The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is a primarily American Lutheran denomination. Unlike Roman Catholicism, Lutheran denominations are completely independent from each other, so the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, or LCMS, is not just a synod within a higher denominational structure, it is a self-governing Lutheran Denomination. The LCMS is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States that enforces adherence to its confessions – what is called “confessional” Lutheran. These confessions are all those listed in the book of Concord. There is one larger Lutheran denomination in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, but it is much more theologically liberal, and doesn’t require ministers to adhere to Lutheran theology any longer.
The LCMS is Trinitarian. In their doctrinal explanation, titled “Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod”, they state:
On the basis of the Holy Scriptures we teach the sublime article of the Holy Trinity; that is, we teach that the one true God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, three distinct persons, but of one and the same divine essence, equal in power, equal in eternity, equal in majesty, because each person possesses the one divine essence entire. We hold that all teachers and communions that deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity are outside the pale of the Christian Church.
As with other confessional Christian denominations, the LCMS believes in the deity of Christ, his Virgin Birth, his literal bodily resurrection, and a literal future judgment and heaven and hell.
With other confessional Lutherans, the LCMS affirms a view of sacraments as opposed to ordinances. There are at least two sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Some would say that absolution is a third sacrament.
The apology of the Augsburg Confession states,
Therefore Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments.
In 2018, The LCMS commission on theology and church relations produced a report on confession and absolution. Here is some of what they said:
[A]lthough confessional Lutheranism never repudiated its affirmation of individual confession, the practice is not regularly maintained by most Lutheran Christians, including pastors. Perhaps the most common source of Lutheran discomfort with private confession is the widespread notion that, despite some differences between Lutheran and Roman teaching, the practice is too “Catholic.” In this respect, many Lutherans seem to share a Protestant or Evangelical bias against private confession.
For Lutherans, then: Those who exercise the Office of the Keys and confession are entrusted with a twofold power and responsibility: to retain the sins of the impenitent and to forgive the sins of the penitent. The ultimate goal, however, is always to absolve the penitent. Private confession and absolution is an actual Means of Grace. It is one of the ways that sins are forgiven. Forgiveness is not merely an announcement or a proclamation, but it truly gives and effects what is proclaimed. For example, God said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), and light appeared. In the same way, God says, “I forgive you” in the absolution, and the forgiveness that Christ won for us is actually conveyed.
So in the LCMS, though private confession may not be practiced often or at all in some congregations, it is viewed as legitimate, and as a means of grace.
Also in the report on confession, the LCMS clarifies their teaching on how sacraments play a role in salvation:
Certainly, Lutheran theology teaches that forgiveness of sins is given only on account of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. Salvation is by grace through faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Moreover, it is God alone who forgives our sins. Repentant “faith believes that sins are forgiven on account of Christ, consoles the conscience, and liberates it from terrors.” So Lutherans condemn the notion that Sacraments (including confession) “justify ex opere operato” (that is, by the mere performance of the act). Rather, they are rightly used “when received in faith for the strengthening of faith.” It is by “the voice of the gospel” that “we obtain the forgiveness of sins by faith,” and to deny it is “to show contempt for the blood and death of Christ.”
Baptism is taught as a means of grace and providing salvation. The LCMS says,
Baptism, too, is applied for the remission of sins and is therefore a washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.
Baptism is primarily for infants, but those coming into the church unbaptized may be baptized as adults. The LCMS FAQ on Baptism states,
Lutherans do not believe that only those baptized as infants receive faith. Faith can also be created in a person’s heart by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s (written or spoken) Word. Baptism should then soon follow conversion (cf. Acts 8:37) for the purpose of confirming and strengthening faith in accordance with God’s command and promise. Depending on the situation, therefore, Lutherans baptize people of all ages from infancy to adulthood.
Infant Baptism is taught as producing faith in the child. The LCMS states,
…we believe that when an infant is baptized God creates faith in the heart of that infant. We believe this because the Bible says that infants can believe (Matt 18:6) and that new birth (regeneration) happens in Baptism.
The mode is usually sprinkling, though other modes are acceptable. The LCMS states,
Lutherans have therefore held that the manner of Baptism (that is, immersion, pouring, sprinkling, etc.)
does not determine whether a Baptism is valid, any more than the manner of distributing the Lord’s Supper (common cup, individual glasses) affects the validity of this Sacrament. Only the Word of God and the “element” (water), according to divine institution, makes a Baptism valid.
The LCMS blog reports the following on the practice of confirmation:
Today in the LCMS, some 99 percent of the congregations offer the rite of confirmation.
Alcoholic wine is the element of the cup at LCMS churches. The LCMS document “The theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper” says
All four accounts of the Lord’s Supper speak of “the cup.” The content of this cup was most definitely wine.
The Substitution of grape juice raises the question of whether the Lord’s instruction is being heeded.
The LCMS affirms the real presence of Christ in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. In their book “The Theology and Practice of the Lord’s Supper”, they say:
The clear claim of Christ in Holy Scripture is that His true body and blood are truly present and distributed to those who eat.
The LCMS rejects the view of the Lord’s Supper as symbolic, as well as Transubstantiation. The same book states:
Any effort to make the “This is” something less than a clear word, as Reformed theology does by denying the real presence of the body and blood of Christ on earth, is a departure from Christ’s words. On the other
hand, it is also fruitless to engage in theories about how the body and blood are present in, with, and under the bread and wine. A dogma such as transubstantiation, as generally taught by Roman Catholicism, is not set forth by Scripture.
The sacrament is also viewed as bringing divine grace:
Jesus now presents His body and blood in bread and wine as the means of divine grace “for the forgiveness of sins.”
The LCMS practices “close” communion, where only those who are members in other LCMS churches or denominations in fellowship with the LCMS may participate in communion at their churches. The LCMS document “What about fellowship in the Lord’s Supper” says,
the Synod has established an official practice requiring, ‘that pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod, except in situations of emergency and in special cases of pastoral care, commune individuals of only those synods that are now in fellowship with us.
On the Bible, the LCMS holds to a 66-book biblical canon.
On the Apocryphal books, Martin Luther said that they “are not held equal to the Scriptures, but are useful and good to read.” German Bibles of Luther’s Translation contained the apocrypha for centuries.
In 2012, the LCMS publisher, Concordia Publishing House, published a Lutheran Edition of the Apocrypha in English.
The Bible is viewed as the Word of God, Inspired, Inerrant, and Infallible. The LCMS states,
We teach that the Holy Scriptures differ from all other books in the world in that they are the Word of God. They are the Word of God because the holy men of God who wrote the Scriptures wrote only that which the Holy Ghost communicated to them by inspiration. We teach also that the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is not a so-called “theological deduction,” but that it is taught by direct statements of the Scriptures. Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters.
Officially, the LCMS holds to a literal six-day creation viewpoint, therefore rejecting evolution. In their FAQ on the age of the earth they state,
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 Romans 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 that 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.
Despite this official teaching, in 2014 the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Survey showed that only 45 percent of the LCMS members surveyed affirm that Humankind always existed in their present form, and 52% affirming some kind of human evolution.
Perhaps due to this divide between the laity and the denomination’s official views, in the 2019 LCMS convention, the LCMS passed a resolution to reinforce their belief in six-day creation. The resolution states in part,
WHEREAS, Many pastors and other church workers may not be familiar with Synod’s statements regarding the scriptural teaching on creation and our place within that creation; therefore be it Resolved, That the Synod in convention confess that Holy Scripture teaches that: • God created the world in six natural days. We confess that the duration of those natural days is proclaimed in God’s Word, “There was evening, and there was morning, the first day” (Gen. 1:5); • the creation of the first man, Adam, who was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), was an historical event; • death came into the world as the consequence of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12); and be it further Resolved, That pastors and other church workers be encouraged to confess, witness to, and uphold in their teaching the Synod’s publicly stated positions as set forth in A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod, Article 5.
On the human sin nature, the LCMS states,
“we must confess what St. Paul says in Romans 5:12″ about the origin of sin through Adam as described in Genesis 3 (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31).”
The LCMS rejects the common Evangelical teaching of a one-time salvation experience based on a moment of faith, but rather that the ongoing sacraments are part of a person’s reception of salvation grace. They say:
We reject as a dangerous error the doctrine, which disrupted the Church of the Reformation, that the grace and the Spirit of God are communicated not through the external means ordained by Him, but by an immediate operation of grace. This erroneous doctrine bases the forgiveness of sins, or justification, upon a fictitious “infused grace,” that is, upon a quality of man, and thus again establishes the work-doctrine of the papists.
We discussed earlier how that the LCMS views Baptism as a sacrament bringing salvation grace. However, the LCMS does not teach that a person cannot be saved without baptism. In their FAQ they state,
The LCMS does not believe that Baptism is ABSOLUTELY necessary for salvation. All true believers in the Old Testament era were saved without baptism. Mark 16:16 implies that it is not the absence of Baptism that condemns a person but the absence of faith, and there are clearly other ways of coming to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit (reading or hearing the Word of God). Still, Baptism dare not be despised or willfully neglected, since it is explicitly commanded by God and has His precious promises attached to it.
On whether good works are a part of salvation, the LCMS states,
…the central and consistent teaching of Paul that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ is nowhere more beautifully summarized than in Eph. 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works …”
By its very definition “grace” means that human works do not contribute in any way to a person’s salvation or justification, as St. Paul says in Rom. 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
Or as the apostle had already said in 3:28, “…a man is justified by faith apart from [Greek: choris] works of law.” […] as Luther again put it once, as an apple tree makes fruit and the fruit does not make an apple tree, so works do not make a Christian, but a Christian does good works.
On the details of election and salvation, the LCMS FAQ quotes Dr. Thomas Manteufel positively in explaining its differences from the traditional reformed or Presbyterian views. Total Depravity is affirmed, but the LCMS position is at odds with the other four points of Calvinism. Manteufel states, in opposition to Unconditional Election,
“the Bible does not teach, as do the Calvinists, that some are predestined for damnation. God wants all to be saved.”
In contrast to limited atonement, he says:
“It is true that Christ died for the church and purchased it with His blood (Eph. 5:25; Acts 20:28). Furthermore, His atoning death does not mean that all people are saved (1 Cor. 1:18). However, Jesus died for all (2 Cor. 5:15).”
In contrast to irresistible grace, he says,
Scripture warns we can resist God’s gracious call. Some people do resist God’s grace, or all would be saved. Furthermore, God warns us not to resist His grace.
In contrast to Perseverance of the Saints, he says:
We affirm with Scripture that those who are predestined to salvation cannot be lost but will continue by God’s power to a blessed end. Scripture does not teach, however, that those who come to faith cannot lose that faith.
At the height of the Charismatic movement, the LCMS made a booklet addressing Charismatism. While not condemning the Charismatic movement wholesale, the book made it clear that the Charismatic claim of the ongoing gifts of tongues, miracles, and so forth was not their doctrine. The book said,
While Lutherans rejoice in the gracious promise that the gift of the Holy Spirit will be given to all generations of believers (Acts 2:39), neither the Scriptures nor the Lutheran Confessions support the view that this gift of the Spirit necessarily includes such extraordinary spiritual gifts as tongues, miracles, miraculous healings, and prophecy (1 Cor. 12). According to the pattern revealed in the Bible, God does not necessarily give His church in all ages the same special gifts. He bestows His blessings according to His good pleasure.
The book also stated,
It Is Contrary to the Holy Scriptures, and Therefore Dangerous to the Salvation of Men, to
1. That God desires every Christian, following Baptism, to have a “second experience” such as the “baptism with the Spirit.”
2. That the so-called “gifts of the Spirit” are external signs by which we can assure ourselves that we have faith, are living in God’s grace, or have the Spirit of God.
3. That God promises every Christian such gifts as speaking in tongues, healing, discerning of spirits, and prophesy and that God has given such a promise as a part of the “full” or “complete Gospel.”
On End-times, or Eschatology, the LCMS is amillennial, or in other words, they do not teach a literal 1,000 year millennium. They therefore do not teach in a rapture of believers separate from the second coming of Christ, or believe in a literal 7-year tribulation. Their FAQ states,
Lutherans certainly believe what Paul teaches in this passage, namely, that those who are still living on earth when Christ returns visibly on the last day “will be caught up” (“raptured”) together with “the dead in Christ” to “meet the Lord in the air.”
Some Christians teach, however, that the “rapture” will take place not on the last day but in connection with an “invisible” coming of Christ occurring before a seven-year period of “tribulation” on earth, allowing Christians to “escape” this tribulation and then later return to earth for a literal “1,000 year reign of Christ.”
Lutherans do not believe that these teachings are based on a proper understanding of Scripture. Scripture teaches that all Christians will endure varying degrees of “tribulation” until the last day, that Christ will return only once (visibly) to “catch up” (“rapture”) all believers, living and dead, into heaven, and that all believers will reign forever with him in heaven.
Lutherans understand the “1,000 years” of Rev. 20:11-15 to be a figurative reference to Christ’s reign here and now in the hearts and lives of believers, which will culminate in our reigning with Christ forever in heaven following his return on the last day.
On Homosexuality, the 2001 LCMS convention resolution “Ministry to Homosexuals and their families” said in part,
“The Law of God declares homosexual lust and activity to be sin and contrary to the created order.”
The Synod in convention encourage its congregations to minister to homosexuals and their families in a spirit of compassion and humility, recognizing that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”
In November 1987, the LCMS produced a study booklet on divorce and remarriage. The following excepts of their summary statements should clarify LCMS teaching on the matter:
When God instituted marriage at creation He intended that it be the lifelong union of one man and one woman. By its very nature the one flesh union of husband and wife will not permit the intrusion of a third party; therefore, what God has joined together let no man put asunder.
Divorce, destructive of what God has joined together, is always contrary to God’s intention for marriage.
A person who divorces his/her spouse for any other cause than sexual unfaithfulness and marries another commits adultery. Anyone who marries a person so discarding his/her spouse commits adultery.
When a spouse commits fornication (i.e., is guilty of sexual unfaithfulness), which breaks the unity of the marriage, the offended party who endures such unfaithfulness has the right, though not the command, to obtain a legal divorce and remarry.
A spouse who has been willfully and definitively abandoned by his/her partner who refuses to be reconciled and is unwilling to fulfill the obligations of the marriage covenant despite persistent persuasion may seek a legal divorce, which in such a case constitutes a public recognition of a marriage already broken, and remarry.
The following statement from the same booklet presents a position on remarriage:
[T]he request of divorced persons desiring remarriage must be evaluated and a response given that is in harmony with what the Scriptures teach regarding repentance and the forgiveness of sins. In cases of the remarriage of persons divorced for reasons not Biblically sanctioned, true repentance would presuppose a genuine desire to reconcile with one’s estranged spouse. It is difficult to imagine, for example, how genuine contrition can exist or how absolution can be announced when there is present a refusal to seek healing. Where the refusal to reconcile and to seek healing is judged to be absent-insofar as such a judgment is possible-the pastor will be constrained to deny a request for remarriage.
On Abortion and taking of life, the 1984 LCMS document “Abortion in Perspective” says,
It has become increasingly common in our society to speak as if taking life-whether of the unborn through abortion, of the handicapped or retarded child through benign neglect or infanticide, or of the suffering and the senile through euthanasia-were a way of serving the well-being of those whose lives we take. Against all such misuse of language Christians insist that the task entrusted us by God is to help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need, not to rush the neighbor out of existence and beyond the realm of bodily need.
In this book, after making a scriptural case, it is stated,
The Scriptural principles offered here compel us to regard abortion on demand not only as a sin against the Fifth Commandment forbidding the destruction of human life, but also as a grievous offense against the First-that we worship the one true God and cling to Him alone.
Traditional worship, with the hymns and liturgical style is more common than contemporary among LCMS churches. There are those within the LCMS who are opposed to contemporary worship styles, but many churches do offer contemporary services. In 1996, the LCMS commission on worship produced a document called “Reflections on Contemporary / Alternative Worship”, in which they stated,
In recent years a significant debate has emerged in our Synod concerning our way of worship. Partly out of a desire to communicate the Gospel more effectively both to members and to the unchurched, a number of congregations have altered the orders of service provided in our hymnals. For some this foray into what is commonly called “contemporary worship” entails substituting new materials for various parts of the liturgy. For others the services go well beyond altering existing worship patterns; rather, they have chosen to design services that clearly depart from the historic pattern of worship that has been handed down to succeeding generations of Christians for nearly 2,000 years.
The controversy over worship styles continues today.
Along with Luther himself, the LCMS is not opposed to consuming alcohol. Their FAQ states,
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.
The LCMS does not teach a required tithe, that is, the giving of ten percent of one’s income to the church. Their FAQ says,
…while tithing may be a good spiritual discipline and a good starting point for a mature Christian, it may not be the best way to present biblical giving since it can easily become a legalistic requirement of the law rather than a cheerful offering motivated by the love of God shown toward us in Christ.
LCMS churches typically have a form of congregational polity, led by a pastor.
The Biblical term of Bishop is synonymous with the office of pastor.
LCMS churches typically have lay offices of elder or deacon. The LCMS FAQ states,
Strictly speaking, the word “elder” in the Bible (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 5:17-19, Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Peter 5:1-4) refers to those who hold the pastoral office. What we commonly call “elders” in the LCMS are laypersons appointed to serve a congregation in various ways, in keeping with its constitution and bylaws.
Such “elders” hold an office that is humanly defined and is not the equal of biblical elders. As a humanly defined office, the term elder itself does not have a uniform meaning throughout the Synod. Indeed, some congregations prefer the term “deacon” to refer to laymen with similar duties.
Elders (or deacons) typically support and assist the pastor in in his spiritual and administrative tasks toward the goal of nurturing and strengthening the spiritual life, mission, and ministry of the congregation.
The office of pastor is divinely instituted and indispensable for the Church, but an elder or deacon is a humanly instituted office. Where it exists, it seeks to provide help, support, and encouragement for pastors.
Churches may also have deaconesses. The LCMS website says,
LCMS deaconesses are women who are professional church-workers, trained to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ through works of mercy, spiritual care, and teaching the Christian faith. “Deaconess,” from the Greek word diakonos, means “servant.”
The LCMS does not ordain women to the office of pastor. A 1994 report of the commission on theology and Church Relations titled “The Service of Women in Congregational and Synodical offices” stated:
In addition to the moral and vocational qualifications required of those divinely placed into this high office in the church (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 3:5–9), the Scriptures teach that the incumbent of the pastoral office must be a man.
LCMS ministers are not required to be celibate.
The LCMS is in full altar and pulpit fellowship with 38 other Lutheran denominations from around the world, including four with which fellowship was established in 2019. A small but notable US denomination they are in fellowship with is the American Association of Lutheran Churches. The LCMS is a member of the International Lutheran Council, but not part of the Lutheran World Federation, National Council of Churches, World Council of Churches, or National Association of Evangelicals
Membership in the LCMS in 1925 was 628,000, which increased to 1.6 million in 1950. 1970 was the peak of membership, just under 2.8 million, In 2015, their membership was just under 2.1 million, and the 2018 report sets membership at 1,968,641, and 6,046 congregations.