A Church Committed To The Word
One who writes can be easily misunderstood, possibly because he wrote unclearly, or possibly because the reader misunderstood. A pastor understands that. So it is imperative that he make every effort to speak clearly, and that the hearer or reader make every effort to ascertain what is being said before judgments are passed. Critical to the effort of discerning what is meant by a writer is asking questions, not in a spirit of immediately suspecting the worst such as “How could you . . . ?” — but rather in the spirit of furthering understanding and fellowship: “What did you mean when you said . . . ?” letting the Scripture be the final interpreter.
Surely we would not accuse Martin Luther of being a mealy mouthed confessor who held his finger to the wind to see which way the wind was blowing before he spoke. Neither would we suggest that he was weak in his confession of what he believed, or that he was trying to find excuse for something less than faithfulness. Yet Luther was a realist. In 1540 Luther said in a sermon: “He who would have, and is in search of, a church in which no dissension and no difference exists among preachers, no insincerity against the First Table, and no outrage and wickedness against the Second Table, will never find his church” (What Luther Says, Vol. 1, #846, p. 288).
The orthodox church committed to standing in the Word, and preaching the Word, does not present itself as a perfect church. It presents itself as a church in which Christ is the Master. It is committed to the Word. Its one and only intent and desire is to hold to the Word in its truth and purity. It does not look for ways to skirt the truth; it will not hold its finger to the wind in order to determine what it shall believe and what it shall teach. It feels a compulsion to teach all things whatsoever the Savior has commanded (Matthew 28:20). The orthodox church knows that the only proof of being true disciples indeed is continuing in the Word of the Lord — that Word inspired and faithfully recorded by the holy writers under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It recognizes with Luther that, “The true treasure of the church is the holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God” (loc. cit. p. 276). But because it is in the world it must be a militant church. Contending for truth at times creates tension and dissension among preachers as well as congregations. We could wish it were different; we pray daily that it is, but realism understands that Satan is still in the world and will give us no peace night or day.
Within the church disagreements arise over doctrine. It has never been different. Even the apostles had their disputes (Acts 15:6-21; Galatians 2:11). Disagreements are never agreeable! But neither need they be personal! But through mutual study of and bowing to the Word they can serve, under the Spirit, a blessed end, as happened in Jerusalem and Antioch. Furthermore they lend themselves to identify who the faithful are and who they are not (1 Corinthians 11:19). Shall we then foster disagreement or heresy so that the Spirit can do His work? God forbid! But let us recognize that in the church militant, made up of people of flesh and blood, they will arise. Why should we expect it will be different in 1997 than it was in the church of the apostles or in 1540?
We will be careful to speak truth. As Christians in the church we are called to nothing less. At the same time we will recognize that there are different levels of understanding–yes, even among the clergy. That suggests we will be slow to accuse, making sure we understand what the other is saying, and/or making sure that we know and understand the issue, as well as what Scripture says on the point at issue. Until then we will ask questions and study the Word and consult with one another, recognizing also what the 1932 Brief Statement of the LC-MS says when it reminds us that the orthodox character of a church is determined “by the doctrine which is actually taught in its pulpits, in its theological seminaries, and in its publications . . .”; whereafter it declares: “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 Timothy 1:3.”
He who is looking for a church where there is never doctrinal disagreement will have to start his own. He who is looking for a church where such disagreements are not addressed is looking for a church with which no orthodox Lutheran would want to be associated.
So the orthodox church marches on. It fully expects pitfalls along the way. It is bold to confront the devil. It finds its joy in the blessed Gospel of reconciliation through which the Father has reconciled us unto Himself, and without which understanding, dissensions, and disagreements of any sort that arise can never be laid to rest. That is a greater tragedy than the disagreement itself, for an inability to overcome dissension may possibly betray, even if only momentarily, an ignorance both of the blessing as well as the power of the Gospel.
Now then, if what has been written is unclear or you question what the writer meant, ask.
— Pastor Daniel Fleischer
Sunday, October 27, 1996, the annual Reformation Heritage Festival service was held at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Mankato, Minnesota. Most congregations of the Minnesota District of the CLC were represented at this special celebration of God’s grace. Immanuel’s pastors, P. D. Nolting (#’s 1, 3, 5) and L. D. Redlin (#’s 2 & 4), alternated as speakers focusing on different aspects of the Reformer’s life. The five talks will be printed serially.