Thursday, July 28, 2011

The NNIV, the WELS Translation Evaluation Committee, and the Perspicuity of the Scriptures

On Tuesday night, I watched as five learned and respected men stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of hundreds of delegates to the WELS 2011 Synod Convention, and with straight faces defended their endorsement of the NIV 2011 on the basis that “there is no such thing as a reliable translation, they all have shortcomings due to the choice of the translator to render in the target language only some of what the source language actually communicates” (my paraphrase of several statements). What I found particularly galling was the fact that they all readily admitted that to illuminate the layman’s understanding of the Bible, it was fitting that copies of the NIV 2011 sold by NPH be accompanied by a booklet, prepared by experts, which identifies and remediates the errors it contains. Such a suggestion was made multiple times during Tuesday night’s Open Forum, and the men of the WELS Translation Evaluation Committee agreed each time the suggestion was raised.

Throughout this discussion it was made clear that these men reject the notion that the Scriptures can be presented to all Christians who are competent in their own languages, in a way that is clear and reliable, suggesting that they reject the Doctrine of the Perspicuity of the Scriptures in any but a purely theoretical sense.

Dr. Francis Pieper (LCMS), in his well-regarded three volume work, Christian Dogmatics, contains a very good section on the Perspicuity of the Holy Scriptures, a section which may be interesting for us to review in reference to this idea that the Bible cannot be sufficiently rendered in our, or any, language, that instead it requires further illumination in external documents written by men. It seems that in burying ourselves in the details of technical translation problems, we have forgotten how important it is for us to understand the Perspicuity of the Holy Scriptures and apply it in our attitude toward the Bible and its translations. Pieper begins:
    According to the Roman doctrine, Scripture becomes clear through the light emanating from the “Church,” that is, from the Pope. According to the doctrine of the “enthusiasts” of all ages, it is illumined by the “inner light,” which is communicated immediately. According to the view of modern theology, the Bible is “divine-human” in the sense that Scripture presents a mixture of truth and error, and it is the business of “the self-consciousness of the theologizing subject” to shed light upon this confusion – by means of his “experience” he separates the truth from the error and thus clarifies Scripture. All of these views regarding the “perspicuity” of Scripture have one common feature: It is man who must illumine Holy Scripture.

    [Pieper, F. (1950). Christian Dogmatics (Vol 1) (T. Engelder, Trans.). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1924). pp. 319-320]
I’ll stop here for a moment. First, the idea that the full meaning of the Scriptures must come from a representative of the Church is clearly Romish, according to Pieper. “It’s alright if my translation is inaccurate, since my pastor will explain to me correctly,” is a Roman idea. It’s one thing if the trouble understanding the Scriptures is a language deficiency (as we’ll see, below), but quite another if we are to settle for a deficient translation while relying on “the Church” to properly illumine the Scripture’s meaning for us.

Second, if one is working with a sophisticated source language, then it is normal to expect that what is rendered in the target language will be roughly equivalent in sophistication – if the translator endeavors to render the full meaning contained in the source, that is. Granted, given the limitations of a given target language, this may not always be possible – but why is this such a prominent defense these days for accepting deficient translations? What gives the modern translator license to “pick and choose” what he is going to render into the target language, rather than placing on him the challenge and expectation that he take on the high ideal of rendering it as fully as possible in the target language? I submit that the reason is the notion that “the target language” is no longer considered “the target language in its capacity,” but “the target language in its most marketable reading level.” Newspapers have been doing this for decades in order to maximize the distribution of their rags: to maximize readership and profit, the newsprint needs to be rendered in the lowest common denominator of functional literacy. Mass-market book publishers have adopted the same philosophy.

In the realm of Bible translation, this publishing philosophy is enabled by the translation ideology of Dynamic Equivalency. The translator is not permitted the full capacity of the target language, he is limited to that subset of the target language which will maximize distribution and profit. Of course, if one falls back to a pastor to “illumine” the full meaning of the text, normalizing the practice of producing deficient translations can be justified, and from the publishers’ standpoint, Bible consumers are always welcome to fall back on the commentaries they publish, as well. In either case, the clarity and meaning of the Scriptures in the target language depends on man, or additional devices created by man, not on the Scriptures themselves – which forces Christians to draw back from their regard for the perspicuity of Scripture.

Pieper continues:
    According to the teaching of Scripture, however, exactly the opposite relation obtains. Not men illumine Scripture, but Scripture illumines men. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105).

    According to Scripture, the perspicuity of the Scripture consists in this, that it presents, in language that can be understood by all, whatever men must know to be saved. By way of elaboration:

    1. This perspicuity is presupposed, as a matter of course, since not only those who are specially gifted, but all Christians are to read the Scriptures, are to believe on the basis of Scripture and to judge truth and error on the same basis. The Perspicuity is taken for granted in Luke 16:29: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” In like manner Christ tells the Jews who would not believe His Word: “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39). [Pieper goes on to quote Acts 17:11, 2 Thess. 2:15, Col. 4:16, 1 Thess. 5:27 to further support the fact that Scripture presupposes its own perspicuity.]

    2. But the perspicuity of Scripture is not only presupposed as self-evident, but Scripture teaches it also very expressly; it most emphatically protests against ever regarding Scripture as an obscure book, as do not only the unbelievers, but also some within external Christendom; at times even devout Christians are disturbed. Scripture says of itself that it is a “light shining in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19) and that it “is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” (Ps. 119:105). [Pieper goes on to quote Ps. 19:7, 2 Tim. 3:15, 1 John 2:12-13 showing that Scripture teaches of its perspicuity directly.]

    [Pieper, F. (1950). Christian Dogmatics (Vol 1) (T. Engelder, Trans.). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1924). pg. 320]
If a translator respects the perspicuity of the Scriptures, then for those translated Scriptures to “illumine” men in a language other than the original source language, one would think that his philosophy of translation would require him to to make a genuine attempt to render the full content of the source language into the target language. Yet the philosophy of Dynamic Equivalency (a) has the translator acting alongside Scripture as the “one who illumines men,” (b) limits the capacity of the target language to carry the full meaning of the source by requiring that the language used in the target be artificially reduced, and (c) in this way grants license to the translator to “pick and choose” which content to render, rather than burden him with the high-ideal of making a genuine attempt to translate all of the content and granting him the necessary tools (the full capacity of the target language) to do so.

Yet it is clear from Scripture that a Christian’s reading of it is to equip him to independently ”judge truth and error”. How does a deliberately deficient translation accomplish this? Recall, that in the case of the NIV 2011, it is so deficient that our WELS Translation Evaluation Committee agreed that for this translation to be sufficient for lay use, a second book should accompany it which exposes and remediates all of its errors and shortcomings. Not only is this full admission that the NIV 2011 is not a translation which rises to a threshold honoring the perspiscuity of the Scriptures, it raises serious questions in the mind of the reader of such a Bible whether the NIV 2011 on his nightstand is, in fact, God’s Word, or something less than God’s Word. Raising questions like this through advocacy of deficient translations of the Bible, is a doctrinal issue, impacting our Doctrine of the Perspicuity of the Scriptures.

But how can a translation possibly rise to the level of such clarity, equipping the reader who has competent skill in his own language to independently judge truth and error based on his own Bible? One thing is certain. It cannot even begin to rise to such a level if, before he even approaches the texts of the source language, restrictions are placed on the translator (or are adopted by him as his own ideology) which do not give him the full utility of the target language, which would force him to produce a translation that is not representative of the sophistication of the content and its presentation as contained in the texts of the source language, but is instead, artificially reduced to meet some perceived external need or the dictates of an ideology imposed on the texts.

But what if these restrictions are lifted? What if the full utility of the target language was embraced? Wouldn’t that produce a translation unintelligible to the “average reader” and wouldn’t this also militate against the perspicuity of the Scriptures? Pieper invokes Luther as he discusses this point, as well:
    For whom are the clear Scriptures an obscure book? For all those to whom the language of Scripture is altogether unknown or at least unfamiliar. On the first point Luther says: “A Turk’s speech must needs be obscure to me; a Turkish child of seven would easily understand him, whereas I do not know the language” (St. L. X:473). To him who does not understand German, the German Bible is dark. One who does not command the English tongue cannot understand the English Bible. But, in the second place, it is necessary that we become accustomed to the language of the Bible by diligent study... to use Luther’s phrase, we must familiarize ourselves (“gewohnen”) with it, or it will remain unintelligible to us... In short, Scripture will be clear to him who, as Luther reminds us, knows the languages and trains himself in the languages by the diligent reading of Scripture. And this diligent reading of Scripture is directly enjoined in the Old and New Testament (Ps. 1:2; Deut. 6:6-9; John 5:39; Col. 3:16; 1 Tim. 6:3).

    [Pieper, F. (1950). Christian Dogmatics (Vol 1) (T. Engelder, Trans.). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1924). pg. 321]
As Pieper informs us, the “clarity of the Scriptures” is not a doctrine which has been understood to apply to those of marginal literacy, to those without command of their own language. It has not been understood to apply to the occasional reader of the Bible (for whom the Scriptures will remain dark), but to the diligent reader who has made himself familiar with the way Scripture communicates. Thus, honoring perspicuity is not to be understood to require that the target language be artificially emptied of its utility, in order to reduce the Scriptures to the reading level of the marginally literate, but it in fact requires that such utility be employed where necessary in order to provide in a translation the fullest of what is contained in the texts of the source language, even if that means that the result employs the devices of higher literacy in the target language.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NIV 2011: A brotherly debate

The following discussion was entertained online today during the lunch recess of the 2011 WELS Synod Convention. Two individuals knowledgeable in the original languages debated the (de)merits of the NIV 2011. One agreed with the Translation Committee, simply arguing that language has changed so therefore our Bibles must change. The other pointed out that this point of view is the result of shallow thinking, and eventually argues that the very structure of language in Western Civilization depends upon the Order of Creation, that open rebellion against God's Created Order in greater society is the reason for growing gender-related changes in how the English language is used, and that such rebellion has no place in our Bibles.

We copy this public discussion, below, minus the infrequent and extraneous contributions of others (but including the tail-end of a previous, similar discussion that led into it). This was a real-time debate, both individuals were typing swiftly, and thus there are many typos. We have not corrected those typos.

How do you, dear reader, react to the following substantive discussion?

ghostofmartinluther: because it's taking liberties with the original text. Did God inspire words or concepts?
ghostofmartinluther: all Orthodox tradition believed that God inspired specific words, not mere concepts
ghostofmartinluther: Um yeah, but Luther was trying to make it understandablee, not politically correct
ghostofmartinluther: The NIV 84, NKJV ESV and many others are perfectly understandble and much more accurate than NIV 2011
Pablo: @Ghost...I know I might be difficult here, but do you have a more specific spot, say a page number that I can work with?
ghostofmartinluther: because they don't weren't translated with an politically motivated agenda
ghostofmartinluther: page number? as in?
ghostofmartinluther: from the translators notes?
ghostofmartinluther: lets see
Pablo: yeah, thanks
ghostofmartinluther: middle of page 4 moving into page 5. The translators display a desire to adapt the original language to fit modern modes of speech
ghostofmartinluther: instead of being faithful to the original
ghostofmartinluther: for the purpose of being "inclusive"
ghostofmartinluther: I gotta boogey. But the philosophy of the Translators is more important than individual passages
ghostofmartinluther: because it gives you an understanding about the whole translation that might otherwise be hard to grasp
ghostofmartinluther: adios

Pablo: Well, I'd like to respond, but it seems kinda not necessary anymore...
Pablo: but for anyone else who might be following along:
Pablo: The entire issue is explained in the preceding paragraphs where the translators employed the help of numerous experts in the field who tracked the usage of specifics words and phrases
Pablo: Those specific words communicated different things 20 years ago than they do now and as a result different phrasing is a necessity as a result of social context
Pablo: This is not an attempt to undermine the integrity of the original language, but an attempt to more accurately communicate that in a modern society
ghostofmartinchemnitz: Pablo, I think it's clear that the translators had a PC bias
Pablo: See, but I don't see where that bias occurs
ghostofmartinchemnitz: If you want, there are plenty of places where the context clearly demands a masculine translation, but they neuter it
Pablo: ok, one sec
Pablo: Is this because the Greek word is masculine?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: In the OT, priests, prophets, patriarchs, and soldiers are all referred to neutrally
ghostofmartinchemnitz: the context is clear that priests, prophets, patriarchs, and soldiers were all men
ghostofmartinchemnitz: there's no reason to make it neuter except to make it politically correct
ghostofmartinchemnitz: the same thing is true in Acts with the calling of Matthias and the deacons
ghostofmartinchemnitz: it's clear that only men participated in those "call meetings"
Pablo: Except in the case of priests, I don't see how that statement is true
ghostofmartinchemnitz: really?
Pablo: yeah
Pablo: there were women prophets
ghostofmartinchemnitz: in ancient Israel, there were no women soldiers
Pablo: and matriarchs
Pablo: and Deborah
ghostofmartinchemnitz: patriarchs, by definition, is masculine
Pablo: as well as others
ghostofmartinchemnitz: brb
ghostofmartinchemnitz: pablo, you're talking about exceptions
ghostofmartinchemnitz: you can't take exceptions and make them the rule
Pablo: I need help understanding the rule, then
ghostofmartinchemnitz: see, the new NIV is making a very subtle yet important change
ghostofmartinchemnitz: God revelealed himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
ghostofmartinchemnitz: not the God of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel
Pablo: true
ghostofmartinchemnitz: he was their God, of course, but that's not how he revealed himself
ghostofmartinchemnitz: that says something about the role of man and woman
ghostofmartinchemnitz: by changing that, the new NIV is undermining this teaching
ghostofmartinchemnitz: same thing in the Epistles
Pablo: the New NIV refers to God as the God of Sarah...etc
ghostofmartinchemnitz: no, but it removes references to teh Patriarchs
ghostofmartinchemnitz: and makes it "ancestors" instead
Pablo: Hang on
Pablo: I don't think that's an attempt to remove the identity of God with the patriarchs, but rather to include the matriarchal ancestors of Jesus...but saying that in a much more succinct manner
ghostofmartinchemnitz: but that's saying something that Scripture doesn't say
ghostofmartinchemnitz: when Scripture refers to the Patriarchs, it does that for a reason
ghostofmartinchemnitz: you can't just include the matriarchs too, just because you want to
ghostofmartinchemnitz: adding that changes things
ghostofmartinchemnitz: the same thing is true with Paul's epistles
ghostofmartinchemnitz: there's a reason that Paul addresses his letters to "Brothers"
ghostofmartinchemnitz: it's a subtle yet important reminder of the roles of man and women
ghostofmartinchemnitz: Paul addresses teh men specifically because they are the heads of the household, responisble for teaching these things to their wives and children
Pablo: What about Acts 2:29...referring to David...translated as "patriarch"
ghostofmartinchemnitz: changing it to "brothers and sisters" undermines that compeltely
ghostofmartinchemnitz: what about it?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: there are plenty of other examples where patriarch is removed
Pablo: or Acts 7:9 referring to the brothers of Joseph as "Patriarchs"
Pablo: but those are not specific references to male ancestors, but ancestors
ghostofmartinchemnitz: well, i'm glad they left some alone, but there are plenty they messed with
Pablo: when it needs to be specific, it is
ghostofmartinchemnitz: says who?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: who are you or I to tell God what he meant to refer to?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: If God said "patriarch" then our translation should say "patriarch"
Pablo: ...and it does
ghostofmartinchemnitz: we shouldn't be trying to decide when God really meant it and when he didn’t
Pablo: Do you know Greek?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: Yup, and Hebrew
Pablo: Alright, so you know that when you translate you need to take context into account
Pablo: right?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: of course
ghostofmartinchemnitz: which is exactly what the NIV doesn’t do
ghostofmartinchemnitz: let me give you another example
Pablo: So when the context clearly indicates that God is referring to men (like David or Joseph's brothers) it translates a masculine pronoun
Pablo: ok
ghostofmartinchemnitz: in 1 Corinthians, I believe, Paul, in the new NIV says, "brothers and sisters be eager to prophesy"
ghostofmartinchemnitz: and then a few verses later says, "women, be silent"
ghostofmartinchemnitz: the context clearly dictates that the adelphoi really was addressing just the men
ghostofmartinchemnitz: but the NIV didn't pay any attention to that context because they had a bias to maintain
ghostofmartinchemnitz: that's dangerous because it can be used to argue that men and women should be "preaching" in worship services
ghostofmartinchemnitz: same thing with the "call meetings" in Acts
ghostofmartinchemnitz: it's clear that only men participated, and yet, the new NIV says, "brothers and sisters"
ghostofmartinchemnitz: again, dangerous, because it can be used to support women's suffrage in teh church
ghostofmartinchemnitz: those are just two examples of PC bias overriding the text and teh context
Pablo: alright, first of all, you are making synonymous 'preaching' and 'prophesying' which (while it may be the case now) was not necessarily true in the early church
Pablo: women prophesied
Pablo: Joel spoke of it and it was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost and with the daughters of Philip
Pablo: so there's a difference between preaching in worship and preaching as 'prophecy'
ghostofmartinchemnitz: yes, women prophesied in Corinth, and Paul promptly told them to stop
Pablo: as for the call service
ghostofmartinchemnitz: 1 Cor. 14:34
ghostofmartinchemnitz: that's why the new NIV makes no sense
ghostofmartinchemnitz: in 1 Cor 14:26, he says, "brothers and sisters, bring your instructions to worship"
ghostofmartinchemnitz: but then in 14:34, he says, "women be silent"
Pablo: just because Peter addressed 'the believers' but that doesn't mean that the believers took part in the 'calling' of the I right?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: that's the way that the new NIV makes it sound
Pablo: I see where you're coming from
Pablo: but misleading is not false doctrine, but rather an opportunity for opportunity that I would guess our evaluation committee has thought through
ghostofmartinchemnitz: I don't see how else you could understand it when Peter says, "Brothers and sisters, we need a replacement..."
ghostofmartinchemnitz: and then verse 23 says, "So they nominated..."
ghostofmartinchemnitz: the only way to understand that is that "they" refers to "brothers and sisters"
Pablo: I guess what I'm trying to say is why throw out the baby with the bathwater...if it's a few places where clarification and correction are necessary why should we retranslate the whole Bible
ghostofmartinchemnitz: it's not a few places
ghostofmartinchemnitz: it's throughout the text
ghostofmartinchemnitz: a fundamental denial of the roles of man and woman
ghostofmartinchemnitz: every time the new NIV refers to priests and prophets and soldiers and patriarchs and apostles and leaders in the neuter, it's a denial of the roles of man and woman
Pablo: I'm sorry, I just don't see that
ghostofmartinchemnitz: see, the roles of man and woman aren't just taught in a few proof passages
Pablo: but
ghostofmartinchemnitz: they are expressed on every page of scripture
ghostofmartinchemnitz: and in the way that our languages adn societies are structured
Pablo: we use those proof passages to interpret the 'more difficult' passages, so why not here?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: i'm not talking about difficult passages
Pablo: neither am I
ghostofmartinchemnitz: there's nothing difficult about saying OT priests were men
Pablo: I'm talking about a hermeneutical principle
ghostofmartinchemnitz: so am i
Pablo: maybe the New NIV didn't use that, but we use that in conjunction with whatever translation we have
ghostofmartinchemnitz: i don't think you're thinking about this deeply enough
Pablo: Here's my perspective
ghostofmartinchemnitz: there's a fundamental reason why anthropos means both male and person
ghostofmartinchemnitz: there's a fundamental reason why man means both male and person
ghostofmartinchemnitz: it all goes back to the order of creation
Pablo: We had the had problems...pastors are trained to explain those problems...but we're talking about different issues
ghostofmartinchemnitz: my point is that this isn't an issue of a few problem passages
ghostofmartinchemnitz: this is a problem of how you fundamentally understand the order of creation
ghostofmartinchemnitz: and how the order of creation expresses itself in language and society
Pablo: the languages that God chose to write the Bible in strategically use those words, but our language doesn't communicate in the same way that Greek does
Pablo: I see what you're saying, but I don't see that coming through as strongly as you say it does
ghostofmartinchemnitz: my point is that english does communicate the same way
Pablo: I think it used to
ghostofmartinchemnitz: "'man" is almost perfectly the same as "anthropos"
Pablo: but I don't think it does anymore
ghostofmartinchemnitz: that's my point!
Pablo: 'man' doesn't communicate what it used to
ghostofmartinchemnitz: we shouldn't be giving in to a sinful change in our society
ghostofmartinchemnitz: let me approach it from a different angle
Pablo: so how do we minister to a sinful world that doesn't understand what we're saying other than to speak in their terms?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: there's a reason why radical feminists resent that the word "man" is contained in teh word "woman"
ghostofmartinchemnitz: on a very deep level, they perceive that it says something about the order of creation, something they are in rebellion against
ghostofmartinchemnitz: there's a reason why the English language has shifted
ghostofmartinchemnitz: a sinful reason
ghostofmartinchemnitz: because our culture is in rebellion against God's order of creation
ghostofmartinchemnitz: when we allow that culture to, essentially" tell God what he meant to say, we're in serious danger
Pablo: Ok, I see what you're do you see where I'm coming from, or should I clarify that?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: I understand your point, it's the same point made by the Committee
ghostofmartinchemnitz: the problem is that your point is wrong
ghostofmartinchemnitz: no offense, it's just the truth
Pablo: alright, in what way?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: your point makes sense on a superficial level
ghostofmartinchemnitz: language changes so we need to change too
ghostofmartinchemnitz: but it completely ignores the deeper realities
ghostofmartinchemnitz: the realty that teh language of scripture was chosen for a reason
ghostofmartinchemnitz: and the reality that the English language is changing for a sisnister reason
ghostofmartinchemnitz: excuse all my typos, I'm trying to type quickly
Pablo: So we should preach in Greek and Hebrew?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: not at all
Pablo: we must preach in English
Pablo: right?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: absolutely
Pablo: or Spanish
Pablo: or whatever language is being used
ghostofmartinchemnitz: there are plenty of good English translations out there that are clear adn also faithful to the words used in the orignial
Pablo: which are?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: the Committee has painted this as an either-or
ghostofmartinchemnitz: either the NIV or nothing
ghostofmartinchemnitz: but that's not the case
ghostofmartinchemnitz: I think that the ESV and HCSB are both viable, faithful options
ghostofmartinchemnitz: both have flaws, but those flaws are mainly stylistic, not substantive
Pablo: I think the point is that any translation has's a translation, it can't communicate perfectly
ghostofmartinchemnitz: yes, but there are two different types of flaws
ghostofmartinchemnitz: there are stylistic flaws and substantive flaws
Pablo: agreed
ghostofmartinchemnitz: stylistic flaws are those passages here and there that aren't quite clear
ghostofmartinchemnitz: substantive flaws are the wholesale imposition of an external bias on teh entire text
ghostofmartinchemnitz: ESV and HCSB has teh former, NIV has teh latter
Pablo: I guess that my problem with the ESV is the communication aspect...I love it, as a study Bible...but it's just plain hard to read from the pulpit or lectern (in many cases)
ghostofmartinchemnitz: I totally agree
Pablo: I guess my HCSB exposure is somewhat more limited, but from what I've heard NIV 2011 is the lesser of two evils (I could be wrong)
ghostofmartinchemnitz: and yet, I'd rather have a Bible that's a little clunky than a Bible that attacks a teachign of Scripture
ghostofmartinchemnitz: I don't understand why the Committee has just simply dismissed HCSB
ghostofmartinchemnitz: their only review of it said that it has teh readability of the NIV with the faihtfulness of the ESV
ghostofmartinchemnitz: which would seem to be ideal, but the Committee won't even give it a glance
Pablo: really? you have a link to that review?
ghostofmartinchemnitz: it's posted, i believe, on teh WELS website with all of the other Committee materials
ghostofmartinchemnitz: i might be mistaken
ghostofmartinchemnitz: i actually have to run now
ghostofmartinchemnitz: but i enjoyed the discussion
Pablo: alright, I'll take a too

Monday, July 25, 2011

President Schroeder re-elected

The biennial WELS synod convention is taking place this week in Watertown, Wisconsin. We're happy to report that President Mark Schroeder has been re-elected (on the first ballot) by an "overwhelming majority."

(Apparently his reputation was not harmed too much by the fact that we dubbed him an honorary Intrepid Lutheran several months ago!)

Our prayers ascend to our gracious God for the faithful leadership and the solid confessional Lutheran witness of our synod president. I can't remember a WELS president ever stressing our confessional Lutheran identity as much as President Schroeder has. His re-election is a good sign.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Reprise: 'non rockaboatus' is an organizational disease: Lectures by Walter Martin

In commentary following yesterday's post, Michele Bachmann as an Example of the Importance of Catechesis, David Kreuter suggests that certain attitudes regarding ways of thinking about or dealing with problems, or, one may reasonably conclude, "established processes" which descend from a culture described by such attitudes, could "destroy" our "ability (or Will) to think critically about the most important things."

Intrepid Lutherans has existed for just over a year now, and in that time we have "rocked the boat" by publicly discussing public manifestations of "problems" such as the following:
  • pulpit plagiarism from sectarian sources
  • the growth of sectarian worship
  • the willingness to invite pop-culture to dominate the church's practices
  • laymen ministering without Divine Call
  • the increasing use of Cell Groups (Ecclesiolae in ecclesia)
  • the decline of sound Law & Gospel preaching
  • dangerously sloppy expression of our central teaching, "Justification by Faith Alone" (and the thinking and practice which descends from such sloppy expression)
  • the abuse of overly broad definitions of "love" and "adiaphora"
  • decline in respect for pure doctrine and the significance of doctrinal differences between Christians (which impacts our understanding and practice of Fellowship)
and most recently we have expressed concerns regarding
  • the need for periodic examination of pastors, and
  • our choice of Bible translation and the principles we employ in making that choice
In this time, we have publicly defended against the unjust excommunication of a layman – who still does not know what his error is – and we have publicly admonished celebrity WELS pastors for their very public involvement leading and promoting a conference entitled "Change or Die," an entirely wrong notion which exalts man's genius and effort in achieving numeric growth in the church at the expense of exclusive reliance on the Means of Grace. In nearly every issue we have addressed, we have done so in a way that not only “exposes the issues”, but remediates these issues through application of sound Lutheran doctrine, and we have always been willing to entertain discussion on such issues. Just check our Catalog of Intrepid Posts to read through our blog posts over the past year.

For this "boat rocking" we have been roundly criticized. Some even regard us as the greatest threat that WELS is currently facing (no kidding!). Some of those who have expressed concerns resonating with ours have been warned not to participate in our public discussion. Even outside of those who have received such expressed warnings, although there are many who enthusiastically agree with and support Intrepid Lutherans (despite our failings!), few feel free to do so publicly.

Why is this? Should we even concern ourselves with an answer to that question?

In answer to the latter question, we are re-posting our blog post from May 9, 'non rockaboatus' is an organizational disease: Lectures by Walter Martin, which features audio lectures, with some key transcriptions, telling the tale of American Christianity's demise in the last generation from the perspective of one who valiantly fought epic battles against error, and lost – and who is warning what's left of Christianity to be on guard. Error is separate from Truth, it divides people by gathering to itself adherents from among those easily beguiled and those dissatisfied with the Truth, and it divides organizations by populating established structures with its adherents and abusing their otherwise wholesome processes to serve its own ends. This is what happened to American Christianity. It did happen. It is what happens.

Are we on guard? Have we lost our will to think critically about the most important things? May we heed Dr. Martin's warnings.

Harmony with God, in EdenGiven that a number of our Lutheran readers may resonate more with non-Lutheran commentators than they do with confessional Lutheran authors and speakers, we thought it would be of interest for them to hear a little from a renowned Baptist of the previous generation, regarding the maintenance of doctrinal integrity in the face of liberalism: Dr. Walter R. Martin.

Dr. Martin was an expert on the occult, and from the 1960’s onward, disseminated countercultic and apologetic information through his organization, Christian Research Institute (CRI). After his death, he was succeeded as “The Bible Answer Man” and President of CRI by Hank Hanegraaff – a popular commentator who can be heard these days on many, though not all, “Evangelical” radio stations. At least one of Dr. Martin’s works, The Kingdom of the Cults, remains a very valuable resource, one which I consult with semi-regularity as need arises.

Over the past two years, several of Dr. Martin’s lectures have been featured by Chris Rosebrough on his internet radio show, Fighting for the Faith – a daily program in the lineup of Pirate Christian Radio (PCR). I remember these PCR features, since I am of about the same age as Mr. Rosebrough, and remember Dr. Martin’s voice and manner of teaching from my youth, in a way similar to Rosebrough’s reminiscences. Anyway, lest we Lutherans should fall under the mistaken impression that our struggles are unique to us, I supply links to the following lectures, along with selected quotes, in which Dr. Martin defines liberal theology as “cultic,” and makes it clear what the orthodox Christian’s response ought to be. Others have already gone through what we are approaching – it may be of some use to examine and appreciate their own assessments.

Walter Martin on the Cult of Liberalism


(lecture begins @~58min, 30sec)

1hr 12min, and following...
“Any person who does not know that today in the United States, and in denominational structures worldwide, we are in an accelerating apostasy, does not know, I repeat, does not know what is going on... There was a time when one could pick a Presbyterian church, a Methodist church, an Episcopal church walking down the street, send somebody into it, and be reasonably sure that he would hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today before you'd send people into most of these churches, you would need a psychiatrist if you opened the door and just said 'Go'... because you would know what you did!

“The Episcopal church which I came from, has a rigid orthodox background. Thirty-nine articles of the church, Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed... good solid theology. Yet, the Episcopal church fell so far from its position that it let James Pike continue as one of its representatives. They didn't dare bring him before the House of Bishops – want me to tell you publicly why? Pike said so, I might as well quote him. He said, 'You will never take me to trial before the House of Bishops for my theology, which you say is heretical, because I am an attorney, and I will defend myself, and I will prove that you, in the House of Bishops, are as heretical as I am.' Do you think they listened to him? You bet they listened to him. Because Pike would have proven it. Do you realize that James Pike was an Episcopal Bishop in the United States, denying the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, Salvation by Grace, the Vicarious Atonement, and the Bodily Resurrection of the Lord, the Nicene Creed, the Apostles Creed, all the creeds of Christendom, and the Episcopal Church never touched him?! Know why? Because they are as corrupt as he is! They don't dare touch him... The Presbyterian denomination has suffered the same inroads. Today you can be ordained in the Presbyterian Church and deny the Deity of Jesus Christ. The Baptists have had their fare share – we’re up to our eyeballs with it! The Missouri Synod fought them to the death, and won. They said, 'We don't know how we're going to get along without you, but we're going to.' And they threw them out... The Southern Baptists are fighting the same war right now – I know, I'm in the Convention. We don't know how we're going to get along without them, but we are going to. Because if we don't, there is no such thing as a little bit pregnant... you are or you're not! Well, there's no such thing as a mild form of cancer. It's cancer. If you don't get rid of it, you don't deal with it, it get's you! We have to deal with these things today. If we don't, they'll end up getting what's left of the Church... What did the Apostle Paul say? 'They will gather to themselves teachers who will tickle their ears, and the Truth of God will be turned into mythology.' It's here!”

1hr 20min, and following
“Every major theological seminary that has turned from orthodox Christianity began with disbelief of biblical doctrine... Corrupt Bibliology led them to the next step. Theology began to be touched by it. Their view of the Cross and the Virgin Birth immediately was questioned. Then came the miracles of Christ. And finally they had emptied the Gospel of all its content, and simply were using the outward shell so that they could go on collecting money from the people and the churches, because they knew that if the people in the pews knew that they were apostate they'd throw them out. So the strategy was: hang on to the trust funds, hang on to the money that we've got, hang on to the properties we control, we will gradually educate the laymen into this new approach to theology. And then, finally, we will take control of everything. This is the gradual process of feeding you theological poison, until you become immunized enough so that you don't know what is happening to you. And when you wake up to what is happening to you, it's too late. They've got everything.”

1hr 28min, and following
“Look what happened... Look at the votes. We were very subtly, systematically, squeezed out. All of the positions of leadership were given to people who denied the foundations of the faith...”

1hr 34min, and following
“The Jehovah's Witness is easily detected. The Mormon has his bicycle. The Christian Scientist has the Monitor to get you to subscribe to. The religious science people are telling you that you can have health and prosperity and you can rise above all these torrents of life, floating over them as the ping-pong ball soars over Niagra Falls... You can see these people in the cults and the occult if you have any degree of discernment at all, because they are outside the church. But how do you see the Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian professor of theology? How do you get him in a place where you can find out what his theology really is? The moment you question him, he reverts to orthodox terminology, and then if you press him for the definitions of his terminology, he claims that you're being suspicious, bigoted and unloving. The average layman is defenseless! He's got to take what comes from behind the pulpit and recommended by his church authority because the moment he opens his mouth, he's accused of being divisive in the church, unloving, and disturbing the fellowship of the faith! When it is the devil behind the pulpit, not the victim in the pew, that's responsible for it! I've used the term ‘devil’ a couple times. That's mild. God uses much stronger language. He describes those who pervert the Scriptures as enemies of the Cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetites, and whose glory is in their earthly shame...”

1hr 37min, and following
“That is why I am concerned about the cult of liberalism. We can identify the other cults, but how do you identify somebody that looks like you, acts like you, sounds like you...? Do you want the answer? ...1 Thessalonians 5:21ff ...put everything to the test, cling tenaciously to what is good.”

2hr 19min, and following
“[Liberalism] is a cult because it follows every outlining structure of cultism. It has its own revelation, its own guru's, and its denial, systematically, of all sound systematic Christian theology. It is a cult, because it passes it's leadership on to the next group, that takes over either modifying, expanding or contracting the same heresies, dressing them up in different language, and passing them on. It is theologically corrupt, because it is bibliologically corrupt; it denies the authority of Scripture and ruins its own theology. And, it ends in immorality.

“Because the only way you could have gotten to this 'homosexual,' morally relativistic garbage, which is today in our denominational structures, is if the leadership of those denominations divide the authority of the Scriptures, and Jesus Christ as Lord. That is the only way we've gotten there. And there is a remedy for this, brothers and sisters. The remedy? Is to start asking questions! Start demanding definitions of terminology. Start insisting that people tell you what they're giving your money to before you give them a dime. Examine the people that occupy the chairs of theology in the seminaries, and if they are not given to the historic Christian faith, out with the rascals! Examine your churches, your sessions, your boards... and find out who is in the faith! You're told to do this in First Corinthians. You're told to do this in Galatians. You're told to do it everywhere in Scripture: Examine to see whether they are in the faith; test all things; make sure of what is true! I'm not being harsh. I'm not being judgmental. I am being thoroughly consistently Christian, in the light of historic theology and the Holy Bible. And I think we have a right to demand that the men who occupy the seats of learning and who preach from the pulpits either preach Jesus Christ or we cut off their pensions, their salaries, their golf club memberships, and let them go on living as social workers, because it is obvious they don't have any theology that is going to save anybody. With Luther, Here I Stand.”

Walter Martin: It's Not Unloving to Confront Error

(lecture begins @~18min)

18min, and following
“Tonight we are dealing with an extremely complex subject, we are dealing with 'positive confession' and the health and welfare groups, some of which have crossed over from merely Christian forms in their expression of theology, into the area of the Kingdom of the Cults. Ten years ago... I did a paper on the 'Errors of Positive Confession.' I was vilified, rather openly, by a large number of charismatics on the ground that I was being divisive and unloving, and because I was being 'critical of brothers'. The fact is, you can be a brother and be in very serious doctrinal error, and if you have a large ministry and a lot of people watching you on television or listening to you on radio, and if you are not responsive to your peers it is possible for you to lead literally millions of people into false doctrines – not meaning to do so, but being in ignorance yourself. And we are dealing today with doctrines which have progressed from simply ignorance to outright heresy, and finally, to blasphemy.

“If the Christian church does not address these subjects, if Christian leaders... pastors and teachers do not stand up and say 'Enough! this is what the Scripture says, and you are answerable to Scripture!,' then we are going to have false doctrine running rampant all over the Christian world, and nobody will be able to police it or stop it... [To whom is anyone accountable, theologically??]

“...So the gospel of the checkbook has replaced the Biblical Gospel of authority in the church. Now, so long as nobody insists on accountability, then it will go on; but, the church has awakened, and people are demanding accountability, and that is as it should be. No minister should be afraid to account for his theology, privately or publicly. And if he has questions about it, and he won't answer them, then we have every right to suspect him. That is not unloving, it is not heresy hunting, it is not divisive, it is not unloving, it is thoroughly Biblical. Often, when I cite people's names publicly, they say, 'But, why can't you just name the thing? Why do you have to name the person?' Because, in Scripture, Paul gave us our example; when he confronted evil in the church, he said 'Hymenaeus and Philetus have erred concerning the Truth, they are teaching that the Resurrection has passed, and they are overturning the faith of some.' He named them. And then Hymenaeus and Alexander... So, consistently through church history it has been necessary to confront evil. It doesn't make you popular, alot of people don't love you, but the people that will end up loving you are the one’s delivered because of the confrontation.”

If our Lutheran leaders and laymen won’t listen to fellow Lutherans who quote Scripture and the Confessions, maybe they prefer the testimony of the Baptists?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Well said, President Schroeder

I'm thankful to President Schroeder and the WELS communications office for this well-stated position regarding the recent media attention over Michele Bachmann's former WELS membership. It is a strong statement of faith.

Because of certain copyright concerns, we've been asked not to copy President Schroeder's op-ed piece here on our blog. Instead, we've been given a permanent link to the piece at the WELS website.

Friday, July 15, 2011

NNIV – the new standard for WELS?

There is a great deal of concern among WELS Lutherans, and among those who are watching us, regarding our handling of Zondervan's recent ultimatum which is forcing church bodies everywhere, that have adopted its 1984 edition of the NIV as their standard version, to cease using this older version in its publications by some time in 2013. For many church bodies, including the WELS, this is resulting in an unplanned or premature change in the standard Bible version that is used, perhaps in favor of Zondervan's “new” version of the NIV, which in many places is being called in the "NNIV." Recently, after a brief review of the the NNIV to determine its suitability, our WELS Translation Evaluation Committee suggested that the NNIV "can be used" in our congregations, but this is far from popular among many of those who have done their own evaluation and have found what they consider to be unacceptable deficiencies (Here is one such evaluation, which illuminates many commonly observed deficiencies. Here is another.). Such concerns emerged in comments to our recent post, We still reject the papal system - right?, prompting Rev.'s Boehringer and Rydecki to comment as follows:
    Pastor Boehringer said...

    Dear delegates and readers,

    It is my hope that the Synod-in-convention delays the final decision about a translation until the 2013 convention, if the Lord tarries.

    And in these next two years, we have an opportunity. I hope that every congregation takes the time to study the principles of Biblical interpretation, to learn about the history of Bible translations, and to actually read and compare sizable chunks of the Bibles that are available.

    The Translation Evaluation Committee has given us a starting point. I've contacted the Committee and asked them questions and they've been helpful in their responses. The sense I got from the Committee was one that said, "Here's what we think. Now what do you think?" I've read many of their documents and read some of their suggested reading material. They are useful starting places.

    For a decision this important, we need to take our time. We have a good starting point for the conversation. But now we need every congregation to study the options, so that in two years we can get back together as a Synod and make a wise choice. This choice will have a long-lasting impact, so let's take our time.

    So I thank the Translation Evaluation Committee and look forward to their continued help in the next two years.

    July 15, 2011 8:25 AM

    Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

    Pr. Boehringer,

    I think that's exactly the right approach, and the right way to view the work of the translation committee. I strongly disagree with them that the NNIV is acceptable for our synod's use, but I don't think any of them are incompetent, unqualified or untrustworthy.

    It's my hope that, rather than having to constantly rely on the copyright whims of another church body or of a for-profit company out there somewhere, we might finally organize our synod (and also the ELS, hopefully also with help from the LCMS) to publish our own Bible translation, especially with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation coming up.

    July 15, 2011 8:46 AM

Have we had enough time to fully evaluate translations? What are our real options? If the NNIV "can be used," despite its shortcomings, couldn't the ESV, NKJV, or even the old KJV, also be used – despite their shortcomings? After all, every one of these translations are in official use among Confessional Lutherans in America today. What about the the recent Lutheran translation, God's Word to the Nations? It meets all of the criteria that seem to be popular among "evangelical" Lutherans these days – very simple sentence structure, and the elimination of nearly all ecclesiastical terms (like covenant, grace, justification, etc.). It contains no big words, complex sentences or difficult ideas with which to confuse those who read it (like there are in the original texts). Which English version of the Bible shall WELS Lutherans herald as the English language standard of the Holy Scriptures? Which translation shall we hold high and confidently claim to the English speaking world, "This is what the Bible says!"? The NNIV? The NKJV, ESV, KJV, GWN? Some other translation?

Do you agree, dear reader, with what seems to be a rush to adopt the NNIV? Or, have you settled and insist on an alternate translation? Do you think we need more time, as a Synod, to study and contemplate the issues and translations? Or, should we implicitly trust the advice of a few men regarding a new standard English version of the Bible? What do you think?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We still reject the papal system - right?

It’s still a few months before we celebrate the Reformation again, but the lessons to be learned from the life of Luther are timeless. Let’s see, how did it go for Martin Luther?
  • He noticed that false doctrine was being taught, tolerated and promoted in his church. It manifested itself to a large degree in the public worship services.

  • Without individually sitting down with Johann Tetzel, or with all the priests who were publicly teaching and practicing these things, or with the pope or his advisors, he publicly posted his 95 Theses identifying the errors he saw so that they could be debated and discussed.

  • His publicly posted 95 Theses were given even wider dissemination by being translated, copied and published.

  • He was told by the pope’s representatives that he was in the wrong and had to retract his statements, but they refused to actually debate the doctrine with him or show him from Scripture where he had erred.

  • He continued to publish tracts and books identifying the errors in his church and proclaiming the Gospel of the grace of God, who freely imputes the righteousness of Christ, not to the one who works for his own righteousness, but to the one who believes in Christ. All the while, Luther insisted and proved that his doctrine was truly in line with historic Christianity, whereas it was the pope who had introduced and tolerated innovations in the church.

  • The leadership in his church continued to tell him he was wrong without sitting down with him in love to show him from Scripture how the pope’s doctrine was actually in line with Scripture. One of the biggest crimes he was accused of was failure to trust those who were in charge of supervising doctrine and practice in the churches.

  • He was further warned and threatened. The pope was at least kind enough to send him a letter (Exsurge, Domine) warning him that he had sixty days to recant or be excommunicated. But Luther burned the letter and was then sent another letter (Decet Romanum Pontificem) informing him that he had been excommunicated on the basis of public statements he had written daring to question the pope’s authority and doctrine, and daring to assert that man is justified before God by faith alone.

  • After this, he was given another chance to defend himself (call it an “appeals” process). But it turned out that the “appeals committee” wasn’t interested at all in hearing, addressing or evaluating Luther’s doctrine and comparing it to the pope’s doctrine in light of Scripture; nor were they interested in evaluating whether or not the pope had followed Scripture in excommunicating Luther. They simply informed him that he was not authorized to publicly question the pope and insisted that he must recant.

  • Of course, he could not, because still no one had shown him from Scripture or plain reason where he had erred, and his conscience was bound by the Word of God.

  • Luther was declared an outlaw, and those who showed public support for him were also threatened with their lives and livelihoods. The message was clear: doctrine isn’t as important as maintaining the papal structure. Doctrine is what the pope says it is, and as long as he has some scholars and a few historical writings to back him up, no one may dare to question the pope’s authority or decision. He is, after all, appointed by God.

  • Thankfully and by the grace of God, godly men, at great risk to their persons, stood behind Luther and his pious doctrine, not for the sake of personal gain or out of arrogance or a mean or divisive spirit, but out of Spirit-given conviction of the Truth. And though they were persecuted and suffered greatly for their confession, the Gospel rang out throughout the world as a result of their steadfast witness. Soli Deo Gloria!

How does the saying go? “History repeats itself.” I wonder how many times in history the above scenario has played itself out.
    If God had not been on our side
    And had not come to aid us,
    The foes with all their pow’r and pride
    Would surely have dismayed us,
    For we, his flock, would have to fear
    The threat of men, both far and near,
    Who rise in might against us.

    Their furious wrath, did God permit,
    Would surely have consumed us
    And as a deep and yawning pit
    With life and limb entombed us.
    Like men o’er whom dark waters roll
    Their wrath would have engulfed our soul
    And, like a flood, o’erwhelmed us.

    Blest be the Lord, who foiled their threat
    That they could not devour us.
    Our souls, like birds, escaped their net;
    They could not overpow'r us.
    The snare is broken -- we are free!
    Our help is ever, Lord in Thee,
    Who madest earth and heaven. (TLH: 267)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fellowship: What about our imperfections?

In comments following Tuesday’s post, Choose Terms Carefully When Describing What the Church Does with the Gospel, Mr. Baker and Rev. Spencer draw out what seems to be a growing attitude toward doctrinal unity which we all agree is intolerable: “i.e. that of ignoring or belittling doctrinal differences within the WELS simply because there is no such thing as a ‘perfect church body’ here on this earth.” Rather than working toward unity by being vigilant for false teaching in our midst, and acting to admonish erring brothers in order to restore them to the Truth, such an attitude is dismissive of heterodoxy – not by denial that it exists, but by recognizing it and being content with its reality: “Oh well, there is no such thing as a perfect church – ha ha, guess that’s just another example of it.” Heterodoxy is sin. And to tolerate sin amongst one's brothers, is also sin. Like all sins, heterodoxy, and toleration of it, require repentance, not indulgence.

Several years ago, I was party to an extended email exchange with a fellow WELS Lutheran who was frustrated by our diligence in maintaining orthodoxy, disgusted with what he called “splitting hairs.” The issue for him – and for many others having the same frustration – is really that of understanding the broad picture of Fellowship, of appreciating how seriously the Bible takes visible unity and agreement in all matters of doctrine and practice, how it is applied across church bodies as well as individually, and, especially, what we make of imperfections in our unity. In one email during our exchange, I supplied the explanation appearing below, which I think might be helpful in addressing the points brought out yesterday by Mr. Baker and Rev. Spencer. We don’t overlook imperfections, nor are we content to live with them, but out of love for Christ, His Word, and for our brethren, we address the sin of heterodoxy in order to restore its adherents to the Truth as we mutually confess and practice it, thereby “endeavoring to keep unity in the bond of peace... for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”

Dear xxxxxxx,

You bring up many points in your recent email, but I'll stick to the core issue, for now; and it's still Fellowship. And I'll try to keep this short.

Fellowship requires agreement in all matters of doctrine and practice
You ask, "at what point do we stop splitting hairs and start having fellowship, is my real question?" As long as anyone can say "I believe the Bible says X" when we believe it says "Y", we are compelled by love for God and His Word (Jn. 14:23-24) to examine their claim, and either accept it and change our doctrine, or reject it. The Bible is indeed clear, that we are responsible to hold pure every teaching, or doctrine, of Scripture (2 Th. 2:15; 2 Ti. 1:13-14; Tit. 1:9; He. 10:23-25). Starting with the Great Commission, Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and "teaching them ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Mt. 28:18-20). Here Jesus defines His doctrine, or teaching, as that which He gave to the disciples to carry to all nations: ALL things whatsoever. These teachings are preserved for us by the Holy Spirit in the cannon of Scripture, which includes the entire Old Testament as well as what the disciples and apostles record by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. When the Bible calls us to be "fellowhelpers for the Truth" (3 Jn. 8), the Truth referred to is the teaching of Christ, that is, God's Word in its entirety ("Thy Word is Truth" [Jn. 17:17]). And it is this body of Truth in which we are beseeched in the name of Jesus Christ to be perfectly agreed and without division (Ro. 15:5-6; 1 Co. 1:10).

Just to make it clear, I'll rhetorically ask "So what teachings of the Bible are not fellowship criteria?" Answer: None. If anyone says anything contrary to the doctrine of Christ, they are not blessed, but accursed (Ga. 1:8-9). That's right, the words used in the Galatians reference are anyone and anything. If anyone does not have the doctrine of Christ, he does not have God (2 Jn. 9). If anyone comes with a religious teaching other than the doctrine of Christ, he is to be avoided (Ro. 16:17). If anyone comes to us with any religious teaching other than the teaching of Christ, the Bible commands that we "receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed" lest we become partaker of his evil deeds (2 Jn. 10-11). Any teaching that is at variance with the pure doctrine of Christ, is a teaching that is contrary to God's Word. Such teaching is divisive of fellowship.

All of these points are expounded in compelling detail in the books I mentioned earlier, Church Fellowship: Working Together for the Truth (John Brug), and Church Fellowship: What Does the Bible Say? (Seth Erlandsson). If you haven't read them, I would definitely recommend them. The former is a rather gentle introduction to the doctrine of Church Fellowship, while the latter is a strong and direct testimony concerning this doctrine, taken from Scripture, the Confessions, and the Church Fathers (it is a shame that NPH is no longer printing this slim, though very helpful, volume, and that it is now unavailable from NPH, since in my opinion it is a far more useful text than the former, as it comes from a strong Confessional perspective). Finally, consider the following quotes from Dr. Luther:
    "In the church, however, as far as the Word is concerned, it is not a matter of the forgiveness of sins; but this is the mathematical point and the highest purity. The Word is so irreproachable that not a single iota can err in the Law or the divine promises. For that reason we must yield to no sect, not even in one tittle of Scripture, no matter how much they clamor and accuse us of violating love when we hold so strictly to the Word. The beginning of all love is that the scepter of equity remains. If there is no other way of achieving this, then love or anything else must be broken, be it ever so great, just so the Word remains pure" (in his commentary on Psalm 45).

    "We are prepared to preserve peace and love with all men if only they will permit us to keep the doctrine of faith entire and uncorrupted. If they will not promise this, they will demand love from us in vain. Damned be that love which is maintained at the cost of the doctrines of the faith! ...If a single one is set aside, they will gradually all be lost. They form one single, harmonious whole..." (from his commentary on Galatians 5:9).

How do Lutherans get “doctrine” from the Bible?
Thus, Fellowship requires agreement in ALL doctrines of Scripture, and this has been understood at least since the Reformation. So, what's a doctrine? Briefly, doctrine descends to us only through God's Word as it is studied according to sound hermeneutical principles. True Lutheran teaching relies on direct positive statements of Scripture, only. Only direct positive statements in the Bible are clear, and Scripture doctrine, or teaching, which we regard as objective and authoritative, can only come from such clear statements. In addition, we rely on the principle, “Scripture interprets Scripture”; in other words, the more clear statements interpret the less clear statements, putting the less clear statements (like anecdotal and prophetic sections, for example) in a position supporting the more clear statements, rather than one that qualifies them – accordingly, this hermeneutical principle also maintains the unity of the Scriptures. Finally, the role of human reason in true Lutheran teaching is subordinate to the authority of Scripture – reason is the handmaiden of Scripture, not its arbiter, necessarily elevating faith over reason, and teaching humility to the student of the Bible.

Christian doctrine has been developed over the millenia, as challenges to Scripture teaching have required examination of such claims according to what the Bible says
So, to return to the beginning, if someone says "I believe the Bible says X," he is asserting "X" as a Bible doctrine. If I believe the Bible really says "Y," I am compelled by love for God and His Word to examine this claim and either accept it, changing my doctrinal confession, or reject it and give a firm testimony to the truth. And this is really the process of doctrinal development over the millennia. Someone asserts a new teaching, Christians examine it, and they either accept it or reject it. The consequence of such rejection can be the restoration of the errorist to the Truth, or if he persists, separation from the errorist. Thus, as long as we continue to be faced with challenges to pure Biblical teaching, the "hair splitting" must continue. Church Fellowship, as the Bible makes clear, is conditioned on full agreement in all of its teachings. I shake my head at some of the growing challenges we will be facing in coming years, like Process Theology and "the new perspective on Paul." Such doctrinal innovation is nothing but shameless human arrogance, if not the work of the Devil.

Application of Fellowship among church bodies
In its application, Fellowship is practiced in a variety of contexts. Between church bodies, it is relatively cut and dried – doctrine and practice are written down, compared, differences are examined, and either agreement and unity results, or separation results. The point to remember is that in separation we are not only giving a testimony to their error, and warning of the danger of that error, but we must also do so in a way that provides a clear testimony to what is true. The objective of separation, just like excommunication, is to call errorists (sinners) to repentance and back to the pure doctrine, not to punish them.

Application of Fellowship among individuals: How do we deal with imperfections?
Between individuals who share fellowship, however, the objective confessions they publicly agree to serve as the standard of their unity. Between them there will be many imperfections, however – and I think this is the point that many people have trouble with. This imperfection is due to man's sinful nature, weakness of faith, lack understanding, etc. However, this is no excuse for tolerating departures from God's Word! Our love for God and His Word compels us to work to maintain its purity and to defend orthodox teaching. If we are willing to tolerate the error, our love for God and His Word must be questioned (Jn. 14:23-24). If we know of an erring brother within our fellowship, his error is sin, and if that error is a private matter, the process of Mt. 18 applies. We go to that person to seek understanding of what he said or did, evaluate it, and if he is found to be in error, we offer admonition and instruction. Again, we need to go to that person and seek understanding and clarification, not automatically assume they are in error, but also not allowing the possibility that error may exist. They may have misspoken, we may have heard or witnessed something out of context, etc. Likewise in matters of public offense, the process of 1 Ti. 5 applies.

But what about those whose understanding is lacking? Can I have fellowship with my three-year-old son? Yes, I can and do. His conscience is informed by what he believes is true, and I know that everything he believes is true, I also believe is true. I know that everything he believes is false, I also believe is false. In fact, I can say that most of what he believes is true, he probably doesn't understand. But he believes it just the same, which makes it a matter of his conscience, not necessarily his understanding. If I discover that we are at variance, I admonish and instruct him. And as he grows more intellectually capable, I continue to admonish and instruct him, to build him up, out of love and concern for his soul. This is why I stated, in a previous note, that fellowship between brethren is not defined by uniformity of understanding, but by the common conviction of conscience tempered by the humility of a teachable heart. Dr. Luther, at the Diet of Worms, helps us to see this as he singles out conscience as the seat of agreement:
    "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen."
I'm sure that there is much in orthodox teaching that I don't fully understand, that would take me quite awhile to wrap my mind around, but I believe it, I made public confession of this belief when I was made a member of my congregation, and I continue to give confession to it in my words and actions – and this belief, or faith, along with the understanding that follows, is worked in me by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace. For this reason as well, my own pastor has even said,
    "If someone without a church affiliation walks in and says, 'I know that I don't know everything the Bible says, but I know that I want to believe whatever it says,' then this is grounds to receive that person into fellowship. We continue to admonish and instruct as long as he remains teachable, but if (and only if) at some point we discover that what he believes is at variance with what we believe, and if he persists in his false belief (i.e., is no longer teachable), only then do we separate."
Although belief and understanding are, for the adult, often closely connected, it is the belief that is at issue – and for the purposes of fellowship, by the direction of Scripture, we identify what a person believes by what they say they believe (their confession) and whether their works are consistent with that confession. If people, however, publicly say they believe the confessions of their church body, but secretly reject some of them, their false confession does not change the nature of biblical fellowship; it just makes those people into liars and hypocrites (who, we also know, will always be with us). Since we know that errorists will always be with us, if the love of Christ is indeed within us, our response is not to overlook indications of false doctrine revealed in foreign practices, nor to shrug off false statements, but to act in favor of unity by addressing such issues swiftly and directly.

We must admit that among those who share biblical Fellowship there will be imperfections, but love for God, for His Word, and for our brethren compels us to admonish and instruct, to build one another up, "endeavoring to keep unity in the bond of peace," each member functioning according to his gifting and function, "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God..." (Ep. 4:2-16). Read this section from Ephesians. It is describing how Christians function as a "unit," as a body, building and strengthening one another. If, in private matters, all we do is pick at the errors and failures we observe in our brothers, without actually going to them out of genuine love and concern to address their sin, then we are guilty of sin against our erring brother, and of sin against everyone in our fellowship. Likewise in public matters, if all we do is hiss and cluck our tongues among ourselves, rather than bringing matters of public sin before them and before all who are affected by it, then by our inaction we are sinning against our erring brother and against our entire fellowship. Out of love for Christ, we have no right to overlook mishandling of His Word, nor do we have any right to condemn our brother unless we have first acted out of love and concern – again, love for God, for His Word, and for our brethren – to address his sin, either privately or publicly as the situation requires, and have given him the opportunity to repent and receive absolution.


Mr. Douglas Lindee

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Choose Terms Carefully When Describing What the Church Does with the Gospel

by Rev. James Strand

St. Athanasius was quick to extend the right hand of fellowship to anyone who used different terms than he did, but still taught God's Word faithfully. I certainly agree with St. Athanasius. And I gladly extend the right hand of fellowship to anyone who uses different terms, but still teaches God's Word faithfully. However, I urge all of us, especially pastors, to be careful that our terms do not confuse our people or give them a wrong idea about what God's Word says.

And so I urge our pastors and people to use such caution when using words like “share” and “reach out” when it comes to what the Church does with the Gospel. Such words were developed in the Evangelical churches and can carry with them the Evangelical idea that it is up to us to find ways to convert people, whether by using God's Word, feelings, personal testimony about what Jesus means to me, getting people fired up for the Lord and even gimmicks.

The words “share” and “reach out” never occur in the Bible when it comes to what the Church does with the Gospel. However, the word “proclaim” (“preach”) occurs nearly 100 times. God calls on pastors to proclaim the Gospel in their pulpits, services and classrooms. He calls on teachers to proclaim the Gospel to their students. He calls on parents to proclaim the Gospel to their children. He calls on Christians to proclaim the Gospel to anyone who asks them about their hope. He calls on the Church to proclaim the Gospel to all creation.1

If someone who teaches God's Word faithfully uses the words “share” or “reach out” to mean “proclaim,” then their teaching is certainly true and we extend the right hand of fellowship to them. But as we consider these difficult times for true Lutheranism and how the American Evangelical churches are always trying to confuse our people, may we always strive to become more Lutheran instead of less Lutheran. May we carefully choose the terms we use, so we don't inadvertently lead our people to think that personal testimony about what Jesus means to me and feelings, getting fired up for the Lord and gimmicks will convert people.

I urge us as true Lutheran pastors and people to stick to the words the Bible uses like “proclaim” and “preach” and to avoid the Evangelical terms like “share” and “reach out” when we are describing what the Church does with the Gospel.

  1. With the false ideas about evangelism that have also filtered into our true Lutheran church from the Evangelical churches, it is important to point out that God does command each individual Christian to: 1) proclaim the Gospel to his or her children (Ephesians 6:4); 2) Give a true answer from Scripture when asked (1 Peter 3:15). However, God never says that every Christian has the same abilities and opportunities to knock on doors, strike up conversations about Jesus at work, etc. Some have this ability and opportunity more and some less. Franz Pieper described the Bible's teaching on evangelism very well with these four points: “1) God gave the Great Commission to the Church; 2) God calls on Servants of the Word to diligently do their duties; 3) God calls on all Christians to discipline fellow believers; 4) God calls on all Christians lead a blameless life before world” (Pieper's Dogmatics, Vol. 3).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Fourth of July is God's day

Recent surveys of students and regular citizens in the U.S. have shown that most do not like history, and know very little about it, whether it's the history of some far away time and place, or even that of their own country. Knowledge and understanding of history in America is nothing short of abysmal. Except, it would seem, when it comes to the 4th of July. That's a date nearly everyone remembers – even if they're not always sure what it means or why it's important! Thus, perhaps this is a good opportunity to talk about the importance of history, especially to believers.

"To know nothing of the past is to understand little of the present and to have no conception of the future." (Thucydides c.400 B.C.)

Indeed, when we have at our fingers' tips the vast array of past human experience before us, such knowledge gives insight and even foresight into our plans for the future. Thus, of all the disciplines of the mind of man, none is more important, useful, practical, dare I say, even exciting, as history. Besides which, history is, after all – His Story – that is, the story of God and His creation. Only when we know where we have been as a race can we face the present difficulties and future concerns with serenity, armed with possible solutions, rather than mere endless groping questions.

When seen in all its vast scope, history is but a continual succession of scenes as in a play, and each and every human being has a very precise and particular role to play, whether they realize it or not. History is not, indeed cannot be, merely a motley collection of unrelated events. But it is, indeed, it must be, the portal through which we see the entire orchestrated drama of life. Every movement is a part of the main theme, and every incident performs its part as the play unfolds, with God as the Director. With such a view, the Christian historian grasps insight that widens his inner vision, knowledge that motivates greater intelligence, and focus that brings true understanding to his own present world.

Of course, it goes without saying that no true historian can claim to be totally objective, all bring their own prejudiced perspective. I myself am an amateur historian, that is, I study history because I love to study history. There are, it seems to me, only two ways of looking at history. History is either a series of events with a purpose and design, hence, discernable patterns, and an ultimate objective; or history is simply the random actions of various people and nations, with all outcomes determined by chance, or "luck," thus beginning and ending ultimately in chaos. But the later concept takes far too much faith to believe in! Therefore, as a Christian who accepts the Bible as the ultimate "history book," I see history as having a clearly discernable design.

Looking back at the past six thousand years of recorded history, it is clear to me that the focal point of all history so far is the birth of the man called "The Christ," and the subsequent promulgation of His beautiful Gospel message, especially through the mediums created and put to use by the Anglo-American empires of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century's. This gives added meaning and texture to our observance of the 4th of July here in the United States. By-the-way, it does not bother me to use the terms "Before the Common Era," or "Common Era." Indeed, whether you say "Anno Domini" (The Year of Our Lord), and "Before Christ," or not, the point of demarcation is still the self same individual.

Now, to be sure, there are certainly other calendars in use around the world. The Jews count from Creation. The Moslems mark the "Hegira" of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina, and the Chinese begin their calendar with the first dynasty. Yet, even in non-Christian nations, the western calendar is still the basis for most communication and commerce. Thus, all history is still marked nearly everywhere by this singular event – the coming into the world of Jesus Christ, the Savior.

In addition, I believe I can say without fear of contradiction, that the United States of America is the greatest nation yet to exist on the earth. This is not a boast or a brag as the old song goes, but a simple fact of history; one that God has allowed. On the whole, mankind has benefited more from this nation's existence, experience, and example than from any other nation – so far. Obviously, should the whole world, say, begin speaking Cantonese, or marking the rise and fall of the Stock Market in Yen, or should that Yen be imprinted with "In Allah We Trust," I would, of course, have to change this perspective and opinion. But God would still be in charge.

But with the foregoing as my focus, I also believe that it was Christianity, the customs and traditions of Greco-Roman, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon Europe, and especially English common law that were the most important factors in America's eventual development and thereupon use by our Lord to spread His Gospel. Here too we see God's very discernable hand countless times in this part of history.

This is not to be-little eastern Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, sub-Sahara Africa, or the Americas before 1400. While there were truly great civilizations in these areas, and they did add important contributions to the later development of western civilization, they were, for the most part, isolated from each other and the rest of the world of their time. Thus, with the exception of the Mongol invasions, they did not have great immediate impact on the world beyond their own borders of their time.

So, how does this view affect us here in America and how does it impact our observance of our national Day of Independence?

Well, to begin with, let us understand that every ruler and every government on earth has been put into place by God Himself. (Romans 13:1). Therefore, everyone must obey any and all governments or authorities, and the laws they make (Romans 13:5). Only one exception is allowed by the Lord, and that is when rulers or governments either forbid believers to do what He clearly commands, or orders them to do something He clearly forbids (Acts 5:29).

In addition, God directs both His earthly Church and worldly governments in their own very specific and particular duties and responsibilities. Through His Word, He instructs the Church to proclaim the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to the whole world, through the Word and Sacraments (Matthew 28:19,20). Thus, the whole purpose of the Church is to guide believers to eternal life in heaven. On the other hand, the Lord commands all rulers and governments to maintain good order and keep the peace within their area of authority. Indeed, the whole purpose of government is so “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:2). For this purpose God empowers all governments and rulers to act in His place in order to defend its citizens from any and all attacks either from within or without. This includes punishing criminals, even with death, and engaging in just wars. (Romans 13:3,4).

On their part, believers can and should both participate in government and encourage all rulers and governments to set up laws, rewards, and punishments, according to the light of God’s gift of reason, and the law of God written in man’s heart. (Romans 13:4). Indeed, believers’ serving their God-given ruler or government is pleasing to the Lord and beneficial for society.

Now, it could be argued – and has been endlessly since 1776! – that our War of Independence was nothing short of a rejection of and rebellion against God-ordered government. But let's not argue that point now. The fact is, we won the war, or perhaps more correctly stated, God allowed us to win this war, and thus we became a separate nation. In turn, this new nation had a much more "tolerant" view of religion and thus avoided the religious wars and persecutions that hampered Gospel proclamation in the most of the rest of the world. As is so often the case with our great and wise God, he can turn even sin and evil into good!

We must understand, however, that just because God wanted to use the United States as a powerful springboard for Christ's Gospel does not mean that He approved of everything this nation did in the past or approves of her today. In fact, I believe it is clear that God has allowed us to survive for as long as we have not because we are such a wonderful nation, but in spite of the fact that we flaunt and ignore His will at almost every turn! This should add a healthy dose of humility to our celebrations on July 4th! Perhaps, with this understanding we can limit or even reduce the gulf between God's will and our lust for more and more freedom – even from Him!

So, what of the future? What does all this history tell us about ourselves, our society, and our very existence as a civilization? How can simple information like dates, and names, and places help us to make a difference in the future? It can if we keep it connected to God and His Holy Word, and the advancement of His Gospel will in the world.

So, did previous generations – even those with a proper understanding of God's role in history, avert every calamity? No, not all. Yet, since we and our civilization still stand, it could be argued quite convincingly that they did – with God's help and direction, of course.

But very often they came close to disaster. It was only through military and political figures who understood history that the complete catastrophe was sidestepped. Only when the world finally listened to the clear, historical arguments of individuals like Churchill, did it rise up to challenge and defeat the tyrants of that time. And even that came almost too late. In the same way, Nixon and Reagan used history to guide them in order to open the door to China, put tremendous pressure the collectivist system, and thus bring about the collapse of the most recent "evil empire." It is doubtful they would have acted as they did if neither they nor their advisors knew and appreciated the lessons of past history.

I believe that we could do no better today than to commit as much of history to memory as possible, and so prepare ourselves and our children to meet the new challenges that are sure to arise in the future. They are going to need the knowledge, understanding, insight, and courage that only a Christian view of history can give them. We will have to teach them. Only in this way will we preserve our civilization, and, more important, our freedom!

In closing, if I might allow an Englishman to teach us a little something on this most American of holidays, I think Sir Rudyard Kipling put much of this in proper context when he wrote a poem entitled "Recessional." The author composed this on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Here Kipling well recognizes that boasting and bragging of a mighty empire were quite inappropriate and vain in light of God's direction and dominion over the world. Contrary to popular notions, Kipling was no simple-minded Anglophile jingoist. He regularly and roundly criticized his own nation and its leaders, even his beloved Queen Victoria. His poem is a quite humble call for his fellow Britons to remember God's place in the history and life of their nation. This is a call American believers today can echo and embrace! I've turned the poem into a hymn for use in our church services. Such use is encouraged, especially around the 4th of July – truly a day that God has made!

May God continue to bless the United States of America.

Pastor Spencer


1) God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath Whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine;

2) The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart;
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
A humble and a contrite heart.

3) Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

4) If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe;
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or other breeds without the Law;

5) For heathen heart that puts his trust
In reeking tube and iron shard;
All valiant dust which builds on dust,
And guarding call not Thee to guard,

6) For frantic boast and foolish word;
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord.
Lest we forget! Lest we forget!

Text: Sir Rudyard Kipling, 1897, adapt. S. Spencer, 1997
Tune: Winchester New (or any Long Meter hymn)

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