Behind An Editorial Groan
Almost as soon as last month’s issue arrived at our home in finished form I knew I was in trouble. My wife asked me if I looked closely at the cover. I said: Why? and looked at it again with critical eye. Immediately I knew what she meant, and sank back into my chair. Oooh no. “What now dear?” came the editors groan.
Immediately a letter was dispatched to all CLC pastors asking them to intercept as many issues as possible and insert — in the issue itself or in a church bulletin — some statement to the effect that the editor is aware that the otherwise attractive cover could inadvertently mislead.
One pastor who also happens to be president of the synod wrote some good and gracious — from our standpoint — words for the sake of subscribers in his congregation (in his bulletin):
As usual there are the many good articles in the Spokesman that instruct and edify. But we make the following comment:
According to Scripture we are to respect authority. That includes civil authority, because civil authority is “ordained of God”. So says the Spirit through the apostle Paul in Romans 13:1. The Spirit speaks through the pen of the apostle Peter saying, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lords sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors… (1 Pet 2:13-14). “… Honor the king” (2:17). As Christians who are first of all citizens of heaven (Php 3:20) one of the manifestations of our faith is recognized by living as discerning, respectful, and responsible citizens of our country, these United States.
Indeed, we are thankful to the Lord for the manner in which He has blessed this country in which we live. With all its problems and ills as part of this world winding down to its close, in which other nation of this world would you rather live? God has blessed this country in His longsuffering and patience. For that we are thankful.
It was with the intent of recognizing the Lord’s blessing upon this country, undeserving as it is, that the (July 1995) Spokesman carries the cover that it does. However, unfortunately and much to the editor’s chagrin, the expression on the cover, taken from a hymn in our hymnal, is used out of context. The hymn verse which begins with “O Sweet and Blessed Country” obviously does not have the United States in mind. The hymn verse is speaking of heaven, “The home of God’s elect”. It is the home in heaven “that eager hearts expect”. In the hymn we pray “Jesus in mercy bring us to that dear land of rest…” The editor wants you to know that he understands the sense of that hymn verse, and that he regrets its appearance on the cover with the implication that the sweet and blessed country is this nation.
Nevertheless, read the articles. You will profit.
Why Such A Fuss?
Perhaps this is an opportune time to mention why, from time to time, the Spokesman prints corrections or clarifications. The reason is stated succinctly in one of our doctrinal confessions: the Brief Statement of 1932:
The orthodox character of a church is established not by
its mere name nor by its outward acceptance of, and subscription
to, an orthodox creed, but by the doctrine which is actually
(original emphasis) taught in its pulpits in its theological
seminaries and in its publications (our emphasis)… (Article
The “its” in each case here means “the synod’s.” Inasmuch as the Spokesman is an official CLC publication, it represents the CLC to the world. What is taught and said on these pages, or what is depicted on the cover, tell something about the synod.
The Brief Statement above implies that there can be a discrepancy between what a congregation or synod — or its official magazine — says and what it actually stands for. It has happened before that what is written or otherwise appears in official publications leaves a wrong message. Beyond publications, it happens more and more in our day that what congregations or synods say in their yellowed, musty constitutions is one thing, but what they believe or practice may be quite another.
For example, a check of the doctrinal articles in constitutions of many Lutheran congregations as well as most Lutheran synods today would likely contain some very good words about the Bible as the Word of God. But, dear reader, you can’t take most of them at their word! Things have come to such a pass in our day that it needs to be asked: “What do you mean by that? Does ‘is’ mean ‘is’ or are you suggesting that the Bible just ‘contains’ God’s Word?”
Notice yet how the above-mentioned Article 29 of the Brief Statement concludes:
…On the other hand, a church does not forfeit its orthodox character through the casual intrusion of errors, provided these are combated and eventually removed by means of doctrinal discipline, Acts 20:30; 1 Tim 1:3.
Please check the Bible verses. They teach the importance of doctrinal awareness and supervision. They show that it is a biblical and thus a divine mandate that great care be taken that “no other doctrine” than God’s clear Word be taught in the church. When and where it is, doctrinal discipline is called for.
Doctrinal discipline has almost disappeared from most Lutheran synods. We note in one case this summer that the Wisconsin Synod still practiced it. Synod officials this summer declared a sizeable Minneapolis congregation and its three pastors out of fellowship because they had been teaching and practicing — and for a number of years defending their teaching and practice — contrary to Bible doctrine on the role of women in the church.
Doctrinal discipline is practiced in the CLC. Such discipline, as all things in Christ’s church, will be carried out with Christian love, much patience, and great care on the part of those responsible for exercising it. Notice what is said in one of our CLC tracts:
…We must watch closely what is preached and taught. Whatever is contrary to the Bible must be corrected. We first find out whether what has been said (or written – PF) is just a slip of the tongue or was poorly expressed. If it is defended, the false teacher and false teaching are to be identified for all to see. We must separate ourselves from the error and its teachers. (This Is your Church, p. 11f).
In other words, what you or I say — or write — is one thing. What you or I take pains to defend is quite another.
— Pastor Paul Fleischer