Saturday, August 6, 2011

Why We Must Speak Out

Every student of World War Two history will recognize the dictum written by German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller about the silence of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power. It goes like this:
    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Some years later, another writer was inspired by these words to write a poem entitled "Hangman." Its concluding verses are as follows:
    Then through the town the Hangman came,
    Through the empty streets, and called my name --
    And I looked at the gallows soaring tall,
    And thought, "There is no one left at all

    For hanging, and so he calls to me
    To help pull down the gallows-tree."
    So I went out with right good hope
    To the Hangman's tree and the Hangman's rope.

    He smiled at me as I came down
    To the courthouse square through the silent town.
    And supple and stretched in his busy hand
    Was the yellow twist of the hempen strand.

    And he whistled his tune as he tried the trap,
    And it sprang down with a ready snap --
    And then with a smile of awful command
    He laid his hand upon my hand.

    "You tricked me. Hangman!," I shouted then,
    "That your scaffold was built for other men...
    And I no henchman of yours," I cried,
    "You lied to me, Hangman. Foully lied!"

    Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
    "Lied to you? Tricked you?" he said. "Not I.
    For I answered straight and I told you true --
    The scaffold was raised for none but you.

    For who has served me more faithfully
    Then you with your coward's hope?" said he,
    "And where are the others who might have stood
    Side by your side in the common good?"

    "Dead," I whispered. And amiably
    "Murdered," the Hangman corrected me:
    "First the foreigner, then the Jew...
    I did no more than you let me do."

    Beneath the beam that blocked the sky
    None had stood so alone as I.
    The Hangman noosed me, and no voice there
    Cried "Stop!" for me in the empty square.

    (by Maurice Ogden)
The single point of both men's words is quite clear, direct, and simple; namely, that when people see and know that something is wrong, it is their duty and responsibility to speak up about it, raise awareness of it, and thus try to bring opposition to bear and stop it, or at least curtail its worst effects. And this is not only the responsibility of elected leaders and other important or prominent people. This is the responsibility of every person who has knowledge of the truth!

It is the same in the church. Of course, I'm speaking of the confessional Lutheran Church in the United States, and especially that part of it called the WELS.

One comment I hear now and then from brother Pastors in our synod often goes something like this: "Don't you have anything better to do? You should be paying more attention to your own parish ministry, or your family, or getting some exercise, instead of wasting your time on the internet with Intrepid Lutherans. I don't have time to get involved in synodical politics. I'm taking care of my congregation. I'll let God take care of the synod!"

OK, let's grant that perhaps that's a fair question and a legitimate point of view. In any case, it deserves a response. Here goes.

First, in my case, no, I don't have anything better to do, thank you. I usually put in sixty-plus hours a week at my parish ministry and work as a Circuit Pastor, not including private devotions and personal study. I also spend some time with my dear wife every day. My children are grown and out on their own, but even when they weren't, I managed to have some "extra" time for myself nearly every day. It just so happens that history and theology are hobbies of mine, on top of the work I do as a Pastor. So, since I'm going to spend some leisure time reading or on the internet anyway, I spend that time on things like Church History, the Lutheran Confessions, and so on. So, time spent on Intrepid Lutheran is not at all wasted as far as I'm concerned.

Now for the second main assertion sometimes raised - that other Pastors have neither the time nor the desire, nor indeed should they even, be involved in matters beyond the borders of their families and parishes. This involves the whole concept of confronting wrong - whether it be ideas, statements, or actions. Allow me to use another literary example:
    No man is an island entire of itself; every man
    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
    well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
    own were; any man's death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind.
    And therefore never send to know for whom
    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

    (John Donne)
Or perhaps I may be so bold as to answer Cain's inquiry and proclaim that we are all indeed our brothers' keepers. Thus, concerning the Church, and our little corner of it, I cannot help but come to the conclusion that it is the duty and responsibility of every believer to call out false or even questionable doctrine and practice whenever they see or hear it, confront it, test, and if found wanting, oppose it. Period!

And if this is true of every believer, how much more so must it be true of each and every one of those who are blessed with a Divine Call to preach and teach only the pure truth of the whole council of God?! Again, I myself can come to no other conclusion.

Now, of course it is true that we in the WELS have a system in place to oversee doctrine and practice. We have a Synod President, District Presidents, and Circuit Pastors in place throughout our church body, whose task is expressly this. But even if that system works flawlessly - and it is the opinion of a good many that it works much less than flawlessly - but even if it works to the utmost of human ability, I see nowhere in Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, or the doctrinal statements of the WELS that removes or abrogates the responsibility of each and every Pastor to still "test the spirits."

Perhaps I've missed something. Such is not outside the bounds of possibility. But it seems clear to me that any and all of us who are Ministers of the Gospel in the Wisconsin Synod, once we have attended to parish and family duties, do indeed have very little else better to do! In fact, I would go so far as to say that WELS Pastors who don't, in some kind of public and meaningful way, engage in the discussions and debates concerning doctrine and practice now going on throughout our synod, are simply not living up to their calling.

If more of us don't get involved and stand up for true confessionalism in the WELS, then Pastor Niemöller's words might someday apply to us, and they might sound something like this: (with apologies to Niemöller)
    First it was said we should make room for those who believe only in a "local" Great Flood,
    and I didn't speak out because I didn't believe that.
    Then it was said that "everyone's a minister,"
    and I didn't speak out because that "could be understood correctly."
    Then it was said we must remove all "manmade barriers to the Gospel,"
    and I didn't speak out because that "sounded kind of ok."
    Then I was ordered to "Change or Die,"
    and there was no one left to speak out against this with me
Stand up! Stand tall! Speak out!
Do it now! Keep it up! Never stop!
Or lose your confessional church.
Speak up now else you may not be able to speak up at all!
It's just as simple and straight-forward as that.

Pastor Spencer


Anonymous said...

I got no problem with rounding up Commies and Unionistas, personally. But that's not the point.
ha ha

Andy Groenwald

Michael L. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D said...

Then I was ordered to "Change or Die,"
And there was no one left to speak out against this with me.

And as we know ... despite the "order" ... Elijah's estimation of his (and Israel's) situation was quite wrong.

Gentlemen, the "intrepid" should gird up their loins, and gain some much needed perspective. "My Word will never pass away." Let's not confuse the travails of a small synod, with the loss of the Word ... even if it appears that our heaven and our earth are passing away.

Pastor Spencer said...


Thank you very much for your comment. You are, of course, quite correct, to a point.

Granted, that last line was a bit of hyperbole and poetic license. And yes, we realize that the Lord has reserved many in the WELS - both Pastors and laypeople - who have not bowed their knees to the various idols and false ideas afflicting our church.

Still, we believe God wants His faithful people to speak up and speak out concerning the beautiful truths - ALL the truths - of His eternal Word. That was my point.

We at Intrepid Lutherans have indeed cinched up our belts, so to speak, and are prepared to continue in the fray.

Thanks for participating!

Pastor Spencer

Anonymous said...

Pastor Spencer,

The topic has come up on Intrepid Lutherans and various other places on the Lutheran Blogosphere--The topic of WELS culture of silence regarding problems and the WELS culture of covering up problems that come to light inspite of the silence. (I'm not bringing this up to bash the WELS. This isn't the best way to talk about it, andI don't mean that everyone in the synod has these problems, but I trust that you understand me.)

But let me ask you: what can laymen and clergy do to destroy the silence and the pressure to go with the flow in the Wisconsin Synod. I ask because I think, no matter how well you guys at IL do nothing will change unless this basic aspect of WELS changes. Just by existing you are challenging our cultural flaws, and I raise a toast to you as far as that goes, but what can you (we) do to go farther to that end?

A blogger named Joe Krohn was recently booted from his church, so to speak, for defending Justification by Faith Alone, and arguing that Objectivie Justification is false. On his blog he quotes an anonymous WELS pastor who makes a very good point. Below is the quote. But as you read it, we should ask "what can we do to encourage men like this anon Pastor to not be anon"?

"...So to say that God justifies the ungodly does not mean that he has justified all people. The tense of the very (sic - verb) also speaks to that. Those who teach the extreme of UOJ want to say that God already justified all people. Past tense. This is a misunderstanding. Christ already died for all people. Christ already redeemed all people. Yes, true. Christ has offered a pure offering to the Father that has satisfied his wrath against sin. Yes, also that. Forgiveness has already been acquired by Christ for the world. Yes, but that forgiveness is in Christ and should not be spoken of with respect to those who are not in Christ. Christ is the Savior of the world in the same way that the bronze serpent was the Savior of the whole Israelites community. All who looked up at it were saved from the snake bites. All who look to Christ in faith are saved (forgiven, justified, etc.)...

...We ought not speak of people as being already justified before they are born. The Confessions equate Justification with Regeneration. Period. And the Scriptures do the same. Justification/The forgiveness of sins are Third Article doctrines, not Second Article doctrines. The confusion is this, that when some people say "God has justified the world," they mean, "Christ died for the sins of the world." But our sloppy use of the word "justify" has caused all sorts of problems. The latter is "redemption," not "justification." Some go so far as to say that God imputes the righteousness of Christ to all people. This directly contradicts the passage you quoted above that says that "to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited (imputed) as righteousness."

end quote

Tim Meyers

Unknown said...

A year or so ago, Todd Wilken of Issue Etc. on LCMS Exceptionalism, talking about confessional complacency, laxity in church discipline, institutionalism and a willingness to accept unbiblical ideas and methods of church growth. See

My point being to those in the WELS, I try to tell people there is nothing new under the sun. We can learn from our confessional brothers in the LCMS because they have been down this road and fought the battles. We have ample examples to fall back on in LCMS and WELS.

If there is something we need to become careful of, it is the idea of WELS exceptionalism. We have to fight it so we do not go further down the road already travelled.

Anonymous said...

yep, Lund. In fact, I got twenty bucks that in twenty years the WELS will be exactly where the LCMS is today: Some Confessional churches surrounded a sea of fruity churches.

I hope I lose that twenty bucks, but for me to lose my money there must be clergy who are willing to stand up, open their mouths, risk losing their jobs, risk being ostracized. The WELS laymen simply do not possess the respect to make a difference and WELS pastors are held captive by a code of silence. One pastor told me: "In the first five years of your ministry you DO NOT criticize the WELS or you'll be booted."

I echo Tim Meyers: kudos for IL for breaking the code of silence. I know there are people who want to change what Tim calls 'cultural flaws', but as it stands right now, the WELS as an organization doesn't stand a chance...unless tons more Pastors lose the fear as the IL signers have. And IL signers? Be bolder yet. Ask the question publicly: Why didn't "conservative" Schroeder eviscerate the NIV 2011 at convention? Hmmm... THAT would be an intrepid act.

Keep it up IL and know that we are talking to people face to face about this stuff.

Andy Groenwald

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...


You asked, "What can laymen and clergy do to destroy the silence and the pressure to go with the flow in the Wisconsin Synod?"

It begins, I suppose, with a realization that The Truth (and the cross that will always accompany it) is nothing to be afraid of, because we have a Savior who spoke the Truth and bore the Cross for us first, and our future is His.

Also, "the flow" is not inspired. Only the Scriptures were inspired. That means that human beings and human organizations are always subject to err, because original sin is always within and among us, not to mention other enemies like the devil and the world. Our WELS fathers have erred at times, and can still err. Our LCMS fathers also erred at times, and can still err. Luther erred at times. I, too, can err. It is only after careful study that we arrive at the conviction that the Lutheran Confessions do not err, but are in complete agreement with the Scriptures. Using the Scriptures and the Confessions as a touchstone against which we judge all our current teaching and practice is vital if we are to retain confessional Lutheranism among us.

Also vital is a real study of church history, starting with the apostles themselves, and then on to the Church Fathers and the Lutheran Reformers. They openly declared the Word of God, and they openly refuted the errors that were endangering the sheep. They didn't necessarily do this all at once. Not every sermon preached by Luther covered all the heresies of the day or all the articles of doctrine in God's Word. But neither were they afraid to say things that would make waves.

Correction: Sometimes they were afraid, and when they kept silent out of fear, it never turned out well. As Scriptures themselves say (Galatians 2), it was fear that led Peter to "go with the flow" in Antioch. Even though he knew his Jewish brethren were in the wrong, he chose to silently go along with their hypocrisy rather than risk a confrontation or disagreement among them.

What else can pastors/laymen do to overcome this fear of "making waves"? Learn to distinguish between loving rebuke (or disagreement) and loveless slander. We favor the former, but condemn the latter.

What else? Repent. "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." It is not the Spirit of God at work when we fail to speak the truth out of fear for our "future call potential." That is a sick and twisted, sinful reaction of the sinful nature and must be recognized and repented of. We are not to seek martyrdom. We are even to flee persecution when possible. But when called on to confess the truth, we are not allowed to remain silent. The Gospel is too precious to be denied.

I'm sure there is more we can do. Those are some initial thoughts.

By the way, you asked about the anonymous pastor whose words Joe Krohn posted. Those were my words to Joe in a private e-mail, which he asked if he could share on his blog. He kindly respected my request to post them sine nomine, since I believe private e-mails should remain private. They have a context and aren't always worded as precisely or as comprehensively as one might speak in public discourse or in essay-format. The name was not withheld out of fear.

Anonymous said...

hm. Interesting. I certainly didn't mean to put you on the spot. That's a mighty coincidence. I still say you made a mighty fine point in that letter.

And that of course brings up the question: If that's what you believe about Objective Justification, (and there are certainly many who agree) then it's time to call an ol' Reformation-style Council so that we Orthodox Believers can reaffirm Justification as taught by the Lutheran Confessions--and condemn and repudiate the sectarian belief of Objective Justification.

And wouldn't that make the job of reforming the WELS easier? I mean, if we currently have an Enthusiastic Justification (one where people are justified apart from or before the Means of Grace) is it any surprise that Enthusiasm is popping up everywhere? And conversely, if we repudiate UOJ because it IS Enthusiasm the tone of the conversation will be set so that we can eliminate so many other heterodox practices.

If we fight for a major reform of the doctrine of Justification we will have all the tools at hand to teach the people to apply the idea that 'God only works through the means of Grace' to everything we as WELS churches do.

Tim Meyers

Anonymous said...

The lutheran confessions its epitome state that the bible is boss over the Lutheran confessions.
The lutheran confessons is not boss over what the bible has to say .

CAN confessional lutheran pastors agree on what is the best definition of justification
and prove that from the bible ?

if they can do that then ,,would it not be very simple to find out?

if the bible teaches only a subjective faith justfication .

or if it teaches both objective faithless justification --- that justifies yet the person receives no benefit without God given faith. (Subjective justfication )

it seems to me confessional pastors could find this out so they all could be in agreement

by comparing the very best and simple definition of justification to verses like these?

2 Corinthians 5:19

John 2;2

John 1:29

Robert Boe

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