Rust never sleeps – neither does Satan. Some of you are discouraged by what’s happening in your congregation, either by word or deed. Perhaps sacramental entrepreneurs have overrun the bulwarks, or the twin cries of “transformation” and “vision” are being heard, or they’re building a labyrinth in the church yard for your experiential pleasure. No matter the threat, we stand guard lest we be devoured by the evil one, the world, and our own sinful flesh.
Being in a congregation that is flirting with false doctrine can be a nauseating experience. When your church has lost its doctrinal balance on the TILT-A-WHIRL of false doctrine who do you “turn” to? The first step to take – repent! None of us is so pious that we need not be reminded of our own sinful flesh and the constant need for absolution. Step two – pray! We can be certain that God hears our prayers and that is of much comfort. Step three – put on the whole armor of God; the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness given by the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. If your faithful pastor is under attack, support him in every way you can. Encourage him to continue to catechize the flock. Constant exposure to God’s Word is the best defense against false doctrine. But what if your pastor is part of the problem?
If your pastor is deceived by false doctrine, remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). He, like you, is a sinner prone to temptation. The pressure to supplement God’s means of grace with recommendations from the coercive best-selling author heard at the most recent trendily-titled conference is very compelling. The old Adam loves new programs of self-made works and readily abandons ancient liturgical practices after the “expert” has finished shredding them. Don’t give in. A gentle nudge may be all that is necessary to remind your undershepherd that we should seek God where He promises to be found – in Word and Sacrament. If you need to be a little more blunt, Luther’s words from the Smalcald Articles say the same thing more forcefully:
In a word, enthusiasm inheres in Adam and his children from the beginning [from the first fall] to the end of the world, [its poison] having been implanted and infused into them by the old dragon, and is the origin, power [life], and strength of all heresy, especially of that of the Papacy and Mahomet. Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. (SA III VIII 9-10)
Entrepreneurship, vision, and labyrinths are decidedly not from the Spirit.
Fight or Switch?
You may come up against someone who’s been dabbling in alien theology for so long that they’ve forgotten what the truth looks like. If you choose to “fight,” enlist the aid of fellow parishioners for consolation. Follow Matthew 18. You might consider asking for advice from apologetically-inclined friends or a pastor outside your congregation whom you know to be faithful. Be patient, be kind, and stand your ground. You have the Law, the prophets, the apostles, all God’s holy angels, and Jesus Christ Himself on your side! But what if you don’t feel like you’re up to the task? The lady who taught me apologetics once commented that she was always wrestling with what course to take. Should she say this or that? Did she do the right thing? Her random comment was of great solace to me. I guess I’m not the only one grappling with these same questions – neither are you. There isn’t always a clear cut answer. You may not have the vocation of the-one-who-stands-up-to-the-pastor-and-the-entire-Board-of-Directors. With the countless articles written on the malignities of church shopping, you may not see leaving your church as an option. But there’s a big difference between church shopping and fleeing a burning building. The greatest sin when it comes to false doctrine is to do nothing. Your conscience, guided by Holy Scripture, is up to the task of deciding whether to fight or switch, and it must be your conscience that decides, not someone else’s. There are well-meaning people who will tell you what you must decide. Don’t let them rob you of your Christian liberty. It’s your decision, not theirs.
The Rest of Us
If you’re in a congregation that has none of these problems, be thankful, and be prepared. The doctrinal TILT-A-WHIRL might be the next ride on your midway. Hold on tight to our Confessions.
Wherefore, mindful of our duty, which, we know, has been divinely enjoined upon us, we think that we ought diligently to apply ourselves to the labor of attacking in our provinces and realms the false teachings which have been disseminated there, and are gradually insinuating themselves, as it were, into the intimate acquaintance and familiarity of men, and that we should see to it that the subjects in our government may persevere in the straight way of godliness and in the truth of the heavenly doctrine, acknowledged and thus far retained and defended, and not be suffered to be led away from it. (From the Preface to the Christian Book of Concord, paragraph 6, Triglot Concordia)