Not Worth Fighting About?

April 28th, 2014 Post by

The Zwingli punchAt one time in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, every congregation was united in doctrine and practice. Scripture’s teaching on Holy Communion were taken seriously, and Closed Communion was the order of the day. In the 16th century, Lutherans took their theology a bit more seriously than we do now as well, as the following quote from The Lutheran Confessions: History and Theology of The Book of Concord clearly illustrates. At the time, Tileman Hesshus was a professor of theology at the University of Heidelberg, president of the church council, and general superintendent of the churches of the Palatinate. Wilhelm Klebitz was the deacon of Hesshus’s congregation:

Hesshus deposed Klebitz after tussling with him over the chalice in front of the altar of the Holy Spirit church in Heidelberg because he believed it impious for someone who denied Christ’s real presence in the Sacrament to distribute it.

You won’t see anyone fighting over Christ’s body and blood today. Now, we’re all talk and no tussle. I hope that will change, because it’s worth fighting about.

References: Charles P. Arand, Robert Kolb, and James A. Nestingen, The Lutheran Confessions: History and Theology of The Book of Concord, (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2012) 237.

Photo by Adam Schneider on flickr, cropped, via Creative Commons license.


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  1. Pr. Jim Schulz
    April 28th, 2014 at 10:30 | #1

    Sometimes you win the battle, but lose the war. Choose your fights wisely.

  2. Jais H. Tinglund
    April 28th, 2014 at 10:48 | #2

    “You won’t see anyone fighting over Christ’s body and blood today. Now, we’re all talk and no tussle.”
    Actually I know of a case, of which your posting made me think, in which a Senior Pastor and an Associate Pastor serving a dual parish and only rarely doing services together had agreed that, on one of those rare occasions, the Associate Pastor would serve as the liturgist and distribute the body of Christ, being that the Senior Pastor would preach – but come time for the actual distribution the Senior Pastor physically pushed the Associate Pastor aside and grabbed the tray saying: “I prefer it this way.”

    The reasoning for this, he had previously stated, when the matter had previously been discussed, before the annulled agreement had been reached, and would later reiterate, was that an Associate Pastor has no authority to administer the Sacrament or exercise any other Pastoral functions by virtue of his office as “a called and ordained servant of the Word”, but only by virtue of and contingent on the delegation of the individual task by the Senior Pastor. For this reason, also, the Senior Pastor had to be the one speaking the words of dismissal, in order that that the people would know that “I am the one giving validity to the Sacrament”.

    A bizarre as the situation was, I would be surprised if it were really all that unique. I am afraid that the attitude which brought the situation about is far from uncommon – just as an illustration of this : the District President publicly approved of this and similar attitudes and actions on the part of the Senior Pastor – some more, but less public – when some in the congregation has raised questions as to whether or not the Associate Pastor was being treated appropriately.

    So some tussles do occur.

    I hope that sharing this memory will not lead the conversation off trail. I apologise in advance, should that happen.

    For the point of your posting, namely that fighting over some issues are worthwhile, is indeed worthwhile.

    I am fairly convinced that you are absolutely right, that these days personal pettiness or preferences and egotistic ambitions have much more potential for making tempers flare and making Pastors ready and willing to create less than decorous situations than are genuine Gospel concerns – such as the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament.

    And, on the other hand, often personal preferences and egotistic ambition and career concerns will be exactly what stands in the way of actually fighting, instead, over that which is worth fighting for.

  3. Big Boy
    April 28th, 2014 at 14:09 | #3

    @ Pastor Schulz

    What does that even mean? That sometimes it’s OK to defile the sacraments just so long as you believe you may be getting somewhere?

    I get that it’s open season on pastors. I understand there is a lot of pressure on you guys. And I get there is a “Thin White Line”, and I may never really understand what you have to deal with. I’m all for soft as doves and shrewd as snakes.

    But somethings are never to be compromised.

    I am depending on having pastors who are willing to literally die for what we believe in. Seeing responses like that scare me. Can you elaborate on what you mean?

    I agree with the article 100%. My wife often says I was born 400 years too late.

  4. Pr. Jim Schulz
    April 28th, 2014 at 14:29 | #4

    @Big Boy #3
    Big Boy, for example regarding Holy Communion, I mean perhaps you should fight more for the idea of restoring an every Sunday service offering of Holy Communion than a restoration of the term “Mass” when referring to Holy Communion. Stuff like that.

  5. Schwartzerd
    April 28th, 2014 at 14:31 | #5

    “At one time” should be changed to “Once upon a time” in order to convey the correct literary genre of the first sentence.

  6. Tim Klinkenberg
    April 28th, 2014 at 19:30 | #6

    I’m reminded of the story in Northern Wisconsin when my grandfather in his pastorate threw two men out of church, one out a window and one out a door. Fighting always has collateral damage.

  7. Pr. Jim Schulz
    April 28th, 2014 at 20:39 | #7

    In many ways we are wimps compared to our forefathers (maybe I should just speak for myself). One story from my family: My great-great-granduncle Henry Sieker (first and last Wisconsin Synod student to attend and graduate from Gettysburg Seminary, 1860-61; and long-time pastor of St. Matthew, New York, LCMS) began a pastorate in St. Paul MN in 1867 where some struggles against “secret societies” were already waiting for him. According to the book about his ministry, a “welcoming party” sent one of their own to give the pastor a…. “good and proper thrashing. When the appointed man wanted to get his work over with, Pastor Sieker seized him by the hand and said to him, ‘First think about what you want to do. I grew up in the bush and am much stronger than you. It’s obvious that you would come off second best. But is that the right way to conduct the wars of the Lord? The weapons of our order of knights are not of the flesh. Please come with me into my study.’ The man followed him and Pastor Sieker then showed him that the matter at hand concerned spiritual truths which can only be resolved by God’s Word. At the end he so completely persuaded the man that he repented and apologized.” (Pastor J.H. Sieker Memorial Volume pp.34-35).

  8. Pr. Jim Schulz
    April 28th, 2014 at 21:36 | #8

    Re: “You won’t see anyone fighting over Christ’s body and blood today.” You hardly ever hear Lutherans even referring to the elements of Holy Communion as Christ’s body and blood today. It’s Lutheran gut check time if you default to “bread” and “wine” when referring to the elements of Holy Communion. Do you really believe in the Real Presence? Then refer to the elements as the body and blood of Christ. A confessional Lutheran will; cf. Large Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar, 10: “it is not mere bread and wine, but is, and is called, the body and blood of Christ.”

  9. John E
    April 28th, 2014 at 21:55 | #9

    Luther and Walther were willing to be verbally pugnacious about their beliefs. Won’t happen now days. Lutherans have a tendency to wuss out with all talk and no action, well—except for some in SL.

  10. helen
    April 28th, 2014 at 22:09 | #10

    @Pr. Jim Schulz #4

    “for example regarding Holy Communion, I mean perhaps you should fight more for the idea of restoring an every Sunday service offering of Holy Communion than a restoration of the term “Mass” when referring to Holy Communion. Stuff like that.”

    After achieving every Sunday offering of the Supper, some will rather “fight” for the catechism description of confession and absolution, i.e., individual and private.

    [The term ‘Mass’ (though approved in the Confessions) is still optional. Some others would rather drink grape juice with Bill Hybels than say a Lutheran word.] :(

  11. Big Boy
    April 28th, 2014 at 22:34 | #11

    So how does the LCMS get to the point where they can enforce proper order over the sacraments? Pastor Rossow is spot on, unity. When men do not fear the CRM list for denying those in cohabitation, cheating spouses, and all the rest; not only will the church heal but those who are in sin as well. What a wonderful place that could be, and ought to be. Something worth fighting for indeed.

  12. April 29th, 2014 at 11:21 | #12

    In one sense, there shouldn’t be a fight beyond a couple of admonitions; there should simply be a “Get out!” order issued to those who oppose orthodoxy and refuse to listen, plain and simple (Titus 3:10-11).

  13. helen
    April 29th, 2014 at 11:47 | #13

    @J. Dean #12 .
    …there should simply be a “Get out!” order issued to those who oppose orthodoxy…

    I think the leadership will procrastinate on “Koinonia” and all else that needs doing for orthodoxy until the Lutherans are the “15%”. [Have you never been told to “Get out” to make way for open communion?]

    If the leadership wanted to be Lutheran, we wouldn’t constantly have non Lutheran speakers at District convocations and we’d have Lutheran chapel at the Concordias, (including CSL on this.)
    [And, I suppose that means, “If the majority of the pastors wanted to be Lutheran, we wouldn’t have the present leadership”.]

    Minnesota South got embarrassed, (and lost half their anticipated windfall),
    but they didn’t really change at the top.

  14. April 30th, 2014 at 23:39 | #14

    Pr. Jim Schulz: “Sometimes you win the battle, but lose the war. Choose your fights wisely.”

    Big Boy: “I am depending on having pastors who are willing to literally die for what we believe in. Seeing responses like that scare me.”

    Rightly so, BB. Apparently, we have matured and entered the enlightened era of choosing fights and picking hills to die on.

    Good thing no one told the apostles, the early church martyrs, and men like Hus and Luther.

  15. Pr. Jim Schulz
    May 1st, 2014 at 06:18 | #15

    @Rev. Kurt Hering #14
    “Die for what I believe in?” Doctrine, yes. Adiaphora, not necessarily. Real Presence doctrine is to die for. Practices surrounding the celebration of Holy Communion where the Bible is silent are not necessarily to die for.

  16. Tim S.
    May 5th, 2014 at 02:32 | #16

    Tim Klinkenberg :I’m reminded of the story in Northern Wisconsin when my grandfather in his pastorate threw two men out of church, one out a window and one out a door. Fighting always has collateral damage.

    I can remember our pastor actually shoving a boy out of our confirmation class (7th-8th Grade) for being rude. He was allowed to come back though.

  17. R.D.
    May 6th, 2014 at 10:05 | #17

    @Tim S. #16
    Back in the day, I remember kids shoved into the lockers for getting mouthy with the teacher. Unfortunate that a few abusers became the excuse for abolishing godly discipline.

    *I wasn’t shoved into lockers…see how I turned out?”

  18. Mrs. Hume
    May 6th, 2014 at 11:34 | #18

    Pr. Jim Schulz :
    @Rev. Kurt Hering #14
    “Die for what I believe in?” Doctrine, yes. Adiaphora, not necessarily. Real Presence doctrine is to die for. Practices surrounding the celebration of Holy Communion where the Bible is silent are not necessarily to die for.

    This is why in the secular world our first amendment is to die for because without it the preaching of the Word of God can become deadly dangerous.

  19. LadyM
    May 6th, 2014 at 13:18 | #19

    Wasn’t it the True Lutherans (Gnesio-Lutherans) who said that nothing is an adiaphoron if it touches on ANY aspect of Christian truth? Most practices reflect the truths of Holy Writ, do they not? Hmmm, this just begs the question of who are the True Lutherans today?

  20. May 9th, 2014 at 00:45 | #20

    @LadyM #19
    LadyM, see the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, paragraph 10 and following:
    “We also believe, teach, and confess that at a time of confession, when the enemies of
    God’s Word want to suppress the pure doctrine of the Holy Gospel, God’s entire church, indeed, every single Christian, but especially the ministers of the Word, as the directors of the community of God , is bound by God’s Word to confess the doctrine freely and openly. They are bound to confess every aspect of religion, not only in words, but also in works and actions. In this case, even in adiaphora, they must not yield to the adversaries or permit these adiaphora to be forced on them by their enemies, whether by violence or cunning, to the detriment of the true worship of God and the introduction and sanction of idolatry.”

  21. Pr. Jim Schulz
    May 9th, 2014 at 06:19 | #21

    @Scott Diekmann #20

    When is the Church not in a time of confession?

    What does this mean: “…adiaphora to be forced on them…”?

    Which “works and actions” of religion are uniquely “Lutheran” so that they cannot be confused with being “Catholic” nor “Nondenominational”?

  22. LadyM
    May 9th, 2014 at 06:36 | #22

    @Scott Diekmann #20 Thanks! and Amen!

  23. May 9th, 2014 at 11:59 | #23

    @Scott Diekmann #20
    SD, FC, Article X

  24. May 9th, 2014 at 12:16 | #24

    @Pr. Jim Schulz #21
    Pastor Schulz, in a general sense, the Church is in a time of confession until it is no longer the Church militant, and instead rests as the Church triumphant on the final day.

    You can use Walther’s chopping wood example as an example of forced adiaphora. “…If a Puritan, apprised of our doctrine, wanted to forbid me to do an incidental task on Sunday because [in his judgment] I would be sinning against the Third Commandment and would be damned, then, to avoid being resubjected to the slavish yoke of the Old Testament Sabbath law, from which Christ has, after all, freed me with sour labor, I would have to perform this incidental task precisely on Sunday as a witness against him. But if I see that he is an upright Christian, only caught up in his erring conscience, then I would have to guard myself earnestly against giving him offense and first try to enlighten him with words. Only if he were revealed as an obstinate person or even would blaspheme, would I have a cord of wood delivered and start splitting wood with gusto [on Sunday], in order to show him by [this] action that I am sure of my ground also in [my] heart.”

    In this example, splitting wood is uniquely “Lutheran” (i.e. the apostolic faith once delivered to the saints), not to be confused with the Puritan’s heterodox understanding. I’m not sure if I am answering your questions to your satisfaction. I assume you are trying to make a point, but I’m not sure what point it is you are trying to make! SDG Scott

  25. Pr. Jim Schulz
    May 9th, 2014 at 12:49 | #25

    @Scott Diekmann #24

    My point by way of example: Over the centuries it was generally accepted practice in the church for the pastor to wear a chasuble while presiding at Holy Communion. In some (many?) Lutheran churches in the U.S. today such a practice is perceived as being “too Catholic” and so is not done. Because it was/is an accepted practice in the church to wear a chasuble while presiding at Holy Communion, should a Lutheran pastor insist on wearing a chasuble at the church he serves when he knows that some/many will not appreciate the practice because it is perceived as “too Catholic”? Should we criticize the pastor who does not wear a chasuble because in our opinion he is not making a clear enough confession of the “proper” “works and actions of religion”?

  26. Jais H. Tinglund
    May 9th, 2014 at 13:24 | #26

    Pr. Jim Schulz :
    @Scott Diekmann #24
    should a Lutheran pastor insist on wearing a chasuble at the church he serves when he knows that some/many will not appreciate the practice because it is perceived as “too Catholic”? Should we criticize the pastor who does not wear a chasuble because in our opinion he is not making a clear enough confession of the “proper” “works and actions of religion”?

    Those are really two very different questions.

    But congregational members who actually think that the teaching of justification by faith is somehow dependent on the Pastor not wearing a chasuble (or chanting, or conducting himself with reverence before the altar, or having a crucifix on the wall, or wearing a clerical collar) should most definitely be taught differently.

    Partially because such miscomprehensions of this and that being “too Catholic” are very likely to be indications of much more serious miscomprehensions regarding the faith itself.

    Partially because the claims that this or that is “too Catholic” might indicate much more than ignorance, but also a spiritually unhealthy attitude of obstinacy and insistance on remaining ignorant.

    Taught by experience, when faced with such claims, I would generally be inclined to suspect that “too Catholic” is really code for “not Methodist enough”.

  27. May 9th, 2014 at 13:25 | #27

    Pastor Schulz, some layman might say a chasuble is too Catholic; most probably wouldn’t know what liturgical Catholic practice looks like and would say it just looks weird. Wearing a chasuble is certainly an adiaphoron. You don’t have to wear a chasuble. A good goal though would be for our pastors to teach their flock how liturgical garments confess Christ. Unfortunately, some of our pastors don’t confess this because they labor under a non-Lutheran theology, and therefore themselves think a chasuble is weird. Doesn’t this whole thing boil down to “where do you draw the line?” In times of confession you draw the line a lot more stringently than in times when things are going along smoothly. Krauth’s three stages of error comes to mind here. Also, Scripture calls for reverence in worship. Wearing a suit instead of a chasuble may be acceptable – wearing a cycling jersey and cycling shorts (which I saw and LCMS pastor do in the Divine Service) is not acceptable. It may be that the same theology leads to both the suit and the cycling choices. So we might not criticize the pastor wearing the suit. We would criticize the pastor wearing the cycling gear. But the same theology leads to both. If I were a pastor, I would joyfully be wearing the chasuble, trusting in the efficacy of the Word to kill and make alive. In your first comment you said to choose your fights wisely. I agree. The color of the pencils in the pew don’t need to match the color of the liturgical season. The action in the service does need to reflect what it is we believe, teach, and confess. If it doesn’t, we’ve got a bigger problem than the presence or absence of a chasuble.

  28. Pr. Jim Schulz
    May 9th, 2014 at 13:30 | #28
  29. Pr. Jim Schulz
    May 9th, 2014 at 13:32 | #29
  30. Jason Loh
    May 10th, 2014 at 11:59 | #30
  31. Jason Loh
    May 10th, 2014 at 11:59 | #31
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