The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is not a member of the World Council of Churches, It is not a member of the National Council of Churches or of the National Association of Evangelicals. It is not a member of the Lutheran World Federation or of the National Lutheran Council. Except for cursory consideration of two invitations (from the National Lutheran Council in 1950 and the Lutheran World Federation in 1956—to both the answer was “No”), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod as a body has never considered membership in any existing interdenominational association. In other words, the ecumenical “concerns” of the synod on the whole do not run heavily to “involvement” (a favorite ecumenical term with strong organizational overtones noticeably challenging the former primacy of “concerns,” especially in the common parlance of church executives charged with preparation of budgets).

Let no one imagine, however, that Missouri Synod Lutherans are indifferent to the ecumenical ferment within Christendom today. They may be suspicious of organizational developments associated with the ecumenical movement and critical of the tentative formulations of “ecumenical theology,” but they are not indifferent.

Wild and irrelevant charges hurled at leaders and spokesmen of the ecumenical movement find little or no currency among Missouri Synod pastors and people. They are conscious of a certain lack of experience on their own part in official encounter with other Christian bodies, but they do not propose to remedy that situation with recriminations which, in effect, amount to a grotesque self-defense.

Missouri Synod Lutherans do not consider it necessary to justify the cultural and linguistic isolation into which they were thrust quite naturally and from which they have largely emerged in the normal process of a century or more of history. Isolation from many of the cross-currents affecting American Protestantism during the last half of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth gave the church body a doctrinal solidarity and an evangelistic fervor distinctive in American Lutheranism as well as in world Lutheranism, where passion for “pure doctrine” and zeal for the lost ones had come to be regarded almost as mutually exclusive.

Whatever the future may hold for us in the developing contacts among Christians of various denominations, including Roman Catholics, we hope to maintain a posture of Lutheran confessionality without syncretism or sectarianism. We see the Lutheran Confessions, with their insistence upon Holy Scripture as the only valid and infallible norm of the Church’s faith and life, not only as a historic protest against medieval traditionalism but also as solid dogmatic ground on which to stand when meeting the problems and opportunities of the present.

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To us, the developments of ecumenism do present problems as well as opportunities. With our strong doctrinal orientation we are troubled by an extraordinarily heavy emphasis upon organization in some ecumenical circles to the detriment, so we think, of necessary discussions on faith and order. We have a rather deep-seated feeling, justified or not, that efforts to get at doctrinal issues frequently occupy a secondary place in the ecumenical process, with a lot of people giving lip service to faith and order while actively pursuing primary objectives for the achievement of which significant differences in doctrine can be disregarded.

We believe the faith must be confessed: “Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God” (1 John 4:2, 3a). We believe that every denial of the truth of God’s Word in the Scripture and every assault upon the faith of Christ is a call to confession. We may not always have offered that confession in the most effective or winsome fashion, but the will is there: to confess.

This might sound like a defense of the failure or refusal of our church body to take a more active part in organized ecumenical endeavors, but it is not intended to be that. We respect fellow Christians who have become a part of the ecumenical movement and have helped to influence its course in what we consider the right direction; among these are the Lutherans of Norway, who almost single-handedly brought about the discussion which resulted in strengthening the formal doctrinal basis of the World Council at New Delhi with a small but, to us, important phrase: “The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the Scriptures.”

There is nothing particularly “Missourian” about the unity we seek. If there is anything distinctive about our approach to ecumenical concerns, it may be what one of our theologians has called “the radicalness, or stringency, with which Missouri conceives of and applies the criteria of theocentricity, christocentricity and bibliocentricity in its quest for church unity. This is, we trust, no mere whim of rigor on our part but is grounded in the revealed facts of the case, in the nature of man’s situation before God, both under His judgment and under His grace” (Martin Franzmann, Concordia Theological Monthly, November, 1957, p. 802).

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As at least one observer sees it, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod does not intend to be or to become a threat to genuine ecumenicity. On the other hand, our church body has no intention of becoming party to any Christian movement, however lofty its purposes, that is disposed to look upon divergence in faith and doctrine as desirable diversity. We are interested in any movement whose goal is genuine unity of faith based upon resolute study of the Scriptures and ready acceptance of what God has to say to us today in his Word. We are interested in confronting an unbelieving world with the Good News of God’s forgiving love in Christ, the Saviour, and in carrying out the mission of the Church without bickering and proselytism. The offense of the Cross is enough to challenge unbelief, without adding the offenses caused by our own shortsightedness or stupidity.

The existence of an independent Christian body like our own, small but determined, may at the present time be a real contribution to genuine ecumenicity, if we can offer our witness in a thoroughly Christian fashion: friendly and frank in Christian testimony to our Christian brethren, helping rather than hindering the cause of Christ throughout the world. Such witness, given in the Spirit’s power with full recognition that we are not the only Christians in the world, may be one of the best guarantees of an ecumenicity that will be a genuine product of the Spirit of God rather than merely a process of homogenization accomplished by political maneuvering and dominated by a few astute churchmen or clever church politicians.

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