Monday, August 18, 2014

Dr. Martin Luther: Christian Unity needs Harmony among Individuals; however, Ecclesial Unity requires that False Teachers be publicly Admonished and Rebuked by Fellow Pastors

Dr. Martin LutherIn commentary following a recent post by anonymous blogger "Matthias Flach" entitled, A Travesty Examined, Part Nine , it was suggested that "Matthias" contact the President of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and complain to him about all the problems he sees – the idea being that the Synod President, having enough complainers behind him, would be emboldened to, say, acknowledge these problems publicly, maybe even repudiate them... possibly, like Synod President Matt Harrison of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), even use the publishing power of his office (the only power the WELS SP really has) to consistently expose the errors of false teachers in the WELS Ministerium who are apparently prized, protected and promoted by the entirety of the WELS Praesidium, warn against them, and rebuke those fellow pastors who embrace these teachings and practices.

Maybe such would happen... Assuming the best of the WELS SP, perhaps it can also be asserted that he needs numbers behind him, not for courage, but for factual corroboration. Quite honestly, however, even having the corroboration, I don’t think that any sort of public acknowledgement or admonishment would be forthcoming. At least nothing with any sort of impact that wouldn’t be immediately overcome by a swift, unanimous and well-coordinated action of the Twelve District Presidents who evidently oppose him. One primary reason, in my opinion, is how very close-knit WELS has become. It has grown unhealthy. For instance, when a person names a given WELS pastor, the instinct (in my personal experience) seems to be toward immediately calculating ones degree of familial relation to the man, and then recalling his direct and indirect experience with him. While this is perfectly natural in small old organizations, there now seems to be an inability to distinguish between individual and Office among them. Any just criticism of a pastor’s doctrine or practice seems to be interpreted as an attack against him personally or against his extended family and classmates, an arrogant elevation of the person issuing the criticism, and a disruption of the harmony necessary for unity to persist among them. The example currently found in the LCMS, of pastors exhibiting the courage to name false doctrines and practices among them, and, increasingly, the pastors who embrace and promote those teachings and practices, seems to be a cultural impossibility in WELS, unless it is already a family squabble of some sort, a matter of personal history or conflict between individual pastors going back, say, to high-school, college or seminary, or an internal political issue within the ministerium where lines have already been drawn.

Martin Luther preached, however, that recognizing a distinction between individual and Office is necessary, that Christian duty to cherish and preserve harmony – to be “compassionate and loving as ‘brethren, tenderhearted, and "friendly" or "humble-minded"’” – extends to the manner in which individuals carry on with one another. It is not, however, necessarily characteristic of the Office, the function of which includes the preachment of the Law in a way that cuts to the bone and exposes sin – which, to the person offended by the Law, does not seem like a very friendly thing to do – and as God’s representative, even extends to the withholding of forgiveness from the unrepentant (Matt. 16:19; John 20:23) – which does not seem to the unforgiven to be a very friendly thing to do, either. He preached further that it is a function of the Office, and thus of the pastor who is responsible to “represent not [his] own but God’s dignity,” to admonish and rebuke false teachers – i.e., fellow Office holders, saying:
    But if one dishonors the Baptism, Sacrament, or Ministry committed to me by God, and so opposes not me but God Himself, then it is my duty not to be silent nor merciful and friendly, but to use my God-ordained Office to admonish, threaten and rebuke, with all earnestness, both in season and out of season – as Paul admonishes Timothy – those who err in doctrine or faith or who do not amend their lives; and this regardless of who they are or how it pleases them.
All of this – the duty to cherish harmony among Christians, the duty to rebuke false teachers in the Church (which appears disharmonious but preserves pure doctrine, which is necessary for true harmony), and drawing the distinction between these duties – is found in his Sermon on the Epistle Lesson for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (1 Pet. 3:8-15), pertinent excerpts from which follow:



From Dr. Martin Luther’s Sermon on 1 Peter 3:8-15
The Epistle Lesson for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity


On the Duty to Cherish Christian Harmony
No one has a different baptism or sacrament, a different Christ, from mine, or grace and salvation other than I have. And no individual can have another faith than have Christians in general, nor does he hear any other Gospel or receive a different absolution, be he lord or servant, noble or ignoble, poor or rich, young or old, Italian or German. When one imagines himself different from or better than his fellows, desiring to exalt and glorify himself above others, he is truly no longer a Christian; because he is no longer in that unity of mind and faith essential to Christians. Christ with His grace is always the same, and cannot be divided or apportioned within Himself.

Not without reason did the beloved apostles urge this point. They clearly saw how much depends upon it, and what evil and harm result from disregard of the commandment. Where this commandment is dishonored, schisms and factions will necessarily arise to corrupt pure doctrine and faith, and the devil will sow his seed, which afterwards can be eradicated only with difficulty. When once self-conceit rules, and one, pretending more learning, wisdom, goodness and holiness than his fellows, begins to despise others and to draw men to himself, away from the unity of mind which makes us one in Christ, and when he desires the first praise and commendation for his own doctrine and works, his own preaching, then the harm is already done; faith is overthrown and the Church is rent. When unity becomes division, certainly two sects cannot both be the true Church. If one is godly, the other must be the devil’s own. On the other hand, so long as unity of faith and oneness of mind survives, the true Church of God abides, notwithstanding there may be some weakness in other points. Of this fact the devil is well aware; hence his hostility to Christian unity. His chief effort is to destroy harmony. “Having that to contend with,” he tells himself, “my task will be a hard and wearisome one.”

Therefore, Christians should be all the more careful to cherish the virtue of harmony, both in the Church and in secular government. In each instance there is of necessity much inequality. God would have such dissimilarity balanced by love and unity of mind. Let everyone be content, then, with what God has given or ordained for him, and let him take pleasure in another’s gifts, knowing that in eternal blessings he is equally rich, having the same God and Christ, the same grace and salvation; and that although his standing before God may differ from that of his fellows, he is nevertheless in no way inferior to them, nor is anyone for the same reason at all better than or superior to himself.

...

The other virtues enjoined by Peter are easily recognized – compassionate, loving as “brethren, tenderhearted, and ‘friendly’ or ‘humble-minded’.” These particularly teach how Christians should esteem one another. God has subjected them all to love and has united them, with the design that they shall be of one heart and soul, and each care for the other as for himself. Peter’s exhortation was especially called for at that time, when Christians were terribly persecuted. Here a pastor, there a citizen, was thrown into prison, driven from wife, child, house and home, and finally executed. Such things happen even now, and may become yet more frequent considering that unfortunate people are harassed by tyrants, or led away by the Turks [Muhammadans], and Christians are thus dispersed in exile here and there. Wherever by His Word and faith God has gathered a church, and that spiritual unity, the bond of Christianity, exists in any measure, there the devil has no peace. If he cannot effect the destruction of that church by factiousness, he furiously persecutes it. Then it is that body, life and everything we have must be jeopardized – put to the stake – for the sake of the Church.


On the Duty to Admonish and Rebuke False Teachers
The lesson teaches the duty of each individual toward all other individuals, not toward the God-ordained Office. Office and person must be clearly distinguished. The officer or ruler in his official capacity is a different man from what he is as John or Frederick. The apostle or preacher differs from the individual Peter or Paul. The preacher has not his Office by virtue of his own personality; he represents it in God’s stead. Now, if any person be unjustly persecuted, slandered and cursed, I ought to and will say: “Deo gratias;” for in God I am richly rewarded for it. But if one dishonors the Baptism, Sacrament, or Ministry committed to me by God, and so opposes not me but God Himself, then it is my duty not to be silent nor merciful and friendly, but to use my God-ordained Office to admonish, threaten and rebuke, with all earnestness, both in season and out of season – as Paul admonishes Timothy (2 Tim. 4:2) – those who err in doctrine or faith or who do not amend their lives; and this regardless of who they are or how it pleases them.

But the censured may say: “Nevertheless you publicly impugn my honor; you give me a bad reputation.” I answer: Why do you not complain to Him who committed the Office to me? My honor is likewise dear to me, but the honor of my Office must be more sacred still. If I am silent where I ought to rebuke, I sully my own honor, which I should maintain before God in the proper execution of my Office; hence I with you deserve to be hanged in mid-day, to the utter extinguishment of my honor and yours. No, the Gospel does not give you authority to say the preacher shall not, by the Word of God, tell you of your sin and shame. What does God care for the honor you seek from the world when you defy His Word with it? To the world you may seem to defend your honor with God and a good conscience, but in reality you have nothing to boast of before God but your shame. This very fact you must confess if you would retain your honor before Him; you must place His honor above that of all creatures. The highest distinction you can achieve for yourself is that of honoring God’s Word and suffering rebuke.

Yes, but still you attack the Office to which I am appointed.” No, dear brother, our Office is not assailed when I and you are reminded of our failure to do right, to conduct the Office as we should. But the Word of God rebukes us for dishonoring that divinely ordained appointment and abusing it in violation of His commandment. Therefore you cannot call me to account for reproving you. However, were I not a pastor or preacher, and had I no authority to rebuke you, then it would be my duty and my pleasure to leave your honor and that of every other man unscathed. But if I am to fill a divine Office and to represent not my own but God’s dignity, then for your own sake I must not and will not be silent. If you do wrong, and disgrace and dishonor come upon you, blame yourself: “Thy blood shall be upon thine own head,” says Scripture (1 Kings. 2:37). Certainly when a judge sentences a thief to the gallows, that man’s honor is impugned. Who robs you of your honor but yourself, by your own theft, your contempt of God, disobedience, murder, and so on? God must give you what you deserve. If you consider it a disgrace to be punished, then consider it also no honor to rob, steal, practice usury and do public wrong; you disgrace yourself by dishonoring God’s commandment.



Notice that Luther preaches the following:
    However, were I not a pastor or preacher, and had I no authority to rebuke you, then it would be my duty and my pleasure to leave your honor and that of every other man unscathed.
This is a note to us laymen. We don’t have the Office of rebuking and correcting. It’s not our job. It is for this reason that I, for one (and I think, perhaps, many laymen along with me), have been very reluctant to name specific situations or pastors, and have preferred to speak in general. IT’S NOT MY JOB! This makes the silence of pastors who see the error and yet remain silent all the more distressing, as it drives the laity, of necessity, to enter in where they would otherwise have no place. And to their shame, they seem content to allow the laity to do it, unaided. IT IS THEIR JOB! But they seem to either be derelict or cowards.

And to those WELS pastors who boldly speak behind the cloak of anonymity – you help no one other than rumour mongers and gossipers. You complain, “What of my family? What of my livelihood! I can’t let anyone know who I am, my adversaries might find out and cause me grief and woe!” But you are more than willing to name them publicly, to cause them grief and woe. Luther preaches above,
    It is my duty NOT to be silent nor merciful and friendly, but to use my God-ordained Office to admonish, threaten and rebuke, with all earnestness, both in season and out of season,”
and in times of persecution,
    body, life and everything we have must be jeopardized – put to the stake – for the sake of the Church.”
Your adversaries have the courage to openly preach and promote falsehood, but you do not have the courage to correct them with the Truth, to act in the interest of preserving their disciples and the Church from the impact of their false doctrine and practice? How strong, then, is your doctrine? Indeed, how eminently valuable is it if you are not willing to sign your name to it? Is it truly Christian Conscience and Confessional Integrity that drives you to “anonymously voice your deep concerns,” or is it sport? Tinged with a touch of schadenfreude?

You saw the hurricane approaching far in the distance, and you’ve waited only till landfall to begin preparing yourselves, your families, and your congregations for the inevitable? You have only yourselves to blame for the disaster you have brought upon them: “Thy blood shall be upon thine own head.” The time to act was in May of 2010, if not before. Where were you? Still deciding to prepare? Where are you now? Just beginning to prepare? Must you “first go bury your father” (Matt. 8:21-22)? I’ve got news for you – it’s way too late now to weather the storm intact. Your Leaders are unanimous: they are busy excommunicating the likes of Rev. Rydecki, while coddling the likes of Rev. Skorzewski and publicly endorsing events like the 2015 Christian Leadership Experience. In my opinion, the only way to survive now with pure teaching and faith intact is to evacuate, to leave everything behind and start anew on higher ground.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lindee,

Thank you for the wonderful post. I think it fully expresses in a very cogent way the frustration so many lay people feel with our Orthodox Pastors. To copy and paste from your post above -

"If I am silent where I ought to rebuke, I sully my own honor, which I should maintain before God in the proper execution of my Office; hence I with you deserve to be hanged in mid-day, to the utter extinguishment of my honor and yours. No, the Gospel does not give you authority to say the preacher shall not, by the Word of God, tell you of your sin and shame. What does God care for the honor you seek from the world when you defy His Word with it? To the world you may seem to defend your honor with God and a good conscience, but in reality you have nothing to boast of before God but your shame."

Something for our Orthodox Shepherds to think about. They do have a duty based upon their Office and if they do not wish to do that duty then why are they in that Office? It seems over the past decades that the Church Growth Movement has marched relentlessly on within WELS, positioning like minded men in positions of influence, protecting their own (see the Rev. Skorzewski scandal and it can be called nothing less and probably a good deal more) starting various committees to peddle their wares to the congregations and all for the remaking of WELS. All this while the Orthodox have done what? Where are our Shepherds? To reference the quote - Is there any shame? Do they have any honor?

As for too late - it is never too late where God is involved. But where is the trust in God's promises? Will He forsake you? Will He leave you? You know the answers and teach them to the youth of your congregations. But if I may be so bold "Do you believe those promises?" I ask only because of what we have seen or shall we say not seen in your actions as I do not presume to know what is truly in your heart.

Luckily we know that all is in our Father's hands and if the WELS should forsake irretrievably it's heritage, He will raise up faithful preachers for His sheep, He will call others to be His shepherds and guide His sheep to them for they will know their Masters voice.

If I am too doom and gloom and speak of things which are not so or have cast too wide a net or painted with too broad a stroke (which is probably true) - then speak and dispel, enlighten me - I am more then willing to have a Damascus moment. I am more then willing and in fact would rejoice to admit that I am wrong, for then perhaps I could believe that the lights of Confessional Lutheran Orthodoxy are not winking out within the WELS one by one. On the other hand, and not to be too smarmy, I am not holding my breath either.

Signed if you cannot guess - Extremely Frustrated.

Or to comply with Intrepid Policy - Lee Liermann

Vernon Knepprath said...

Regarding Jakob Fjellander's comment in the previous post, Jakob, here in this latest post you will find another criticism of the anonymity you talked about in your earlier comment.

Vernon

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Excellent post, Mr. Lindee!

Rik Krahn said...

While I agree with the main thrust of this post, I think there is a dangerous assumption there. The assumption is being made that a couple blogs are the only places where these things are being discussed. That ignores every other avenue and arena for discussion. If someone notices the areas where there is error, or where wisdom is lacking, and says nothing to anyone, anywhere, then this criticism is valid. But what of the man who speaks of these things regularly to the pastors involved, speaks to his circuit pastor, speaks at his circuit meetings and conferences and conventions, communicates with his District President, Synod President, and other Synod officials? Is that man somehow shirking a responsibility because he is reluctant to use his name on blogs? Are these blogs now the only way to address problems within our Synod, so that a person who posts anonymously must be a coward, whose doctrine is to be questioned? Can no one recognize that there might be reasons, other than cowardice or dereliction of duty, for a man to not want his name to appear on some of these blogs?

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

I question the integrity and the conviction of anyone who pretends to teach, correct, rebuke, or condemn others anonymously. If a person doesn't want his name on a blog, then let him leave the posting and the commenting to those who are willing to be known and to bear the consequences of their faith or their opinions.

Vernon Knepprath said...

Rik,

I don't think anyone is saying that blogs are the only way to solve problems in the WELS, or even the preferred way. For many of us, the blog topics we choose to involve ourselves with are topics we have already discussed, in some cases extensively, with the people you mentioned. And in those cases, where "the man who speaks of these things regularly to the pastors involved, speaks to his circuit pastor, speaks at his circuit meetings and conferences and conventions, communicates with his District President, Synod President, and other Synod officials", the discussions in those cases are not anonymous. I have found in my efforts to discuss topics with synod officials via email, they will seldom respond at all, but when they do, they will ask, yes even demand identification that goes beyond a simple name. Which perhaps explains in part why the anonymous end up at the blogs.

Also, the reasons Mr. Lindee gave for commenters remaining anonymous are the reasons they themselves have given for their anonymity.

Vernon

Anonymous said...

Mr. Krahn,

All good points. But let us explore a bit further and use your example where a Pastor does not feel that a blog is the proper means or method to raise concerns. Let us also say that said Pastor then does all of the things you suggest be done - the private conversations, the voicing of concerns at various functions and conventions, letters written to the various levels of pastoral authority and yet nothing changes. In fact the error grows, spreads and can be seen to be actively metastasizing within the church body. What then should this Pastor do? Does he throw up his hands and say "I have plied the proper channels and done everything I can do." or should he go further and start to publicly condemn, to raise the alarm, to warn and protect the sheep? Is it his duty to do so as a shepherd?


Lee Liermann

Jakob Fjellander said...

Very good post!

Mr Liermann, you are asking a really important question. As a foreigner, I presume to say that the problem here has a connection to the WELS dispute in the fifties which led to the founding of Church of the Lutheran Confession, where the CLC couldn't accept the WELS' (new) way of protesting year after year within the fellowship (LCMS/Synodical Conference).
Or am I misinterpreting the situation you described? Maybe you relate to non-divisive issues?

Pr Jakob Fjellander

Anonymous said...

Mr. Fjellander,

I was not necessarily thinking of that controversy but to draw upon that example at some point the WELS did decide to end fellowship and the CLC did decide to break fellowship with their fellow WELS over the delay. It seems, for those of us poor sheep who observe from the outside looking in, that the rules of the game as played by the Confessional Shepherds seems to be - I have protested within channels what more can I do, I will look after my own sheep and resist as best I can encroachments upon my flock. It is a hunker down mentality that has left the high ground and the initiative to the Non-confessional's within Synod. All good and fine for your flock while you remain a pastor but what of the future and what of your brothers and sisters in faith within the WELS? Is this the extant of your duty as a Shepherd?

Lee Liermann

Jakob Fjellander said...

Mr Liermann,

I'm sorry to hear about the development in the WELS (hunker down mentality). According to my stand this is wrong. I agree with the CLC, that you have to solve the questions or separate if you can't reach unity. How cpuld it be possible for a confessional pastor to remain in a unionistic church body?

Pr Jakob Fjellander

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