Was the “Notice of Opposition” Sinful? by Pr. Klemet Preus

(This is part four in a series. To view the other posts in this series click on “Klemet Preus” in the Brothers Café.)

I Corinthians 6 never explicitly mentions “Lawsuits.” What it speaks against is bringing “matters” before the judges of the world. These “matters” can be lawsuits. Similarly they could be simple disputes over watering rights of sheep or how much vacation time a pastor should get. The Greek word is “Pragma” from which we get all sorts of English words. The meaning of the word is roughly “disputed matter.”

In I Corinthians the “disputed matter” seems to be matters of property. One commentary says precisely that, “In the expression pragma echon (“having a lawsuit or dispute”), Paul means to include different kinds of property cases (v. 7).” [1] When Paul says “Why not rather be cheated?” he seems obviously to be talking about being cheated out of money or property.

In the case under discussion we are talking about the property of a trademark. On December 2, 2008 the legal representative of the synod brought on behalf of the LCMS a “Notice of Opposition” against Harry Madsen for his application for the Issues etc. trademark. While this action may not be a lawsuit per se it clearly is a “disputed matter” according to the definition of the term “Pragma” in I Corinthians 6. And the “disputed matter” was brought before “ungodly” or secular arbitrators.

Was such an action a sin?

If our analysis of President Kieschnick’s letter of February 26, 2009 is correct (see my previous blogs) then, in his mind, such an action would necessarily be contrary to I Corinthians 6 and therefore sinful. We will say more about this in subsequent blogs. Thankfully, President Kieschnick is incorrect in his understand of the Bible in this matter.

The last thing we would want to do is point fingers to find out who should be pressured to repent or to ascertain who we should humiliate at the next synodical convention. At the same time it might be helpful to all involved if we could figure when bringing a “disputed matter” regarding property matters before the secular officials is wrong.

Here Paul Gerhard, 17th century orthodox Lutheran Theologian, can help us. He says, “Now this is what the apostle really censures and disapproves among the Corinthians: that they attack each other with condemnatory and unjust action although they are brothers and in fellowship with each other in the same faith…therefore, he does not simply rebuke the Corinthians because they engage in lawsuits and go to court, but because one injures the other and condemns him and then later drags him into court. Therefore, Paul condemns the antecedent action, not the consequent action…He does not condemn the remedy of the litigations, the going to court, but the vice (litigatiousness).” [2]

Like Gerhard, I would personally be very reluctant to label as “sin” the action of the synod’s attorney simply because a “disputed matter” was brought to the secular courts. There was no apparent intent to condemn Harry Madsen or the brothers at Issues etc. At the same time such a dispute over property is precisely what I Corinthians is speaking about. And while the legal action itself may not be a sin there does seem to be a feistiness or litigatiousness behind the whole action.

Further, while Matthew 18 may not directly apply since it speaks to private matters and intends to protect reputations, there is a certain Christian wisdom which suggests that one Christian talk to another before secular judges are brought into the matter. And this is precisely what the Synod through its board of directors and legal council did not do.

So, leaving aside for the moment whether or not such a precipitous action was sinful, we can certainly say that it does fall within the critique of I Corinthians 6 and is something which Paul would deplore.

But then there is the question of motive. This thorny issue will be discussed next.

[1] Expositors Bible Commentary Vol. 10 Frank Gaebelein ed. (Zondervan, Grand Rapids 1976) 221
[2] John Gerhard Loci Theologici (Tubingen 1776) 14:143. Sited by Christian Preus “Protector, Leader, and Benefactor: the Modern Lutheran Lay Leader in the Shoes of the Lutheran Prince” in The Pieper Lecture Ed. John Maxfield (St. Louis, CHI and Luther Academy 2008) 53.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Was the “Notice of Opposition” Sinful? by Pr. Klemet Preus — 2 Comments

  1. Paul or Johann (John)?

    I think a case could be made for Synod wanting to protect its rights to the previously broadcast shows. If that was all they sought and were willing to sit down with their brothers without expensive lawyers I don’t think there would have been much of an issue.

    Besides their resistance to talking without lawyers, the proposed settlement they wanted would severely restrict what would be acceptable content on the new show. Acceptability which would be determined by them and any infringement would have resulted in the trademark being surrendered.

    That sort of arrangement seems at odds with, at least my understanding, of how the syond structure is supposed to function. The national structure is supposed to coordinate and serve congregations, not seek to control the speech of pastors without any theological basis.

    The fact that the proposed gag order was very similar to what the syond sought from Todd and Jeff to receive their severance packages also would seem to go to motive in the opposition filing. Seeking to protect rights to previous shows is one thing, but seeking such a gag order as well causes the argument about previous shows to seem more like an excuse to resurrect their quest for suppressing any valid criticisms of the current syondical administration.

  2. To clarify, I believe any criticism that Issues Etc. has had for the current synodical administration is not about them personally at all. It is about the Church Growth theology that appears to motivate their actions. I seem to recall the synod not appreciating the shows stance on the Church Growth Movement even before the show was canceled. It was only after the cancellation that Todd and Jeff could point to examples within our church instead of appearing like hypocrites and only pointing it out in other church bodies. The criticism the synod has wanted to stop is not just about them but about the foreign theology behind their actions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.