Eighth Commandment Cluster Bombing

Love is the best construction for same-sex marriage. Faith is the best construction for the existence of the ELCA. Hope is the best construction for holding to reincarnation. Charity is the best construction for Somali pirate ransoms. Joy is the best construction for Pentecostalism. Peace is the best construction for appeasement of tyrants. Kindness is the best construction for abortion. Goodness is the best construction for being obedient to the Dalai Lama. Self-control is the best construction for having yoga in church. Forbearance is the best construction for allowing adultery in the pulpit to continue.

All the above statements are ridiculous. Yet they are hardly beyond the pale in the way that the Eighth Commandment is abused in LCMS circles where, if someone disagrees with you, it is invariably turned into an accusation that you “violated the Eighth”.

For those unfamiliar with the Small Catechism’s treatment of the Eighth:

The Eighth Commandment.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

What does this mean?–Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

458298-cluster-bombMy unfortunate experience is that the last seven words of Luther’s answer for the Eighth have replaced all the other words in the answer in the Short and Long versions. That contraction then has the effect of elevating the Eighth above the other Nine with unsurprising consequences.

Whilst there is a reticence to hurl around statements about violations of the other nine Commandments, there is very little restraint when it comes to the conveniently revised Eighth. It is the one commandment that Lutherans feel entitled to deploy in public and in private on almost any pretext.

The same people who will insist on following every jot and tittle of Matthew 18:15-20 will skip straight to deploying the “Eighth card” in public when it suits them. It is also my experience that the Eighth is the weapon of choice for the clergy against each other. It seems to manifest most often in Synodical and district settings where it invariably is a tool for protecting the status quo or keeping sacred cows fat and breeding more sacred cows.

To be sure, the sheep are hardly exempt, and will often be beaten by shepherds with a few switches of Eight without a second thought.

What is most remarkable is that those hurling the Eighth are often clearly guilty of violating it by the very action of using it. Yet the Eighth has that special place of honor in the LCMS where everyone (in the eyes of the accuser) and no-one (in the eyes of the recipient) is guilty of it. It is both a weapon and a shield depending on the need.

The net effect is to render the Eighth paralyzed for its proper purpose.

People often mean well in that they are coming to the defense of something or someone, but not every defense automatically needs to drag the Eighth with it. Used carelessly, it has a logical terminus in the first paragraph of this article.

For all those tempted to frequent bombing runs with the Eighth, I urge a re-reading of the Large Catechism’s treatment of the Eighth. The Eighth is to be used like a guided missile, not a cluster bomb. Before you pull the trigger on your next Eighth, make sure that you are actually launching it rather than detonating it in your own bomb bay.

We would all be much better off if we took to heart Luther’s admonition, “…if I rush in, judging and passing sentence, I fall into a sin which is greater than [my neighbors]. Let us give the Eighth Commandment the weight it deserves instead of diminishing it with frequent and wrong applications.

Now feel free to criticize me with little fear of bearing false witness.


Comments

Eighth Commandment Cluster Bombing — 64 Comments

  1. @helen #29

    Is it not the responsibility of the District President of which Pastor Woolsey and his congregation are members to discipline in such a serious matter? Just asking.

  2. @Brad #48
    Maybe we need a resolution to the Convention, that catechetical and liturgical materials may not be significantly revised in less than 40 year intervals.

    Part of the problem is that we rely on a Bible translation under copyright, so comments of our own may be changed in the catechism, but not the Scripture text, even when it’s not the most accurate translation. But the copyright owner can change the Scripture text, and we are stuck.

    If we had faith in our own, i.e., An American Translation, we wouldn’t have that problem. But, of course, “one LCMS Lutheran man couldn’t possibly have made a reliable translation!”
    That takes a committee.

    Like creating a camel…. 🙁

    [And, of course, he had the wrong publisher.] 🙁

    Talking about best construction…. 🙁 🙁

  3. @helen #50

    Do we know how close is the supervision by the pastor of the lay preaching?  Preaching by licensed lay deacons under close supervision is common in my district (which seems OK by LCMS “standards”).

  4. @wineonthevines #1
    @helen #29
    Is it not the responsibility of the District President of which Pastor Woolsey and his congregation are members to discipline in such a serious matter? Just asking.

    You really don’t want to ask me that question.
    If I answer with the truth as I have been told it, and experienced it,
    the *th will be sorely abused… in the responses. 🙁

  5. @John Rixe #3
    Do we know how close is the supervision by the pastor of the lay preaching? Preaching by licensed lay deacons under close supervision is common in my district (which seems OK by LCMS “standards”).

    If you consider that to be (OK by LCMS “standards”), the “standards” are seriously deviant from Scripture and the Confessions, our supposed ‘rule of faith and norm’ and what our Pastors vow to uphold, and our DP’s are not excused from before God, if not the bureaucracy.

    But I live in Texas, so I know that “standards” are not only deviant, they don’t exist.
    Witness Bill Woolsey!

    Your licensed lay deacon may read an ordained Pastor’s sermon, (that would be “close supervision”, but I doubt that’s what is happening) but he should not be passing himself off as a celebrant at the Lord’s Supper (and I suspect he is doing so).
    You may correct my impressions if you can.

    We’ve got trained and ordained CRM’s waiting to replace those “lay deacons”. [Several I know have taken calls to congregations of three dozen or so, so don’t play the “poverty” card.] Congregations can do it, if they care, and those congregations have grown, under an ordained Pastor.

  6. @helen #50
    I agree about him getting out of the LCMS. But the 8th Commandment speaks to what you are doing, not what the neighbor is doing. Are you making sure you not bearing false witness when you make accusations? Are you making sure that you are explaining everything in the kindest way? Are you making sure that you are not bearing false witness against the neighbor, or are hurting his reputation? (I don’t mean you specifically, Helen, but all of us.)
    There is too much discussion of , poor me, I am being accused of breaking the 8th, and not enough looking at ourselves to see if we are breaking the 8th. We do break the 8th. We all break all the Commandments. We all need to repent.

  7. @Lifelong Lutheran #7
    @helen #50
    I agree about him getting out of the LCMS. But the 8th Commandment speaks to what you are doing, not what the neighbor is doing.

    Are you making sure you not bearing false witness when you make accusations? Are you making sure that you are explaining everything in the kindest way? Are you making sure that you are not bearing false witness against the neighbor, or are hurting his reputation?

    Is there a “kind” way to protest “lay preachers with no training” encouraged by someone on the LCMS roster!? The matter has been discussed and is on the web site; how much more “public” can it get? And if the “authorities” connive instead of stopping it, are the laity to be silent?
    [How can I “hurt his reputation”!?]

    Is anyone worrying about being “kind” to confessional Lutherans? 😉

    Where did I say Woolsey (or anyone else) broke the *th?
    [That’s “…us1st” talk.]

    I said he wasn’t honoring the vows he took to become an LCMS Pastor.
    That’s an observation.

    He may possibly be breaking all the commandments. But I didn’t say so.
    I didn’t complain that you accused me of it either.
    I suggested a possibility IF I continued expressing my opinion,
    not necessarily from you (but then, I don’t know who you are).

    But it is the topic, isn’t it!?

  8. @helen #8
    I didn’t mean to say anything specific to Woolsey. I am just talking about the 8th Commandment as I was taught it in Lutheran Day School and confirmation class.

  9. @Lifelong Lutheran #9

    “But the 8th Commandment speaks to what you are doing, not what the neighbor is doing.”

    If you believe what you said there,
    you should be asking yourself those questions, then, shouldn’t you?

  10. @Lifelong Lutheran #7
    You are absolutely right. When I was ‘warned’ in public (see #6 on first page) the law came down on me very hard. For days afterward I couldn’t figure out what I had said that warranted the rebuke. Ironically, I hadn’t committed a sin against the 8th commandment in the incident I cited, but I sure was guilty after the fact because of all my ruminations! We are all guilty of breaking the commandments. Romans 7:24ff – Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

    In Christ,
    Diane

  11. “All the above statements are ridiculous.”

    I call it putting the “best construction on it” to the point of bearing false witness. Thank you for this fine article!

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