With Great Liberty Comes Great Responsibility

Quoting C.F.W. Walther from the 16th Central District Convention in 1871:

We would emphasize particularly that confession by deed and action is here demanded of every Christian. Many are often of the opinion that they are not responsible for what their pastors do or do not do, or that they have no right to do anything against the majority which depart from the confession. That is, however, a dangerous error! Does not every individual belong to the whole? And ought he not to be responsible for everything he permits to be done? If church discipline languishes, if false doctrine forces its way into the church, if wrong remains unrebuked, then the responsibility rests on every member who does not witness against it. Truly, the great liberty of a Christian also imposes a great responsibility on him!

C.F.W. Walther, Essays for the Church, Vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1992) 198.

About Scott Diekmann

Scott is a lifelong LCMS layman. Some of his vocations include husband, dad, jet driver, runner, and collector of more books than he can read. Oh, and also chocolate lover. He’s been involved in apologetics for over a decade, is on the Board of Regents at Concordia Portland, and is a column writer for the sometimes operational Around the Word Journal. He’s also written for Higher Things Magazine, The Lutheran Clarion, and has been a guest on Issues Etc. as well as the KFUO program Concord Matters.

Comments

With Great Liberty Comes Great Responsibility — 7 Comments

  1. What is one to do when they inform a new pastor a Bible Study teacher is teaching false doctrine? He acknowledges this person “probably” shouldn’t be teaching, but refuses to put a stop to it. A year later she continues to teach. Also, being over men which he ignored scripture that says this shouldn’t be done.

  2. Document the false teaching and use Matthew 18 as your guide. You should probably speak with the Bible Study teacher concurrently with speaking with your pastor. Gently and lovingly present the evidence to them. Your pastor is responsible for what is being taught by others. Perhaps talk to the circuit counselor if he refuses to take action. If false doctrine is being taught and he refuses to take action, then you have grounds to depose him. I can’t imagine that it could come to that, but if he is unrepentant, then I believe that would be the correct path. A little leaven leavens the whole loaf.

  3. @Scott Diekmann #2
    Document the false teaching and use Matthew 18 as your guide. You should probably speak with the Bible Study teacher concurrently with speaking with your pastor.

    By all means, document the alleged [it hasn’t been proved yet] false teaching.
    Discuss it with both of them, and if necessary, with the Elders, who also have some responsibility for church practice. A new Pastor may not have had opportunity to hear what disturbs you. Don’t be in a rush to blame him for this, especially if it was going on before he came!

    [New Pastors are taught to be hyper sensitive about “changing things” in a parish, even if they can see error and they would like to stop it. (That is the result of allowing congregations to remove Pastors without cause, and with no rebuke for the congregation!) If your congregation hasn’t done that, you are still affected by the new caution!]

    If a woman is teaching a mixed group of adults, the men have a simple solution for that, haven’t they? Or the Elders do.
    [Would you complain if she was a DCE? Some women have had the opportunity for as much or more religious education than a DCE. If the teacher in question is using non-Lutheran materials
    it would be wrong no matter who s/he was.]

    Personally I attend the classes my Pastors teach and theirs is the only class on Sunday morning and mid-week.

  4. @ #3 “[New Pastors are taught to be hyper sensitive about “changing things” in a parish,”

    In addition to the general background information of affairs, the new pastor needs to discover any particular changes that will make his ministry more effective. Sometimes a congregation may expect change when a new pastor arrives and sometimes requests him to make the needed changes. Common sense dictates caution and first gaining the confidence of the people. Thereafter, the new pastor can expect the support of the people for change.

    Norbert H. Mueller (d. 2013)
    George Kraus (d. 1989)
    Coordinating Editors
    Pastoral Theology
    CPH, 1990
    p. 53

  5. @ #3 “[New Pastors are taught to be hyper sensitive about “changing things” in a parish,”

    Change. You must believe in change. Some people are too rigid. You have to be flexible.
    On the Word, I am so rigid it’s unbelievable. After all, that’s what God intends. We won’t change any of it. No way.

    Don’t let anybody intimidate you in the Word. Don’t be like Satan and have you’re chip on your shoulder and say, “I’m from Fort Wayne seminary and just try and change me.” You walk in there and you be a Christian and you be a friend, but you let them know that this is what God says and you’re just not about to change it. You’re just not about to change it because you can’t.

    But in other things–and sometimes this hits us more than others. We can be so bound to “It’s got to be done this way. It’s got to be done that way. It’s got to be liturgically done this way. I can’t make a change. I won’t make a change.” And you are going to turn people off that come into your church.

    William Houser (CTS faculty, 1975-93)
    “The Church Growth Pastor” lecture
    Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana
    1979

  6. From the main post: “Does not every individual belong to the whole? And ought he not to be responsible for everything he permits to be done?”

    Responsible to whom? Do we really want to burden the consciences of every Christian, young and old, with responsibility for the acts of their church leaders?

    Christians usually have a variety of God-given responsibilities, and attempts to reform one’s church can involve costs to oneself, one’s family, and one’s community. God gives graces differently, and not all are well-equipped to speak truth to power about matters of church doctrine and practice. Wise individuals will choose their battles carefully.

    Walther seems to be construing the issue legalistically in black-and-white terms: Someone claims, “I’m not responsible,” and he argues by saying, in effect, “Yes, you are!” An alternative approach might be to articulate what divine blessing is actually being missed when brothers and sisters — including pastors and teachers — stray, and cultivate collective responsiveness rather than insist on individual responsibility. Motivation to pursue discipline comes not only from knowing the rules but understanding the important reasons for having them.

    What can we expect from “shoulding” on our brothers and sisters regarding their response to sensitive church issues? Perhaps this is more a matter of equipping and encouraging, and not, “You should…”, but rather “Let us…”?

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