He’s No Lincoln but is He a Churchill

I know President Matthew Harrison is no Lincoln, but could he be a Churchill?

The first conclusion came to me while reading “This Day in U.S. Military History” for March 4, the day Lincoln was inaugurated in 1861.  In the second last paragraph Lincoln says: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’”

The History Channel calendar leaves out the word dissatisfied in “dissatisfied fellow-countrymen.” Where I’m quoting from (https://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html) has it as does the official government site.  I’m curious about the History Channel’s lacuna.  I find it changes the tenor of Lincoln’s remarks. It is an understatement to say there were dissatisfied fellow-countrymen in the United States in 1861 even as there are dissatisfied fellow-Missourians in the LCMS in 2015.

Of both dissatisfied groups, it is true to say that we “have no oath registered in heaven to destroy” the Synod.  Now for the kicker.  President Lincoln did take a solemn vow to “preserve, protect, and defend” the government that was a union of states.  No, president of our Synod has ever taken such vow.  Yet the four presidents I have been a pastor under act like they have. They can’t, won’t, don’t deal biblically, confessionally, theologically, or openly with the divisions that exist among us. Why? Because that threatens the union. (The Becker case is “low hanging fruit” as was the Theodore Ludwig case in the 1980s.)

The solemn vow a synodical president takes is the same one taken by pastors.  The pastor who believes his chief mandate is to preserve unity in a church would doubtless become a man-pleaser, a servant of men, rather quickly.  Thankfully, his prime directive is to preach the Gospel purely and administer the Sacraments in accord with Christ’s institution while remaining faithful to the Lutheran Confessions.  But since a pastor directly serves the Body of Christ at a given locale as opposed to a political entity like a synod or district he in fact has more of a call to be concerned with preserving union than any district or synodical president.

Lincoln’s closing paragraph is the most famous.  There he says the “chorus of the Union” will yet swell from the “mystic chords of memory” when they are again touched “by the better angels of our nature.”  It’s true; we could all use some touching “by the better angels of our nature,” but I’m afraid right now all that does keep us together are “chords of memory.”  It’s surely not agreement in doctrine and practice.  Even so, I would agree with yet another sentiment of Lincoln’s.  “We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.” The longer our union is held together by memory and not by a common confession the more we will get along only when we’re remembering the good old days.  And even then our different confessions can’t but grind, grate, and irritate.

So the current president of the LCMS is not a Lincoln, but is he perhaps a Churchill? When Churchill became prime minister in 1940, many of those who had supported his effort to rearm England wanted him to sweep out the appeasers who had opposed him for 10 or more years. These men had turned deaf ears and even made fun of his dire warnings of Germany rearming.  Rather than turn them out, Churchill even gave them offices in his government.  He justified this by saying that if the present makes war with the past, it loses the future (The Last Lion, 3, 58).

Likewise, President Harrison appoints the syncretistic David Benke to chair a convention floor committee. This is sage political action but it is not sound theological wisdom.  It does help to understand why David weeps for Saul and Abner and why Solomon doesn’t summarily execute three nemeses standing in the way of establishing his reign. But Solomon and David were heads of state. This is how one behaves for political reasons.

In the realm of theology God reigns not men; Scripture not sagacity; the cross not the crown.  What is politically correct may not be theologically so and vise versa.  One could be wrong in one area and right in the other, but only one area counts before God.  While men can tear down the church with poor politics, they neither can tear down nor build up the Church with politics.

A character in “The West Wing” TV show has this soliloquy.  “Max Weber said that politics is the slow boring of hard boards.  Any who seeks to do it must risk his own soul. It means that change comes in excruciating increments to those who want it.  You’re trying to move mountains.  It takes lifetimes.”

I don’t want to risk my soul for any political reason.  True the only change that lasts is literally excruciating: i.e. it only come “out of the cross” of Christ, out of His blood, sweat, toil, and tears. And the only mountains I want to move are the mountains the Lord promised me I could.  With a Word I can move the mountains of sin, death, and devil and they will obey me and it won’t take lifetimes. No, with a Word it’s done now.  Because the mountains of sin, death or devil were moved by Jesus for all time by His lifetime.

The moving of these three mountains is meaningless politically, and the greatest politician of his age, Churchill, cared nothing about them.  Theologically these mountains moving are our joy, our hope, our victory.

The President Harrison is not a Lincoln, but is he a Churchill?  I hope not.


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