follow the process outlined in the Handbook. Early last year I brought to the attention of the CTCR my dissent on two synodical positions. I did this by distributing to the CTCR copies of a book I had edited, A Daystar Reader, in which are published two essays of mine that dissent from synod positions about women pastors and modern scientific theories. At that time I thought that this action of mine was sufficient to bring to the CTCR's attention my dissent. However, last summer I learned from my district president that it was insufficient.

In this dissent I identify two issues about which I have concerns and critical questions:

(1) I am convinced that the synod's practice of restricting the office of pastor only to men is wrong. The synod's defense of such a restriction runs contrary to biblical and confessional evidence, does harm to individual consciences (especially to those LC-MS women who have been called by God to serve as pastor but cannot do so within their own church body), runs contrary to Christian freedom, and needlessly frustrates the work of the Holy Spirit in the church's mission within our western, egalitarian society. For my dissent to this position of the synod, one can read my online essay, "An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians," An earlier, de-footnoted version of this essay was published in A Daystar Reader.

(2) I am also convinced that the synod's position of interpreting the first two chapters of Genesis to mean that God created the universe over the course of six twenty-four-hour days, and that the general theory of evolution must be rejected, is wrong. The synod's defense of such a literalistic interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis ignores the problems and contradictions that are involved in such a literalistic interpretation of these chapters, runs contrary to physical evidence in God's "book of nature," does harm to individual consciences (especially to those educated Christians who know the biblical and physical evidence that contradicts such an interpretation), and needlessly frustrates the work of the Holy Spirit in the church's mission within our western, scientifically-informed society. For my dissent to the synod's position on the interpretation of the first chapters in Genesis, see my essay, "The Scandal of the LCMS Mind," in The Daystar Reader (also available online at

Back in November of last year the CTCR officially responded to my letter of dissent that I submitted to them last June. In that letter I identified the two concerns I have and directed the CTCR to my published essays on these matters. You may now read the CTCR's response to my essays at

I did not receive that CTCR response until much later, for reasons that are unclear to me, but I finally did read it last month. It struck me as a non-response to my materials. So I sent the CTCR the following letter:

The Baptism of our Lord 2012

The Commission on Theology and Church Relations
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod
1333 S. Kirkwood Rd
St. Louis, MO  63122

Dear members of the CTCR,

Grace, mercy, and peace be with you from God our Father through His beloved Son, Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

For some unknown reason I did not receive your letter of November 15, 2011. It finally came this past week as a result of efforts on the part of Rev. [Paul] Linnemann to have a copy of the letter sent to my university address.

Your letter surprised me for several reasons, especially because it avoids responding directly to the exegetical and theological points I have made in my essays.

With respect to the issue of the ordination of women, you state that my essay on this topic "does not reference or quote a single resolution or doctrinal statement of the Synod regarding the service of women in the church." While this is technically true, the essay does in fact accurately describe the position that the Synod has taken on this topic, both in its resolutions and in several CTCR documents.

The "order of creation" argument has often been made within the LCMS to support a male-only pastorate and it has been made in the way I describe it.

            i) One of the two guiding principles adopted in 1969 Resolution 2-17 is that women should not "violate the order of creation." While that resolution does not define what this expression means, it is clear from subsequent synodical materials that the "order of creation" notion means that women are subordinate to men within creation and cannot exercise authority over them. A 1970 decision from the CCM ruled that women may serve as officers and members of board and committees "as long as these positions are not directly involved in the specific functions of the pastoral office… and as long as this service does not violate the order of creation (usurping authority over men)" (emphasis added). In the 1985 CTCR Report, "Women in the Church," the CTCR wrote, "The Order of Creation. This refers to the particular position which, by the will of God, any created object occupies in relation to others. God has given to that which has been created a certain definite order which, because it has been created by Him, is the expression of His immutable will. These relationships belong to the very structure of created existence" (p. 21). The relationship of male to female is further clarified on p. 27: "The idea that God desires man to be the head of woman and woman to be subordinate to man is rooted deeply in the Old and New Testaments." This "order of creation" principle has been repeatedly affirmed in synodical convention resolutions (e.g., 1981, 1986).

            ii) While my dissent in no way describes "the order of creation" argument as "having primarily to do with the 'order' (the 'chronological sequence') in which God created Adam and Eve," as you incorrectly describe my criticism (my dissent never states that the Synod has presented the order of creation argument "as a mere matter of 'chronological sequence'"), the CTCR itself in its 1985 report stated that the "order of creation" also involves "the headship" of the man over the woman and that this headship is based on the chronological order of woman coming from man: "[The apostle Paul] argues for male 'headship' on the basis of Genesis 2:18-25, which teaches that the man did not come from the woman but the woman from the man and that the woman was created for the sake of the man… [In First Timothy 2:13-14] Paul appeals to the temporal priority of Adam's creation ('Adam was formed first'; cf. Gen. 2:20-22), as well as to Eve's having been deceived in the fall (Gen. 3:6), to show that women should not teach or exercise authority over men in the church" (p. 22; emphasis added). The current CTCR has evidently overlooked this chronological aspect of "the order of creation" argument as it has been set forth within the CTCR's own earlier report.

            iii) Your letter does not acknowledge that indeed 1969 Resolution 2-17 makes explicit reference to "the order of creation." Apparently the current CTCR has overlooked that important second paragraph in the resolution: "The principles set forth in such passages, we believe, prohibit holding any other kind of office or membership on boards or committees in the institutional structures of a congregation, only if this involves women in violation of the order of creation." Clearly, this expression serves as "code language" for the kind of argumentation set forth in the 1985 CTCR report regarding the subordination of women to men in the created order of the Creator and the prohibition against women exercising authority over men. That same 1969 resolution uses the expression "the order of creation" synonymously for "the principles set forth in [those] passages" "which direct women to keep silent in the church and which prohibit them to teach and to exercise authority over men." It was this argumentation, which is not argued at length in the 1969 resolution but which is behind the expression "order of creation" within that resolution, to which I was primarily responding in my essays (both the one in The Daystar Reader and the original one which I am herewith enclosing).

            iv) I am troubled that the CTCR could not take more time to respond directly and concretely to my specific arguments and evidence against the ideological construct of the "order of creation" within the 1969 resolution and the 1985 CTCR report, let alone the other specific arguments I present against limiting the pastoral office only to men.

Furthermore, you state that my "dissent regarding creation and evolution also suffers from a lack of specificity and focus." With all due respect, I do think my description of how the synod has historically understood the "six days" in Genesis is accurate and that I was quite clear in my rejection of this understanding for all of the reasons I set forth in my essay.

            i) The Brief Statement, authored principally by Dr. Pieper (who also rejected the Copernican Theory), asserts: "We teach that God has created the heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty Word, and in six days." The 1967 Resolution 2-31 uses the same language: "…Scripture teaches and the Lutheran Confessions affirm that God by the almighty power of His Word created all things in 6 days by a series of creative acts." How is this language, adopted by the Synod when it adopted the Brief Statement and then when it reaffirmed that same language in the 1967 resolution, any different in actual content from the language in my June 29th letter, namely, that "the synod's position of interpreting the first two chapters of Genesis to mean that God created the universe over the course of six twenty-four-hour days." Are you suggesting that it is acceptable doctrinally to interpret the "six days" as being different from "six actual, twenty-four-hour days?" I understand the history of such a reinterpretation of "day" (YoM) in this context, but such an interpretation has not been widespread within the history of our Synod and has never been officially adopted by synodical resolution. In point of fact, the position of the Synod on the interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis and the Synod's corresponding rejection of the modern scientific theory of evolution is reflected in Dr. Kieschnick's words from his 2001 presidential acceptance speech: "I believe the world was created in six 24-hour days…" After this one sentence he was given a lengthy standing ovation by nearly all the convention delegates. Based on that action alone, I think my description of the Synod's position is quite accurate.

            ii) To put the matter as clearly as I can, I am opposing the Synod's opposition to the well-established physical facts of evolution. The Synod should adopt a more cautious approach about condemning scientific theories and should allow for modern natural knowledge of God's creation to shed light on how one is to understand the language and genres in the first chapters of Genesis. We should learn from our forebears who were forced to adjust their interpretations of cosmological passages in Scripture to accord with modern cosmology, as has happened with respect to the acceptance of the Copernican Theory (Dr. Pieper's rejection of that theory, notwithstanding).

            iii) In my dissent I did not confuse A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles with its study version. While I quote from the study version that was distributed after the 1972 original document, the sections from which I quote are direct quotations from earlier synodical statements and resolutions (e.g., the 1959 Statement on Scripture, the Brief Statement) or from the 1972 document itself (e.g., the sections on "The Gospel and Holy Scripture" and "Original Sin"). All material I quote is from synodically-adopted documents.

            iv) Whereas I have concerns about some of the phrasing and emphases within 1967 Resolution 2-31, I agree with the basic doctrinal content presented there.

With respect to my understanding of Scriptural authority and interpretation, I do not think you have been very helpful by merely directing me to A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles. I am well aware of the contents of this document, one of the most controversial in the history of the Synod.[1] It has rightly been criticized for its failure to take seriously the historical character of the Scriptures and the temporal and cultural distance that exists between the biblical writings and modern western interpreters of those Scriptures who have, as a part of their mental framework, knowledge of facts that were unknown to the biblical authors. Our post-Copernican, post-Darwinian worldview is different from the cosmological views presented in the Scriptures. While I acknowledge that the historical approach to the Scriptures conflicts with modern ideas that Protestant Fundamentalists have set forth about Scripture, notions that are reflected in Dr. Pieper's Brief Statement and the Preus-authorized A Statement, I do not accept that this approach is "clearly incompatible with the Synod's doctrinal position on the authority and interpretation of Holy Scripture," a position which can only be the Scripture's own position on itself (which is not really possible). Of course the Lutheran Confessions do not refer to the inerrancy of Scripture either, as that concept developed after the 17th Century, or to post-Enlightenment methods and principles of biblical interpretation, but instead refer to the Scripture's teaching of law and gospel as the key that unlocks the meaning of the Scriptures.

My approach to the interpretation of the Bible (and Genesis 1-11, in particular) is almost completely shaped by the 1967 CTCR report, A Lutheran Stance toward Contemporary Biblical Studies (commended by the 1967 Synod Convention [Res. 2-02]; see also 1969 Res. 2-04), which includes the following statements:

"In hearty agreement with the Lutheran Confessions we affirm that the right understanding of the Gospel (including the proper distinction of Law and Gospel as grounded in the article of justification) is the key that finally unlocks the meaning of Sacred Scripture (Apology, IV, 2-5; FC, SD, V, 1).  We therefore hold that all theological questions raised by any interpretation must be posed and answered with reference to this central concern of the Scriptures.  We also hold that those technical questions involved in interpretation which neither aid nor impair the right understanding of the Gospel (in its full sense) ought not become a matter of controversy in the church" (A Lutheran Stance toward Contemporary Biblical Studies, pp. 8-9).

We consider the following to be basic and legitimate elements of the so-called historical-critical method (cp. “Guiding Principles for the Interpretation of the Bible” as accepted by the Ecumenical Study Conference, Oxford, 1949):

1. Establishing the text…

2.  Ascertaining the literary form of the passage. This entails, as an aid to better comprehension, analyzing the Biblical passage in terms of its formal structure and character at the hand of such questions as these:  Is it prose or poetry?  Is it an address, a prayer, a monologue, a treaty, an edict, a letter?  Is it an oracular saying, an invective, a lament, a liturgy, a proverb, a parable, a creed, a hymn? and so on.

3.  Determining the historical situation. This entails discovering, so far as possible, the original setting—in time and place and circumstances—of the document, its author, and its readers.

4. Apprehending the meaning which the words had for the original author and hearer or reader. This entails careful investigation of the actual linguistic usage and idiom (together with their overtones conditioned by the social context in which they appear) of the author and his contemporaries in the light of the Biblical data and also of such extra-Biblical literature as may belong to the same social context.

5.  Understanding the passage in the light of its total context and of the background out of which it emerged. This entails consideration not only of the text’s antecedent and contemporary circumstances—religious, cultural, historical—but also of the full range of the Biblical witness in both the Old and New Testaments" (ibid., 9).

"The problem of 'history' needs to be handled with extraordinary sensitivity by the Christian interpreter.  He cannot adopt uncritically the presuppositions and canons of the secular historian.  In his use of historical techniques the interpreter will be guided by the presuppositions of his faith in the Lord of history.  It is indeed true that Christian faith rightly sees in the historicalness of God’s redemptive work (His entry into and participation in our saeculum) a divine warrant for the use of 'secular' means and methods in the study of His Word, including linguistic, literary, and historical analysis of the texts.  But at the same time faith recognizes that there is more to history than can ever be adequately measured by 'laws' derived exclusively from empirical data and rational observation…" (ibid., 10).

"The undeniably necessary effort to hear a text of Scripture first of all in its particularity, its meaning 'then and there,' must be balanced by an equal effort to hear the text both in its integral relation to all the rest of Scripture and in its meaningfulness for all who hear it today. This effort does not require an arbitrary flattening out of the rich variety of the Biblical witness into a dull one-dimensional uniformity…" (ibid.).

"Whatever cognizance needs to be taken—as indeed it must—of the connection between Biblical materials and their background in the whole complex of social, cultural, political, economic, and religious factors of their day, a clear distinction must nevertheless be maintained between the unique, divine, and revelatory character of Scripture and the sheer human and contingent character of Scripture’s earthly milieu.  Parallelisms between extra-Biblical materials and the form or substance of Scripture do not as such constitute causal or substantive relations.  This is not in the least to deny the genuinely human and earthly dimension of Scripture itself…" (ibid.; See also the “Introduction” to the CTCR document [1969], A Project in Biblical Hermeneutics, 5-18).

May I remind the current CTCR that the committee that articulated these principles and set forth the legitimacy of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation included Robert Preus, Ralph Bohlmann, Raymond Surburg, H. Armin Moellering, Martin Franzmann, and Heino Kadai.

The 1967 CTCR Report and its 1969 Project in Biblical Hermeneutics have been very helpful to me over the years, especially as I have sought to understand how the Bible is to be understood and applied today with respect to scientific knowledge about creation and about the service of women in the contemporary church. In light of the synodically-commended hermeneutical principles in these documents, could you show me how my observation about the influence of Aristotle's social teaching on the New Testament is incompatible with the Synod's position on Scripture, since one of the hermeneutical principles is to understand a biblical passage "in the light of its total context and of the background out of which it emerged?" Or how modern scientific understandings of human origins are necessarily incompatible with the Christian understanding of the doctrinal content of Genesis 1-3 (and other Scripture texts that address matters about creation and theological anthropology), especially if one attends to the distinct genres present in the first chapters of the Bible and how these are not "scientific" but phenomenological and culturally-conditioned?

If one argues that the Synod changed its position on Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture between 1967 and 1973, I can accept that argument, but I would simply respond then by saying that the Synod commended a better position on Scriptural interpretation in 1967 than it adopted in 1973. I believe the Synod erred in 1973 when it adopted the resolution about A Statement, an outcome that was more the result of political maneuvering and making sure of convention votes than it was of careful theological argument and understanding. Hopefully, in the future, the Synod will once again commend the hermeneutical principles and historical-critical method that it commended in 1967 and 1969. The hermeneutical principles set forth by the CTCR then and by its special committee on biblical hermeneutics (a committee that included the participation of the principal author of A Statement!) in those years are the right ones for us to be using and commending today.

Finally, the distinction between a so-called "magisterial use" of "reason" and a "ministerial use" is a false one and merely a convenient way to discredit an interpretation of Scripture with which one disagrees without offering reasons for that disagreement. The same kind of distinction between "magisterial" and "ministerial" uses of reason was used at the time of Galileo to discredit his re-thinking of those Scriptural passages that clearly state the sun moves around the earth and that the earth does not move. In that context the defense of "a ministerial use" of reason, to serve "what Scripture clearly teaches," would necessitate the acceptance of a geocentric worldview and the rejection of the Copernican theory. In point of fact, the real issue, then as now, is not "the use of reason" at all, but what is the appropriate understanding of the Scriptural texts in light of the natural knowledge of God's creation, what is the genre of the Scriptural passages in question, what is the meaning of the biblical language "in that distant time and place," and how can one balance that historic meaning with contemporary understanding. The meaning of at least some biblical texts, such as the ones that deal with cosmology, may not be the same today as it was "back then." We certainly don't understand many cosmological passages in Scripture in the same way as did pre-Copernicans.

Within the academic discipline of theology scholars have the duty to "be attentive, be intelligent, be rational, be responsible, develop and, if necessary, change," to use the helpful prescription I learned from my teacher, David Tracy, who learned it from his teacher, Bernard Lonergan. I believe that you who serve on the CTCR have this same responsibility, as do I.


Matthew Becker

[1] One should note, too, in passing, that A Statement, adopted by the slimmest of majorities in a highly politicized and polemical context, has the same doctrinal status as any other doctrinal resolution adopted by the Synod. It was never formalized as an official statement of the Synod, since it was never adopted by the required 2/3 majority of LCMS congregations.

So that was the letter I sent in January. Then, last week, the executive committee of the CTCR put on the CTCR's webpage a reply to my January letter. After reading this second document I have concluded that the CTCR, just like the Roman curia in Luther's day, is not interested in having a theological discussion about matters that are not as simple as the CTCR and other synod members seem to think they are. I'm not the only member of the synod who has questions about these issues. But how is real theological discussion possible in a church body where critical inquiry about the understanding and application of Scriptural teaching is dismissed with the words, "He has a different understanding of the authority of the Bible, so we don't have to pay any attention to his specific exegesis and theological analysis?" Just as in Luther's day, the appeal is to church authority (in this case, that means synodical resolutions and statements and synodical traditions), as if that is really going to address the specific points of theology in a dissent about some synodical resolutions. How is C. F. W. Walther's principle that synod members have only two authorities, Scripture and convincing, being applied in this situation?


  1. Thanks for sharing. For what it's worth, I agree with both of your points of dissent. I would also agree with you that LC-MS, perhaps in fear of the 21st-Century equivalent of the circumcision party, has adopted a decidedly non-Lutheran approach to discussing matters for which there is disagreement. Of particular concern is the fact that men-only ordination and a literal understanding of Genesis 1-2 have been elevated to the status of Evangelical Lutheran doctrine. Yet, the catechism is silent on both.

  2. As I read CTCR's response, they are saying, "Becker is wrong; there is nothing to discuss. End of story." You have done your best to engage them, but when they have the "truth" any further discussion, from their viewpoint, is pointless. I suppose the best thing to do-presuming you have the desire, time and energy- is to keep throwing up your views to the barricades in the hopes that you get their attention. Another interpretation is that the CTCR isn't particularly interested in any theology contrary to their own views.

  3. Could you provide a list of Scripture verses that we are free to disregard? In addition to Genesis 1-2, Luke 3, Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 6-11 & 14-15, 1 Timothy 2-6, Titus 1-2, Hebrews 4, Jude... am I missing any?

  4. Mlorfeld,
    The prophetic and apostolic gospel frees us from many Scriptural texts that are no longer binding or applicable for Gentile Christians. I believe Galatians and Romans make this consequence of the gospel quite clear. See also Eph. 2:15ff.

    None of us is free, however, from the responsibility of interpreting the Scriptures evangelically, of discerning what they mean today, and of applying them carefully in the present situation. We must remain vigilant against Judaizing tendencies in Scriptural interpretation and application.

  5. I'd simply like to know what is and what in Scripture is the sole rule and norm. I'm sure as a Doctor of Philosophy you can certainly provide a simple list as to what portions of Scripture are not to be included in that norm.

  6. In the CTCR response they note:
    "Dr. Becker is in dissent from the position of the Synod not only on the specific issues of the ordination of women to the pastoral office and the issues of creation and evolution, but also on the more foundational position of the Synod on which these positions are based: namely, the authority, infallibility, and faithful interpretation of the Holy Scriptures themselves."

    Given your response above regarding the fact that "The prophetic and apostolic gospel frees us from many Scriptural texts that are no longer binding or applicable for Gentile Christians," would you agree with that statement of their report? The traditional stance of the Synod is that all scripture is relevant and binding on us as it is still the revealed Word of God.

    1. When I took confirmation, the emphasis was on Scripture as the inspired Word of God. "Holy men of God wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit....". Explicit in that instruction was the understanding of a divine/human paradox associated with the Word inspired, just as there is with the Word incarnate. Interesting, the words "inerrant" and "infallible" do not appear in the catechism we used - certainly not in the English translations of Luther's Small Catechism, nor in any of the Q&A's that were added by later editors. Also explicit in that instruction is the idea that we do not worship the Book, we worship the God who reveals himself to us through His Word.

      As I have listened to the LC-MS debate regarding approaches to interpretation of Scripture, it sounds like:
      1. The notion of an "inerrant, infallible Scripture" is not an Evangelical Lutheran understanding, even though folks who refer to themselves as the orthodox Evangelical Lutherans embrace the concept. That concept has its origins in Calvinist teachings in response to the age of enlightenment. The concept worked its way into LC-MS in response to those within the denomination who advocated ecumenism and in response the controversy at the seminary.
      2. In spite of the many references to "authority of Scripture", I do not hear the authority of Scripture being challenged by anyone. In fact, there seems to be considerable agreement regarding the authority of Scripture and is revelation of God's plan of salvation for sinful people. Rather, when parsed, the argument really is about whose interpretation of Scripture has authority and those interpretations relate to matters other than the central message that God is our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier - as we confess in the Creeds.
      3. Everything that Scripture has to say about social justice gets ignored by those folks who use literal interpretations to justify political positions on "family values".
      4. There is confusion between "faith" - that which we hold as truth, in spite of the tangible evidence to the contrary, because it has been given to us by the Spirit and "certitude" - that which we hold as truth because, with confidence in interpretation, we have reasoned it out for ourselves.
      5. Theologians are serving up obstacles to faith that do not serve well the folks who are sitting in the pew or would be sitting in the pew if it were not for the controversy.

  7. Mlorfeld and Pr. Engebretson,
    No one who has read Paul's letters to the Galatians, the Philippians, and the Romans, regarding the end of the Sinai covenant, and Dr. Luther's sermon, "How Christians Are to Regard Moses," and his prefaces to the biblical writings, could ever write, "all Scripture is relevant and binding on us as it is still the revealed Word of God." Is the OT law of circumcision, commanded in the OT, binding on Christians?

    Not everything that is revealed in Holy Scripture pertains to you or me. Much of it was strictly limited to the situation of the ancient Israelites in their time of nationhood and is no longer binding on Gentile Christians after the coming of Christ. Even some apostolic laws have become obsolete, as the Augsburg Confession and its Apology correctly note.

    1. Awesome comment, Matt. This would apply to some discussions within the ELCA also. Keep up the good and faithful witness.
      Pr. George Rahn

    2. Matthew you are deceptively begging the question. Genesis 1 & 2 are not the legal code for the Hebrew people. Luther, citing Paul saw these chapters as essential to the very Gospel. Remove the historicity of these chapters and you destroy the Gospel. We did have a time where this was discussed and debated over several years in the 60s and 70s. And finally, these teachings were simply deemed "not to be tolerated in the Church of God." It was the right decision at the time, and to be honest, your duplicity ought not be tolerated any longer. I pray that you repent for misleading so many people and endangering their salvation.

    3. Yet, Luther's explanation of the First Article is all about God as my Creator, not just the creator of the universe - an explanation that portrays creation as a continuous event, not just a six-day event. That understanding is based on everything that Scripture has to say about creation and not just Genesis 1 & 2 out of context.

  8. John Mundinger,
    Your comment about the Small Catechism is exactly on target. I spent two hours tonight teaching a portion of that catechism to 14 5th-8th graders (including my son), as I do every Monday evening between August and May. Our focus tonight was on the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer.

    In my view, that catechism is the best resource for teaching the Christian faith to people that has been produced in the history of the Christian church. Its author focused on the essentials and he did so in a way that nearly everyone could understand, regardless of their knowledge of extra-biblical data in nature. While the "Table of Duties" clearly reflects his 16th-c. cultural-social situation, as do a few of his explanations within the chief parts, his simple summaries keep us focused on the heart and center of Christian faith and life.

  9. I thought the CTCR's response was appropriate. Dissent cannot go on forever. Sometimes you have to fish or cut bait. Just as Luther said to Zwingli in the Marburg Colloqy, "you have a different spirit", sometimes the discussion must end.

  10. You state:
    "May I remind the current CTCR that the committee that articulated these principles and set forth the legitimacy of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation included Robert Preus, Ralph Bohlmann, Raymond Surburg, H. Armin Moellering, Martin Franzmann, and Heino Kadai."

    Having studied under Drs. Preus, Surburg and Kadai, I am wondering how I managed to walk away without the slightest impression that they embraced a methodology of biblical interpretation which you have outlined here once again. I especially think about Dr. Surburg, with whom I had more than one exegetical course. Not once did I hear him "set forth the legitimacy of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation." How did I miss this?

  11. Bob Sylwester asked me to post this comment:

    Eloquently stated, Matt. Although I didn't understand all the theological complexities, the thrust, inherent correctness, and passion flowed through beautifully.

    I'm still angry that I became a voting member in the LCMS before my mother did, and the reason was because she was "a second order of creation." Absolute nonsense way back then, and it's still absolute nonsense.

    So now that women have grudgingly become voting members, let's assume a voters meeting in which the vote for something is 30 - 29, and all 30 votes are from women and all 29 votes are from men. 30 trumps 29 so the resolution passes. Are the women thus assuming authority over the men, and so the outcome of the vote should be reversed? I wonder how the CTCR would rule on that scenario.

    Your second issue on cosmology and biological evolution is central to my professional focus. Don't anti-evolution LCMS folks who take medications realize that all medications accepted by the FDC are based on evolutionary principles of biology and are tested on animal models before humans can use them? Why are they taking medications that they consider fraudulent?

    The cognitive neurosciences now have the neuroimaging capability to explore consciousness and free will, formerly the sole purview of theology and philosophy who haven't even been able to agree on definitions. An excellent non-technical balanced discussion of these important concepts by a world renowned cognitive neuroscience is Michael Gazzaniga's Who's In Charge? Free Will And The Science Of The Brain (2011, Harper Collins). Many Christians will applaud these scientific explorations and incorporate them into an even deeper spiritual understanding of the human condition, but I sadly suspect that if the LCMS folks you're dealing with are even aware of this rapidly developing area of solid scientific research, they're dismissing it out of hand.....

    Unbelievable. But I guess if you've dug yourself into as deep a hole as the LCMS has over biological evolution, it's embarrassing to admit after 150 years that you were wrong. And it will be even more embarrassing at 175 years.

    Best wishes Matt! Stay the battle.

    Robert Sylwester
    Emeritus Professor of Education
    University of Oregon

    1. I am confused by the fact that those who strongly advocate the "grammatical-historical" approach to interpretation also strongly advocate in opposition to the ordination of women because you have to ignore so much Scripture to hold that position. St. Paul contradicted himself. And, if we only consider Paul's words on the matter, it seems to me that the words that are most consistent with the doctrine of justification are his statement that, in Christ, we are no longer Jew/Gentile, slave/free or male/female. And, if we consider all of Scripture, Jesus' example is pretty clear - He ordained three women to proclaim the good news of the resurrection to eleven chosen men. In comparison, the notion of "the order of creation" seems pretty trivial.

      On the second matter, it seems to me that anyone who suggests there is a conflict between the tenets of Christianity and the tenets of science, generally, or the theory of evolution, specifically, is guilty of bad theology, bad science or both. It is a contrived argument with all of the intellectual honesty of trying to calculate the square root of a dangling participle.

      As a footnote, my earliest memory of learning evolution in the class room was a study of the fossil record in eighth grade. I also took catechism instruction in that class room because it was a parochial school - a school sponsored by a congregation whose website references the fact that it is a charter member of LCMS. Curiously, I don't recall that conflicts between the science lesson and the Genesis account of creation were ever part of either the science or the catechism instruction.

  12. Let us take up your comparison to Dr. Luther, baptized doctor of theology.

    Luther didn't believe in Purgatory.

    The Pope did.

    So they now belong to two different fellowships.

    I think the dots are pretty easily connectable, Dr. Becker. You think women should be ordained and that God arranged the universe such that death came before a historical human. The Missouri Synod believes that women must not be ordained and that God arranged the universe such that death followed upon the sin of the first humans.

    Obviously, you and the Missouri Synod have different faiths on some key issues. Don't you think it's time you and the MO Synod were not in the same fellowship?

    All the best,

  13. Pr. H. R.,

    Dr. Luther believed in purgatory, at least until the early 1520s. Only gradually did he come to reject that teaching. Through his repeated study of Scripture and careful theological reflection, he came to understand that the traditional interpretation of the classic sedes doctrinae on purgatory was faulty and refutable.

    Despite Luther's eventual rejection of purgatory, he was not the one to break fellowship with Rome. He broke fellowship, only because Rome rejected the gospel and had first excommunicated him. If you check your facts, Rome excommunicated Luther from its fellowship long before he gave up his belief in purgatory.

    Your understanding of "fellowship" is too small, too narrow and sectarian. Disagreement about whether or not women can be ordained to the pastoral office does not necessarily undermine agreement in "the faith" of the orthodox, catholic Church. As far as I can tell from your words, you and I share the same orthodox faith in the triune God.

    That the deaths of animals have occurred prior to the emergence of the first human beings is a natural fact. It is the kind of fact on which one can stub his toe. Just as modern Christians have had to develop a new understanding of biblical cosmology to accord with post-Copernican cosmology, so contemporary Christians have had to change their interpretation of Scripture to accord with modern neo-Darwinian biology.

    The sooner Christians make this latter transition, the better.

    Warm regards,
    Matt Becker