The major newspapers are picking up on the visitation of the Pope in Sweden, Oct. 31, 2016, as the Lutheran World Federation observed Reformation Day. He joined the Lutherans in a special prayer service. It was certainly quite the gesture by the Pope to take a day that has historically highlighted division in the church, and help change it into one which would move us toward healing and unity. “Such a refreshing thing to see!” we all want to say. Most certainly we all must believe and strive for Christian unity, as our disagreement and our division is sinful and stains the Gospel.
However, as much as it should be the goal of every Christian and Christian church to be united in our teaching and doctrine, there is reality we must contend with. Because of our sin, we find that we live in what might be seen as a variety of theological and sociological realities. True healing between Lutherans and Catholics is literally inconceivable (here on this earth.) The only way that there can be true unity is if Lutherans and/or Catholics renounce their teachings and doctrines… The Catholic Pope and Martin Luther knew that way back in days of the Reformation almost 500 years ago. Unfortunately it is still the same today.
There are those today who have hope that if we talk around the table long enough we can carefully craft a set of words that will somehow cover over the sins of division, as if the differences we have are not of substance, but only the result of misunderstanding and history. The ecumenical movement of today that attempts to bring churches together hinges not on coming to a consensus of Truth, but instead works to ignore or water down the teachings of scripture, counting truth as less important than “unity.” They will say “We agree on more things than we disagree, so lets just call us a happy family.” Sometimes that is good to do in our lives of of many varied opinions and values, but is that permissible when we deal in the currency of truth and the confession of faith?
Members of our churches should note that, although the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod regularly participates in theological dialogues with other church bodies, we do not consider Biblical Truth to be a price to pay for outward unity in the church. I know that most people caught up in their harried lives have little patience with what is viewed as silly arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I understand that. However… the reason for this well meaning impatience is that many people also have only a very basic understanding of Christian doctrine, and even less of an understanding of the scripture and the issues that confront the church.
It is true that there is no perfect church, and the LCMS does not pretend to espouse a perfect understanding of Scripture. We will all be surprised when we get to heaven at what we got wrong or misunderstood here on earth. We must be humble about these things. But I do pray that I GET to heaven to be surprised. If we follow the delusion of the world and decide that truth does not matter, the very real danger is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will become so corrupted and diluted that it will not retain its power to save. The Gospel saves because it is True, and it must not be compromised.
Praise God that despite our outward disunity, Christians of every denomination can still express the very profound and mysterious unity of faith that extends back to Adam and Eve and forward to the end of time and heaven above. This unity comes from the work of the Holy Spirit beginning in Baptism. Ultimately there is only ONE true (invisible) church: the the church in heaven and on earth whose Savior and Head is Jesus Christ. Someday we will be blessed to know it truly without our sin weighing it down and corrupting it. Praise God.