Resisting the Court of Public Opinion

February 8th, 2013 Post by

We Americans vote on everything.  We vote on who will be our next President, all the way down to who will be the next sheriff in Mayberry.  We even chose which Monopoly token to vote off the board!   These civil liberties can be a salutary right when exercised in the left hand kingdom.  However, when it comes to theology, the buck stops here.  Doctrinal decisions should be based solely on God’s Word as interpreted by the Lutheran Confessions, not by what the “majority,” or the “minority” think. (If you don’t understand the interpretive role of our Confessions, read Dr. C.F.W. Walther’s essay “Why Should Our Pastors, Teachers and Professors Subscribe Unconditionally to the Symbolical Writings of Our Church,” available here.)

Basing decisions on Scripture often isn’t popular.  The world, the devil, and our flesh, are very fond of twisting Scripture, each to its own liking.  Topics such as abortion, closed Communion, and women’s ordination are great examples of this conflict between Scripture and what the “majority” want.  It is here that we must draw the line. It should be obvious that the Lutheran position and that of the politically correct world are often at odds.  What may catch us by surprise though is when Lutherans disagree among themselves. A word of warning: When the “majority” of Lutherans fall on one side of an issue, that does not necessarily make them correct.  And just because some commenter somewhere questions an article of faith doesn’t mean it’s up for grabs.  As Dr. C.F.W. Walther aptly pointed out,

A doctrine does not become an open question when supposedly loyal Lutherans are not in agreement. And whoever permits such doctrines to be treated as open questions surrenders the fortress of the confession of our Church and is in reality no loyal Lutheran. [Ibid]

Taking a stand that opposes popular opinion leads to persecution, but stand we must.  As the prophet Amos advises, “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth” (Amos 5:10 ESV).  It is easy to take the path of least resistance, the one that will create the least turmoil.  If the world is giving you a big thumbs up, it’s time to reevaluate.  Luther warns

The lie has always had the greater following, the truth the smaller. Indeed, I know if only a few insignificant men were attacking me, then what I have taught and written were not yet from God. St. Paul caused a great uproar with his teaching, as we read in Acts [17:5, 18; 18:12; 19:23–41], but that did not prove his teaching false. Truth has always caused disturbance and false teachers have always said, “Peace, peace!” as Isaiah [Ezekiel] and Jeremiah tell us [Ezek. 13:10, 16; Jer. 6:14; 8:11].  (LW 32, 12)

So make your good confession, and do not lose heart.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12  ESV).

photo credit: kurichan+ on flickr






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  1. r
    February 8th, 2013 at 08:40 | #1

    “Doctrinal decisions should be based solely on God’s Word as interpreted by the Lutheran Confessions”

    Fair enough. But why do the few men who authored the confessions get to be the ones who determine what God’s Word means, authoritatively? I can understand God’s Word having preeminence. But does that mean we need to assign “divine inspiration” to the confessions?

  2. David Rosenkoetter
    February 8th, 2013 at 08:51 | #2

    Very well-put, Scott. Thank God we in the LCMS have a synodical president who recognizes exactly what you say in your article. Neither societal pushback nor compromised values, nor NEW YORK TIMES’ criticisms shall be our guide. Rather Holy Scripture is still the inerrant source and norm of faith and life. (FC SD, Source and Norm) The Book Of Concord continues to map out Scripture’s teaching for us.

  3. David Rosenkoetter
    February 8th, 2013 at 09:48 | #3

    @r #1

    The men themselves don’t make such a decision. Rather, because (quia) the Lutheran Confessions expose Holy Scripture’s teaching, we subscribe to them.
    NO, the Lutheran Confessions in the Book Of Concord (1580) are not divinely inspired. Yet, they expose the clear teachings of the Holy Scriptures.
    People who hold a quantenus view of the Lutheran Confessions say that they only contain Holy Scripture’s teaching. Of course, many such groups that hold a quantenus view also have a low view of Scripture.
    The difference plays out liturgically here. Compare the pastor’s declaration after each reading from the lectionary during the Divine Service:
    LSB: “This is the Word of the Lord.”
    LBW (and With One Voice, etc.) “The Word of the Lord.”
    The first declaration is confession in full, to which we respond (in the Divine Service) “Thanks be to God.”
    The declaration from LBW, etc. has a different emphasis. It conveys the fals notion that the words previously read are to inspire the hearer.
    The declaration from LSB, derived from Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions says, in effect: Not only is this the Word of the Lord but also that it has one interpretation which the sermon will soon apply to us.
    The LBW response leaves the meaning and reasonableness up to the individual. And that is not Scriptural.
    There were many writings from our Lutheran forefathers in the first and second generation following 1517. Many of these contained various interpetations and were not always in harmony with one another. However, the parts of the Book of Concord are in line with Holy Scripture from front to back. Note, too, that they are saying nothing new as the inclusion of the three ecumenical Creeds shows.

  4. Spenglergeist
    February 8th, 2013 at 09:59 | #4

    @r #1
    R,
    See Rev. Wilken’s article on this site entitled “Is You Pastor A Contextualizer?” for an excellent description of quia and quatenus subscription to the Confessions. The Confessions are not themselves divinely inspired, but over 400 years have been examined, weighed, measured, and found to be in full agreement with Holy Scripture. So, yes, we can take them authoritatively. We do not take the name “Lutheran” because we follow Luther, but because we stand with Luther and the Lutheran Confessions as accurate expositions of God’s Word.

  5. Dave
    February 8th, 2013 at 10:03 | #5

    Just read some responses to the story on the web.

    It angers and scares me that people will start to view/already view us in this manner. I know we often act to reject culture, because it is at odds with the Gospel. But with dwindling church memberships, it makes me think how long this wonderful church body will last. We should stand firm in our doctrine, in the Gospel truths we ascribe to. I just wish we presented ourselves better, that we showed both the logical/intellectual side of our church and also the caring/emotional side as well. Whether we like it or not, PR matters in this world. Perhaps with his apology, the pastor/LCMS could have mentioned a donation to the school or fund in one of the children’s names.

  6. Carl Vehse
    February 8th, 2013 at 10:03 | #6

    @r #1 : “But why do the few men who authored the confessions get to be the ones who determine what God’s Word means, authoritatively?”

    They don’t, “r”.

    In fact, rather than just a few men, every proclaimed Lutheran, at some point, at confirmation or when they become a communicant member, is asked whether they confess (accept) the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as contained in the Lutheran Confessions. When that Lutheran says “Yes,” he has declared his recognition that the Lutheran Confessions is the correct and authoritative exposition of what God’s Word means.

    Men who are theologically trained and called as pastors, when they are ordained, are publicly asked to state their same quia confession to the Lutheran Confessions. For Lutheran laity, who may not be as familiar with the Lutheran Confessions as the original writers or as called pastors, it is understood that such a Lutheran has committed himself to continue to grow as a Christian in his knowledge and obedience to God’s will contained in God’s Holy Word and exposited in the Lutheran Confessions.

  7. Dave
    February 8th, 2013 at 10:08 | #7

    Carl, you first point doesn’t make any sense. How does one being confirmed in the faith influence the writings that have been created before them? And since when does every proclaimed Lutheran get to vote on which documents in the future are considered doctrinally sound?

  8. T Rossow
    February 8th, 2013 at 10:10 | #8

    r,

    The short answer is this. Tell us where the Confessions diagree with Scripture and we will change them so that they match what Scripture teaches.

  9. Abby
    February 8th, 2013 at 10:27 | #9

    @r #1

    The LCMS subscribes to the Confessions. Period. There are plenty of other places for someone to reside who disagrees with those confessions and who doesn’t want to subscribe to them. ELCA being one.

  10. Abby
    February 8th, 2013 at 10:29 | #10

    @David Rosenkoetter #3

    You said it much better than I did.

  11. Carl Vehse
    February 8th, 2013 at 10:39 | #11

    @Dave #7 : “How does one being confirmed in the faith influence the writings that have been created before them?”

    Your question is badly worded. When a Lutheran announces his quia confession to the Lutheran Symbols, he announces how how those writings now influence him.

    And since when does every proclaimed Lutheran get to vote on which documents in the future are considered doctrinally sound?

    Within the Missouri Synod, documents go through a specific process given in the Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws before they are consider to be a doctrinal resolution or a doctrinal statement.

    As Rev. Rossow indicated, if one were to provided clear evidence from Scripture (norma normans) that the Lutheran Confessions (norma normata) were doctrinally in error, then Lutherans would be required to revised their Symbols, or they would have to cease being Lutherans.

    BTW, r, are you a Lutheran? And if so, are you a new Lutheran?

  12. helen
    February 8th, 2013 at 10:50 | #12

    @Dave #7
    Carl, you first point doesn’t make any sense. How does one being confirmed in the faith influence the writings that have been created before them.

    “One confirmed in the faith” doesn’t influence the writings; the Confessions should influence him!
    If you don’t accept them, there are quite a few denominations to choose from who don’t subscribe to them.

    The short answer is this. Tell us where the Confessions diagree with Scripture and we will change them so that they match what Scripture teaches.

    I second Pr. Rossow’s “short answer”, (which is worth repeating) but don’t expect the Confessions to be changed without the same rigorous discussion by theologians, over many years, which developed them.

  13. helen
    February 8th, 2013 at 11:08 | #13

    @Dave #5
    It angers and scares me that people will start to view/already view us in this manner. I know we often act to reject culture, because it is at odds with the Gospel. But with dwindling church memberships, it makes me think how long this wonderful church body will last.

    God never promised that “this wonderful church body” would last. He said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church, the body of believers.
    How long will this “wonderful church body” deserve to last, if it compromises the Christian confession to please unbelievers?
    [elca chooses to go that route; that they attack others who try to hold to the truth is not surprising. They have to justify themselves; many can still remember when their churches were faithful.]

    Jesus Himself reduced his followers from five thousand to twelve, in one afternoon of truth telling!

  14. February 8th, 2013 at 11:16 | #14

    The mentality of “Public Opinion Theology” is, at least in part, coupled with the desire to bring more people into the fold, and it inevitably exalts numbers over truth. We somehow think, like many in the church-growth movement of evangelicalism, that numbers equal spirituality and success. In doing so, we forget that God is more concerned with quality of faith (faithfulness to Scripture) than He is how many digits we can fill into our attendance ledger.

    And this ties in to the article in the manner that most “P.O.T.” is based on the motivation of keeping bodies in the pews rather than a careful and faithful examination of the Word.

    God will grow and preserve His church, at times despite the work of His saints. We are called to be faithful, not to be practical or “successful.” In the end, it’s really a matter of faith. It’s believing God regardless of what we see transpiring around us, like King Saul who took matters into his own hands and offered the sacrifice assigned to Samuel when it looked like Samuel wasn’t going to show up. Pragmatism of any sort-including P.O.T-is faithlessness in the end.

  15. Abby
    February 8th, 2013 at 11:19 | #15

    @helen #13

    “Jesus Himself reduced his followers from five thousand to twelve, in one afternoon of truth telling!

    Good one!

  16. David Rosenkoetter
    February 8th, 2013 at 12:01 | #16

    @Abby #15

    Spot on. Same is true in John 6:60ff. And, when Scripture does speak of numbers (like in Acts 2), the quantity isn’t the main point. In Acts 2, the main emphasis is on the same baptizing and teaching which our Lord institutes in Matt. 28:19-20, Luke 24:47, and John 20:21-23. It could have been thirty instead of three thousand and the Church would still have said, “Thanks be to God.” Elsewhere, the book of Acts simply says that all who were predestined to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:46-47)

  17. David Rosenkoetter
    February 8th, 2013 at 12:19 | #17

    @David Rosenkoetter #16

    My apologies, I meant Acts 13:48 in the previous series of references.

  18. February 8th, 2013 at 13:26 | #18

    Does nobody see this as an opportunity?

    LCMS is in the news! It’s a moment to declare just what orthodox Lutherans believe. It’s an opportunity to welcome people to an orthodox faith, and explain actions and motives.

    I really don’t understand all the moaning over what others are saying about the LCMS, when the ball is not only in the LCMS court, but in the hands of the LCMS.

  19. Spenglergeist
    February 8th, 2013 at 13:37 | #19

    This is a bit off topic, so if it is better addressed in a separate thread, please do so. With respect to public opinion about unionism, why does the LCMS participate in the Boy Scouts? It seems to me that since the BSA requires an oath of allegiance to God, yet does not define that god and allows Lutheran, Romanist, Mormon, Enthusiast, and other religious chapters, that is an example of unionism. Prayers are often said at the meetings, and the BSA is currently debating the inclusion of openly homosexual members. I respect the civil and moral aspects of Scouting, but wonder how does LCMS reconcile the religious nature of Scouts with unity of faith? I’m genuinely curious, not being divisive. Forgive my ignorance, I was raised WELS.

  20. Abby
  21. Carl Vehse
    February 9th, 2013 at 14:15 | #21

    @Spenglergeist #19 : “With respect to public opinion about unionism, why does the LCMS participate in the Boy Scouts?”

    Boy Scout troops sponsored by Missouri Synod Lutheran churches do not participate (at least when I was a Scout, and in theory even today) in interfaith worship services with other non-Lutheran troops or in lodge-related activities (e.g., the Order of the Arrow).

    However, the issue may soon be moot, if the national BSA leadership (after frivolous lawsuits and left-wing political waterboarding) punts the decision to individual troop or regional leadership on allowing homosexual perverts and NAMBLA reps as Scoutmasters .

    If that occurs, not only Lutheran, but Southern Baptist, Roman, and Mormon troops are likely to pull out of the Boy Scouts (rather than subject their scouts to such perverts at camps and jamborees) essentially destroying the organization, which is what the leftist hellspawn wanted in the first place.

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