So Many Denominations, but THIS Is Why I’m WELS Lutheran…

Several years back, the United Methodist Church launched a multimillion dollar advertising campaign, targeting young Americans, with the slogan “Open Minds. Open Hearts. Open Doors.”  I was reminded of this as my wife mentioned to me she heard a UMC promotional ad run while listening to Spotify Radio the other day.  If you don’t know, Spotify is a music listening tool aimed primarily at young Facebook users – precisely the demographic the UMC is now attempting to reach.

The Methodist Church has dropped approximately 3 million members in the past 40 years or so (from 11 to 8 million members).  Thus, the massive advertising efforts.

Some would look at the “Open Minds. Open Hearts. Open Doors.” motto and suggest that it’s a beautiful depiction of God’s unconditional and inviting love.  They would even point to various national awards the slogan has won as validation that it is a good tagline.  Others, cynics, might say that this motto was simply abbreviated from the longer slogan which included “Open Closets, Open Biblical Interpretation, and Open to Multiple Pathways to Salvation.”

To be fair, in official documentation, in their Book of Discipline, the UMC has repeatedly reaffirmed “homosexual practice” to be “incompatible with Christian teaching” consistently since 1972.  But in practice, the UMC has more often than not simply tried to avoid such taboo cultural questions.  And when official votes have been taken on such issues, the results have been, by no means, overwhelming.

Having now read a number of documents and blogs by Methodist members, it’s clear to me that those within the Methodist Church perceive it, to a degree, as a church without an identity, a body that doesn’t know what it stands for anymore.  This is all a little strange to me since I personally feel that one of the main reasons why I’m a pastor in the church body that I’m in today is because of the brilliant teaching of the man often credited as the theological father of the Methodist Church – John Wesley.

So how did studying John Wesley affirm my Confessional Lutheran beliefs?  In my second year of systematic theology at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Prof. Rich Gurgel exposed me to something called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  Fortunately for me, as I’d had to no math courses since high school, this quadrilateral had nothing to do with geometry, but theology.  The term “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” was actually coined by Albert Outler, but was based on Wesley’s teaching.

In simple terms, John Wesley stated that the reason why we all arrive at the theological conclusions that we do is based on what we emphasize as authoritative while we’re forming our doctrinal beliefs.  There are four pillars that every Christian (and Christian denomination) use to filter their beliefs – 1) the Bible, 2) Tradition/Church History, 3) Reason, and 4) Personal Experience.  Every single Christian church or church body emphasizes these to differing degrees when they establish their beliefs.  This understanding of biblical interpretation is THE reason why you see so many different denominations out there.

I learned this Wesleyan Quadrilateral thing at about the same time that I’d started dating a girl named Adrian (now my wife) who’d had an Assembly of God background, furthering my curiosity about other denominations.  When I figured out that you could use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to graph churches and what they emphasize in doctrine relative to other churches, I did.  I started looking very carefully at different denominations’ theological backgrounds and confessions of faith and charted them.

Let me give you a brief glance at what I’m talking about, with some explanation.  Now bear in mind, EVERY Christian denomination, by definition of them being Christian, is going to use the Bible.  Therefore, it is not sufficient to say that “we use the Bible to form our beliefs.”  Don’t be fooled when people say that.  The question is whether or not any additional factors strongly influence your doctrine.

The Roman Catholic Church certainly accepts the Bible as the inspired Word of God.  Nonetheless, church leadership is perceived to have the right to repeatedly reinterpret what Scripture says.  The Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility would suggest that church leadership has the same weight and authority as the Bible itself does.  The problem with that, of course, is that everyone, including the RCC would freely admit that humans are flawed and sinful, and therefore even humans in important and influential positions can and do make mistakes.  The RCC has openly acknowledged mistakes in church history by church leadership (e.g. Sale of indulgences; Spanish Inquisition).  If you truly believe that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, but that humans make mistakes, wouldn’t that naturally suggest that it is a dangerous position to take in suggesting that the pope holds the same type of authority that the Bible itself does?  For the two to be on equal levels of authority, then the pope must be perfect (which he is not) or the Bible must be imperfect (which it attests it is not – 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).  Since all humans, even church leaders past and present, are flawed, they must necessarily be weighted less in the formation of doctrine in order for us to have a correct biblical interpretation.

While I’m certainly speaking in general terms here, churches that strongly emphasize the spiritual gifts of individuals often have a tendency to overemphasize individuals at the expense of the individual (Jesus).  They additionally tend to come out of an Arminian theological background which places a great deal of importance on free will and personal decisions.  Most Arminians will be able to tell you the date on which “I made my decision for Jesus”, a teaching that would fly in the face of what the Apostle Paul says about us all being spiritually dead by nature (Eph. 2:1-10).  Charismatics value feeling the power of Christ in your life.  But the reality is that we all know our feelings have led us down dangerous paths before, and therefore, we cannot trust them wholeheartedly.  Some days I might feel like the greatest Christian on the planet.  Other days I might feel like the worst heathen there is.  But my perception of self counts little towards my eternal welfare.  In other words, my status before God is not ultimately based upon what I feel.  It’s based upon God’s verdict of me through Jesus (Rom. 8:1).  Since feelings are part of the flawed and fallen human state, they must necessarily be weighted less in the formation of doctrine in order for us to have a correct biblical interpretation.

Reformed churches generally practice the theology of John Calvin, one of the major players in the Protestant Reformation.  Calvin was originally trained as a humanist lawyer and his humanist leanings are often reflected in his theology.  For instance, Calvin believed that the thing which separates us humans from animals, aside from our souls, is our intellect, our rational capacity.  Therefore, he also tended to believe that God would not present anything in the Bible that was beyond the realm of man’s logic.  This led Calvin to such teachings as his famous “Double Predestination” – the idea that God predetermined the eternal destiny of every human being, choosing some to eternal life through Christ, and others to everlasting punishment for their sin.  The troublesome implication here is that this understanding of God’s foreknowledge turns God into an ogre who capriciously and arbitrarily sentences some to heaven and some to hell.  The even bigger problem is that while double predestination sounds somewhat logical (since the Bible does certainly speak of predestination – Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:5; 1 Peter 1:1-2), it is NOT biblical.  You will find no part of the Bible that talks about God foreordaining anyone to go to hell.  In fact, you’ll find the opposite, that God wants all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).  This is clear evidence that Reformed theology relies too heavily upon reason in the formation of doctrine.  Since reason is part of the flawed and fallen human state, it must necessarily be weighted less in the formation of doctrine in order for us to have a correct biblical interpretation.

I won’t spend too much time here, but Mainline Protestant denominations have been bleeding a slow death in membership for many years now, in part, because they don’t know what they stand for anymore.  When you compromise the Bible as even one of your true authorities, you lose yourself as a church.  As liberal theology crept into Mainline Protestantism in the 20th century, teachings like the Creation Account, the Global Flood, Predictive Prophecy, and really anything of a miraculous nature, including belief in Jesus’ actual physical resurrection, was lost almost entirely in many churches.

As I mentioned earlier, the irony behind this for Methodists is that they still promote the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  See for yourself.  The dilemma, however, is that Wesley himself was not suggesting that all four pillars (Bible, Tradition, Reason, Experience) should contribute equally to your formation of doctrine, only that they do contribute to every church’s doctrine.  The more Methodist literature you read today though, the more you get the impression that, as with many Mainline Protestant churches, all four of these pillars contribute rather equally to what they believe.

This is why I’m WELS Lutheran.  The church I belong to and pastor in learns from the faith of the saints who have gone before us (Heb. 13:7), but also recognizes that these leaders were great not because of their perfect faithfulness, but because of their profession of Christ’s faithfulness.  Therefore, traditions, customs, and rituals developed by leaders of previous generations, while helpful, are not mandated by God nor should they be elevated to the status and authority of God’s Word.  Additionally, the church I belong to and pastor in values reason as a blessing from God for applying his Word to our lives (James 1:22) and for subduing his creation (Gen. 1:28), but also recognizes that it would be inappropriate to subjugate the Bible to flawed human reason, especially since there are undeniably “hidden” components of God’s Holy Will (Isaiah 45:15).  And finally, the church I belong to and pastor in values personal experience.  We regularly encourage Christians to tell of the great things that God has done for us (Deut. 3:24) and to use the resources the gospel gives us for humility and confidence and perspective and optimism (Rom. 8:28).  But my church also recognizes that a sinner, even a believing one, living in a sinful world, is going to experience highs and lows and that whether I feel God in my life or not, I can know he’s there (Matt. 28:20).

As I was studying to become a pastor, I became very sensitive to this question: Was I becoming a Confessional Lutheran minister simply because this is the faith I was raised in and spoon fed?  Was this merely the path of least resistance?  Through comparative denominational study, I became convinced that what I have here in this particular church body is a very unique, very healthy approach to biblical interpretation.  It’s an approach that acknowledges both the inerrancy of the Bible and the potential pitfalls of Church Tradition, Human Reason, and Personal Experience, and thereby identifies the Bible as the clear and supreme authority by which we formulate our beliefs.  I’m certainly not suggesting that this would be the only church body in which you’d find true believers; wherever the gospel is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is working and winning hearts (Rom. 10:17).  But if God is known most decidedly through his inspired Word, then it only makes sense that I’d want to be in a church that had the safest, healthiest approach to interpreting that Word.

People choose the church they belong to for a variety of reasons – family background, friendship ties, a specific ministry, style of worship, appeal of a pastor, proximity to the church, etc.  But if “church” is the design of God to help bring believers closer to him and to one another (Eph. 2:19-22), it seems fairly obvious that the main reason for choosing the church that we do would be sound Biblical teaching – the thing that the Bible itself says is the way to know Jesus (John 5:39), and therefore know salvation (2 Tim. 3:15).

In all honesty, if I was selecting a church simply based on external preferences, I don’t know that I’d choose the WELS.  I’m not positive that the general worship style resonates with me.  I don’t know that the general church programs best connect with either the talents or needs of the average person in the 21st century.  I don’t know that the general church governance and administration that is used is the most efficient way to organize hundreds or thousands of God’s people.  But I’m a very big fan of our approach to biblical interpretation.  In other words, I drive this car not for its style, nor for its comfort, nor for its efficiency, but primarily for its safety features (i.e. correct understanding of the Means of Grace – the gospel in Word and Sacraments).

Some might say that my assessment of other denominations or of my own church body is unfair and exaggerated.  That’s fine.  I’d simply encourage you to investigate for yourselves.  Try not to be too anecdotal in your research – e.g. “I knew a Baptist once who…..”  Rather, try to look at the documented teachings of the church bodies themselves, perhaps through their own official websites.

Let me know if you come to the same conclusion that I do.


ONE FINAL NOTE: In a society that I’m convinced is now officially post-Christian, I generally try not to come across as overly denominational, simply Christian.  It becomes very confusing for those 75% or so of people not regularly attending church when you start pitting one church body against another.  That said, there are occasions when it’s a worthwhile exercise to clarify the fundamentals of what it means to be a Christian (the example pointed to in the above post being the acceptance of the Bible as ultimately authoritative).

29 thoughts on “So Many Denominations, but THIS Is Why I’m WELS Lutheran…

  1. Doug says:

    You say “Therefore, it is not sufficient to say that “we use the Bible to form our beliefs.” And yet you effectively do just that in your own denomination’s rating. I don’t have a deep understanding of Wesley’s quadrilateral. However, I do know that very few Christians truly put Reason, Tradition, and Personal Experience on par with Biblical Truth. This is the classic “straw man” arguement. We must simply admit we don’t agree on Biblical interpretation (doctrine) and continue the discussion in love.

    • Hi Doug, thanks for reading and for the comment. What I was suggesting with that statement is that the Bible, if it is the only one of the those four which is truly flawless, should alone be the authoritative source of our doctrinal formation. I don’t believe, for example, that many Christians would outright say, “Yes, we form our beliefs on the basis of the Bible AND Human Reason.” And yet, in practice, that’s what ends up happening.

      Practical Example – The Lord’s Supper. I don’t see how you would arrive at the belief of a merely “representational presence” of Christ in the meal unless you’ve said that Jesus words just don’t seem to make sense as is (according to human logic) and therefore what he REALLY must mean is that the bread and wine “represents” his body and blood. Reading the text as it is, you wouldn’t arrive at that conclusion. But, our understanding of the way world operates (i.e. human reason) could lead you to the idea of a “representational presence.”

      As I go on to say after the words you quoted, “The question is whether or not any additional factors strongly influence your doctrine.” (whether you realize them or not). And, yes, we all need to take an honest look at what biases we might be bringing to our biblical interpretation, and, as you said, continue the discussion in love.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Very good article. I agree with everything said. However, I have a question: Why can’t all confessional Lutherans agree to be in fellowship with one another, and better yet, why don’t they merge into one single Confessional Lutheran Church?

    I am LCMS. The only real difference I see between the LCMS and WELS is that we allow women to serve on the church council and vote whereas the WELS do not. Both groups do not allow women to serve as pastors.

    It seems absolutely ridiculous and honestly downright shameful to me that this one issue keeps our Churches divided. How do you feel about this?

    Imagine the impact for the Gospel, missions, etc. if the LCMS, WELS, AALC, etc. were to combine into one Lutheran Church!

    • Hi Gary,
      Thanks for reading and for the comment. I’ve linked a Wikipedia article on the WELS here ( and if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll be able to find the generally noted WELS/LCMS differences (Fellowship, Doctrine of the Ministry, and the Role of Women in the Church). My honest response to you is that you’d probably find some both in the WELS and LCMS that strongly agree or disagree with us being divided on such issues.

      My one word of caution would be this, though. The argument that “we could do so much more if we bonded together” is one that is perhaps true (it’s one of the basic arguments for the concept of “church” in the first place), but it also has that slippery slope feel to it. In fact, it’s a microcosm of what most non-denominational and parachurch organizations say – “Well, we’re all Christian. We could accomplish so much more if we just put our ‘small’ differences aside and worked together.” Similarly, many liberal churches will say the same thing when it comes to working with other distinct faith groups to do things like feed the hungry and treat diseases, etc.

      We all would acknowledge there is a line of who we should/should not work together with, but we all have different opinions on where that line should be drawn. While some say “only in complete doctrinal unity for every cause”, others will say “so long as Christian unity” and still others will say “as long as its towards a godly goal”.

      It is a very, very difficult question, and a reason that we have certain faithful and talented individuals in each of the Lutheran bodies you’ve mentioned above constantly in dialogue with one another.

  3. Kim says:

    Wow, this totally hits home for me. Raised United Methodist, attended a Methodist university, and kicked out of our Methodist church a year before joining Life Lutheran, when my parents questioned the direction of our church (also life long Methodists). Tough times for the UMC.

  4. Dan Bigelow says:

    I grew up methodist, now i am a Christian confessional lutheran, Messiah Lutheran Kansas. The UMC has lost it’s identlty. I go to my parents UMC when we go home. You can see the loss of authority at the service. The woman pastor does not steer the congregation well. It almost seems like an open forum. It’s sad to see.

  5. J Merritt says:

    Great analysis! I walked through a similar process about 3 or so years ago while I was at that time a Catholic. I admittedly used “reason” to draw the conclusion to discount all elements of Wesley’s quadrilateral. That sounds like I just defined a word by using the world itself in the definition! As an unhappy Catholic who could not find the root of some of their teachings in scripture, I “reasoned” that the only solid foundation on which to base one’s faith is the Word of God. Throwing out reason, tradition, and personal experience as humanly flawed parts of the equation, I was led to the Lutherans. Having committed to find the one church which placed God’s word as the one unmovable object, the supreme authority for all time, I was left with only one choice among the Lutherans — the WELS. I am not sure what a graph of my process would look like but I can assure you that the Word of God would be paramount.

    I am no expert, but some denominations seem to get into trouble by trying to answer questions that God has not answered. For example, when asked where an unbaptized baby might go or a public sinner, the Catholic church offers hope in the form of a purgatory, indulgences shared good works, the application of the intercession of saints or some other “reasoned” idea. Luther stands on solid ground when the Word is silent and he says it is permissible to just say, “We don’t know”. I feel there are Christians we will meet in heaven who are from other denominations. Have I reasoned it or garnered it from personal experience or gained it from church tradition or history? No. However, reading the elements of salvation from God’s word and trusting in God’s error-free judgement and perfect love bring me to that feeling. I can trust that our Lord is just in his ways, compassionate above all, the seat of all mercy and the font of our salvation. The convenience of a church in my neighborhood that does not anchor its teaching solidly in the Word, is hardly a convenience at all! We all should travel where we must to find the pure unadulterated Word of God entrenched in a congregation and flowing like a spring from the pulpit. God bless you.

    I am glad I found your Blog. It is very interesting!

  6. Jill says:

    Wow. Thank you Pastor Hein for putting this Wesley’s quadrilateral out there. I’ve never seen this comparison before and I am so grateful to have been guided to read your perspective on this. It has reaffirmed for me what a blessing it is to have this clear cut doctrine to be lead by.

    My pastor shared this with me in an effort to shed some light on where Lutherans stand as a denomination comparatively. The reason being that I have been struggling with whether or not this is the right denomination for me. Since attending this WELS Lutheran church, I had found myself becoming rather complacent. Which upon first attending was my fear as it seemed rather apparent in the vast majority of its other congregants. I had known of the church and its school building being in our community, but beyond its own walls, you would never know it’s there. Where’s the outward acts of its faith? Where’s the outpouring of Christs’ love? Shouldn’t we be making sure that our faith is more that just a statement? Shouldn’t it result in action? I asked this of WELS, but the question I should be asking is whether or not this individual church is the right one for me. I have been attending this WELS church for 7 years, with the blessing of this minister only for the last 2. Truthfully, if it were not for this pastor, watching the monthly WELS connection, and ultimately trusting in scriptures such as 1 Peter 3: 5,6, (since this has always been my husbands church), I’m fairly certainly I would be back at my AG church getting filled with those wonderful feelings you elluded to.

    This discussion has evoked much thought.
    Now, if I may use this blog as a platform to share my testimony, perhaps it could stir something up in the spirits of other Lutherans/Christains alike, and perhaps challenge them.

    I was raised catholic, compelled as a young adult to actually walk in faith through an Assembly of God church, then went on to marry a life long Wels Lutheran in which I am now a member. This is just my personal experience to use as comparison among 3 of the 4 groups in the graphs.

    Though my mother made sure I was a regular attending alter girl, solemnly genuflecting through the rituals, graduating catholic schools, I do remember, at the age of 12, leaving a Good Friday service humbled, in tears, having realized for the first time that Christ died for ME too. The Holy Spirit was at work there. Particularly for me through a cutting edge nun (there is such a thing!), who asked me to perform liturgical dance during special services. Something not widely used in any denomination, but like the drummer boy in the Christmas carol…how can I serve you Lord? Sister Nancy took initiative to get me plugged in with what skills I had, and gave me purpose. Not to mention God, is his infinite wisdom, chose and entrusted the wonderful example of a Christain as a mother for me…even if she is Catholic 🙂

    At 22, my first AG church service brought me to my knees in reverence, and then again and again thereafter. Admittedly, that powerful “feeling” you speak of overcame me also to which I was the one lifting up my hands, shouting out “hallelujah!”. For years I couldn’t get enough! 3 services a week plus bible studies, and plenty of outreach opportunities. It was there that I learned how to navigate my way through my bible. It was as though I was living in a bubble of grace, on cloud nine. It wasn’t as though ‘life’ didn’t happen either, but rather that I was equipped to handle it from being continually in the Word, having an incredible support system and by finding examples of the living word in my fellow congregants that were more mature in their faith than I. Whom were as individuals, and as a church group actively seeking ways to be a blessing to others… A light in the darkness.
    Falling in love with my dear husband, at 27 I married and in following Titus 2:4-5, went through the membership classes to become WELS Lutheran finding the doctrines to be grounded in the truth. I was also convinced that having a yearly liturgy mapped out assures us that we take the Word at its entirety. Though never fully being able to get past the seemingly lack of heartfelt prayers, hymns that while there lyrics are rich in substance they get lost in translation while trying to follow the unfamiliar melodies, and quite frankly the redundancy of the service itself, personally I feel it promotes a ‘going through the motions’ kind of complacency. All in all though I realize the structure of a service shouldn’t be deal breaker . In fact, in some ways I have even become fond of some of the consistency. For example, hearing my 3 year old join in saying the Lord’s Prayer which she has come to memorize having heard it regularly. But memorizing something and applying it when out in the world matters more. Hearing the 3 bible passages, and listening to the pastors practical application sermon isn’t practical if we don’t apply it. The world should be able to know you are a Christain because of the way you live your life. Your neighbors should be able to tell you are a representative of Christ because you represent well, not because you have a bumper sticker that says you are. Is it enough to simply place our envelope in the offering plate and let the synod take care of the needy?

    Don’t get me wrong I thank God that such order of these matters have been considered, and in a lot of ways are being met. Like we see in the WELS Connection updates. I just want to be more directly involved. On the fronts lines for Christ! Not sitting in a pew for an hour week. Hoping someone somewhere is doing something.

    So what’s the solution? Go shop around for a better congregation or denomination…or by asking ourselves, Lord, how can I make where I am better for you?

    Can I get an amen?!

    • Hi Jill,
      Thanks for reading and for your testimony. A lot of what you’re saying sounds pretty familiar. My wife, Adrian, comes from an AG background and her perceptions of Confessional Lutheranism were, in many ways, pretty similar to yours. This has all been a tremendous blessing to me, as it’s opened up my eyes to perhaps some of the “blind spots” in our church body (every church body has them). WELS has them too, and sometimes we need to have them exposed, humbly repent, and then work by God’s grace to overcome them.

  7. Hi Pastor Hein,
    I was raised WELS Lutheran, and have always thought much the same as you about our interpretation of the Bible. I have a brother who has fallen away from our church and we’ve always been close so I try to talk to him about what he thinks without being too stern with my beliefs.
    He has brought up some tough questions for me to answer though and I need yours, and any fellow christians’ help answering them.
    My brother always says that if we had been born in Iran instead of America, we would most likely be muslims and if we had been born in the remote Amazon who knows what our religious beliefs would be then. I think he said animist. He has also made me very angry because he thinks churches and associated parsonages getting their property taxes subsidized by the public is an outrageous violation of church and state.
    Another thing he loves to laugh about is the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. He said they didn’t match, but I looked them up and they did match, from Abraham to David, but then Matthew traces Jesus from David’s son Solomon, and Luke traces Jesus through David’s son Nathan. The last thing I’d like help with a response with is him asking me if Jesus wasn’t Joseph’s biological father, than how could Jesus have descended from David? I told him that Mary must have been related to David, but I can’t find anywhere in the Bible that it mentions it, so please point me to chapter and verse please if you find something. I could at least get him with that.

    Thanks for your blog, it is always very insightful,


    • Hey Nick,
      Thanks for reading and for the great questions! They could easily be several blog posts unto themselves 🙂 I’ll try to keep my responses brief.

      1) Birth place predicting spiritual beliefs – While it is true that there is a general pattern to spiritual practices based on culture or geography, it isn’t necessarily always the case. For instance, if you were born in the Roman Empire in the first 3 centuries AD, the cultural and geographic odds were certainly against you being born into a Christian family, and yet within several hundred years, you had millions and millions of Christians.

      Many people point to the luxury of Americans being born into a largely Christian environment and use that information the wrong way. They use it to point to God as being “unfair” rather than recognizing it means they have a God-given responsibility to go and tell those who haven’t been born into as privileged of positions.

      Finally, the Apostle Paul says in his sermon in Athens, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27) He suggesting that every human has access to God and God predestined individuals to a place and time that was most spiritually advantageous to them. Whether or not we agree with that logic, if God is indeed all-knowing, wouldn’t he know better than we do.

      2) Church tax breaks – The reason that churches and other non-profits receive tax breaks is largely because our country’s past leaders (and most current leaders who do their research) recognize that non-profits generally benefit society tremendously, saving the government time, energy, and cost. It’s very simple. If the Boys and Girls club helps keep young kids off the streets and out of crime, they save the government dollars in damages, prisons, and police time. It makes perfectly logical sense for the government to give them a break. Prior to the explosion of non-profits, the church was the original non-profit that benefited community. Those who were instructed by their church to fear God and respect and serve their state more consistently were better behaved than those without church affiliation.

      I still think most churches benefit society. That said, I’d be willing to listen to someone who wanted to argue that churches are no longer benefiting their communities the way they once did. If that’s the case, I’d have no problem with churches receiving less/no breaks from the state. However, understand that their are legitimate arguments on both sides of that church/state debate. The most obvious recent one is the nationalized healthcare that may attempt to force Christians to pay for something that contradicts their biblical beliefs.

      3) Genealogy discrepancies – The short answer – and I’m not at all saying this to be condescending – is that the majority of people who make this claim probably haven’t researched it very well and don’t understand Jewish genealogies. Matthew’s genealogy is written to emphasize Jesus’ descent from Abraham – showing his “Messiahness”. Luke’s genealogy is written to emphasize Jesus’ descent from Adam – showing his “humanness.” Neither genealogy claims to have every single individual in the line, but the genealogies are grouped in such a way so that the average person of that day, who had no writing or reading skills let alone the ability to afford a scroll, would be able to memorize the genealogies.

      4) Jesus descending from David – There has been tons written on this. We don’t know all the info necessary about Mary’s lineage. Therefore, some of the discussion around the genealogies revolves around whether this is a biological genealogy or legal genealogy. The basic point remains, however, that unless you have solid proof to discount Jesus’ genealogy, you probably shouldn’t disqualify potential for relationship with God based on something you don’t fully buy, something that’s been commonly accepted for several millenia. OR, you could always trust what the Apostle Paul wrote, “regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David.” (Rom. 1:3)

      A lot more could be said about each of these topics, but I hope this helps, Nick. My guess……your brother’s rejection of church has little to do with Jesus’ lineage or church/state relations. It’s probably deeper and more personal than that. Maybe he’s never been apologized to by someone(s) in a church who have hurt him in some way. I’d try to get to the reason under the reason, if that makes sense.

      Will say an extra prayer about it. God Bless!

      • Will says:

        Hi Pastor Hein,

        This is Nick’s brother, Will. Nick directed me to your blog response about some questions I’ve asked him to consider.

        Firstly, I agree that the cultural environment doesn’t absolutely determine what religious ideas you embrace, but as you said, there is a general pattern that shows how strongly culture influences religious beliefs. Just look at how christianity has evolved and adapted to secular morality over the centuries. If the christians of the 18th and 19th centuries, even first half of 20th, were to see how christians behaved today, they would likely say that you weren’t a real christian because you think slavery is wrong, or that women have the right to vote, or that gay people should have equal rights. Some christians even believe in the separation of church and state.
        So it is not guaranteed, but incredibly probable that if you had been born in Iran, you would be a muslim, and, you specifically, might be an Imam instead of a Pastor.

        Secondly, I agree with you that charitable non-profit activities (physical, not spiritual) should be funded by the public, because places like the Red Cross and Big Brothers Big Sisters greatly benefit society.
        Planned Parenthood is another great service to the public. You may disagree with that because of religious beliefs, but they educate people about sexually responsible behavior, and play a part in reducing human misery (physical and economic) caused from overpopulation. Abortion policy is based on modern medical science, which we have thanks to the explanatory and predictive power of the scientific theory of evolution.
        The U.S. government however has placed religious organizations in it’s own superior class. Secular non-profits must go through an application process, must legally disclose their financial activity to the public in a form 990, and can be audited by any IRS agent randomly at will.
        Religious organizations don’t have to apply, they are automatically rubber stamped for approval. They are not required by law to disclose their finances, they can only be audited by the IRS if a high-level official approves it. And they can discriminate based on religious belief, or being homosexual. Also, as a member of the clergy, you are well aware of the perquisites of your position, such as parsonage exemptions, where you can deduct all your housing and living costs, even your mortgage payments, from your taxable income.
        I am NOT accusing YOU of abusing these laws that give you unfair advantages, with no accountability to the public. I am concerned about huckster ministers who abuse these biased laws. I’m sure you don’t want your tax money going to fund Scientology or Mormons, but currently, everyone who pays taxes is funding ALL religions, and their beliefs. This is a great injustice that needs to change. The law needs to apply equally to all non-profits, regardless of being religious or secular. The separation of church and state is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. This country is supposed to have a completely secular government. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, John Adams, and even George Washington spoke with disgust at the idea of religion polluting a fair political process such as democracy, despite those men being deists or theists. The whole revolution was about breaking away from the theocratic tyranny of England. The American revolution was a product of the European Enlightenment, and it was one of the greatest moments in history because it was the first secular government.
        Anyway, I think you should read this research article about the economic impact of subsidizing religions:

        Thirdly, if Matthew’s genealogy was meant to emphasize Jesus’ descent from Abraham, and Luke was meant to emphasize Jesus’ descent from Adam, then both genealogies should still match from Jesus back to Abraham (especially if God is incapable of making mistakes). If you wanted to trace my descent from an ancestor that lived 1000 years ago, and also trace my descent from an ancestor that lived 500 years ago, both lines would look exactly the same back 500 years, and then there would be the extra people that lead you from the 500 year old ancestor back to the 1000 year old ancestor.
        You make an interesting point about literacy back in those days. Wealthy, privileged people were the literate ones, and commoners were dependent on those in authority to tell them what God says.
        Then as literacy increases and critical thinking is encouraged, big changes happen in societies. Power shifts happened because more people could arm themselves with real knowledge by reading books from scientists and philosophers. Those people made important observations and analyzed them with skeptical scrutiny.
        Frederick Douglas was a true american hero, and his power was in being literate. He wasn’t satisfied with people just telling him what to memorize. He took the initiative to learn how to read, even though it was illegal for a slave to learn how to read. He realized the power of literacy to break the chains from your mind, put there by irrational beliefs.

        Fourthly, if you don’t know all the information necessary about Mary’s lineage, then why are you drawing conclusions of certainty about it?
        The basic point that, unless you have solid proof to discount Jesus’ genealogy, you probably shouldn’t disqualify potential for relationship with God, is a very specious argument, because the burden of proof is on the one making the claim, e.g. your claim of Jesus divinity. I don’t need PROOF that bigfoot DOESN’T exist to justify not believing in the existence of bigfoot. The same universal rule applies to all natural and supernatural claims.
        BTW, some things that were commonly accepted by people for several millennia were the earth is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, bad weather is caused by angry gods, etc…

        “OR, you could always trust what the Apostle Paul wrote, “regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David.” (Rom. 1:3)”

        Or I could base my trust of what someone wrote by cross-referencing external materials to determine what evidence can be corroborated and supports the information written.
        Do you blindly trust an advertisement telling you that their product is the absolute best? Or do you search for information that supports or contradicts those claims of truth?
        Would you be more convinced if the ad told you that lots of other advertisements will say they are the best, but they are under the influence of some evil force, so don’t even pay attention to them?

        Your guess about my motives for unbelief are incorrect.
        I never had any encounters I would describe as unpleasant (slightly awkward maybe). The encounters with people at church after I started questioning things mainly involved concerned fellow members that were doing what was noble from their perspective. It never ceases to amaze me how gently and friendly someone can tell me that eternal torture awaits, if you don’t change who your are.

        It’s thoughtful of you to pray for me, and I appreciate your concern, but prayer is just wishful thinking. One of my favorite quotes, from I don’t know whom, is, “Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.”

        I may not agree with you much, but I still respect your desire to write about what you think, and spark discussions. The first amendment is most cherished to me, and I think everyone should be able to believe what they want and have their beliefs tolerated to the point where those beliefs begin imposing themselves on everyone through legislative processes. Worship God all you want, preach to people all you want, but don’t indirectly force me to fund it. I only care about natural things, with observable causes and effects. Everything else is an unnecessary distraction from what really matters.

        Keep on bloggin, you’re a bright person.

      • Hi Will,
        Thanks so much for reading and responding! Glad your brother directed you here.

        First, I’m guessing we’re probably not going to come to a consensus on the cultural environment issue predicting your faith. I believe the reason for that is that we simply have two different worldviews about how the universe operates. So, for example, while yes, statistically, it’d make sense that if I was born in Iron I’d be more likely to be a Muslim Imam than a Christian pastor, I don’t believe that there is an actual greater likelihood of that. That’s because the Bible talks about God knowing us and directing us before we even coming into this world. Now the issue of predetermination in the Bible is admittedly a bit tricky, but it’s very different from the natural assumption that I’m simply a product of my environment. If everything was random, then yes, I’d be more likely to be Muslim. But if there is a supernatural causal being guiding things, then I’m not more likely. Again, I think it’s a worldview thing.

        Second, I’m just going to admit that I agree with much of what you’ve stated about non-profits. While I think there probably is (or at least once was) a good reason for giving religious organizations the tax breaks they/we receive, I think it does turn a lot of people off and I’m not convinced it’s worth the damage to Christianity’s name. I even know that once Obamacare gets put in place, there’s more than a chance that if we, as a church, opt out of the insurance plan on the basis of it potentially funding abortions, we’ll be charged a $2000 per employee fine. I obviously don’t like that, but if it happens, so be it. Maybe Christians have been too cushy for too long and we need to better put our money where our mouth is. I can certainly understand your points here. Haven’t gotten the chance to read the link yet, but will check it out.

        Third, in studying what I have about Jewish genealogies, I’m still not convinced there’s any discrepancy between the two. Again, while we would almost undoubtedly include every single individual in genealogy in our records today (in a literate society), that just wasn’t the case then. Certain individuals of prominence were listed while others weren’t. Furthermore, ancient genealogies were even grouped into equal-sized segments, again hinting at the purpose being for memorization rather than perfect citation.

        Fourth, I’m not entirely sure about the burden of proof in the existence of Jesus. I certainly don’t think people should accept claims about him blindly – the claims are too outrageous. But I do think that people who reject the claims of Jesus’ divinity need to be able to have good explanations to the evidence for divinity. For instance – here’s one I often turn to – the Testimony of Eyewitnesses. The Gospels and other New Testament records claim Jesus rose from the grave and they’re recorded from 15-50 years or so after Jesus’ resurrection. These accounts name eyewitnesses to Jesus post-resurrection from the grave. The Apostle Paul claims there are over 500 witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection in 1 Corinthians, which is written only 15 years after Jesus’ death/resurrection. So………no one would believe those claims without investigating them deeper by interviewing the eyewitnesses. Israel wasn’t that big. People would have looked into these claims. If the claims didn’t check out, you and I probably would never have heard of Christianity or Jesus of Nazareth because the books would have died out as phonies right there. Threrefore, if Jesus didn’t actually rise from the grave, someone has to be able to explain why millions and billions of people in history have worshiped this guy, when every other person who’s claimed Messiahship in world history hasn’t had more than a few dozen followers. What was so special about him that he could cause the following he had. I’ve heard the geo-political arguments for the proliferation of Christianity throughout history. I haven’t heard a particularly compelling argument that can combat the evidence toward Jesus’ resurrection yet though.

        Finally, I apologize for any unfair assumptions. I’m sure I unfairly jumped to some conclusions that were more characterizations of others I’ve talked to. I do appreciate the fact that you’ve carefully thought all of this through. Whether you believe it or not, it is a major component to social dynamic, so it’s important for all of us to think it through – and think about how our comments affect or alienate others.

        Thanks again for your thoughts, Will!

      • Will says:

        Hello Pastor Hein,

        Thank you for your response; I appreciate it. I’ve talked to a lot of Pastors and you are exceptional in that you address the specific questions I ask instead of trying to ice skate around them. If you ever write an apologist book I would read it.

        I used to believe in predestination during my sincere christian years, and I pondered it often. These questions eventually surfaced:
        If God has everything predetermined, and it can’t change, then how is He omnipotent? If He can’t change the predetermined course then He has neither freewill, nor omnipotence. But wait, it’s just that the human mind is incapable of understanding the complexities of God, right? Then by that logic, you should be very skeptical of what any human says about anything, supernatural claims included.

        My natural assumption is not that anyone is “simply” a product of an environment. The product is a balance between environment influencing subject and subject influencing the environment. By, “If everything was random…”, are you implying that evolution is based completely on chance? Natural selection is the opposite of chance, it’s the central mechanism of evolution, and the reason we can predict the success of artificial selection processes like animal breeding, plant breeding, antibiotics, etc.

        True, our perspectives are quite perpendicular to each other in some core moral areas, such as abortion or stem cells. My view, under the influence of Christianity, was that as soon as fertilization occurred, the soul was breathed into the fetus by God, and therefore any abortions (even rape victims) were immoral.
        My view, now that I’ve learned more about biology and neurology, is that abortion should only be used as a last resort, but is sometimes the best choice, e.g. only mother or baby can live, rape victims, Plan B if a condom breaks, etc.
        I am staunchly against frivolous abortions, and that is why I agree with funding Planned Parenthood, due to their mission of providing support for those in desperate situations and educating them about being sexually responsible.
        I don’t agree with the religious approach of abstinence ‘only’ education because it is purely unrealistic. I think abstinence until a committed relationship is a respectable choice (I waited till age 24), and that it is the most effective against pregnancy and STDs. That being said though, young people are more likely to actively explore their sexuality than abstain from it. Which is why it is important to educate them about birth control and sexual responsibility, and set a good example for them. I imagine you believe as I used to, that all premarital sex makes Jesus unhappy, and abstinence is the only option. That just causes sexual repression, and reckless uninformed rebellion.

        On the genealogies, wouldn’t the father of Jesus’ father Joseph have been important enough to match on both accounts?

        The evidence for Jesus’ divinity is anecdotal. So there were eyewitnesses that the Gospel writers got reports from. Ok. There are also eyewitnesses of alien abductions and Elvis still being alive too.
        15-50 years after an event is a really long time to wait before writing down the record of what transpired. Courts of law usually need fresher witnesses than that. However for the sake of argument lets analyze the testimony of those people that witnessed and recorded the events of the Resurrection…

        Here are some of the discrepancies among the resurrection accounts:

        What time did the women visit the tomb?

        • Matthew: “as it began to dawn” (28:1)

        • Mark: “very early in the morning . . . at the rising of the sun” (16:2, KJV); “when the sun had risen” (NRSV); “just after sunrise” (NIV)

        • Luke: “very early in the morning” (24:1, KJV) “at early dawn” (NRSV)

        • John: “when it was yet dark” (20:1)

        Who were the women?

        • Matthew: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (28:1)

        • Mark: Mary Magdalene, the mother of James, and Salome (16:1)

        • Luke: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women (24:10)

        • John: Mary Magdalene (20:1)

        What was their purpose?

        • Matthew: to see the tomb (28:1)

        • Mark: had already seen the tomb (15:47), brought spices (16:1)

        • Luke: had already seen the tomb (23:55), brought spices (24:1)

        • John: the body had already been spiced before they arrived (19:39,40)

        Was the tomb open when they arrived?

        • Matthew: No (28:2)

        • Mark: Yes (16:4)

        • Luke: Yes (24:2)

        • John: Yes (20:1)

        Who was at the tomb when they arrived?

        • Matthew: One angel (28:2-7)

        • Mark: One young man (16:5)

        • Luke: Two men (24:4)

        • John: Two angels (20:12)

        Where were these messengers situated?

        • Matthew: Angel sitting on the stone (28:2)

        • Mark: Young man sitting inside, on the right (16:5)

        • Luke: Two men standing inside (24:4)

        • John: Two angels sitting on each end of the bed (20:12)

        What did the messenger(s) say?

        • Matthew: “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead: and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.” (28:5-7)

        • Mark: “Be not afrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.” (16:6-7)

        • Luke: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (24:5-7)

        • John: “Woman, why weepest thou?” (20:13)

        Did the women tell what happened?

        • Matthew: Yes (28:8)

        • Mark: No. “Neither said they any thing to any man.” (16:8)

        • Luke: Yes. “And they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven, and to all the rest.” (24:9, 22-24)

        • John: Yes (20:18)

        When Mary returned from the tomb, did she know Jesus had been resurrected?

        • Matthew: Yes (28:7-8)

        • Mark: Yes (16:10,11)

        • Luke: Yes (24:6-9,23)

        • John: No (20:2)

        When did Mary first see Jesus?

        • Matthew: Before she returned to the disciples (28:9)

        • Mark: Before she returned to the disciples (16:9,10)

        • John: After she returned to the disciples (20:2,14)

        Could Jesus be touched after the resurrection?

        • Matthew: Yes (28:9)

        • John: No (20:17), Yes (20:27)

        After the women, to whom did Jesus first appear?

        • Matthew: Eleven disciples (28:16)

        • Mark: Two disciples in the country, later to eleven (16:12,14)

        • Luke: Two disciples in Emmaus, later to eleven (24:13,36)

        • John: Ten disciples (Judas and Thomas were absent) (20:19, 24)

        • Paul: First to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. (Twelve? Judas was dead). (I Corinthians 15:5)

        Where did Jesus first appear to the disciples?

        • Matthew: On a mountain in Galilee (60-100 miles away) (28:16-17)

        • Mark: To two in the country, to eleven “as they sat at meat” (16:12,14)

        • Luke: In Emmaus (about seven miles away) at evening, to the rest in a room in Jerusalem later that night. (24:31, 36)

        • John: In a room, at evening (20:19)

        Did the disciples believe the two men?

        • Mark: No (16:13)

        • Luke: Yes (24:34–it is the group speaking here, not the two)

        What happened at the appearance?

        • Matthew: Disciples worshipped, some doubted, “Go preach.” (28:17-20)

        • Mark: Jesus reprimanded them, said “Go preach” (16:14-19)

        • Luke: Christ incognito, vanishing act, materialized out of thin air, reprimand, supper (24:13-51)

        • John: Passed through solid door, disciples happy, Jesus blesses them, no reprimand (21:19-23)

        Did Jesus stay on earth for a while?

        • Mark: No (16:19) Compare 16:14 with John 20:19 to show that this was all done on Sunday

        • Luke: No (24:50-52) It all happened on Sunday

        • John: Yes, at least eight days (20:26, 21:1-22)

        • Acts: Yes, at least forty days (1:3)

        Where did the ascension take place?

        • Matthew: No ascension. Book ends on mountain in Galilee

        • Mark: In or near Jerusalem, after supper (16:19)

        • Luke: In Bethany, very close to Jerusalem, after supper (24:50-51)

        • John: No ascension

        • Paul: No ascension

        • Acts: Ascended from Mount of Olives (1:9-12)

        Thanks for your time, and I enjoy discussing thoughts with you, Pastor Hein.

    • I’m entering really late on this discussion, so maybe it won’t help at all. (I read the re-post first, then only later noticed it was a re-post and found the original article so I could read what I was sure would be interesting comments.) My comment has to do with the different genealogies. Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph because, legally, Jesus was Joseph’s son. Plus, Matthew is writing to Jews who always traced ancestry through the father. The Old Testament in general follows the Messianic line through this route. Through Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, so to speak, Jesus was the Son of David (validating the prophecies in the Jewish mind).

      Luke at first might seem to be tracing Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph also. But the original Greek makes clear that he is not, because every name in the ancestral line has a definite article in front of it except Joseph’s, whose article-less name comes right on the heels of the phrase “as it was thought” – the implication being, “but not really.” The Greek lends itself to a translation such as, “being son (as it was thought, of Joseph) of Heli, etc.” Luke too then continues to trace a male line, but it is clearly a different line than Matthew’s. In view of Luke’s “as it was thought” phrase, wouldn’t it make sense to assume that he is tracing Jesus’ actual blood ancestry, instead of his legal ancestry? In other words, Heli is the father of Mary, not of Joseph. And so Jesus was also the Son of David by blood (validating the prophecies in the Gentile mind).

      This is actually confirmed by two references in the Jewish Talmud to “Mary, son of Heli” (Hagigah 2:2 Gemara and Sanhedrin 6:6 Gemara). In both those rabbinic passages, she is seen in a dream receiving rather extreme and graphic punishment. While scholars debate whether this is really a reference to Jesus’ mother, it makes sense that contemporary and later Jewish rabbis would think of her and refer to her in a negative light, since, in their view, she gave birth to Jesus as a result of a sinful relationship (since they didn’t believe he was the Son of God) and since her son gained such prominence, subverted their teachings, and, in their view, started a new religion that took followers away from theirs. It also makes sense that they would know her ancestry if she was a descendant of King David.

      Finally, even if you want to claim this explanation is mere sophistry, you still have to explain this: Why would the New Testament copyists of Matthew and Luke, if they were merely concerned about promoting a religion and not about advancing the truth, not correct their respective genealogies so that they were in harmony? There are variants for other passages of Scripture; why is there only one such effort – only one ancient manuscript (uncial D) that simply inverts Matthew’s genealogy and inserts it into Luke? Clearly people would have asked the same questions back then; it would have been so much easier just to change it. They didn’t. There are only two possible answers: Either they were just flat out too stupid (try finding consistent evidence to prove that), or the genealogies did not actually contradict each other. If someone is willing to read carefully and check the original language and exert the mental effort necessary to harmonize the two genealogies, they can be harmonized. Any and all apparent contradictions happen when people lazily give up too soon.

      This, by the way, is also the case with all the supposed Easter contradictions that are cited in this thread. It is insulting when such lists are given, as if I and countless other educated Christians had not poured over those stories again and again. It is just assumed that we blindly accepted them. We as Christians are happy to show patients and love to our enemies, but we are not idiotic chumps and should not be treated as such. There is not one “contradiction” that cannot be reasonably explained. (And again, if they do really contradict, why didn’t the Christian copyists make more efforts to harmonize them? It was not necessary.)

  8. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the structure of
    your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to
    say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

    • Are you saying I’m long-winded? 🙂 Kidding….I’m always ready for updates. It just boils down to how much/little time I have to tinker with design. If you know anyone who can help with design, feel free to let me know.

  9. Andrew says:

    Wow, what an incredibly perverse posting, psychologically speaking. Though you claim your church is chosen by you because the Bible told you so, you begin with an affirmation of cultural tradition, followed by personal experience, with a very lengthy rational exposition explaining those assumptions, all the while jotting down Bible verses that coincide with your jumps of logic.
    To explain better I made a graph, but can’t figure out how to include it here, so I’ll spell out the graph:

    Rightness 10%
    Wrongness 90%

    Rightness 90%
    Wrongness 10%

  10. Greg says:

    Very interesting and helpful article. I would like to butt into your discussion with Will on tax exemption for non-profits. The one thing I think you both are missing is that churches and non-profit organizations are not citizens who can exercise voting rights. People vote, people are taxed. Organizations have no vote. Therefore taxing them would be taxation without representation. Also Will, it is simply not true that churches are “funded” by the government. You are confusing “not” paying a tax with receiving funds. “Not paying” tax is very different than receiving government funding. Your tax dollars are hard at work funding a bewildering number of things all around the planet but Church is not one of them.

  11. Scott MacPherson, M.S., J.D. says:

    1) You presented a caricature of Roman Catholic, instead of the real thing.

    2) It’s fascinating to me that you say that the Pope isn’t infallible, but that you are. Can you teach other people to be infallible? I know a lot of people who would like to grow to that level.

    3) Your presentation of Lutheran is dishonest. Consider that it matches that of Southern Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Calvary Chapel and others. A whole bunch of denominations claim to be “Bible alone.” They claim to teach only the Bible, just the Bible. But they cannot agree amongst themselves on what the Bible teaches. As a WELS pastor you’re absolutely certain that Southern Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Calvary Chapel people are very, very wrong — yet all three of them can proof text from the Bible *alone* their respective positions!!! Ergo, *you* must be reading the Bible incorrectly — from their point of view.

    The truth is that WELS is *not* Bible alone. WELS is the Bible interpreted a certain way, and *that* is the definition of “tradition.” WELS is Bible + tradition. I’m disturbed that you did not admit that. 😦

  12. Christine says:

    Coming from a family of Lutherans and Roman Catholics I know both traditions well. I would respectfully submit that the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t even belong in this conversation since they deny the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, proof that their interpretation of Scripture (compare their New World Translation to any orthodox Bible) is way out of the mainstream. As a Catholic you know that papal infallibility has been exercised on only a very few occasions and that much of Catholic practice and doctrine is based on tradition alone nor is it supported by the Orthodox churches of the East. It comes down to the difference between [c]atholicity and [C]atholicity. The church was catholic long before it was Catholic. I can’t say I have ever known any Lutheran pastor to claim infallibility. Nor are Lutherans strictly speaking “Bible alone” — our interpretation of Scripture is viewed through the lens of the Lutheran Confessions which themselves are grounded in the Bible. That is why Confessional Lutherans uphold the ancient catholic creeds, Nicene, Athanasian and Apostles whereas many of the “free” traditions do not. It is also why Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are not regarded as mere human “ordinances” in the Lutheran Church and we are more rightfully considered catholic Evangelicals than “Protestant”.

    • I must have signed up to be notified of additional comments, because I got a notification about your comment, Christine, in my email inbox. Or maybe it was a glitch. Whatever the case, one part of it begs me to reply. You said that Lutherans are NOT “strictly speaking ‘Bible alone’ — our interpretation of Scripture is viewed through the lens of the Lutheran Confessions which themselves are grounded in the Bible.” Half of that is true, and the other half I would contend with.

      It is true that the Lutheran Confessions themselves are grounded in the Bible. That’s why we Lutherans subscribe to them “because” their doctrine agrees with Scripture, not “insofar as” their doctrine agrees with Scripture. (Heck, I can say with complete honesty that I agree with the Koran “insofar as” its doctrine agrees with Scripture. “Insofar as” basically means, “to the extent that I think it’s true that…”.) But we couldn’t make the claim that the doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions is grounded in the Scripture unless Scripture itself were so clear that it allowed us to make that judgment.

      And in fact the Confessions themselves say that Lutheranism IS “Bible alone,” strictly speaking. The very first section of the Formula of Concord states: “We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and norm according to which all teachings, together with all teachers, should be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament alone. … However, other writings by ancient or modern teachers—no matter whose name they bear—must not be regarded as equal to the Holy Scriptures. All of them are subject to the Scriptures. Other writings should not be received in any other way or as anything more than witnesses that show how this pure doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved after the time of the apostles, and at what places. … The Holy Scriptures alone remain the judge, rule, and norm. According to them—as the only touchstone—all teachings shall and must be discerned and judged to see whether they are good or evil, right or wrong. The other symbols and writings mentioned above [including the Lutheran Confessions] are not judges like the Holy Scriptures. They are only a testimony and declaration of the faith” (excerpts from the beginning Summary).

      So the Confessions themselves say that Lutheranism had better be “Bible alone,” and the Confessions themselves say that they are subject to the Scriptures, namely that they should be viewed through the lens of the Scriptures, not vice versa. Otherwise, we are basically saying that God’s Word is not clear and that it took humans to make it clear. That is not only not true – as anyone who has lived in God’s Word can attest – but it also goes against the Scriptures themselves (2 Timothy 3:14-17; cf. any time someone like Jesus or Paul asks, “Haven’t you read…?” or “What does the Scripture say?”) and it flies in the face of God’s honor and glory. After all, God says that he wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2) and that people are saved through his Word (Romans 10). So it would be pretty awful and counterintuitive of him to make his Word confusing so that only a few experts could understand it. Finally, God’s Word commends those who don’t just assume that what any human says is true, but who check it out for themselves in the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), which implies that the Scriptures are clear enough to be able to do so, and which would mean that we should also do so with the Lutheran Confessions.

      Again, I know that there are Lutherans who speak exactly as you have. But if you say that something A is the lens through which you read something B, you are really saying that something A is the clear and ultimate authority. So the Confessions cannot be the lens through which we read Scripture, and they themselves say that they are not. A Lutheran in the spirit of Luther and the Confessors is first and foremost a Bible student, and only then a student of the Confessions. If he knows the Bible backwards and forwards and believes it, he will automatically have a faith in complete harmony with the doctrine of the Lutheran Confessions, even if he never reads them. (And if anyone thinks I am thereby saying the Lutheran Confessions have no value, the fact that I quoted from them extensively above should show otherwise.)

  13. Christine says:

    Hi redbrickparsonage, thank you for your thoughtful comments. Yes, we are revisiting the quia/quatenus arguments here. If I gave the impression that I was elevating the Lutheran symbols/Confessions over Scripture, that was not my intent.

    German is my native language and culture, I grew up in Germany at a time when the lines between Lutheran, Catholic and Reformed Christians were still strictly drawn. That was no less true in my immediate family and as I grew older the Lutheran symbols were a tremendous help to me in remaining faithful to the Lutheran heritage of my mother’s ancestors in opposition to my father’s Roman Catholic ones. Nor did I fail to notice my Lutheran grandmother’s deep devotion to the Bible which she read devotedly.

    Having experienced both sides it is not surprising to me that Mr. MacPherson would lump Lutherans, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses et al. under the construct of sola scriptura as each side could claim that they know the Bible from front to back and yet come to different conclusions. Lutherans are fortunate to have Luther’s Small and Large Catechism as well as the Confessions, especially in our day and age when most Lutheran bodies still claim the Confessions but do not accept the Scriptures as the inerrant Word of God. Nevertheless, the catholic Creeds were a valuable vehicle for Lutherans to show their opponents that the Lutherans taught, believed and confessed the apostolic faith as taught in the Scriptures and were not introducing anything novel. That was my point in bringing these issues up in response to Mr. MacPherson’s comments.

  14. Loren says:

    I do find this article most interesting. I was born LCMS, joined WELS upon marrying, returned to LCMS when my wife divorced me, and then joined my second wife’s Catholic church in my 40s the same year that our son achieved First Communion. I had grown most disillusioned with my 2nd LCMS church, not with LCMS but with the way my pastor was running things in some ways counter to LCMS doctrine and in other ways just plain not to my taste. To clarify, it had to do with my favoring a traditional worship service over the more liberal type of hand-clapping praise over the staid hymns of my youth, as well as his practice of open communion and holding services in the hot summer elements rather than in the air-conditioned indoors. So you see how it was partly doctrinal and party individual taste which comes with more liberal churches.

    I had, while in the WELS church, been subjected to rather harsh criticism for my involvement with the Boy Scouts of America because I was “praying with Catholics and Jews” and such. This was the younger pastor. My older pastor proved himself to be most understanding on this and my later rejoining the LCMS. I was quoted biblical verses, and it reminded me of the tug-of-war between Peter and Paul and the Jew versus Gentile question. You undoubtedly disapprove of the BSA even more so because of their recent rulings on SSA youth and then SSA adult leaders. There are those in my own Catholic faith that find this a bridge too far. There are quotes from the bible and a call to be brave in our faith. We are in a unique position in that the Catholic church sponsors our troop, so we are pretty much all like-minded in practice. Otherwise, one should not really look to the BSA for spiritual enlightenment or guidance. If ecumenical prayers were removed, then the argument against praying is moot. Moreover, should a WELS Lutheran refuse to run for office because there are prayers to open Congress? Should he refuse to attend a baseball game where there is sung God Bless America or occasionally a moment of silence? But I digress. This is not really the point of my post, merely some background info.

    My journey to Catholicism was a long one. I occasionally attended with my wife on occasion, but then exclusively when I left the LCMS the second time. I could have found another Lutheran church in town, but I preferred to fully explore the Catholic church as I attended with my wife and son as a family. My first awakening on the matter of Luther versus the Pope had been some years earlier when I spent an evening with two friends, one a Catholic and one a Greek Orthodox while I was LCMS. I learned much about both churches as they compared to my own. I made a point of researching the Catholic church on my own once I began attending there, and then I took the plunge and attending the classes prerequisite to my joining.

    I learned, over the course of years, that much of what I had been told about the Catholic church wasn’t true. It was propaganda. A Baptist congregation lined up outside my wife’s church and shouted anti-Catholic messages to her as she left choir practice. This extreme attack only externalized that which goes on in the heart of many non-Catholics. Catholics do not worship Mary. I used to be proud that I, as a Lutheran, could talk directly to God, but I learned that the priest is there as much for the human interaction as as an intercessor. There are many other things that I will not get into, the point being that my understanding of the bible as a Lutheran was not counter to Catholic teaching as I learned it. Indeed, there are certain aspects of any church doctrine that can be read differently with the bible as a basis. I attribute this less to personal experience than simply what the bible says.

    To make a long story short, I truly respect the beliefs of the WELS church and the LCMS church. I also truly respect and accept my Catholic faith. I do not view other Christians as opponents. I do not conflate ecumenism with plurality or moral relativism. I do question whether the quadrilateral is applied too much from a WELS-centric opinion and not from a biblically-based one. As I intimated, I can find most every aspect of Catholicism rooted in the bible in some way. I was once told by a Baptist that Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) is not in the bible. Indeed it is, the Last Supper. The name is irrelevant. When I speak of what we have in common, I do not do so pluralistically.

    • Thanks for the thoughts, Loren. I have no desire to be combative about this, but just wanted to press you on it a bit…can you tell me how Purgatory, Prayer to Saints, Priest Celibacy, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, etc. are rooted in the Bible?

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