A Hill to Die On? By Pastor Kurt Hering

This article by Pastor Hering was original published in his May email lists and is also posted on the web on his newsletter postings on the LCMSsermons site. Given the recent issues talking about this subject, BJS thought this article interesting to our readership.

A supervising Pastor said, “DOPEY [endnote 1] I don’t want to die on that hill.”

A Practical Theology professor said, “Mr. Hering, do you really want to die on that hill?”

A Mentor said, “Vicar, do you really want to die on that hill?”

An Elder said, “Pastor, do you really want to die on that hill?”

A Circuit Counselor said, “Brother, do you really want to die on that hill?”

A dear pastor friend said, “Kurt, do you really want to die on that hill?”

District Presidents watch, and in some cases help things along, as men die on those hills.

Confessionally minded pastors and laity throughout the LCMS shake their heads and say, “I’m sure not gonna die on that hill! Why did he go die on that hill?”

The Reverend Kurt M. Hering shrugged his shoulders, said, “I guess they might be right about that–and saved himself from dying on a few of those hills.

And you know what? Let’s grant that each and every one of these folk had the best of intentions, thinking:

“I must live to fight another day or else maybe the people who need me the most, the people I have the vocation to serve in family and parish may find themselves without a man to take care of them properly.”

But at the same time, let’s never forget that people die on those hills every time we cede them to the enemy. Every time we live to fight another day by not fighting for and with the truth on this hill on this particular day, we sacrifice someone else’s life on that hill. Perhaps it is the life of one who is misled by not fighting on that hill. Perhaps it is the life of a pastor or congregation who suffers from the attack of those stirred up and emboldened by the false teaching or aberrant practice of well-meaning, peace loving brother pastors or sister congregations.

Oh, it’s true enough, the Lord will lose not one soul whom He has predestined from the foundation of the world to be with Him. [endnote 2, Eph 1:4-5, John 10:28, John 18:8-9] But it is also true that:

  • if we are not willing to die with Him, neither will we live with Him. [3, Mark 8:35]
  • we are held accountable for anything we do or say that undermines the faith of a blood bought child of God. [4, Mark 9:42]
  • support of faithful servants of the Word has certain reward. [5, Mark 9:41]

Now none of this is to say we need to be searching out or begging for hills to die on. [6] Each day has sufficient trouble for itself. [7, Matt 6:34] And if we stand for the truth and abide in the narrow way of God’s Word, martyrdom—be it literal or metaphorical–will come to us soon enough even as it did to our Lord and His Apostles. [8]

But let me ask you a couple of questions.

Since when does God give anyone–pastor, layman, or ecclesiastical supervisor–the authority to choose on which hill he will die?

From which point of “all things that I have commanded you” [Matthew 28:20] is the Christian, especially the pastor, exempt for the sake of living to fight another day?

  • The Ninth and Tenth Commandments in mimicking “Evangelicals,” “Purpose Driven,” and/or Willow Creek pastors in order to tempt their members into a “Lutheran” congregation?
  • The Eighth Commandment in questioning the pastoral heart or passion of the man whose recalcitrant members cannot cite Scriptural or behavioral fault in his ministry.
  • The Seventh Commandment in welcoming into membership dissidents from other congregations who are trying to starve out a faithful pastor because they do not like the liturgy or closed communion or his refusal to officiate a ceremony of the church for unrepentant sinners?
  • The Sixth Commandment in performing a wedding for the son of the congregation’s sugar daddy who is unrepentant over the cohabitation with his fiancee that is publicly known and continues during the months leading up to the wedding.
  • The Fifth Commandment by not helping and supporting faithful pastors in their physical needs when they have died on this or that hill in the line of duty.
  • The Fourth Commandment in belittling such things as liturgy, hymnody, catechesis, chaste living, or modest clothing as out of date and irrelevant.
  • The Third Commandment in basing corporate worship on the testimony and performances of men rather than the preaching of God’s Word and administration of His Sacraments.
  • The Second Commandment in praying together with and along side of unbelievers and false teachers?
  • The First Commandment in assuming the authority of God by picking and choosing the hill of his death?
  • The Office of the Keys and Confession by replacing the authoritative preaching of the Gospel with skits, dramatic readings, or other entertainment; substituting for called servants of the Word with laymen who lead corporate worship, preach, or administer the Sacraments; refusing to employ and commend private confession as too Catholic; taking proper church discipline out of the hands of the local congregations and pastors and placing it in the hands of District and Synodical officials.
  • The Lord’s Words of Institution of the Sacrament of the Altar by substituting grape juice for wine or disposable cups for the common cup?
  • The salutary administration of the Sacrament of the Altar by communing those who do not acknowledge and confess the bodily presence of the Lord in the elements, the forgiveness of sins delivered with the body and blood of our Lord, or the orthodox teaching and practice of the host congregation and her fellowship?

Just which of these points carefully commanded and graciously given by our Lord is not worth fighting and dying for–or at least teaching properly–including identification of any error currently in practice [9], if need be?

Just which of them is not included within the doctrine and life the pastor is called and sent by the Lord to watch over with all devotion for the salvation of the souls entrusted to his care? [10, 1 Cor 4:1-2, 1 Tim 4:15-16]

I have been searching throughout my Circuit, District, and Synod begging for men to stand and fight on these hills with me–or to let me stand and fight with them. I have found precious few of the former and been ignored by too many of the latter.

Oh, there are many who are trying to fight the battle by campaigning for this prince or that in hopes of changing the political landscape to be more favorable so that when they finally do decide to fight they are less likely to die on any given hill. And, yes, this too should and must be done. But the trouble is, unless these politicos are also willing to actually stand up and fight for the theological hills that already lie before them, and to take back those they have already lost, they may find themselves with a friendly prince in a castle built upon nothing but the sand of pragmatism.

Still, there are some in Missouri, along with those of other historically orthodox synods, who stand and fight on whichever hill the Lord places beneath their feet at the time. There are still others who have died while in Missouri–or one of those other historic synods–on various hills not of their choosing while their brothers watched and waved. Yet of these who have died, some have risen to live and fight even today from the walls of newly formed Lutheran fortresses such as ELDoNA [11] and the ACLC. [12] And those faithful ones continue to exhort even those who watched and waved to them from relative security to fight on those hills now–before it is too late and there remains not a hill in Missouri on which to die.

Many from among these various faithful groups of brothers, along with a number of faithful LCMS pastors, have joined in forming The Augustana Ministerium [13]. The Augustan Ministerium was so formed to “preserve and promote Lutheran pastors and a distinctively Lutheran Ministry of Word and Sacrament to Lutheran congregations.” Along with the Ministerium, The Augustana Confraternity, made up of confessional Lutheran lay-people, has also been formed in order to “support the work of The Augustana Ministerium.” [14] If any of what I have written resonates with you, I encourage you to seriously consider join this pan-Lutheran support group for doing faithful battle on the hills that lie before us.

Faithful Lutherans of Missouri! Faithful Lutherans all!

How many more of those souls who are entrusted to your care are you willing to sacrifice? How many more of your pastors and brothers and sisters in Christ are you willing to leave to the wolves by not fighting for that hill you are on right now?

And is there any hill other than the one safely out there on the horizon of your retirement that for you is a hill to die on?

End Notes

  1. Director of Parish Education and Youth
  2. He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. Ephesians 1:4-5 “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:28
    Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way,” 9 that the saying might be fulfilled which He spoke, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost none.” John 18:8-9
  3. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:35
  4. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. Mark 9:42
  5. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. Mark 9:41
  6. Do not, therefore, worry about where you may find affliction; there is no need to be concerned. Only be a pious Christian, preacher, minister, townsman, peasant, nobleman, and lord; diligently and faithfully perform the duties of your office. Let the devil worry about where he may find wood from which to make a cross for you; let the world worry about where to find a stick from which to make a scourge for your skin. Plass, “What Luther Says,” #1057, CPH.
    We are neither to seek the cross nor to flee from it. Ibid, #1058.
  7. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34
  8. Whoever professes that he is baptized and is glad to be called by the name of Christ should be convinced that he is no better than Christ, his Lord. For such a person must be conformed tot he image of the Son of God (Rom. 8:29). If Christ wore a crown of thorns, we should not expect people to place wreaths and roses on our head. To be sure, we seek peace and quietness and give the world no just occasion for raging against us. But the hatred of Satan is not appeased in this way; it is aroused all the more. Plass, “What Luther Says,” #1049, CPH.
    . . . All whom the pope has burned and killed s heretics—men such as John Huss, Jerome of Prague, and many more now, here and there—have borne the real cross. What they stood for was considered wrong and heresy by all the world, and so they had to be put to shame and called seducers of the people, as happened to our Lord Jesus christ Himself and the holy apostles and all martyrs and will continue to happen until the end of the world. Ibid, #1046
  9. For instance, Luther’s teaching toward communion in both kinds in which he did not immediately force the cup upon the people, yet did teach of the error in not offering it to them.
  10. Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2
    Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. 1 Timothy 4:15-16
  11. The Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America
  12. The Association of Confessional Lutheran Churches
  13. Augustana Ministerium
  14. Augustana Cofraternity