Steadfast Lessons from the Past ““ A Church Secretary’s Stand Against Liberalism, by Rev. Walt Otten

(Rev. Otten other posts are archived on our Regular Columns page under the title “Steadfast Lessons from the Past.”)

She was the only church and school secretary of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Brookfield, Illinois, for 16 years. During her years as secretary the congregation was well over a thousand souls. She worked only three days a week. She was the mother of five, all of whom were enrolled at St. Paul school. She worked with a manual typewriter, a mimeograph machine, (the functioning of which would take a page to explain), a primitive addressograph, and without anything like a photocopier, fax machine or e-mail. The pastor of her youth and the one who confirmed her was the father of Dr. Mary Todd.

A Reformation sermon by Dr. Paul Bretscher arrived in the mail at St. Paul’s of Brookfield in 1972. Dr. Paul Bretscher served on the CTCR (Commission of Theology and Church Relations) of the LCMS and was pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church – Valparaiso, Indiana. His years on that Commission were from 1967-1975.

The sermon contained liberal theology common among LCMS leaders of that day. This writer does not know whether it was sent by Dr. Bretscher personally, or if it was commissioned by a Synodical agency that sent it to all the congregations of Synod. The evidence seems to suggest that it came from some agency or commission. For those who don’t have dates clearly in mind, this letter was written before the Seminex walkout. The St. Louis faculty seemed to be secure. Their false, liberal theology was being offered freely to all.

The secretary of St. Paul’s responded to that sermon with the following letter, discovered by this writer only recently when in retirement he was looking through old church records.

September 21, 1972
Dr. Paul C. Bretscher
752 Dove Drive
Valparaiso, Indiana, 46383

Dear Dr. Bretscher;

My pastor is a very busy man – and with somewhat a problem with high blood pressure – so I take it upon myself to go through the mail and relieve as much as I can. As I scanned the resource materials for the “Reformation Services and Celebrations” I was appalled to read the suggested sermon by you, Dr. Bretscher.

Why can’t you be man enough to really bring out the contemporary crisis to which you refer constantly – and name names – rather than the side references to:

  • the “debilitating forces among us”
  • “honored traditional interpretation” of the Bible
  • don’t “try to please God by being loyal to tradition and close ears to fresh words out of those same Scriptures”
  • nice words about history – how they are a “distraction from and substitute for the very word of our living Lord”

But especially that our doctrinal resolutions belong to our tradition. Our Missouri-Synod Doctrinal resolutions don’t belong to tradition only – are they not Scriptural? If our tradition itself “must never say it can not err or stand correction” – WHY CAN IT NOT? Are there errors in it. We equate our formulations with God’s truth BECAUSE THEY AGREE, I thought. And, because they agree, they cannot err or stand correction. This is also true about “familiar and structured formulations of doctrine…” but not according to the good doctor, eh?

The same old thing – we’re free…FREE…F R E E…and especially from other man’s judgments. Those who are “FREE” need not fear “the poison of a brother’s sin”… advice of those who want equal voice with truth until they have the necessary majority to eliminate it.

I am amazed to read sermon for the Festival of the Reformation to be given (hopefully not in many) Lutheran Churches and not read one word about SOLA SCRIPTURA…

If you wish to push the thought that today’s traditionalists are Pharisees, why didn’t you say so – also saying that you are against the historical, traditional, and formulated DOCTRINE of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It is dishonest to build an army of straw-men in order to equate the TRUTH OF DOCTRINAL RESOLUTIONS with Pharisaical unawareness; and then to put FREEDOM FROM ANY LAWS AND CHISTIANITY together…

Glad to intercept,

(Mrs. R. Overholt)

P.S. Services at St. Paul’s at 7:30 p.m. October 31st
Valpo is not so far

Audrey wrote this letter in 1972. Dr. Bretscher continued to serve on the CTCR for three years after she wrote this letter. He would remain a member of the LCMS till 2002. It was only then that he was suspended from the Synod. The very issues that Audrey raised 30 years earlier were then the matters that brought his suspension. The Indiana District President is quoted in a news release announcing the suspension as saying, “In his book and conversation (Bretscher) has denied the authority of Scripture and…how it speaks to the divinity of Christ,” Sims said, “Because he doesn’t believe that, he is not really walking with us on that.”

Bretscher’s poor theology, that Audrey recognized in that sermon appeared again in a 2001 statement of Bretscher. He then wrote to one who expressed his concern about a book Bretscher wrote titled CHRISTIANITY’S UNKNOWN GOSPEL.

Here is a sample of his false doctrine in this book which is from a letter in an exchange with the author. Bretscher writes

Christianity, in which you and I were brought up, which Christian News is diligently promoting and defending, DOES NOT KNOW THIS GOSPEL [i.e. the “unknown” gospel that Bretscher and other liberals supposedly discovered]. It has for ages substituted a rational system of “doctrine” for it, based on the mistaken impression that the “son of God” for Jesus in The Gospels and all the NT means “deity.” I (sic) does not. It, and Father for God, is covenant language from Moses and the prophets.

Steadfast, intercepting secretary Audrey, a tremendous blessing to this writer for 16 years, has been married to her husband Roy for more than 60 years and when she is not in Florida is at the divine service at St. Paul’s every Lord’s day.

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.


Steadfast Lessons from the Past ““ A Church Secretary’s Stand Against Liberalism, by Rev. Walt Otten — 4 Comments

  1. Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)

       "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
            and do not return there but water the earth,
        making it bring forth and sprout,
            giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 
        [11] so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
            it shall not return to me empty,
        but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
            and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
  2. How beautiful her confession was! Even the “moderates” in the LCMS who read this site should be able to applaud it.

    There is probably nothing more beautiful for a pastor than to witness the royal priesthood learning the Word of its Lord and then remaining faithful to it and boldly confessing it. It makes me think of Paul’s words in 2nd Corinthians, where he tells his congregation that they are his letter of recommendation from Christ, a letter written not with ink but with the Spirit of God.

    This must have been an incredible joy to have read. You didn’t even know it while you were in the midst of the battle, but now, 35 years later.

    God will cause His word of life to shine in laymen again in this generation.

  3. Let’s hear it for an informed laity. Where are these people today? This woman is, like Mr. Al Briel and those other laymen who stood up for sound teaching and doctrine in the 60’s & 70’s, a warrior.

    Thank you, Audrey!

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