There is a spiritual leprosy. We commonly call it unionism. Unionism is a diseased condition of the church. And it is a fatal disease. It ends in spiritual tuberculosis or a state of coma, the precursor of spiritual death. . . Moreover, and this makes the present subject so vital - we all have within us the germs of unionism. (NOTE: Unionism is church fellowship without unity in doctrine and practice.)
When we confess Christ, we must bear reproach. And we can confess Christ in no other way than by confessing the truth as He taught it. But confession of the truth by word of mouth is inseparable from confession by deed and practice. Even if there were no single text in Scripture which commands us to separate ourselves from those who deny any part of the truth, we should still, by inner necessity, if we are faithful disciples, bear witness against error through the testimony of withdrawal from false teachers and their followers. Jesus says that He has come not to bring peace, but division. (Luke 12:51) The Word divides those who are faithful from those who are unfaithful. And when Scripture says: "Be ye separate," (2 Corinthians 6:17), "Avoid them," (Romans 16:17), these commands find a ready response in the attitude of the believer's heart. The Christian knows that false doctrine is sin.
But here our spirit is put to a sore test. Separation from those who teach falsely will inevitably expose us to slurs and bitter reproach: "Pharisees!" "Holier - than - thou Christians!" is hurled at us. "A loveless Christianity!" "Proud aloofness!" "Unchristian intolerance!" These are bitter words, and our flesh is weak; we are tempted to look for some means of escape from such reproach. And that is the entering wedge of unionism!
Satan sees his opportunity. "Yea, hath God said?" (Genesis 3:1) Doubts arise: "Is it really necessary to stand so uncompromisingly on details of doctrine? Are not some doctrines difficult to understand? Is it not reasonable to suppose that Christians may 'honestly differ,' because the Word of God 'has left some things obscure?' Why then be separate from those who at least hold the 'great essentials' of Christianity in common with us?"
We recognize the serpent's hiss and strike down the tempter with the Sword of the Spirit: "It is written!" (Matthew 4) The teachings of the Word of God are not a vague, luminous mist, but a clear, steady light. We re-examine the Scriptures and confess that in all its teachings the Bible is indeed, as Luther called it, "The clearest book ever written." No, we cannot yield.
The simple words of Scripture are too powerful; the Truth is ours, and
those who deny it depart from the evident sense of the inspired Word. There
can be no compromise. "Get thee behind me, Satan!" (Matthew 16:23)
Thus we can escape the infection.
Our Synodical Conference, of which the Missouri Synod is part,
has so far stood four - square against unionism. Will it continue to stand?
Will it resist the tremendous pressure exerted by those who plead for unity,
regardless of doctrinal agreement. . . (Will it continue) to offset the
inroads of unbelief, and to oppose aggression of Romanism? Will it remain
100% Lutheran? . . . (COMMENTARY: This article was written
in 1918. Unfortunately, the questions must be answered in the negative.
The Synodical Conference officially dissolved in 1967. It had succumbed
Behold the final state of such a church: Because they tolerated
error in their midst and permitted their faithful churches and pastors
to remain in fellowship with unfaithful churches and pastors, the representatives
of the so-called conservative element of the Reformed Churches round about
are helpless over against the inroads of unbelief. The official publishing
house of the Methodists is publishing Sunday School literature which is
absolutely unchristian. . . . Everywhere sectarian preachers are openly
denying the very fundamentals of Christian doctrine. Churches are rapidly
degenerating into agencies of political reform, and in many cases have
given up even the pretense to a spiritual mission. Such churches are dying
of spiritual tuberculosis, the final stage of spiritual leprosy - unionism.
True Christians there will always be where there are Bible-readers;
but the organism dies. A church may be re-born, reformed, built up anew
out of the debris of its former self, but that has ever been the case only
after unionism had worked its final result, spiritual death. The place
for unionistic Christianity is not the sanitarium, but the morgue.
No one believes that any Missouri Synod man would dare to propose at this time (1918) official synodical collaboration with the Reformed sects in church-work. That is a late development at which one does not arrive at a jump. On the other hand, the danger is ever present that on the specious plea of advancing the cause of "Lutheranism," we be tempted to enter into fellowship with members of synods Lutheran in name, but only partly Lutheran in doctrine and practice. There is danger that we get a taste of applause and flattery; that we become eager for "recognition" as a great church-body; that we compromise our doctrinal stand for the purpose of meeting emergencies. And the time to become aware of that danger is NOW.
It is a bad sign when hearers become angry at their pastor for "preaching against other churches." It is a worse sign when pastors, bowing to such disapproval, begin to withhold instructions concerning the errors of the sects. It is a most alarming symptom when pastors and parishoners fraternize. . . with those who represent a different conception of Lutheranism. It becomes denial of the Truth when they associate with such for the purpose of "making church-work more effective" or "keeping the Lutheran Church on the map."
As we love our church, let us so teach our people so that they will fear the contagion of error as they would fear to breathe the air of a small-pox hospital. Let us exhibit to them the damnableness of false doctrine. Let us preach Luther on this point, who saw only the work of Satan in every deviation from the truth of Scripture. If our people learn to recognize every false doctrine as a snare of the devil, spread to catch victims for hell, they will not need to be held with a rein lest they stampede into unionism. . .
Let it be understood that any undertaking or activity which is, in effect, the doing of religious work jointly with those from whom we ought, according to Scripture to separate, is unionism. Here, if ever, the old sayings must apply: "Nip the evil in the bud." Our first duty is that of watchfulness. There is no higher duty now because there is no greater danger.
We regret that Dr. Graebner did not continue in this same firm position in the later years of his life. This, however does not affect the soundness of his former testimony, including also the fine witness he bears in the above article.
[This article was originally reproduced by the now sainted Rev. Waldemar Schuetze, pastor at the time in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The undersigned retyped it and has added the Scripture references.]
Daniel Fleischer - 1995
The heart of all that the Lord has commissioned us to preach is the Gospel. The principle of fellowship set forth in Scripture serves the cause of the Gospel. Christians will practice the principle out of love for God and His Word. It is practiced for the sake of our children to whom we have a responsibility to pass on the Truth of God. It is practiced out of love for the neighbor to whom we are to witness in word and deed. - - - DF