For many years I held to the idea that a healthy church is a loving church. All sorts of love, happiness, warmth, and smiles in a church must make it real and it certainly must make it healthy. As a result of this belief I tried to preserve peace at all costs, while keeping love front and center as the highest ideal in the church. My inclination was to forget principle because warmth, happiness and getting along were of true importance. I have also painfully witnessed and participated in the backlash of ridicule, as well as the vilification of pastors who have disturbed a church’s peaceful bliss by proclaiming unwanted truth. Unfortunately I have subscribed and many churches have endorsed the idea of, “Truth if possible, peace at all cost.”
Over the years as I have read through the scriptures and have had more experience as a pastor, my mind has changed on peace and truth. Please don’t get me wrong now, I don’t deny the importance of having the virtue of love and peace in the church. Peace and harmony in the church are extremely important, but they are not the highest ideal. What changed though? I have come to believe that The Word (i.e. The Bible) is of the utmost importance and when it is properly divided and taught that there will be tension in the church whether we want it or not. In other words, the inevitable conclusion to the Word being taught and divided properly is tension. This means that an absence of this tension in the church can be unhealthy because quite possibly the Word may have been lost. Yes, if a church does not have an ounce of tension over the scriptures but a plethora of love, I believe this may be a cause not for celebration but for alarm. C.F.W. Walther once said,
“…as soon as My Word is proclaimed, men will divide into two camps: some will receive it with joy, others will be offended by it and will begin to hate and persecute those who receive.”
Walther goes on to say,
“…the Church cannot be built up in peace; for it is located within the domain of the devil, who is the prince of this world. Accordingly, the Church has no choice but to be at war. It is eccelsia militans, the Church Militant, and will remain such until the blessed end. Wherever a Church is seen to be, not ecclesia militans, but ecclesia quiescens, a Church at ease, that–you may rely on it!–is a false Church.”
More specifically it is impossible to escape this tension because the Word always confronts the sinful nature, false doctrine and false gospels that arise in the church. Thus, there will always be a degree of tension between the hearers of the Word and the Word itself.
But what does this mean for the pastor of the church? Does the pastor seek out tension? Does the pastor look for fights? Martin Luther said it best when he spoke these words, “Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” Walther also goes on to instruct pastors on this subject saying, “If you wish to be faithful ministers of Christ, you cannot possibly become such without striving and fighting against false doctrines, a false gospel and false belief. In the view of the worldly men your lot will not be particularly enviable. It is impossible for you to escape affliction if you wish to be a faithful servant of God.”
While we can rejoice in the virtue and fruit of love in the church, we rejoice even more when the Word of God is clearly presented and when the Word brings about conviction of sin as well as faith in the Gospel. As members of the church we strive for peace when possible but hold to the truth of the Word at all costs while anticipating the words of Jesus as expressed by Walther, “Well done! You were right; you did not look for ease and comfort: you only strove faithfully to keep what was entrusted to you.”
Peace if possible my friends and truth at all costs, for without truth, love is not possible and without truth we lose everything.
Walther Quotes Taken From:
The Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel (CPH, 1928), 265-267.