Countdown to the Ninth Annual ACELC Free Conference, Eagle, Nebraska – "Christ For Us: The Church's Mission & Evangelistic Task"
August 6, 2019, 9:30 AM
Verse of the Day

An Open Letter to the LCMS

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:7

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

I must admit, the last 7 or 8 months have been quite an educational experience. For several months now, some in the LCMS and especially the publication Christian News have been promoting my name for synodical president. This has been a great honor and quite a shock. Those who truly know me know that I have zero political aspirations in the church. There was a time when I thought differently. I served for six years as First Vice President in the Nebraska District. People “in the know” would tell you that this is the fast track to become District President. After two terms in office, and seeing the political side of the church first hand, I declined to let my name stand for reelection. During those six years I was constantly being told what I could and could not say by District and Synod officials, and even threatened with legal action, all for simply standing on God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions. I refused to be muzzled, and decided that the best way to make the good confession was by not playing the LCMS political game.

Last summer I received a phone call from Rev. Herman Otten. Little did I know it at the time, he was vetting me out regarding the synodical president position. Later, I called Pastor Otten and told him that I was a parish pastor, what I consider to be the highest calling in the church, and had no desire for political office. He said that made me the perfect candidate. Go figure! Since that time I have received dozens of letters, phone calls and emails, asking me if I was “running” for synodical president. I have responded to each of them the same way. I am not “running” for anything. I consider it a great honor and quite humbling that anyone would consider me for such a position. I believe that the office seeks the man and not the other way around. I have told people that if nominated I would let my name stand and if elected, I would serve, but in no way, shape, or form would I campaign for synodical office. I abhor church politics. I believe our church has far too many politicians and not enough churchmen. I learned this the hard way.

During my time as Nebraska 1st VP I had several encounters with then Synodical President Gerald Kieschnick. After one very testy Board meeting, I overheard him ask one of the other Board members, “What is that damn Poppe up to now?” To say the least, our relationship was a bit strained. I genuinely thought that the answer was to get the right man elected to replace him. I worked hard to get Matthew Harrison elected Synodical President. I was asked to be a part of a secret group called “the insiders.” I made hundreds of phone calls, wrote hundreds of emails, and made dozens of personal visits on his behalf. I helped plot and graph every voting delegate in my designated area. The whole time I was sworn to secrecy. To this day I don’t know who all was involved, but I know I was and I saved all of my correspondence. The day Matt Harrison was elected I called him and personally congratulated him; I even smoked a Pre-Embargo Cuban cigar in his honor. I believed everything he had written in his campaign white paper “It’s Time.” I truly believed that he would be the savior of the LCMS. This was my sin of idolatry and I was wrong.

Deep down, I felt a bit dirty. I knew that the “other side” was doing their political thing too and we were simply committed to doing it better and for what I considered a noble cause, but something didn’t feel quite right. The whole time I was campaigning for Matt Harrison, I was working on a nonpolitical project, a group that wasn’t interested in simply getting the right person elected, a group now known as the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations (ACELC). Matt Harrison was well aware of this. We had kept him in the loop every step of the way. Our Fraternal Admonition was ready to be sent out several months before the election. Matt begged me to delay our mailing, for fear that it might sway the election. He suggested that we delay the mailing until during the election, since our concerns were valid no matter who was elected. Since that time the ACELC has endured much criticism for the timing of the letter; now you know how it came about.

I knew I had to make a personal decision. I could no longer swim in both streams. I either had to make a clean break from the political side of the church or jump in with both feet. I was told that any association with the ACELC was “political suicide” in the church and that I should quit any and all activities with them. I weighed my options carefully. I knew what I had to do. I slowly dropped everything that I considered political activity and devoted myself solely to making the good confession. Since then I have preached, taught, and presented in numerous districts of synod without fear of political ramifications. Who knew that political suicide could be so liberating and feel so rewarding! Thanks be to God!

I must say a few words regarding my relationship with Herman Otten and Christian News. I have only met Pastor Otten one time, very briefly, after a Floor Committee Hearing in St. Louis many years ago. I doubt that he even remembers. I have met his wife Grace and son Luke and chatted briefly; both wonderful people. I have not always agreed with Pastor Otten and have told him so. When he calls or writes, I always treat him with dignity and honor and respect. To the best of my knowledge, I have always promptly responded to him in a courteous and fraternal way. I believe he has been sorely mistreated by our church and I consider him a hero of the faith; I would welcome him in my pulpit. I have been asked by some to publicly disavow any relationship with him and/or Christian News. This I cannot do. I know, I know, more political suicide. I am truly astounded by the people who claim that they either don’t read Christian News or that Christian News has little to no influence anymore, that are worried that my name being promoted by that newspaper will split the conservative vote or hurt President Harrison’s chances of reelection. Politics does strange things to people.

Several weeks ago, I received a glossy campaign flyer from a group called “Congregations Matter.” My first reaction was simply to cry. What has our beloved synod become that we treat our upcoming synodical convention like the local school board race by sending out junk mail promotions? My second reaction was to laugh. Everyone knows that this secret group is nothing more than a re-branding of “Jesus First” by borrowing the “Black Lives Matter” slogan. Can’t we do better than this? Who is saying congregations don’t matter? No one! Isn’t Christ the Lord of the Church and not politicians or bureaucrats? Shameless politics by an anonymous group; the Lord of the Church weeps. The “other side” is no better. It is no secret that recently, unless your name is promoted by “The United List,” you have little chance of getting elected or appointed to anything in the LCMS. Why must we hide behind a cloak of secrecy? If congregations truly matter and if we are truly united, can’t we let our yes be yes and our no be no and be courageous enough to attach our names to our confession? The Lord of the Church weeps.

I have known Matt Harrison for many years, since I first met him in the mid 90's taking a graduate level class together at the St. Louis seminary. He is a brilliant theologian. He knows the synodical handbook better than his predecessor. Many wonderful things have happened during his time as synodical president. But there have been some major disappointments. There has been little follow through with his plan for the LCMS as outlined in “It’s Time.” The Koinonia Project, which had so much promise (and which I had hoped would lead to a 21st Century Formula of Concord) has become at best an afterthought and at worst a joke. His lack of ecclesiastical supervision and backtracking response following Newtown was disheartening. Doctrine and practice contrary to God’s Word and the Lutheran Confessions continue to be tolerated and at times even promoted in our midst. I am heartened by President Harrison’s recent blog post, “Let’s be who we are,” but I know that there is very little true ecclesiastical supervision happening in our denomination. Without supervision and godly church discipline we have become an “anything goes” church body. I humbly appeal to him to be who he is as I know him to be and be the churchman, not politician, that God wants him to be.

I also have an appeal for our beloved synod. I fear that when history looks at the past decades of the LCMS it will be called the time of apathy. We work hard to get “our man” elected and then we sit back and wait for our newly crowned messiah to be the savior of synod. I know because I have been there. We are rightly critical of the Roman Catholic Church, but if we’re honest, haven’t we out-poped the Pope? Don’t we too often worship the elected official rather than the Christ who has bled and died for the church? We even have our own Lutheran version of the College of Cardinals called the Council of Presidents! Let’s fear, love, and trust in Christ and His Word again. This is clearly a 1st Commandment issue.

It’s time for us to repent of our idolatry; our idolatry of the man and our idolatry of the institution. The Lutheran Church is a confessional church. By that I don’t only mean that we ascribe to the Lutheran Confessions on paper, but that we boldly confess God’s Word in its truth and purity in all that we say and do. Then and only then will congregations matter and God’s people be united. How, you may ask? By saying yes to the Law of God which rightly convicts us of our sin of idolatry and shameful church politics, and by saying yes to the life giving and life changing blood of Jesus, which cleanses us of our idolatrous thoughts, words, and deeds and unites us as one in the death and resurrection of Christ. That’s true repentance. That’s true unity. May God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Titus 1:9

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Romans 12:9-11

Humbly submitted,
Rev. Clint K. Poppe
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Lincoln, Nebraska

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