Monday, August 16, 2010

And That's the Way We See It

Dear Readers,

Pastor Spencer speaking –

When Intrepid Lutherans began it was a major goal and intention of the founders to present the historic, orthodox, Lutheran position in the WELS with clarity and integrity, and back it up with facts from both the Holy Scriptures, the Lutheran Confessions, and the writings of Luther and confessional Lutheran theologians. We believe we have done and are doing just this on pretty much a daily basis. In addition, we hoped to generate discussion in an open forum to air the joys and challenges, problems and pains of happenings in our church body. This too, for the most part has been accomplished. We thank you for your comments and participation.

One thing, however, that I am frequently asked is, "But what do you think?" In other words, "OK, you've shown us what the Bible and the Confessions say, we've heard from Luther, and Lutheran teachers of the past and present. You've backed up all your claims quite well. But how do YOU really feel about what's happening in the WELS? What do you really THINK about what needs to be done, and how things are going to finally turn out?" I guess what some are looking for is a sort of "editorial opinion" of the Intrepid Lutherans. OK, I'll bite!

I used to turn out voluminous conference-type papers, chock full of proofs, quotes, and footnotes. I found these seldom, if ever, changed anyone's mind, or led to a change in actions by anyone. Now, I simply tell folks what I think and why, and leave it at that.

So, I'm happy to share my thoughts with you. I hope to do so on a regular basis from here on out. Again, don't look for quotes from anywhere except the Bible, and maybe the Confessions from time to time – no "experts," doctors of the church, or great theologians of the past, just my own humble thought processes. And you are, of course, more than welcome to disagree with me, challenge me, or "report" me as you see fit. My little "editorials" will be called "And that's the way we see it." I will usually be doing the actual writing, which will, for the most part, reflect the thinking of the rest of the Intrepid founders. I hope you find these editorials interesting and at least mildly thought-provoking. Here goes!

How the WELS is like a fig tree

Thank you, Joe!

A number of years ago, a dear friend of the family sent me a gift subscription to the magazine called "World." I have come to thoroughly enjoy each issue. And I highly recommend it to all our readers – with an honest caveat. It's a news magazine with a Biblical Christian perspective. But yes, the writers mostly lean toward Arminian theology, with the exception of a Lutheran here or there. But I would submit that this reformed bent is far superior to the atheist tendencies of Time, Newsweek, and even U.S. News.

Anyway, one of my favorite writers in World is a woman named Andree Seu. She usually has a very insightful and interesting – and quite personal – editorial piece toward the back of the magazine. She doesn't claim to be a "theologian," and frankly, I think she'd be happier in orthodox Lutheranism, for she tends toward beating herself up over her sanctification, or rather her perceived lack thereof. But she almost always gives fascinating perspectives on well-known Bible truths and how they apply in our modern Christian faith and living.

Today, for example she taught me something about Jesus' cursing of the fig tree in Mark 11:12-14. (INSTRUCTIVE NOTE: This is one way of using someone else's ideas and incorporate them into your own work in a legitimate manner.) The Savior cursed the tree because, even though it was full of leaves, it had no fruit, and He had been hungry. I had always thought it a bit odd that Jesus would curse a tree in the first place. Also, that He would do so at a time which Mark says was "out of season" for figs. Most commentators have conjectured that because the tree was in full foliage, and normally fig trees produce their fruit first and then the leaves, Jesus had every right to find fruit on this tree, even though it was only early Spring. But even that seems unfair, for while it is true that fig trees product fruit three times a year, the earliest one might hope to find fruit on a fig tree is mid-June, then again in September or October, and finally in December. For Jesus to be upset with a tree because it had no fruit more than a month before it was supposed to seems out of place.

However, Seu points out, based on experts on the trees of Israel, that the fig trees there do indeed produce a very small, yet quite palatable proto-fruit already in March. Thus, Christ did have good reason to believe that he would find something to eat on this tree, and all the more so because it was full of many big green leaves. In other words, it certainly "looked" like it should have had fruit.

But again, why curse a tree? Note Mark's comment in verse 14, "And His disciples were listening." (NASB) A-ha, there's the key! This was yet another good teaching moment! Jesus seldom let such an opportunity pass by. And what was He teaching? Again, Seu reminds us that on the day immediately prior to this incident, Jesus had taken a walk through the Temple in Jerusalem. This was no mere leisurely stroll; for Mark tells us that He was "looking around at everything." In other words, the Messiah went to His Temple and observed all that was going on. You can bet He also could read every heart in the place and knew exactly why everyone was there and what they were trying to do.

So, His point to the disciples seems clear now, does it not? Here was a beautiful Temple, full of worshippers, doing what worshippers there were suppose to do (albeit, also many doing otherwise – which He would take care of later). Sacrifices were taking place according to the Laws of Moses, prayers were being offered, thanks being given, and so on. All looked as it should for the most part. This tree was full of many fine green leaves! But where was the fruit? Here's where Seu goes a bit off, as she often does, and when talking about fruit very often limits her comments to acts and attitudes of love toward others and joy in the Lord. That is fine fruit, to be sure. But there are other fruits, dare I say, even more important; humility, repentance, peace of forgiveness, love for God's pure Word, fear and trust in Him above all things, and dedication to preserving and passing on the one true faith intact to the next generation.

How shall we apply this incident to our beloved WELS today? Are we full of Priests and Sadducees who know how to put on the best high-church liturgical show, but deny basic truths of Scripture? I don't think so. Do we have tons of Scribes and Pharisees who seem to follow every jot and tittle of the Lutheran Confessions, but have no love for lost souls or desire to spread the Gospel? No, not at all. Are there far too many people among us – Pastors and lay people both, who go through the motions of worship and being Lutheran, but in their hearts lusts after the "greener pastures" of the mega-churches? Not really. But is there perhaps some of each of these in our ranks? Of that you can be sure. Indeed, I'm just as sure that every one of us is guilty of these attitudes from time to time. Where repentance and change is called for, let it be!

The bottom line is just this – when the Head of the Church looks at the Wisconsin Synod He most certainly sees lots of green leaves. We profess a love for the pure Word. We proclaim that the Holy Spirit is solely responsible for creating saving faith. We say we trust in the Means of Grace for salvation, growth of faith, and an increase in believers. We tell the world that we have a great love for Christ's sacraments, and that we depend on them for strength and comfort. And yet – when we look behind the leaves, the fruit is sometimes hard to spot. The fact is that there are some in our church body whose actions do not follow these beliefs. These actions are clearly wrong, done in the open for all see, and call for exposure and discipline.

Thus, in our opinion, the most important fruit that's lacking in the WELS is the determination, the "stomach" if you will, to hold Pastors, Teachers, and congregations to their professions of faith in a consistent and unified manner. This is first and foremost the duty of the Circuit Pastors and District Presidents. But, finally it is the duty and responsibility of every Minister of the Gospel in the WELS, and indeed, every layman, and eventually every believer. Right now, it is our leaders who must do their duty.

Lack of doctrinal discipline is not the only problem in the WELS right now that's true. There are financial problems, organizational problems, educational problems, and so on. But these are, for the most part, "worldly" problems, not spiritual ones, and have some, but not as much, impact on our Kingdom work. There are also, to be sure, spiritual or doctrinal problems in the WELS - Pietism, legalism, and liberalism, in various forms and stages. And yet, how many of our problems, spiritual and otherwise, would be greatly mitigated, if not eliminated altogether, if those entrusted with discipline and order would simply and expeditiously do their jobs!? We maintain that if the Circuit Pastors and District Presidents of the synod would just hold those under them in the church structure accountable for their teaching and actions - and do so openly and publicly when the situation calls for it - the WELS would be in much better shape today and in the future. This is one of the fruits our Savior is looking for in the WELS today. When shall He find it? Let it be sooner rather than later.

And that's the way we see it.

Pastor Spencer


Anonymous said...

What, as you see it, is the reason that WELS circuit pastors and district presidents are so unwilling to do their jobs?

In fact, it's not just that they don't do their jobs, they actively promote heterodox ideas and pastors. It seems to me that pastors who promote Church Growth become part of the favored inner circle, while faithful, orthodox pastors languish in obscurity.

And if circuit pastors and district presidents won't do their jobs, how can simple laymen and ignored pastors hope to restore unity and orthodoxy to the WELS?

Mr. Adam Peeler

Pastor Biebert said...

Pastor Spencer,

Your and Andree Seu's comments about Israel's fig trees and their fruit are very enlightening. However, when Mark himself defends the tree, so to speak ("...because it was not the season for figs"), I find it difficult to interpret the account as Jesus teaching his disciples about bearing fruit.

Doesn't Mark himself tell us the reason for this cursing? Jesus used this instance of finding a tree without fruit when he was hungry, and cursing it, to teach his disciples about prayer (vv. 20-25). The condensed account in Matthew 21 also supports this. It IS important that his disciples were listening, because if they hadn't been, Peter and the others wouldn't have remembered (vs. 21) and the impact of the lesson would have been diminished, at the very least.

In fact, seeing this account in the realm of prayer might relate even better to the problems that you detect in WELS today. Jesus' lesson included this thought: "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

Aren't unity and orthodoxy in the WELS much more important to God than the withering of a fig tree? Aren't accountability and discipline among our leaders more important to him than a mountain relocating itself into the sea (vs. 23)?

Well then, we have some trusting prayers to offer up to the God who didn't spare his Son in order to save us, don't we?

Re: Mr. Peeler - That's how simple laymen and ignored pastors hope to restore unity and orthodoxy. We carry out our own work faithfully in the realm of our respective callings, and we continually entrust our own and our synod's shortcomings to the Lord of unity and orthodoxy.

Pastor N. Biebert

AP said...

Mr. Peeler,

Good questions. I feel the same way.

I think the first thing simple laymen and ignored pastors can do is speak up. Too many of us (and I totally include myself in this) have been too silent for too long. And, even though there may be some risk in it, I think we have to speak up. Many are already doing so on this blog and elsewhere, but it is probably going to take a lot more than 50 or so signatures here in a synod of 400,000 to make anything really happen. Things can change though. Just look at what happened in LCMS this summer!

In the end, Pastor Biebert is quite right though. The best and most effective things we can do are to trust in God, be faithful ourselves through his power, and pray.

Dr. Aaron Palmer

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I agree with Mark's defense of the fig tree.

And I agree that trusting prayers must be offered to God. But trust in what? What request ought we to make of God, believing that it will most surely be done by him?

Such requests must be made on the basis of his promises and his revelation of his will. God has not promised that the WELS will endure forever in unity or in orthodoxy. He has not promised that leaders will always carry out discipline in accordance with his Word.

What he has promised is to prosper his Word, to build his Church, to guard his children from the Evil One, to help us when we are tempted, to give us wisdom to understand his Word and courage to speak it boldly, etc. Let us ask for these things and believe that we have received them, no matter what our eyes may tell us.

But as we pray for the visible institution that is our synod, let us add to our petitions, "not my will, but thine be done."

Anonymous said...

Intrepids, you vex me. You lambast those who look to the heterodox for ideas, inspiration, etc and then you yourself cite a persistent errorist in Andree Seu? How is it OK for you to cite sectarian authors, but it is condemnable for others? What is the difference between Seu and Groeschel, Swindoll, or Stanley? Are you saying the enjoyment of such authors is permissible for you but not for others? Please explain.

Mr. Silas Pieper

Pastor Biebert said...

Re: Rev. Rydecki

You are absolutely right. Thank you for clarifying what I said. My only point was that God IS concerned about our unity and discipline, as he is about the unity and discipline of every visible organization that has the gospel in its midst.

While he has not promised that WELS will last forever, or persist as an orthodox church body forever, he has given many encouragements to pray for the activity and promotion of his kingdom. When we pray, "Your will be done," we are praying that God would break and defeat every evil plan and purpose. Certainly we are right to pray that he would do so to the devil's evil plans and purposes in our visible organization.

If the Lord in his wisdom has better plans than to let the visible body known as WELS persist in the truth, and to have his truth endure in some other way, so be it. But let it not be for our lack of praying otherwise, adding, "not my will, but yours be done."

Thanks again.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Well said, Pr. Biebert.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Pieper,

I don't mean to speak for the Intrepids, but I think there are a couple of huge differences between the way that Pastor Spencer cited a sectarian source and how others in the WELS do it.

First, he actually cited his source, rather than dishonestly pretending he was the one who came up with it as some do.

Second, and most importantly, he very clearly and bluntly stated the doctrinal problems with his source. The sectarians in the WELS don't do this. They fawn over the sectarians and sit at their feet and plagiarize their sermons and promote their ideas without a single word of disagreement or caution or warning. That is what is so troublesome. The only conclusions that can be drawn from such behavior are that such pastors either are ignorant of the errors of the sectarians or are in agreement with them.

I'm not sure which is worse.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Intrepid Lutherans said...

Pastor Spencer here,

Thanks to all of your for your comments, especially those that defended me. I was out of the office and away from my computer most of the day Monday. Now, a few quick replies: Mr. Peeler and Pastor Biebert - the reason, I believe, for the lack of action on the part of our leaders, goes directly to the issue of faith, just as Rev. Biebert suggests; indeed, faith and trust in God, along with the prayers that go with it was and still is to be the subject of my next piece. Dr. Palmer - you are also very correct when you say that the laymen simply must speak up and demand that our leaders function as they are suppose to. Mr. Pieper - I fully understand your point. However, I frankly don't see referring openly to World magazine as being in the same category as secretly using sectarian religious sources for worship or preaching in orthodox Lutheran churches. World is a news magazine, and it does not promote itself as a source of religious teaching. I see it as no different than quoting or referring to an article from the Milwaukee Journal or Arizona Republic. The article in question was no more than a catalyst for my thought process and little more. But again, I can understand your confusion. I hope all the answers explained things a bit. Again, thanks to all of you for your comments!

Pastor Spencer

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