I am a member of an LCMS congregation. But I addressed this letter to our brothers and sisters as a whole. We are all united by the Augsburg Confession, Small and Large Catechisms, and (for the majority of us) the complete Book of Concord. With this shared doctrinal background, I feel my concerns can and should be directed to all.
For various reason we Lutherans do not engage or associate much with other Christian denominations. I am not here to judge if any or all of the reasons are justified, but more so to air a concern that I have when we detach ourselves from the larger church. We all agree that our view of the Gospel—as explained in our confession—is the most accurate of the denominations and various groups of Christendom. No matter our feelings about our self-imposed isolation from many post reformation groups, there is a time where we must engage these groups. We must engage to show our historical approach of law and gospel accurately and have it be heard by Christendom as a whole. Keeping our accurate profession a secret, does no good for anyone involved or the universal church. I’d make a case that it is a part of our vocation to share God’s truth when miscellaneous events happen in the universal church. I say all of this to petition that we not remain quiet regarding the ‘Social Justice’ conversation that is currently taking place in the broader Christian community.
The majority of evangelical Protestants do not work with a correct framework including Law/Gospel distinction, Horizontal vs Vertical righteousness, or 3rd use of the Law. The conversation taking place about social justice would be a great opportunity to share our biblical approach to the masses and demonstrate the validity of our doctrine. One popular evangelical theologian has recently stated that “this recent (and surprisingly sudden) detour in quest of ‘social justice’ is, I believe, the most subtle and dangerous threat so far.” Instead of this position, Lutheranism offers the distinction between vertical righteousness (God to person due to being found in Christ) and horizontal righteousness (Person to person righteousness founded in our ability to love neighbor freely without concluding it is impacting justification). We can help demonstrate that it is possible to engage culture to attempt to end a form of oppression or hardship of neighbor and not falsely conclude that our relation to God is impacted by these acts of good works.
We believe, teach, and confess also that all men, but those especially who are born again and renewed by the Holy Ghost, are bound to do good works. - Epitome of Concord IV
And first, as regards the necessity or voluntariness of good works, it is manifest that in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology these expressions are often used and repeated that good works are necessary. Likewise, that it is necessary to do good works, which also are necessarily to follow faith and reconciliation. - The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord IV
As confessional Lutherans, we can show a correct dynamic between faith and works. We can demonstrate how the 3rd use of the law is applicable as God intends for use to live holy lives in the world. Even though we fail, are aim as the new washed and regenerate man is to drown the old Adam daily and strive to live per Gods commands.
Jesus stated that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law, and the law to love our neighbor is as real and applicable as ever. To conclude as the celebrity pastor John MacArthur has, that social justice is not the concern of the church is effectively a form of Gnosticism and denial of the command to love neighbor.
“But social justice means social equality, making sure everybody gets the social equality. That’s never going to happen in a fallen world, in the best of circumstances. But that is not the church’s concern.”- John MacArthur
It is true that there will always be the poor amongst us, but we are not called in holy writ to accept a problem because it will always remain until our Lord returns. To ignore the “fallen world” because it is inherently evil and only focus on the spiritual side of a person’s needs is a form of Gnosticism. This dynamic leads us to show preference, remove real empathy, and starts towards antinomianism. “Who cares that a lady was raped and murdered? We should not engage culture to state that women are made in the image of God and worthy of respect and dignity.” This could be a logical conclusion to women rights issue if this stance of evangelicalism is followed consistently. The world will never be perfect until Christ returns, but for us to be salt and light is a command of our Lord to us. Professor Joel Biermann has made an interesting statement on this:
“… to fulfill the 1st great commission, of being fruitful and multiple and have dominion over creation, means that culture building is good. So when we are working on culture building, what I mean by that would be life in the modern world … a way of honoring God and serving each other. This is God pleasing; it’s not a negative thing. And the implication of this is the material world is not evil. This idea just continues to hound us in the church and this idea is Gnosticism … Sin has messed everything up, but it’s still God’s good creation.” (Humanity in Creation by Joel Biermann, around 58min mark)
There is a striking difference between Professor Biermann’s focus on God’s command to nurture and shepherd creation (1st great commission) and John MacArthur’s argument that social equality will never happen in this fallen world and concluding it is not the church’s concern. To ignore the hardship and plight in the world because the world is fallen is not a biblical concept. We are actually commanded to the exact opposite. Refusal to love neighbor in our daily vocation is Gospel reductionism and against our creation mandate. I truly feel the world would benefit by Lutherans getting involved and sharing our doctrinal truths with Christendom.
Further, the majority of Protestantism has corrupted the understanding of the sacrament of Baptism. Thanks be to God that the sacrament is valid based His Word and Promises—not the understanding of man—but many Protestant have tried their hardest to remove God from the equation. To be able to speak to the objective truth in the waters of Baptism, God Himself unites us with Him making us brothers and sisters in Christ. Not hypothetical. Not kinda sorta. He truly washes us and applies Christ’s finished work to us and unites us.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-16
A major theme found throughout the 1 Corinthians book is unity and not showing partiality. We truly are united to Christ in baptism and have become a part of the body of Christ. How can one part of the body ignore the suffering and plight of another part of the body. Or to be more accurate, how one member of the body of Christ declare that the concerns of another member in the body is not the concern of the church.
That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together – 1 Corinthians 12:25-26
This unity found and accomplished in baptism should draw us together to love and care about the trials and hardships that our brothers/sisters experience and face. This is a beautiful gospel truth. Is this not a perspective that can be added to the racial reconciliation conversation that is greatly over looked? Protestants talk about baptism but since God’s activity is removed, it is hard to articulate the reality of what took place by them.
The influence of the anti-social justice people goes far beyond just evangelical Protestant circles. Even in our Lutheran bible studies, I do not think it is rare to find people with a John MacArthur study bible being used. I would go as far as to bet that many in our pews can recognize and are more influenced first or second hand by John MacArthur than Greg Seltz. Many will hear the name Greg Seltzs and ask “Who?” That is exactly my point. Greg Seltz was a prominent speaker on the Lutheran Hour (Lutheran flagship radio ministry with estimated over a million listeners) from 2011 to 2017. One of our biggest celebrities in our tradition is less known/impactful than MacArthur and other prominent anti-social justice supporters. John MacArthur’s reach and influence is truly massive. I as a black man cannot avoid or ignore a movement in broad Christendom driven by MacArthur that declares that Social Justice is against the Gospel. A pastor named Josh Buice was involved in the creation of the, “Social Justice and the Gospel” statement went as far to state one reason they created the statement was “That civil rights movements end was that there is no end game.” He followed this by saying the people in the 1950s and 1960s—like the faithful Lutheran Reverend Bob Greatz and other stand up men—that risked it all did it for fame and because racial division was big business. I have three baptized saints that God has placed in my care who will live in this world when I am gone, ignoring this is not a reality for me.
Without social justice efforts Jim Crow may have never ended. Without social justice from a few faithful pastors, the truth that Africans in slavery were made in God’s image deserving dignity would not have been proclaimed. Without Social Justice efforts that amazing testimony and precedent set by the first Rosa would never have happened in Alabama. I know there have been Lutheran statements composed for Lutherans by Lutherans on the subject of racism and racial relations, but broader Christendom is releasing public statement. In contrast, our statements seem like backroom conversations not written for the world. This is not satisfactory. I know within our doors we can point to these documents, but I live in a world where most have no idea about anything Lutheran. We have removed ourselves from the dialogue between Christians on major issues that impact and influence God’s creation.
I know none of the theology I mention in this letter is new. But I needed to lay out my thoughts. I also know I could be barking up the wrong tree in writing this. The outreach of MacArthur and his friends are far reaching. In our small sector it is easy to just ignore him. But in the broader American church, his voice has impact. There is a chance you agree with John MacArthur and the anti-social justice crowd, but I am willing to take this chance. There is more good to be accomplished than negative from my point of view. I have seen some Lutheran blogs leaning in agreement with MacArthur’s and the published statement. Alt-right influence is increasing on various Lutheran platforms. We even have Lutheran discernment ministries quoting individuals who says “Thank God and white people for slavery” while dismissing social justice and racial reform. They do this attempting to join forces with the MacArthur brigade. These are not the Lutheran interactions we want to be known for. In general, the confessional Lutheran doctrines—of which we should be proud—are missing from dialogue.
I have been placed in this situation with nothing to lose. Denying the outworking of the gospel shown by actually loving and caring for your neighbor is a gnostic notion. I cannot be convinced otherwise. And it is an actual position being solidified in opposition to Social Justice. I pray that this is received with an open heart and that the benefits of actually stepping in the fray to respond to John MacArthur and this public statement will be considered. The opportunity to share our sound confessional principles with the American church, comfort those in our pews, and reject unbiblical notions which directly support social oppression cannot go unanswered. I pray that once again Lutherans will be willing to stand up for the Biblical principles they confess.
Love, Grace, and Peace,
Ty aka @Lex_Lutheran
The proceeding letter was sent originally to multiple leader within my particular Lutheran denomination. The results of my request were lack luster at best. I do not have much impact in Lutheranism but many of the people I reached out to do and I was met with various responses. Some were defensive while in agreement, others were in agreement but subtly pushed responsibility back on me (a lay person) to do something, and others were strictly—“you should go talk to this other guy”—passing the buck.
I should say that I didn’t expect much even before I wrote it, but I had to try. From my perspective, most of the responses fell into a “not my problem, leave me out of it.” There are people considered to be some of the most influential evangelicals of the 20th century leading a charge and our leaders expect a lay person to effectually take a stand. That’s laughable. The notion of “go talk to this other guy” is a joke as well, because chances are this “celeb guy” would be more likely to read it coming from them, than a lay person. Essentially they stated they agreed, but did not want to get their hands dirty.
Anyhow, I am still thankful many read it and verbally—if not with action–stated they agreed. Needless to say, no major response from Lutheranism has been made and no true entry into the conversation from our theologians with a broad impact has been attempted.