A call to repentance

My pastor told me that one of his professors wisely warned him “Beware the fight.” He was pointing out that while it’s important to fight for confessional Lutheranism, there are times when the fight itself can become more important than it should. There have been many times in Missouri’s history when we’ve had to fight for doctrinal integrity. And God has richly blessed us in many ways during these struggles. But we have all sinned during these times — perhaps enjoying the fight too much or too little, putting the worst construction on things, or any number of other errors. When I first read President Matthew Harrison’s “It’s Time” piece, the thing that struck me most was his call for everyone to repent of where we’ve gone wrong.

He’s written a letter to the church in the current Lutheran Witness that reiterates this. It’s well worth a read and a wonderful beginning to his presidency. Here’s how it ends:

Why have we lacked missionary zeal? Why have we been so divided? Why have we failed to love each other? Why have we struggled financially? Why have we failed to convince both those within and outside our fellowship? Why have we been unable to listen to our brothers and sisters? Why has our preaching so often lacked urgency and biblical depth? Are we preachers therapists, or are we prophets of God with a clear message of Law and Gospel? Are we still the Church that preaches Jesus’ own message of repentance? As I write these things, I am thinking above all of myself, of my own sins.

There is nothing for any of us in the Missouri Synod to be smug about. “For what do you have that you have not been given?” Luther reminded the Germans of his day that the precious Gospel can be and has, in fact, been lost by whole nations.

Buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been . . . when it’s gone it’s gone. . . . And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast (Luther’s Works 45:352).

The good news is that the Lord delights in having mercy upon sinners, just like us. In fact, “Christ dwells only in sinners” (Luther). That means that Christ dwells only in a Church made up of sinners—people and pastors just like us. If we won’t be sinners (Repent!), we shall have no Savior.

Jesus has given us an astounding gift. We have the treasure of the Gospel so marvelously and biblically laid before us by Luther’s Small Catechism. May the Lord grant us repentance, all of us, that the Gospel not pass from us and that we poor sinners—yes, the Missouri Synod—might be His own tool to preach repentance, forgiveness, and faith in His name—even now, even today.


Comments

A call to repentance — 33 Comments

  1. There have been many times in Missouri’s history when we’ve had to fight for doctrinal integrity. And God has richly blessed us in many ways during these struggles. But we have all sinned during these times — perhaps enjoying the fight too much or too little

    Huh? What does this mean to say perhaps we sin when we enjoy a Missouri Synod fight for doctrinal integrity too much? How much is too much… or too little?

  2. The point is not about how much is too much or too little but reminding us that while in the fray our sinful self can take delight in putting others down. I believe this is among other things, a call to speak the truth in love.

    TR

  3. I think that there is another point as well.

    We can fight because we value the church that we can be in if we prevail.

    Or we can fight because we like to fight.

    If we do the latter, we are contentious, which is sinful. Even if we fight for what is right, if we don’t fight righteously we fail, whether we prevail or not.

  4. I will die for doctrinal integrity, which is precisely why I despise fighting for it. To fight for it means that someone else does not believe it. Nothing could be more tragic.

    I weep for the ruin of Joseph. I do not delight that my brothers have fallen.

    One who enjoys fighting for doctrinal integrity does not have it to begin with. Doctrinal integrity does not exist without mercy for the enemy.

  5. Good article.

    @mbw #4

    ….umm that’s a little out of context. I seem to remember this thing about money changers and a temple. There was also this thing where He declared “Woe” on alot of teachers. There was also three years of public ministry where He called them to repent which finally lead up to Christ weeping over Jerusalem after they had rejected Him.

  6. One who enjoys fighting for doctrinal integrity does not have it to begin with.

    Do you have any Scriptural or Confessional support for such a notion?

  7. @Carl Vehse #7

    I believe the key word in the quote is “enjoy.” I respectfully submit that if one enjoys fighting against others, there are several passages that condem him with Law.

  8. Matthew,

    Where in Mollie’s statement or my posts above does the word, “enjoy” refer to or imply the enjoyment of others being wrong or being put down in the “fight for doctrinal integrity”?

    Also would you provide some of your claimed Scriptural or Confessional support that to enjoy the fight for doctrinal integrity is a sin?

    In fact, according to Mollie, one may sin in the fight for doctrinal integrity for “enjoying the fight too little.”

  9. Mollie, and Pastor Harrison,

    I think this is a wonderful post. I have first hand experience and knowledge of enjoying fighting for the right side. But I have the same knowledge of sins we committed in the fight. Realizing those errors (later) took all of the triumph and glory out of the thing, as it should have. I’m sadder but wiser now.

    Avoid church war at great cost, but not at all costs.

  10. @Mike Baker #6

    I don’t see any enjoyment in any of what you cite.

    Errors of all kinds grieve the Holy Spirit.

    The eternal torments of the damned are not His will for them.

    There is great joy at repentance, including that over false doctrine.

    But fighting and beating it is serious business, not sport.

  11. @Prov. 16:32 #5

    > One who enjoys fighting for doctrinal integrity does not have it to begin with.

    This might be a little harsh. For some of us, it’s all too easy to enjoy the fight, even if we are certainly fighting for the truth. So, we sin, but that does not mean we had false doctrine.

    C. S. Lewis wrote a great essay about how he felt most spiritually empty right after he had just won a debate (this would have been with a rank unbeliever or rationalist, where Lewis was not orthodox but was fighting for the historic Christian religion and its Christ).

  12. @Carl Vehse #9

    I mistakenly thought the quote concnering enjoying a fight came from Mollie’s post, but it appears it came from another poster. My apologies. I will read the post again as I am able and, if I think I can contribute to the conversation, I shall do so.

  13. Missouri is often accused of perpetually squabbling. I think that is because we fight but seldom reach a resolution, whether that means wrestling with an issue until there is unanimity or a parting of the ways ala Joshua 24:14-15. For the last 30-40 years the status quo in Missouri has been stalemate. We tend to fight for a while and then retreat to our respective trenches to do our thing our way until the next conflict heats up, which is often the fruit of the previous conflict that was never resolved. Yes, we sometimes sin in thought word and deed even when our cause is righteous, and our intentions are noble. Hard feelings, distrust, loss of fellowship are but a few of the casualties. Sin is defined as a falling short of what God commands. I sometimes wonder if the sin in our many conflicts is not only in the immediate personal cost to us but in falling short of a God pleasing conclusion, in preferring to keep the ember of resentments glowing for another day when we can finally prove that we were right all along rather than love our neighbor as ourselves today through repentance and forgiveness. Rightly we should fear as Dr. Luther put it that the word and grace may pass by because ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay.

  14. @Carl Vehse #7
    One might draw an analogy from a Vietnam war movie that was on the tube Monday. If any one said they enjoyed hand-to-hand combat you would call them nuts. But as a soldier you do what you have to do because you have to do it. Its messy, and the battlefield is littered with casualties, even the innocent who get in the line of fire. But that’s what soldiers do on behalf of their country. Still, when that first, second or third wave comes in, they would give anything to be anywhere else.

    At the same time, there’s always been those itchen for a fight. They who love to show how much more they know than the next guy. In Paul’s admonition to Timothy, he lists the qualifications of the office: “…sober minded, self controled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome…” 1 Ti 3:2,3

    Where do we draw the line between apolgetics and being quarrelsome? Some just love the smell of napalm in the morning. I guess the difference lies in whether we’re doing apologetics to stroke our ego or to love the other guy and want him to be saved too. That truly, is only know to us and God. And I think Paul’s admonition to Timothy is a reality check for all pastors, because none of us are qualified. Its time. We need repentance.

  15. Carl Vehse :
    There have been many times in Missouri’s history when we’ve had to fight for doctrinal integrity. And God has richly blessed us in many ways during these struggles. But we have all sinned during these times — perhaps enjoying the fight too much or too little
    Huh? What does this mean to say perhaps we sin when we enjoy a Missouri Synod fight for doctrinal integrity too much? How much is too much… or too little?

    I believe it was the alleged Mr. Vehse who introduced the term of “enjoy” to the notion of the “fight.”

  16. That was unclear: meaning, Mr. Vehse, it is perhaps best not accuse others of talking about a word you are not talking about when it is the very thing you pointed out that started the talking in the thread.

    Meh. That’s still poorly put. But it makes sense all the same.

  17. Eh, everyone here needs to go out and enjoy a beer.

    Not too much, though, and not too little, either…

  18. Joe :
    Eh, everyone here needs to go out and enjoy a beer.
    Not too much, though, and not too little, either…

    hahahahaha. Awesome.

  19. So, we can still state, “you ain’t such a much. Ya ain’t worse than the next, but you sure ain’t better, than any other.”
    History, repeats, & humanity falls short consistantly, yet & still. Well, that is at least, in the times & realm in which we all find ourselves, a secure & stable constant. lol

    The night prior, to the worst of battles, is when those who were to fight, we most at ease.
    Well…Joe & Pastor Fisk, let’s use the Goldilocks’ principle, “to much, to little, just right”….
    When is the next BJS event scheduled?!

  20. Rev. Piper: “One might draw an analogy from a Vietnam war movie that was on the tube Monday. If any one said they enjoyed hand-to-hand combat you would call them nuts.

    Rather than hand-to-hand combat, the “fight for doctrinal integrity,” in the context of Mollie’s statements, might be more analogous to the larger fight to defend the United States, such as in the Revolutionary War, WWI or WWII. If, instead, Mollie were to have referred to a specific, narrow doctrinal position to be defended at some congregational meeting, then perhaps hand-to-hand combat might be considered as an analogy.

    Rev. Fisk: I believe it was the alleged Mr. Vehse who introduced the term of “enjoy” to the notion of the “fight.”

    In her discussion about the fight for doctrinal integrity Mollie used the participle, “enjoying,” rather than its verb, “enjoy.” If using the same participle would be helpful, Rev. Fisk, then what does Mollie’s statement mean to say by perhaps we sin by enjoying a Missouri Synod fight for doctrinal integrity too much? How much is too much… or too little?

    Rev. Fisk: Mr. Vehse, it is perhaps best not accuse others of talking about a word you are not talking about when it is the very thing you pointed out that started the talking in the thread.

    Rev. Fisk, whether perhaps best or not, where did such accusing of others occur?

  21. Are we the finger in the dam of self sacrifice or can we just sit back on our laurels.

    Dutch legend has it that there was once a small boy who upon passing a dyke on his way to school noticed a slight leak as the sea trickled in through a small hole. Knowing that he would be in trouble if he were to be late for school, the boy pocked his finger into the hole and so stemmed the flow of water. Some time later a passerby saw him and went to get help. This came in the form of other men who were able to effect repairs on the dyke and seal up the leak.

    This story is told to children to teach them that if they act quickly and in time, even they with their limited strength and resources can avert disasters. The fact that the Little Dutch Boy used his finger to stop the flow of water, is used as an illustration of self-sacrifice. The physical lesson is also taught: a small trickle of water soon becomes a stream and the stream a torrent and the torrent a flood sweeping all before it, Dyke material, roadways and cars, and even railway tracks and bridges and whole trains.

  22. So this whole discussion about ‘Beware the fight’ reminds me of a Lutheran dayschool discussion that I have never forgotten. Our teacher read us “The love of money is the root of all evil” and then we discussed it. First we defined evil. Then she asked us what the root of all evil is. Repeatedly a new hapless student would step up to reply, “Money,” and be told that that was not quite correct. It was excruciating, in a 4th grade sort of way. She read the verse again. Unfortunately, the answer did not change.

    Finally someone realized the problem. “Wait, it says it’s the LOVE of money that is the root of all evil!” Bingo, that was it.

    And here, it’s not the fight that is unrighteous. Indeed, often the fight is desperate and necessary, with the outcome uncertain.

    Instead, it’s the LOVE of the fight that can be unrighteous. May God in His grace bestow on us the ability to fight bravely and consistently without loving the fight itself, and may He forgive us when we fail, both in the fight and in our attitudes toward it.

  23. Yes, an improper love of the fight can be unrighteous. But enjoying the fight for doctrinal integrity is not congruent or even analogous to the love of money being the root of all evil.

    It still remains to be answered in enjoying the fight for doctrinal integrity about how much is too much… or too little… or, as Goldilocks noted, just right.

  24. Of course, mbw, a person may sin while enjoying the fight for doctrinal integrity, but if one feels that he is sinning by enjoying the fight for doctrinal integrity, that is pietistic.

  25. Understood. The pro-Harrision faction has beat the pro-Kieschnick faction (for now). No reason to be smug about it.

    While the Scribes and the Pharisees argue amongst themselves, the laymen are quietly sneaking out of the LCMS side door in droves: 1.) Quitting church; or 2.) Being lured away by the aggressive, “non-contentious” non-denominational seeker church. What would it take to force all factions of the LCMS to unite and awaken the sleeping giant?

    Does Matt Harrison have solutions to all of those questions in his first paragraph. For the sake of the church, I pray that he does. Your thoughts?

  26. The pro-Harrision faction has beat the pro-Kieschnick faction (for now). No reason to be smug about it.

    Such a statement leaves the discussion about a “fight for doctrinal integrity. It enters into a discussion of personalities, redefines the nature of the fight, and claims an unsubstantiated motivation (smugness) by some (many?) who voted for or supported President Harrison.

    What would it take to force all factions of the LCMS to unite…

    Force is not the way factions in the Missouri Synod will be united.

  27. Carl Vehse :
    The pro-Harrision faction has beat the pro-Kieschnick faction (for now). No reason to be smug about it.
    Such a statement leaves the discussion about a “fight for doctrinal integrity. It enters into a discussion of personalities, redefines the nature of the fight, and claims an unsubstantiated motivation (smugness) by some (many?) who voted for or supported President Harrison.
    What would it take to force all factions of the LCMS to unite…
    Force is not the way factions in the Missouri Synod will be united.

    It is not very nice to extract a small part of my entire post, thereby removing it from the original context and reinterpreting it to mean something I did not state. What a juvenile way to start contention when there is none. I wrote nothing about personalities in my original post. Ok, substitute “Confessional Lutheranism supporters” for “Harrison” and “Church Growth Movement supporters” for “Kieschnick” and reread my original post in its entirety. This does not “redefine” the nature of the fight, as is claimed by Carl Vehse.

    Most visitors to this website would interpret that Harrison’s quote about smugness was directed at many of his most ardent supporters. And who were/are Harrison’s most steadfast (no pun intended) supporters? The “Confessionals” are now running LCMS, Inc. What now? What would it take to force all factions of the LCMS (“church growth factions” versus “confessional factions”) to unite. The ELCA is a shining example that no all powerful leader is expected to force anyone to do anything. Ok, since Carl Vehse will misquote me once again, I will rephrase my statement: How much worse can it get, i.e. how many more thousands of members would the LCMS have to lose to the non-denominational seeker churches before LCMS church leaders of all stripes decide to put aside their differences and work together?

    Your thoughts, Mollie?

  28. Jim: I wrote nothing about personalities in my original post. Ok, substitute “Confessional Lutheranism supporters” for “Harrison” and “Church Growth Movement supporters” for “Kieschnick” and reread my original post in its entirety.

    Thank you, Jim, for verifying my point.

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