Since writing and speaking about the rebellion and misappropriation of property by the Concordia University Texas (CTX) Board of Regents (BOR) against its parent organization, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), readers of the essays at Brothers of John the Steadfast and listeners to radio interviews and podcasts on Issues Etc. have provided a lot of responses.
Disapprobation of CTX
Nearly all of the responses have disagreed with the action of the BOR. The regents have attempted to throw off supervision by LCMS, to deny their stewardship to LCMS, to refuse to seat regents duly and regularly elected by the synod in convention, to themselves appoint imposter regents, to declare themselves unbound by LCMS doctrine, and to walk off with property given to them in trust for the benefit of the synod, its congregations, members, parents, students, and contributors.
Hardly anyone sees this as “complex” or “nuanced” as CTX President Don Christian and his few defenders claim. They pretend it is complex in an attempt to avoid the substance of the issue under the Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth Commandments. They seek to cloud it over with a pretentious “expert” knowledge that justifies rebellion and misappropriation of property.
Hope for Action
The second most frequent response is a hope that appropriate authorities of LCMS will take strong actions. Some have expressed doubt that the authorities would do so.
Of course I listen to the defenses of the BOR, President Christian, and Chairman of the Regents Christopher Bannwolf such as on the podcasts of Unite Leadership Collective. These give opportunity to hear Christian and CTX Provost Kristi Kirk themselves making their case and the hosts defending them. That falls into the category of me seeking out information about their side of the story. But in the category of people providing responses to me, there has been only one defense of the rebellion. Less than a handful of people ask whether I have called Don Christian. That is the sole defense so far of the people who have responded to me.
The sole critique of the action of the Board of Directors (BOD) of LCMS in filing a civil lawsuit against Christian, Bannwolf, and CTX has been that we should just let them take it. One humorous response said we should box up a cloak, mail it to them, and enclose a note saying, “Here, take my cloak too.” I got a charge out of that.
But I cannot agree with it. Christ tells me to give robbers my cloak also when they are taking my tunic. He does not tell me to give someone else’s cloak away or let someone else’s property be taken when I am a steward of that property for them. The BOD no more owns the university than the BOR, Christian, or Bannwolf does. Both the BOD and the BOR are stewards and fiduciaries for the synod, its congregations, parents, students, and contributors. Christ never told stewards to let their master’s property be taken nor to give their master’s cloak also. Christ teaches that stewards must be faithful with the business and property of their masters.
A Theologian’s Question
Recently while in St Louis, a theologian of the synod asked me a question about the suit by the BOD. He said, what are your thoughts about the lawsuit and 1 Corinthians 6. In neither tone nor substance was this a criticism or even a critique. It was simply a question for Christian conscience informed by Scripture. It was a fraternal invitation to explore that issue together. It is a good question that we Christians should face. I had thought about it before and had been surprised that no one brought it up before. While only one person has asked me this, my hunch is that others have wondered about it too. So, in this essay I offer some thoughts about it for your consideration.
Scriptural and Confessional Principles
Because Lutherans hold to sola scriptura – that the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the sole source and norm for doctrine, practice, and life – we approach this issue from Scripture and our submissive position beneath it.
Yes, 1 Corinthians 6 has something obligatory to say to us about suits between Christian brothers before courts of unbelievers. We are obligated to read and observe the text, let it say what it says, believe it, and obey it.
Along with that, we hold to some principles about how to understand Scripture. One is that we take the whole counsel of God in Scripture on a subject, not just one passage. Another is that Scripture agrees with Scripture and Scripture interprets Scripture. We do not assume, for example, that Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 contradicts Christ in Matthew 18, nor that Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 contradicts himself in Romans 13, nor that Paul or Christ contradicts Moses in the Ten Commandments, etc. Therefore, when assessing something like the BOD’s lawsuit, we bring multiple relevant passages to bear.
Our Lutheran approach also includes a belief that the confessional writings of the Lutheran church in the Book of Concord are correct expositions of the teaching of Scripture. In concord with the confessions, we believe that God makes three uses of his Law. His first use is as a curb against evil in society. His second use is to reveal our sin, condemnation, and need for Christ our Savior and drive us to Christ. His third use is in the Christian life. Therefore, when assessing something like the BOD’s lawsuit, we consider whether each of these benefits from God through his Law is in play.
These principles (the ones just stated) are only a few of the basic ones. Additional principles also apply. But in the space of this essay, they are about all we can cover for now. Using them, let us take a look at the text.
1 Corinthians 6
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says:
1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? 4 If then you have [a]judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers! 7 Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?
“Dare any of you” is suggestive that you should not dare, that you would be defying an authority. The authority is God.
“The unrighteous” judges and juries might possess civil righteousness. Some of them might be Christians. But in their offices of civil judge and jury, they are not justified by faith. In that sense, taking a case to them is going to law before the unrighteous. In other words, they are not saints. This understanding is made more certain by the next phrase, “and not before the saints.”
“The saints will judge the world.” The saints do not look like they are competent or righteous to judge the world. Then again, they do not look like saints, either. Here we are walking by faith and not by sight. By faith we know that believers are saints. Also by faith we know that Christ has installed saints into the office of judges of the world. The tense of the verb “will judge” is future, so this is judgment at the end of the world. Further, the saints “shall judge angels.” Kind of a mind blower, isn’t it.
If we are somehow worthy to judge the world and angels, “are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” As big as the CTX matter is, it is a small matter compared to judging the world and angels. Paul asks if we appoint those least esteemed by the church to judge things pertaining to this life. Again, those are unbelievers, possibly possessing civil nobility, but not being righteous by faith before God.
Today we have a tendency to think that shame tactics never are appropriate, but Paul uses one here. “I say this to your shame.” So, yes, if we dare to defy God here, we ought to be ashamed and we have no right to complain about someone (Paul) mentioning our shamefulness. Is there not even one wise man among us to judge between us, Paul asks.
In this text, we observe who is defiant to God and who should be ashamed. A “brother” who goes to law against a “brother” is defiant and should be ashamed. It is an utter failure. Instead, we ought to accept wrong. We ought to let ourselves be cheated.
Thus far Paul in 1 Corinthians 6. What did Jesus say in Matthew 18:15-18? He said:
15 Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ”by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” 17And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. 18 Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Here again we observe the word “brother.” “If your brother sins against you.” This provides some linkage between the two texts. This will prove to be part of the comparison and harmonization of the two texts.
Somehow between verse 15 and the end of verse 17, the treatment of the person changes from being like “brother” to “like a heathen and a tax collector.” There are two things to observe here. First, somehow the person stopped being spoken of as a “brother.” Second, Jesus did not say he is a heathen or a tax collector, but “let him be to you like.” You are to treat him like a heathen and a tax collector – as if he were a heathen and a tax collector. The words speak about how we are to treat him, not about us judging that he is a heathen. We still do not know about that. God knows. But because of these words, we do know how to treat him.
A tax collector was a Jew who went over to the Romans. Furthermore, he took more than was lawful. He took what did not belong to either Rome or himself. Perhaps it is because he has gone over to the Romans and because he takes what he should not take that we are to treat him as a Roman, a heathen. Maybe, maybe not. But even if we cannot be sure of why Jesus said this, we are sure what He said, “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
What happened between verse 15 and the end of verse 17 leading to such a change in treatment?
First, Jesus told us to go and tell our brother his fault between us and him alone. He said, “if he hears you, you have gained your brother.” From these words we learn several things. For one, the problem is whether he hears or not. It is a matter of hearing. For another, if he hears, he remains as Jesus identified him at first, our “brother.” For another, if he hears and remains our “brother,” that is a gain to us. “You have gained your brother.” We ought to see the value of our “brother” and sincerely want to gain him.
Consistent with the problem being about whether the “brother” will hear, Jesus describes a bad outcome in the words, “But if he will not hear.” There is an interesting and important exegetical issue surrounding the verb translated here in the NKJV as “will not hear.” In English, that sounds different from an indicative “did not” hear. “Will not” hear sounds like a matter of volition and the will. If he hears, it is because he willed to hear. If he did not hear, it is because he would not.
But it is easy to go wrong considering a point like this based only on the English in our favorite translation. So, let us look at this more closely. Several other translations, such as the ESV, NIV, NASB, Legacy Standard Bible, and the Lexham English Bible, say “does not” instead of “will not.” But, they also change the rest of the verb from “hear” to “listen.” How different is “does not listen” from “will not hear?” Those two are not very different. Compare “does not hear,” which could be for a variety of reasons, to “does not listen.” Clearly, in that latter case, he does not hear because he does not listen. “Does not” amputated from the rest of the verb sounds merely indicative, but when the thing he does not do is listen, the will and volition still seem to be in play. The Holman Christian Standard Bible and the Christian Standard Bible render it “if he won’t listen.” If that is right, then the meaning is pretty much how it sounded in the NKJV.
What are we looking at in Greek? Per Lenski, “The aorist ‘does not hear’ is definite refusal to hear and to be convicted.” Interestingly enough, the paraphrase Contemporary English Version renders it just as Lenski portrays it, “if that one refuses to listen.” Leon Morris comments, “He may refuse to take any notice when the brother sinned against points out his fault.” Luther describes the two reactions to the confrontation as “listens to you willingly” versus “refuses to endure this word of comfort.”
From this survey, it seems that the characterization of the behavior as a refusal, an unwillingness to listen, is warranted. People listen with their wills, or they won’t.
While behavior could be less obstinate and still be included in the language, here is a significant lesson from what we have observed: even if the negative behavior is as extreme as an out of hand and willfully obstinate refusal to so much as listen, let alone consider or agree, we still are not free to give up yet on trying to gain our brother. We are required to carry on to another step.
If he won’t listen, “take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’” The clause, “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” seems to be quoted freely from the Septuagint. Here Jesus echoes the language of Deuteronomy 19:15. Take note: even though we are “saints,” we must follow this piece of the Law. It is the loving thing to do. The Gospel has not abolished love.
“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.” At this point, no problem of exegesis remains. The behavior is a refusal to hear. We now have one refusal after another, and a refusal of a few people, not just of one person. But love goes still further. We must then tell it to the church.
The language, “tell it to the church” could be with the errant “brother” present in the church, but it just as easily embraces the situation that we cannot get him before the church because of his refusals. His refusal to appear before the church does not excuse us from having to tell it to the church and letting the church judge the case.
Now Jesus says, “if he refuses even to hear the church.” Note the word “even” applied to the church. We have reached the authority that holds the Office of the Keys, the power of the Keys, namely, the church. We know this from other Scripture texts, from the Catechism, and from the confessions in the Book of Concord. We know it from this passage itself, for it goes on immediately to say, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” People who doubt that the church has the power of the Keys ought to observe Christ’s words here, “Assuredly, I say to you.” He should not have to underscore anything He says, but for our benefit, He does underscore the Keys by these words.
Not only have we reached the Office of the Keys, Jesus tell us what the judgment of the church must be. “If he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” There might be a reluctance to exercise the Keys in this fashion. Love still wants to gain our “brother.” But who knows what love is, us or Christ? Christ knows what love is. He says to our reluctance, “Let.”
Luther on Matthew 18
We asked earlier, what happened between verse 15 and the end of verse 17 leading to such a change in treatment from brother to heathen and tax collector. Now we know. At this stage, the person is so far gone off from the church and Christ that, to carry on loving him, we must let him be to us like a heathen and a tax collector. We still evangelize heathens and tax collectors. But there is no evangelism that does not speak to heathens and tax collectors as the heathens and tax collectors that they are. Here God is revealing that He is making a second use of the Law, the evangelical use, the use to reveal sin, condemnation, and the need for Christ our Savior. There is no love for a person that does not tell them that truth. If we keep addressing them as “brothers,” we are foreclosing them in their sin. Luther says at this stage,
And if he still will not listen to you, and this admonition does him no good, then say: “I am now clear of any guilt. I must do my duty publicly, from the pulpit, and name him in front of everyone, so that the whole congregation knows how it should regard him, and so that he himself also knows that he is not one of the little group called the Christian Church. She, though she is weak, nevertheless does not sin against God and His Word deliberately and maliciously.” Then you should say, “This is the sin that he has committed, and, what is more, he will not listen to anyone.” And then, at this point, everyone should condemn the vice and affirm the judgment that he has not done right, so that a manifest sinner such as this is not deceived into thinking that he is still a Christian and thus remain stuck in sins. If he still does not listen, you should pronounce him to be under the ban and let him run away, and consider him as a heathen and a tax collector, as if he were none who is not a sheep and who refuses to be sought, but wants nothing but to remain lost.
It is hateful to leave a former brother stuck in his sin just as it is hateful not to preach the Law to heathens and tax collectors that they might be driven to Christ. Luther teaches about God’s second use of his Law in the Smalcald Articles. He says:
The Chief office or force of the Law is to reveal original sin with all its fruits. It shows us how very low our nature has fallen, how we have become utterly corrupted. The Law must tell us that we have no God, that we do not care for God, and that we worship other gods – something we would not have believed before and without the Law. In this way, we must become terrified, humbled, depressed. We despair and anxiously want help, but see no escape.
Then the Word of the Gospel lifts the weight of our sin that bore down upon Christ our substitute on the cross. Our sin was imputed to him, and his righteous is imputed to us. When the Holy Spirit accomplishes his ministry via the Law of contrition – being ground to powder by the confession of our sin – He, the Lord and Giver of Life, shows to the terrified, the humbled, the depressed the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. “The blood of Christ all my assurance is.”
Comparing the Texts
When we are at the stage of Matthew 18 where “he refuses even to hear the church” and before contrition and confession, we no longer have the same subject as Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 6. Paul is talking about a brother suing someone still to be treated as a brother, not as a heathen or a tax collector, not as one under the ban from the Church in its exercise of the Office of the Keys. In 1 Corinthians 6, we do not have the command from Christ, “Let.” “Let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Thus Paul does not contradict Christ. They are not talking about the same thing. Christ does not contradict Paul. Christ’s command to “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” is as obligatory as Paul’s command to suffer wrong by one still a brother.
Applying Matthew 18
In the current case, an officer of the Synod did offer to go and meet one-on-one, and this was refused. The officer then offered to bring several with him to meet, and this too was refused. The reports and resolution from this past summer’s synodical convention show that the synod, it officers, the LCMS, and its Board of Directors have pursued an exhausting array of avenues to gain our brothers. Under Matthew 18, what was left? “Tell it to the church.” And thus, Resolution 7-03 To Call Concordia University Texas Leadership to Repentance (Today’s Business, First Edition, 68th Regular Convention, 139-141) was presented to the synod in convention. The matter has been told to the church.
The church did not rule without a hearing. The delegates were supplied reports, overtures, and resolutions. The delegates voted to suspend the rules of the convention to allow Don Christian to speak to them on the convention floor. Delegates spoke for and against Resolution 7-03. The church adopted the resolution. The church has ruled.
I said to the theologian who asked the question about the lawsuit and 1 Corinthians 6, if you can name something more the LCMS could do that would qualify under Christ’s words, “Tell it to the church,” I would be for pausing or dismissing the lawsuit to pursue that avenue of seeking to gain our brother. But of course, I said, you cannot name it, because there is nothing left. Everything has been done.
Read the reports. Read Resolution 7-03. You can access them easily from the listing of documents here. Tell me, of what we are to have done, what has the LCMS left undone. There is nothing. If you read the documents you will see how thoroughly the commandments of Christ have been obeyed before reaching the stage of filing the lawsuit.
Tax collectors took what neither Rome nor they rightly had coming. When they repented and came to John to be baptized, they asked, “What should we do?” John said, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” (Luke 3:12) In misappropriating the property of the university, the Defendants have made CTX into Rome and themselves into tax collectors. They need to return to the Jordan. By confession and absolution, they need to return to their Baptism. Resolution 7-03 rightly requires “[t]he President of Synod stand prepared to grant holy absolution to those who repent and want to do better by rescinding their actions resulting in reconciliation and restoration.”
I have been practicing law for 45 years and every week find collisions between our attempts to live a Christian life and the secular legal system. In all that experience I never have seen more of a marvel than the construction of the complaint by the LCMS in this case. Even as the LCMS goes to federal district court against the defendants and by its attorneys pleads six counts competently under Texas substantive and federal procedural law, it also harmonized those secular forms to our religious doctrine and practice. If only the defendants would stipulate to the declaratory judgment count, they could escape liability for the breach of contract and interference with contract counts. In other words, even a secular form of forgiveness and absolution is open to the defendants by the manner in which the plaintiff has crafted it complaint. All they have to do is agree to give back to the synod what belongs to the synod in the way of supervision of the university and the beneficial interest in the university’s property. If they don’t, whatever befalls them they will have done to themselves.
First Use of the Law
On a different and lesser aspect, but still an important one, God’s first use of his Law also is in play. Our explanations of the Small Catechism describe the first use of the Law as a curb against evil conduct in society. This is not directed toward bringing sinners to Christ as the second use is, nor toward a saint living a Christian life as the third use is. It is a gift from God to restrain the effects of original sin in outward life in this world. Without a curb, lawlessness would reach an insufferable peak. In his Smalcald Articles, Luther says, “Here we hold that the Law was given by God, first, to restrain sin by threats and dread of punishment.” Paul tell us in Romans 13 that God has ordained the governing authorities and that we are subject to them. He says, “Whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (v 2) He says, “If you do evil, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (v 4)
The civil state has a interest in suppressing disorderly, rebellious misbehavior in the organizations organized under its laws. There is a public harm to such evil, and the state is God’s ordained means of addressing that. Besides conscience and the customs and manners of the people influenced by God’s Law, the state is among God’s means of making this first use of his Law. As the governing authority bears not the sword in vain, it also bears not the jurisdiction to award $111,000,000.00 in damages in vain. God has ordained this power to restrain evil. This restraint in this case would have a salutary effect beyond Texas and beyond the LCMS. For proof of this, consider that the Texas court decision in the case between the Methodist conference and Southern Methodist University on July 26 of this year already in this case is having an effect beyond the Methodist conference.
And that is why, though I got a good laugh out of the
suggestion to just give the university to them and mail them a cloak with the
message, “Take my cloak also,” I am not for that. I am for the first use of
God’s Law. As much as we are for the Gospel, we are not antinomians.
 Essays include:
- The Sovereignty of Nebulous Ethos at Concordia Texas, Brothers of John the Steadfast, June 16, 2023.
- Two Simple Questions about Concordia Texas Throwing Off the Bylaws of the LCMS, Brothers of John the Steadfast, July 10, 2023.
- Supporting the CTX Rebellion: Is Congregations Matter Sleep Walking?, TRHalvorson.com, July 24, 2024.
- Fox Guarding the Henhouse at Concordia University Texas, TRHalvorson.com, July 28, 1023.
- Open Arms in Missouri, Brothers of John the Steadfast, August 1, 2023.
- Complaint Filed in LCMS v. Christian, Bannwolf & Concordia University Texas, Brothers of John the Steadfast, September 7, 2023.
- LCMS v Concordia University Texas: Some Related Documents, Brothers of John the Steadfast, September 12.
- 1731. An Attempt by Concordia University Texas to Reject the Governance and Oversight of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod – Tom Halvorson, 6/22/23.
- 1952. An Update on Concordia University Texas’ Attempt to Reject the Governance and Oversight of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod – Tom Halvorson, 7/14/23.
- 2123. The 68th Regular Convention of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod – Mark Stern & Tom Halvorson, 7/31/23.
- 2142. Votes at the 68th Regular Convention of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod about Concordia University Texas and the Concordia University System – Tom Halvorson, 8/2/23.
- 2501. An Update on Concordia University Texas’ Attempt to Reject the Governance and Oversight of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod – Tom Halvorson, 9/7/23
 See Matthew 5:4 and Luke 6:29.
 “Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what is appointed for you.’“ Luke 3:12-13.
 Jeffrey A. Gibbs, in his Concordia Commentary on this passage, says that it stands in the context surrounding it as being about how we are to care for the greatest and most important among us. The greatest are the ones with the greatest need. This brother is in a weak position. He is great – in great need. This adds an aspect to our goal of “gaining” our brother. It is not unlike “gaining” others among us who are in a weak position.. While this passage is about church discipline, we should see church discipline in that aspect and exercise church discipline for that purpose. Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 11:2-20:34 (St. Louis, Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 918-919,
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), 700.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 467.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Christopher Boyd Brown, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015), 387.
 Lenski, op cit., 701.
 Luther, op cit., 387-388.
 Luther, SA II.4, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed., Timothy P. McCain, ed., (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 271.