The Hill on Which to Die

hills-2-1471060Are you willing to die on that hill? This is a question that often gets asked when pastors face bad doctrine and practice in the congregations they serve, especially when they first arrive.

This question is well-intentioned. It normally indicates concern for the welfare of the pastor if he teaches something contrary to the public opinion and past practice of the congregation. It really asks, “Are you willing to risk your family’s livelihood on this one point of doctrine or this one practice? Is this one practice so important that you are willing to risk confrontation over it?”

When this question is asked concerning indifferent things (adiaphora), it is one matter. There is no reason for confrontation when it comes to such matters.

When this question is asked concerning sentimental customs that serve only to tug at heart strings and create emotional responses, it is another matter. Concerning such things, the congregation needs to be taught. As the congregation learns, over time such customs can be replaced with ones that are theologically sound and have theological purpose.

Finally, when a pastor is asked if he is willing to die on the hill of a doctrine or practice that is clearly addressed in Scripture, there is no room for toleration. Doctrines and practices that are forbidden by Scripture cannot be tolerated even if they have become standard practice in many of our congregations – practices such as open communion, women lectors, grape juice for communion, and unionism/syncretism.

See, pastors are not the ones who decide the hill on which they die. Pastors are front line soldiers. We have our marching orders. We are sent into battle to fight, not to question orders. The military court martials insubordinate soldiers who don’t follow orders. Soldiers don’t decide which orders they will follow. Neither do pastors decide what parts of God’s Word they will choose to ignore, even if only for one Sunday a year (LWML Sunday).

Thus, the question could also truly be rephrased, “Are you not willing to be unfaithful on this one matter?” No pastor striving to be faithful to God and to his ordination vows will turn a blind eye to sin. No pastor who loves those he is called to serve will ignore things that are harmful to them.

And really, who’s dying on any hill? Who’s killing anyone? Yes, pastors can and do lose their livelihood and their families suffer because of unscriptural removal from office, and this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. However, persecution is not quite yet at the point in North America that pastors need to fear for their lives (it looks like it’ll be a couple more years). Pastors are called to speak God’s truth and call sinners to repentance, even if they suffer for the sake of the Gospel. We are not to fear even those who can and do kill the body but rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10: 28). If a pastor will not stand up for the truth of God’s Word when his dear congregation members desire something sinful, how will he ever stand up in the face of persecution?

A pastor who tolerates sinful practices that he then later tries to correct, not only hardens people in their sins, but also loses all credibility. How can anyone trust him that a practice is actually sinful since he allowed it to continue for so long? If it really was such a big deal to him, surely he would have raised concern right away and ended the sinful practice.

Pastors just need to follow Scripture when it comes to doctrine and practice. Yes, we may face opposition and hardship, but we can rejoice insofar as we share Christ’s sufferings, that we may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed (I Peter 4:13). 

About Pastor Johannes Nieminen

Pastor Johannes (John) Nieminen serves St Andrew's Lutheran Church in the Atlantic provinces of Canada, with Divine Service held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Middleton, Nova Scotia, Charlottetown, PE, and other locations on occasion. He attended Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St Catharines, Ontario, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 2014. He is married to Lydia and they have been blessed with three children: Ethan, Summerlee, and Jacob.


The Hill on Which to Die — 20 Comments

  1. “When this question is asked concerning indifferent things (adiaphora), it is one matter. There is no reason for confrontation when it comes to such matters.”

    Wait. What?

    When did the Formula of Concord get changed?!?

    We believe, teach, and confess also that at the time of confession [when a confession of the heavenly truth is required], when the enemies of God’s Word desire to suppress the pure doctrine of the holy Gospel, the entire congregation of God, yea, every Christian, but especially the ministers of the Word, as the leaders of the congregation of God [as those whom God has appointed to rule His Church], are bound by God’s Word to confess freely and openly the [godly] doctrine, and what belongs to the whole of [pure] religion, not only in words, but also in works and with deeds; and that then, in this case, even in such [things truly and of themselves] adiaphora, they must not yield to the adversaries, or permit these [adiaphora] to be forced upon them by their enemies, whether by violence or cunning, to the detriment of the true worship of God and the introduction and sanction of idolatry. 11] For it is written, Gal. 5:1: Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not again entangled in the yoke of bondage. (SD.X.10)

    For here it is no longer a question concerning external matters of indifference, which in their nature and essence are and remain of themselves free, and accordingly can admit of no command or prohibition that they be employed or omitted; but it is a question, in the first place, concerning the eminent article of our Christian faith, as the apostle testifies, that the truth of the Gospel might continue, which is obscured and perverted by such compulsion or command, because such adiaphora are then either publicly required for the sanction of false doctrine, superstition, and idolatry, and for the suppression of pure doctrine and Christian liberty, or at least are abused for this purpose by the adversaries, and are thus viewed [and are believed to be restored for this abuse and wicked end].(SD.X.14)

  2. I agree with the article’s substance. I disagree with its application. I do not think most pastors in the LCMS are willing to die on the hill of doctrine. First they will not die on the hill of the doctrine of church fellowship. Second they will not die on the hill of the doctrine regarding women not having authority in the church. The fact that they are not willing to die on these two hills, tells me they actually are not willing to die on a lot of hills that are yet unseen, hidden behind the hills that are closer to them. The message of the forgiveness of sins is at stake whenever, and wherever false doctrine is taught and tolerated. The great problems regarding not teaching the proper role of man and woman in the family, society, and the church is going to have a huge impact on what is finally said about homosexuality. A recent study that surveyed the LCMS showed that over 60% of LCMS Lutherans did not think homosexuality was morally wrong. Not teaching about the former doctrine has now brought on a confrontation is another similar area, however the real doctrine at stake all along was “Is the Pastor properly preaching the gospel? I.E. by forgiving the sins of the penitent, and not forgiving the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent. Herein is the real issue. Yes, understanding the proper distinction between law and gospel, but more importantly practicing it. For as Walther wrote, it is not in what is written, but what is practiced, that is important in regard to church fellowship.

  3. The outward visible, so called conservative church, is filled with pastors who only preach that word of God that the people will hear. They refuse to preach that which they think the people will not receive. This teaching is everywhere proclaimed to be the Evangelical Doctrine of Christ. It is of course the doctrine of the Devil himself.

  4. Pastors are being attacked in our churches for their livelihood over doctrine and adiaphora. They are threatened with loss of salary, membership, benefits, and even some physical threats, yes by their own members. Wake up. Christ warned us of these things.
    All Christians must die everyday to the old Adam who doesn’t want to die to sin and the law, so to live under the Gospel. The pastor tries hard to give the Law and Gospel, the absolution, and prays it is received. Pray for your pastors, your elders, for each other (congregation and all the saints), and for yourselves. The Lord’s Prayer is perfect. Name your pastor by name. Christ’s peace be with you.

  5. Rev. Nieminen wrote:

    “When this question is asked concerning indifferent things (adiaphora), it is one matter. There is no reason for confrontation when it comes to such matters.”

    It is automatically assumed that adiaphora matters are non-divisive, but can anyone explain to me why disunity even in these matters helps the unity of the Church?

    The way in which the Church conducts her life together should be a model of a bride and bridegroom between which there is to be no disunity. It is to model the unity of God Himself in which there is no division. In other words, even in matters respecting adiaphora whatever the Church does, it should do together.

    Rev. Fehr is sadly quite correct respecting our inaction and unwillingness to “die” on the hill of the Order of Creation and to draw conclusions from that respecting Church fellowship. In the LCMS we have been drinking the feminist “Kool Aid” for 47 years and have become either “comfortable” with our false doctrine or have even embraced it to such an extent that this matter has become what Hermann Sasse called an “Institutional Lie” which cannot be corrected.

  6. Looking for a hill in New Orleans, where the LCMS Youth Gathering will be held in July 2016?

    You can dance up the hill to this alleged song, “Christ Alone,” written and ‘sung’ by Adam Countryman and Dave Madden of the Gathering House Band, which will be heard throughout the youth event. Here are the “lyrics,” minus the endless, mind-numbing “oh-a-oh-a-oh-a-ah” background noise.

    Also, according to a lcmsgathering website:

    “The Gathering House Band will lead us in Mass Events and part of the worship service along with the Gathering choir and wind symphony.”

    Isn’t that precious?

  7. “It does no good to say: I will gladly confess Christ and His Word in all articles except one or two which my tyrannical masters will not tolerate…but he who denies Christ in one article or word has in this one article denied the same Christ who would be denied in all articles; (Luther)

  8. @Jason #11
    Dear Jason,
    OK…if “I were the leader…’.
    Well, I think Holy Communion should only be served in the Church, when a pastor is present, truly only in the home congregation. I think in this case, they should refrain. But…

  9. @Pastor Prentice #12

    “But” you will encourage teens to go there?

    “Youth gathering” is not to promote or practice Lutheranism. The music is not Lutheran and my grandchildren tell me a lot of the break out sessions are not led by Lutherans.

  10. @helen #14

    @Carl Vehse #13
    To all,
    01) This is a LCMS event, and as such, I would tell a teen, go. There should be no false doctrine present. I should be able to trust our leaders.
    02) Perhaps they can connect and see that there are other Lutheran kids and teens too. The LCMS is not an “old persons” place.
    03) Yes, the “worship” present is not my cup of tea, but it is not promoting false doctrine. I still say it is praise with a bit of teaching, but not of the par of good Divine Service that I use.
    04) Yes, I would allow the teen to commune, I as pastor would discuss that with them. If they decided to refrain, they can wait till they dine weekly at Faith.

  11. @Pastor Prentice #15

    01) This is a LCMS event, and as such, I would tell a teen, go. There should be no false doctrine present. I should be able to trust our leaders.

    When teenagers can see false doctrine is there, and tell me about it, your “should’s” are so much smoke. You “should”… or maybe you shouldn’t.

    Send your teens to Higher Things for a Lutheran experience;(you’ll be asked to be there with them, of course). Their Lutheran Pastors lead the break-out sessions.

  12. LCMS National Youth Gatherings are breeding grounds for discontent with the historic liturgical worship of the Church. They frequently invite non-Lutherans to be presenters on topics that deserve a specifically Lutheran insight. The youth of our congregations would be far better served by faithful pastors organizing a far less expensive trip to the local national forest campground retreat.

  13. @Pastor Prentice #15

    Dear Pastor Prentice,
    It has been known in confessional Lutheran circles for at least a decade or more that the LCMS National Youth Gatherings are exactly as Rev. Bolland and Helen describe. I think since President Harrison came aboard they have tried to ‘fix’ them to a certain extent. However, once bad practices creep in it is extremely difficult to change, if not impossible.


  14. @Pastor Prentice #15

    Rev. Prentice,

    I frequently admire your level-headedness, this statement has me wondering if your ordination vows were to Synod, or to Christ’s Church.

    Can you imagine Luther or Melanchthon answering similarly? Would Christ answer thusly???

  15. The LCMS Youth Gathering is, at best, junk food. The argument is often made that so-called “contemporary worship” (songs and ecclesiology) should be considered acceptable as long as there is no outright heresy. Essentially, proponents maintain that Big Macs should be considered acceptable as long as there is no E. coli. Unfortunately, it is not the mere lack of poison that feeds the body, and neither is it the mere lack of damnable error that feeds the soul. Don’t be surprised if your children don’t take an interest in meat and potatoes in their teens when they’ve been raised on garbage. “Ahh, yes,” you say, “but they aren’t dead yet!”

    Indeed, not yet.

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