The following dialogue translation is from the August 16, 1904 issue of Der Lutheraner, the Missouri Synod’s German language predecessor to the Lutheran Witness. It is a conversation between an elder member of a fledgling congregation and his pastor. It teaches us how important clear communication is between a pastor and his leadership, and when basic Christian truths are neglected, this problem may snowball and cause much strife in the congregation. Readers will notice the high regard for the voters meeting. While some may quibble with that, the point is well-taken that men should participate actively in their congregations and express concerns to their pastor in a spirit of charity. The author of this piece goes by the initials of J.A.F. If someone could enlighten me on who this person is, I would also be thankful. – R.L.L.
“Let Us Not Neglect Meeting Together, As Some Are Doing” (Hebrews 10:25)
Some months ago a small mission congregation was established in Village X. Although the members were few in number, they all worked joyfully to build up the congregation, and the Lord placed his blessing on their labor. The little congregation began to bloom quite beautifully.
But along came the old evil foe, who can’t stand having peace, and he sowed the seed of schism between two of the oldest members of the congregation. At the heart of the matter were only minor personal matters, which didn’t even have anything to do with the work of the congregation. But one of the men, Mr. Z., took this as opportunity to distance himself from the congregation.
One evening there was a congregational meeting, and Mr. Z. did not come. A man who recently came out of a long-established congregation elsewhere suggested that liturgical song be introduced in the worship services, especially at the celebration of Holy Communion. After much thorough consideration the congregation unanimously agreed. On several evenings during the week the whole congregation, young and old, gathered to practice the liturgy, which was for the most part unknown to them. Great was the joy when everything finally “clicked” beautifully. On the holy Feast of Easter the Holy Communion liturgy would be sung for the first time.
Then it happened. The church service was well attended. Many visitors even came. Mr. Z. was even among those present.
As soon as the pastor began singing the Our Father in the Holy Communion liturgy, something happened which about destroyed the entire celebration. Mr. Z., who sat right in the front of the church, got up quickly, grabbed his hat, and with much rumbling hurried out of the church. He slammed the door behind him so loudly, that the whole church shook. No one knew what that meant, not even the pastor. Some thought that Mr. Z. suddenly may have become sick. Others had different explanations, but no one knew the real reason.
No one from Mr. Z.’s large family was present for worship on Easter Monday. The pastor supposed that something was up. After worship the pastor immediately went to visit the family, hoping that he would get to the bottom of the problem.
Mr. Z. sat in front of the door and was smoking as the pastor entered the yard. But he didn’t seem to hear the friendly greeting of the pastor. He only sat and stared in front of himself. The pastor acted as if he did not notice Mr. Z.’s rudeness, and he sat on a stool by Mr. Z. He then asked Mr. Z. whether someone in his family was seriously ill. He thought that might be the case since none of them were at morning worship. They hadn’t missed Easter Monday worship before, so he quickly came by to visit, in order that he may know for certain.
Short and gruffly Mr. Z. replied that no one in the family was sick. He went on smoking as he stared at the clouds. The pastor then asked if there had been some necessary work to do, which kept them away from God’s house. “No, we don’t work on Easter Monday,” Mr. Z. said as he continued smoking.
Astounded, the pastor stared at the man and said, “That is very strange! No one in your house is sick, none of your family is working today, and still none of you came to church! What’s going on?”
As if he were stung by a wasp, Mr. Z. stood up with a start. He paced quickly back and forth, blowing huge clouds of smoke in front of him. After a while he stopped, stood before the pastor, looked at him angrily, and then he said, “What’s going on? Fine, I will tell you. I will never go to your church ever again! None of my family will ever go either! No sir, under no circumstances! I am done with the congregation for good. I don’t want anything more to do with it! Then he started pacing back and forth as before. The pastor hadn’t expected this, and therefore he was not a little surprised at this news. But it was soon clear to him that he was getting to the heart of the matter. He had to clear away any obstacles for Mr. Z. Otherwise, it could easily happen that the young congregation could fall into ruins. The pastor hid his shock, as good as possible, and calmly asked, “So if I understand you correctly, you want to separate from our congregation? That is a very serious thing. You know that there is only one reason to separate from a church, which is valid among us, namely the stubborn adherence to false doctrine and its consequent practice. You’re not going to accuse our congregation of false doctrine, are you?” Naturally, the pastor expected Mr. Z. to say no and bring up his dispute with the other member. But the pastor was mistaken. Then to his great surprise Mr. Z. explained, “You are correct! I can no longer in good conscience go to your church, because you adhere to false doctrine. You have deceived the congregation and saddled it with Catholic doctrine. I have no desire to become Catholic as I grow old!”
Pastor: “What? I have deceived the congregation into following Catholic doctrine? What do you mean?”
Mr. Z.: “You sing the Our Father. That is shameful! That is Catholic! That is idolatry! Our Lord has expressly forbidden it in the Bible. When he taught his disciples the Our Father, he commanded them clearly, ‘When you pray, so speak.’ You do not speak it, but you sing it, and even at the celebration of Holy Communion! That is abominable!” And he went on for a while longer, speaking in the same tone.
Pastor: “You are mistaken, my dear Mr. Z., if you think that I have coerced the congregation into using liturgical song. The suggestion came not from me, but from Mr. R. To be sure, I am quite happy about it, that we have this old beautiful Lutheran custom. But as for me, I would not have introduced it at this time, but the congregation unanimously approved Mr. R.’s suggestion. In the short run I have much more important matters to tend to. But this is where it stands: I have not coerced the congregation with this practice, or “saddled” it, as you have put it. The congregation asked me to sing the Holy Communion liturgy. And I will do it gladly, since it is a beautiful, edifying, ancient Christian practice, which has nothing to do with popery.”
Mr. Z: “Even worse! Then you are a coward or a servant of men. You should not have let the decision of the congregation move you to do what Christ has forbidden. You should not have permitted such a decision to be made. You should’ve said, ‘We may not do that, because it is against God’s Word.’ But you did not do that. Rather, you have acted as a silent dog. So you are still the actual reason why this abomination has come into the church.”
Pastor: “Mr. Z., you are a voting member of our congregation, correct?”
Mr. Z.: “I was once, not anymore.”
Pastor: “Were you still a voting member four weeks ago, when the congregation arrived at this decision?”
Mr. Z.: “Yes. Why do you ask?”
Pastor: “Because you claim that the congregation has introduced papistic abomination into our worship through its decision. If that is true, then it is only you – mark well what I am saying – it is only you who is responsible before God and men for this abomination. I will prove it to you.
Mr. Z: “What a joke!”
Pastor: “It is no joke, but utter seriousness. You will soon see, if you answer my questions honestly. Matters which affect the congregation are discussed in our congregation meetings, correct?”
Mr. Z.: “Yes.”
Pastor: “Every voting member is duty-bound to attend these meetings when possible, correct?”
Mr. Z.: “Yes, it is required by the congregation constitution.”
Pastor: “Were you at the last meeting?”
Mr. Z.: “No.”
Pastor: “Why not? Were you sick? Or were you kept away by urgent and necessary work?”
Mr. Z.: “No. I had other personal reasons.”
Pastor: “I see. You were able to come, but you didn’t want to come. Is that correct?”
Mr. Z.: “Yeah, fine. I didn’t want to come. I get upset every time I see Mr. K. participate in the meeting. I know that he is a miserable hypocrite. I didn’t want to see him in there.”
Pastor: “I see! So because of Mr. K. you’re no longer attending the meetings? I have heard right out of Mr. K.’s mouth, that he has made serious attempts to reconcile with you. Have you not been ready to reconcile?”
Mr. Z.: “No. I don’t want anything more to do with that man! I will not have brotherhood with such a man!”
Pastor: “My dear, dear Mr. Z., this is a very sad state of affairs with you! You have sinned gravely against God and against your neighbor. You go about in your stubborn ways, refusing to be reconciled. You explain that you have not done your duty as a congregation member because you ‘didn’t want to.’ Because of this, you alone are the cause that our congregation and its pastor have been deceived into embracing ‘papistic abominations’ and ‘false doctrine,’ as you say. What a horrible thing to have on your conscience!”
Mr. Z: “What? Now I am at fault, that chanting was introduced in our church? Now that is rich! I was not at the meeting where that decision was made. How can I be responsible?”
Pastor: “You are most certainly responsible. And if a single soul is lost, so the Lord will require its blood from your hands. You see, the congregation and I have discussed the question concerning the introduction of liturgical song in a regular congregation meeting. We discussed the matter according to our best knowledge, with a good conscience. Then we made the decision, because we believed liturgical song would serve towards the glory of God and the edification of his Christians. We did not know, that it was ‘false doctrine,’ as you claim. But you know – I speak now from your standpoint – that it was against God’s Word, that it was papistic idolatry, that it was false doctrine. As congregation member it was your holy duty to keep watch over doctrine in the congregation, to take care that nothing contrary to Scripture was introduced or tolerated. You have not fulfilled this high duty. Without necessity, out of defiance and pride you have flippantly neglected the meeting of the congregation. You have neither warned us, nor have you instructed us from God’s Word concerning the matter. Neither have you protested or struggled against the introduction of this ‘false doctrine.’ Therefore this fact remains: if the congregation has fallen into error, you are therefore responsible. You, and only you have that on your conscience.”
Then the pastor preached to Mr. Z. the law in its severe sharpness, proving to him, that he was deeply mired in works righteousness and lived in great sin while he refused to be reconciled to his brother. With great seriousness the pastor showed him that he would forever be lost, if he did not repent. Lastly, the pastor gave him a short instruction on prayer and on the scriptural teaching of adiaphora. He showed him from God’s Word, that the singing of the liturgy was in no way a papistic abomination.
Mr. Z. became very quiet and contemplative. One could see how God’s Word did not fail to have an effect on him. It was obvious that Mr. Z. had much to think about. The pastor departed with a heartfelt word of admonition.
Two days passed, and late one evening there was a knock on the pastor’s door. As the pastor opened, Mr. Z. walked in abruptly. He took the pastor’s hand and said, “I must speak with you alone.” When both were alone, Mr. Z. once again took the pastor’s hand and said, “Pastor, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, how you have given me a piece of your mind. You were right: were I to die unrepentant, I would have been lost. I have reconciled with Mr. K. Now I would like to ask you to forgive me, for I have done you great wrong. Also I will ask the congregation to forgive me for the great offense I have caused.”
And so it happened. In the next meeting Mr. Z. confessed his wrong before the congregation and asked for forgiveness. With penetrating words he warned the members of the congregation to learn from his case. It is a dangerous thing, when out of defiance, one neglects the congregation meeting. For Mr. Z., it was almost his ruin. With God’s help, he promised never again to neglect a congregational meeting, as long as he was able to come.
He kept his promise faithfully until his death.