The head of the second largest Lutheran body in the country greeted delegates over the weekend with a note of affirmation that they are the front-line defenders of biblical truths.
While lamenting the liberal direction that their sister body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and The Episcopal Church have taken in recent years, Gerald B. Kieschnick – president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod – thanked his denomination for uniquely preserving the Gospel.
"The unique contribution of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to Christianity in the world is that we have always stood steadfast and without compromise on the truth of God's inspired, inerrant, infallible Word," he said Sunday at the 64th regular convention in Houston.
During its eight-day convention this week, the LCMS will be considering resolutions in response to the ELCA's decision last summer to allow noncelibate gays and lesbians on the clergy roster. One of the resolutions commends the "Theological Implications of the 2009 ELCA Decisions" document for study and reference.
While the two Lutheran bodies had partnered together in works related to mercy and relief, the ELCA's action – or what Kieschnick described as a desertion of biblical truth – now threatens that cooperative relationship, the document states.
The document does not call the LCMS to immediately cut ties with the ELCA but it expresses hope that their theological position will be respected and that they can "avoid any policies or decisions which would require us to cease our support and involvement in their activities."
Further frank and serious discussions on the matter are also needed, it adds.
Since the ELCA's controversial action, dozens of churches have taken votes to sever ties with the denomination – the largest Lutheran body in the country. And several have sought support from the LCMS, according to Kieschnick.
Some are going to the smaller Lutheran body for theological support, training, mission assistance, financial assistance and conservative confessional companionship, according to Kieschnick.
Kieschnick reaffirmed the LCMS' stance that homosexual behavior is contrary to the will of God and therefore intrinsically sinful and that marriage is a divine institution which binds one man and one woman together in a one flesh union not to be broken until death parts them. He further repeated the theology and confessions that the denomination holds to, including belief in the triune God and that the pastoral office is limited to men.
"This is what we believe, teach and confess," he underscored. "Anyone who alleges otherwise is simply misinformed or misled. The Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod for 163 years has been a solid, evangelical, faithful, biblical, confessional Christian church and I pray to God it always will be."
Kieschnick warned against descending into "the swamps of compromise," deluding Christian doctrine, and editing "God's Word to suit the whims of the day."
Just as the LCMS defended the "purity of the Gospel" in the early 1970s, they are continuing that fight today, he noted.
He added that preserving biblical truth does not make the church static or incapable of adapting to changing times though the LCMS has struggled with shrinking membership over the last 40 years.
It's about "proclaiming a changeless Christ to a changing world," he stressed.
Membership at the LCMS is currently 2.4 million. Kieschnick acknowledged that the denomination is struggling with its fair share of problems including disharmony over diversity (in terms of worship, style, role of laity and service of women), a lack of civility and accountability, poor communication, and a loss of its children and grandchildren from LCMS churches.
He urged the church body to face up to this reality in order to fix the problems and move forward to reach the lost.
"Time is short and hell is hot," he noted. "I pray that we will recommit to proclaiming the one message of Christ and Him alone."
Correction: Tuesday, July 13, 2010:
An article on Monday, July 12, 2010, about an address by the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod incorrectly reported a statement in the address as having referred to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Gerald B. Kieschnick did not directly mention ELCA when he warned against "descending into the swamps of compromise, or diluting our doctrine, or editing God's Word to suit the whims of the day."