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What's Going On in the Missouri Synod?

Additional citations from the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions not included in the study materials are linked to this document and will open in a separate window.

Unionism and Syncretism

In simple terms, syncretism is joining in worship with non-Christians.

"You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).

"Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 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? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" (1 Cor. 10:14-22)

"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.' Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord" (2 Cor. 6:14-17).

Unionism is joining in worship with other Christians with whom we are not in agreement in doctrine.

"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause division and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them" (Romans 16;17).

"If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands, man of God, flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness" (1 Tim 6:3-4,11). Also see 2 Timothy 3:1-17.

"Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 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" (2 John 9-11).

The actions of unionism and syncretism are expressly forbidden in our Synodical constitution.

Article VI of the Constitution of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod lists the "Conditions of Membership." It says,

"Conditions for acquiring and holding membership in the Synod are the following:

  1. Acceptance of the confessional basis of Article II.
  2. Renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description, such as:
    1. serving congregations of a mixed confession, as such, by ministers of the church;
    2. taking part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of congregations of mixed confession;
    3. participating in heterodox tract and missionary activities..."

    (There are 7 conditions in all)

"LCMS pastors and congregations agree as a condition of membership in the Synod not to take part in the services and sacramental rites of heterodox congregations or of those of mixed confession. But what is meant by a public worship service? According to the historic LCMS understanding, a worship service is any occasion in which the Word of God is preached and prayer is made to Him by a fully authorized church worship leader" (A study of Fellowship principles). Thus our Synod's constitution and by-laws are specifically concerned with pastors, as official representatives, and public situations (services) where participation would imply joint worship to either false gods or with those who hold false teaching about the true God.

Concerning worship with those Christians with whom we are not fully united in doctrine, the Scriptures say, "I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them" (Romans 16:17). "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10). "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8). Therefore syncretism and unionism is both a breaking of our Synodical constitution, and also forbidden by the Holy Scriptures.

In September/October 1998, the Synodical President together with his presidium, disciplined a District President for participation in a unionistic and syncretistic service in accordance with our Synodical Constitution which requires the renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description.

On September 23, 2001, District President Dr. David Benke participated in "A Prayer for America," an ecumenical service which opened with an invocation and closed with a benediction and included the readings, songs and prayers of many different Christian denominations, as well as Muslims, Jews, a Sikh, and a Hindu clergy. Prior to Benke's participation, Synodical President Dr. Gerald Kieschnick determined that Dr. Benke's participation was "permissible and appropriate."

"My counsel to President Benke was based primarily on the Synod's collective understanding of the teaching of Holy Scripture, expressed in Resolution 3-07A of the 2001 Synod Convention (p. 232-233). Further, as indicated in Part I of my Report to the Synod, I agree with and uphold the position of the LCMS that pastors of our Synod should have the freedom, tempered with the accompanying responsibility, of 'offering prayers, speaking, and reading Scripture at events sponsored by governments...' if the organization in charge does not restrict a Christian witness, and if this can be done without any compromise of our Scriptural, Confessional and constitutional commitments." (2004 Convention Proceedings, p. 77)

Formal charges were brought against Dr. Kieschnick for his counsel, as well as his own participation in an ELCA service. Due to the opinion of the Committee on Constitutional Matters (CCM) that the President of the Synod is only accountable to the convention of the Synod, the merit of these charges were never considered.

Formal charges were brought against Dr. Benke. Although he was initially suspended from the clergy roster, his appeal to a Dispute Resolution Panel resulted in his reinstatement on the basis of a CCM opinion. That CCM opinion determined that the prior approval of President Kieschnick, who serves as Dr. Benke's ecclesiastical supervisor, means that Dr. Benke cannot be charged. Once again, the merit of the charges is not considered.

The 2004 Synodical Convention passed Resolution 3-06A, "To Commend the CTCR Document Guidelines for Participation in Civic Events" (GPCE) which effectively denies the existence of syncretism by claiming that Christian and non-Christian clergy could "take turns" offering prayers without it being joint worship.

The CTCR document states the unresolved disagreement. "The members of the Commission disagree about the issue of so-called 'serial' or 'seriatim' prayers involving representatives of different religious (Christian and/or non-Christian) groups or churches. Some members of the Commission believe that under no circumstances is it permissible for LCMS pastors to participate in any type of an event in which various Christian and/or non-Christian leaders 'take turns' offering prayers, holding that such an activity by its very nature constitutes 'joint prayer and worship.' The majority believes that in some instances it may be possible and permissible for LCMS pastors to participate in such an event as long as certain conditions are met (e.g., when the purpose of the event in question is clearly civic in nature, and when it is conducted is such a way that does not correspond to the LCMS understanding of a 'service'; when no restrictions are placed on the content of the Christian witness that may be given by the LCMS pastor; when a sincere effort is made by those involved to make it clear that those participating do not all share the same religious views concerning such issues as the nature of God, the way of salvation, and the nature of religious truth itself)."

The minority opinion speaks to the ambiguity of this document in guiding future actions. "Everyone knows that the notion of 'civic events' has been used to justify participation in the notorious 'A Prayer for America' in Yankee Stadium in 2001. The undersigned recognize that the CTCR has not been asked for an opinion on that particular event. However, the guidelines requested of the CTCR in the aftermath of that event can and indeed ought to be expected to be so clear and unambiguous as to rule out any repetition of such participation in similar occasions of syncretism in the future. Instead, it was stated in support of the document that both sides in the argument about the Yankee Stadium affair were entitled to appeal to the Civic Events document."

A man commits adultery with his neighbor's wife.
The man's wife asks him, "Did you commit adultery?"
The husband responds, "I firmly believe that it is every husband's right to have appropriate relationships with other women, provided that those associations do not impinge on my marital vows to you."
The wife asks, "Did you commit adultery?"
The husband responds, "In questions of marital judgment, you will need to trust me that I am committed to our commonly agreed upon marital principals."
The wife asks, "Will you commit adultery again?"
The husband asks, "Can't we just put all this behind us and move forward with our marriage?"

The foregoing material developed by and used with permission of Trinity Lutheran Church, Herrin, Illinois.

2. Contemporary Worship 6 Points 4. Lay Ministers


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