If there’s one thing that’s puzzled me the most about the CEF disaster, it’s Synod’s reaction to it. Why is this problem being so studiously ignored? Why is confession and absolution being prescribed as the universal answer while the house-cleaning LCC so desperately needs has completely failed to materialize?
Recently I came across an article published on Brothers of John the Steadfast titled “AN LCMS – the many synods within the Missouri Synod – the full paper by Rev. Neil Carlson.” In his paper Pr Carlson identifies different groups within the LCMS, gives them a label, discusses what they’re like and why they are that way. As I was reading his description of one particular group I could almost hear a pencil ticking off box after box in my mind.
The section in question follows – I invite you to read it and see how well it lines up with what you’ve seen. I’ve divided the text into paragraphs and added other indicators for clarity and emphasis – the text itself is verbatim from the original paper.
First is the antinomian synod. This synod is closely related and in many ways looks like the confessional synod and the liturgical synod. These three have many things in common. Their pastors all vest and make use of the historic liturgy. They quote the scriptures and confessions ad nauseam. However, the antinomian synod’s material principle is all are free in Christ. Their formal principle is the gospel, in its narrower sense. This synod wants everyone to hear the gospel and wants everyone to feel the comfort of the gospel. They want Christians to never feel guilty, to never feel dirty, and to never feel sinful.
The problem is that we are sinful.
“The good I want to do I do not do, but the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing” (Rom 7:19). The gospel frees us, yes, but that does not mean sin does not still plague us. Luther said the old Adam still clings to us even after baptism. Therefore St. John wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV). Therefore, even as Christians, we are still guilty of sinning and should always feel the weight of our sin, causing us to always turn to Christ in faith for forgiveness.
This synod seems to want repentance to be a one-time thing and not a life-long venture. The danger of this synod is their rejection of the Law, which condemns sin and shows how a Christian ought to live. They want to live in freedom, not the freedom to serve God, but the freedom to sin without consequence. They want the freedom to ignore God’s rules for being His people and yet still be called God’s people.
For example, the scriptures teach that a pastor must be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2), yet the antinomian synod releases a pastor from this verse and allows him to divorce and remarry and remain in the ministry. This is something that was never permitted in the LC-MS before the most recent of years.
This synod does not see the law as good as long as it is used lawfully (1 Tim 1:8). They see the law as an obstacle that must be overcome and abolished by the gospel. They do not see the law as serving the gospel, but impeding it. In this synod, any sin is permissible, as long as one dwells in the gospel. Rightly speaking the gospel fulfills the law.
The antinomians teach the gospel abolishes the law. This synod would vehemently reject the idea that it is liberal, however, this synod seems to have much in common with the liberals of yesteryear, mainly what has become known as gospel reductionism, which is sited above as their formal principle. This confusion causes them to confuse law with gospel. Here is an example of the law being abolished by the gospel, “So, the Law is not first and foremost about us. It’s about Jesus! Jesus, who perfectly loves God the Father and who perfectly loves and serves His neighbor. The Law pointed to Jesus and it is kept and fulfilled by Jesus”.
See how the law is destroyed by the gospel. The law is the command to love. This form of antinomianism is not a denial of the law, but a rejection of the third use of the law. Here Jesus not only fulfills the law, but He swallows it up so that there is nothing left for Christians to do. Christians have no need to love God or each other because, Jesus!
This synod denies that Jesus creates clean hearts in us that want to keep the law. The Law is first and foremost about us; about us doing or not doing what God commanded; about the curb, mirror, and rule. The above quote removes the teeth of the law and attempts to turn it into gospel.
Rightly speaking, the gospel points us to Jesus. The law points us to our sins and our duties to God and the neighbor. This quote, along with this synod confuses the law and the gospel because this synod does not understand the purpose of the law, since the formal principle has no place for the law.
After going through five other “types” of synods the author concludes on a positive note:
President Harrison once called the Missouri Synod a ship, though the synod emphatically claims it is not Church. Nevertheless, using this analogy, the mushy middle is so busy swaying starboard to port, bow to stern that she is yawing all over the place and it is only a matter of time before it capsizes from the confusion. But, take comfort dear Christian, the good ship Missouri is not the Church. The Church is a ship that cannot be shaken; she is sound and secure, held fast by the teaching of our Lord found in the scriptures. Long after Missouri has sunk the Church will remain, Christ will not let her sink. He will rescue her from every storm and gale. He keeps her steady with the keel of the law and the prophets and she will not roll.
I recommend reading the paper in its entirety – chances are you’ll recognize elements of a number of different “synods” that this paper identifies the same way I did.