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Looking Back in the Lutheran Spokesman

From January 1969–


One of the purposes of the Church of the Lutheran Confession, according to its constitution, is “to protect this fellowship against the encroachment of error and unionism through united testimony and doctrinal discipline.”

This statement is surely out of tune with the times. Today most people in the churches are not worried about error and false teaching. They are used to hearing many different opinions on every subject including religion. Nobody wants to be so arrogant as to say his religious opinion is right and all others are wrong. As the September 1967 Lutheran Spokesman pointed out, some Episcopalians have gone so far as to declare that “the word ‘heresy’ should be abandoned.”

If people are not concerned about religious error, they are even less concerned about unionism, the religious fellowship of individuals and churches not completely agreed in doctrine. It is not a rare thing today to find Christians worshiping with non-Christians, to say nothing of Lutherans, Catholics, and Protestants of every shade joining in religious fellowship. When a person condemns church mergers and joint worship services as sinful unionism, he is regarded as being completely out of date.

But when we turn to Paul’s letter to his assistant Titus in the New Testament, what do we find? We find the standard by which we Christians can judge what is true and what is false. We are told to hold fast to the true and rebuke the false. We are told to stop the mouths of false teachers and reject heretics.

What is the standard for judging doctrine? Not private interpretation of Holy Scriptures, not the decision of church councils or synods, not church tradition or papal infallibility, but divine infallibility. “God cannot lie.”

Where does this infallible God speak? Where else but in the writings of Moses and the prophets, the evangelists and the apostles? Since God cannot lie, neither can the writers of the Old Testament and New Testament lie when God Himself breathed the words they wrote, when the Holy Spirit moved them and taught them what to write. The Holy Scriptures cannot lie, for they are the words of God Himself, who cannot lie. Therefore these writings remain to this day the absolute religious authority, the only ultimate source and standard of Christian doctrine and practice.

When we believe that in the Holy Scriptures our infallible God speaks infallibly, how can we respect convictions contrary to Scripture? How can we worship in any outward union with those who teach contrary to God’s infallible Word?

Paul couldn’t respect false teaching. In his letter to Titus Paul tells him: “There are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. . . . Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. . . . A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject.”

In this battle against false teaching it is the overseer, the pastor, whose foremost duty it is to keep the true and reject the false. Paul tells Titus: “A bishop must be” a man “holding fast the faithful Word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers (those who contradict).”

Pastors should know God’s Word well for two reasons; 1) to teach and train others in the true teaching of God’s Word; 2) to expose and correct and criticize those who teach false doctrine.

Even if pastors don’t have to be heresy hunters, they surely ought to be heresy detectors. In fact every Christian should beware of false prophets, as Jesus commanded. Every Christian should continually test everything he hears to determine whether it is in agreement with God’s Word or not.

Obviously we can’t prevent false teaching from making its appearance in this world. God does not want us to persecute false teachers or to stop their mouths with physical force. We must, however, rebuke them and refute them and refuse their fellowship. We can’t silence all teaching contrary to the Christian faith, but we can prevent false teachers from preaching in our pulpits and teaching in our schools. We can separate ourselves from all churches and religious organizations that tolerate false teaching. We can testify boldly against that which is wrong. We can refuse to be partakers of the errors of others. In short, we can protect our fellowship against the encroachment of error and unionism through united testimony and doctrinal discipline.

Martin Luther was accused of arrogance when he stood firm on God’s Word against the errors of Catholics, Anabaptists, Zwinglians, Calvinists, and some would-be Lutherans. We can imagine how he felt when a secretary at the Diet of Worms told him: “You wish holy Scripture to be understood according to your judgment and the workings of your mind. . . . Do not claim for yourself that you are the one and only man who has knowledge of the Bible, who has the true understanding of Holy Scripture. . . . Do not place your judgment ahead of that of so many distinguished men. Do not regard yourselves as wiser than all others.” (L.W., Vol. 32, p. 129)

Luther was tempted to give in when he was accused of arrogance for clinging to the naked words of Scripture against the false teachings of the church. We are tempted to give in when we are told that all churches accept the Bible but merely interpret it in different ways. We are told the Bible is not really so clear that we can distinguish the truth from all error and therefore we shouldn’t condemn interpretations of Scripture different from our own.

This is Satan’s plot to make all truth doubtful and all error tolerable. For if we no longer know what is the truth, we can’t condemn the false either. It was a great day in history when Luther said at the Diet of Worms: “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. . . . I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me.” (L.W., Vol. 32, p. 112)

It is not arrogance but humility when a grown man accepts Holy Scriptures in childlike simplicity, when a grown man wants to be a sheep following the voice of his Shepherd and will not listen to the voice of strangers.

There is such a thing as truth. God’s Word is truth. If we continue in Jesus’ words, we shall know this truth. We have Jesus’ promise to that effect. If we really want to do God’s will, we shall know whether a teaching is true or false. Jesus told us this. I ask you: how can Jesus expect us Christians to beware of false prophets if it’s impossible to determine what is true or false? God’s Word is a lamp for our feet. Its teachings are clear and certain. We can know the truth. We can and must condemn what is false.

We must be concerned not only about doctrinal errors that crop up in churches. We must be concerned about doctrinal errors taught in the public or private schools we or our children attend, the doctrinal errors to which we and our children are exposed on television, in movies, on radio programs, in newspapers and magazines, and everywhere on this earth. There are many false prophets, and we ought to be on guard. Pastors particularly have to be aware of what’s going on, continually testing all opinions, holding fast the faithful Word, refuting and rebuking all false teachings. We live in a world where God’s Word is not respected as the final answer.

In a book of humanist philosophy published in 1961 (“The Humanist Frame”) one of the authors writes: “Nothing perhaps separates this century so sharply from its immediate predecessor as the loss amongst educated men and women of conviction of the literal truth of the basic dogmas of the Christian religion.” Again: “Undoubtedly the growth of toleration is the expression of weakening conviction and a declining belief in the importance of what is tolerated. No one is tolerant in what he believes to be both true and vital. No one who really believed that eternal hellfire was the price of unbelief would allow his child to be exposed to agnostic propaganda. Both in opinion and in behavior we are only tolerant, either in areas in which we suspect that we could be wrong, or in those which we do not think matter very much — only tolerant of what is not felt as a serious threat.”

The Christian should be concerned about error and unionism. We know that doctrine is the most important thing of all. We know that God’s doctrines are true and contrary doctrines are false. We know that false doctrines can lead to eternal death, both ours and our children’s. We dare never be tolerant of false doctrine. May God help us.

–D. Lau