Safe in the North-West

(Rev. Otten has written several articles over the years under the category “Steadfast Lessons from the Past.”)

DE JA VU or
SAFE IN THE NORTH WEST

Several years ago this Hyper Euro Sacerdotalist vowed that he had written his last piece on the struggles in Missouri. But even as Katherine Von Bora caused Luther to break his vow, Matthew Becker has done the same for this writer.

There is nothing new in what follows. It all took place more 15 years ago. Some have forgotten and some are too young, but recent events bring this former scribe to go back on his vow. Those events brought forth President Harrison’s words. It is DE JA VU. His words were.

When a public teacher on the roster of Synod can without consequence publicly advocate the ordination of women (even participate vested in the ordination of an ELCA clergy person), homosexuality, the Errancy of the Bible, the historical critical method, open communion, communion with the reformed, evolution and more, then the public confession of the Synod is meaningless. I am saying that if my Synod does not change its inability to call such a person to repentance, and remove such a teacher where there is no repentance, then we are liars, and our confession is meaningless. I do not want to belong to such a Synod, much less lead it. Matt Harrison (see WMLTblog)

On Saturday, November 8th, 1997, Professor Matthew Becker gave a paper at Trinity Lutheran Church in Roselle, Illinois, where Dr. Charles Mueller is the pastor. The program for the meeting assigned him the topic, WHEN WOMEN SPEAK FOR GOD. The meeting was sponsored by an organization within the LCMS known as DIFFERENT VOICES/SHARED VISION. That name has now been changed to simply VOICES/VISION, it is no longer a SHARED VISION. This writer was invited to the meeting by two of the leaders of DIFFERENT VOICES/SHARED VISION.

In the discussion period that followed Becker’s presentation, when the question of women’s ordination was being discussed, Becker responded to the question “where to go the Seminary?” with the words “I think times are changing, even at our seminary, I’m not sure I can say seminaries…I was also very thankful that the faculty committee responsible for checking the orthodoxy of its candidates did not ask me about the question of the ordination of women into the pastoral office. When asked if I could accept a woman as a preacher I skirted the issue by quoting Martin Luther who said. “Why, of course women should preach the word if no capable men are around to do it…I know that I was skirting the issue.”

In response to another women who said she was “thoroughly convinced that the Missouri Synod is wrong on this issue now I’m beginning to worry how many other things have we taken for granted, if they are so wrong on this subject, can they be wrong on others?” Becker responded at length but concluded with the words, “It is not just that I discovered that the Missouri Synod is wrong, but what’s important is that the Gospel is right.”

Another woman asked, “What advice do you have for us who have graduates of the seminary who want us to go back to the way it was?” Becker responded, “Pray for their conversion, first (laughter). Second, raise scripture texts which subvert the old order.”

The concluding sentences to a lengthy two page letter that followed Becker’s presentation, written by this writer on January 5th, 1998 to Dr. Becker were, “I ask that you clearly affirm that according to the Word of God the pastoral office is to be held only by men. I ask that you affirm that to teach that the Missouri Synod is wrong when it confesses that only men should hold this office is to teach contrary to the Word of God.”

Dr. Becker responded on January 15th, 1998, “I agree with you that the Lord’s ‘gift of the holy ministry is given to us in the order he has established.’ The ‘order he has established,’ however, is precisely the new creation effected by means of his reconciling us to God and to one another. The old pattern of female subordination to men (an aspect of God’s judgment in Genesis 3) is overcome in the death and resurrection of Christ. The holy ministry is precisely this ministry of reconciliation of which Paul speaks so boldly in 2 Cor. 5.”

Dr. Becker’s response obviously did not say that he held that only men should hold the office of pastor and it did not say that to teach otherwise was contrary to God’s Word as he had been asked to confess.

His letter was followed by a letter of this writer to him on January 31st of 1998. That letter concluded with the words, “I ask again that you, for the sake of unity of the church and in obedience to the Will and Word of God, affirm with me that God has established the office of the ministry and that He has limited this office to men. If I can not have that assurance from you, I am conscience bound to bring this matter to those who have been given the responsibility of doctrine taught in our church.”

Dr. Becker responded on February 6th, 1998 in a brief letter, in which he first said of ordination, “Ordination itself, of course, is not clearly mandated in the New Testament, and is instead the result of an extra-biblical historical development,” with the words “For the sake of unity of the church, let me state clearly that I do not advocate for the ordination of women to the pastoral office.” He concluded with the words, “Because I am working very hard to finish my dissertation I really cannot respond to you any further on this matter.” His answer, even though he did say that he did not advocate the ordination of women, did not say that the pastoral office was only for men and that the Missouri Synod was not wrong when it said it was only for men. In view of what he said at Roselle this is what he had been asked to confess.

There on February 27, 1998 a letter was sent to Dr. Becker’s district president, Warren Schumacher. After detailing the letters sent to and received from Dr. Becker, it contained the words, “It is precisely because there are varying views about ordination in the church, and Becker’s description of it in the above quoted sentence clearly shows this, that my request of Professor Becker did not include the word ordination. I asked him to give the assurance that he confesses and teaches, as our Synod in the face of many Lutheran Churches who disregard what God’s Word says in this matter, holds that the divinely ordained pastoral office is limited to men. He has not given me this assurance. In his presentation at Roselle, He said otherwise. In this he errs.”

Since President Schumacher “failed to act within 90 days after receipt of the written complaint,” as required by Synod’s by laws, the matter was brought to the attention of Synod President Al Barry.

Many letters followed, to review them all would make this historical review unduly lengthy. Two letters of Dr. Barry however are significant. One of October 16th, 1998 to President Schumacher, president of the Northwest District where Becker was teaching, included the words, “However, the Praesidium did feel that it needs some very clear answers and commitments from Professor Becker to the following:

  1. That he present no additional papers on the subject of women serving in the pastoral ministry until this entire matter is cleared up.
  2. That he is definitely not teaching something divergent from Synod’s position here in his classes.
  3. That without reservation he holds and will teach the position of the synod in this connection.

The other significant letter of President Barry included these words addressed to Dr. Becker, “The members of the Praesidium have requested that I write to you on their behalf and ask for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to two questions. Both of these questions refer to the Word of God and are as follows:

  1. Do you believe and clearly affirm that according to the Word of God, the pastoral office is to be held only by men?
  2. Do you believe and clearly affirm that to teach that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is wrong when it confesses that only men should hold this office is to teach contrary to the Word of God?”

Dr. Becker never answered these questions. A ruling by the Commission on Constitutional matters took the matter out of the hands of the Praesidium, in whose jurisdiction the constitution did place it, but which constitution also said it could be in the hands of the Board of Regents. The CCM ruling gave the matter to the Portland Board of Regents.

When Dr. Becker was made aware of this he responded on December 20th 1999.

“I received a big christmas present early.

I have it on good authoriy that once CU Portland’s board of regents receives the offical minutes of this Dec CCM meeting, it will direct Walter Otten to go back to step one of bylaw 6:47: a face to face meeting (at his expense) with yours truly, something he’s never undertaken…

More importantly, the CCM has ruled contrary to Dr. Barry’s (i.e. Paul McCain’s) reading of the bylaws. The matter of Otten’s ‘charges’ against me are officially off the table of Dr. Barry, and Otten has to go back to ‘GO’ (and he doesn’t get to collect $2oo.oo): in fact he will have to shell out a few bucks if he wants to pursue fraternal discussion with me per 6:47. Even if he wants to pursue charges with me, I am confident that the CU Board of Regents, once it would have to conduct its investigation, will support the conclusion of my district president.”

This scribe did not go back to “GO” as Becker suggested. Becker’s theological security in the north west was more than my purse was willing to risk.

President Harrison may have to go back to “GO,” but he does the constitution with him that says what the duties of the President of Synod are. Hopefully he can go forward without the interference of a CCM, perhaps even with its support on how to interpret the constitution so that the Synod can remain faithful to the faith once delivered to the saints.

The constitution of Synod ascribes these duties to the President.

“The President has the supervision regarding the doctrine and the administration of…All District Presidents (the unnamed ‘public teacher on the roster of the Synod’ must have a District President who is responsible for what is taught by the pastors of his district. To leave this ‘public teacher on the roster of the Synod’ undisciplined would certainly be unwise, challenging and endangering the life and faith of God’s flock.)

“The President has and always shall have the power to advise, admonish, and reprove. He shall conscientiously use all means at his command to promote unity of doctrine.”

Kyrie Eleison
Pr. Walter Otten


Comments

Safe in the North-West — 32 Comments

  1. Can someone please explain how a pastor who has not been installed at a church for a number of years is still under the jurisdiction of the district in which he once served? This is a sincere question: I truly don’t understand…

  2. @Karen #1
    That is in accordance with LCMS Bylaw 2.12.1.8:

    An inactive member having candidate or non-candidate status shall continue to hold membership in the Synod through the district through which membership was held at the inception of candidate or non-candidate status except when a transfer is approved by both the president of that district and the president of the district to which membership would be transferred.

    Rev. Becker was at Concordia University Portland before taking his current position at Valparaiso.

  3. @Jon Alan Schmidt #2
    i.e. Dr. Becker knows he is safer in the Northwest District than he would be in the Indiana District.

    When Dr. Becker was in Portland he served as the Northwest District Secretary. When he left to go to Valpo the District Board of Directors appointed someone else to finish out his term – Pastor Paul Linnemann – who was subsequently elected DP when Warren Schumacher retired.

  4. Becker’s comments clearly show what happens when we place scripture and our confessions second to idiotic bylaws. The man clearly reveled/revels in the chaotic BS. Good for him and good for us. We deserve everything we are facing since we created this mess.

  5. I recall Dr Louis Brighton’s comment that the ordination of women signified a dying church. Of course that meaning the institutional church, for the Una Sancta will always remain.

  6. The election of Pastor Matthew Harrison as synod president is all but assured by the failure to prosecute Rev. Becker. This has energized the electorate base of Pastor Harrison and will work for good in the LCMS for Confessional Lutheranism. Thank you, Northwest District, for your assistance in promoting the election of a solid Confessional president and for inspiring his support base, as well as others who will now join standing solidly on God’s Word as we rebuke false teachers in our midst with the Word of God. The Word of God stands forever.

  7. It is a good idea not to be too hasty here regarding the NOW district. I must remind our readers that not everybody in that district is a Becker sympathizer, or an open communion sympathizer, or is everyone there anti-liturgical. Please, folks, keep in mind there are some very good, solid, liturgical, Confessional Lutheran congregations in the NOW district who need your support.

  8. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    This post by Pastor Walter Otten is significant. It proves that Dr. Becker has been a “long-standing-and-vocal-opponent of the public doctrine of the LCMS.”

    It also proves that those of you who say that the LCMS is “heterodox” are wrong. Dr. Becker and others have long been opposed by faithful layman, and by steadfast pastors like Walter Otten, once the errorists’ dissent has become public.

    Becker and a few others have remained in the Synod, not because their theology was officially accepted, but because he (and they) were able to find loopholes in the LCMS adjudication system and exploit them. The LCMS has a corrupted adjudication system, and the two men primarily responsible for creating that mess are former President Ralph Bohlmann and former CCM chairman Wil Sohns, as well as their District President allies (i.e., some of the DPs, certainly not all of them–most of those responsible are now retired).

    But now we have a new president who is faithful, and we have a faithful majority on the CCM. Progress in restoring our synodical government can finally be made after–what?–23 years? That’s not so long, when you read church history and see how long it took for various heresies to finally come to an end.

    Students of church history who are believers–both clergy and laymen–don’t get perturbed by the potholes, because we can see the whole course of the road, from whence we came, and the final destination of where we are going. 🙂

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  9. I’ll call a spade a spade on this: Becker is flaunting his own reason and imagination over the clear Word of God.

    If I had an audience with him, I would firmly remind him that his stance us at odds with confessional LCMS doctrine, that doing so makes him a hypocrite as to his forsaking the teachings of his synod while paying lip-service allegiance to it, and that he needs to leave and find himself a heterodox sect which shares his unscriptural views or stand condemned as heading in the direction of willfully and impenitenly dividing the church through advocation of heterodox teaching.

    I remind us all that Paul did not mince words with Peter concerning false teaching in Galatians 2.

  10. @J. Dean #11

    I agree completely. Becker is a self-licking ice cream cone. The man is concerned with himself only. He likely thrives off young students who nod in agreement with his train wreck theology in order to get a passing grade. The sad part is that some buy his buffoonery.

  11. One can only wonder what possible heresy an LCMS clergyman can hold which would finally get him booted from the roster. The Rev. Dr. Becker’s saga and his current retention of roster status seems to indicate that no such line in the sand even exists in our Synod. If you wish to see other examples please refer to http://s3.amazonaws.com/mychurchwebsite/c2001/acelc_evidence_of_errors_-_ecclesiastical_supervision.pdf

  12. Martin R. Noland :
    It also proves that those of you who say that the LCMS is “heterodox” are wrong. Dr. Becker and others have long been opposed by faithful layman, and by steadfast pastors like Walter Otten, once the errorists’ dissent has become public.

    With that definition Church of Sweden is not heterodox either.

  13. We need to be careful not to only make this about Becker. There are many more like him in the shadows. It’s time to make it impossible for them to keep putting their feet up in the LCMS.

  14. @Martin R. Noland #10
    Becker and a few others have remained in the Synod, not because their theology was officially accepted, but because he (and they) were able to find loopholes in the LCMS adjudication system and exploit them. The LCMS has a corrupted adjudication system, and the two men primarily responsible for creating that mess are former President Ralph Bohlmann and former CCM chairman Wil Sohns, as well as their District President allies (i.e., some of the DPs, certainly not all of them–most of those responsible are now retired).

    I have not heard any of the snake hunters say that an old rattler was less dangerous than a young one… as long as he can open his mouth… (he can bite, in fact, after he’s dead).
    As Will Sohn’s “Divine Disposal of Pastors” will, if the believers in it are not rooted out of the bureaucracy. (Or even out of the parish ministry; as we know to our sorrow.)

    @Rev Jakob Fjellander #16
    With that definition Church of Sweden is not heterodox either.

    And Texas should be a bastion of confessional Lutheranism….
    it has two ‘free conferences’ every year! 😉

    @Tim Wood #17
    You are quite right, Tim Wood!
    [Has the new “interim” CEO of CTX cancelled Jerry’s travel allowance?]

  15. @Martin R. Noland #10
    Dear Rev. Noland,

    There are LCMS congregations, pastors, and district leaders which appear to be heterodox, so while on official paper the LCMS may be somewhat of an orthodox Lutheran synod, in practice it appears orthodox only in part (perhaps we could say in a majority of synod). What do you say to those who say the LCMS is only as orthodox as its least orthodox members?

    I think the LCMS could greatly encourage its orthodox Lutheran pastors and congregations by offering them a temporary respite from heterodox district leadership. Allow them to realign and join with orthodox districts or to form their own non-geographic districts so that they could have more mutual conversation and consolation among fellow believers and pastors could feel more supported by their districts.

    The synod isn’t going to compel its heterodox districts leaders, pastors and congregations to become orthodox through bylaws. Bylaws can be used to more effectively define and remove heterodox members, but they won’t change hearts. We must trust God’s Word to change hearts. However, if men further harden their hearts they must be removed. If the orthodox end up being an out numbered minority in an obviously heterodox synod we must remove ourselves and join another orthodox Lutheran synod or reform ourselves as some kind of Missouri Synod 2.0.

    Kind regards,
    LW

  16. @wineonthevines #13
    Rom. 16:17 is almost impossible to follow faithfully as soon as you permit coexistence without doctrinal unity (as in the LCMS since at least the fourties).
    What happened? According to the American (non-lutheran) pastor Francis A. Schaeffer in his excellent analysis “The God Who Is There” the American culture changed about 1935 in a critical way: Before that people in general thought that there exists an objective truth. After 1935 the existensialism (truth is subjective) has the upper hand. So when the surrounding society lost its belief in the objective truth, the LCMS lost its capacity to uphold doctrinal unity.

  17. Rev Jacob,
    Thank you for that Schaffer observation, a brilliant theologian who we should have listened to back in he day!

  18. Rev. Jakob Fjellander :
    @wineonthevines #13
    Rom. 16:17 is almost impossible to follow faithfully as soon as you permit coexistence without doctrinal unity (as in the LCMS since at least the fourties).
    What happened? According to the American (non-lutheran) pastor Francis A. Schaeffer in his excellent analysis “The God Who Is There” the American culture changed about 1935 in a critical way: Before that people in general thought that there exists an objective truth. After 1935 the existensialism (truth is subjective) has the upper hand. So when the surrounding society lost its belief in the objective truth, the LCMS lost its capacity to uphold doctrinal unity.

    Of course, this probably exasperated things, but let us not forget “modernity” and “objective truth” also brought us the theory of evolution. Likewise, the denial of the very Body and Blood of our Lord, predates “postmodernism.” The predestination controversy also predates it. Just like inerrancy is no guarantee of doctrinal purity, neither was “objective truth.”

  19. @Tim Wood #17

    I don’t disagree with you, but nipping it in the bud a la disciplinary action with Becker sends a message to those “in the shadows” (and that’s a very good way of putting it) that you either change your theology or you change your affiliation.

    It always amazes me that those who espouse doctrines contrary to their synod/denomination do not simply change affiliations to another sect more sympathetic to their heterodoxy, but rather insist on trying to change the theology of their current affiliation. Says a lot about the heart and motivation of that person, and what it says is not commendatory.

  20. J. Dean @#23:

    “It always amazes me that those who espouse doctrines contrary to their synod/denomination do not simply change affiliations to another sect more sympathetic to their heterodoxy, but rather insist on trying to change the theology of their current affiliation. Says a lot about the heart and motivation of that person, and what it says is not commendatory.”

    This is exactly an issue I’ve wondered about myself, down through the years. When someone prefers enthusiastic, charismatic worship styles, there are plenty of Pentecostal and other denominations who have done it like this all along; why not join one of their congregations? When someone disagrees with issues of creation, the definition of the sacraments, or the nature and person of Christ, why not hook up with one of the many mainline Episcopal, Methodist, or even ELCA Lutheran congregations who have pretty much trashed those things over the years? If someone likes loud, boisterous CW music vs. hymns, why not check out the megachurch down the street – they’d love to have ’em?

    I’m only guessing here, but I think there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance at work with many of these folks. Maybe it’s because they married someone who is used to a different set of beliefs and practices who is pressuring them to pressure the local congregation or district to bend things on their behalf. Maybe they have a close relative or offspring who has gone in one of the above directions and can’t themselves to admit that they are either in error or are pushing against tradition. Maybe some of them think (mistakenly) that they have to conform to some of these things in order to attract and/or retain the youth. Nevertheless, they don’t go; they hang around making trouble for everyone else.

    It kind of reminds me of Barry Goldwater. Those old enough will remember that he was such an ultra right-wing conservative that people voted against him in ’64 because many of them were afraid that he would start a war with the USSR. Then, all of a sudden he spoke out against the policies the military established for homosexuals in the 80’s. This was a shocking stance for someone with his political leanings. Turned out later on (last page news in a column with small type face, of course) that he had a grandson who was gay. Cognitive dissonance at its best.

  21. @Dave Rastl #22
    Just like inerrancy is no guarantee of doctrinal purity, neither was “objective truth.”
    Right. I don’t say that the time of “objective truth” was perfect, but on this very point I think we see how the change in the culture and the society changed the LCMS to the worse.
    The time of objective truth is also called the time of rationalism. And the philosophy of rationalism has some advantages and some disadvantages.

  22. I do not mean to inject politics into this discussion but simply offer an opinion: I’m often amazed how the lawlessness portrayed in our secular government is mirrored in the institutional church’s politics both to the eventual demise of both. As our Lord said, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find the faith on the earth?”

  23. @28 – Ah yes, the old baptizin’, catechizin’, marryin’, buryin’. I recognize it well. Sometimes I think there is an abundance of older generation members in confessional churches who really don’t like some of the things that are taking place, but feel that they are too old and too well established to rock the boat.

    @29 – That passage from Luke is one of those that has always worried me – for its accuracy.

  24. George @30,

    Not to worry, for the Lord Jesus is in control of all things.

    I believe the answer to Jesus question is found in the comforting words of St. Paul:

    1 Thessalonians 4:17: Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

    This text would indicate that the Lord will find the faith on the earth as, on the Last Day, there will be believers who will be joined with those in the church triumphant.

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