Frequently Asked Questions — LCMS Views

 

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Usage: Congregational use of FAQs does not require permission of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. However, each reproduction should credit the LCMS as the source and include a link or URL to this page.

 

Christian Citizenship FAQs

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QUESTION: What is the official stance of the Missouri Synod on the death penalty?

ANSWER: In 1967, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod stated its position "that capital punishment is in accord with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions." Resolution 2-38 of the New York convention of the Synod reads as follows:

"Whereas, Various church bodies have condemned capital punishment in recent years; and

"Whereas, God's Word supports capital punishment (Gen. 9:6; Lev. 24:17; Ex. 21:12; Num. 35:21; Deut. 19:11; Rom. 13:4; Acts 25:11; and

"Whereas, The Lutheran Confessions support capital punishment:

"Therefore neither God nor the government is included in this commandment, yet their right to take human life is not abrogated. God has delegated His authority of punishing evil-doers to civil magistrates in place of parents; in early times, as we read in Moses, parents had to bring their own children to judgment and sentence them to death. Therefore what is forbidden here applies to private individuals, not to governments. (Large Catechism I, 180 to 181 [Tappert, p. 389])

"Therefore be it Resolved, That The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod declare that capital punishment is in accord with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions."

This does not mean that everyone who belongs to the LCMS or is a member of an LCMS congregation is conscience-bound to support the death penalty. Individuals within the LCMS may, for various valid reasons, object to the usefulness and fairness of the death penalty as it is being used or considered within a particular governmental system.

Although it is clear from Scripture that the government has the God-given right to use the death penalty, the LCMS has not taken the position that the government must use this right if it determines that some other form of punishment would better serve society at large at a particular time and place.

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QUESTION: I am a member of the Lutheran Church, but I have a few questions concerning warfare. I will be leaving soon to the Middle East region and am wondering where the Lutheran Church stands on the issue of war.

ANSWER: Members of the LCMS equally committed to scriptural teaching may have differing views regarding justification for war. And they may present equally cogent arguments to support their views.

For more information on this topic, you may wish to read an article that appeared in the January 2003 Lutheran Witness on the "just war" concept and a report from our Commission on Theology and Church Relations titled Guidelines for Crucial Issues in Christian Citizenship.

You also may wish to read former President Kieschnick's statement on peace.

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QUESTION: How would you counsel someone who asks about going into military service when he/she feels it violates the 5th Commandment where it says, "Thou shalt not kill," as I learned it? The current Catechism has "murder" instead of "kill."

ANSWER: In the synodical explanation of Luther's Small Catechism it asks, "Does anyone have the authority to take another's person's life?" The answer: "Yes, lawful government, as God's servant, may execute criminals and fight just wars."

The reference cited is Rom. 13:4, which coincides with the fact that the 5th commandment does not forbid all "killing," but (as the Hebrew word used in Exodus 20 makes clear) sinful and unjustified killing, i.e., "murder."

For more information on this topic, we encourage you to read the Commission on Theology and Church Relations report on Crucial Issues in Christian Citizenship, which includes discussions of "Christians, Violence and War," "Christian Conscience," etc.

You may also want to contact the Synod's Ministry to the Armed Forces for additional guidance in responding to this situation.

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Contemporary Issues FAQs

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QUESTION: Given the Eastern origins of acupuncture, does it have occult connections, or is it something a Christian can freely use without harm?

ANSWER: In his 1994 book, The New Age is Lying to You, Pastor Eldon Winker, Executive Director of the former Commission on Organizations, has a section on acupuncture in his chapter on New Age Health Care.

In that section he notes that "of New Age therapies, acupuncture has the most visible connection to the practice of energy manipulation associated with the Taoistic philosophy of ancient Chinese medicine" (167).

Pastor Winker indicates that although "there is evidence that acupuncture does act as an analgesic in reducing the sensation of pain," "the best advice is to avoid involvement with any practice that might lead to occultic influence" (168).

In reading evaluations of the practice from a Christian perspective, we too have discovered some uncertainty regarding what precisely we as Christians can or should say about it. The evangelical cult-watch group "Watchman Fellowship" says the following by way of "A Christian Response":

"Because of acupuncture's origins, many Christians may be more comfortable choosing an alternative treatment. It should be noted, however, that some reputable medical doctors reject the Taoist theories of acupuncture and have developed psychological theories that may justify its practice.”

Christians who are considering acupuncture treatment should note that even the Western physicians who do accept a limited use of acupuncture as a pain killer or anesthetic almost always see it as a temporary treatment for symptoms and not a cure.

At the very least, Christians should avoid practitioners who claim to manipulate invisible energy or base their practice on Taoist dualism or other Chinese metaphysical assumptions.

These speculations are the foundation for traditional acupuncture theory and are incompatible with both known science and the Christian view of the human body and the universe."

This seems to be pretty good advice on the whole, and of course, suggests that some individual judgment will have to be exercised to determine the context and intentions of the practice in the given case.

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QUESTION: What is the LCMS view on the consumption of alcohol?

ANSWER: The Bible nowhere condemns the proper and responsible use (consumption) of alcoholic beverages, and neither does The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Scripture does warn strongly and repeatedly against the abuse, misuse or excessive use of alcoholic beverages, and the LCMS has also repeatedly warned against such dangers.

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QUESTION: A friend of mine insists Christmas trees are pagan and false idols because of Scripture in Jeremiah 10. Any thoughts?

ANSWER: In response to your friend's concerns about idolatry, it must be emphasized that the warnings contained in Jeremiah 10 (and similar passages) have to do with "worshipping" physical objects as "gods" and seeking help and guidance from these false idols.

Nowhere does Scripture condemn the proper use of religious art, symbolism, etc. to remind us of the true God and his blessings. It would certainly be wrong to "worship" Christmas trees, pray to them, seek help from them, or attribute to them any spiritual "power."

But there is nothing wrong with simply using them as reminders of the beauty of God's creation and of the wonder of his incarnation in Jesus Christ, who "became flesh" for us so that we might be saved.

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QUESION: Does the LCMS hold an official position as to the existence of demonic possession? Does the LCMS retain the Rite of Exorcism as practiced in the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches? Does the LCMS have special clergy assigned to this task?

ANSWER: The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod certainly believes in the existence of Satan and of demonic beings, and individual LCMS pastors have participated from time to time in rites of exorcism.

The LCMS has no "official position" on "demonic possession," however, nor does it subscribe officially to any formal rite of exorcism or have "special clergy assigned to this task."

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QUESTION: What is the LCMS view of gambling?

ANSWER: In February 1996, our Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations adopted a report titled Gambling, a 14-page document that discusses the practice of gambling in light of four scriptural principles.

These principles are as follows:

  • Gambling encourages the sins of greed and covetousness.
  • Gambling promotes mismanagement of possessions entrusted to us by God. Gambling undermines absolute reliance on God for His provision.
  • Gambling works at cross purposes with a commitment to productive work. Gambling is a potentially addictive behavior.
  • Gambling threatens the welfare of our neighbor and militates against the common good.

The document stops short of saying that every form of gambling is in and of itself contrary to the Word of God and therefore sinful. Read former Synod President Barry's statement on legalized gambling.

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QUESTION: Has the LCMS taken an official position regarding the Gideons? Our congregation often invites Gideon representatives to give formal presentations during our worship service.

ANSWER: The LCMS has taken no official position regarding the Gideons. In evaluating the Gideons, the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations has not found the objectionable features of fraternal brotherhoods (lodges) present in the Gideons.

Judgment as to whether to invite Gideons International representatives to give presentations in or at the end of LCMS worship services (which is fairly common) is a matter left to the judgment of individual pastors and the local congregation.

There should be no objection to LCMS members supporting the Bible distribution program of the Gideons.

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QUESTION: I am a Lutheran, and at church yesterday I was horrified to find out that my church believes that God let this tragedy and all the other horrible things in the world to happen.

I went to church looking for a strong message that God is still there for me, for the families that lost someone, still there for our country. But instead I hear that He let this happen.

It sickens me to think that God allows all the horror in the world to happen. How can He allow a little child to die of child abuse? Why not just let the child die sooner, mercifully? Or why does He allow a woman to be raped and murdered, why not just let her die without knowing that evil?

I always believed that evil and sin make the horrible things in the world. But now I am told, "Almighty God, merciful Father, a very present help in time of trouble, again we are brought to realize that Your thoughts are not our thoughts, Your ways are not our ways. In Your wisdom You have permitted these disastrous events ..."

What kind of help is God if He caused the problem? I thought man brought sin into the world.

ANSWER: You are right when you say that man brought sin into the world. With sin came all the horrible consequences which pervade the whole world. God did not cause sin; He did not cause the problem.

One must distinguish between cause and permit/allow. In this sinful world in which we live, God at times allows the horrible consequences of sin to happen in order to discipline those whom He loves (Hebrews 12) for our good.

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:11).

For those who do not know God and remain in their wicked ways, God allows the consequences of their sins to be punishment. If they do not repent and believe and trust in Jesus they will suffer eternal punishment in hell.

God is a just God as well as a loving God. He disciplines us in love. We submit to His discipline and live (Heb. 12:9).

Even though God allows the evil consequences of sin, He still loves us in Jesus and will never forsake or abandon us. He will bring good to us out of the evil consequences of sin. No evil will be able to snatch us out of His hand.

Consider another tower in the Bible that fell on people and killed them. In Luke 13:4-5, God allowed the tower in Siloam to fall on 18 people and crush them to death.

Jesus said about that: "Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

God allowed that to happen so that others would repent and live eternally. So it is with us today. God can turn evil to good.

We don't dwell on all the evil that can happen to both Christian and non-Christian in this sinful world, but we focus on all the good which God motivates those who love Him to do.

Don't blame God — lay Him to heart, trust unwaveringly in Him and His Savior, even though you may not understand completely all that He allows, and He will give you life now and forever with Him. Don't throw His love and salvation overboard just because you are not God.

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QUESTION: Has the LCMS said anything officially on the celebration of Halloween? May we permit children to dress as goblins and ghosts, etc.? What should we teach our children concerning this celebration?

ANSWER: The LCMS has not officially spoken to the observance of Halloween in any of its resolutions or statements. Frankly, opinions differ in our church regarding the appropriateness of Christians observing Halloween customs.

Those who oppose the observance of Halloween by Christians argue that its origins are pagan and that emphasis on the Occult in our society finds expression in various kinds of Halloween symbols, parties and activities.

Others argue that, generally speaking, current Halloween customs have little to do with pagan roots in the minds of most, and that there is no harm done in permitting our children to enjoy such customs.

In general, this is a good example of an issue where "sanctified common sense" and a balanced approach are necessary — with sensitivity to the "witness value" of a given action or activity in a specific context.

On the one hand, we do not want to minimize the potential dangers of involvement with occultic symbols and practices.

At the same time, we do not want to lay a burden of conscience on others in matters that lie in the area of Christian freedom and sound Christian judgment.

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QUESTION: Could you please send me the Synod's official statement regarding horoscopes?

ANSWER: Luther explained the Second Commandment ("You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God") in this way:

"We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks."

The explanation in the official catechism of the Synod further states that using "satanic arts by God's name" includes "depending on horoscopes or similar ways to foretell the future." Thus, using horoscopes is included among sins against the Second Commandment.

We may add that the Commission on Theology and Church Relations has in its files writings on the topic by theologians in the Synod. These writers have placed the practice of astrology into the category of the occult. They have pointed out that since astrology is a form of divination it comes under the condemnation of such passages as Deut. 18:9-14 and Is. 47:14-15.

These writers also point out that Christians are urged to entrust themselves and their lives to their all-powerful and gracious God, in whom the Psalmist places his heartfelt trust by declaring, "My times are in thy hand" (Ps. 31:15; see Eccl. 7:14).

Christians remember that neither the daily course of their lives nor their future lies in the hands of unseen forces or movements of heavenly bodies.

Rather, they are urged to believe that everything in their life is directed according to His gracious purpose: "In everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28; RSV).

In light of these considerations, Christians who consult horoscopes "just for the fun of it" need to be aware of the spiritual dangers involved in such a practice.

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QUESTION: What is the Synod's view of membership in lodges, fraternal organizations and fraternities?

ANSWER: It has consistently been the position of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod throughout its history that membership in fraternal lodges is incompatible with membership in a synodical congregation.

Bylaw 3.925 of the Synod's Handbook summarizes the rationale for the Synod's longstanding position on the lodges: "Pastors and laypeople must avoid membership or participation in any organization that in its objectives, ceremonies, or practices is inimical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the faith and life of the Christian church."

The Commission on Theology and Church Relations has prepared detailed discussions of the reasons for the Synod's opposition to membership in various lodges. They may be found online at lcms.org/ctcr.

There are fraternal organizations (e.g., Kiwanis, Lions Club) or community clubs that do not have the objectionable features of the lodges in their rites, ceremonials, and membership requirements. There are generally no objections to membership in such organizations.

Since there are so many college fraternities, and since their membership requirements vary, the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations has advised that judgments must be left to individuals based on the particular case.

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QUESTION: What is the Missouri Synod's response to the anti-Semitic statements made by Luther?

ANSWER: While The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod holds Martin Luther in high esteem for his bold proclamation and clear articulation of the teachings of Scripture, it deeply regrets, deplores, and repudiates statements made by Luther which express a negative and hostile attitude toward the Jews.

Luther did make many positive and caring statements concerning the Jews throughout his lifetime. Nevertheless, Luther was also guilty of statements about the Jews that are full of animosity and contrary to the Word of God (Rom. 9:1-5; 10:12).

The LCMS does not seek to "excuse" these statements of Luther, but denounces them (without denouncing Luther's theology).

In 1983, the Synod adopted an official resolution addressing these statements of Luther and making clear its own position on anti-Semitism. The text of this resolution reads as follows:

WHEREAS, Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism are a continuing problem in our world; and

WHEREAS, Some of Luther's intemperate remarks about the Jews are often cited in this connection; and

WHEREAS, It is widely but falsely assumed that Luther's personal writings and opinions have some official status among us (thus, sometimes implying the responsibility of contemporary Lutheranism for those statements, if not complicity in them); but also

WHEREAS, It is plain from Scripture that the Gospel must be proclaimed to all people — that is, to Jews also, no more and no less than to others (Matt. 28:18-20); and

WHEREAS, This Scriptural mandate is sometimes confused with anti-Semitism; therefore be it

Resolved, That we condemn any and all discrimination against others on account of race or religion or any coercion on that account and pledge ourselves to work and witness against such sins; and be it further

Resolved, That we reaffirm that the bases of our doctrine and practice are the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions and not Luther, as such; and be it further

Resolved, That while, on the one hand, we are deeply indebted to Luther for his rediscovery and enunciation of the Gospel, on the other hand, we deplore and disassociate ourselves from Luther's negative statements about the Jewish people, and, by the same token, we deplore the use today of such sentiments by Luther to incite anti-Christian and/or anti-Lutheran sentiment; and be it further

Resolved, That in our teaching and preaching we take care not to confuse the religion of the Old Testament (often labeled "Yahwism") with the subsequent Judaism, nor misleadingly speak about "Jews" in the Old Testament ("Israelites" or "Hebrews" being much more accurate terms), lest we obscure the basic claim of the New Testament and of the Gospel to being in substantial continuity with the Old Testament and that the fulfillment of the ancient promises came in Jesus Christ; and be it further

Resolved, That we avoid the recurring pitfall of recrimination (as illustrated by the remarks of Luther and many of the early church fathers) against those who do not respond positively to our evangelistic efforts; and be it finally

Resolved, That, in that light, we personally and individually adopt Luther's final attitude toward the Jewish people, as evidenced in his last sermon: "We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord" (Weimar edition, Vol. 51, p. 195).

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QUESTION: Recently I received an e-mail alerting me to efforts by Madalyn Murray O'Hair to ban the word "God" and the television show "Touched By An Angel" from the airwaves. It included a form letter to send to the FCC and specified "Petition 2493" be put on the envelope. Is this another false alarm?

ANSWER: The Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations states:

Since 1975, a rumor has been circulating that Madalyn Murray O'Hair sponsored a petition RM 2493 to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in which she proposed limiting or banning religious programming. Another rumor has circulated that she was granted a federal hearing to discuss this proposal.

The continued research of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations and its staff has repeatedly confirmed that these rumors are entirely false.

Since 1975, the FCC has received and responded to millions of inquiries regarding the rumor. An FCC "Fact Sheet" (see below) indicates that the agency has made every effort to advise the public of the falsehood of this rumor.

Christians are urged not to contribute to the spread of unsubstantiated rumors, a practice prohibited by the Eighth Commandment that enjoins them not to bear false witness against their neighbor. Incidentally, Madelyn Murray O'Hair disappeared in September 1995 and is presumed to be deceased.

Taken from the FCC Fact Sheet:

A rumor has been circulating since 1975 that Madalyn Murray O'Hair, a widely known, self-proclaimed atheist, proposed that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) consider limiting or banning religious programming. This rumor is not true. It also has been circulated repeatedly that Ms. O'Hair was granted a FCC hearing to discuss that proposal. This, too, is not true. Every effort has been made by the FCC to advise the public of the falsehood of this rumor.

There are several web sites that exist to debunk such rumors. One of these is Urban Legends and Folklore. From the home page, click on Current Net Hoaxes, and a listing of headings will appear, including the O'Hair rumor.

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QUESTION: A friend of mine claims that, other than being a 4th commandment violation, marijuana smoking is not biblically prohibited. I can't help but feel it's not okay biblically but have not been able to come up with verses to refute him. An obvious implication is that if marijuana were made legal that there would be absolutely no problem in its use. Would you be able to offer me any assistance in disputing his claim?

ANSWER: Your question is a very important one and it touches on a matter that ought to be of much concern to Christians as they seek to live in a way that pleases God.

We must remember, of course, that the Scriptures do not always specifically address many issues that Christians confront today. Nothing specific is said about the use of marijuana. However, this is not to say that the Bible provides us with no guidance regarding the use of a drug such as this.

Quite the contrary, the Scriptures speak quite directly to the general moral question involved in drug usage.

Take, for example, Gal. 5:19-21 where Paul provides a sample list of "acts of the sinful nature." Included at the end of the list are things such as "drunkenness, orgies, and the like."

Common to all of the items in the list is self-indulgence, the pursuit of pleasure, euphoria, and happiness through acts that serve our fleshly desires.

Those who cave in to a lifestyle ruled by such acts endanger their own spiritual welfare and may even through impenitence jeopardize their inheritance in the kingdom of God. Note, too, that in the list of the "fruit of the Spirit" in the verses that follow is the quality of "self-control."

It is not difficult to see that the use of drugs falls into the category of self-indulgence, which is the characteristic of all "acts of the flesh."

It may be important also to note that not everything that is legal is morally permissible. For example, that abortion is legal does not mean that it is morally permissible in God's eyes.

God promises to those who believe in Jesus Christ the gift of His Holy Spirit so that they may live on a higher level. St. Paul provides a great summary of this lifestyle when he says in 1 Corinthians, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (10:31).

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QUESTION: Could someone please explain briefly why Masons are not allowed in the Lutheran Church?

ANSWER: Bylaw 3.9.5.4.1 of the Synod's Handbook summarizes the rationale for the Synod's longstanding position on the lodges: "Pastors and congregations must avoid membership or participation in any organization that in its objectives, ceremonies, or practices is inimical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the faith and life of the Christian church."

It is because tenets and practices of Freemasonry conflict with the biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ that our church from its very beginning has held that membership in this organization conflicts with a faithful confession of this Gospel.

Many examples from the official rites and ceremonies of Freemasonry could be cited to illustrate the reasons for the Synod's position, but the following is one example.

The second section of the Entered Apprentice degree reviews what has taken place in the initiation rite and closes with this definition of the Lambskin of White Leathern Apron given to the candidate: "The Lamb has, in all ages, been deemed an emblem of innocence. He, therefore, who wears the Lambskin as the badge of a Freemason, is constantly reminded of that purity of life and conduct which is so essentially necessary to his gaining admission into the Celestial Lodge above, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe presides."

This statement holds out the promise that "purity of life and conduct" is "essentially necessary" for entry into life hereafter with the divine being called the "Supreme Architect."

Such an assertion stands in direct conflict with the apostolic Gospel, and therefore endangers faith. St. Paul affirms in his epistle to the Galatians that "by works of the law shall no one be justified ... for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal. 2:16, 21).

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QUESTION: Is it ever not sinful to lie? Take the example of not telling a dear spouse or relative about an illness they have. I cite the case of Jonathan and David where Jonathan told his father, Saul, that David had to go to his family — that was why he was not at the dinner. God did not seem to reprimand either of them for this lie which was to save David's life. We were having a discussion about this and would like to know what LCMS teaches on this.

ANSWER: We are not aware of any kind of formal “LCMS teaching” on this specific question. Yet, it is not a new question in our midst. In his 1932 book Pastor and People, LCMS professor Theodore Graebner comments on the issue in response to a pastoral conference discussion of the question. He responded briefly to the question, “Is every untruth a lie?”

Dr. Graebner wrote: “Unless it can be shown beyond a doubt that an evasion in concealment of the truth or the statement of an untruth is under the circumstances clearly demanded by the law of love to the neighbor, it is to be adjudged, no matter how good the intention or how great the benefit, an immoral act and in the proper sense of the word a lie.”

Here Dr. Graebner does allow for the possibility that in this fallen world of ours and in certain extraordinary situations telling one's neighbor something that is an untruth may be “clearly demanded by the law of love.”

The words “clearly demanded” serve as a caution against allowing one's own personal “good intentions” to become a rationalization for committing sin. In the end, decisions in this regard will have to be a matter of personal judgment, according to one's conscience and in light of circumstances of each case (which will vary in nature and degree).

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QUESTION: What is the Synod's stance on tattoos and body piercing? If my son or daughter asks for a tattoo or pierced lip or tongue, what Scripture may I rely on?

ANSWER: The Synod has no position on this subject. In should be kept in mind that the prohibition in Lev. 19:28 — "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord" — belongs to Old Testament Levitical or ceremonial law, which has been set aside or annulled with the coming of Christ (Col. 2:16-17; Acts 15).

Leviticus is full of such laws, including the command one verse earlier: "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard."

For Christians, matters such as this lie in the area of Christian freedom and wise judgment (such as, for example, taking into account health concerns, the perceptions and sensitivities of others, and the counsel of Christian parents and advisors).

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QUESTION: How does the Lutheran Church see the Emmaus Community and the Walk to Emmaus? Are there any conflicts between the Lutheran Church and its teachings with the Emmaus Community?

ANSWER:As you perhaps are aware, "The Walk to Emmaus" is the title given in the Methodist church to renewal weekends or schools that have their origin in the Cursillo ["little school"] Movement.

The Cursillo Movement itself originated in the Catholic Church in Spain in the 1940s and spread to the U.S. in the 1950s. Other denominations have developed their own counterparts based on the Cursillo model.

The LCMS has not prepared a specific evaluation of The Walk to Emmaus from a Lutheran perspective. However, in recent years we at the LCMS International Center have received correspondence and calls from persons who have participated in or who have firsthand information on the retreats.

Among the concerns most often mentioned in the letters and calls received are the following: joint participation in Holy Communion (held daily) by individuals belonging to church bodies not in church fellowship with each other; Emmaus' objection to the discussion of denominational differences on the ground that this obscures unity in the body of Christ and must be viewed as "narrow" and "legalistic;" fostering a kind of "elitism" on the part of those who have participated in the Walk, in contrast to other members of local congregations who have not come to experience "Jesus as Lord;" the insistence on secrecy as to what happens during the weekend retreats; and, excessive focus on emotion, as participants "really experience" a new relationship with Jesus.

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QUESTION: I'm interested in Yoga and the practice of meditation (meditation meaning the quieting of the mind to allow the "voice of God" to enter). Is there anything in the church guidelines that discourages or forbids these practices?

ANSWER: Let us share briefly an LCMS perspective on the practice of Yoga (of which, of course, there are several forms — e.g., Karma, Bhakti, Juana, Raja).

While the initial stages of Yoga may be focused on physical exercises involved, Yoga has its roots in Hinduism and the philosophical aspects of Yoga are integral to it — something that becomes more apparent in more advanced stages.

In Hinduism, Yoga is a means of striving for personal salvation, the ultimate goal being the human soul's union with "the world soul."

In contrast to assumptions intrinsic to Yoga, Christianity teaches on the basis of the Holy Scriptures that salvation becomes the personal possession of an individual through faith alone in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world (Eph. 2:8-8).

And, spiritual enlightenment comes not through external bodily discipline, activities of the mind, or union with a divine "soul," but through the working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who hear the Word of God and receive the Sacraments (Lord's Supper, Baptism).

Jesus promised, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:25-27).

In summary, from our theological perspective, techniques of relaxation and/or exercise (mental as well as physical) are not, of course, problematic in and of themselves. But it is the religious aspects of a practice such as Yoga that raises concerns for Christians.

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Family, Marriage and Human Sexuality FAQs

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QUESTION: What is the LCMS policy regarding interdenominational or interfaith marriages? Is there anything that must be "promised" about children of these marriages?

ANSWER: The LCMS has no official position or "policy" regarding interdenominational marriages, but entrusts to its pastors the responsibility of counseling couples regarding issues such as this. A pastor in this situation may well want to discuss the serious issue of the spiritual nurture of children in such a "mixed marriage" and the complications and challenges involved, but the LCMS as such does not require that a member make specific "promises" in this regard.

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QUESTION: I am wondering what the LCMS position is on pastors performing outdoor weddings off of church grounds, say at a beach or a park? Is this allowed?

ANSWER: All legal marriages between one man and one woman are "honored" and recognized by the LCMS as valid and legitimate, regardless of the location under which the rite or ceremony took place.

Location of the marriage ceremony performed by a pastor is the decision of your pastor in concert with your congregation. You'll want to check with the pastor about the congregation's views about performing a wedding off church grounds.

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QUESTION: If an engaged couple has sex before marriage, is the child conceived still considered a blessing? Is the sexual act, though the couple loves each other and are promised to each other, still a sin?

ANSWER: In its report on Human Sexuality: A Theological Perspective, the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) says:

Sexual intercourse engaged in outside of the marriage relationship is forbidden by the Scriptures and must be condemned by the church (Gen. 2:24; 1 Thess. 4:2-5; cf. Gal. 5:19: Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Cor. 6:16-20). ... Even when the partners feel themselves united by a deep bond of love and intend to be married at some point in the future ("engagement"), the same judgment must be made.

The Bible also clearly teaches, of course, there is full and free forgiveness for all who repent of their sins and put their trust in God's Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:1; 1 John 1:8-9).

While Scripture teaches, secondly, all children born into this world (regardless of the circumstances of their conception) are by nature sinful and unclean (Ps. 51:5), God has provided a way (through Holy Baptism) for children to be cleansed from sin and forgiven.

God also makes it clear in His Word that all children are precious and highly valued in His sight and are to be regarded as a blessing (Ps. 127; Matt. 19:14). Thus, the CTCR says in its report on Human Sexuality:

... In the Christian tradition, the child has been regarded as a blessing from God (Ps. 127:3-5; 128:3) ... Christian parents have reason to look upon the birth of a child from their union as an occasion to have this child brought into the divine family and to nourish it as it grows to spiritual maturity. They have God's promise that He desires to have their child become an heir of eternal life and a member of His household through Holy Baptism. Theirs is the high privilege of joining in the common work of raising a child up in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, whose forgiveness enables us to live together in unselfish love toward each other.

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QUESTION: My fiancée and I want to get married in her Missouri Synod Lutheran church. I am a Methodist. We wanted to have my uncle, a Methodist minister, conduct the services.

The pastor at the local Lutheran church says this is not allowed and that he will be "the Shepherd of the service" — basically running the whole thing. He did say that my uncle could do a reading or give a blessing, but that would be about it.

We have been to several weddings at other churches where there would be two ministers from different denominations. They would both take part in the ceremony normally with the minister of the church they were in opening the ceremony, then the other minister giving the short sermon and doing the vows. At the end they both bless the marriage. This is something we would have liked to do.

We are all baffled at the fact that this is such an issue when we've seen it go so smoothly in other churches. I think many people are afraid they are going to hurt my feelings or something since it is my uncle we are talking about. That is certainly not the case.

It hurts me more that no one can give us a clear explanation than it would if someone would just say, "We don't believe you're uncle is a true man of God ... being Methodist."

It really makes me no difference; I respect other denominations and their rules and beliefs. I just want to know why.

ANSWER: The LCMS does not permit its pastors to co-officiate in the worship services of non-LCMS churches, nor does it permit non-LCMS clergy to co-officiate in LCMS worship services.

Though you may have seen co-officiating in other non-LCMS churches, you are asking to be married in an LCMS church. The rules of non-LCMS churches do not apply in LCMS churches.

The main reason we do not permit such exchange of ministers is because we are not in doctrinal agreement with other denominations, such as the Methodist Church. Thus, we cannot have any measure of confidence that a Methodist minister would preach and teach according to Lutheran doctrine.

In fact, it would be unfair to expect him/her to do so. Furthermore, in our opinion, to have a Methodist minister co-officiate at an LCMS service is to give the public impression that the LCMS and the Methodist Church are in doctrinal agreement or that there are no significant doctrinal differences between us. We do not want to mislead anyone on this score, so we refrain from participating in such joint, public worship.

By none of this do we intend to say that your uncle, as a Methodist minister, is not a "man of God." The Lutheran Church recognizes Methodist pastors as legitimate pastors of the Christian Church.

However, we can say that, on a number of points, what the Methodist Church teaches is contrary to the Scriptures, and we do not want that erroneous teaching present in LCMS churches, nor do we want to give the impression that those doctrinal differences don't matter. Thus, we do not invite Methodist ministers to officiate at LCMS worship services.

In the end, what is more important than what happens on your wedding day is your marriage and your future life together as Christians.

Have you taken the Adult Information Course at the Lutheran church so that you know something about your fiancée's faith? Has she taken that course at your church? Where will you attend church once you are married? In which faith do you plan to raise your children?

These are all questions that seem unimportant when planning a wedding, but they are crucial to real life together, after the wedding day. It is definitely to your advantage to work on these things now, and your pastors are there to help you do just that.

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QUESTION: I want to have the "Wedding March" from Richard Wagner's opera "Lohengrin" played at my wedding in an LCMS church but was told by the pastor that this was not allowed. I've researched the opera in question and can't seem to find any questionable context. What is the church's reasoning for this decision?

ANSWER: First of all, let me suggest that you ask the pastor for his rationale on this. He's the one who has made the decision, and so your questions should first be addressed to him.

Having said that, let me try to provide a little background on Wagner's operas and the history behind the ban of his music from some Lutheran parishes.

A hundred years ago or so (prior to World War I), our Synod was still predominately German in language and culture. Wagner's operas were big then, and there were basically two mitigating factors against using his music:

1) His operas depict pagan stories and themes;

2) Our Synod was against going to theater of any sort because of the perceivably unwholesome associations with actors and the "night life."

Today, however, if you asked the average LCMS pew-sitter where that piece of music came from and what it means, he or she likely wouldn't have a clue. Most would probably associate it with the children's jingle, "Here comes the bride, big, fat and wide!" (which would be another good reason not to use it!).

Having said all that, let me suggest that you not use Wagner's "Bridal March" anyway, for a few reasons.

First of all, you want to have a happy wedding ceremony and get along with the pastor. Contrary to popular perception, weddings are not at the top of many pastors' "like to do list."

They frequently involve a number of parties who have their exclusive wants and concerns, stress is usually running high because of the preparations and the desire for "the perfect wedding," and as a result, the key players are often not disposed to working on things together and by consensus.

It needs to be understood at the outset, however, that the pastor is in charge of what goes into the service. He should have final say on everything, but it should be in mutual consultation with the bride and groom. You need to work together with him on all of the arrangements, and the "Wedding March" may not be "the hill to die on."

Secondly, your marriage itself is infinitely more important than your wedding day. Married couples frequently link the success of their future marriage with the success of their wedding day. That's understandable, but realize that this is only one day of many, many days of holy matrimony to follow. And those days will count infinitely more than the first!

And finally, the weightiest reason not to use Wagner's "Bridal March," is that there is so much better music out there to be used at weddings than this vastly overused piece. If you want your wedding to be unique, pick something different from the standard bridal march. The organist should have a great selection from which to choose.

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QUESTION: How is divorce viewed in the LCMS?

ANSWER: The LCMS believes divorce is contrary to God's original design and intention for marriage. While divorce can be justified scripturally in certain situations (adultery or desertion), it is always preferable for couples to forgive and work toward healing and strengthening their marriage.

Because no two situations are alike, LCMS pastors deal on a case-by-case basis with members (or potential members) who are wrestling with the issue of (past or present) divorce.

The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the LCMS has prepared a report called Divorce and Remarriage, which discusses the Bible passages and theological principles underlying the Synod's perspective on this issue.

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QUESTION: In light of all the recent publicity about same-sex marriage, where does the LCMS stand on the issue?

ANSWER: God gave marriage as a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride the Church (Eph. 5:32). Homosexual behavior is prohibited in the Old and New Testaments (Lev. 18:22, 24, 20:13; 1 Cor. 6:9–20; 1 Tim. 1:10) as contrary to the Creator’s design (Rom. 1:26–27).

The LCMS affirms that such behavior is "intrinsically sinful" and that, “on the basis of Scripture, marriage [is] the lifelong union of one man and one woman (Gen. 2:2-24; Matt. 19:5-6)” (2004 Res. 3-05A).

It has also urged its members “to give a public witness from Scripture against the social acceptance and legal recognition of homosexual ‘marriage’ ” (2004 Res. 3-05A).

At the same time, the Synod firmly believes "the redeeming love of Christ, which rescues humanity from sin, death, and the power of Satan, is offered to all through repentance and faith in Christ, regardless of the nature of their sinfulness” (1992 Res. 3-12A).

The Synod developed a Law/Gospel ministry plan for use in ministry to those who are troubled by homosexual desires, Ministry to Homosexuals and Their Families.

The Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations has prepared a report titled Human Sexuality: A Theological Perspective that discusses the issue of homosexuality on pages 32-36.

Another resource addressing the matter of same-sex relationships available online is the document Theological Implications of the 2009 ELCA Decisions.

There is additional information found in the Frequently Asked Questions on Homosexuality.

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QUESTION: What is the Missouri Synod's response to homosexuality?

ANSWER: The Missouri Synod believes the Bible teaches homosexual behavior is contrary to God's Word and will, and the LCMS seeks to minister to those who are struggling with homosexual inclinations.

In 1992, the LCMS adopted Res. 3-12A To Develop a Plan for Ministry to Homosexuals and Their Families. This resolution reads as follows:

Whereas, Many voices in our society as well as in various church bodies are expressing the view today that homophile behavior is acceptable alternative lifestyle; and

Whereas, The Word of God clearly condemns homophile behavior in Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:26-27, and 1 Cor. 6:9; and

Whereas, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in convention in 1973 stated: "That the Synod recognizes homophile behavior as intrinsically sinful"; and

Whereas, The Commission on Theology and Church Relations document on Human Sexuality: A Theological Perspective, states, "Whatever the causes of such a condition may be ... homosexual orientation is profoundly 'unnatural' without implying that such a person's sexual orientation is a matter of conscious, deliberate choice. However, this fact cannot be used by the homosexual as an excuse to justify homosexual behavior. As a sinful human being, the homosexual is accountable to God for homosexual thoughts, words and deeds." (Human Sexuality, A Theological Perspective, p. 35); and

Whereas, The redeeming love of Christ, which rescues humanity from sin, death, and the power of Satan, is offered to all through repentance and faith in Christ, regardless of the natures of their sinfulness; and

Whereas, The need exists to make available a carefully developed Law/Gospel ministry plan to congregations and other institutions in order to minister to those who are troubled by their homosexuality; and

Whereas, It is necessary for the church to expose and resist the sexual idolatry of our society; therefore be it

Resolved, That The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in convention, reaffirms the position it stated in 1973, "That the Synod recognizes homophile behavior as intrinsically sinful"; and be it further

Resolved, That the President of the Synod direct the appropriate boards and commissions to develop a plan for ministry usable by congregations, campus ministries, institutions, and agencies in the Synod, for the purpose of providing biblical and Gospel-oriented ministry to persons troubled by being homophile in their sexual orientations and to their families; and be it finally

Resolved, That the goals to be pursued by such a plan for ministry be

  1. to offer to our world biblically alternative models of sexual celibacy outside of a committed, permanent heterosexual marriage and same-gender social, but not genitally sexual, deep friendships;
  2. to confront the individual with his/her sinfulness, and call him/her to repentance;
  3. to help the individual recognize that God can rescue individuals from homosexual orientation and practice;
  4. to assure him/her of forgiveness in Christ, contingent upon sincere repentance and faith in Christ, and to assure him/her of the love and acceptance of the church;
  5. to assist the individual to rely on Christ's love and strength to abstain from homophile behavior;
  6. to help the individual to bear his/her burden without fear of recrimination and rejections by his/her sisters and brothers in Christ;
  7. to find ways of ministering to families which include persons of homophile orientation;
  8. to do all this patiently, persistently, and compassionately in the love and Spirit of Christ, who says, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

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QUESTION: Is homosexuality accepted in the LCMS, and can a practicing homosexual serve in any position in your church?

ANSWER: The position of the LCMS, repeatedly affirmed, is that homophile behavior is intrinsically sinful, expressly condemned as immoral by the Scriptures.

For policy regarding homosexuality and service in public offices of the Synod, we refer you to guidelines adopted by the Council of Presidents for addressing instances of homosexuality in the lives of professional church workers, in which procedures are outlined for dealing with various cases.

Read the Commission on Theology and Church Relation's 1983 report on Human Sexuality: A Theological Perspective.

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QUESTION: What is the Synod's view on masturbation? Are there any references to self-pleasurement in the Bible? I was asked this question, and I did not know how to respond other than, "I know it cannot be right in God's eyes." However, I do not have any theological proof. Can you help?

ANSWER: In its report on Human Sexuality, the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations says the following regarding masturbation: To view our sexuality in the context of a personal relationship of mutual love and commitment in marriage helps us to evaluate the practice of masturbation.

Quite clearly, chronic masturbation falls short of the Creator's intention — for our use of the gift of sexuality, namely, that our sexual drives should be oriented toward communion with another person in the mutual love and commitment of marriage.

By its very nature, masturbation separates sexual satisfaction from the giving and receiving of sexual intercourse in the marital union and is symptomatic of the tendency of human beings to turn in upon themselves for the satisfaction of their desires.

In childhood, masturbation may often be a form of temporary experimentation. However, children of God are warned against the voluntary indulgence of sexual fantasies as endangering faith and spiritual life.

Such inordinate desires are clearly called sin by our Lord (Matt. 5:27). As the child grows and matures, youthful lusts and fantasies (2 Tim. 2:22) are left behind.

For those who are troubled by guilt and who seek God's help in overcoming problems in this area, pastors and Christian counselors need to stand ready to offer Christ's forgiveness, remind them of the power of the Holy Spirit to help them lead "a chaste and decent life in word and deed," and hold before them the joys of remaining faithful to what God's Word teaches about His intention for the good gift of sexuality.

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QUESTION: Should an LCMS pastor marry an older couple without a wedding license?

ANSWER: The Synod does not have any published resources that we are aware of regarding the specific matter of older couples living together apart from marriage.

The closest thing, resource wise, is the pamphlet prepared by Dr. Barry some years ago: What  About … Living Together Without Marriage?

It makes reference to older couples very briefly in its discussion of why living together apart from marriage is immoral.

“All of this is another way of stating the obvious: Men and women are not to live together as husband and wife, unless they actually are husband and wife. This is as true for 80-year-olds as it is for 18-year-olds.”

The Commission on Theology and Church Relations is working on the many troubling and challenging issues that are facing Christian men and women in today’s culture, including the idea of older couples who are living together. While this is nothing official, here are a few thoughts.

Part of the issue in such cases is whether a couple is living “as husband and wife.” One can imagine a situation in which a male and female share a certain amount of living space — when one rents from another or they share expenses for a house — but they do not portray themselves in any way as married, are not considered so by others, and so forth.

It still presents potential problems of perception, but one ought to acknowledge that such a circumstance is not the same as a couple that is simply avoiding legal marriage for the sake of financial gain.

Another issue arises when an older couple seeks to contract a “quasi-marriage” in which, for the sake of pension or Social Security benefits, they engage in the typical behaviors of a married couple other than legal licensing. This contradicts Christian teaching about godly living in several ways:

  1. It is dishonest (Eighth Commandment).

  2. Its specific dishonesty is that it portrays itself as the institution of marriage when it is not (Sixth Commandment). (Obviously, if the couple is sexually active, living without marriage is not “chaste and decent.” Living together without marriage also involves some measure of failing to honor the other person or the relationship—seeking to live with a minimum of sacrifice rather than a willingness to accept the sacrifices marriage always entails.)

  3. It avoids the responsibility of marriage toward the wider society, which includes the state (Fourth Commandment). (Christians have a responsibility as citizens to support a well-ordered society, which includes obedience to the licensing or ordering of such activities as marriage. The alternative is more of the chaos that is currently troubling society.)

  4. It involves financial dishonesty (Seventh Commandment) because it places burdens on others in claiming benefits which were not designed (or funded) for such circumstances. (When we pay into a pension or into Social Security, the costs are determined by assumptions about claims, e.g., that a widow should be able to claim her deceased husband’s benefit because she is maintaining a household alone, and that if she is able to share the costs in a new marriage, then she is only eligible to the benefits that she earned and is no longer eligible to receive the additional benefit that her deceased husband earned. When such “rules” are violated, the costs to the entire system go up and, eventually, others must pay more or others will lose benefits.)

  5. Above all, such arrangements reveal a desire to place ourselves and our perceived well-being above God and His gracious will for our lives (First Commandment).

All this, of course, is so much Law, and the pastoral concern is never one which simply speaks the Law for its own sake. As you seek to minister, you are faced with the challenge of shepherding a dear child of God who is living amid one of many temptations in life.

It seems to be very important to try to communicate several things in such situations. If a couple wants us to “bless a quasi-marriage,” then we cannot do so in good conscience.

Yet, we do understand financial constraints, loneliness, and so forth and our Lord understands them even better (“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” John 4:29). When He calls us to a higher life, He does so with compassion, forgiveness and the strength to sustain us in every way.

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Life Issues FAQs

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QUESTION: What is the Missouri Synod's view of abortion?

ANSWER: The LCMS believes that abortion is contrary to God's Word and "is not a moral option, except as a tragically unavoidable byproduct of medical procedures necessary to prevent the death of another human being, viz., the mother" (1979 Res. 3-02A).

Official synodical resolutions and other materials on this topic are available from the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR).

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QUESTION: What is the Synod's position on cloning, whether of an animal or of human beings?

ANSWER: At its 1998 convention, the Synod adopted a resolution in which it "reject[ed] without reservation as contrary to God's Word any technique or method of human cloning that results in the destruction of human embryos or the creation of human embryos for the purposes of fetal tissue research or organ harvesting or transplantation."

In the same resolution, the Synod asked its Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) to prepare a report "to help the church, on the basis of the Word of God, make informed ethical judgments concerning cloning and attendant issues."

If you haven’t already done so, you may want to read the CTCR’s report titled, What Child Is This?: Marriage, Family & Human Cloning.

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QUESTION: What is the Missouri Synod's position on cremation?

ANSWER: The LCMS has no official position on cremation. Cremation is increasing in favor, in part because of space limitations in some cemeteries and because of health considerations.

The primary reason for the increase in cremations is economic, however, since it avoids such costs as the purchase of coffins and cemetery plots and substantially lowers the expense of a funeral.

Some Christians continue to oppose cremation, noting that cremation is never referred to positively in the Bible.

It is true that early Christians rejected cremation and preferred burial because Jesus Himself was buried and because Greek philosophy looked down on the physical creation and thought that only souls, not bodies, survived death. The Christian burial of bodies was viewed as a way to proclaim the belief that our bodies will be raised from the dead.

In their textbook Pastoral Theology (used at our Synod's seminaries), LCMS Pastors Norbert H. Mueller and George Kraus offer this perspective:

"Not too long ago, the church viewed cremation negatively. Because the general public associated the practice with heathen religions and/or an attempt to disprove the possibility of the resurrection, Christians were reluctant to consider it. In itself, the practice has no theological significance and may be used in good conscience.”

Synod’s Lutheran Service Book Agenda, approved by the LCMS in convention, includes an instruction (rubric) for the committal of a person’s ashes, encouraging burial or interment and discouraging the scattering of the ashes.

Those Christians facing the death of a loved one or planning their own funerals are always encouraged to consider the opportunity a Christian’s funeral offers to give witness to our faith in Jesus Christ’s victory over death and His promise of the resurrection of our bodies for eternal life (John 6:40, 44, 54).

It is therefore beneficial, as we face such occasions and the decisions they involve, to seek our pastor’s support, advice, and counsel regarding the entirety of the funeral, including the question of cremation.

However, this is a matter of Christian freedom, and no Christian who chooses to have a loved one cremated rather than buried should be led to think that such a decision is sinful or in opposition to the Word of God.

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QUESTION: What does the Missouri Synod believe with regard to euthanasia?

ANSWER: At the 1995 synodical convention, the Synod delegates adopted resolution 6-02 titled "To Speak Out against Legalization of Assisted Suicide" (euthanasia) which reads as follows:

Whereas, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod affirms the sanctity of human life and recognizes the reality of human suffering; and

Whereas, Any attempt to legalize assisted suicide is an affront to the Lord, who gives life, and opens the door for abuse and future legislation that would deny the freedom of many; and

Whereas, Suffering and depression are also opportunities for helping, healing, encouragement, and hope through the Gospel; and

Whereas, Physicians in particular have a responsibility to sustain and promote life; and

Whereas, We respect the individual's right to refuse treatment or to forbid life-support systems by a prior directive and to be allowed to die; therefore be it

Resolved, That The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in convention express its objection to medical personnel having any part in actively inducing death, even at the patient's request or at the request of the family; and be it further

Resolved, That the Gospel be applied to situations of suffering and depression as opportunities to help, heal, encourage, and provide hope; and be it finally

Resolved, That the Synod speak out against any attempt to legalize physician-assisted suicide and encourage its pastors and people to do the same.

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QUESTION: What is the LCMS position on organ donation? Is there any help on this issue in the Bible?

ANSWER: The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod encourages organ donation as an act of Christian love, but this choice is entirely up to the individual and/or his or her family, and should not be a cause of guilt or regret no matter what decision is made.

The Bible has nothing specific to say regarding this issue. Therefore, it is a matter of Christian freedom and personal (or family) discretion.

In 1981, the Synod adopted Resolution 8-05: To Encourage Donation of Kidneys and Other Organs as follows:

Whereas, We accept and believe that our Lord Jesus came to give life and to give it abundantly (John 10:10); and

Whereas, Through advances in medical science we are aware that at the time of death some of our organs can be transplanted to alleviate pain and suffering of afflicted human beings (see Gal. 6:10); and

Whereas, Our Heavenly Father has created us so that we can adequately and safely live with one kidney and can express our love and relive the unnecessary prolonged suffering of our relative; and

Whereas, We have an opportunity to help others out of love for Christ, through the donation of organs; therefore be it

Resolved, That our pastors, teachers, and Directors of Christian Education be encouraged to inform the members of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod of the opportunity to sign a Universal Donor Card (which is to authorize the use of our needed organs at the time of death in order to relieve the suffering of individuals requiring organ transplants); and be it further

Resolved, That we encourage family members to become living kidney donors; and be it further

Resolved, That the program committees of pastors and teachers conferences be encouraged to include "organ and tissue transplants" as a topic on their agendas; and be it finally

Resolved, That the Board of Social Ministry and World Relief seek ways to implement this program so that the entire Synod may join in this opportunity to express Christian concern.

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QUESTION: What is the LCMS’ stance on suicide? If a person commits suicide, can his/her funeral be held in the church? Does the LCMS believe that the person is condemned to hell since after suicide there is no way to ask for forgiveness?

ANSWER: The Synod does not have an official position regarding the eternal state of individuals who have committed suicide, though theologians of the Synod have commented from time to time on pastoral questions that often arise in such cases.

Since the spiritual condition of an individual upon death is known only to God, our theologians have proceeded cautiously in making judgments in this regard. LCMS pastor and author Otto E. Sohn, for example, has stated:

"Assuredly we would not wish to judge anyone who resorts to self-destruction. It is impossible for us to plumb the depths of gloom into which even Christian people may sink and irresponsibly lay unholy hands upon themselves. Perhaps the Lord will not hold them responsible, but we do not know." (What's the AnswerConcordia Publishing House, 1960, p. 144).

"I don't have the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil."

Luther goes on, however, to express concern that this statement not be misunderstood or misused in a way that would downplay the danger and seriousness of this sin in the minds of people (Luther's Works, American Edition, Vol. 54, p. 29).

With regard to burial services for those who have committed suicide, here again the Synod has no "official position," but entrusts to its pastors the responsibility of making caring and responsible decisions after weighing all of the relevant factors in each individual circumstance.

In the book Pastoral Theology (ed. by Norbert H. Mueller and George Kraus, CPH, 1990, p. 156), used at our Synod's seminaries, the following counsel is given:

Before consenting to officiate at the funeral of a suicide victim, the pastor will want to make a full inquiry — not so much for a reason to avoid the question of officiating as to find a reason (even if weak) to accept the opportunity.

Especially important in such situations is the state of mind of the deceased and whether the deceased was aware of what he/she was doing. Other important factors that need to be evaluated by the pastor along with the congregation's elders are the following:

As in the previous discussion, the service benefits the living and is part of the congregation's witness. Death is especially difficult for the bereaved of the suicide of a loved one.

Usually the family feels a tremendous burden of guilt that an excessively judgmental pastor only exacerbates by refusing to officiate. No one can determine with certainty the faith (or lack of it) in another person.

People have been heard to say even at the funeral a church member, "If the pastor only knew ... ."

On the other hand, when the deceased's ongoing life and the circumstances of his death manifest an absence of faith in Christ, the pastor cannot conduct a Christian burial service which offers the comfort of the hope of salvation for the one who has died.

What and how much will the pastor say in his sermon? Would the pastor have to explain away or excuse his participation in the funeral? How clearly can he point to the incarnate Lord who invites all to cast their burdens upon Him? Is the family asking/insisting that the service be conducted in the sanctuary, with everything that implies?

The pastor, with the congregational elders, will need a mutually-drafted general policy, based on sound theological principles, to govern the funeral for a victim of suicide — a policy that still will have to be applied to each situation. As the pastor wrestles with any difficult case, he will find it especially helpful to consult with fellow pastors.

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QUESTION: How should I talk with children about the death of a family member and about death in general?

ANSWER: First, it is important to be honest. The Bible presents death as a tragic "reality of life" in a fallen world, and children (like adults) need to know and understand this.

The prospect and reality of death, of course, can be frightening, sad and painful for children as well as for adults.

Therefore (secondly) children also need the reassurance of the Gospel message, communicated in clear and simple language that they can understand. They need to know that Jesus himself experienced death on the cross to win victory for us over sin, death and the devil (Rom. 4:25; Col. 2:15).

He rose triumphantly on Easter morning, and by His resurrection has defeated death forever (1 Corinthians 15). Through His Word and Sacraments, He now shares his victory with all who believe (Rom. 6:4-5; Luke 22:17-18).

All those who trust in Jesus, who are baptized into his death and resurrection, will live forever with him in heaven, where there is no more pain, suffering or death (Rev. 21:1-4).

When Jesus comes again, we will be re-united with our Christian loved ones and with all believers to enjoy life in heaven forever with our loving, living Savior (John 11:23-27).

By the power of God's Spirit working through Word and Sacrament, children, too, can cling with strong and simple faith to the precious promises God gives us regarding Christ's victory over sin and death (John 11:25-26; John 14:2-3; John 14:19, etc.).

Sharing, memorizing and discussing these promises (and singing about them in treasured Easter hymns and songs) are wonderful ways of helping children deal with the death of a family member or with more general concerns about death.

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The Bible FAQs

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QUESTION: What is the LCMS position regarding the age of the earth? Must we accept literally the creation account that points in the direction of a relatively young earth, given the amount of scientific evidence that concludes the earth's age to be in the billions of years?

ANSWER: The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod does not have an official position on the precise "age of the earth," since the Bible itself does not tell us how old the earth is.

Nor is it the Synod's position that everything in the Bible is to be understood "literally." There is much in the Bible that clearly purports not to be understood literally — but this must be determined by the Bible itself, not by science or human reason. There is nothing in the Bible itself to suggest that the creation account is not meant to be taken literally.

The Synod has affirmed the belief, therefore, based on Scripture's account of creation in the book of Genesis and other clear passages of Scripture, that "God by the almighty power of His Word created all things in six days by a series of creative acts," that "Adam and Eve were real, historical human beings, the first two people in the world," and that "we must confess what St. Paul says in Rom. 5:12" about the origin of sin through Adam as described in Genesis 3 (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31).

The Synod has also, therefore, stated that it rejects "all those world views, philosophical theories, exegetical interpretations and other hypotheses which pervert these biblical teachings and thus obscure the Gospel" (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31).

At the same time, the Synod firmly believes there can be no actual contradiction between genuine scientific truth and the Bible. When it comes to the issue of the age of the earth, several possibilities exist for "harmonizing" Biblical teachings with scientific studies (e.g., God created the world in an already "mature" state so scientific "data" leads one to the conclusion that it is older than it actually is, etc.).

Numerous books are available that discuss these issues in more detail. One of these is Studies in Creation by John Klotz (1985), available by contacting Concordia Publishing House (800-325-3040 or www.cph.org) and asking for stock no. 12-3004.

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QUESTION: My 4-year-old son wants to know if he will see his dog when he dies and goes to heaven. Will he? Do I tell him that even though God created all the animals, too, people are the only ones that go to heaven?

ANSWER: In the "Q&A" column of the January 1995 issue of the Northwestern Lutheran (the official periodical of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod), Rev. John Brug gives the following helpful response to the question, "Will there be animals in heaven?"

Since animals do not have immortal souls, we might think the answer is no. Several facts, however, make one hesitant to be satisfied with a simple "no."

Our eternal home is a new earth (Is. 65:17ff, 2 Peter 3:13, Rev. 21:1). Is. 65:25 speaks of it as a place in which the wolf and the lamb live together peacefully.

This may be figurative language, but one other passage suggests animals might be in our eternal home. Rom. 8:21 says that "the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage."

In this present, sin-cursed world, we inflict suffering on animals, and they inflict suffering on us. At Christ's coming, when this world is freed from the effects of sin, animals, too, will be freed from suffering.

That text also says the creation will be "brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."

That might mean there may be plants and animals in the new earth as there were in the first earth. If there are animals on the new earth, they will be good creatures of God as the animals of the first earth were.

In short, the answer is a cautious "maybe."

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QUESTION: I was raised in the Lutheran church, believing that the Bible stories we learned were literally true. Since our transfer to Louisiana, I had been attending a Methodist church because there is no Lutheran church in this area. A lay leader has been telling us that the story of Jonah is a fictional story, not true. What does the Lutheran church teach with respect to this and other stories in the Old Testament?

ANSWER: It is true that there are different kinds of literature in the Scriptures including such things as poetry, wisdom literature, historical narrative, apocalyptic literature and perhaps others. However, unless there is some reason not to, the words of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament are to be taken literally.

With respect to the matter of Jonah, there is no indication in the text that the account is not to be taken literally.

In fact, it would seem that our Lord, Jesus, took it literally as he spoke of his death and resurrection. He pointed out that as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man would be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

While I see no reason for or indication of the fact that the account regarding Jonah as well as many other accounts of incidents in the Old Testament are not to be taken literally, it is perhaps best to concentrate on the purpose of the recording of these accounts.

In the case of Jonah, it is clear God was intending to point out that He is a God of grace and mercy who will forgive and spare those who turn to Him and that He is the Lord and Deliverer not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles.

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QUESTION: Which translation of the Bible has been officially adopted by the LCMS? Since we, as Lutherans, believe the Bible to be our infallible guide, which guide should we be using — KJV, NIV, RSV, Living Bible, Phillips, etc.?

ANSWER: The LCMS has not "adopted" nor does it officially promote any particular translation of the Bible. Each translation must be judged by its faithfulness to the original texts (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) in which Scripture was originally written, and by its helpfulness in communicating what the Bible actually says in language that people today (of various cultures, languages and dialects) can understand.

A helpful discussion of this issue is contained in an article written by LCMS professor Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs titled All Those Translations! which appeared in the November 1998 issue of The Lutheran Witness.

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QUESTION: I'm interested in how the LCMS came to the view of inerrancy of the Bible since the evidence is overwhelming that Martin Luther rejected the notion of Biblical inerrancy.

ANSWER: Luther said the following in the Large Catechism: "We know that God does not lie. My neighbor and I — in short, all men — may err and deceive, but God's Word cannot err" ( LC IV, 57).

Again he states in the Large Catechism, "If you cannot feel the need, therefore, at least believe the Scriptures. They will not lie to you, and they know your flesh better than you yourself do" (LC V, 76).

Luther's view on this question is summarized by the Lutheran Cyclopedia as follows: "Scripture remained [Luther's] sole authority. Though many things in the Bible puzzled and amazed him, he admitted no error in its original MSS. At the same time he emphasized the human part in its writing."

The Lutheran position on the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures was first developed by the Lutheran dogmaticians (theologians) of the 17th century.

For a review of this teaching and its roots following the period of the Reformation see Robert Preus, The Inspiration of Scripture in the Concordia Heritage Series (Edinburgh, 1955), 76-87. See also "F. The Infallibility of Scripture" in A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles.

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QUESTION: As a Methodist living in a new town, I have found a local LCMS church where I feel comfortable and fed. Seeking information, I have looked over your pages on the net and have developed some questions. The connection between the antichrist and pope are unclear to me. Do you believe the pope is the only enemy?

ANSWER: The LCMS does not teach, nor has it ever taught, that any individual Pope as a person, is to be identified with the Antichrist. The historic view of LCMS on the Antichrist is summarized as follows by the Synod's Theological Commission:

The New Testament predicts that the church throughout its history will witness many antichrists (Matt. 24:5, 23-24; Mark 13:6, 21-22; Luke 21:8; 1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3; 2 John 7). All false teachers who teach contrary to Christ's Word are opponents of Christ and, insofar as they do so, are anti-Christ.

However, the Scriptures also teach that there is one climactic "Anti-Christ" (Dan. 7:8, 11, 20-21, 24-25, 11:36-45; 2 Thess. 2; 1 John 2:18, 4:3; Rev. 17-18) ... Concerning the historical identity of the Antichrist, we affirm the Lutheran Confessions' identification of the Antichrist with the office of the papacy whose official claims continue to correspond to the Scriptural marks listed above.

It is important, however, that we observe the distinction which the Lutheran Confessors made between the office of the pope (papacy) and the individual men who fill that office. The latter could be Christians themselves. We do not presume to judge any person's heart.

Also, we acknowledge the possibility that the historical form of the Antichrist could change. Of course, in that case another identified by these marks would rise.

In a footnote, the Commission adds:

To the extent that the papacy continues to claim as official dogma the canons and decrees of the Council of Trent which expressly anathematizes, for instance, the doctrine "that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake, or that it is that trust alone by which we are justified," the judgment of the Lutheran Confessional writings that the papacy is the Antichrist holds. At the same time, of course, we must recognize the possibility, under God's guidance, that contemporary discussions and statements (e.g., 1983 U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue statement on "Justification by Faith") could lead to a revision of the Roman Catholic position regarding Tridentine dogma.

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