Thursday, July 24, 2014

DEEDS or CREEDS?

DEEDS or CREEDS?
by Mr. Vernon Kneprath

‘Deeds or Creeds’ is the title of one application for the Sunday School lesson about Rahab in material published by the WELS publisher, Northwestern Publishing House.1 The application is a lesson in itself; one that is applicable to all who are confronted with the question regarding what should or must be included in worship services.

A question is posed in the lesson…
    “Which do you think is more important, deeds or creeds?” Or, in other words, what is more important? Is it the things you say you believe, with words, or is it the things you do, based on your beliefs?
The lesson goes on to teach (paraphrased)…
    We may think that deeds are more important because they show what we believe. But our deeds cannot bring anyone to faith.  Only the Gospel can. That’s why our creed – a confession of what we believe – is important to share with others.  We confess our faith in church as we say the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed and when we sing the liturgy and hymns. We confess our faith at home, work, and school when we talk about God and what he has done for us.

    Our deeds (good works) do not help to save in any way. They are simply our thankful response to what God has done for us through His Son, Jesus. The Holy Spirit uses our creed (confessions of faith in God’s Word) to lead unbelievers to faith and to strengthen and encourage fellow believers.
This Biblical teaching is from WELS material published 15 years ago. Some might argue it is outdated. Some might argue that the culture has changed so much that the lesson should be changed to reflect something more real, more relevant. As some WELS congregations turn toward contemporary worship services they are commonly changing or even removing the Creeds from worship in an effort to become more “user-friendly.”

When teachers who teach this lesson (and students who learn it) notice that the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are omitted from worship, they are confronted with the inconsistency of teaching and practice. A church which fails to practice what is taught to the youth soon loses all credibility. The likely conclusion is that neither the words (creeds) nor the practices (deeds) matter.

The Gospel message in the Creeds is the means by which God creates and strengthens faith. That message is timeless and indifferent to culture. That’s why the Creeds have been a part of our worship service for centuries. Remove the Creeds from worship service? Outdated? Irrelevant? The Gospel of the Creeds is what all people need to hear.

------------
Endnotes:
  1. Week 8, Lesson B, Page 114. Grades 5-6 Old Testament, Christlight. Northwestern Publishing House. 1999


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Time to Spill the Beans

The Cult of Organization
The Cult of “The Organization”...
I stumbled across the following, rather old, exposé this morning while visiting the blog Polluted WELS. The author of that blog, a current WELS pastor who, understandably, finds it necessary to remain anonymous, included a link to it in his post, Conformity over Confession. While the details are dated, as a WELS pastor, he indicates that “all of the basics are absolutely accurate,” and that he “can personally verify that it’s true.” I’m sure that he can, as I’ve been told similar types of stories myself (though, hardly as detailed).

With these sorts of “bonding rituals,” rather than a common Confession and mutual commitment to Scripture and the Confessions, functioning as the seal of unity among WELS clergy, it is no wonder that all of the vigorous discussion over Lutheran confessionalism – the maintenance of orthodox teaching, the retention of distinctive Lutheran catholicity in practice – whether such discussion is engaged in private, or in public, leads to naught. Not only does such discussion “go nowhere,” worse, it’s as if it has never taken place, as if very well-founded concerns don’t exist, as if there isn’t an anxious expectation that these issues be dealt with openly and immediately. But all ears are deaf, just as all voices are mute.

I characterized this observation in a comment on Intrepid Lutherans last October:
    I no longer find it odd that such a thing [i.e., thoughtful, open and respectful disputation on matters of genuine disagreement, such that they would lead to resolution and genuine unity] does not, and will probably never, happen in WELS – on this or any other consequential matter of doctrine or practice – and have entirely ceased looking for or expecting that any such thing will ever happen among them. There is a continuing strident refusal to openly discuss important matters. Rather than find it odd, I recognize it for what it is – as a foreboding cultic tendency. People who get sucked into cults lose their self-identity – their concept of self becomes indistinguishable from the group, and apart from the group’s leadership they feel as if they have no guidance and no hope. Positional authority is a psychological weapon among such leaders, and they use it to retain the dedication of their followers and to urge them toward greater productivity in the interest of the group. I’m beginning to see now, what I denied existed when my friends and family first warned us about this sort of thing when we joined WELS over a decade ago.
Indeed, we have in the past featured on this blog one of the famous lectures of Dr. Walter Martin – renowned expert on Cults and the Occult – on the Cult of Liberalism, highlighting and exploring several sections from it in application to what is occurring now, before our very eyes: waning regard for the authority and perspicuity of the Scriptures as it continues to slouch toward greater uncertainty, the incremental shifts that seem to be occurring in ecclesiastical terminology, the theological language games that are suffered in response to serious questioning, and the apparent voicelessness of the laity. I encourage the reader to revisit this lecture: The Average Layman is Defenseless!

So who can a layman trust? That was the question asked by Mr. Vernon Kneprath on Monday. And he is right: our trust derives from the very Word of God; every pastor and every congregation is to be tested according to it. But the laity need pastors. Which ones can laymen trust to tell them the truth, given that the “Organization” they have been initiated into is corrupt? I’ll submit that a good place to start is with the ones who are willing to demonstrably exercise their confessional convictions in defiance of corruption, ultimately in open defiance of an “Organization” that perpetuates it. Whether or not such individuals are orthodox or truthful, at least one can be assured that they are not acting as puppets of the “Organization,” or speaking as its parrots. How else would a person know? A closed, unresponsive, impenetrable organization that wields, or at least arrogates to itself, power over individuals, whether physical, spiritual, psychological or financial, ought never be trusted.

I “Kelm'ed” the following from the link shared by “Matthias Flach,” on his post Conformity over Confession, adding images with corresponding commentary where I felt it appropriate. The original article can be found here. I see that it has been reposted, today, by the original author, here.



MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.

6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419
602-334-8014; chemnitz@bigplanet.com

INITIATION ABUSE IN THE WISCONSIN EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN SYOND

Earlier I sent around a review of two books about abusive churches. I thought the books would benefit people who had suffered from abusive clergy.

David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1991. 235 pages. Roland Enroth, Churches That Abuse, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. 231 pages.

Many congregations are abusive as well, led as they are by adulterers, thieves, and various types of criminals. I have served several congregations where a significant number of people had police records, extensive experience in the courts, or secret girlfriends. It is always strange to see such people act shocked over some imagined offense (pancakes, for instance) when they have been arrested, tried, and convicted of serious offenses, hiding the facts in some way.

It is also strange to see church officials working with and encouraging such characters to cause trouble in the congregation, then acting shocked that there is trouble. One church official, for instance, gave three divine calls to a family member who was a sex offender, a man who liked to sneak into bathrooms and watch young women take showers. When he got into trouble in his second call, the sex offender got a third call. I have the arrest record and the admission from this “conservative” Lutheran pastor that he had been in the girls’ dormitory and in their bathrooms on previous occasions. The synod president reported, after the arrest, that no one else was involved in the sex crime. However, I think that the young woman who was being leered at while she was taking a shower was involved as a victim of this pastor, his powerful relative, and his abusive synod.

WELS Initiation Rites

WELS has initiation rites at each level of schooling, although I do not know about teachers at Martin Luther College. This is what happens or has happened to boys who want to become WELS pastors:

Prep School Level
The WELS prep schools are residential high schools aimed at promoting church vocations, so that more students become parochial school teachers or pastors. The LCMS had a similar system and took it apart. WELS has eliminated two of its four prep schools in recent history.

Freshman prep students go through two kinds of initiation. One involves such things as dressing the boys as girls and making them wear makeup. The other is called sechsing, after a nickname for freshmen. If an upper classman yells “Sechs,” a freshman has to run errands and do various subservient things. It is a great situation for bullies, who push the freshmen to the limits and then scorn anyone who complains.

At one prep school, any boy who discussed problems with bullying was picked off the floor by his nipples. No one is allowed to “tell.” At the same time, the dean of men urged parents to have their children tell him who was being abusive. Boys either shut up to avoid the torture or they dropped out of school. The dean knew this. One board member’s wife heard about this and said she would never send her children to such a school. Her husband, a WELS pastor, said, “That’s how the system works.”

Physical abuse and bullying are common in such a situation, because no one can deal with the facts. If a boy is disciplined, he finds out the source of the information. He and his friends retaliate. The school’s staff members came through the same system, so they know how it works.

The Late Northwestern College
WELS merged Northwestern College in Watertown into Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota. That was only a few years ago, so most WELS pastors have gone through college and seminary initiation.

Northwestern College was an all male school. A woman could attend, but few did, because the curriculum was aimed at preparing men for the WELS seminary. Period. The courses were long on languages and short on math and science.

Freshman initiation could be fun, but bullies often took over and got their chance to get even with younger students. One student ran through a gauntlet of pillows. Each older student got to hit him with a pillow. A bit dusty, but harmless. One older student loaded the pillowcase with books and knocked the freshman out cold. That is assault.

Male Students of Martin Luther College (WELS):
Practicing for GA ...or just practicing?
Gay is as Gay does...
Homosexuality seems to be the “in-thing” these days among Christians having an ardent desire to present themselves to the world as “Real, Relational and Relevant.” Back in the 1970’s, the “in-thing” seemed to be young women having children out of wedlock. Now that neither of these appear “abnormal” to the world anymore (nor are they to “worldly Christians”), I wonder how GA rituals will be enhanced to replace these rather normative worldly-Christian behaviours? How will GA change when women are eventually admitted by WELS into the Office of the Holy Ministry? Sado-Masochism generally follows from boredom with “mere homosexuality” in a person's descent from a “narrow heterosexuality,” does it not? Is that going to be the new abnormality, i.e., the new mark of Christian “Real-ness, Relational-ness and Relevance?”
One freshman got his bare buttocks whipped with a wire coat-hanger. He is a subservient church leader today. Obviously, some of the initiation activities were not only sadistic but homosexual in nature. It was a custom to force the entire freshmen class to simulate anal intercourse with the famous “Runner on His Mark” statue at the college. The dean of men stopped statue sodomy only when a formal complaint was lodged.

Most parents were kept in the dark, because a student complaint would only bring wrath down on the freshman. The prep school graduates warned the non-preps what would happen if they talked. No one wanted to be accused of being a “sissy” who talked. All the students are told, “Only the tough survive here.”

Bone Cruncher
WELS even had pre-initiation initiation. I attended the Bone Cruncher, which is aimed at college seniors on their way to seminary at Mequon. Each senior is given some form of bone. The athletes get a large bone, to signify approval of the Mequon students. The studious types get bone ground up in water in a glass. Those who have escaped WELS realize that public humiliation is part of “the system.”

I attended the basketball game and dinner of Bone Cruncher but did not see some of the worst behavior others have described. It is difficult to worm out of men what they hated, because it is both embarrassing to admit it and dangerous to talk. Several facts came out about other events. One is that men are told to wear their best clothes, but they are forced to sit down on food, get on the floor, and in general wreck their clothes. They are told later to submit cleaning bills if they want to, but it is understood that only a sissy would do that. The seniors are given “new names” at the dinner. Many times these names are obscene renditions of their given names. (Is this a parody of baptism?) I pressed one man for examples. He said, “For instance, a man named Knollmueller will be renamed Hole-Filler.” All of these men are future pastors.

Another aspect of public humiliation is having wives and girlfriends at the Bonecruncher. Do men really want to sit down in food, act like fools, and get obscene names in front of their wives and girlfriends? There is also a “speech” of some type, full of inside jokes and mean remarks. It is supposed to be funny but it is often aimed at certain seniors.

Long before someone steps onto the Mequon campus, the message is clear, “We have a certain way of doing things. If you do not like it, go away. If you speak up about it, we will make your life Hell on earth.” When I spoke to the Northwestern College president about initiation, his criticism of one pastor was, “He didn’t go along with initiation when he was here.” This was many years later. A senior leader of WELS indicted a pastor for not liking initiation! Therefore, the pastor’s criticisms could not be taken seriously.

This same college president tried to fight against the merger of Northwestern College and Martin Luther College. I understand that he was not allowed to speak to the issue on the floor of the convention. He said it was the lowest point in his ministry. I saw it as the last bitter fruit of initiation rites. He did not conform to the synod vision-thing, so he was silenced.

GA at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon
One must consider the vast amount of conformity imposed on WELS men before they step onto the Mequon campus. It used to be that students who qualified by going to Bethany had their own independent judgment and tended to be fairly Lutheran. Those students, who missed the thrill of Northwestern College, are called (their entire ministry) Bethany Bombers. It is not a compliment. WELS pastors routinely run down the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and make fun of “Bombers.” WELS pastors also distrust MLC graduates and figure all teachers are “trouble-makers.”

We were singing a hymn in chapel at Mequon. One seminary senior said, “See that guy’s name? His daughter is the bitch who started the Protest’ant crisis. That’s why pastors don’t trust teachers.” The crisis took place in the 1920s.

GA (for gemutliches Abend; friendly evening) began in the 1920s as a way to unify the seminary student body after a divisive split. The big-shots actually fired the seminary president and kicked him out. In a tiny synod where everyone is related, that can cause some friction and hard feelings.

A Church of the Lutheran Confession pastor told me that GA was stopped twice because “they went too far.” But it was started again each time. I do not believe it will ever stop until a lawsuit costs the seminary too much money. Many older CLC pastors have been through GA, because they were WELS. The toxic influence is easy to see.

Every single WELS pastor has been through GA. They are sworn to absolute secrecy. They are not allowed to tell anyone, including their wives, about GA. It is a tribute to the intimidation of WELS that many sons of WELS pastors go into GA without knowing the script. If students have found out the secrets of GA and let on, the upper classmen give them Hell.

The GA Experience
Round One is the great debate about whether to have GA. Recently a former lawyer gave the “speech.” Some students really believed he was against having GA, because he listed so many good reasons to not having initiation. The same kind of lying speech is arranged each year. The WELS pastors call it “mind games.” The phony debate is so serious that first year students phone home and say, “Dad, they aren’t going to have GA this year. They are really serious about canceling it.” That is when the father, a pastor, smiles. He knows they are doing a good job of mixing up the students.

The ideal GA victim has looked forward to it for many years. He has heard hints about it, but no one will say what it is. The ordained pastors will make cryptic remarks and laugh, adding to the mystery. One WELS leader, Vic Prange said, “It is our Masonic Lodge.”

After the great debate, a vote is taken and GA goes ahead as scheduled. (One WELS exile has GA minutes, but I could not pry them out of him. He and someone else complained about GA in advance. To whom? Remember the dean at the prep school, mentioned early? They went to him and were told to “give GA a chance.” The dean of men at the seminary (new job) told them, “The good outweighs the bad in GA.” Both men failed to graduate from the WELS seminary. One went elsewhere. The other dropped out at some point. I am not claiming that it was only because of GA. But it was a tactical error to complain in advance.

Hards and Softs (Pietists)
GA is not ordinary initiation. For a week, the freshmen are befriended by upperclassmen called “Softs” or “Pietists.” During the same time they are persecuted by “Hards.” Those who hated GA as freshmen are often put in the role of “Hards.” They think themselves very clever in having men do role reversals. It is a way of being accepted.

When people complain about being deceived by WELS pastors, I remind them that GA trains them to play these roles and take pride in them.

The Pope
Someone is elected pope of GA. This is an honor. James Tiefel was GA pope, a sign of future greatness. Tiefel is a professor at the seminary now. The pope issues orders to the freshmen. The pope I saw was one of the few Black WELS pastors. He clowned around, acted gay, and wore a costume.

The upperclassmen force the freshmen to do certain things, such as push a wagon up a hill or do pushups on the ground when ordered. I saw men pouring beer on freshmen as they did pushups.

At one point there is a meal in the darkened cafeteria. There is more “naming” of students. I saw some cryptic remarks on a chalkboard going into the cafeteria. I did not see this meal. Others told me that the seniors knocked cigar ashes into the chili and ordered the freshmen to drink it. Others were told to drink pond-water (which was thought to be tainted with human sewage).

Baptized into the Organization
Baptized into the...“Organization”
...while diving for bowling balls.
The behavior toward the new students is quite menacing, and the freshmen get caught up in the mood of GA. The Hards are out to get them and the Softs are helpful. They don’t know these are assigned roles.

I saw one annual event of GA. The students were told to put on old clothes. The pope ordered them to look for his bowling ball in the pond. It is not exactly fun in the fall in Wisconsin. One seminary faculty member was watching when this happened. He was smiling and enjoying GA. Most faculty members disappear completely during GA. The students had to immerse themselves to look for the imaginary ball lost in the tainted pond. When they returned to the dorm, soaking wet, they were told to strip outside. So there, in the courtyard, the entire freshman class stripped naked before going to their rooms to change. One pastor, now a circuit pastor, said, laughing, “The cafeteria ladies always clean vegetables near the windows of the kitchen when it’s time for the clothes to come off.”

I have been told that the students keep their clothes on now.

The sexual and sadistic overtones of Mequon initiation are fairly obvious. I know of one man whose tooth was knocked out. I have heard other stories, but the facts are quite vague. The brainwashing is so complete that one WELS pastor told me that all synods have initiation. I said, “I know about that than you do, and I can tell you they do not. No other synod has initiation for seminary students. I have joined several synods and I never had to take my clothes off to do so.”

GA Climax
The terror builds up during GA week. The final event takes place with the Softs guiding freshmen on a final escape. The freshmen are brought individually to a lounge which is described as the only possible way to get out. The upperclassmen are on the other side making a ton of noise. The freshman barrels into the room, terrified. The older students catch him, tell him it’s all over, and offer him a beer. Each student is brought to the closer door in the same way.

One pastor made an acute statement about GA, “Whether one hates GA or loves it, the moment he accepts the beer, his feet are set in concrete. He will always be one of them. A false sense of unity is created quickly by tricks rather than letting the Gospel unify men slowly.”

GA Syndrome
I have noticed a number of symptoms of GA, exceeding what can be found in most synods.
  1. Classmates can do no wrong. One WELS pastor was denouncing me to my face for writing in Christian News. I said, “Parcher does too.” He immediately began defending Parcher. Later I noticed from the wall of photos that he was a classmate of Parcher.
  2. Always obey the pope. The WELS pastors and the ELS leaders (trained at Northwestern College) will do whatever they are told to do. Once the Church Growth unionists got themselves into power, no one could stop them. To question is an admission of disloyalty to the synod and to classmates. One GA proponent, now a district president, spoke again unionism and declared WELS opposition to any form of unionism. Later, he urged all the pastors in his district to attend the WELS pan-denominational worship conference at Carthage College.
  3. Opponents must be publicly humiliated until they leave or give in. This makes WELS pastors and laity especially servile. When they were told to break with the LCMS because the LCMS tolerate the liberal Martin Marty, they broke with Missouri. Years later, when they were told to listen to Martin Marty (now in ELCA) in Florida at a Church Growth event with Missouri and ELCA, they listened to Martin Marty.
  4. WELS is considered co-terminous with the Kingdom of God, so dissenters are shunned. Their fear of being excluded keeps them obedient. As many pastors have said, erroneously, “If WELS is gone, there is nothing left.”
  5. Titles of WELS books are unintentionally funny: WELS and Other Lutherans, even though WELS is at best 5% of American Lutheranism; Biblical Interpretation, The Only Right Way, in spite of the fact that it was written by a man who endorses Pietistic cell groups.
  6. False teachers can casually endorse Calvinistic or liberal doctrine without fear of retribution. There are no retractions or corrections. Theodore Hartwig, Paul Kelm, David Valleskey, James Huebner, Larry Olson, Michael Albrecht, Iver Johnson, are some of the better known examples. One congregation was “kicked out” of WELS but is just as much a part of WELS as Herman Otten is part of the Missouri Synod.
  7. The WELS leaders were able to take all their world mission and American mission leaders through Fuller Seminary (or one of subsidiaries), adopt Church Growth doctrine and methods, and then deny they went to Fuller and had any CG at all in the synod.
Shoot Me
Some WELS pastors will be very upset that I have spilled the beans about GA so extensively. I think it is the only unforgivable sin in WELS. Nevertheless, I believe the truth will eventually come out in a lawsuit and close down the outward manifestation of abuse. It would take the proper preaching of the Law and Gospel to make the inward corrections necessary to stop the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of initiation. Hardened hearts would have to experience godly contrition rather than world contrition. That can only come from God’s Word, not a lawsuit.

I would like to add that I consider many WELS pastors and members good friends. In fact, I hear from pastors in all synods, including ELCA. However, the insiders in all the conservative synods go out of their way to be unpleasant. There have been many efforts to keep my articles from being published at all. If I were wrong, they would welcome the publication of those articles, so they could refute them in public.

The response to what I write is strictly personal, not doctrinal. According to WELS leaders, I opposed the Church Growth Movement and unionism with ELCA because I was crazy, due to the death of our daughter Erin Joy. I have heard of pastors who do not know me who insist that this is true. Apparently, this has been the universal response of WELS to my articles. I suppose that having a WELS district president (Ed Werner) in prison for molesting little girls would make synodical leaders think that opposing clergy adultery is insane. After all, the district pastors knew about Werner for years, not letting their wives and daughters near him, but they kept electing him president until he was put away in the state prison.

WELS leaders also insisted that my wife was not sick, even though Social Security (a tough sell) judged her permanently disabled. Three insurance companies agreed with Social Security. WELS leaders insisted that our son Martin had left Northwestern College. My friends and his friends insisted it was so, to our faces, in spite of the obvious – he was still in class and graduated with honors. Imagine what it is like to be a WELS pastor, to visit your son at Northwestern College, and then see a nearby WELS pastor who says, “Your son dropped out of college!” Typical GA stuff. Even those who are deceived believe the deceivers.

I could go over a lot more things, but I think this is enough to show the toxic effects of WELS initiation. Many pastors get over it and try to avoid being absorbed by the pandemic doctrinal and moral corruption of WELS. Some have made valiant effort to change the synod, facing down evil and dishonest leaders. Some pastors finally left Lutheranism for good when their doctrinal errors were confronted. The errors were promoted by WELS leaders, who let their slavish acolytes take the hit.

The majority of members want to be served by orthodox pastors, but they have as much control over events as Roman Catholics do over who becomes their priest. The imposition of the NIV and Christian Worship are two examples of forcing bad decisions on the entire synod in the name of “loyalty.”

I have been struck at the Evangelical Lutheran Synod pastors who act more WELS than WELS pastors. One public example was Erling Teigen denouncing my review of the ELS hymnal, claiming that the WELS hymnal was never a joint project with the ELS. The back page calls the hymnal commission “The Joint Commission.” Are we to assume that it was a marijuana commission or an ELS-WELS commission? Many people verified what Teigen denied, that Christian Worship was designed to be a WELS-ELS hymnal from the beginning. The ELS got mad at WELS for being pushed around and backed out. Everyone knew that but it had to be denied by the one person, Erling Teigen, who complains so much about being pushed around by WELS.

One GA trick is to deny to obvious and provable, such as Church Growth in WELS. I asked ELS pastors why they took in Roger Kovaciny when he defended Church Growth, defended and covered up for the CG adulterer in Columbus, and published false doctrine. One pastor said, “Kovaciny isn’t ELS.” I said, “Why was he voted in at the ELS convention?” Later, several ELS pastors told me that Thoughts of Faith was not ELS. So I said, “Why did I observe the Thoughts of Faith people being installed by ELS President George Orvick at the ELS convention?” No answer.

The ELS covered up for a synod leader’s son, who was caught in a scandal. He was allowed to quit the college “voluntarily.” The college put out a false story about his abrupt departure. Later the same student, at a state school, fired a shotgun at his friend for waking him up abruptly at the dorm. The friend was wounded. The newspaper story ended, “He is expected to play on the football team this fall.” Why be tough on a guy who merely aimed a deadly weapon at a friend and fired at him?

I hope this helps a few people with some perspective. I know laity who have not recovered from the abuse they received in WELS. I believe some knowledge helps, but just as “Time heals all wounds,” so also “Time wounds all heels.” God is not mocked; what a man sows, he will reap.

Monday, July 7, 2014

In Whom Do You Trust?

In Whom Do You Trust?
by Mr. Vernon Kneprath

… “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). When people hear the words – prophet, pastor, minister, reverend, priest, pope, elder, deacon, monk, nun, religion, church – many automatically assume that whatever these people and groups say and do is God-pleasing truth. Not so fast Jesus says – don’t be fooled by outward appearances – watch out. Just because a person comes to you bearing the title pastor, just because a group of people claims to be a church or a religion, just because the music and pastor are hipper and trendier – that doesn’t mean they are providing eternally soul nourishing truth to those who are listening to them. Watch out for false prophets Jesus says and for good reason. “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15) …

These words are taken from a sermon preached by a WELS pastor in recent weeks to his congregation. The words of this pastor sound familiar to me; and for good reason; they are familiar because they faithfully reflect the words of Scripture.

Compare the words above to the words from a WELS Devotional Essay and Discussion, Outreach That Any Congregation Calling Itself ‘Evangelical Lutheran’ Will Do”, dated May 18, 2011:

… Evangelical Lutherans who are united in faith, trust one another. I trust my brothers in the WELS. Like me, they have been trained in the Word by the Word – all blessed by the Holy Spirit. They have been Called by God to serve in different communities as gospel-sharers to different cultures – ministering to a variety of Calling bodies. I can’t begin to know how they wrestle with the unique challenges in their congregations and communities. I trust they understand our Savior’s mission to preach and teach the gospel to those inside and outside their church’s walls. I trust they grapple with balancing their ministries and family lives like I do. I trust they, like me, work to nurture and reach out with the gospel – doing one without leaving the other undone. When I hear that a fellow pastor uses different worship styles than I do – I trust their use of Christian freedom and rejoice that they are sharing the gospel in a way they feel is best for their circumstances. When I hear that a fellow pastor is having a pumpkin-fest, a children’s carnival or some other unique gathering – I don’t think for a second that he believes pumpkins are creating faith or that his cleverness can make the gospel more powerful. I know exactly what he’s doing – he’s being shrewd in dealing with his community’s unbelievers so he can gather an audience. In time he will unleash the power of the gospel for the salvation of everyone who believes. I trust him. In the rare event that he gets a tad careless in his practices, I know he has a circuit pastor and a district president. I trust them too. And I trust that should these leaders offer loving cautions to a pastor/missionary that he would humbly take their cautions under advisement …

These words in this essay are unfamiliar to me, because I find no supporting Scriptural references. I see claims made to trust, but I find no evidence or basis upon which to place that trust.

Trust ...
    … is not blind.

    … is not automatic.

    … is the result of evidence seen and actions experienced.

    … is earned.
The Bible is clear that we are to put our trust in the Lord.

The Bible is clear that we are to test what we hear from men against what God has said in his Word.

Does membership in the WELS exclude anyone from the warnings Jesus gave? Surely we still recognize that there are hypocrites in every visible church - even the WELS.

Is association with a visible church body the basis for a “blind” trust?

Should variations in practice within a visible church, whether it be with regard to worship or any other church activity, not be tested against Scripture?

What are the lessons from Scripture regarding trust? How trustworthy did Israel prove to be throughout the Old Testament, in remaining faithful to God and his promises? How trustworthy did many of the Jews prove to be in Jesus’ time? History, whether it be recorded in the Bible or in history books since then, give us many examples of the visible church straying from God, over and over again.

There is only one deserving of our complete trust, the One and the Almighty. We have all the evidence we need for the basis of that trust in Holy Scripture. But, like the Thessalonians, we need to use God's Word to test everything of and from men, rejecting the harmful and holding on to the good (paraphrase of 1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Friday, July 4, 2014

We Are the Sons of Liberty


NOTE: The following was originally published in June 2009 on the blog, The Finkelsteinery. It is reproduced here by permission,
with only minor revision (formatting, word order, spelling...).






from The Declaration of Independence

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, a separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. –

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. –

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. –

[...snip delineation of abuses...]

“In every stage of the Oppressions, We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

“Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends. –

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the Good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. –

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

-----------------------------

A couple of points that may be worth pondering:
    (1) Notice that Jefferson repeatedly appeals to an Authority transcendent of Man, in defense of our position and actions. He starts with it, and he ends with it. In contrast, it is the political fashion these days to enforce a broad and impenetrable separation of politics from religion, and on this basis to adopt a belligerent posture toward the functions of Religion in society, and to censure religious speech in the public sphere. What happens, politically speaking, when “the governed” are denied an appeal to God before those who would govern them? That is to ask, what happens when “the governed” are denied an appeal to an Authority to Whom “their Sovereigns” owe accountability? Does not their accountability then rise no higher than themselves and their own political allegiances and objectives in this case? Under God, governors are Servants, not Lords. Without God, they are utilitarian Lords, and “the governed” are reduced to pleading, on the basis of mere human solidarity, in the name of “their Sovereigns’” kind benevolence. Given that mankind is fallen and sinful, can the People expect any such benevolence? What does history teach us? What is the sensible conclusion given the obvious testimony of Natural Law in this regard?

    (2) It is currently fashionable among Lutherans, it seems, to parrot Luther in applying Biblical teaching to the role of the Christian with respect to his government, to advocate near unquestioning obedience, with the only mitigating criteria being whether government takes on the role of the Church, or requires individuals to disobey God. They seem to equate individuals with political authority, rather than Law with political authority. This was a perfectly legitimate conclusion in Luther’s day, given the form of government he was under – a feudal system where individuals as Sovereigns were indeed the embodiment of political authority. Jesus, along with St. Paul and St. Peter, were addressing the Christian’s obligations to government in a political context incongruent with ours, as well: the Republic of Rome fell before the birth of Christ, becoming the Roman Empire (a military dictatorship) in 27 B.C., with the appointment of Augustus as Caesar.

    In our system of government, however, no individual has such political authority. The last vestiges of the Rule of Man were swept away by the People, themselves, with the Declaration of Independence, and it was replaced by the People with the Rule of Law, under the U.S. Constitution. Law, not any individual, holds political authority in our system of government. And individuals who occupy offices in our form of government, do so within strict boundaries under the Law, not as Sovereigns in any respect, but as manifest Servants of the People. In our system of government, the People are their own Sovereign, electing from among themselves Servants to Represent them within the boundaries of the Law. Such Representatives are not to be regarded as holding any form of political authority, but as mere Servants under the authority of the People, as the People derive and institute their own Law through them, placing all individuals equally under it. In our system of government, the People embody political authority, not individuals, and not institutions of government. This is called self-government. This is political Liberty.

    Thus, Representatives who act outside the purview of their office, whether collectively by passing un-Constitutional laws or laws which fundamentally militate against the People in favor of the State, or individually by creating laws through Judicial fiat or abuse of Executive privilege, do so as political enemies of both the People and of Liberty. Indeed, their actions are un-Lawful in the deepest sense of the word. They create chaos out of Order, and stand in rebellion against God and His institution of Government – which in our society is Of the People, By the People, and For the People. Remember that old phrase?

    While the obligation of obedience stands without question, the real questions for Christians in our society remain: To whom or what is obedience rightly rendered? and Are the People bound under Civic Duty to resist the un-Lawful? and if so, What obligations does this place on the individual?

    And I wonder, given that political Liberty was brought to us in the Modern Age, What will Liberty be like in the post-Modern Age?

    (3) Interestingly, our Declaration seems to stand as a form of “confessional unity” in the Political Estate. The intent was unity under the words and principles it declares, as the authors “mutually pledg[ed] to each other [their] Lives, Fortunes, and [their] sacred Honor.” Do we so pledge today? There was a time, I remember, when, despite differences of opinion (which create political parties and other factions) and the various actions of individuals proving motivations to the contrary, we could collectively be regarded as standing united under the principles of Liberty. Does this unity still exist? How important is such unity to the continuity and integrity of our nation? I, for one, being convinced of its vital importance, am seeing less and less evidence of this unity. What should happen when unity is broken? Do we continue in a state of manifest disunity, while paying lip-service to unity? Is rhetorical unity also manifest unity?



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