- (Photo: LWF / Erick Coll)
The outgoing president of the second largest Lutheran church body in America lamented the directions taken on matters of sexuality by some member churches of the Lutheran World Federation.
The Rev. Gerald Kieschnick of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod told the LWF’s 11th Assembly on Saturday that he feared “many of the sacred scriptural truths which precipitated the Reformation are in danger of being lost.”
Kieschnick said that challenges to Christian truth have “first been tolerated, then accepted, and now affirmed.”
Christians today, he added, have no “general consensus of broad concurrence, not to mention complete agreement on what constitutes marriage in the eyes of God, or what is acceptable or non-acceptable sexual behavior.”
Earlier this month, delegates from Kieschnick’s conservative church body agreed to continue its cooperative relationship with the more liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America despite the latter denomination's decision to allow partnered homosexuals on the clergy roster, among other actions.
The LCMS approved a resolution affirming that "cooperation in externals with other Lutheran churches, including the ELCA, continue with theological integrity" but called on its Commission on Theology and Church Relations to "develop more in-depth theological criteria for assessing cooperative endeavors, determining what would necessitate termination of such cooperative efforts."
LCMS delegates also overwhelmingly adopted two resolutions in response to the ELCA's pro-gay actions last year – one commending for "study and reference" two documents that describe the ELCA's actions as contrary to Scripture, and the other supporting efforts to promote "confessional Lutheranism" throughout the world.
The LCMS and the ELCA are the two largest Lutheran church bodies in the United States with 2.4 million members and 4.6 million members, respectively.
Despite his concern that Reformation principles and biblical truth was in danger in some LWF churches, Kieschnick referred to LWF President Mark Hanson – who is also presiding bishop of the ELCA – as “my brother in Christ” and expressed gratitude for his friendship.
“While we do not agree on numerous matter of faith and life, I have genuinely appreciated your fraternal collegiality and gentle spirit and pray God’s blessings on your future endeavors,” said Kieschnick, who spoke Saturday as the chairman of the conservative International Lutheran Council, which the LCMS is a member of.
He also said that he shared his concerns with the assembly “neither to stand in judgment, nor ignoring the logs in my own eye, but with a heavy heart.”
Such controversies, he said, can lead to “significant internal strife, serious spiritual conflict and even organic schism.”
Since the ELCA's controversial actions, for example, dozens of churches have taken votes to sever ties with the denomination. And several have sought support from the LCMS, Kieschnick had reported earlier this month during his denomination's 64th regular convention in Houston.
Notably, however, the LCMS has also struggled with shrinking membership over the last 40 years and has 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.
But when it comes to biblical truths, Kieschnick said earlier this month that the LCMS has "always stood steadfast and without compromise on the truth of God's inspired, inerrant, infallible Word."
Like the LCMS, the broader ILC promotes confessional Lutheran theology and practice. Last year, the 3.5 million-member church association adopted a statement that affirmed “homosexuality as a violation of the will of God.”
As an official council of church bodies, ILC has existed since 1993. The 70 million-large LWF, on the other hand, was founded in 1947.
The LWF Assembly, the communion's highest legislative body, is currently holding its once-every-six-years gathering in Stuttgart, Germany. The eight-day meeting concludes Tuesday.