May 1, 2014 - Speak God's Words!
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Speak God's Words!
Quite a while ago I was brought up short by a comment made to me by one of my elders who said: "You know, Pastor, I think ministers and lawyers are a lot alike. They both deal in the fine distinctions between words." At first, I was insulted. After all, who likes being compared with a lawyer? Then, after further consideration, I decided  he was right. Words and their precise meanings really are important! For lawyers the distinction between words can mean the difference between an acquittal or a conviction. For pastors and theologians (hopefully most pastors are both), it can mean the difference between truth or falsehood – true or false doctrine! The veracity of God's Word is at stake!

When reading Holy Scripture it is paramount that God be allowed to speak through His Words. It most certainly is not our job to determine what we think God has said (as is so often done in some Bible studies I've attended). Rather, it is the Biblical interpreter's job to let the words God placed into Holy Scripture to speak for themselves.

It is not our opinion we look for, but God's will! It's not our interpretation we seek, but God's! It's not the prevailing view of our culture that ought to shape Holy Scripture, but Holy Scripture that ought to shape our culture. But, oh my, has that ever gotten messed up – in our culture as a whole, and also in the Church. Even more personally for us, it has gotten messed up in our very own Missouri Synod!

It wasn't all that long ago that former Synod President Kieschnick asserted (on more than one occasion) that the Synod in convention determined what the Word of God said. Really? Should it not be the Word of God that decides what the Synod says? What's more, even the election of a faithful man like Matthew Harrison as our Synodical President has not set this matter straight in our Church Body, for after nearly four years, we are still just as theologically divided as ever.

Even now our Synod and its President still don't appear to be able to allow God's Word to speak plainly regarding issues that divide us. Now we have to wait until the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) speaks before the President of our Synod can speak God's Word to us. Now we must wait to say what God's Word already plainly says, for the Synod in Convention to affirm what the CTCR has said, before we can say what God's Word says! Now we have to wait at least another ten years, (although there is absolutely no deadline for the end of the Koinonia Project process, nor any mechanism in place to let us know when that project will come to a conclusion), for it to say what we already know God's Word says. And since we can't say what God's Word says until they're done with all the issues that divide us, they will remain unresolved, and our Synod will become even more divided. How sad is that? How incredibly unnecessary!

In the early days of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, the President actually allowed God speak to us through His Word when there were controversies needing resolution. Permit me to cite a few examples: The Sephanite Controversy, the Grabau Controversy, the Chiliast Controversy, and the Predestinarian Controversy. In each and every case the President of the Synod – C.F.W. Walther – studied the Word of God, formulated theological theses to address the respective errors, presented what God's Word said to the Synod in Convention, and then the theses were adopted by the Convention because they rightly echoed what God's Word said, and the matters were settled. Those who abided by the truth affirmed the truth, and those who did not either left our Synod immediately, or did so a bit later. While it took some time for each controversy to rise to this level, it never took ten years to reach a resolution!

The ten areas of error that the ACELC has identified in its documents were not thrown-together haphazardly, but carefully, Biblically, and Confessionally. They are clearly documented statements of the controversies that divide us put forward in clear, understandable language to echo what God's Word and our Lutheran Confessions actually say. They are precisely the kind of error identification which President Harrison called for in his pre-election document, "It's Time". They are exactly what the Koinonia Project needs to jump start its floundering process, but they have been criticized because they did not come about through the Synodical hierarchy and bureaucracy. Instead, they came about precisely as President Harrison proposed: "...given the current status of things, it might be best if this group were to form of its own accord, and thus without the accusation or even suspicion of machination." (It's Time, p. 11)

Imagine, if you can, a congregation telling its pastor he cannot speak God's truth in his sermons until and unless the CTCR and the Synod in Convention affirm each doctrine under consideration – and that he might have to wait ten years for that to happen. Any pastor worth his salt and faithful to his calling would immediately preach precisely about those things he had been directed not to speak about. He would be divinely obligated to do so even if it resulted in his unbiblical removal from office! Yet, in our Synod, we are doing exactly that! We are told not to speak about the issues that divide us until and at last the CTCR speaks – and what they opine is then approved by the Synod in convention. This is about as absurd as the theoretical congregation's demand illustrated above!

In the meantime, error continues to multiply and become more firmly entrenched among us. False doctrine and unbiblical practice are not static, but dynamic. Heterodoxy (false teaching) is corrosive and increasingly divisive of Church fellowship. It is not adherence to God's truth (doctrine) that divides our Synod, as is often falsely asserted. To the contrary, unity in doctrine and practice are the only things that can truly unite us!

As C.F.W. Walther said in his in his fourth evening lecture in his book, "Law & Gospel: How To Read and Apply the Bible," "When a theologian is asked to yield and make concessions so that peace may at last be established in the Church, yet if he refuses to budge on even a single point of doctrine – to human reason this looks like excessive stubbornness, even like downright evil intent. This is why such theologians are rarely loved or praised during their lifetime. On the contrary, they are scolded as disturbers of the peace or even as destroyers of the kingdom of God. They are regarded as men worthy of contempt. But at the end of the day it becomes clear that the very determined, unfailing tenacity of these theologians as they cling to the pure teaching of the divine Word by no means tears down the Church. On the contrary, it is this very attitude that – even amid the greatest dissension – builds up the Church and ultimately brings about genuine peace. Therefore, woe to the Church if it has no men of this stripe – men who would stand watch on the ramparts of Zion, sounding the alarm whenever a foe threatens to rush the walls, men who would rally to the banner of Jesus Christ, ready for a holy war!"

Imagine what would have happened had Athanasius been willing to make a slight concession regarding the doctrine of the deity of Christ. What if he had decided to compromise with the Arians so as to put their consciences at ease? Similarly, imagine what would have happened if Augustine had made even a slight concession regarding the doctrine of free will, if he had denied the total incapacity of man for all matters spiritual. Finally, imagine what would have happened if Luther had made a slight concession regarding the doctrine of the Holy Supper.

Let us, therefore, bless all the faithful champions who have fought for every point of Christian doctrine, unconcerned about the favor of men and disregarding their threats. Their worldly disgrace, though often great, has not been borne in vain. People cursed them, but they continued to bear their testimony until death, and now they wear the crown of glory and enjoy the blissful communion of Christ, all the angels, and the elect. Their labor and fierce battling has not been in vain. For even now, some 1,500 years or – in the latter case – some several centuries later, the Church is reaping what these faithful champions sowed.

Let us then, my friends, likewise hold fast the treasure of pure doctrine. Do not consider it strange if, on that account, you must bear reproach just as they did. Consider that the word of Sirach 4:33, 'Even unto death fight for justice, and God will overthrow your enemies for you,' will come true in our case as well. Let this be your slogan: 'Fight to the death on behalf of the truth, and the Lord will fight for you!'" (Law & Gospel: How To Read and Apply the Bible, p. 33-35, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 2010)

Walther had it exactly right! Pure doctrine and Biblical practice bring unity to the Church, not division! Walther did not wait for the pronouncement of the CTCR nor for the approval of the Synod in convention to say and write what he said and wrote, and neither should any pastor/theologian of the Synod today. This is precisely why the ACELC has become a bold witness in our Synod for purity of doctrine and Biblical practice. This is the only true path toward unity for our Synod and our voice will only grow stronger as our numbers grow. And our numbers will grow as more and more LCMS congregations realize that their voice also needs to be added to the chorus of those given witness to our faith! They will join with us because speaking God's Word to the Synod is the right thing to do. We can only pray that like Walther before him, President Harrison will boldly speak God's Word to our Synod sooner rather than later. Let God speak His Words!

Rev. Richard A. Bolland
Assistant Pastor - Emeritus
Gloria Christi Lutheran Church
Greeley, Colorado

While the Board of Directors of the ACELC has reviewed and approved the content of this message, it does not necessarily reflect the position of the ACELC member congregations.

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