He’s No Lincoln but is He a Churchill

I know President Matthew Harrison is no Lincoln, but could he be a Churchill?

The first conclusion came to me while reading “This Day in U.S. Military History” for March 4, the day Lincoln was inaugurated in 1861.  In the second last paragraph Lincoln says: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’”

The History Channel calendar leaves out the word dissatisfied in “dissatisfied fellow-countrymen.” Where I’m quoting from (http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html) has it as does the official government site.  I’m curious about the History Channel’s lacuna.  I find it changes the tenor of Lincoln’s remarks. It is an understatement to say there were dissatisfied fellow-countrymen in the United States in 1861 even as there are dissatisfied fellow-Missourians in the LCMS in 2015.

Of both dissatisfied groups, it is true to say that we “have no oath registered in heaven to destroy” the Synod.  Now for the kicker.  President Lincoln did take a solemn vow to “preserve, protect, and defend” the government that was a union of states.  No, president of our Synod has ever taken such vow.  Yet the four presidents I have been a pastor under act like they have. They can’t, won’t, don’t deal biblically, confessionally, theologically, or openly with the divisions that exist among us. Why? Because that threatens the union. (The Becker case is “low hanging fruit” as was the Theodore Ludwig case in the 1980s.)

The solemn vow a synodical president takes is the same one taken by pastors.  The pastor who believes his chief mandate is to preserve unity in a church would doubtless become a man-pleaser, a servant of men, rather quickly.  Thankfully, his prime directive is to preach the Gospel purely and administer the Sacraments in accord with Christ’s institution while remaining faithful to the Lutheran Confessions.  But since a pastor directly serves the Body of Christ at a given locale as opposed to a political entity like a synod or district he in fact has more of a call to be concerned with preserving union than any district or synodical president.

Lincoln’s closing paragraph is the most famous.  There he says the “chorus of the Union” will yet swell from the “mystic chords of memory” when they are again touched “by the better angels of our nature.”  It’s true; we could all use some touching “by the better angels of our nature,” but I’m afraid right now all that does keep us together are “chords of memory.”  It’s surely not agreement in doctrine and practice.  Even so, I would agree with yet another sentiment of Lincoln’s.  “We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.” The longer our union is held together by memory and not by a common confession the more we will get along only when we’re remembering the good old days.  And even then our different confessions can’t but grind, grate, and irritate.

So the current president of the LCMS is not a Lincoln, but is he perhaps a Churchill? When Churchill became prime minister in 1940, many of those who had supported his effort to rearm England wanted him to sweep out the appeasers who had opposed him for 10 or more years. These men had turned deaf ears and even made fun of his dire warnings of Germany rearming.  Rather than turn them out, Churchill even gave them offices in his government.  He justified this by saying that if the present makes war with the past, it loses the future (The Last Lion, 3, 58).

Likewise, President Harrison appoints the syncretistic David Benke to chair a convention floor committee. This is sage political action but it is not sound theological wisdom.  It does help to understand why David weeps for Saul and Abner and why Solomon doesn’t summarily execute three nemeses standing in the way of establishing his reign. But Solomon and David were heads of state. This is how one behaves for political reasons.

In the realm of theology God reigns not men; Scripture not sagacity; the cross not the crown.  What is politically correct may not be theologically so and vise versa.  One could be wrong in one area and right in the other, but only one area counts before God.  While men can tear down the church with poor politics, they neither can tear down nor build up the Church with politics.

A character in “The West Wing” TV show has this soliloquy.  “Max Weber said that politics is the slow boring of hard boards.  Any who seeks to do it must risk his own soul. It means that change comes in excruciating increments to those who want it.  You’re trying to move mountains.  It takes lifetimes.”

I don’t want to risk my soul for any political reason.  True the only change that lasts is literally excruciating: i.e. it only come “out of the cross” of Christ, out of His blood, sweat, toil, and tears. And the only mountains I want to move are the mountains the Lord promised me I could.  With a Word I can move the mountains of sin, death, and devil and they will obey me and it won’t take lifetimes. No, with a Word it’s done now.  Because the mountains of sin, death or devil were moved by Jesus for all time by His lifetime.

The moving of these three mountains is meaningless politically, and the greatest politician of his age, Churchill, cared nothing about them.  Theologically these mountains moving are our joy, our hope, our victory.

The President Harrison is not a Lincoln, but is he a Churchill?  I hope not.

 


Comments

He’s No Lincoln but is He a Churchill — 9 Comments

  1. I think President Harrison should be given a chance to address the issue without such a heavy stream of critics breathing fire. All we need now is a gathering of LCMS pastors, pitchforks in hand, standing outside the President’s office to heighten the tension. Harrison does not have to be Lincoln or Churchill, only himself, and he must be given the courtesy and respect of his office to deal with mounting concerns of the coming storm which will seriously affect the future of the LCMS. The festering divisions within the synod may fracture the synod, split it wide open, or make it stronger. When the dust clears, the synod may be smaller, but those who side with Dr Becker and other like minded progressives will go their separate way. Better to have a unified and faithful remnant than a compromising body going in several directions.

  2. The problems in doctrine and practice faced today in the LCMS did not grow up overnight, they developed over many years, possibley all the way back to Saxony. Every generation of the Church has its troubles, all of them can be traced to one extent or another to incomplete, or faulty teaching by pastors and teachers. When we stop teaching the reasopns for what we do, it becomes easy for others to come along and change that practice or doctrine. Those of you who are calling for immediate “nuclear” action, may wish to think what result that would have.

    Such an action might well drive away a lot of otherwise good church members whose only fault is that no one took the time to teach? WOuld it not be far better to deal with problems patiently and in love, and to teach rather than punish? If I understand Harrison correctly, that is what he is trying to do. Yes false teachers need to be removeed from our midst, but that needs to be done in such a manner that the cure is not worse than the disease.

  3. Pastor Hartung,

    I would simply offer this perspective. When it’s considered a “Nuclear Option” that some of us are pushing for the first transparent and direct attempt at addressing error in years, then perhaps we are in deeper trouble than some will admit. Also, your statement about driving away good church members by standing for purity of doctrine and sound practice is a bit off in my opinion. First, none of us are good. Next, we all need a constant ingestion of pure Word and Sacrament. The tolerance (temporary or otherwise) of tainted teaching for the sake of unity and peace only allows for more people to come to understand heterodoxy as the gospel. PS: I know you just had to throw in the word Nuclear. An old bomb loader just can’t help it 🙂

  4. From Randy:

    I would simply offer this perspective. When it’s considered a “Nuclear Option” that some of us are pushing for the first transparent and direct attempt at addressing error in years, then perhaps we are in deeper trouble than some will admit. Also, your statement about driving away good church members by standing for purity of doctrine and sound practice is a bit off in my opinion. First, none of us are good. Next, we all need a constant ingestion of pure Word and Sacrament. The tolerance (temporary or otherwise) of tainted teaching for the sake of unity and peace only allows for more people to come to understand heterodoxy as the gospel. PS: I know you just had to throw in the word Nuclear. An old bomb loader just can’t help it. 🙂

    Randy, I do not advocate the toleration of false doctrine, rather I counsel patience. Yes we have serious issues, and yes we are all sinners, on these things we agree. What I see in Harrison is an attempt to work within the system as it currently exists, while at the same time to teach the people why those such as Becker should not be allowed to be pastors and teachers in our Synod. I see this as an attempt to correct the situation without creating another “walkout”. Consider that for many years Luther and his followers were firm in their denunciation of the errors of Rome, but at the same time they were careful to not be seen as schismatic. Add to this the fact that we are a church body of around 9,000 clergy and over 2 million laypeople. To call for correction of error is a good thing, to condemn our leadership because they do not move as quickly as we would like is something very different.

    PS: http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/web/070129-F-1234S-002.jpg With B28s loaded. 🙂

  5. Dear BJS (and Randy),

    I know one thing, we all want change NOW, not yesterday. But in this case, patience for us humans is the mode I will take. I have been elected as pastoral delegate to 2016 Convention (just got the clearance from school to move a class for next year).

    I will study, work, rebuke as needed, be the model pastor I can be. Remember, the king in the First Testament also had Torah in his hands, not just the priests. Why? So he could read Torah and model himself after the God of Gods. OK, rarely worked, but that is the ideal.

    As for quick fixes, a prophetic word, “God will handle business as He sees fit”. You cannot truly mess with God, it does not work. Ask old Israel. Yet His Grace always wins out, even when we pesky sinners mess up.

    OK, talk to me in a year or so, my full head of hair may be all pulled out!

  6. David Hartung: “Consider that for many years Luther and his followers were firm in their denunciation of the errors of Rome, but at the same time they were careful to not be seen as schismatic.”

    What? I mean, what?

    Perhaps you mean that Luther and his followers wished not to be thought of as schismatic, that they wished to reform Rome without leaving it. That much would be true.

    But they were seen as schismatic from day one. And since that is the case, it is false to suggest that “they were careful not to be seen as schismatic.”

    Are those calling for reform within the LCMS also “schismatic,” in your view?

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