“A fellowship in which the Word of God is fundamentally falsified, or in which a fundamental falsification of it is tolerated, is not a true orthodox church, but a false, heterodox church or sect.” – C.F.W. Walther (Essays For the Church Vol I, “Communion Fellowship,” Concordia Publishing House, 1992, p.207)
I just received the latest ACELC email which included a wonderful article written by Pr. Bruce Ley. It is about the Koinonia Project and how long to let error remain in our midst as it grows deeper roots each day. Think of just one false teacher out there in our Synod, year after year preaching lies to his parishioners, week after week teaching false doctrine by practicing things like open communion (or any of the non-closed options, all of which are wrong), using Sunday School materials which do the same for the littlest ones, teaching Confirmation classes, or having Bible studies using materials that are not correct. Week by week that false teaching is tearing folks away from truth. Week by week it leads them away from Jesus. How is that tolerable to anyone bearing the name Christian?
I am a young pastor. I am idealistic. I have seen only two administrations in the LCMS as a clergyman, one which chose to focus on the great many things we agree upon and downplay the differences, and one that acknowledges the problems but seems to be slow in dealing with them. I am thankful we are at least acknowledging the problems (isn’t that one of the first steps to fixing the problems?).
Lately I have been studying a lot in 1 Corinthians, and it has been a great help in understanding things in the LCMS. There is however, some things which have really caused me to stop and think – like 1 Corinthians 5 for instance. This is the chapter about the incestuous relationship that is being allowed within the congregation. This is the chapter however where Paul exhorts the church to judge within the church, not the world outside. It seems like the LCMS as a whole could use this reminder from St. Paul. God will judge the unbelieving world. The Church is given to judge within itself.
We are spending a lot of time interacting with the government in light of the HHS decisions and how they may interfere with our health plans and bind consciences incorrectly. While I understand this fight (and perhaps the need for it), it seems like we are not heeding the admonition of St. Paul about judging within the Church. We seem to be outwardly focused to the point of inwardly being out of focus on the continued errors which are allowed inside of our Church body. Certainly the government and the Obama administration are causing a greater stir in their efforts than any previous in America, but it almost seems like we have allowed it to become too much a priority. We are now entering the last year of the first term of the current LCMS administration, but what has changed? We have rearranged the deck chairs (BRTFSSG), brought in some new excellent officers, come up with a good emphasis, and even painted the good ship Missouri a new color – but the holes of false teachings on worship, communion, fellowship, ministry, and gender still are gushing water on board (and the holes are getting bigger). We have yet to see any error corrected. I keep hearing that there are efforts at coming to resolve on issues that divide us, but I also hear a whole lot of talk about this requiring more and more time – the same way that politicians in Washington talk about needing more and more time. All of it smacks of just kicking the can further down the road. But let us as a Church remember that this is no can – this is error – and it is destructive to souls – it ruins, corrupts, and kills faith in Jesus.
You see, tolerated error does more than that also for a Church. It ruins our witness. The community of Corinth was watching the small Christian congregation there. They mocked it for its hypocrisy, for while they claimed to stand on a set of beliefs, they allowed those within it to continue to do things contrary to those beliefs. The man who was to be thrown out for his sexual sins must have been important enough to make the leadership of the congregation look past his public sins which were ruining the reputation of the congregation. Paul didn’t care how important this man was. Salvation in Christ was more important than that worldly nonsense. God is not a respecter of persons. But you also see that the final goal of kicking this man out of the congregation was not so that the congregation could be “pure”, but that the man would come to repentance and faith in Christ once more. Sure the community would also understand that the congregation’s beliefs were not hypocritical as well.
Perhaps that is what is missing from most “confessional” discussions about error, a hearty love for the salvation of even those who are in error. I know many times my love has grown cold when thinking about the rampant error allowed to operate in our midst. Perhaps others should consider their desires and correct them if #1 is not the salvation of those who are stuck in error. After all, the holiness of the “one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church” does not come from within us, but from Jesus. The desire for their eternal welfare being what it is, we need to actually do something to correct them – including throwing them out if it is necessary in order that we could welcome them back in as true brothers in the faith, instead of just c0-members in an organization.
That being said, I also wish to encourage us to think of two types of people in error. One is the poor soul who has been taught error. These are the folks in the pews (or chairs). They deserve patient teaching and admonition. The other is the poor soul who has been willfully teaching error – that man needs discipline. Nowhere in all of Scripture do we find any encouragement to be patient in dealing with false teachers and false teachings. It is loveless both to the people they teach and also to them to allow them to carry on such a way, spreading falsehood and promoting error. But then again, who could say we have enough love within our Synod? We certainly do not if we allow these things to go on. Therein we see a further error which has made great inroads – the error of a false love. This is the love which esteems tolerance more than truth. This is the love which cannot get past how nice a guys is, or how close a friend this person may be in order to speak a word of correction to them. This kind of love is a respecter of persons. This kind of love is sickened at the thought of a judgment on error now in order to gain repentance later. This kind of love cherishes temporal peace at any cost. In the end, this love is selfish and sinful. In the end, this love is not love at all, but the leaven of malice and evil. This kind of love will never understand Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
The Corinthian congregation was very immature. The LCMS is very immature. We have the same faults (sins) that they had, so the Word of God meant for them is also meant for us – The next time we think about boasting in the LCMS, we should be reminded of these words:
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor 5:6-8