Guest Post — Benedict Arnold and the Bosphorus

Here is a guest post written by Pastor Charles Lehmann and originally posted on his blog.


527_900Until two days ago I knew next to nothing about Benedict Arnold.  I knew that he was a revolutionary war figure whose name had become synonymous with treachery, but that’s about it.  Then I read an article in Smithsonian Magazine that tried to explore his motivations a bit, but assumed that you knew the details of Arnold’s failed plot.  Bad assumption in my case.  So I asked my wife, “Do you know anything about Benedict Arnold?”  And, of course, she did.  She recommended a great biography, which over the past two days I utterly devoured.

The reason that I was so taken with the book is that I found Benedict Arnold to be an absolutely fascinating individual.  Largely, this was because he reminded me of myself, and not in the most complimentary of ways.

Benedict was brilliant, brave, fortunate, prideful, arrogant, short-tempered, principled, slavishly devoted to his reputation, utterly incapable of recognizing his faults, and master of self-justification.

Despite his treachery, many historians believe that were it not for Arnold’s achievements in several pivotal battles of the war, our country simply would not exist.  George Washington (probably the only real ally he ever had… and the object of his attempted betrayal) openly agreed with this assessment.

For my part, I’m not brilliant, and I have lousy luck.  But I have had moments of courage, I’m definitely prone to fits of rage, I’m prideful and arrogant, and I do worry way too much about my reputation.  Most of all, I’m very good at self-justification.

It kind of makes me glad I wasn’t in the Continental Army.

In any case, looking at the life of Arnold was like looking in the mirror, particularly where his faults are concerned.  Fortunately, there are two big differences between Benedict Arnold and Charles Lehmann.  First, I am not so good at self-deception to believe that I have no faults (though I know that I manage to keep myself unaware of many of them).  Second, my wife checks my self-destructive behavior rather then steering me into it (as Peggy Arnold did).

At this point, I am going to be so bold as to make a very specific comparison between Benedict Arnold and some of my former colleagues in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

There is a story that has repeated itself at least a dozen times over the past couple of decades in the synod.  There are, of course, variations to the narrative, but it usually goes something like this:

A man of at least above average intelligence goes to seminary.  In his study he begins to notice a huge gap between the theology of Luther and the Lutheran Confessions and the congregations he serves as a field worker, vicar, and eventually pastor.  The more he studies the more discontent he becomes.  He knows our confession, and he knows that the practice you find in many of our congregations violates it.  Further, he finds that in his circuit, many of his brother pastors are aware of the problem and either don’t care, are too tired to fight, or don’t even think that the errors should be corrected.

Within his congregation, the pastor finds the same sorts of attitudes, and when he tries to introduce greater orthopraxy, he is persecuted.  The congregation may openly oppose him or may just use side channels to communicate to the pastor that his idealism isn’t welcome or appreciated.  They may leave the congregation.  They may try to oust the pastor and get someone who’s willing to cooperate with their abberations.  In any case, the pastor suffers.  His family suffers.  He just wants to be faithful to the confession he studied in seminary, and it’s not being allowed.

Back in seminary, this pastor loved to study the history of the church.  In particular he loved the early church fathers.  He read Elert’s Eucharistic Fellowship in the First Four Centuries and loved learning that closed communion was a matter of life and death in the early church.  He read the sermons of Leo the Great.  He loved Chrysostom.  He read the early church liturgical work of Hippolytus, Augustine, and Gregory.

At some point he learned that there were churches where these ancient liturgies were still used and the early church fathers were revered on a level close to that of the holy apostles.

Five, ten, or twenty years later he found himself suffering.  He had no support from his brother pastors or his congregation as he strove for orthodox doctrine and practice and he started looking East.  The Orthodox Church didn’t mess with the liturgy.  They didn’t allow the Lord’s body and blood to be thrown in the trash.  They had discipline.  Their clergy seemed unified in a way that we Missourians couldn’t dream.

So this pastor read the confessions again.  He saw things that modern Lutherans ignore or reject.  The semper virgo, the clauso utero, the idea of Mary and the saints praying for the church, prayer for the dead not being useless, virginity being a higher estate than marriage, etc.  He saw these things being affirmed in Eastern Orthodoxy every bit as much as they were ignored in Lutheranism.

And so he did what Benedict Arnold did before him.

You see, Benedict saw a country that was so mired in political stupidity that it wouldn’t allow him to fight the war.  And no matter how many battles he won, no matter how many times he fought off the British, he received no respect.  His brother generals thought him a loon and a loose cannon.  They poked at his faults and made more of them than they were.  And it seemed that they were going to drag out the war forever and the cause of liberty was going to be extinguished.  And, on top of all of that, he was suffering.  He was financially destitute, accused falsely (and truly), and had to fight for any small accomplishment.

He started looking East too.  If he went to the English, he could end the war and bring peace to the nation he loved.  He convinced himself that betraying his one friend, George Washington, was the right thing to do.  He convinced himself so completely that he razed towns and murdered civilians as a British general.

Back to our pastor… He starts to read Alexander Schmemann and the fathers again.  He visits with local Orthodox priests.  He sneaks to vespers services when his congregation won’t know.  He starts catechesis.  And, finally, he announces to his congregation his upcoming chrismation.  He is convinced that by becoming Orthodox he’ll have the opportunity to practice true Lutheranism, the Lutheranism he learned in seminary.

He’s wrong.  He’s self-deceived.  He’s abandoning the chief article by which the church stands or falls so that he can pray for the dead, call Mary his mother, and have a pretty liturgy.  He’s causing the people God called him to serve to stumble.  He’s sending people to hell just as surely as British General Arnold burned American towns to the ground.

A little over ten years ago one of these pastors told me that I was too smart to stay a Lutheran.  I responded that I hoped I’d always be just barely dumb enough.  So far, so good.  Intellectual arrogance combined with a penchant for self-deception is an extraordinarily bad thing, and that, my friends, is why Missouri Synod pastors go East.

Pastor Lehmann


Rev. Charles R. Lehmann
Pastor, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Three Forks, MT
Pastor, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Belgrade, MT


Guest Post — Benedict Arnold and the Bosphorus — 22 Comments

  1. To be clear, I never considered going East. But I know how it tends to happen for a certain kind of pastor, and I’ve watched it happen more than once.

  2. It is tragic when a pastor betrays his confirmation and ordination vows and defects to the Eastern or Roman religion, especially if there were hints or signs of such a tendency even as a seminarian. Some clues might be his expressed devotion to paedocommunion, immaculate conception, semper virgo/clauso utero (one is useless without the other), prayers for the dead, and excessive interest in mitres, croziers, and the goings-on in Eastern or Roman hierarchies.

    It is even more tragic when the defector drags his family and members of his congregation down with him.

    A number of years ago a highly educated friend of mind left for the Roman church, primarily because he could no longer accept sola scriptura, and felt that tradition and the pope provided the required continuing co-authority. His family remained Lutheran.

  3. Dear Rev. Lehmann: I am not a pastor, but I know that even lay people are tempted to, or do swim the Bosporus. I grew up in a large Russian family. My Russian stepfather was the last of thirteen children, so it was indeed a large family. In it lived three Lutherans, my mother, the descendant of Volga Germans, my brother, and I. When my mother married my stepfather, she promised him that, once “the boys” were out of the house, she would convert to his faith, Russian Orthodoxy. It was a promise she did not keep. She became convinced the Russian Orthodoxy was a “slave religion,” and she valued the freedom that she had received from her Savior in the pure Gospel.
    But does that mean that our Lutheran faith is without error? I read Elert, and I marveled at the wonderful description of the Eucharist in the first chapter. Then I marveled, with a lot of sadness, how everything said in the first chapter was contradicted in the rest of the book.
    I read Schmemann and I was enchanted. Here is an excerpt from his diary, which I quote again and again: “The origin of ‘false religion’ is the inability to be joyful, or rather – the rejection of joy. Meanwhile joy is so absolutely important, because it is without doubt the fruit of knowing the presence of God. It is impossible to know that God is, and not to have joy. And it is only in connection with this joy that awe of God, contrition and humility are proper and genuine and bear fruit. Apart from this joy these can easily become ‘demonic’, a perversion at the base of the most religious experience itself. The religion of fear. The religion of false humility. The religion of guilt, which says (0f joy,GAM), ‘This is all temptation, it is all spiritual “rapture.” ‘ But how strong is this religion, not only in the world but within the Church! And for some reason, ‘religious’ people are always suspicious of joy. The first, the most important, the source of everything is, ‘Let my soul rejoice in the Lord …’ The fear of sin does not prevent one from sinning. Joy in the Lord does.”
    With my experience in the Russian Orthodox faith, I knew that this was not the belief of most of that faith. He was the exception. Therefore anyone who swims the Bosporus based on his writings, will find a barren land when he arrives.
    But back to our church. The idea troubles me that of all the churches in this world, ours is the only one God has kept without error. In my opinion, those who hold that view are no different from those you characterize as swimmers: “Intellectual arrogance combined with a penchant for self-deception is an extraordinarily bad thing, and that, my friends, is why Missouri Synod pastors” stay in Missouri.
    I can understand how a gentile might believe in semper virgo or the clauso utero. But to my Messianic Jewish friends, this is simply absurd. The business about the Holy Spirit and faith repeatedly flitting in and out of people is clearly unscriptural. There are other things, but enough for now.
    Based on Scripture, I suggest that the most important quality of the Church, its pastors and laypeople is a burning desire to keep pure and proclaim the Gospel. I predict that if we examine and correct our Confessions with this attitude, our church would see a resurgence that Church Growth people can only dream of. Not because we would have done the right thing, but because God blesses the growth where good seed is sown.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  4. I obviously have not “headed east” but I have a friend who has for all practical purposes (he attends an Assyrian church, which does not differ too much from the GO church). And while I by the grace of God know full well the foolishness of forsaking justificaion by faith alone, I can see why the GO church is so appealing.

    Incidentally, my friend holds to faith alone, but it’s more in spite of the Assyrian church doctrine, not because of it (that he lives in an area where most of the churches are pentecostalized American evangelicalist churches doesn’t help any). I’m glad he still maintains that salvation is through faith in Christ, but I’m concerned that this may falter through repeated exposure to bad doctrine.

  5. ” Intellectual arrogance combined with a penchant for self-deception is an extraordinarily bad thing, and that, my friends, is why Missouri Synod pastors go East.”

    Pr. Lehmann,

    I, too, have known Lutheran pastors who have gone from Augsburg to Rome or Constantinople. I do not think the accusation you make above matched them at all. Rather than an exercise of intellectual arrogance, pride, or self deception, let me posit another reason some have gone this route: Rome or Constantinople exercised in practice a faith closer to the Lutheran Confessions, than the ostensibly named Lutheran synods around them.

    That is not to say that they found Rome or Constantinople particularly Lutheran– but rather that they found them more Lutheran than those who claim the name, at least as measured by the Lutheran Confessions. Or, they observed that they could live the Lutheran Confessions more consistently there, than they could in any named Lutheran synod.

    That motivation is a long way from the nasty accusation you’ve made. I might also note, that historically, Benedict Arnold attempted to hand over his countrymen to the slaughter of the enemy. None of these Lutheran pastors I’ve known have ever shown even an inkling of such intent.

  6. @George A. Marquart #4


    I don’t think the Lutheran Confessions require amendment. Rather, they require honest living into them. It’s not a matter of whether one church or another is right, but rather, which is living most consistently into the true confession of Scripture. The Lutheran Confessions make a true confession of the catholic faith, based on Scripture. Lutheran church bodies, however, are ridiculously poor at living that confession, particularly as evidenced in American synods. It’s not the confession which needs altering, but the people and their churches which require repentance back to the confessions’ sound doctrine.

    My two cents, anyway.

  7. @Brad #9

    In my post, I said, “At this point, I am going to be so bold as to make a very specific comparison between Benedict Arnold and some of my former colleagues in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.”

    The important word is “some.” I am describing certain individuals who have gone swimming. And those I describe did have evil intent. They left their flocks open to slaughter, either by themselves, by Satan, or by both. Many apostasized from Christianity entirely because the men whom God had given them to be their pastors abandoned the true confession of the faith.

    I know that some have different reasons than those I describe. I’m not denying that at all.

    I would say that those whom you are describing may have thought that Rome or Constantinople were more Lutheran than those who bear the name, but they were wrong in that assessment. I’m sure they were “honestly” wrong in the sense that they believed their false assessment, but their assessment was still false.

  8. @Rev. Charles Lehmann #11

    Pr. Lehmann,

    Thanks for the clarification of your reply. Your closing statement which I quoted seemed to be making a universal application, and that’s what I took issue with.

    I’m not arguing that their assessments were more or less correct, only that they were motivated by something other than you suggested. Just how Lutheran the ELCA, LCMS, WELS, NALC, LCMC, etc., are relative to the Confessions is an academic debate worth having, as is the relative proximity of Rome or the East to those same Confessions. But this is not the place for that in-depth analysis.

    Thanks again for the clarification. Peace to you.

  9. @Brad #9: “let me posit another reason some have gone this route: Rome or Constantinople exercised in practice a faith closer to the Lutheran Confessions, than the ostensibly named Lutheran synods around them.”

    “Benedict Arnold attempted to hand over his countrymen to the slaughter of the enemy. None of these Lutheran pastors I’ve known have ever shown even an inkling of such intent.”

    The ones who took their families with them to the dark side show more than an inkling of such intent. At least one pastor delayed leaving long enough to persuade some of his congregation to join him when he made the transition.

    Blaming others who show disdain for Lutheran Confession and practice and using that as the excuse for leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church shows that the turncoat really didn’t (or never did) accept the Lutheran Confessions himself. Such an excuse is hypocrisy on the part of the deserter.

  10. @Brad #12

    I can see how you could take my last statement that way, and you’re not entirely wrong.

    I do think that intellectual arrogance and self-deception are always a piece of the puzzle, but the size of the piece varies a great deal.

  11. @Carl Vehse #13

    That wasn’t precisely my point. Leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church is something of a moot point, when the synods which presumably are its local representatives no longer confess or live the faith of that church. There are quite a few folks I’ve encountered over the years, who when faced by the local practical reality of Lutheran named institutions that are no longer Lutheran, begin asking the unfortunately necessary question of which body of Christians in their geographical area are closest in doctrine and practice to the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church; in essence, where can they live out most faithfully the Lutheran Confessions in their time and place?

    The conclusions they draw may be wrong, but I don’t think we can impugn the motives of everyone in that plight. Where the local Lutheran congregations are more egregiously in violation of the Lutheran Confessions than other local congregations of other church bodies, the main fault is less with those who seek the most relative faithfulness they can discern, than it is with church bodies and congregations who have failed to actually be the Lutheran churches they presume to be.

  12. @Brad #16

    Initially you were speaking about pastors (in response to Rev. Lehmann’s article about pastors betraying the Lutheran Confessions, their confirmation and ordination vows, and their divine call). And it was to those comments that I responded.

    Now you switch to talk about “synods which presumably are its local representatives” and note “quite a few folks” who when “faced by the local practical reality of Lutheran named institutions” are “no longer Lutheran.”

    Even if a local congregation has become Lufauxran in its doctrine and practice, or even if a District or Synod has abandoned Lutheranism, that still does not justify a Lutheran layman betraying his Lutheran Confession and joining a heterodox (much less, heretical) religious organization.

  13. @Carl Vehse #17

    Fair enough– my apologies shifting subjects. A pastor’s situation is different from that of the average lay person.

    However, how would you distinguish between the problem of remaining in a heterodox religious organization which pretends to be Lutheran, versus a heterodox organization which does not pretend to be Lutheran, if not to measure relative degrees of divergence from the truth?

  14. One difference is that you can legitimately and reasonably hope that a group that claims to be Lutheran might become more faithful to its confession by repenting of its errors (as the LCMS has done this week).

    There is no reason to hope that for Rome or Constantinople.

  15. @Rev. Charles Lehmann #19

    Perhaps, Pr. Lehmann. The LCMS may stop violating the Confessions regarding the laity usurping the Office of the Ministry, Enthusiast worship, Five-two blasphemies against sacramental theology, Willow Creek clone congregations which pipe in heretical teachers to their people week after week, and so forth… and it’s a good thing to hope for. As with the good sign of the vote regarding LLD, the proof will be in the pudding.

    Other heterodox Lutheran synods haven’t shown much progress toward a return to the Confessions. The ELCA does not grow closer to being Lutheran year after year. I scratch my head wondering historically how many heterodox Lutheran synods ever came back to orthodoxy… or if the path blazed by the LCMS at its founding is the more reliable path back to Lutheran orthodoxy, by beginning again from scratch.

  16. In his The Evangelical Lutheran Church the True Visible Church of God on Earth, C.F.W. Walther states Thesis IX (Wm Dallmann translation):

    Though according to the divine promises it is not possible for the one holy Christian Church ever to perish, it is yet possible, and at times it has really happened, that there did not exist a true VISIBLE Church in the absolute sense, in which through an uncorrupted public ministry the preaching of the pure Word of God and the administration of the unadulterated Sacraments held sway.

    In his Kirche und Amt, C.F.W. states his Thesis VIII on the Church (J.T. Mueller translation):

    Although God gathers for Himself a holy church of elect also where His Word is not taught in its perfect purity and the sacraments are not administered altogether according to the institution of Jesus Christ, if only God’s Word and the sacraments are not denied entirely but both remain in their essential parts, nevertheless, every believer must, at the peril of losing his salvation, flee all false teachers, avoid all heterodox congregations or sects, and acknowledge and adhere to orthodox congregations and their orthodox pastors wherever such may be found. A. Also in heterodox and heretical churches there are children of God, and also there the true church is made manifest by the pure Word and the sacraments that still remain. B. Every believer for the sake of his salvation must flee all false teachers and avoid all heterodox congregations or sects. C. Every Christian for the sake of his salvation is duty bound to acknowledge and adhere to orthodox congregations and orthodox pastors, wherever he can find such.

  17. @Carl Vehse #21

    “wherever such may be found.”

    There, indeed, is the rub. Living on either coast, or deep in the south, one can find fairly large geographic areas where authentic Confessional Lutheran congregations are not visibly present.

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