Several years ago, on a mission trip to Haiti, I had an opportunity to spend some extra time with the now sainted Rev. Dr. Doris Jean Louis. Many consider him to be the “father” of the Lutheran church in Haiti (the church there has been in great turmoil since his brutal murder in the earthquake aftermath). We talked about many things during my visit including the massive rural flight which was adding to the unspeakable urban plight. We talked about the importance of quality education and the hope that it brought to children of Haiti. We talked about ways to bring humanitarian relief to the people who so desperately need it, in the midst of a country where evil and corruption are standard fare and tremendous obstacle. We then talked about the future of the Lutheran church in Haiti and his words have stuck with me like an echo.
In his mid fifties, he was already well past the average life expectancy of a male in Haiti. He spoke of his own death with certainty and confidence. His concern was that the truth of the Gospel continue to be taught and proclaimed long after his passing. As he spoke it was clear he planned to do everything in his power to make that happen. His main concern was that our mission society (HLMS USA) would continue to send pastors to teach in our small seminary there. There had been a recent concern regarding the content of some of the teaching that one of the pastors had brought to Haiti. He looked me square in the eye and said, “I am Lutheran by conviction. I want only teachers for my people who are Lutheran by conviction. Teachers who are not Lutheran by conviction have nothing to offer the Lutheran church in Haiti.”
Conviction; a fixed or firm belief, convinced, without doubt. What does it mean to be “Lutheran by conviction?” The phrase has stuck with me through the years and has caused me to dig deep into the Scriptures and Lutheran Confessions when I have a question or doubt about a particular teaching or practice. I have discovered that we can take nothing for granted in the church, and each generation must teach and contend for the Truth or the sad words of Judges 2:10 will apply to us, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.”
CFW Walther in “The Motives and Qualifications of a Genuine Church Member” teaches us well what being Lutheran by conviction means:
What has been said holds true also in the case of those who unite with a truly Evangelical Lutheran congregation. And this step is a good deed only if they wish to join such a congregation in preference to a congregation of another denomination because they are convinced that only the Evangelical Lutheran Church teaches the pure, unadulterated doctrine of God’s Word. Were someone, however, to seek voting membership in a Lutheran congregation simply because he was born and reared in its midst, or to please his parents, or because his friends are members of that congregation, or because the location of its church makes it convenient to attend its services, he would not perform a good deed, even though God may have led him into that church for the purpose of making him a true Lutheran, in other words, an orthodox Christian.
He also adds:
A member of a Lutheran congregation should be able to distinguish pure doctrine from false doctrines. Only spineless Lutherans can say: “What do I care about doctrinal controversies! They do not concern me in the least. I’ll let those who are more learned than I am bother their heads about such matters.” They may even be offended when they observe that religious leaders engage in doctrinal disputes. A genuine Lutheran will not forget that in the Epistle of Jude also lay Christians are admonished “earnestly to contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints.” What is more, Christ warns all Christians: “Beware of false prophets.” And St. John writes in his first epistle: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” It is a settled fact that whoever is indifferent to false doctrine is indifferent also to pure doctrine and his soul’s salvation, and has no right to bear the name Lutheran and the name of Christ.
In my next few posts, I would like to focus on some specific doctrines and practices in light of the phrase “Lutheran by conviction.” I pray that God would use this forum to guide us and lead us into all Truth. “If you abide in My Word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31-32.
Associate Editor’s Note: With this article we introduce Rev. Clint Poppe as a regular writer for BJS.
The name Clint Poppe may be a bit familiar with his recent involvement as Chairman of the ACELC (Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations) and as a nominee for vice president in the LCMS at the last two synodical conventions. Here are a few things you may not know…
He was born and raised on a farm in West Point, Nebraska, just a few miles from the birthplace of Oswald Hoffman and attended the same parochial school where Martin Marty’s father was principal and Ralph Bohlman’s father was pastor (St. Paul in West Point).
He married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Jean Pagels, and they will celebrate their 34th anniversary this May. They have three sons, three grandsons, and another grand-baby on the way. Except for seminary years in St. Louis, they are lifetime Huskers.
After serving many years as a Lay Minister (Mequon 88) in his home congregation he attended Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (MDiv 98) and continues to serve where he was placed as a deferred vicar in 1997, Good Shepherd in Lincoln, Nebraska. He has supervised 10 vicars.
He is a certified Dialogue Evangelism and DE II instructor, was the Nebraska District TTGNAJ coordinator, served six years as 1st VP of the Nebraska District, and has been to Haiti six times working with the HLMS, USA and teaching in their seminary there.
He is an avid duck hunter and cat-fisherman, has every episode of Hogan’s Heroes memorized, and can pinpoint his conversion experience to becoming a New Orleans’s Saints fan to November 8, 1970. After discovering Weight Watchers, he is three-fourths the man he used to be.