Maybe such would happen... Assuming the best of the WELS SP, perhaps it can also be asserted that he needs numbers behind him, not for courage, but for factual corroboration. Quite honestly, however, even having the corroboration, I don’t think that any sort of public acknowledgement or admonishment would be forthcoming. At least nothing with any sort of impact that wouldn’t be immediately overcome by a swift, unanimous and well-coordinated action of the Twelve District Presidents who evidently oppose him. One primary reason, in my opinion, is how very close-knit WELS has become. It has grown unhealthy. For instance, when a person names a given WELS pastor, the instinct (in my personal experience) seems to be toward immediately calculating ones degree of familial relation to the man, and then recalling his direct and indirect experience with him. While this is perfectly natural in small old organizations, there now seems to be an inability to distinguish between individual and Office among them. Any just criticism of a pastor’s doctrine or practice seems to be interpreted as an attack against him personally or against his extended family and classmates, an arrogant elevation of the person issuing the criticism, and a disruption of the harmony necessary for unity to persist among them. The example currently found in the LCMS, of pastors exhibiting the courage to name false doctrines and practices among them, and, increasingly, the pastors who embrace and promote those teachings and practices, seems to be a cultural impossibility in WELS, unless it is already a family squabble of some sort, a matter of personal history or conflict between individual pastors going back, say, to high-school, college or seminary, or an internal political issue within the ministerium where lines have already been drawn.
Martin Luther preached, however, that recognizing a distinction between individual and Office is necessary, that Christian duty to cherish and preserve harmony – to be “compassionate and loving as ‘brethren, tenderhearted, and "friendly" or "humble-minded"’” – extends to the manner in which individuals carry on with one another. It is not, however, necessarily characteristic of the Office, the function of which includes the preachment of the Law in a way that cuts to the bone and exposes sin – which, to the person offended by the Law, does not seem like a very friendly thing to do – and as God’s representative, even extends to the withholding of forgiveness from the unrepentant (Matt. 16:19; John 20:23) – which does not seem to the unforgiven to be a very friendly thing to do, either. He preached further that it is a function of the Office, and thus of the pastor who is responsible to “represent not [his] own but God’s dignity,” to admonish and rebuke false teachers – i.e., fellow Office holders, saying:
- But if one dishonors the Baptism, Sacrament, or Ministry committed to me by God, and so opposes not me but God Himself, then it is my duty not to be silent nor merciful and friendly, but to use my God-ordained Office to admonish, threaten and rebuke, with all earnestness, both in season and out of season – as Paul admonishes Timothy – those who err in doctrine or faith or who do not amend their lives; and this regardless of who they are or how it pleases them.
The Epistle Lesson for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity
On the Duty to Cherish Christian Harmony
No one has a different baptism or sacrament, a different Christ, from mine, or grace and salvation other than I have. And no individual can have another faith than have Christians in general, nor does he hear any other Gospel or receive a different absolution, be he lord or servant, noble or ignoble, poor or rich, young or old, Italian or German. When one imagines himself different from or better than his fellows, desiring to exalt and glorify himself above others, he is truly no longer a Christian; because he is no longer in that unity of mind and faith essential to Christians. Christ with His grace is always the same, and cannot be divided or apportioned within Himself.
Not without reason did the beloved apostles urge this point. They clearly saw how much depends upon it, and what evil and harm result from disregard of the commandment. Where this commandment is dishonored, schisms and factions will necessarily arise to corrupt pure doctrine and faith, and the devil will sow his seed, which afterwards can be eradicated only with difficulty. When once self-conceit rules, and one, pretending more learning, wisdom, goodness and holiness than his fellows, begins to despise others and to draw men to himself, away from the unity of mind which makes us one in Christ, and when he desires the first praise and commendation for his own doctrine and works, his own preaching, then the harm is already done; faith is overthrown and the Church is rent. When unity becomes division, certainly two sects cannot both be the true Church. If one is godly, the other must be the devil’s own. On the other hand, so long as unity of faith and oneness of mind survives, the true Church of God abides, notwithstanding there may be some weakness in other points. Of this fact the devil is well aware; hence his hostility to Christian unity. His chief effort is to destroy harmony. “Having that to contend with,” he tells himself, “my task will be a hard and wearisome one.”
Therefore, Christians should be all the more careful to cherish the virtue of harmony, both in the Church and in secular government. In each instance there is of necessity much inequality. God would have such dissimilarity balanced by love and unity of mind. Let everyone be content, then, with what God has given or ordained for him, and let him take pleasure in another’s gifts, knowing that in eternal blessings he is equally rich, having the same God and Christ, the same grace and salvation; and that although his standing before God may differ from that of his fellows, he is nevertheless in no way inferior to them, nor is anyone for the same reason at all better than or superior to himself.
The other virtues enjoined by Peter are easily recognized – compassionate, loving as “brethren, tenderhearted, and ‘friendly’ or ‘humble-minded’.” These particularly teach how Christians should esteem one another. God has subjected them all to love and has united them, with the design that they shall be of one heart and soul, and each care for the other as for himself. Peter’s exhortation was especially called for at that time, when Christians were terribly persecuted. Here a pastor, there a citizen, was thrown into prison, driven from wife, child, house and home, and finally executed. Such things happen even now, and may become yet more frequent considering that unfortunate people are harassed by tyrants, or led away by the Turks [Muhammadans], and Christians are thus dispersed in exile here and there. Wherever by His Word and faith God has gathered a church, and that spiritual unity, the bond of Christianity, exists in any measure, there the devil has no peace. If he cannot effect the destruction of that church by factiousness, he furiously persecutes it. Then it is that body, life and everything we have must be jeopardized – put to the stake – for the sake of the Church.
On the Duty to Admonish and Rebuke False Teachers
The lesson teaches the duty of each individual toward all other individuals, not toward the God-ordained Office. Office and person must be clearly distinguished. The officer or ruler in his official capacity is a different man from what he is as John or Frederick. The apostle or preacher differs from the individual Peter or Paul. The preacher has not his Office by virtue of his own personality; he represents it in God’s stead. Now, if any person be unjustly persecuted, slandered and cursed, I ought to and will say: “Deo gratias;” for in God I am richly rewarded for it. But if one dishonors the Baptism, Sacrament, or Ministry committed to me by God, and so opposes not me but God Himself, then it is my duty not to be silent nor merciful and friendly, but to use my God-ordained Office to admonish, threaten and rebuke, with all earnestness, both in season and out of season – as Paul admonishes Timothy (2 Tim. 4:2) – those who err in doctrine or faith or who do not amend their lives; and this regardless of who they are or how it pleases them.
But the censured may say: “Nevertheless you publicly impugn my honor; you give me a bad reputation.” I answer: Why do you not complain to Him who committed the Office to me? My honor is likewise dear to me, but the honor of my Office must be more sacred still. If I am silent where I ought to rebuke, I sully my own honor, which I should maintain before God in the proper execution of my Office; hence I with you deserve to be hanged in mid-day, to the utter extinguishment of my honor and yours. No, the Gospel does not give you authority to say the preacher shall not, by the Word of God, tell you of your sin and shame. What does God care for the honor you seek from the world when you defy His Word with it? To the world you may seem to defend your honor with God and a good conscience, but in reality you have nothing to boast of before God but your shame. This very fact you must confess if you would retain your honor before Him; you must place His honor above that of all creatures. The highest distinction you can achieve for yourself is that of honoring God’s Word and suffering rebuke.
“Yes, but still you attack the Office to which I am appointed.” No, dear brother, our Office is not assailed when I and you are reminded of our failure to do right, to conduct the Office as we should. But the Word of God rebukes us for dishonoring that divinely ordained appointment and abusing it in violation of His commandment. Therefore you cannot call me to account for reproving you. However, were I not a pastor or preacher, and had I no authority to rebuke you, then it would be my duty and my pleasure to leave your honor and that of every other man unscathed. But if I am to fill a divine Office and to represent not my own but God’s dignity, then for your own sake I must not and will not be silent. If you do wrong, and disgrace and dishonor come upon you, blame yourself: “Thy blood shall be upon thine own head,” says Scripture (1 Kings. 2:37). Certainly when a judge sentences a thief to the gallows, that man’s honor is impugned. Who robs you of your honor but yourself, by your own theft, your contempt of God, disobedience, murder, and so on? God must give you what you deserve. If you consider it a disgrace to be punished, then consider it also no honor to rob, steal, practice usury and do public wrong; you disgrace yourself by dishonoring God’s commandment.
Notice that Luther preaches the following:
- However, were I not a pastor or preacher, and had I no authority to rebuke you, then it would be my duty and my pleasure to leave your honor and that of every other man unscathed.
And to those WELS pastors who boldly speak behind the cloak of anonymity – you help no one other than rumour mongers and gossipers. You complain, “What of my family? What of my livelihood! I can’t let anyone know who I am, my adversaries might find out and cause me grief and woe!” But you are more than willing to name them publicly, to cause them grief and woe. Luther preaches above,
- “It is my duty NOT to be silent nor merciful and friendly, but to use my God-ordained Office to admonish, threaten and rebuke, with all earnestness, both in season and out of season,”
- “body, life and everything we have must be jeopardized – put to the stake – for the sake of the Church.”
You saw the hurricane approaching far in the distance, and you’ve waited only till landfall to begin preparing yourselves, your families, and your congregations for the inevitable? You have only yourselves to blame for the disaster you have brought upon them: “Thy blood shall be upon thine own head.” The time to act was in May of 2010, if not before. Where were you? Still deciding to prepare? Where are you now? Just beginning to prepare? Must you “first go bury your father” (Matt. 8:21-22)? I’ve got news for you – it’s way too late now to weather the storm intact. Your Leaders are unanimous: they are busy excommunicating the likes of Rev. Rydecki, while coddling the likes of Rev. Skorzewski and publicly endorsing events like the 2015 Christian Leadership Experience. In my opinion, the only way to survive now with pure teaching and faith intact is to evacuate, to leave everything behind and start anew on higher ground.