Pure Church, No — Pure Gospel, Yes.

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Hey you who are leaving the ELCA, do you think you’re better? Do you think you can build a pure church? So some Lutherans say….

There is no pure church. Lutherans in LCMC are not trying to build a pure church – just as Paul and Luther were not trying to build a pure church. Yet both Paul and Luther separated from fellow Christians for the sake of the truth of the gospel. Consider the following:

A. St. Paul: “Even if we or an angel from heaven preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be cursed” (Gal 1:6-9).

B. Luther: “Paul curses Peter, Barnabas, and the others in no uncertain terms of failing to walk in the truth of the gospel, that is, of having swerved from the truth of the gospel. It was a serious matter for Peter to be accused by Paul of falling and swerving from the truth of the gospel. There could be no graver reproach. Yet he bears it patiently and undoubtedly accepted it with real gratitude. I warned earlier that many have the gospel but not the truth of the gospel” (Luther’s Works 26:115).

C. Augsburg Confession 7: The church is “the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the sacraments administered according to the gospel.”

But today some Lutherans say that, because we live in a post-denominational age, preachers and professors should not be judged by the doctrinal errors of the ELCA. There’s no pure church, and all doctrine is relative anyway….

But the gospel has necessary consequences for the church. As Paul writes: “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Rom 10:17). To preach purely is to preach his cross as all-sufficient. To preach purely is to preach against adding requirements – a priestly hierarchy, good works, etc. Because churches can undermine the pure gospel by requiring more, church affiliation does matter.

When the ELCA changed its constitution (¶10.81.01) in 1999 to require the Episcopal episcopate, it compromised the pure gospel. It has become a gospel-plus church. Now the only way to preach the gospel purely within the ELCA is to preach against its required hierarchy and refuse to go along. Who dares do that?

The pure gospel alone gives certainty and freedom. Why separate? Because distorted, compromised gospels cannot deliver us from sin and death. Only the pure gospel – the all-sufficient cross – gives the certainty and freedom for which Christ died.

Luther says that Peter was really grateful that Paul corrected him when he swerved from the truth of the gospel. Caveat emptor: Don’t be surprised if today those who are entrenched in gospel-plus churches are not so gracious. But don’t withdraw from speaking the truth in love. The certainty of salvation is at stake for one and all.