Spokesman editor at the time, Winfred Schaller Jr., hits many nails on the head in what he wrote thirty years ago in “The Death Of Heresy” (reprinted in this issue).
At first we were going to reprint only excerpts of the article. After all, why bore our readers with details of some sorry happenings in the church a generation ago? Why dredge up what took place at a 1967 Episcopal Church Convention with regard to a now-deceased bishop? Why quote what the editor of a magazine of a no-longer existing church body (LCA — which became part of the current ELCA) had to say in rave support of a heretic bishop?
Why? Because it is all so timely! Because, we think, it will be of value to remind our readers of another example of the scriptural truth that the leaven of error, unpurged and thus unchecked, keeps on working its way until the entire batch is permeated.
This writer had been in the ministry only a few short years when Bishop James Pike gained notoriety in the secular as well as religious press for his openly anti-christian — to us, heretical — teachings. This young minister just couldn’t understand how a purported bishop, who publicly denounced one after another of the basic articles of the Apostolic Creed, could still consider himself, or even why he wanted to be considered, a Christian. (We would add that what is being said could also go for Bishop John A. T. Robinson, an Anglican churchman of the same era, whose claim to fame was his authoring at the time  a popular presentation of liberal theology entitled “Honest To God.” In this book Robinson rejected at least everything Pike did; his book spawned such bumper stickers as “Your God May Be Dead–Mine Isn’t.”)
The Farce Continues
Time can do many things. It can heal. But it can also reveal or uncover a festering, cancerous sore. In this case, time has shown that men like Pike (d. 1976) and Robinson (d. 1983) were Satan’s tools to plow the ground and set the tone for the sad condition of the visible Christian church in the world at the end of the millennium. Satan has no problem with allowing that church to continue in the world so long as he can have a hand in running it, and particularly if he can disembowel its doctrine. One way he seeks to achieve his ends is by convincing people that unbiblical, anti-Christian teaching — historically known as heresy — is dead and buried.
“Christianity in America has become a farce” wrote our Spokesman editor in 1967. Thirty years later the farce continues, the cancer keeps spreading. Most mainline Christian churches, including mainline Lutheranism, have rejected an inerrant Bible as determinative for its teachings. Consider that the same Episcopal Church which exonerated Bishop Pike of heresy is one church body (others being the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.) with which the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is now contemplating the establishment of full communion fellowship. And where does Pike’s church stand today? “The Episcopal Church is now broad enough to allow for churchmen who deny almost all the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. It has been ordaining practicing homosexuals to the ministry. When the case of Bishop James Pike came before the 1967 convention of the Episcopal Church, the church body in effect ruled that all heresy is now an anachronism, “everything goes” within the church….” (Christian News, November 11, 1996, p. 1).
All sorts of noxious weeds have sprouted since heresy was declared dead and since the afore-mentioned bishops helped plow the liberal ground for the “everything goes” jungle of doctrinal liberalism. Consider the Jesus Seminar group which has stepped into the heretical bishops’ shoes. That Group which began its “quest for the historical Jesus” in 1985, has 125 “scholars” who have endorsed what’s called the “historical critical” method of interpretation. This method throws out everything in the Bible that is supernatural and miraculous, or that isn’t compatible with human reason and science. (The August 4, 1997 U.S. News & World Report quotes a Seminar founder as saying that a new Reformation or “reinvention of Christianity” is envisioned “that would supplant traditional Christian theology and practice.”) The Seminar group rejects the “historical-grammatical” method of Bible study, the method Luther and all true Reformation Lutherans have used. This traditional method begins with the presupposition that all things are possible with God, that the Bible is God’s book, divinely inspired and wholly without error in all its teachings, including when it speaks on geographical, historical, and scientific matters.
The farce continues also in that one-time beacon of Synodical Conference confessional Lutheranism, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS). Another lead article in Christian News (July 7, 1997) rues the fact that within Missouri “tongue-talkers are tolerated, open Communion tolerated, unionistic and syncretistic activities are tolerated, desecration of Christian houses of worship by allowing worship of a false god tolerated, denigration of C.F.W. Walther and his teachings tolerated, and a tireless pursuit of the Zeitgeist by high church officials tolerated.” The article accuses Missouri of having “rubber” doctrine which “may be twisted, convoluted, expanded, contracted and made to fit any shape at all.”*
Not Dead After All
The word “heresy” may be — in many quarters has been — abandoned by majority vote. That won’t change the fact that false doctrine retains its soul-destroying capability, as the Bible defines it and as faithful Bible teachers and defenders have always taught. “. . . There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the truth will be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:1-2). Yet heresy does have a positive twist as St. Paul teaches: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19 KJV).
The three-volume compendium What Luther Says has a total of 18 pages under subject titles heresy/heretics. Reading the samples given (see box), is there any doubt how Luther would react to 20th century assertions that heresy is dead?
As far as the “American Luther” is concerned, Dr. C. F. W. Walther spoke as follows on Dec. 5, 1884: “It is written, Heb. 13:17: ‘Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls as they that must give account.’ Alas what terror will seize all false teachers on the great day of account when all the souls led astray by them shall stand before the judgment seat of God and raise accusations against them! What terror will seize Arius, who questioned the deity of Christ and wanted to snatch the crown of divine majesty from Christ’s head! What terror will seize Pelagius, who denied that a person is made righteous and saved solely and alone by the grace of God! What terror, greater than these, will seize the Popes, who have formed all anti-christian doctrines into a system! How will they quake with terror when the souls without number whom they have led astray and whose hearts they have poisoned will stand in the presence of God! On that day every false teacher will wish that he had never been born and will curse the day when he was inducted into the sacred office of the ministry. On that day we shall see that false teaching is not the trifling and harmless matter that people in our day think it is” (Our emphasis; The Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel, p. 88).
*For those interested the “everything goes” doctrinal liberalism in mainstream Lutheranism is laid out clearly opposite the orthodox position in the helpful book “What’s Going On Among the Lutherans?” (Northwestern Publishing House, 1991)
LUTHER ON ‘HERESY’ AND ‘HERETICS’
+ The word “heresy” comes from the Greek language. (It) means to choose, select, and separate. Therefore heresy means a separate, selected, self-made, individualistic doctrine and manner of faith and life, apart from the commonly accepted one. . . . Therefore the word “heretic” really designates a person who is self-willed in matters pertaining to God, a queer fellow . . . who knows of something better and chooses his own way to heaven, a way the ordinary Christian does not travel. (p. 630)
+ Our adversaries (papal Rome–ed.) are not competent to judge what is heretical or Christian. For an understanding of Holy Scripture is necessary for this judgment, because, according to the testimony of all ancient and modern teachers, heresy is nothing else than an error stubbornly adhered to against the Holy Scripture. (p. 631)
+ All heresy has flown and risen from the fact that reason wants to master and rationalize Scripture. But reason is much too blind to be able to judge and criticize Holy Scripture. (p. 634)
+ Even though we have God’s Word in truth and purity, we must not imagine that we shall retain good peace and undisturbed security and that the true doctrine will always be preached. For many will oppose it violently and teach the very opposite. Carefully see to it, then, that you are not misled by them. We must not imagine that everybody will share our faith. On the contrary, if you are in the church of God and have God’s Word undefiled and pure, know that the devils seeks to deprive you of it and walks about day and night as a roaring lion, trying to cause offenses and put obstacles in your path over which you will stumble . . . where God has begun to build a church and His true worship, there the devil at once puts a chapel on the adjoining lot. There the (sects) take pains to promote their false doctrine and draw people away from the true doctrine. Therefore, after you have heard God’s Word, do this too: pray diligently that God’s name be hallowed, saying: Dear God, sustain me in the true doctrine; protect us so that this doctrine may not be falsified and heretics may not destroy and hinder Thy kingdom. (p. 635f).
+ The church has no pest more harmful than a godless teacher, a godless and false prophet, a heretic. No poison is deadlier than godless doctrine. (p. 646) (All quotations from Volume II of What Luther Says)
–Pastor Paul Fleischer