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Looking Back in the Lutheran Spokesman

From September 1967 —

THE DEATH OF HERESY–We shouldn’t be shocked. We shouldn’t even be surprised. It had to come in this age of doctrinal indifference. Yet it is hard to believe when one first sees it in print. But the Episcopalians have said it and this month the Episcopal General Convention will be asked to pass on it. A special committee of theologians reached the conclusion that heresy is out of date and that “the word ‘heresy’ should be abandoned.”

The committee was formed because of the troubles brought on by the incessant mouthings and writings of the famous Bishop James Pike of California. As you know by now he didn’t fool around with little stuff. He wanted to junk the doctrine of the Holy Trinity among others. He called the doctrine of the Trinity “a heavy piece of luggage” which the church should no longer try to carry.

Heresy is false doctrine. But now there is no longer false doctrine. Why not? Because there is no longer true doctrine. This is the ugly and destructive attitude of the ecumenical age: there is no absolute truth. You cannot label anything false doctrine or heresy because there is no standard of true doctrine by which to measure. As Eve once changed the “surely die” to “lest ye die” so all of modern theology has become a maybe theology. There is no sure truth left. In the first garden Satan successfully removed the absolute authority of God and this has been repeated in the various gardens of the churches today. Poor Adam didn’t have a committee to tell God there was no such thing as heresy.

The tantalizing vision that Satan painted has now come fully true: ye shall be as gods. Every preacher, teacher, professor, and bishop in the church is a god answerable to no one but himself. No longer must man listen to God, but each man can proclaim his own doctrines. James Pike is like a god with authority to manufacture truth and dispense it to the public.

What the new morality did for human behavior has now been achieved for doctrine. The new morality abandoned worn out words like adultery and the new theology abandoned the word heresy. Only the latter is worse. It would be less harmful for mankind to approve of murder than it is to approve of heresy. For false teachings destroy man completely, separating man from that gracious God who came to the garden and gave man Paradise again in His Truth, in His Gospel, in His authoritative and inerrant Word.

This tragedy is not restricted to the Episcopalian Church. The major denominations are all in the same situation even if they haven’t taken the word heresy out of the vocabulary of the church. Where the inerrant Word has been discarded or mutilated, wherever there is toleration of teachings that contradict Scripture, God has been effectively removed as the author and only source of truth.

Thus it is not surprising that Elson Ruff, editor of the LCA The Lutheran, discusses this very subject and does not disapprove of the committee recommendation. He considers “Jim Pike . . . a man of keen intelligence and alert and vigorous in his search for truth.” Ruff includes his church body as “a part of the great company of believers of all the Christian sentries, who have been through many and difficult adjustments of their thought to the world changing around them.”

Even the Missouri Synod has taken the same route. In accepting the report that agreement has been reached with the ALC they accepted an agreement that does not condemn the errors which in the past divided these two church bodies. This was already true of the Common Confession adopted in 1950. From Paul to Luther and to the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord every proclamation of the Gospel has included the condemnation of the false doctrine. The “we condemn” sets forth the heresies which have arisen in connection with the doctrines, labels them as such, and makes clear that they will not be tolerated. When the “we condemn” is removed, then again the word heresy has been abandoned. There no longer will be nor can there be suspending of pastors and professors who teach contrary to the true Gospel of our Lord.

When will sinful man learn the horrible lesson? Again and again he rebels against God’s authority and fails to realize only in God’s Garden where only God may speak Truth to man, only there is freedom for the children of God. When will he learn that each time he seeks to be like God he becomes the most miserable slave, a slave to the teachings of Satan, or man-made religions, or man-made salvations?

Christianity in America has become a farce. Having cast out the Son it no longer can claim to be the only way of salvation. It has become another moral force alongside of Judaism and all other religions. And how we each must tremble and shake. In this universal attitude of rebellion against God’s authority how can we escape the spirit of the age? How can we remain submissive to the will and word of our Master? We realize that our sinful hearts are also filled with Satanic rebellion against the Word.

With Luther we must despair of our strength, our loyalty, our purity, our faithfulness, and cast ourselves upon God’s mercy and strength. This is the way Luther teaches us to pray the 12th Psalm: (Ed.–There followed six stanzas of Hymn #260 from The Lutheran Hymnal. For space considerations, we print two.)

May God root out all heresy And of false teachers rid us Who proudly say: “Now, where is he That shall our speech forbid us? By right or might we shall prevail; What we determine cannot fail; We own no lord and master.”

Defend Thy truth, O God, and stay This evil generation; And from the error of its way Keep Thine own congregation. The wicked everywhere abound And would Thy little flock confound; But Thou art our Salvation.

–Winfred B. Schaller