The Truth Makes Us Enemies?

british-soldiers-fighting-in-trenchesIt is a profound and disturbing commentary on our situation in the LCMS when two pastors who have never met each other before and know nothing about each other get that opportunity.  What typically takes place very quickly?  It is profound and disturbing that what takes place is the typical “feeling each other out theologically” conversation that ensues. Each wants to know who they are engaging before proceeding much further.

One instance in my not too distant past exemplified this to the hilt.  I came into contact with an individual who advanced this exploration process with me quickly and aggressively.  When he found out my theological position, he repeatedly responded: “I’ve never heard nor experienced this in all my days in the Synod.”  My response continued to be of this nature: “Are we talking about the same synod, the LCMS?”  He was somewhat older than me and held more distinguished synodical positions than me.  I finally responded: “Are you saying that my experiences are not true?”  As one may predict, this conversation and relationship went on a downward spiral rapidly.

These pastor-to-pastor confrontations remind me of Galatians 4:16 “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (ESV)  To begin with, some commentators see this verse not as a question but as an exclamation.  Dr. Andrew Das, the author of the CPH Commentary on Galatians, is one such proponent.  His comments on this fascinating passage are revelatory for our situation:

The irony and even indignity are inescapable as Paul has gone from dear friend to enemy. Galatians 4:16 is an urgent plea for the Galatians to recognize what has happened to their relationship with Paul.  In the second century, Jewish-Christian teachers will label the apostle Paul “the enemy,” and that is precisely how the Galatians, under the influence of the first-century rivals, are coming to view Paul.  The Jewish-Christian rivals were convincing the Galatians that Paul’s message was deficient.  The Galatians may have come to view Paul as having withheld crucial information for a right relationship with God.  The Galatians’ relationship with the apostle has been poisoned. Paul counters that he has indeed told them the truth. The truth of the Gospel permits circumcised Jews and uncircumcised gentiles to eat at the same table together.  Nothing further is required of the gentiles.  Paul has already, at great risk and cost, stood firm for that truth (2:14; cf. 5:7; Eph 4:15).  The rivals are the manipulators who deceive.  God blesses the gentiles as gentiles, and that is the truth![1]

What I find central to our situation in the LCMS is which side hides the other sides’ positions from their laypeople?  Which pastors attempt to poison their congregations with deception about the other sides’ positions?  Which group of LCMS pastors has for decades sought to deceive the laypeople that it should not be your Grandfather’s church anymore?  On theological issue upon issue, the opponents of confessional Lutheranism hide the other sides’ arguments from the people and using some of Das’ language: “poison as many congregations as they can with this deception.”  Examples of this abound in our synod.  Real life disagreements among LCMS pastors occur all the time over what some have professed to be “long settled biblical and confessional beliefs.”  Included here at the least would be closed communion, the inerrancy of Scripture, the office of the public ministry, and fellowship with other Christian groups.  In a previous BJS post entitled, Why Not a Formula of Concord for Today?, I cited a conversation with a noted LCMS opponent who exemplified this hiding of the Confessional Lutheran position on such matters from his congregation when he asked me: “How am I to respond when my people ask me why so many other LCMS pastors think we are not believing, confessing, and teaching the same doctrines?”  This was and is easy to answer: “Just fairly cite our positions!  Don’t continue to deceive and then poison them against us!  Let them hear both sides and search the Scripture, the Book of Concord, and inquire of other sources.  Then they can decide for themselves.”

Personally, I have experienced such poisoning and deception as Das expertly comments on Paul’s inspired words in Gal 4:16.  More significant, many other pastors besides me can multiply this from their experience.  Who is telling the truth for the LCMS today?

Have we, the Confessional Lutherans, who wish to remain faithful to our rich heritage of those who still believe in the three Reformation Solas become enemies of some LCMS pastors and their congregations simply because we have told the truth!

 

 

[1] A. Andrew Das, Concordia Commentary on Galatians, (St. Louis:CPH, 2014),466-467.

About Rev. Rodney Zwonitzer

he Rev. Rodney Zwonitzer graduated with a B.S. in Business Management from the University of Wyoming in 1971. From 1971 to 1975 he served as executive trainee for Westinghouse in Denver, CO. Then from 1975 to 1979 he was marketing director/administrator for Storage Technology Corporation of Louisville, Colorado. From 1979 to 1984 he was Product Marketing Manager for United Technologies/Mostek of Carrollton, Texas. Then another calling came into his life. After attending four years of seminary at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, he was called in 1988 to serve as Pastor of Peace and Trinity Lutheran Churches in Trail, British Columbia, Canada. He served there until he was called to be Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dearborn, Michigan in 1991. In 2012 he was called to be Director of Broadcast Services for the LCMS. The Rev. Rod Zwonitzer is author of Testing the Claims of Church Growth (CPH, 2002). He is co-founder of the Peacemakers Dialogue Group, has served on the Board of Directors of LATINO (Lutheran Action Improving Native Spanish Outreach), is a co-founder of the Ephphatha Lutheran Mission Society, and has served as an adjunct professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. Rev. Zwonitzer retired in 2015 and resides in Florida.

Comments

The Truth Makes Us Enemies? — 4 Comments

  1. In my observation, you have become enemies because theology has become politics. There’s no way to discuss theological issues in the LCMS anymore, without an eye to who will be elected to the levers of synodical power (and who will be drafted along on their coat tails.) Too much has devolved into a political melee of who can mobilize the largest and most effective populist movement.

    Ecclesiastical polity may be, purely speaking, an adiaphoron… but the political bureaucratic monstrosity which the LCMS has become makes clear that it is not a value-less adiaphoron. So long as the political machine of the LCMS remains the dominant driver, priority, and focus of the institution, the relations between individual clergy (and congregations) will continue to be colored by the lamentable process you outline above.

  2. Brad –

    You are describing but a symptom of the real underlying cause of all of these divisions, and the seeming elevation of adiaphora to almost sacramental status, and the forever battle about Church and Ministry, about which the Church will be talking when the Lord returns, I am most certain.

    When we were Ordained, each time each of us received a Divine Call, we testified and pledged – before God, each other, and the Church, our fidelity to the Divine Word of God and the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and the whole Book of Concord, by which and in which we all believe, teach and confess.

    Been watching every cycle, change, aberration – you name it, over my 40 years in Synod, 30+ in collar, I’ve just about seen everything. They are hardly surprising to me. I have watched the acceptance, first by brethren, and then flocks, of the intrusion of culture upon every phase of the Church – extending from church growth to the now popular 5/2 side-by-side with the other intrusions of non liturgies, redesigned liturgies, and on and on, to the degree that the Work of the Spirit to ensure Christ comes to his people, in the Word properly preached, highlighting the Blessed Gospel of forgiveness, and the Blessed Sacraments, through which the Gospel’s promises are delivered personally to each soul among us, seems relegated to some lesser status.

    As I said, I am hardly a newbie and no longer shocked by whatever new Adiaphora bursts onto the scene, ready to lift the Church to unprecedented heights! At times I wonder (if only in jest) if God is being sure to get all these new and wonderful things duly noted!

    But what never ceases to amaze me, confound me, pain me – is that some brethren seem to have laid those promise and pledges of fidelity to Ordination and Installation on some little used shelf, or in the back of some old file cabinet in a dusty folder marked “Miscellaneous.” To see the abandonment of our “first love” to pursue cultural enticements and entitlements, or a focus on personal achievement, at the cost of who we are and what we promised to the Lord and his Church, still amazes, still comes a a shock – a surprise to this old soul.

    That will always puzzle me and confuse me and pain me to see. The Holy Ministry is filled with the devil’s pitfalls and tragedies and death, and just trying to navigate properly through those for the sake of Christ and his Church is truly above the pay grades of us all. But despite those and our own failures, we nonetheless made our pledges, plead for the mercy of and forgiveness from Christ, and start anew each day.

    To jettison our Ordination and Installation pledges to chase hither and yon after all these other things not of the Church, can never be called adiaphora. It may seem small, even inconsequential at first, but once the satan sets his hook, it might seem right for a bit, but the devil never quits reeling.

    Our great weapon seems even simpler, yet is is backed by the very power of the Living God in Christ. It is simply and, at the same time, gloriously called fidelity – faithfulness – to the Word, to the Sacraments, to the vow and pledges by which we serve Christ to all and among all the faithful, and the reception of the same ourselves. Those things things alone should have us as busy as we can be and more.

    And – most importantly – we owe that fidelity to Jesus Christ, on His terms, not ours. We must at all cost, remember that!

    Pax – pb

    Kudos to Brother Zwonitzer for the article.

  3. @jb #2

    I agree, JB, and though I have less than a third your direct experience with the LCMS, I have seen much the same. I’ll take your observation a step further…

    That vow we took is directly tied to the 1st and 2nd Commandments– to break it, is to commit the top two most egregious of sins, for which God speaks some of His most withering condemnation. That so many LCMS pastors seem unconcerned with taking the Lord’s Name in vain through violating their vows which they swore to keep in His Name, shows that in addition to the rank Enthusiasm which infects the Synod, so too does Antinomianism. There is no fear of God before the eyes of one who can willfully break their vows for any reason, no matter how presumably pious. And lest we forget the Apology’s frank description of mortal sin, there is no forgiveness of that willful violation without faith and repentance. As uncharitable as it may sound to say it, that means there are a lot of LCMS pastors who are currently living in mortal sin, cut off from the Means of Grace, and bringing condemnation upon themselves and all they draw into their orbit.

    The Enthusiasm and Antinomianism that is shown forth in broken pastoral vows, bureaucratic politics over Scriptural theology, and the constant inquisitorial war between pastors and congregations over the truth of Scripture and the Confessions, shows a profound lack of faith and repentance… without which, there is no grace, forgiveness, life, and salvation. The LCMS is becoming like Laodicia, and it needs to hear harsh words before it meets the same fate.

    Those, to my observation, are the ominously severe and urgent issues plaguing the LCMS, and the ones that tend to get dismissed, ridiculed, and maligned when brought to the fore. Perhaps both to your the original poster’s point, fraternity will not return to the pastors and congregations of the LCMS, until fidelity to God’s Word in true faith and repentance returns first. Any other forced harmony will only be of human concoction, and of infinitely lesser value. That’s a lesson we should have learned from Rome a very long time ago.

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