Of Masks and Martin and Our Reformation Faith

A loyal reader pointed out this by Pastor Rick Sawyer on the ACELC website:


Lots of masks at my front door last night! How about yours? Happy post-traumatic Halloween to us all! No more door bells setting the dog to yapping! Just a few artificial cobwebs still hanging from my neighbor’s trees (she likes to go all out!) and too much candy left in my house for me to consume!

Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve. Of course, it was also the Feast of the Reformation yesterday, though most of us likely observed it Sunday!

So, are the masks off yet?

What I mean is, do we rah-rah being Lutheran on Reformation Sunday without the Faith we believe, teach and confess actually going further than skin-deep?

If we observed the feast of the Reformation, chances are we heard from John 8. Have you noticed that Christ is speaking to “believers” in that chapter?

ESV John 8:30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

As if it weren’t enough to say it once, the Evangelist makes sure we hear it twice; after all, what unfolds next will make it easy to think that Our Lord wasn’t speaking to believers at all! So, John writes . . .

ESV John 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. . .

Unfortunately, what John 8 reveals is true for all of us at one point or another. It was true for St. Peter at Caesarea Philippi, where he made the good confession and was commended by Christ. Then, after hearing the precious Gospel preached, how the Son of Man must be crucified and rise again, Peter lets his heart get the better of him and he rebukes the Lord, saying: “This shall never happen to you!”

The Lord pulls the mask off rather abruptly after that, revealing who is really speaking in and through the passionate eruption of Peter’s love for his Savior. With a bluntness that would get the average LCMS pastor in some pretty hot water if he spoke to any of his members in the same way, Jesus says, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” You no longer have the things of God in mind, but those of men.

If Peter’s mask can come off that quickly, anybody’s can! So, when the believing Jews start turning, well, rather more into a mob of the Walking Dead than the living disciples of Christ, it shouldn’t surprise us! One moment, they’re described as having “believed in him,” and the next, as if hell had burped out a host of zombies!

ESV John 8:33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Umm, apparently zombies don’t remember their past life, ‘cause the Old Testament’s FULL of God’s people being enslaved – by Egypt, Babylon, not to mention their own persistent tendency to take what God gives as a Gift and turn it into the works by which men think they can carry on in their own ways, having put on the right costume, rung God’s doorbell and run off with His treats to play all the tricks they want on their neighbor! As if God’s going to be fooled by our veneer-thin plastic masks!

Jesus isn’t fooled. That’s why He puts no stock in the believing of men, but pokes His finger through our molded make-up and touches on the heart of the matter. “If you remain in – abide in – My Word, THEN you are truly My disciples; you will know the truth and the truth will set you free!”

It’s not about our hearts, but about HIS mouth! You know, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by Christ’s preaching!”

The problem with us, however, is that we’re so sure of our believing that we really don’t like the words coming out of Christ’s mouth! What’s this about calling us slaves to sin? What’s this about Jesus talking as if everything depends on Jesus! Aren’t we something, in and of ourselves? Can’t God see that we believe!?

When Luther posted His 95 Theses, the first of which said that when Christ said “Repent,” He meant that the whole life of the Christian should be one of repentance, Luther was trying to get us off US! It’s not about me! It’s about Jesus!

When we say, “Sola Fide” at Reformation, we’re not saying that I’m saved – as long as God can seen in my heart that I believe!

We Lutherans do a lot of rah-rahing without really paying attention to the Scriptures or what our own Confessions say on the basis of them!

It’s not what I say I believe, but what Christ speaks, does and gives; and what He goes on giving and doing and saying in and through His Holy Ministry in the Church (which Luther called the Larvae Dei – or Masks of God through which CHRIST is at work to save us)! Nothing skin deep about them! No way! Scratch beneath the water of Baptism and . . . Jesus! Scratch beneath the preaching, teaching and absolving of your pastor and . . . Jesus! Scratch beneath the bread and wine of Holy Communion and . . . Christ’s own Flesh and Blood!

It’s about Jesus! Or as Jesus puts it, “If the SON sets you free, you are free, indeed!”

If the SON says you’re forgiven, your forgiven! If the Son says it’s finished by His dying on the cross, then it is! Forget about what YOU say and listen to God’s Son!

That made the Pope on his throne just a little nervous! It made the Jews in John 8 rabid! Today, someone would tell Jesus He was speaking as if only Jesus is going to heaven and everybody else is going to hell! They’d say He needed some work on interpersonal relations; needed to work on speaking in a way people can hear!

Jesus would say: “They’re hearing me just fine. They just don’t like what they’re hearing! Their problem is that they are not of My Father but of the father of lies! They are sons of darkness and hell, not of light!”

Yeah, that’ll get you a visit from the District President or Circuit Counselor, for sure!

You might hear the letters CRM float around! Maybe a nice vacation, Jesus, or a call to a congregation where you’ve got a better fit with the people!

Instead, Jesus stuck it out and they crucified Him. He went the distance, despite all the outcries against Him, all the acrimony and hate. He did it in love – for their salvation!

1500 or so years later, Luther got excommunicated. He didn’t play the political game. He didn’t play nice with error. He spoke the truth – in love, and those who were against it heard him loud and clear. Luther was willing to discuss and debate, of course, but he would only be captive to God’s Word and sound reason. He stepped on some pretty big toes when he said that councils and popes can err. That’s like saying Synod in convention can err! I wonder if anyone told him he wasn’t following the agreed upon way of voicing his dissent? Luther just wanted the Church to get back to its proper moorings. If he was wrong, he was willing to listen. But he wouldn’t be quiet.

Neither would Our Lord! Christ kept speaking until the masks of those who believed came off and their unbelief was revealed. He wasn’t being mean or cruel or intentionally divisive; not in a bad way, at least. He was being their Savior; stripping them down until there was nothing left for them but Jesus, along with everything He said, commanded, did and put in place for their freedom! To oppose that isn’t of the Spirit, but of the Father of Lies. So, Jesus called Peter “Satan.” And Jesus told the Jews who had believed in Him that they were the spawn of hell, as long as they kept opposing what He said.

By that, He meant to save them! Sadly, instead of repenting and being His disciples, instead of being set free, they chose slavery to their own sins, desires and opinions. They chose to keep Christ at arm’s distance and so picked up stones to kill Him!

What a lesson for us all, now that the rah-rahing of being Lutheran is over and the costumes are put away!

We say we are Lutherans, but that is no child’s game; no costume party! What the Lord says to us is not always easy to hear! It calls us all to repentance, for feigning love of Christ but then, not trusting what He has given us, not even wanting to hear and learn it as we should! We bandy about the name of Luther, but if he were our pastor, preaching how the false teachers should be pelted with dung and driven out of the church, how many of us wouldn’t be phoning someone to complain about how unloving Pastor Martin is!? Would we be unsure about associating with someone who is, well, that volatile, impassioned, whose convictions run so deep that he doesn’t seem to pull his punches, but even dares speak out against what synods had put in place long before?!

Do we still have the depth of Luther’s conviction? I wonder. I wonder how many of Luther’s sermons I could get by with in today’s Missouri Synod; how many times the term “damnamus” would be permitted before someone said we needed to play nice. I wonder how many who take pride in the Reformation would have a fit to hear Luther urge them to private confession or to make the sign of the cross? I wonder how many of us who loudly assert our agreement with the Lutheran Confessions don’t really care to hear what they have to say or look beyond a bare surface treatment of their words? I wonder how many of us prefer them not to interfere with our way of doing “ministry”?

Yes, Halloween’s over and the masks are off! But Christ and His Word remain, and He would have us remain in them! Only in the external Ministry of the Faith He put in place, which Luther boldly confessed, do we remain His disciples – and truly free!

A Happy post-Reformation – All Hallow’s Eve to you! And yes, that would make this a Happy All Saints’ Day to one and all!

Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church + Brandon, MS

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord, LCMSsermons.com, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at KNFA.net.


Of Masks and Martin and Our Reformation Faith — 87 Comments

  1. Oops, that sermon quote should be . . . “CLEAN, yet allowing Himself to be treated as one who needs redemption.”

    In my hurry, I cut and pasted poorly. But I DO pay attention to my words, and correct them where needed. The job of an editor is never done, eh? And the life of the Christian is one of ongoing repentance!

    Oh, and I mean that that applies to me as well as everyone else – just in case I wasn’t clear. 😉

  2. Tom, how about you examine why you have only 47 people, on average, showing up for worship services in your parish? How much time are you spending on evangelism calls? How much time are you spending on home visits? I know you are quite taken with wearing all manner of so-called “correct” vestments. Do you actually think the members of your parish give a hoot about the fact that you have a black chasuble?

    I doubt it.

    It’s time to man up and face reality, brother.

  3. I’m sorry to hear, Pastor Messer, that you are so negligent of your flock and don’t care about the lost. Perhaps the Holy Ghost will grant you an increase of “numbers” if you administer Word and Sacrament in attire more-appropriate for changing oil in the pickup.

  4. Man up and face reality, Paul? Which reality would that be? The perceived “reality” you determine by looking at congregational stats on the synodical website? Or, real reality.

    The real reality is that, through the end of October this year, we’ve averaged 76 people/week. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot to you, sitting on your little judgmental throne in St. Louis, but considering that the average attendance was less than 30 six years ago, and considering that our attendance is up pretty significantly from last year, we’re pretty tickled ’round here, and ever thankful to our Lord for blessing us with such growth.

    Some more real reality: Prior to me being called, the congregation I serve had not had a full-time pastor for 15 years. Add to that the fact that there had been severe conflict and divisions, splitting the congregation in half three times in its short existence (we’ll celebrate 50 years next year), and the challenges we faced when I began serving here were immense.

    Some more real reality: I’ve been here a short 6 1/2 years and I am already the longest serving pastor this congregation has ever had. Several pastors came in and left within a year or two. The long-time members were sure that would be the case with me, too, and were more than a little gun-shy with me in the beginning.

    Some more real reality: I did not own a chasuble until my third year here, and every vestment and parament we have was purchased by the members I serve, out of love for their Lord and for me as their pastor sent to them by their Lord, so they probably do give a hoot.

    Some more real reality: Alma, MI is a small town with a declining population. The only industry it enjoyed left town years ago. It’s also a big Presbyterian center and has the nickname, “Scotland, USA,” with the Presbyterian Alma College in town. Plus, the joke around here is that we have more churches than we do people living in the city – there’s a different church on every corner. So, the possibility of us experiencing some massive numerical growth is slim to none. But, thanks be to God, we have grown, slowly but steadily, over the years.

    I don’t know what you mean by “evangelism calls.” Do you mean going door-to-door in a Kennedy Explosion kinda way? If so, no, I don’t spend much time doing that at all. We have walked the neighborhood several times and passed out literature and such. Mostly, we’re focusing now on trying to find specific ways in which we can serve our community. Got that idea from listening to an interview Pres. Harrison did on the “God Whisperers” a while back. But, even that’s difficult in our small town, since, amazingly, we have more people and organizations volunteering their services than we have needs. But, we’re still plugging away. In the meantime, we do what we can to show the love and mercy of Christ to those in need – for a small parish, we have helped a great many people in our community, and some very significantly, over the years. I know it’s not flashy, but we do what we can. And none of this is to say that we’re doing all we can and being the best we can be – there is certainly room for much improvement here and we have no doubt failed to love our neighbors as we should. For that, we plead to our Lord for mercy. But, your notion that the stats you see must mean that we’re sitting on our cans (or, at least, that I am, as the pastor) couldn’t be further from reality. Of course, you couldn’t possibly know that sitting on your can in St. Louis, which has been my point all along.

    As for visits, I take that extremely seriously, visiting the sick, shut-in, and hospitalized always, as the members I serve would readily testify. Home visits? You mean, going from home to home like they did in the olden days. Nope, don’t do that, although I am often in the homes of my parishioners for various reasons, and would (and have) certainly visit any home of any parishioner any time they wanted me to. Maybe you didn’t get the memo, but people aren’t really in to the whole home-visit thing anymore. Some are, but many are not. I learned this from experience, since as a naive and eager pastor it was my goal to visit every family’s home my first couple of years – that didn’t pan out too well. Many people would rather talk on the phone or meet at the church or use other means of communication. To force a home visit on them would do more damage than anything. You might know things like this if you had more than a few minutes experience serving as a full-time parish pastor. That you think “evangelism calls” and “home visits” provide the magic formula for growing a congregation is evidence that you are probably right where you should be.

    For a small parish, we’re a pretty active bunch and keep very busy. As a pastor of a small parish, I’d bet my house that I work way more hours than you do per week serving and looking after the flock I’ve been called to tend. The fact that you take shots at pastors like me simply from looking at congregational stats on a synodical website reveals how very little you know about being a full-time parish pastor, and, again, is evidence that you are probably right where you should be. The growth I’ve witnessed in the little parish I serve over the past six years simply leaves me awestruck and is a testimony to what our gracious and merciful Lord does through His Holy Word and Sacraments – it’s just not the kind of growth you fancy (although even that kind of growth has occurred, thanks be to God).

    As for manning up and facing reality, you should heed your own words, Paul. Or, you can continue to live in your dream world where you base reality on assumptions you make based on stats you know nothing about and rail against your brothers in Christ like an arrogant, know-it-all ass. Either way, I’m done (really, this time).

  5. Do you think that exchanging personal insults especially among pastors reflects well on our synod and vocations?

    Do we need to read Lora’s excellent comment again?

    “When you point out your brother-in-Christ’s flaws, Are you really trying to correct him out of love for him? Is it his well-being that you are seeking, or are you seeking to make a good theological point? Are you really the best person to address the issue, or do you think there is a better way to bring about repentance and reform? Are you willing to respectfully walk him through the issue that has drawn your attention, or do you just want to point out the fault and move on?”

    “….. before we open our mouths, we should ask ourselves whether or not we are truly being loving, especially in a public forum. We should ask ourselves if this is worth hurting someone’s feelings or causing a lot of exasperation. Important theological issues are definitely worth it, because the person’s well-being is at stake. But again, it might be better to address the topic privately or even go to the person’s pastor for assistance if it is really concerning. If you find yourself getting actual pleasure from it, you probably should walk away, hang up the phone, or turn off your computer.” – Lora


  6. Mr. Rixe,

    I understand your point; I suspect Rev. Messer does as well. But, at the same time, when someone publicly charges a man with being unfaithful (which is basically what Rev. McCain has done), is it any surprise when that man defends his ministry? Maybe partly out of a sense of self, but also out of a love for the work he is doing.

    Rev. McCain, with 2 whole years of parish experience, fancies himself an expert. Perhaps had he served longer in the field he would have a better understanding of reality. Church planting as a measure of being a good pastor? Yet in a number of places, such as here in western Minnesota, we are not talking about planting new churches — we are talking about how to keep open those we already have! With a Missouri Synod church every 10 miles, there is no need for more. Aging population, declining population, alternate activities on Sundays that interfere with worship, increased mobility — these are the issues we face here. Not whether or not we should be building more churches. Perhaps he needs to get out into the parish and see what it is like.

    Rev. McCain, with all of his 2 years of parish experience, has seen fit here to defame the ACELC in general and several pastors by name (some, like Rev. Bolland and Rev. Sawyer, with decades of actual parish experience). He has merely looked at numbers on a printed page and put the worst construction on them. He has read some of their words, and either through malicious intent or a lack of reading comprehension (a terrible thing for an editor with our publishing house!), has twisted them into a horrible mess and attributed all manner of false ideas and beliefs and teachings to them. As an employee of the Synod, he is to ASSIST pastors in their work; instead he has chosen to tear them down publicly.

    Elsewhere on this site Rev. Wilken has written about how one cannot be both bishop and bureaucrat. I fear that we are seeing an example of that playing out here: in letting numbers define/trump faithfulness, Rev. McCain shows himself to be a bottom-line businessman and not a pastor. That is sad.

  7. What a bad example a CPH employee is setting by these judgments upon his brothers. This does not reflect well and goes against God’s Word. It’s time to stop.

  8. @Rev. Steven W Bohler #57

    My comment wasn’t directed specifically toward Pr Messer.  I just think that in general personal insults should be exchanged using emails.  Clarification and rebuttal of facts and opinions seem to be more effective without personal insults IMHO.

  9. What I will continue to do is urge us all to examine, very carefully, why our congregations are declining, both in membership and in average worship attendance. I believe it is tempting to want always to explain this way via various reasons, but …. are we using the situation as an opportunity carefully to examine *all possible* reasons? Are we willing to do that?

    I don’t see that willingness displayed here, in these comments, only a lot of defensiveness and personal insults, which have reached a particular low point in these comments, and attacks, at any suggestion that perhaps, just perhaps, declining membership and average Sunday morning attendance may be attributed, among many other reasons, so a failing, fault or weakness in how the pastor is conducting his ministry, or what he is doing, or not doing.

    That’s what I’m urging us to be willing to do. I wonder why this is so difficult to do? Or even consider?

  10. Rev. McCain,

    Really? You don’t know why an ACELC-member pastor would respond defensively when you begin this thread by wondering how many in the ACELC would be comfortable with Luther’s sermons? You don’t know why he would get defensive when you call the ACELC a watchdog group that only points finger, finds fault, and bashes (your words)? You don’t know why he would get defensive when you basically accuse him of being unfaithful in his ministry if his numbers are not growing or has not planted a church? You don’t know why he would get defensive when you write that it seems that the ACELC equates declining stats with faithfulness? You don’t get why a pastor would get upset with your obsession with numbers — and your ridiculous assertion that somehow numbers factor into faithfulness — after you plaster his congregation’s statistics on the internet, for the purpose of making him appear to be less than faithful? And this, apparently, after you did the same thing a few months ago to the same pastor (and others) and then publicly apologized for it? Really? You don’t get any of that? Wow.

  11. Before I post my lengthy last comment, I’ll say that concerns over the growth of the Church are not without merit. We pray for that and work toward faithfulness, allowing God to give the increase as He desires.

    When our last SP snapped his finger, saying, “Every time I snap my finger, someone goes to hell,” a layman sitting near by said, “Stop snapping your finger!” 🙂

    The Ablaze counter foisted some interesting things on God’s people, didn’t it? I’m not sure I’m hearing much different now in this discussion, but I could be wrong. I’ve been in this Synod for 50 years, and I can remember pastors urging us to beat the bushes for lost souls. I was in Kennedy EE and Dialogue Evangelism. Been doing this a long time. As I say in my next lengthy post (if I decide to send it) I’ve had interesting conversations with CPH employees over the years – about how VBS material needed to avoid direct teaching of infant baptism so as to allow for cross-marketing to non-Lutherans.

    Yep, that’s the way you do it! If you’re a business!

    Funny, every day in chapel, I testify to infant baptism, and most of the 45 kids aren’t Lutheran! I put it out to their parents at special school events. We’ve had a few parents take their kids out. ‘Course, the last one took their kid out ‘cause we had beer at our Oktoberfest. See? You just can’t be genuinely Lutheran with some people! 🙂 But seriously, we don’t water down the truth for the sake of our market share. But corporations have to think that way, and Synod is a corporation, with lots of holdings and employees to pay.

    Luther ran into that kind of a wall too. It wasn’t all theological in his day, either. The Gospel was messing with the Pope’s moneybags! I’m not saying that’s all those who cry over numbers are about, but it’s interesting to read Luther’s sermons on the tiny little church gathered in the Temple for the dedication of our Lord, while the big, worldly, successful church – that could claim large holdings and numbers and prestige and power – rushed by, unheeding, unawares, quick to condemn and crush and ever so slow to give up its hold, its honor, and genuinely repent!

  12. Of course they will, and do, respond defensively.

    But that’s my point, a self-appointed watchdog group that has publicly taken people to task across the Synod, by name, is nothing other than defensive when their own tactics and methods are held up to scrutiny.

    Why is that? And why don’t you want to understand that if the ACELC is going to play the role of public judge and jury, they need to be willing to held to the same level of scrutiny. When they accuse others of faults and failings, are they willing to have their own publicly scrutinized?

    Further, you persist in making my point. Rather than demonstrating any willingness to do the kind of careful analysis and self-examination, there is only defensiveness.

    I’m not “obsessed” with numbers, but I’m not one merely to wave them away and act as if they are meaningless and not an opportunity to do some really careful thinking and analysis.

  13. Since it was my blog posted here, I’ll make my final comments. I’m happy to further discuss what I’ve written and what the ACELC is about. I’ll post this also on our own blog, if anyone’s interested in speaking further. I’ve no interest in continuing with one who shows himself too much a pontificator, and a pompous one at that, and so little of what truly becomes a pastor. And so little of what he demands from others in the way of humility.

    Despite that, I want to thank the brother for making so much of my point. He’d be one of the first to blog to Luther: “Who set YOU up to be judge of the Church? Stay in Wittenberg and keep your opinions to yourself! There’s an elected Pope overseeing things! Let him do his job! You, little man who are only a priest, keep quiet! Stop your yapping and finger pointing and let the Big Dogs do the talking!”

    For those who disagree with the ACELC’s efforts, let me say that in so far as it depends on any of us, we should live peaceably with all! I am far more willing to converse civilly and rationally with those who oppose me than apparently they are in return. We should bear with one another’s weaknesses, flaws and failings. That includes the fact that some are more excitable and some more irenic. The church of the Reformation has had her Luther types and her Melancthon types. For many, Luther is just too unyielding; too apt to see a fight worth fighting. There IS a place for such differences, and we ought not be quick to dismiss either. The Body needs all of her parts!

    This whole thread has shown, however, how easy it is for one side to criticize the other for being what the one criticizing actually is. It’s like one political side in the US screaming for tolerance when they themselves are intolerant of the side that is taking a principled and unyielding stand. We see it all the time. We’ve seen it here!

    My blog expressed my own dismay that over 25 years in the Ministry, I have had to fight a number of battles over what should be basic for Lutherans! Closed communion, the liturgy, pure doctrine, the Office of the Ministry, even more mundane matters such as making the sign of the cross. Mercy too, as well as love, patience and forgiveness, are all ongoing struggles for pastors in the parish, as we try to teach and model how spouses should love and cherish each other and not go the way of divorce.

    In 25 years at one place, I’ve tried to bring the flock here along in what genuine Lutheranism is. As an editor at CPH once told me, “Most congregations of the LCMS aren’t as far along as yours is.” I can’t say for sure how accurate she was, but experience has shown me that she was bang on! Faithful pastors struggle to bring their flocks along in the Faith. That covers both Tables of the Law and all the Articles of the Creed! It’s no different than St Paul telling Timothy that genuine worship has to do with caring for widows, or the Romans that it has to do with not being conformed to this world, or our Lord and St John teaching that believing isn’t about our hearts but about Christ’s words!

    People intolerantly cry out against that, in my experience. They feel threatened. They want to defend themselves, their places of honor or security, their fiefdoms, their own religion, so they cast aspersions and stones. Nothing new in this. We all do it, as my blog said! Yes, we ALL do it!

    I realize the ACELC comes off to some as stone throwers. Every pastor who has spent more than a few years in the parish knows that conversation where someone thinks the pastor was preaching at them. Getting personal. Meddling. I’ve been told to butt out by a few in a quarter century of seelsorgering! I’m sure some of that was my fault, too!

    We DO have to be careful, patient, loving, humble, did I mention patient?! But those who are given to preach cannot be silent about sin. There will be critics, and we need to be ready to repent where we ourselves have erred. As the pastors in this discussion have readily admitted, we can always do better. We live with that thought daily, more than the stone throwers realize. But Christ spoke in a way that people didn’t always like, and the prophets, apostles and fathers too! So did Luther! In 25 years, I’ve yet to have anyone plot my murder (that I know of), so I pretty much figure I’ve not yet spoken as forthrightly as our Lord, but I keep trying! 🙂

    Even when Luther wasn’t being acerbic, he can rub Lutherans wrong! We rah-rah being Lutheran, but too many of our folks have been denied so much of what we actually believe, teach and confess. When pastors try to teach it, as I have here, people may find that they weren’t very Lutheran after all. I’ve heard from a few, “Not everyone believes what we teach, you know, Pastor!” My response? “They SHOULD!” And when they realize they really don’t and don’t want to? They may up and leave, giving ammo for those who like to slap onto firearms the insignias of those who really DID use their swords in defense of the truth! I mean, not metaphorically, but really used their swords, even at their own expense!

    How much easier it would be, numerically speaking, for pastors to take the mile wide and inch deep approach! To leave their people where they are comfortable; where our Lutheran confession really doesn’t interfere with their ways of living – or doing “ministry!” How much harder to take up the sword of the Spirit and speak the truth, in love, of course, no matter what the cost!

    We speak a word that the Old Man doesn’t want to hear. Die, Monster! Die! (Remember, I happen to LIKE Halloween and Boris Karloff!) 🙂 We truly are at war, as St. Paul reminds us in Ephesians. That may not spill blood physically, but it does get messy, at least in the parish where the trenches are! I remember when Dr. Scaer used to say we in the LCMS are all a bunch of Methodists! More than a few years in the parish will teach you how right he was! The battle going on in our Synod right now is between those who know genuine Lutheranism won’t appeal like pseudo-Luthero-Metho-Bapti-Costalism will and those who say, “Let God give the increase as HE will! Ours is to sow the Good seed, knowing that some will grow and some will not, and some will hate us for what we do. They hated Him first, so, what of that, and what of that?”

    I’m not blind to the need for patience when moving people from the status quo to what the Lord has given and put in place! Gentleness IS needed! So is firmness, and wisdom to know the difference.

    Years ago I spoke with a CPH editor about the VBS material we’d used. I was incensed! Why, when teaching the Flood account, was there NO mention of baptism, when that’s where the New Testament goes with it?! Know what I was told? “We’re trying to cross-market to non-Lutherans, and they won’t buy our material if we’re too overt about things like that.” And there you go! The marketing mentality vs the “But this isn’t a business! It’s the Church of Christ, and where have we been taught in Scripture that we have to water things down in order to succeed?”

    Some ARE in the business of marketing, of course, and they have their eyes on the bottom line and spread sheets. Pastors worry over those things too; at least I do, and we DO have to be mindful of how much people can handle at one time. Did I mention we need to be patient? (My mention of 25 years in one place is not bragging; rather, I’m hoping it testifies to how I feel about patience!) But, the prophets weren’t killed because they employed marketing strategies. Christ wasn’t crucified because someone higher up decided – “After 3 years, he’s only got 12 disciples, and one of them is selling him out and all the rest will beat a fast retreat, and most of those who had been on his roster are now crying for his crucifixion!” Nope. But that’s how business models and large holdings as incorporations teach us to think. Fire the CEO! It’s how we’ve learned to think as people whose Lutheranism is largely cultural; you know, “My Grandfather’s Synod,” et al. I’m not dismissing our history and heritage. I’ve been in this Synod nearly 51 years!

    I’m just saying that’s not what Luther wanted it to be about, but about Christ and His Gospel, for which St. Paul was ready to speak some pretty strong words in Galatians, and for which men have actually gone into battle and given their lives. Not something to sell or water down for the sake of cross-marketing to those who wouldn’t have it otherwise. I just can’t find where the Scriptures or our genuine forefathers ever taught us such. But, I could be wrong!

  14. Rev. McCain,

    I have a hard time believing you are that dense, but perhaps you are: when you immediately respond to the original post (yours was the very first reponse) with a broadside against the ACELC, then proceed to personal attacks against pastors and their ministry (insinuating they are less than faithful simply because their congregations have not experienced sufficient numerical growth to meet your approval), then post statistics that you apparently think will shame one of those pastors into silence — after all that, you wonder why they have gotten defensive?

    You are the attack dog in this matter, not the ACELC. You. You are the one bashing and fault-finding and pointing fingers. You. You are the one who has chosen to make this into a personal crusade against the ACELC and its members. You. You are the one who has acted sinfully in defaming pastors. You. You are the one who accuses others of refusing to examine themselves (even though these others have shown otherwise) all the while refusing to see the log in your own eye. You. Is that clear enough?

  15. Comment 53 should be entitled, “Things a corporate executive in St. L shouldn’t say to a parish pastor.”

    Feel free to contact, Bruce Kintz, CEO CPH, [email protected] to show your support of such loving, understanding, compassionate dialogue from CPH toward pastors of the LCMS.

  16. “But it is Pres. Harrison’s challenge to us all to stop simply “raising concerns” and jawboning about all that is wrong in our Synod and actually DO something” –PTM

    And beside “jawboning” and insulting working Pastors, you are doing what, Paul McCain? Because that, IMnsvHO, is not doing anything useful!

    The synodical bureaucrat has forgotten that he hasn’t worn the “Assistant to the Synodical President” hat for more than a decade. Even then and there, he had no right to bully called Pastors in a public forum.

    [We can count ourselves fortunate, I suppose, that there were fewer forums then, but I’m glad there are more now. It may be tough for some to grasp that their voices are not the only ones that deserve to be heard, but that is a fact.]

    Norm: I appreciate that this blog is pretty wide open, but I really wonder if it should stretch to personal attacks on a working Pastor’s ministry by one who really doesn’t know anything about it.

  17. Perhaps Rev. Weinkauf would also be so kind as to explain how why a parish pastor has any right to use foul language when addressing another person. That might be helpful.

    It remains of concern to me that rather than responding to the real concerns/issues I’m raising, people here would rather resort to threats, personal insults, foul language and passive-aggressive behaviors.

    I think the discussion points out a weakness that deserves attention, every bit as much as any other legitimate concern here raised.

    I understand that the temptation is to “rally around the flag” and close ranks and defend “our own” from any sort of scrutiny, criticism or otherwise, but I do not think that is healthy for the Church, and I will continue to urge self-examination and self-policing on the part of those who would wish to lecture and condemn others in their church body.

    That is, and remains, my point, and I hope that it would be considered, carefully.

  18. Rev. McCain,

    Again I have to point out to you that YOU are the one who is threatening, insulting, and using passive-aggressive behavior here. My goodness, man, look in the mirror. Read what you have written. Just stop. Please.

  19. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #63

    Dear Rev. McCain,

    I quit posting here and on your blog, because frankly most internet response posts are a waste of time. However, your vicious and hurtful comments toward one of the most beloved pastors I’ve ever known have brought me out. I’ve known Rick Sawyer since 1993 and would like to tell you what kind of man he is. He doesn’t know I’m writing this and will probably be embarrassed when he reads it.

    Pastor Rick Sawyer has dutifully and faithfully served his parish since the late 1980s. Without him I would not be a confessing Lutheran today. He patiently and lovingly taught me and others the Christian faith. I had the privilege of being under his pastoral care from 1994 to 1999 and if I ever lived near his congregation again, then I would gladly return. He knows what it means to serve people through preaching law and gospel. He knows what it means to have people leave his congregation because their Baptist grandma was not allowed to commune. He knows what it’s like to visit the dying in a hospital. He knows what it’s like to hear confessions and grant the absolution of Christ. Simply put, he’s a man who has attempted by the grace of God to be faithful to his vows of ordination. He’s also a poor, miserable sinner who will inevitably sin and make mistakes. He knows that too. Perhaps, a larger congregation will call him one day, but he’s never sought to “move up” on the ecclesiastical ladder. That is also not his goal in being involved in any voluntary group that attempts to discuss what it means to be confessing Lutherans in the LCMS. His desire is simply for the Missouri Synod to be faithful to its own public confession.

    Your vile and unsubstantiated attack (that doesn’t even engage what he wrote originally) demonstrates your own lack of character. I have observed you doing this over and over again to various people on the internet for the past few years. You may disagree with him or any other group, but don’t attack people personally. It’s unbecoming of a Christian, ordained man, and an editor at CPH. You should publicly repent here.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Matt Phillips

  20. @Rev. Steven Bohler #40

    I doubt Rev. McCain is aware that the congregation of the ACELC’s current chairman is currently supporting a preaching station that it hopes will become a new congregation in the future. That’s called “church planting.”

  21. I have been working with the men and women of the ACELC since its inception in 2009. They are, in my opinion, some of the finest churchmen and women that I have ever known. The mischaracterization of them by Rev. McCain is not only shamefully misguided, but dishonorable and completely inaccurate. Rev. McCain’s behavior on this thread and on others in the past simply speaks for itself.

  22. Many of these threads seem to end up in a long, tedious, repetitive food-fight.  What’s wrong with using email for personal exchanges?  (Apologies for my own tedious, repetitive comment).

  23. Perhaps, since it was my blog reposted here, we can let this be the last of this thread. I’ll try to bring it around to my original post, hopefully, as a terminus, and hopefully in love.

    Paul wrote . . .

    Rev. Paul T. McCain :Perhaps Rev. Weinkauf would also be so kind as to explain how why a parish pastor has any right to use foul language when addressing another person. That might be helpful.

    I’m not sure who here used a wordy dird, but the above DOES make my original point, namely, that we’d hardly let Luther or our Fathers speak today. I’m sure I didn’t make it clear in my blog, but that’s the fault of PASTORS who have opted to keep the peace by keeping the teaching shallow, polite, rather than as bold and daring as it should be. We end up with a rather anemic version of the Faith we claim to hold dear, and when we confront it in its original form, well, it’s rather like the guy who says he LOVES beer, but has only ever known Bud Light. When presented with something more substantial, he balks.

    When I was asked once about making the sign of the cross, I opened the Small Catechism to a life long Lutheran and showed him that it wasn’t “Catholic” at all, but what even Luther taught us to do when we pray. He said, “Why was I never taught this?”


    I don’t disagree with polite speech, but please! When men get to wrestling, expect a little wind to break here or there! You can hear it in pastors/teachers we hold dear . . .

    “Thus these asses take a statement that supports our position and contains the deepest kind of comfort and teaching, and they misapply it to these trifles. . .” (AC, XXVII)

    The statement I made in my blog, is that we’re not as all in on the Lutheran thing as we think. Of course, we’re not as all in on the Jesus thing either! First Commandment sins! We’re all guilty. Nothing to disagree with here. Say, “Amen!”

    “Who ever taught these asses such logic? This is not logic or even sophistry, but sheer dishonesty.” (Apology, XII)

    Lest I be dishonest myself, I agree with the dear brother that repentance is for us all. Believe me! All pastors do, though perhaps the dear brother has forgotten it. We agonize over every soul who departs and wonder what more we could have done!

    That the brother seems to look down on us as those who do not should shame him, but it appears not to. That we all need to repent is something some of us preach every Sunday. The good brother hears it, I’m sure, but has behaved himself here as if he thinks we pastors do not hear our own sermons, or as if they were not written to ourselves first. They are, dear brother, and they prick our own souls before anyone else’s. Your words sting, at least those of us who still have our consciences; but our words seem to find no hearing in you, and that grieves us most of all, for your sake and for the sake of our Synod!

    “Shall we frivolously despise this might, blessing, power, and fruit — especially we who would be pastors and preachers? If so, we deserve not only to be refused food but also to be chased out by dogs and pelted with dung.” (Luther’s Preface to LC)

    My blog stated that we’d be calling our DP’s if the pastor preached and taught as Luther did! The brother here wonders at the language of a parish pastor, proving that it wouldn’t even take Luther’s teaching to get that phone to ringing, but just his temperament, and that of others who know first hand the heat of battle with the wolf who presses in on the sheep. Ours is no academic but a very real battle, and we bear the scars, brother. We do!

    I don’t disagree with the importance of polite speech, but, please – let us be men who still know how to take up arms! None of us here disagrees with the importance of outreach. We who work so hard to teach parents their duty as the chief priests in the home ARE about the evangelistic task. Judge us by THAT fruit and not by numbers. The devil knows how to populate the road to hell and our Lord says his numbers are pretty damned good! There! A word to take issue with! Only, I mean it not as a frivolous curse but as a condemnation of the false teaching that any man can judge a pastor based on statistics.

    It may well be that we all have some derrieres (better?) to get off of! I know I do! And I dare say my dear brother could use a little exercising of the gift he once received at the laying on of hands! Fan it into flame and relearn what life is like in the trenches, you know – where men work hard to keep the road narrow, and where our Lord reminds us that HE is Lord of the harvest, and that even when the numbers are not large enough to impress men, they are the LORD’S fruit, Who works faith WHEN AND WHERE HE PLEASES in those who hear the Gospel! I know you have not forgotten that. But you may not be as near to it as you some of us.

    Now, in so far as I am able, I will refrain from speaking further on this. I ask the dear brother to let it lie, if you are able. I ask us all to let it lie now and give ourselves over to the Mass which is ahead, and to prayer, and repentance and forgiveness and love. There is so much for us still to do so that our people rejoice in all that we are given as Lutheran Christians! THAT, and not statistics, should be our motivation for our speaking and doing. Not someone snapping us to attention by what sounds like Big Dog barking rather than brotherly counsel (which we would welcome if he did not condemn us for ours!), but the sheer joy that we have what so few know and all need!

  24. @Rev. Weinkauf #66
    Feel free to contact, Bruce Kintz, CEO CPH, [email protected] to show your support of such loving, understanding, compassionate dialogue from CPH toward pastors of the LCMS.

    I don’t really think an employer should be concerned with an employee’s speech, but when it makes me think twice about shopping CPH, perhaps CPH has an interest.

    [I suggest a cc to PTM in the initial comment, because he will get one from Kintz anyway, and should have it first.] I omitted it because I used the information above, and apologize for the omission. Perhaps someone could add PTM’s address?

  25. Friends,

    Many things have been said on this thread regarding the motives, work, and goals of the ACELC (Association of Confessing Evangelical Congregations). Some of these comments have been factual and supportive; thank you. Others have been less than factual and have assumed many things, including the hearts of the ACELC member congregations. I have always had a good relationship with Rev. McCain and he has never said a word directly to me regarding the ACELC. I welcome that conversation in any format with the exception of blog!

    We are not a self appointed watchdog grop nor are we a synod within our synod. We are simply members of the LCMS concerned about making the good confession regarding the many issues that are currently dividing our beloved synod. It’s really that simple. Our work is 100% above board and everyone involved has “gone public.”

    Check out our website and blog. We welcome serious discussion over these important issues. Our church body needs these discussions! Please read the materials. Some who have been critical of our efforts have admitted they have not read what we have written and posted; sad but true.

    In our errors documents we have named names. This is to counter the charge that “these things aren’t happening in the Missouri Synod!” We have worked very hard to be accurate and use only things that are very public. In so doing we are simply following the Large Catechism, 8th Commandment.

    If you would like to discuss the ACELC give me a call or drop me a note. Better yet, attend our upcoming Free Conference, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Feb. 7, 8, & 9, at Good Shepherd in Lincoln, NE. The topic will be the theology and practice of The Lord’s Supper. Find out for yourself, first hand, who we are and what we are really about. And while you are here, I’ll give you a personal tour of our preaching station/mission plant a few miles down the road. The now sainted A L Barry used to say, “Keep the message straight Missouri; get the message out, Missouri!” To that I say a loud and hearty, Amen!!!

    Rev. Clint K. Poppe
    Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
    Lincoln, Nebraska
    Chairman, ACELC

  26. Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

    I woke up this morning reflecting on the discussion here yesterday.

    One of you contacted me privately and expressed his heartfelt concerns with some of my comments here, and though he was angry with me, his words contained some valid points. I used the wrong thread to raise a concern, which I still think is valid, but I recognize this was not the place for it. And did not raise my concerns in the most constructive or helpful manner.

    I simply wanted here to apologize for the harshness in the way I expressed myself. It was not my intention to question any particular pastor’s faithfulness, but I can see how my words came across that way, so I sincerely apologize, particularly to Pr. Messer.

    Therefore, I’ll conclude my participation on this forum simply by affirming, and repeating, what Pastor Sawyer said in his last comment in this discussion:

    “In so far as I am able, I will refrain from speaking further on this. I ask the dear brother to let it lie, if you are able. I ask us all to let it lie now and give ourselves over to the Mass which is ahead, and to prayer, and repentance and forgiveness and love. There is so much for us still to do so that our people rejoice in all that we are given as Lutheran Christians! THAT, and not statistics, should be our motivation for our speaking and doing.”

    God bless.

  27. Thank you, Rev. McCain, for those words. I too am sorry for letting my emotions get the best of me and responding in an unloving, unbrotherly way. How terrible, especially as we are comemmorating All Saints Day! May God forgive us our sins, for Jesus’ sake.

  28. Peace to you, Paul, and Ego te absolvo. it was good to be at Table together this morning, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Though not by name, you were in my prayers this morning before God’s altar. Thank you for writing. I am also happy to repent of any anger I displayed in all of this. I know that I tried to contain it. I also know that I felt it. In myself, I mean. I also know that what has been raised remains important for our Synod to keep wrestling with and more than our bad tempers need repenting of. In fact, a little heat between brothers is more tolerable than being polite while errors remain. There is much work for us to do, and, Paul, I am happy to speak further of the concerns you have. Pastor Harris left a helpful reminder of the danger of being too concerned over numbers at the ACELC blog. But that Christ DOES seek out the one reminds us that He desires ALL to repent and be saved. Much celebrating in heaven over even one repenting! Such a party at the Lord’s Table this morning, no matter how many happened to attend! God’s peace to all, and I echo Pastor Poppe’s invitation to further converse on the ACELC. Pax!

  29. Ted Crandall :Would a careful root-cause analysis for why parish statistics are on the rise be appropriate?

    Do you mean why the rising interest in statistics or why parishes are reporting a rise in numbers?

  30. In one respect, the vocations of farmer and pastor are alike. A farmer should farm as he ought. But even if he farms as he ought, there might be little crop. It might not rain. It might hail. There might come an infestation of insects. There might be a furnace wind during the flowering days. It might flood. It might freeze. A farmer should farm as he ought, and be content with the outcomes. Godliness with contentment is great gain.

    And a pastor should pastor as he ought. Lots of things might happen. The yield might be thin. But he should pastor as he ought, and be content in Christ.

  31. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #77
    Dear Paul,

    Thank you for this, brother, and, of course, I readily forgive you, even as I pray that you’ll forgive me for the harshness in my responses to you.

    For the record, I do want to reiterate that I do understand, and agree with, some of the valid points you make. You are right to point out the need for parish pastors to always be about the business of self-examination, for the temptation is always there to use faithfulness as a crutch or an excuse. Woe to us if we consider ourselves so perfectly orthodox in doctrine and practice that we have no room for growth and improvement in carrying out the sacred duties entrusted to us by our Lord. At the same time, the temptation is always there to forsake faithfulness, give in, compromise, and succumb to an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality. I doubt that there is a single pastor serving a small parish who has never been tempted so. It’s a struggle, a battle, and, at least for me, but I’m sure for many other brothers, a fierce roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, highs and lows – one moment, you’re on top of the world, the next you barely feel like getting out of bed; one moment the joy of serving in the stead and by the command of the Lord is almost uncontainable, the next is spent having an “Elijah moment” and throwing a “pity party” for yourself. And this struggle, this battle, is intensified by the fact that we parish pastors know the truth about ourselves, that we are miserable, wretched sinners, completely unworthy of the tasks given us to carry out, regardless of those moments when pride and vanity lead us to think otherwise. And so, we are left only with the cry of faith upon our lips: “Lord, have mercy!”

    It is for this reason, dear brother, that my ire is kindled when you (or anyone else) make assumptions and draw conclusions from afar based simply on stats, for to do so is to ignore the very real struggle parish pastors daily face, replete with temptations on every side, and I pray that you will remember this in the future, should the temptation arise within you to post stats and make implications about brother pastors again. But, your points about the need for self-examination and self-policing do not fall upon deaf ears, and, as a pastor of a small parish, I am open to suggestions on how to grow and improve in carrying out my duties, even as I am content with, and eternally thankful for, all that our Lord has done, and continues to do, where I am blessed to serve, which, at the end of the day, is nothing short of remarkable given a number of factors, not least of which are the failings of myself as a pastor and of the saints gathered here.

  32. Pastor Sawyer: “Do you mean why the rising interest in statistics or why parishes are reporting a rise in numbers?”

    Please forgive my ambiguity. Why the rising interest in statistics is a good quesion, but I was asking why the challenge to perform a careful root-cause analysis was extended to only the parish pastors with declining statistics. Shouldn’t a pastor in a congregation where the attendance is growing also analyze the root-cause? I missed any call for that on this long thread.

    For instance, at a congregation that offers both, the contemporary worship typically has more people than the liturgical — but even a quick analysis reveals that the contemporary is usually offered at a more popular time of day. Offering the contemporary service at 8 o’clock in the morning would help reveal the root-cause of its higher numbers. That’s not likely to happen, because high numbers are not often questioned by the officials, even if their cause is questionable — such as Joel Osteen’s theology attracting large crowds.

    Our bureaucrats as a rule celebrate high numbers and question only the low and declining. Hence the fair and balanced questioning by ACELC.

  33. @Ted Crandall #84

    Thank you for pointing this out Pastor! Invariably when contemporary services have crept into our traditional churches, you are right that the traditional service is relegated to 8am, and the contemporary one is at 10. At my very traditional church, the service at 10 always has more people attending than the one at 8! Surely someone would realize this, and try running the contemporary service at 8 and see if it still is the higher-attended service! It is simply unfair to compare the two services and come up with the explanation that this church prefers contemporary services over traditional!

  34. If declining numbers equals being unsuccessful biblically, then Jesus was at times unsuccessful (John 6:60, Matthew 26:56), and if increasing numbers equals being successful biblically, then those in 2 Timothy 3:1ff and Aaron in Exodus 32 we have to call “successful”.
    Enough with the numbers game! Jesus was “successful” (duh!) even thought His “Hard Sayings” sent people away, and those in 2 Timothy 3, and Aaron, were unsuccessful even though they gained in numbers.
    We must have a passion for the lost to hear of the salvation Christ gained for them over against their being sinners, and for the saved to remain so, but NEVER at the expense of the Word of God in its truth and purity and the Sacraments rightly. These are the marks of the Church, and through them alone will the lost be “found” and the “found” tended. If I place “numbers” before them, I fail.

  35. Our 8:00 service always (except for when there is something special, like a baptism or Sunday School or parochial school kids singing) has better attendance than our late (11:00) service. Even the college students from the UM-Crookston campus come more frequently to the early service. Usually the early service is about twice as well attended as the late. Perhaps the 11:00 service is just TOO late, but I have a country church where the service is at 9:30 so 11:00 leaves me just enought time to get back and forth (about 20 minutes).

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