Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Archeologists Discover Letter Written to St. Paul

Papyrus fragmentWord is now coming out that a letter has been discovered that was written to St. Paul, in response to his letter to the churches in Galatia. Here is an English translation.

Parodios, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, to our brother Paulos.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our church recently received a copy of the letter that you sent to the church of Galatia. We hope you will not mind hearing our humble concerns. In the past we have noticed you are more interested in confronting people rather than conversing with them, but we hope you will receive this letter as an invitation to further dialogue.

First of all, we are uncomfortable with your tone throughout the correspondence. We know it is difficult sometimes to discern tone of voice from written communication, but you should keep this in mind as well. One could gather from your careless use of words that you are losing your temper. You certainly sound angry. This is unbecoming a spokesperson for the faith. As you say yourself, one of the manifest fruit of God’s Spirit is gentleness.

Aren’t you being a hypocrite to preach grace but not show it to our Judaizer brothers? They may not worship as you do or emphasize the same teachings you do, but our Lord has “sheep not of this fold,” and there is certainly room within the broader Way for these brothers. Their methodology may differ from yours, but certainly their hearts are in the right place.

You yourself know that our Lord required personal contact when we have a grievance against another. Have you personally contacted any of these men? Have you sat down to reason with them personally? Have you issued a personal invitation? Some of them may even reconsider their viewpoints if you had taken a different tack. We know that your position is likely that public teaching is open to public criticism, but we can do better than what is expected, can’t we?

In one portion of your letter, you indicate you don’t even know these persons! “Whoever he is,” you write. Our dear Paulos, how can you rightly criticize them when you don’t know them? It’s clear you haven’t even read their material, because you never quote them. We implore you to see that they are plainly within the tradition of Moses and of the Prophets. They understand the context of the covenant in ways you appear deaf to.

Similarly, we find your tone and resorting to harsh language not in keeping with the love of Christ. “Foolish Galatians.” “Let him be accursed.” “Emasculate themselves.” Really? Can you not hear yourself? You think this is Christlike? Does this sound like something our Lord would say? Do you think this flippant, outrageous, personal, vindictive manner of speech speaks well of God’s love or the church? It is clear you are taking this way too personally. Indeed, you ask the Galatians if you are now their enemy. Does everything have to be so black and white to you?

Paulos, what will unbelievers think when they read this letter? Do you think this will commend the gospel to them? This kind of harsh language just makes us look like a bunch of angry people. They see we can’t even love each other, and over what? Circumcision? This is a terrible advertisement for God’s love to an unbelieving world. You have given plenty of people permission now to disregard Jesus, if this is what his mouthpieces sound like.

We hope you will reconsider your approach. We know that you catch much more flies with honey than with vinegar. We are concerned that your ill-worded letter signals a divisiveness that threatens to fracture the church. We beg you to reconsider how important these minor issues are, and how in the future you may speak in ways that better reflect God’s love.

The grace —and the love!— of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brother.

St. Paul writing his lettersThe foregoing was posted on Rev. Paul T. McCain's blog, Cyberbrethren, last week. When we read it, we thought it appropriate as an object of discussion on our own blog, and sought permission to cross-post his blog entry on Intrepid Lutherans. Of course, this piece is satire. We feel compelled to state as much before the reader comments, given that a number of the Cyberbrethren commenters didn't get it.

But what of these criticisms of St. Paul? Face to face communication is required in all circumstances? Really? Is St. Paul's position that "public teaching is open to public criticism" at variance with the teaching of Christ? Really? Is St. Paul not being Christlike when he displays indignance in the face of attacks on the Gospel and pure doctrine? Really? Or, are those who overshadow references like 1 Tim. 5:20 with references like Mt. 18:15, rather than balancing them, in fact pitting Scripture against itself? Wouldn't the natural result of this be a criticism of St. Paul's use of language in the book of Galatians? Or criticism of his "naming of names" in I Ti. 1:19-20, II Ti. 4:14-15 and elsewhere, when, in letters meant to be read in public, he excoriates by name members of the congregation as false brothers? Or even St. John – the "Apostle of Love" – who in III John likewise names Diotrephes, an apparently influential figure in the congregation, as a false teacher? Would the result of such an imbalanced understanding of Scripture's testimony be a confusion of the two Tables of the Law, of placing temporal concerns for one's neighbor ahead of God and His Word?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

John Schaller gives advice on distinctively Lutheran practice

John Schaller, WELS Theologian
Of the theologians of the WELS through its history, Professor John Schaller (d. 1920) is considered among the most important. Influenced considerably by LCMS theologian Georg Stöckhardt (d. 1913), he, along with John Koehler and August Pieper, is credited with reintroducing the method of exegetical theology to Lutheranism in America, and distinguishing WELS as home of this so-called "Wauwatosa Theology". A good general history of these men and their times, written in 1975 by Professor Armin Schuetze, can be found here.

As one may imagine, Schaller had plenty to say about distinctively Lutheran liturgy, hymnody, and doctrinal preaching, as well. A brief compilation of quotes entitled, Wisdom from the Fathers Pertaining to the Establishment of Lutheran Home Mission Congregations, includes the following advice from Schaller:
    The first care, then, of all who work in the field of English Mission, pastors and laymen alike, ought ever to be that they steadfastly adhere to the biblical doctrine in all its parts. Lutheran hymns, Lutheran liturgies, Lutheran prayers, above all Lutheran sermons ought to be heard wherever our missionary work is carried on. True Lutheranism need not fear any criticism. It has stood the test of centuries, and no modern weapon of offense will subvert it. It is an impregnable fortress. Be not afraid, then, to show its beauties to all who come to hear. They expect to be treated to something new in our churches, and they ought not be disappointed. To follow the example set by sectarian clergymen, to sermonize on anything else rather than upon questions of doctrine, or to fill the hearers’ ears with weak generalizations and pasture them on fine, poetic language alone, would be worse than folly. To make a good impression, to effect some real, living good, solid meat must be offered, which alone can satisfy the soul’s desires. Emphasize doctrine, if you would accomplish your aim. Else why should we expend money and labor, only to do what others may do as well? (John Schaller, “Danger Ahead!”, Lutheran Witness, Vol. 10, No. 8 [Sept. 21, 1891], pp. 57-58)
There are several things worth noticing in this brief quote. First, note that, for a Lutheran pastor, "steadfast adherence to biblical doctrine in all its parts" is equivalent to using "Lutheran hymns, Lutheran liturgies, Lutheran prayers, and Lutheran sermons." This is rather quaint, isn't it? How odd it must be for some Lutherans to hear someone speak in such a way about distinctively Lutheran practice, as if it is uniquely representative of biblical doctrine... But not for the Lutheran confessor, who is convinced as a matter of Christian conscience that his body of doctrine, apart from all others, carries the pure and unalloyed truth of God's Word.

Second, note that in no sense is "fear of criticism" for being overtly Lutheran – whether from the sects, the unregenerate or anyone else – grounds for even partially abandoning the pursuit of overt Lutheran character in our public practice, for "true Lutheranism is an impregnable fortress." An impregnable fortress? Really? Again, how quaint. How odd it must be for today's Lutheran to hear a person speak with such confidence regarding their Confession! Back in the old days, maybe... back when folks were simple and ignorant. But no one really has any right to be so confident these days. Do they? Well, as a matter of fact, not only do Lutheran confessors have the right to express themselves with such confidence, but they bear the obligation to do so – first to themselves (that is, if they confess according to their conscience), and second, to those with whom they stand united under common confession.

Third, note that he makes very plain how ridiculous it is to mimic the sects – after all, how does mimicking the sectarians represent to anyone the distinction and beauty of our doctrine? We Lutherans, consistent with our unity under common confession, and with our consequent separation from the heterodox, ought also to present in our practice something recognizably distinct from what the sectarians offer. What makes Lutheran practice distinct? The beauty and unique character of our hymns, our liturgies, our prayers, and especially our preaching. But notice that he goes on to describe specifically what, about Lutheran preaching, is distinctive: its doctrinal content. Rather than harp on works as the sectarians do, rather than allowing 'relevant application' oriented 'third-use-of-the-law' preaching on 'Christian living' themes to dominate the Lutheran sermon, Schaller specifically advises the Lutheran preacher to "emphasize doctrine." But how is it safe to "emphasize doctrine"? Isn't he forgetting about Law and Gospel? Recall the commentary following yesterday's post, C.F.W. Walther: Filching from sectarian worship resources equals "soul murder", and recall also our post from last October, Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 1 in which we concluded:
    There is no teaching of Lutheran Doctrine – that is, of true Christian doctrine – that can be taught apart from also teaching Justification. And only the message of Law and Gospel teaches Justification. Thus, Law and Gospel, properly divided and properly used and applied, is not only central to all Lutheran preaching and teaching, it is necessary to all Lutheran preaching and teaching.
By emphasizing doctrine, the Lutheran preacher cannot avoid what is central to all of our doctrines – the saving message of the Doctrine of Justification. Moreover, in order to preach and teach Justification, he must preach Law and Gospel. Period.

When the Lutheran preacher takes the sectarian's advice regarding what is 'relevant', and strays from an emphasis on preaching doctrine into an emphasis on preaching 'application', three things simultaneously happen: the distinction of our body of doctrine fails to be confessed in his practice, while, instead, his practice displays harmony with the heterodox; but most importantly, "real, living good" fails to "be accomplished", as the "solid meat" of Justification is overshadowed by Sanctification and the saving message does not get the emphasis it should. Thus, the "soul's desires" fail to be "satisfied."

If it's all the same anyway, why should anyone be "Lutheran"? If it isn't all the same, then why pretend that it is?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

C.F.W. Walther: Filching from sectarian worship resources equals "soul murder"

In October of 1998, Professor Mark DeGarmeaux (Bethany Lutheran College, ELS) delivered a paper to the Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Forum of the ELS and WELS in Milwaukee, WI. The title of this paper was Sacramental Worship, Sacramental Preaching: Treasures of our Lutheran Church -- a terrific little essay that explores and extols the unique liturgical treasure we Lutherans have inherited, concluding:
    The Lutheran church has been truly blessed by God with a rich treasury of liturgy, hymnody, preaching, and praying. We are not a sect, but we understand and recognize ourselves as part of the Church catholic, the one Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. At the same time we realize that there is a difference between our theology and that of other denominations in many ways. Our treasures are in the understanding of sacramental and sacrificial elements in the Divine Service, in understanding the Word and Sacraments as powerful and efficacious means of grace, and in the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. And we look forward to the marriage feast of heaven when the Bride will be joined to Christ Himself and will enjoy the great sacramentum of the marriage feast of the Lamb.
This treasure has been kept and valued by generations of Lutheran confessors as a practice which carries a body of worshipers through the Divine Service, focusing them on Christ and His gifts, in a way that not only represents and reinforces our body of pure doctrine, but our distinction and separation from the heterodox. So how would a Lutheran, imbued with genuine confessional ardor, react to the notion of importing sectarian worship forms into Lutheran practice? Using C.F.W. Walther as a benchmark of confessional ardor, DeGarmeaux demonstrates the answer to this question by including as an Appendix to his essay the following letter from Walther, which was written to a man who asked about the use of Methodist worship resources in Lutheran churches:
    Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm WaltherHonored Sir,

    This morning I received your worthy letter, written on the 19th of the month. In your letter you ask for my opinion on whether it is advisable to introduce the singing of Methodist songs in a Lutheran Sunday School. May what follows serve as a helpful reply to your questions:

    No, this is not advisable, rather very incorrect and pernicious.

    1. Our church is so rich in hymns that you could justifiably state that if one were to introduce Methodist hymns in a Lutheran school this would be like carrying coals to Newcastle. The singing of such hymns would make the rich Lutheran Church into a beggar which is forced to beg from a miserable sect. Thirty or forty years ago a Lutheran preacher might well have been forgiven this. For at that time the Lutheran Church in our country was as poor as a beggar when it comes to song books for Lutheran children. A preacher scarcely knew where he might obtain such little hymn books. Now, however, since our church itself has everything it needs, it is unpardonable when a preacher of our church causes little ones to suffer the shame of eating a foreign bread.

    2. A preacher of our church also has the holy duty to give souls entrusted to his care pure spiritual food, indeed, the very best which he can possibly obtain. In Methodist songs there is much which is false, and which contains spiritual poison for the soul. Therefore, it is soul-murder to set before children such poisonous food. If the preacher claims, that he allows only "correct" hymns to be sung, this does not excuse him. For, first of all, the true Lutheran spirit is found in none of them; second, our hymns are more powerful, more substantive, and more prosaic; third, those hymns which deal with the Holy Sacraments are completely in error; fourth, when these little sectarian hymnbooks come into the hands of our children, they openly read and sing false hymns.

    3. A preacher who introduces Methodist hymns, let alone Methodist hymnals, raises the suspicion that he is no true Lutheran at heart, and that he believes one religion is as good as the other, and that he thus a unionistic-man, a mingler of religion and churches.

    4. Through the introduction of Methodist hymn singing he also makes those children entrusted to his care of unionistic sentiment, and he himself leads them to leave the Lutheran Church and join the Methodists.

    5. By the purchase of Methodist hymn books he subsidizes the false church and strengthens the Methodist fanatics in their horrible errors. For the Methodists will think, and quite correctly so, that if the Lutheran preachers did not regard our religion as good as, or indeed, even better than their own, they would not introduce Methodist hymn books in their Sunday schools, but rather would use Lutheran hymn books.

    6. By introducing Methodist hymn books, the entire Lutheran congregation is given great offense, and the members of the same are lead to think that Methodists, the Albright people, and all such people have a better faith than we do.

    This may be a sufficient answer regarding this dismal matter. May God keep you in the true and genuine Lutheran faith, and help you not to be misled from the same, either to the right or to the left.

    Your unfamiliar, yet known friend, in the Lord Jesus Christ,

    C. F. W. Walther
    St. Louis, Missouri
    January 23, 1883
Notice that there are at least two factors involved in Walther's blistering criticism of sectarian worship resources. First, the introduction of false teaching to the congregation (a) by the false content of the sectarian worship, (b) by the true teaching which is absent from it, and (c) by the manner in which the Methodist practice itself entices the congregation away from the Lutheran confession, is inexcusable and alone grounds for rejecting material from such sources. Second, the fellowship implications involved with endorsing such materials, and subsidizing their sources, not only impacts other Lutherans, who have every right to question the allegiances of those responsible for introducing such materials, but impacts the sectarians from whom we remain separate, who consequently have every right to suspect (based on the practice of using sectarian sources, itself!) that those Lutherans using their materials are, in fact, admitting deficiency in their own confession.

If we grant that Walther is a suitable benchmark of confessional ardor, how would we categorize those who are indifferent to the usage of sectarian and heterodox worship materials? According to Walther, above, it seems that a pastor who engages in practice which raises suspicions regarding his confession is himself guilty of offense against the whole congregation, not the observer who is led to suspicion on the basis of that pastor's public practice. Is this an accurate assessment of the above statements? If so, is this consistent with more contemporary teaching regarding how one ought to interpret public practice? Based on what Walther seems to say above, should a Lutheran pastor so conduct himself in his public practice as to raise no suspicions regarding his fidelity to the Lutheran confession, or is such fidelity strictly a matter of internal motivations, making public practice not much of a big deal at all?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

C.P. Krauth explains how orthodox Lutheran Synods descend into heterodoxy

Charles Porterfield KrauthThe name Charles Porterfield Krauth (d. 1883) may be unfamiliar to most WELS Lutherans. Perhaps this is because he was not WELS. Regardless of the reason, this unfamiliarity is most unfortunate, for Krauth was, in fact, a leading figure of the confessional Lutheran movement in 19th Century America, and his contributions to confessionalism remain vitally important. He was a Lutheran of the early Eastern synods and a student of Samuel Schmucker (d. 1873) – who taught that the Augsburg Confession was rife with error, envisioned a future for American Lutheranism which espoused union with Reformed and Methodist Christians, advocated a theological formula for doing so, and even founded an organization to advance these ideas. Krauth grew to oppose Schmucker, his former teacher, eventually retiring from parish ministry to combat unionism full-time and to work toward establishing confessional unity among Lutherans in America under the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. To this end, and under Krauth's leadership, the General Council was formed in 1867, serving as a significant and positive force for the advancement of Lutheran confessionalism. That work still being "relevant", portions of the General Council's output has even appeared on Intrepid Lutherans in the past – the Explanation of the Common Service being published on this blog last July (which is now available in book form from Emmanuel Press, should the reader desire a personal copy). Regarding Krauth and his significance, Rev. David Jay Webber (ELS), in his fine essay Charles Porterfield Krauth: The American Chemnitz, quotes a figure who should be familiar to WELS Lutherans – C.F.W. Walther:
    Krauth was... the most eminent man in the English Lutheran Church of this country, a man of rare learning, at home no less in the old than in modern theology, and, what is of greatest import, whole-heartedly devoted to the pure doctrine of our Church, as he had learned to understand it, a noble man and without guile.
Being in a position to witness firsthand the decline of confessional unity among Lutherans, and to observe and analyze its causes from both doctrinal and practical standpoints, Krauth can be regarded as an authority when he explains the process by which the leaven of heterodoxy is introduced to orthodox Lutheran church bodies and eventually comes to dominate their teaching:
    When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages in its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: 'You need not be afraid of us; we are few and weak; let us alone, we shall not disturb the faith of others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions.' Indulged in for this time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the Church. Truth and error are two coordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their repudiation is that they repudiate that faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it.

    Krauth, C.P. (1871). The Conservative Reformation and its Theology. Philadelphia: Lippincott. (pp. 195-196).
Has the leaven of heterodoxy entered the doctrine and practice of the WELS? If so, to which one of Krauth's stages might that leaven have progressed? Recall the recent Intrepid Lutheran blog post Lutheran Martyr: The story of Dr. Robert Barnes as a lesson in the realities of “Political Unity” – understanding, of course, that this post was as much about the travails of "political compromise" within the church as it was about Dr. Barnes. Is the concept of "political compromise" included in Krauth's explanation, above? How might continued compromise exacerbate, rather than alleviate, the problem of heterodoxy?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dr. Martin Luther on the Christian's obligation to evaluate doctrine

Dear Readers,

Now that we have attempted to clarify what is and is not adiaphora – mostly what it’s not – we need to address the following questions:
  1. Who is to decide which teaching and practices are true and correct and which are not?
  2. Who has the right to judge doctrine?
  3. Is this something that only seminary professors and district praesidia may do?
Early in the Reformation Luther was faced with similar questions. In the following treatise he very clearly emphasizes that it is not church leaders especially, but rather everyone and all Christians equally – the sheep of Christ! – who have the power and right to judge doctrine.

This treatise was published in May of 1523, of which we publish the first half, below. The translation is from Luther’s Works, Vol.39, page 305 and following. Some sections have been highlighted for emphasis, and headings have been added for clarification.

Pastor Spencer


That a Christian Assembly or Congregation has the Right and Power to Judge All Teaching and to Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proven By Scripture

First, it is necessary to know where and what the Christian congregation is, so that men do not engage in human affairs (as the non-Christians were accustomed to do) in the name of the Christian congregation. The sure mark by which the Christian congregation can be recognized is that the pure gospel is preached there. For just as the banner of an army is the sure sign by which one can know what kind of lord and army have taken to the field, so, too, the gospel is the sure sign by which one knows where Christ and his army are encamped. We have the sure promise of this from God in Isaiah 55[:10–11], "My word" (says God) "that goes forth from my mouth shall not return empty to me; rather, as the rain falls from heaven to earth, making it fruitful, so shall my word also accomplish everything for which I sent it." Thus we are certain that there must be Christians wherever the gospel is, no matter how few and how sinful and weak they may be. Likewise, where the gospel is absent and human teachings rule, there no Christians live but only pagans, no matter how numerous they are and how holy and upright their life may be.

Thus it undeniably follows that bishops, religious foundations, monasteries, and all who are associated with them have long since ceased to be Christians or Christian congregations, even though they have claimed they are more entitled to this name than anyone else. For whoever recognizes the gospel sees, hears, and understands that even today they insist on their human teachings, have driven the gospel far away from themselves, and are still driving it away. That is why one should consider pagan and worldly what these people do and pretend.

Second, in this matter of judging teachings and appointing or dismissing teachers or pastors, one should not care at all about human statutes, law, old precedent, usage, custom, etc., even if they were instituted by pope or emperor, prince or bishop, if one half or the whole world accepted them, or if they lasted one year or a thousand years. For the soul of man is something eternal, and more important than every temporal thing. That is why it must be ruled and seized only by the eternal word; for it is very disgraceful to rule consciences before God with human law and old custom. That is why this matter must be dealt with according to Scripture and God’s word; for God’s word and human teaching inevitably oppose each other when the latter tries to rule the soul. This we shall prove clearly with regard to our present discussion, in this manner:
    Human teaching, not Scripture, strips from the Christian the right and obligation to judge doctrine
    Human words and teaching instituted and decreed that only bishops, scholars, and councils should be allowed to judge doctrine. Whatever they decided should be regarded as correct and as articles of faith by the whole world, as is sufficiently proven by their daily boasting about the pope’s spiritual law. One hears almost nothing from them but such boasting that they have the power and right to judge what is Christian or what is heretical. The ordinary Christian is supposed to await their judgment and obey it. Do you see how shamelessly and foolishly this boasting, with which they intimidated the whole world and which is their highest stronghold and defense, rages against God’s law and word?

    Christ institutes the very opposite. He takes both the right and the power to judge teaching from the bishops, scholars, and councils and gives them to everyone and to all Christians equally when he says, John 10[:4], "My sheep know my voice." Again, "My sheep do not follow strangers, but flee from them, for they do not know the voice of strangers" [John 10:5]. Again, "No matter how many of them have come, they are thieves and murderers. But the sheep did not listen to them" [John 10:8].

    Here you see clearly who has the right to judge doctrine: bishops, popes, scholars, and everyone else have the power to teach, but it is the sheep who are to judge whether they teach the voice [i.e., the words] of Christ or the voice of strangers. My dear, what can these water bubbles say against it, with their feet scraping, "Councils, councils! One must listen to the scholars, the bishops, the crowd; one must look at the old usage and custom"? Do you think the word of God should yield to your old usage, custom, and bishops? Never! That is why we let bishops and councils decide and institute whatever they please; when God’s word is on our side we – and not they – shall judge what is right or wrong and they will have to yield to us and obey our word.

    Here I think you can indeed see clearly enough how much trust should be placed in those who deal with souls by means of human words. Who cannot see that all bishops, religious foundations, monasteries, universities, and everything belonging to them rage against this clear word of Christ? They shamelessly take away the judgment of teaching from the sheep and annex it to themselves through their own law and blasphemy. That is why they should certainly be regarded as murderers and thieves, as wolves and apostate Christians, for they are openly convicted here not only of denying God’s word but also of opposing and acting against it. Such action was quite appropriate for the Antichrist and his kingdom, according to the prophecy of St. Paul, II Thessalonians 2[:3-4].

    Individual Christians bear the command to "beware of false prophets" – not "bishops"
    Christ says again, Matthew 7[:15], "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but are inwardly ravenous wolves." You see, here Christ does not give the judgment to prophets and teachers but to pupils or sheep. For how could one beware of false prophets if one did not consider and judge their teaching?

    Thus there cannot be a false prophet among the listeners, only among the teachers. That is why all teachers and their teaching should and must be subject to the judgment of the listeners.

    Again, the third passage is from St. Paul, I Thessalonians 5[:21], "Test everything but hold fast to that which is good." You see, here he does not want to have any teaching or decree obeyed unless it is examined and recognized as good by the congregation hearing it. Indeed, this examination is not the concern of the teachers; rather, the teachers must first state what is to be examined. Thus here too the judgment is taken from the teachers and given to the Christian pupils. There is a radical difference between Christians and the world: in the world the rulers command whatever they please and their subjects accept it. "But among you," says Christ, "it should not be so." Instead, among Christians each person is the judge of the other person; on the other hand, he is also subject to the other person. However, the spiritual tyrants have made a worldly power out of Christendom.

    The fourth passage is again from Christ, Matthew 24[:4-5], "Take heed that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray." To sum up, do we really need to quote any more sayings? All of St. Paul’s warnings, Romans 16[:17-18], I Corinthians 10[:14], Galatians 3, 4, and 5, Colossians 2[:8], and elsewhere, and all the sayings of the prophets in which they teach us to avoid human teaching, do nothing but take the right and power to judge all doctrine away from the teachers and with a stern decree impose it on the listeners instead, on pain of losing their soul. Accordingly, they not only have the power and the right to judge everything that is preached, they also have the duty to judge, on pain of [incurring] the disfavor of Divine Majesty. Thus we see in what an un-Christian way the tyrants treated us when they took this right and obligation from us and made it their own. For this alone they richly deserve to be driven out of Christendom and to be chased away as wolves, thieves, and murderers who rule over us and teach us things contrary to God’s word and will.

    Thus we conclude that wherever there is a Christian congregation in possession of the gospel, it not only has the right and power but also the duty – on pain of losing the salvation of its souls and in accordance with the promise made to Christ in baptism – to avoid, to flee, to depose, and to withdraw from the authority that our bishops, abbots, monasteries, religious foundations, and the like are now exercising. For it is clearly evident that they teach and rule contrary to God and his word. This first point is established certainly and firmly enough, and one should depend upon it, that it is a divine right and a necessity for the salvation of souls to depose or to avoid such bishops, abbots, monasteries, and whatever is of their government...

Thanks to Issues, Etc.

We're grateful to Issues, Etc. for choosing our blog again last week as one of their picks for Blog of the Week (March 18). The line from Melanchthon that Pr. Todd Wilken especially highlighted from the post:
    "There is more need for reverence in churches than in the theater. The action and the speaking of those who teach is more dignified and serious in the divinely called meeting at which Christ and the angels are present than on the stage."

We would also like to commend to our readers the other pick for Blog of the Week last week, entitled Timely Words on Being Timely (Part 1), in which the author addresses the recurring deception that the church must "change or die."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Melanchthon on "adiaphoristic rituals"

Since we're talking about "adiaphora" at the moment, here is a very pertinent section from Melanchthon's Loci Communes, "Locus 21: Human Ceremonies in the Church," p.232-233. For as much as I would like to write an article on this subject, I have no time for it this week. I'll let Master Philip's words stand on their own, with a few highlighted phrases that caught my attention. Comments are welcome.


Now that we have pointed out the errors which are inherent in these traditions and have condemned them, I will say what we should believe regarding these adiaphoristic rituals, which ones should be preserved in the churches of the Reformation, and which errors should be removed.

The third rule. In the churches which have been reformed, some rituals which are matters of adiaphora do remain, because in this life our actions have to be arranged in some kind of order. The nature of men understands and loves order, and it is particularly appropriate for the church and gatherings of people. Thus Paul very earnestly says in 1 Cor. 14[:40], “Let all things be done properly and in order.” He demands not only order but a particular care for adorning this order, and thus he adds “properly” in order that we may see what is appropriate for the persons, the places, and the times. There is more need for reverence in churches than in the theater. The action and the speaking of those who teach is more dignified and serious in the divinely called meeting at which Christ and the angels are present than on the stage.

Thus I say that the rites which are matters of adiaphora in the churches which have been reformed should be preserved for the sake of good order, but not added because of the notion of righteousness, worship, necessity, or in support of other errors which I have mentioned above. And we need to keep in mind that except for the matter of offense there is no sin in violating these traditions. Now I shall mention shortly what offenses we must avoid.

Gerson has sought out a great variety of necessary traditions. He sees that this enormous burden is a bloody torment for the consciences of right-minded men, and that on the other hand men who are less able to bear the burdens of the laws adopt an Epicurean contempt for all religion, since they cannot observe too many traditions. Therefore, he establishes grades of traditions. Some, he says, are established for the sake of outward beauty, and others for the sake of necessity. But the mitigations of Gerson do not unburden consciences. The divine authority lightens them by the Word given us through the apostles, which expressly rejects the notion of righteousness and necessity. And public tranquility will again be strengthened by this doctrine: we say that these rites which have been set forth for the sake of good order must be observed for the sake of propriety, and that stubborn men are indeed sinning when they disregard such rituals and give offense in the churches of the Reformation. This is the true necessity of traditions which also unburdens consciences and is useful for maintaining peace.

Some men are by nature savage, and they regard all laws as hateful prisons. It is certainly beneficial to instruct such people regarding the purpose of the law, namely, good order. And we should exhort them to avoid offense and understand that they do not live only for themselves but also for others—indeed, for the church of God.

Others are more placid by nature and more concerned about the feelings of others, and understand that they are born for society. Indeed, they perceive that their chief task is to be eager to help and promote the church. Of their own will, they do observe honorable and useful rituals and avoid offenses. They realize that the public worship services of the church have been established by the special counsel and blessing of God, and that God wills that these services be held frequently, so that the Word of the Gospel may be proclaimed publicly in the land. Such people are eager to maintain good order, tranquility, and reverence in the gatherings of the churches and in the schools, especially since order is conducive for teaching the uneducated multitude, so long as a lengthy series of feast days is not rashly created. For not all the accounts can be recited in one day, and it is better to delay part of the lesson until later. And when the division of time is congruent with the events which are taking place, it will not be more pleasant, but it still will be better for the memory.

Not only should men observe a definite series of days, but also God Himself has preserved in the Old and the New Testaments an order of festival days to observe His marvelous deeds. Just as He willed that a lamb be sacrificed at the beginning of spring, at the same time of year our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and raised again. Just as on the fiftieth day after the departure from Egypt the law was promulgated with public testimony from Mount Sinai, so on the fiftieth day after the Passover by manifest testimony the Holy Spirit was given.

Now we are in the 1,544th year after the birth of Christ. Therefore God Himself and our Lord Jesus Christ and the prophets and the whole church of God, from the Exodus from Egypt to this very year, have attributed to the days of Passover and Pentecost certain sacred activities for 3,049 years. A man who looks at this consensus between God and the church and at these examples, unless he is a one-eyed cyclops, will judge that it is an honorable thing to gather together before God and the everlasting church, and he will consider that he is present as a spectator of those events by which God in those times signified something very important. Indeed, we ought to regard these public gatherings as a beautiful image of our eternal relationship with God, with Christ, and with the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, and other godly men. Such rituals are useful when they are observed in this way without superstition, and they are beneficial for teaching. For where there is no order, no discipline, it is impossible to teach people. And it is necessary that the Gospel be heard and taught. For God does not gather His church in any other way than through the preaching of the Gospel, and we should not even consider a church of the elect except in this visible assembly in which the Gospel is rightly and purely taught. Therefore, this visible assembly is to be loved and cared for, and the ministry of the Gospel must be retained and honorable gatherings must be held. For this purpose there is constant need for order and proper rites.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A More Definitive Definition of Adiaphora

I venture to say that the current definition of "adiaphora" under which we have been working is somewhat inadequate and deficient. It simply is not serving us or these discussions well enough.

Most of us have learned the definition of adiaphora as "things neither commanded nor forbidden by God." However, such a definition does not really capture the original intent and meaning of the term, nor is it entirely useful for the practical everyday use of the Believer.

First of all, the word is not found anywhere in the Bible. But the original term did have an ethical or moral quality that is often missed. The word literally means "things indifferent," and originally indicated a group of actions that were morally neutral, that is, neither good nor bad in and of themselves. It is this moral sense that is usually missing from discussions of adiaphora today. Therefore, in order for some activity to be truly adiaphora and thus within the options for a Believer, it cannot have or lead to moral or we might say eternal consequences. With this established, we may proceed to build a better, more useful definition of adiaphora.

Now, for the Believer, any action is either good or bad, moral or immoral, only in relation to the perfect, unchangeable will of God for all people, in all places, and of all times. Obviously, actions such as rejecting Christ as Savior, and not keeping the Commandments are bad, evil, and wrong because they go against God's revealed will for all mankind. In addition, Scripture teaches us that the general overriding desire of God for humanity is that every individual be saved and go to heaven. (First Timothy 2:4) So, naturally God's will revolves around bringing souls to faith and thus salvation. This then also becomes the will and desire of the Believer. Thus, this is the basis for what Paul writes in First Corinthians 8:1-9:23; Gal. 2:3-5; and Col. 2:16-20. In these words we find nothing less than a guide to what actions, that at first might seem to be indifferent, but in reality could present an impediment to saving faith. Since saving faith comes only from contact with the Gospel, and that can happen only through the Means of Grace in Word and Sacraments, whatever gets in the way of these Means of Grace cannot be adiaphora.

Since we are talking mostly about worship services, at this point we can ask what kinds of actions in a worship service support the Means of Grace and which detract from them. Certainly, I think all would have to admit that things such a public confession of sins and absolution, the reading and exposition of Scripture, and the Lord's Supper not only support the Means of Grace, but actually deliver God grace! In addition, a Gloria Patri, Gloria in excelsis, Agnus Dei, Sanctus, Nunc Dimitus, along with prayers, Psalms, and solid Biblical hymns can and do support the delivery of the Means of Grace.

By the same token, a worship service without a public confession/absolution, without the reading of Scripture, without a Scripture-based sermon, and without the Lord's Supper is a much poorer vehicle for the delivery of the Gospel through the Means of Grace. In addition, if such a worship service is also centered around satisfying the emotional feelings of people, the message focused on meeting their felt needs, the Means of Grace are not being delivered at all. The Solid Declaration puts it this way:

Likewise, when there are useless, foolish displays, that are profitable neither for good order nor Christian discipline, nor evangelical propriety in the Church, these also are not genuine adiaphora, or matters of indifference. (SD X, 7)

There is still another consideration.

The second part of a good working definition for adiaphora comes from the history of the Lutheran Church, and an important section in the Formula of Concord. Here a brief review would be in order. After Luther's death, his close friend and associate, Philip Melanchthon, sought to protect the new Lutheran faith in Germany by making certain concessions to the Roman church. He felt that, as long as Lutherans were allowed to preach and teach the main doctrines of Luther, they could and should once again accept the authority of the Pope and his bishops over their churches, also the restoration of certain portions of the Mass once objected to and removed by Luther, and the necessity of doing good works as part of salvation, among other things. He was opposed by Illyricus Flacius, who took the position that any time any practice or belief is forced upon Believers, or even just taught as necessary for salvation by any who are in any way shown to be false teachers, such matters cease to be adiaphora, and indeed must be opposed. . (FC, Article X) More simply put, matters that are under controversy cannot really be adiaphora.

So, our expanded definition for adiaphora would now run something like this: "adiaphora are those things which do not in any way provide the possibility of impeding or hindering the proclamation of the Gospel, or anything NOT under controversy, that is, insisted upon as good, right, and even necessary for salvation, when in fact they actually cause opposition to the Gospel or provide temptation to sin."

Thus, real adiaphora would be, by this definition, anything not worth fighting about, or that isn't being fought over! That would eliminate a lot of what is called adiaphora today, wouldn't it!?

And that's just the point – If we're fighting about it, it's not adiaphora! Therefore, whatever it is, it needs to be discussed and debated, some kind of real agreement reached, and the controversy ended.

To recap:

Worded negatively – Something that is detrimental to the Gospel, or under controversy, cannot be adiaphora.

Worded positively – Only what is in no way detrimental to the Gospel, or not at all controversial, is adiaphora.

Now, we can continue our discussions with a renewed understanding of what is and what isn't adiaphora!

Pastor Spencer

Friday, March 11, 2011

Change or Die - Issues, Etc. Comments

We have very little to report so far on the Change or Die conference that took place on Thursday. We were told earlier in the week that Pastor Skorzewski had decided not to participate, for which we were glad. We are working under the assumption that Pastor Jeske did participate, as advertised, although we would be happy to learn otherwise.

Our post of two weeks ago was picked up by Issues, Etc. and was chosen as one of their two picks for Blog of the Week. They found the "Change or Die" concept to be as offensive and unbiblical as we did.

Just yesterday, Issues, Etc. commented again on the Change or Die conference in response to an e-mail they received from a pastor who attended it. What follows is a transcript of their commentary. (Listener E-mail and Issues, Etc. Comment Line, 30:30-34:35)

Jeff Schwarz: Here’s an e-mail we just received in the studio here,
    I’m a former ELCA pastor now called to an independent Lutheran congregation in southern Minnesota. And I attended the Change or Die conference Yesterday, March 10th. This was supposed to be a pan-Lutheran event, however, one presenter pulled out due to pressure from the WELS leadership.

    Sadly the event lived up to Pr. Wilken’s suspicions as he mentioned in blog of the week recently. Two presenters from the ELCA promoted their liberation and social gospel theology, nothing new here so I don’t know how this was seen as new and relevant.

    What surprised me were the two LCMS presenters who proudly demonstrated how they worked outside of the orthodox understanding of the Lutheran Confessions. When I challenged one of these presenters during a small group discussion concerning his definition of “church,” which was not about the Word of God properly preached and the Sacraments properly administered from his point of view, he removed himself from the conversation.

    The other LCMS presenter openly advocated the removal of confirmation instruction (I’ve heard this in the ELCA several times in the past) and insisted that the seekers who come to the second preaching point of his ministry were not ready to attend worship at the primary worship site which is a classic Midwestern church building and liturgy. He did not say why, and in keeping with the 8th Commandment, I will not speculate. The best part of this free conference was the fine dinner sponsored by two external organizations who sponsored the event. I guess you get what you pay for. I appreciate your work, and yes, Todd, you were right, sometimes others can do a great job in demonstrating what not to do,
writes Kerry in Minnesota.

Todd Wilken: Well, Kerry, thank you very much, and look, change is change. And when the attitude is “we must change or die, that the Church’s life, the Church’s ongoing life and existence depends not upon the living Christ present in his Word and his Sacraments, but upon our ability to change,” usually change with the times, which is just another way of saying, “Let’s let the culture call the shots.” Right? “Let’s just let the culture tell us what is relevant, what we should be talking about. The audience is sovereign,” all this kind of George Barna nonsense.

When change is the essence of the Church’s existence, then you have no stopping point. When you believe that the Church can only continue to exist if it continues to change, you have absolutely no boundary to limit what you will change. So, old definition of the Church? Sure it’s in the Lutheran Confessions, and sure we call ourselves “Lutheran.” I mean, what does that mean? We drink beer and wear Lederhosen and we talk to each other in German occasionally. That’s why we’re Lutheran, come on! The Confessions, what are you talking about? Definition of the Church? That needs to change, too.

And what dictates the change? The Word of God? No. Any faithful confession, be it Lutheran or otherwise? No. What dictates the change? Well, it’s going to be one of two things, isn’t it? It’s going to be our own imagination or opinion, or it’s going to be someone else’s imagination or opinion, neither of which are, well, solid ground upon which to build the Church.

And remember what I said when I talked about this in blog of the week. Jesus says, “Upon this rock I will build my Church” – Peter’s confession! – “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” But if you build – well, you can call it a “church,” I don’t know what it is, — when you build upon change, when you build upon your own imagination or opinion, then that promise does not prevail.

What I’d like to see is a conference called “Change AND die.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The 'Tone' of polemics: Thoughts regarding vigorous public discourse

Polemics and Pedagogics
As I’m sure our readers have noticed, the position on which we publicly stand, and the nature of raising critical issues of doctrine and practice in a way that can’t help but warn of eroding integrity in our Synod’s claims of unity and in its confessional character, require us to be not only pedagogical – and even pedantic at times – it also requires us to wax polemical on occasion. Polemics is an art. It is a use of language that is intended to jar the reader, even upset the reader, for the purpose of pointing out the serious and critical nature of the issue being raised. It is the equivalent of grabbing one by the lapels and shouting at them, not out of anger but out of love and concern for the individual one is communicating with, and out of deep love for and dedication to the Truth. This concern for the Truth and the ultimate welfare of the individual far, far, overshadows any concern one may have for their immediate feelings, whether they may feel as if that one is doing the loving thing at the moment or not. In choosing to use polemic as we have, we are convinced that we are doing the loving thing, regardless of how others may feel about it (and for most of us, it was this same type of ‘jarring’ that woke us up to reality). We fully realize that the winds of popular opinion blow contrary the use of polemics. Nevertheless, we have decided that polemics – balanced by pedagogical presentation of the issues – is the proper, confessional use of language that we should make, given the situation(s) we are facing. We will continue to express ourselves in this way, until we are convinced that matters have improved, or that there is sufficient mutual concern across our Synod to suggest that further “shaking by the lapels” is not necessary. In this regard, we take our cue from our Lutheran predecessors in whom the spirit of confessionalism burned white-hot, from the likes of Walther, Pieper, Chemnitz, Luther, and even the soft-hearted Melanchthon – if one considers his polemic against the silly Roman "asses" who neither knew the etymology of the term ‘liturgy,’ nor knew any grammar (AP XXIV:78-88).

There are a couple things that the concerned reader should know about us, however. First, most, if not all of us, have been fighting these kinds of battles, or personally working through these issues, for well over a decade. As a former pop-church Evangelical, I myself know the errors of Church Growth from the inside out, having at one time been a fully committed Evangelical, having thought their thoughts, spoken their words, and believed their ‘doctrine’. Once I began to question Church Growth (along with many other Evangelicals who are very critical of it), and began to see that its foundation lies in anthropocentric institutionalism, I was led to contemplate the theology that permitted this ideology to have such a gripping authority in today’s pop-church. Deep consideration of these issues is what brought me to the only theological system which successfully avoids man’s participation in God’s work, which is founded on the teaching of the apostles, and which, through its catholic practice, demonstrates unity with true believers spanning all times and places: confessional Lutheranism. When I joined the WELS many years ago, my wife and I, with the encouragement of the orthodox and confessional Lutheran pastor who catechized us, and on the basis of pure scripture doctrine and the practice which proceeds from it, followed through on our new confession, visiting with our friends and our families, and confronting the ministries with which we had long associated, and where necessary (which, in most cases, it was), declaring separation from them.

In a sense, one can sympathize with the Reformed Evangelicals, whether of Calvinist or Arminian stripe, given that they have very little theological framework which would protect them from the allure of Church Growth theories. Confessional Lutherans, on the other hand, have no excuse whatsoever. The only way these ideas can be accommodated by Lutherans is if they discard or relax their commitment to some portion of their rigorous, full and orthodox theology, particularly that of the Means of Grace, the Marks of the Church, and of the Holy Ministry – not to mention Church Fellowship. That Church Growth has been accommodated by confessional Lutherans, and that propaganda continues to be issued in favor of it, is a matter of grave concern. We know it. We see the issues quite clearly. And given our experience with these false ideologies, there is little in terms of substantive argumentation Church Growth advocates can throw at us that we haven’t already fully considered and rehearsed, that we haven’t discussed personally and ad nauseum with fellow WELS Lutherans or with other Christians.

Second, Intrepid Lutherans is not ‘Church’. We don’t bear the Marks of the Church. We don’t commune one another, neither have we selected from among ourselves a ‘pastor’ or ‘overseer’. IL is strictly a Universal Priesthood endeavor – all five of us are equals. Nearly all of our posts are shared with one another for mutual approval, and in many cases blog articles are edited and/or enhanced by any number of us before they are published – even though a single author’s name may appear on them. Even some of our blog comments are shared among us for approval before posting. We stand together. And we’re prepared to fall together. Because of this, we regard any criticism of one of us to be criticism of all of us – which is fine if/when criticism is thought due. We don’t mind criticism (although we may grow weary of it from time to time...), nor would we discourage anyone from criticizing us. Specifically, we encourage those who are critical of us to have the courage to expose their criticisms to public review – to engage us publicly, even as we stand and speak publicly. If someone has a criticism of our public words and actions, then as Paul before Peter and the Elders, “withstand us to the face.” We’ll be happy to meet the challenge.

The other side of this is how we are wont to regard private criticism. It is a forgone conclusion that the loving, biblical and confessional response to ‘public error’ is ‘public rebuke’. We are on public record on this point, having developed a scriptural and confessional foundation for addressing public error in the blog post, The devil can quote Matthew 18, too – and we will have more to say on this point in the near future. Since our words and actions are public, we therefore expect to be engaged publicly if one considers them to be in error. Yet, some insist on privately contacting us to offer their criticism. Okay, fine. We’ll take that at face value and respond briefly to their concerns, encouraging them to express further concerns in the public forum provided for them. Usually this is enough. But we’ve been doing this awhile. Wolves have encircled us more than once. Singling out one or the other of us is a tactic used to ‘separate prey from the herd’, to make him vulnerable to attack. Either, one who is perceived as weak is singled out as easy prey in an effort to reduce our numbers, or, one who is perceived as leader is singled out as key to toppling IL altogether. This isn’t to imply that we suspect everyone who contacts us privately with concerns, or anyone for that matter, is intent upon doing this. Rather, it is to impress upon those who are intent upon shutting down Intrepid Lutherans, that we will not be separated or dealt with individually and privately for matters relating to words and actions we engage in together and in public. Critics, to be taken seriously, simply need to subject their concerns to the same public critique that we offer ours.

This has already gotten long, but there are a couple of points which come up frequently enough, that would benefit from some mild rebuttal. Those points concern the ‘tone’ of posts and commentary, and with identifying ‘motivations’ of those who express themselves publicly.

Obsession with ‘tone’ and ‘motivations’ is a characteristic of postmodernism
In the past several months, some have quite genuinely presented to us their concerns over ‘tone’ in some of the posts and commentary on our blog. Generally, our practice is to allow signed comments, which express complete thoughts in relation to the blog post or immediate commentary, even if one can find fault with the ‘tone.’ This practice is subject, of course, to our own sanctified judgment, as we clearly state in our “Rules of Engagement” guidelines. We realize that this automatically places this blog outside the comfort zone of those who prefer that public discourse among Christians be slathered with evangelical slobber. We don’t find that sort of expression to be at all necessary in this forum. Yet even within the guidelines we have published, our judgment is not always perfect, and some comments will be posted that we would normally hold back. Where this may have happened in the past, we trust that this has been the exception rather than the rule, and where individuals have expressed concern regarding ‘tone,’ be assured, we definitely take these concerns to heart, and strive to make changes where we think warranted.

In most cases, however, concerns of this sort are delivered to us in some form of analysis assigning ‘objective value’ to interpretations of ‘tone’, essentially identifying imperative statements as “unloving arrogance.” I’ll admit that grammatical analysis does make a critique of ‘tone’ sound objective, and while the grammar seems to be conclusive, any valuation of ‘tone’ – whether it be good or bad – is ultimately a matter of the reader’s subjective interpretation. It is not objective. Perceptions of ‘tone’, therefore, are often more of a ‘problem’ with the reader than with the author of such statements. To be sure, this is quite a serious problem. In fact, I would submit that readers or listeners who are so distracted by their own obsession with how they feel about another person’s expression, rather than with the content of that expression itself, are themselves displaying evidence of a self-centered disrespect for the author or speaker. It is sin. And this is not something I’m just making up, or some obscure point that few people have ever considered, but a basic tenet of objective critique that has been recognized for centuries.

Perhaps many readers of IL are too young to know what a real education is. Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. But I do know that if I have a real education, I received it entirely by accident. By the time I started college, postmodernism was already the dominant worldview among the younger faculty, and the methods of social constructivism had begun to replace the long established classical and even modernist pedagogies. Yet, as an undergraduate and graduate student, I deliberately chose the most difficult and disliked professors I could find – since I was paying for my education, I wanted to get my money’s worth. Most of these professors were the old guys, the one’s who were mid-career already during the tumult of the ‘60s. They had a real education, and were doing what they could to pass it along, while all around them real education was disintegrating. What they taught their students about critique was very simple: one must make every effort to remove himself from the expression of others, and regard that expression only in terms of what the vessel of language – vocabulary and grammar – provides. If someone goes to the effort to give expression to his/her thoughts by composing words within a definite grammatical structure, then the only basis for properly understanding that expression is to interpret it on the basis of that composition, on the basis of objective rules of expression to which both the reader and the author agree. And this is the only basis on which one’s expression can be given due respect and consideration.

Postmodernism, as I’m sure the reader well-knows, has turned this completely on its head. According to the postmodernists, language is insufficient to carry the full meaning of an author’s or speaker’s expression, is insufficient to communicate any matter of truth with certainty. In order to more fully understand the expression of another person then, postmodernists insist that it must be understood from within the context of that person’s narrative. Hence today’s overriding obsession with a person’s motivations, and the life experiences that lie behind them, which lead to his manner of expression. These are prerequisite to understanding the content of his expression. But how does the listener or reader understand the narrative of another person? Through language? No – language, again, is insufficient. Rather, language needs to be complemented with other devices of communication. A person’s narrative needs to be received aurally, visually, tactilely – that is, experientially. Above all, however, it must be received socially. That is, the narrative of one person must be delivered to another person in the form of experience, and in this way received and incorporated into the narrative of the second person. Thus the two individuals are socially connected by shared narrative. And this represents the epistemology of postmodernism: knowledge is a social construction that is built as narrative is normalized across a given people group. Because of this, again, according to postmodernism, all ‘truth’ is also tenuous: (a) because social experience changes over time, the knowledge construct, or schemata, of a people group will also change, (b) because knowledge construction differs from one people group to another, and (c) because the means through which knowledge is constructed (i.e., through experience) is ultimately inconclusive with respect to what one may call ‘true’ anyway. Thus, no one could possibly be certain enough about anything to be imperative about it, and naturally, to be imperative about anything is to be ‘arrogant,’ as it is to regard any position as anything but ‘opinion.’ This is what it means to “understand motivations” in our postmodern age, especially when words are regarded as insufficient to evaluate another person’s expression. But be warned, dear reader, this philosophy is completely incompatible with the principle of confessionalism, and it is something against which we must struggle if we are to hold on to the Truth.

Apprehension, doubt, and self-censorship: Living under Law
Finally, it must be stated that living out one’s life in abject fear of ‘offending’ another person (and by ‘offense’ in this case, let’s be clear – we don’t mean ‘offense’ in the biblical and confessional sense, of violating someone’s conscience or leading them into sin – all that is really meant is ‘hurt feelings’), of being forced by others to constantly predict how a person may subjectively react to one’s own expression, and to censor one’s expression according to these worthless predictions, is a life under the impossible expectations of the Law. Further, if the expectation is that the expression of one’s conscience be self-censored to avoid the ‘hurt feelings’ of others, this expectation is itself true ‘offense’ in the biblical and confessional sense, being a violation of one’s conscience which forces one into habitually fraudulent self-representation. One is forced under these circumstances, to cover up what they really think and obscure who they really are in order to please those wagging the billy club of the Law above their heads.

No, it is best to allow and encourage people to honestly express themselves at all times, not to force them to constantly second-guess or question everything they might say for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings, or worse, out of fear that what they are convinced is true may really be error. This is neither the confidence nor the ardor of a confessor. The fact is, if a fellow Christian is guilty of error, it will be immediately evident in his expression and will be far more easily and directly dealt with, if he is expressing himself consistently with his character and convictions, than if he is coerced into hiding them through continually dishonest self-expression. At the same time, people ought to be encouraged to live a life of meditation on the Scriptures, and of self-reflection, so that if, after the fact, one can confess that a better course of action could have been taken, or that his thinking ought to be corrected, then that adjustment can be made voluntarily and permanently on his own.

Dealing with subjective concerns regarding 'tone': a sugggestion and advice for the 'offended'
One may complain that they are, nevertheless, subjectively concerned about ‘tone’. It may not sound like it, but I can appreciate that. My suggestion is this: instead of trying to change people to one’s own liking, one ought to endeavor to train oneself to objectively critique the expression of others, and to respond to that expression objectively, rather than become emotionally vested in his own subjective evaluations of ‘true intent or meaning’ which are based on his perceptions of ‘tone.’ As stated above, the practice we at Intrepid Lutherans have adopted is to exercise our own collective judgment in those posts we allow to be posted, but to generally allow folks to express their thoughts, even if one can find fault with the ‘tone’ – understanding that as we deal with the content of their expression, the tone will likely change anyway.

In closing, and for what it is worth, I’ll offer some advice in addition to my suggestion, by sharing a practice I try to follow as I take up issues in a public forum. First, remove yourself from your own commentary – that is remove, as much as possible, use of the terms “I” or “me”. While this does not prevent your commentary from being critiqued by others, it does help to keep yourself from becoming a part of their critique. Since you have not made yourself part of the subject of your own commentary, it will be difficult for others to legitimately make you the subject of their response. Second, remove reference to other people from your commentary – that is, remove names of people, as much as possible, and when responding directly to what someone has written on these pages, try to eliminate personal terms like “you” as you address the content of their expression. With these simple guidelines, I have found that, apart from cordial salutations, all that remains is discussion over the ideas at issue, and that it is sufficiently abstracted from myself and from the individuals engaged in the discussion that a direct and spirited exchange regarding the issues can be fruitfully had. One can rail up and down against the positions that others take, and it doesn’t become personal – nor does it need to become personal for the words to be persuasive. Thoughtful and genuine conversants will voluntarily apply the words of such dialogue to themselves as those words seem apt. Of course, it goes without saying, I am imperfect, and fail to take my own advice all too often (as those who know me personally will be quick to point out, I’m afraid!) – but I find that this practice tends, more than anything else, to contribute to civilized debate and is a standard worth pursuing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lutheran Martyr: The story of Dr. Robert Barnes as a lesson in the realities of “Political Unity”

Lutheran Martyr, by Neelak S. TjernagelI happened to find myself rereading, this weekend, the opening pages of Neelak S. Tjernagel’s biography of Dr. Robert Barnes (~1495-1540), Lutheran Martyr. Dr. Barnes was an Englishman, who lived during the reign of King Henry VIII. Like Luther, Barnes was an Augustinian – though at Cambridge. Following in the footsteps of Erasmus, he left Cambridge for the continent to acquire an education at Louvain, returning in 1523 with his Doctor of Divinity. Recognized for his scholarship, his order made him Prior of his house, a position he used to introduce the classical learning he had been exposed to at Louvain. Of course, knowledge of Luther and his theology was not hidden on the Cambridge campus, but, being Roman Catholic, such theology was officially forbidden and rejected. Knowing that it was being discussed anyway, at times the University even conducted searches for heretical books or pamphlets that may have made their way from Germany. For this reason, scholars often met off campus, to study the text of the Bible and discuss theology. One place they met was the White Horse Inn. Among the group who met there was Dr. Barnes, who was the indisputable leader of that group, Thomas Cranmer, who would later become Archbishop of Canterbury, and William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale – important Bible translators and publishers – along with many others who would later be referred to as the Cambridge Reformers.

Meanwhile, from the period of 1509 to 1547, King Henry VIII was active, not only marrying and divorcing women, but positioning himself between the Roman Emperor Charles V and King Francis I of France, to antagonize their relationship in an effort to prevent either one or both of them from taking action against England. This exacerbated already complicated issues as he sought permission from the pope to divorce Catherine. Roman Catholic when Henry ascended the throne, he worked to change the Church in England due to four primary factors:
  1. The insecurity of the Tudor crown. Because of the public scandal of the King’s marital incontinence, and the religious offense it created among Roman Catholics, many – consistent with their religious teaching – prophesied the King’s death or removal from the throne by divine means. Under Henry, such sentiments, if made known, were made punishable by death.
  2. Following this was Henry’s determination to force his subjects to accept his divorce from Queen Catherine.
  3. In a move to create political separation from Rome, parliament named the King as the “Only Supreme Head of the Church of England” – and Henry demanded that every subject in England recognize this fact.
  4. Finally, the King and the parliament were determined, by this act and others, to suppress the monasteries and “enrich the state at the expense of their vast properties.”
    “For good or for ill, Henry was to triumph... Only a small minority opposed the changes that altered [the Church of England] during his reign.

    Tjernagel, N. (1982). Lutheran Martyr. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House. pg. 15
Such were the politically motivated reasons for opposing the Roman Catholic Church in England, for changing it to the liking of England’s leader. Roman opposition within England, what little of it there was, came mostly from churchmen: cardinals, bishops, monks, abbots, nuns, and leaders of state, like Sir Thomas Moore, were publicly executed, either by burning, hanging, beheading or some other gruesome means. Some were drawn and quartered. Of those executed by Henry VIII during this time, fifty were officially named as martyrs by the Roman Church.

On the other hand, after Sir Thomas Moore had become Chancellor in 1529, there arose some concern that Protestantism, in addition to causing unwanted reform within the Church, may well cause political unrest as well – something which, again, amounted to a threat to the royal authority of the Tudor family. Prior to this, persecution of protestants was largely within the domain of the Church, and was nearly limited to laymen – mostly common laborers – who were unable to defend themselves against the charges of heresy. In fact, from the time of Wycliff (ca. 1380) up to this time, nearly 4/5 of all protestant martyrs were laymen. In 1529, Cardinal Wolsey, Chancellor of England since 1514, and the pope’s personal representative to the King since 1521, was dismissed from his position for failing to obtain permission from the pope for Henry to divorce his wife, Catherine. Sir Thomas Moore was appointed Chancellor in his place, and as Chancellor, set into motion policies for the execution of religious protestants – policies under which he himself was deprived of his Chancellorship in 1531, and finally executed in 1535, for refusing to recognize the King as Head of the Church, refusing to recognize his divorce from Catherine, and refusing to endorse England’s separation from Rome.

By 1529, however, Dr. Barnes had already gotten himself into serious trouble under Wolesy. In 1525, the Cambridge Reformers agreed that Christmas would be the day that they would announce their allegiance to evangelical theology, and that Dr. Barnes would deliver that announcement in a sermon, from the pulpit of St. Edward’s Church – the chapel of Trinity Hall and Clare Colleges of Cambridge University. As a result, he was arrested, tried and imprisoned, but by 1528, had escaped, finding his way to the University of Wittenberg where he studied under Dr. Martin Luther, fully absorbing his theology, until 1531.

(NOTE: While in the company of the German Reformers, Dr. Barnes wrote a Treatise, addressed to King Henry VIII, defending the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. His full Treatise on Justification was published on this blog in 2015, and can be read at the following link: Treatise on Justification, by Rev. Dr. Robert Barnes – Lutheran Reformer, Ambassador to the Smalcaldic Princes, and Christian Martyr)

Woodcut of Barnes, from one of his booksIn 1532, Thomas Cromwell, friend of the Reformation, was appointed Chancellor of England to replace Moore. He successfully orchestrated Henry’s divorce from Catherine. He also played a key role moving forward Henry’s ambitions to forge political alliance with the Lutheran Princes of Germany. As a result of the extended and embarrassing altercation with Rome over his divorce, Henry was eager to return the favor in a way that would deprive Rome of further political influence. Establishing political relations with the Lutherans was the expedient he required. About this time, Dr. Barnes, who was still in Germany, began writing. His first work was a theological sourcebook demonstrating his thorough acquaintance with, and commitment to, Lutheran theology. His second work was a book entitled, Supplication to Henry VIII. This work was a collection of essays, giving strong indication of his loyalty to the King, vindicating himself of the charges he faced under Wolsey, and defending Lutheran theology. This book found its way to King Henry, along with the Augsburg Confession and the writings of two of Barnes’ White Horse Inn colleagues, Tyndale and Frith. King Henry not only approved of Barnes’ writings, but urged that they all, by any means, be brought back to England.

Frith returned, but upon examination was found to hold Zwinglian ideas, denying the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Refusing to recant, he was burned at the stake in 1533. Tyndale refused to return to England unless the English translation of the Scriptures be freely distributed to the King’s subjects. His request was refused, and so Tyndale remained in exile until his arrest in 1535 and execution a year later. Barnes, on the other hand, returned to England over the Winter of 1531-1532, under the King’s promise of safe conduct, and returned to Europe the following spring. Later in 1532, Thomas Cranmer, a Protestant and another one of Dr. Barnes’ associates from the White Horse Inn, was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury – an appointment secured by the family of the woman King Henry VIII wished to marry after his divorce from Catherine.

Dr. Barnes was politically useful to King Henry – useful in his endeavor to achieve political independance from the Roman Catholic Church. Barnes' intimate relationships with the key figures of the German Reformation, and his thorough knowledge of their doctrine, would serve Henry as he sought political alliance with the Lutheran princes. Barnes was recalled to England in 1534, to enter the King's service, initially as a liaison to Germany, then as ambassador to the Lutherans of the Smalcaldic League, eventually securing in 1536 a theological formula which could serve as a basis for opening political relations with them. Barnes was rather positive regarding this formula. On the other hand, the Germans had also produced a decision regarding the divorce of King Henry, which was disapproving. This latter development cost Dr. Barnes his job, regardless of the formula he had returned with. The situation had changed, and the formula was no longer a priority: both Catherine and her replacement had died, eliminating the political issue of Henry’s divorce and remarriage. Thus, given that political priorities had changed, Henry was disposed to reject the formula Barnes and his fellow ambassadors had developed with the Germans, and assert England’s independence by writing his own document to secure religious unity and open political relations. His document was entitled The Ten Articles. Upon examination, Melanchthon declared that they must have been “composed in confusion.” By the end of 1536, Barnes was in prison again.

Political winds continuing to shift, in Spring of 1538 Cromwell secured Dr. Barnes’ release from the Tower Prison in London to participate through the Summer in further theological and political discussions with the German Lutherans on behalf of the King. The immediate result was Cromwell’s 1538 publication of The Thirteen Articles, which, having the approval of the King, represented the religion of the Church of England. The hand of Barnes is evident in these articles, as they are a very near approximation of Lutheranism. Following this, Barnes enjoyed freedom as a “freelance preacher,” spreading, under the authority of these Articles, the doctrines of the Lutheran Reformation throughout England. His influence during this time upon Cranmer and his development of a vernacular liturgy is also evident, as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1549 retained such a Lutheran character that during colonial times in America, it was referred to by Germans as “the English speaking Lutheran Church.”

In 1539, however, Charles V and Francis I found themselves on peaceful terms, forcing England to make some form of favorable political overature in order to avoid war. Therefore, sponsored by religious parties favoring the teachings of the pope, Parliament passed the Act of Six Articles, hoping to maintain open lines of communication with Rome. This Act affirmed transubstantiation, declared communion in both kinds unnecessary, forbade the marriage of priests and required that they take vows of chastity, required private masses for priests, and required the practice of private confession for all Christians. The Germans were stunned. “Luther cried out against the king who had deprived the pope of his name and property in England, but was perpetuating the pope’s doctrine and ‘abominations’” (Tjernagel, pg. 140).

Yet, Henry did not enforce the Articles, reviving hope among the Germans and Henry’s ambassadors that alliance could yet be attained. And such appeared to be necessary. Fearing certain war with Charles and Francis, and desperate for an alliance in such a conflict, Henry not only renewed negotiations with the Germans and reached out to the Danes, but agreed to marry a relative of one of the German Princes. Barnes was not involved in these negotiations, but continued to preach, and by Lent of 1540, was appointed to a pulpit at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. In this short time however, the fragile peace between France and Rome had disintegrated, once again eliminating Henry’s need for alliance with Germany. He ignored their overtures following the negotiations of the previous year, and sought divorce from his third wife, terminating any further hope of a political relationship with Germany.

Barnes and his companions, at the stake

The failure of German negotiations resulted, by this time, in the veritable freefall of Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, as he was attacked mercilessly by Parliament for his inability to establish political relations with the Smalcald Lutherans. The Lenten season of 1540 was rather unkind to Dr. Barnes as well. He was attacked from the pulpits of Roman sympathizers in London, who pointed to the Lutheran "heresy" of Justification by Faith Alone which was openly preached by Barnes. He and his compatriots were arrested and imprisoned four months. On July 28, 1540, Thomas Cromwell was beheaded for, among other things, supporting the "heresies" of Dr. Robert Barnes. Two days later, however, something rather interesting happened – which brings us to where this brief history started: the opening pages of Tjernagel’s biography of Barnes.
    On 30 July 1540 six men, bound on hurdles, were drawn from the Tower of London to Smithfield market for execution. Two men (one a Roman Catholic, the other a Protestant), were tied to each hurdle for this melancholy progress. They were to die at a slaughter house dumping grounds, the customary site for the burning of heretics. Three of them were to be burned as heretics. The others were to be hanged, drawn and quartered for treason.

    Each of these men had strong religious convictions, yet their execution had no real religious significance. Purely political considerations had determined the identity of the victims and the time and manner of the executions. None of them had the martyr’s option of saving his life by renouncing his faith.

    All of them were sentenced to death by acts of attainder. [A] legal device... it permitted the English parliament to condemn and sentence without trial and without naming the charges on which the sentence was based.

    A religious coloring was given to the politically motivated executions on this occasion by the fact that all of the victims were university men and noted preachers. All had previously had some encounter with the authorities on religious issues.

    Contemporaries identified the three Catholics, Thomas Abel, Richard Fetherston and Edward Powell, as doctors of divinity... [of Oxford and Cambridge]... [They] had been defenders of Queen Catherine during the divorce proceedings... Powell had been given the highest praise by Oxford University for a book attacking Martin Luther.

    A short time before their deaths the three Protestant victims had been honored by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, with an invitation to preach the Sunday sermons during Lent at Paul’s Cross, an open air pulpit at St. Paul’s cathedral in London. [These Protestants were William Jerome and Thomas Garrett, both of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and] Robert Barnes, [who] had been educated at Cambridge and Louvain... He was prior of the Augustinian monastery in Cambridge and later served as chaplain to Henry VIII and as the king’s envoy in foreign diplomacy from 1531 to the time of his death.

    We now know that Dr. Barnes was the primary victim in the executions of 30 July 1540. His sentence was due to a political gesture made by king and parliament in that month. Garrett and Jerome went with him because they shared his views and were associated with him in the preaching of the Lenten Sunday Sermons at Paul’s Cross. The three Catholic theologians were sent to death on the insistence of the Protestant members of the King’s Council. They feared that the execution of three Protestants, condemned to death chiefly for political reasons, might be interpreted as a triumph of the Catholic party in the government.

    Tjernagel, N. (1982). Lutheran Martyr. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House. pp. 11-14
In other words, to maintain the appearance of impartiality, the King and his Parliament could not discipline members of one religious party, without also disciplining members of the opposing party. Too bad they were so consumed with managing appearances. Too bad that despite the obvious division about them, they were willing to satiate both religious parties in hopes of maintaining political harmony, even though it only perpetuated and entrenched the division. Who knows how history would have unfolded, had they actually been concerned with the Truth, with agreement and unity in principle, and with dealing transparently with others under it.

Political unity, in contrast to confessional unity, is built on compromise – a considerable problem when matters of principle are treated as the disposable expedients necessary to achieve it. It is a pity, not only for the sake of the Truth and for matters of conscience which have suffered such compromise, but for the so-called "unity" which results. It is not true unity, but a fabrication, a mere appearance of unity; it is nothing more than an agreement between parties to act as if true unity exists, even though it doesn't, even though it cannot since conscience has been compromised to attain it. Moreover, such "unity" never lasts, but over time requires further compromise in order to satiate the fundamentally dissatisfied parties involved, and continue to maintain the facade of peace and harmony. Regarding this, Luther, I am told, is credited with the following very true statement, one which ought to be well-heeded by all leaders of Church and State, and anyone who would enter into confessional unity of any sort and desire to remain in it:

Compromise never leads to peace, it only postpones conflict.

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