Lutherans/Diverse Thinking in LCMS
Dear Rev. Peterson,
I greatly enjoy reading your posts in All Experts and would greatly appreciate it if you could take some time to answer a question I have about the LCMS.
I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, although I stopped going to Church at a very young age. Truthfully, I only became a Christian about three years ago and have found that becoming a Christian was a lot easier than determining which denomination has kept to the teachings of the apostles and Christ better than others. However, after an exhaustive study, I have found that, at least among the major denominations, the only churches which are in the right ballpark are the United Methodists, the Catholic Church/Orthodox Churches, and the LCMS, not the ELCA. Among this group, I believe the LCMS represents possibly the best understanding of Christianity available today.
With that said, I do not COMPLETELY agree with all of the Lutheran confessions, although I do agree with the vast majority of them. My three "problem areas" are in regards to the creation story, salvation through Christ alone, and the view that the office of the papacy is the Anti-Christ. I don't want to waste your time with my reasons for these stances because it isn't essential to answer my questions, but I did want you to at least have a basic understanding of where I am coming from.
Regardless of whether I am right or the LCMS is right (or someone else entirely!), my question is: What does the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod require its members to absolutely believe in order to be in good standing and worthy of receiving the Lord's Supper? Are all of the Lutheran confessions "non-negotiable?" I understand and believe Luther and other early Lutherans got a lot of it right, but they were men and capable of error as well, so I feel a bit uncomfortable joining a church where I am required to abandon my conscience for pure obedience, as is currently the case for me in the Roman Catholic Church.
I appreciate your time and I hope you are having a blessed Holy Week!
Thanks for your question. I'm glad you have been researching so carefully and comparing the teachings of the various denominations against the Scriptures to conclude who is most consistent with the truth.
In the LC-MS, there is (whether for good or for bad) no organizationally-mandated minimum standard regarding how what level of agreement members have to express in order to join a congregation. Pastors have to subscribe unconditionally to everything in both the Bible and the Book of Concord when they are ordained, but guidance for individuals considering membership is usually provided by the local pastor who instructs them rather than mandated from the national headquarters.
However, in the rite of Confirmation, by which new members enter the congregation, you would be asked whether you consider the entire Old and New Testaments of the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, and "Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true? Additionally, you would be asked whether you intend to live according to the Word of God, continue receiving the Lord's Supper and attending services, and if you would remain faithful to Jesus, even to the point of death.
Two of the points of concern you mention could probably be resolved without much difficulty, however, one (salvation through Christ alone) could be a potential sticking point, depending on what you mean by that--not just with the LC-MS, but with any Christian denomination which desires to be consistent with Scripture.
Perhaps the best course of action would be to select a LC-MS congregation local to you, and speak with the pastor personally. The questions above might provide a basis by which you he could discuss whether you can, in good conscience, join a congregation of the LC-MS. I would also suggest that you could attend that pastor's new member or adult instruction class where you can explore these three points in greater detail, after which you may have a clearer picture whether LC-MS congregational membership is right for you.