Friday, June 10, 2011

Public Admonition is Good & Necessary

Allow me to add my reflections to our first year of work. It seems to me that the biggest question about Intrepid Lutherans, indeed about any public forum on which is discussed the deeds and misdeeds of people, pastors, and church bodies, is whether such public discussion including public questioning and even admonition and rebuke, are appropriate and within proper bounds among us. Here are my thoughts on the matter. As is my wont, I will try to be short and succinct.

It can be said without fear of contradiction that we all have a sinful human nature and that this nature of ours is inclined to go astray. This is true of laypeople, pastors, seminary professors, District Presidents, et al.

Those who become the object of admonition very often lose clarity of conscienceless about their errors, and their view of themselves become blurred. This leads to a defensive attitude and the desire to ignore or cover up error. This is also true of their friends, family, and supporters, who can then often turn against the rebukers . Thus, those who attempt the admonition, become targets of attack themselves.

The church's job is not to protect and defend its members or leaders in every situation, but to represent Christ to the world, and this includes demonstrating truth and righteousness. The integrity of Christ's church needs to be preserved, even if direct and painful admonition is required. Let it also be understood from the outset that such admonition must show from Scripture and the Confessions where someone has erred. Such rebuke cannot be based only on some vague complaint that a Pastor or group is "unloving," or "not putting the best construction on things."

One of the most important purposes of admonition and rebuke is to preserve the unity of confession within a church body. This is especially true of a confessional Lutheran church body. It is the Holy Spirit Who by the Means of Grace, regeneration, faith, and the new life in Christ joins us together. Once established, this unity is to display itself in the oneness of confession, and yes, of practice! Please note, the confessional and Scriptural unity is just that – based on the correct teaching of the Bible as delineated and explained in the Book of Concord, not simply what one may THINK is correct doctrine and practice, or even that contained in pamphlets like "This We Believe." Such things are not "normative" for us, but only the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions (in that order, of course).

As Pastor Rydecki has made clear, a Pastor's membership in the WELS - and by extension, a layperson's membership in their congregation - is an expression of oneness, a confessional act of agreement, based on the Holy Scriptures and a "quia" subscription to the Book of Concord.

To preserve this unity, Pastors and church leaders owe each other brotherly admonition and rebuke. In this, Jesus Christ Himself is working to keep Pastors true to their ordination vows. Consequently, when Jesus leads a fellow Pastor to bring the corrective admonition of His Word to an erring brother, He is doing it for the good of the errorist and that of the whole body, of which He is the Head. Jesus is the "friend of sinners," and desires to salvage every sinner, even misguided or misbehaving Pastors!

We ARE our brother's keeper, and we will want to prevent sin and false teaching or practice from infecting or even overthrowing our faith, or that of our brother. That is Satan's goal, against which we must constantly struggle and fight!

Many times in the history of the church the work of Christ has been hindered or damaged precisely because those in the church have failed to exercise doctrinal discipline. Why? Because of the fear of the reaction to admonition and rebuke. Most church problems begin as a small cancer, and unless detected and treated immediately, they grow to corrupt, mutate, and eventually destroy much of that church's ability to do Christ's work.

God has already given us the means for brotherly admonition. It is the Law - to expose sin; and the Gospel - to heal the wound. The application of the Law is absolutely necessary to make our brother Pastor or denomination leader conscious of his sin. Reluctance to do so - which is natural - will arise, and Satan will remind us to "mind our own business," or "not be so judgmental." It is exactly at such times that God's Word must move us to act, swiftly and surely, to carry out the needed correction of our brother or our church body, and thus preserve even our own faith and that of our flocks and families.

The WELS has machinery already set up for this process of the supervision of doctrine and practice. The office of the Circuit Pastor and that of the District President were created for this purpose. But it would be a great mistake for the church to leave all matters of such discipline only up to these Pastors! Only when ALL assume the duty to be responsible for the doctrine and practice of our church body will we have a healthy and vibrant ministry of the Word and Sacraments!

Simply put, no Pastor should be allowed to teach or act at variance to the doctrinal position of the church. If he is truly convinced he is right and the church of which he is presently a member is wrong; no one is forcing him to stay, and honesty and integrity should move him to resign his Call since he no longer believes in the confessional stance of the church.

Therefore, it should go without saying – but indeed needs to be said: Any Pastor - or Teacher, layperson, or synodical official, for that matter - who challenges and rejects the confessional position of the WELS in a public manner, has the right to expect to be publicly admonished by his audience, however large and widespread that audience might happen to be. In these days when sermons are "streamed" via the Internet, or can be downloaded as a podcast, a minister of the Gospel has both the privilege but also the responsibility of speaking to hundreds, thousands, and even potentially millions. Each and every one of those people has absolutely every right to take issue with anything he says. Period! (Perhaps this should give all us Pastors more than a bit of pause as we upload our wonderful words of wisdom to our church's web page!)

If the church sits in silence to the questioning, challenging, or rebuttal of its confessional position, it is inviting doctrinal deterioration to set in. Anyone who is bold enough to besiege the Confessions or the Bible itself, MUST, repeat MUST, be taken to task publicly by whoever hears him do so, regardless of the forum within which this attack was heard. How else can we possibly understand St. Paul's words in First Timothy 5:20 – "Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that others may take warning."? I say this is irrefutable and unarguable. Period!

Finally, the term "brother" is not simply a polite or sentimental reference, but it is suppose to be an expression of an actual condition of unity in Christ and His Word. As brothers we should expect to serve one another as we carry out our ministry. This brotherhood gives us an incentive for mutual study, sharing of ideas, help in trying times, and yes, even correction through admonition and rebuke. We serve as a check and balance on each other, as well we should. Therefore, we should be willing to accept brotherly admonition and even sometimes harsh rebuke from one another, just as we are also obligated to give it. We should indeed, "take it," but also be prepared to "dish it out!"

Pastor Spencer

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