What is most sure in our lives is the name God placed on us in our Baptism: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
All Saints Day, November 1, comes the day after Reformation Day. This juxtaposition points to the fact that we do not make ourselves holy, but that Jesus makes saints by His death and resurrection through His Word of promise. Everything we do apart from Jesus is tainted by sin and leads only to death. God forms the Church, His holy ones, through the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus. So we begin with the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for this is how God has revealed Himself. Attached to that name are the promises of God, promises beginning in the Garden for our first parents, promises for all people. Every promise of God is fulfilled, comes to a head, comes to full flower in Jesus Christ.
The Church follows from these promises, for the promises of God create the church: especially the promise that all who trust in Christ alone are justified by grace alone through faith alone. Therefore we do not put our trust or confidence in the Church, or the character of the pastor, or the behavior of Church members, but only in the promises.
Did you ever notice that the definition of the Church in Augsburg Confession VII is singular? “It is also taught that at all times there must be and remain one holy, Christian church. It is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel” (AC VII.1).
The assembly – singular…
Also, the Nicene Creed:
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, we say in the creed (that is “catholic,” small “c,” “universal,” wherever believers are found). One holy Christian Church, that is, the communion of saints.
The communion – singular…
Though now tragically divided by schism and heresy, by false teaching and sinful pride, we still confess that the church, properly speaking, is one. In essence the Lutheran theology of the Church sees the Church from the perspective of the end. We see the Church as the Lord revealed it to John in the Book of Revelation, as the Bride of Christ, prepared by her bridegroom, adorned, washed clean, no spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, ready for her husband. Now we see this only by faith. Now we perceive it in the Promise, but she is, in the end, truly the ransomed and forgiven Church of Christ, revealed to John in the Revelation (7:9-17):
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (ESV)
Human beings will fail us. “Put not your trust in princes,” Psalm 146:3 says. Human organizations and structures will fail us. This is why the Lutheran Church can exist in various structures – episcopal, congregational, Synodical. The STRUCTURE is not ultimate. It can and does fail. People fail. But the Word and promises of God? These will never fail us. And these are what create the Church.
That’s why the article on which the Church stands or falls is the article of justification. Everything hangs on the promise. Who are those we see around the throne? “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
Who are those who are justified? Drawn from Scripture, in Augsburg Confession IV we confess: “Furthermore, it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us” (AC IV). So, from the perspective of the end, the Church is the one assembly of all believers in Christ, justified by faith, gathered around the throne.
All believers are justified sinners, saints, holy ones, in the Lord Jesus, “for there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
But where do you find this Church today? Looking for the right structure, or the right organization, will not necessarily reveal the church. The Church exists within various structures, but the Church LIVES by the Word and Promise of God. That’s why our confessions also say, by the way, that we find the Church by its marks, by looking for the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments. This is also the reason the Lutheran Church is identified, not by a structure or an outward gathering, but by our Confession of faith, by the content of our Symbols.
Or, to ask the question another way, if the Church is believers, where do you find believers now? You look for what brings people to faith, namely the Word and Promises of God. But these Words and promises of God are not simply abstract words on a page. The Word of God must be spoken, proclaimed, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
So there must be preachers and teachers of the Gospel, those called and sent to proclaim the Gospel, publicly, that is, on behalf of all. “That we may obtain this faith…” our confession says, echoing Scripture, God “instituted the ministry,” the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.
Yet Scripture also charges all the baptized with the task of “proclaim(ing) the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). In our vocation, our daily life, wherever God has placed us, all the baptized are called to tell what God has promised. Because the Church lives by only Word and promise, God has called the whole Church, the whole communion of saints, to speak that Word before the world. “Always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15).
Our testimony points beyond ourselves to the things most sure and certain: the name of God applied in our Baptism, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, together with the Word and promise of God in Christ, crucified and raised from the dead for us. “Come and see” (John 1:39), we say, “see what Christ has done for me and for you.” His Word gives life. That’s what is sure. May God bless our witness and our continued reflection on All Saints and Reformation!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod
 Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, ed, The Book of Concord, The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2000, p. 42.
 Kolb/Wengert, pp. 39f.
 Augustana V, Kolb/Wengert, p. 40.
OCTOBER 10, 2014
I want to express my profound thanks to all of you who are here this afternoon. Your presence makes this occasion special. I thank those who have spoken and brought greetings to our University. Admiral Kibben from the United States Navy, Ms. Vogen from the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation, Dr. Carroll from Dominican University and the Associated Colleges of Illinois, Dr. Mueller of The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Dr. Wenthe of the Concordia University System, President Gilbert of the Northern Illinois District and the University’s Board of Regents, Mr. Garcia of the University’s Student Government, Dr. Spurgut representing the Emeriti Faculty, Dr. Smith of the University’s Faculty Senate, and Mr. Hanson of the University’s Staff Council. And a special thanks to Pastor Wietfeldt for his expert directions to all participants. I thank the faculty and staff for their presence and labor. Behind the scenes have been many people including faculty and staff that have spent hours planning and laboring to make this celebration possible. Finally, I want to recognize the most important person here today: the student.
On a personal note, I want to publicly thank those people closest to me and who share their lives with me. My wife Annette who married me 32 years ago on what turned out to be the false promise that she was getting a country pastor. My children as well. Rachel, who cannot be here because she lives in London and has just begun her new career there. Hannah, a junior at this University, who has willingly allowed me to invade her territory. And Caleb who left the only home he had known in Indiana to begin a new life in River Forest. I love them all and am grateful that the Lord has placed them in my life.
I realize that by its very nature a Presidential Inauguration focuses attention on the new president. In a real way, that attention tends to be misplaced. Truly that attention ought to be upon the University, its faculty, staff and students and its future much more than on a single individual. Concordia University Chicago has a 150 year history of service to the Church and the world and is today poised to continue that service for another 150 years. More importantly, a University is more than bricks and mortar and more than the latest technology – a University is flesh and blood human beings engaged in learning and service to humanity in the Church and the world.
THE CHALLENGE OF BEING A LUTHERAN UNIVERSITY
As we look around today and anticipate the future, we know that there are challenges before higher education in general and a faith-based institution such as a Lutheran university in particular. Concordia was founded for a specific purpose in 1864 – and that was to train German teachers for Lutheran schools. At the very heart of its inception was the recognition that all academic endeavors are to be shaped and informed by a commitment to the Word of God. One might speculate about how much easier that was 150 years ago than today as we, like every generation before us, look at the past and imagine it to be filled with golden ages that shine in comparison to our current age of stone. But our colleagues in history departments have a habit of undermining our best theories with facts. Those supposed “golden ages” were in fact as filled with challenges as our own.
But we do not live in the past, though we honor it. Nor do we live in the future, though we prepare as best we can to embrace it. We live in the present. And in our present and our culture, religion and its implications are increasingly marginalized. The “god” of the public square is supposed to be neutral enough that all can assent to him, her or it and as a result is a god that nobody can, in fact, recognize. The underlying culture of relativism, at work for so many decades, has become a culture of theological relativism. This impacts faith-based higher education in a dramatic way.
When an institution of higher learning dares not only to confess a Creed but to live out its implications in the realm of morality and ethics, that institution can do so only with the expectation that there will be a backlash from the dominant culture. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, in his famous sermon on Luke 11:5-6 “A Knock at Midnight”, wrote:
It is also midnight in the moral order. At midnight colors lose their distinctiveness and become a sullen shade of gray. Moral principles have lost their distinctiveness. For modern man, absolute right and wrong are a matter of what the majority is doing. Right and wrong are relative to the likes and dislikes of a particular community. We have unconsciously applied Einstein’s theory of relativity, which properly describes the physical universe, to the moral and ethical realm. Midnight is the hour when men desperately seek to obey the eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not get caught.”
King preached that sermon 56 years ago, on September 14, 1958, right here in Chicago, Illinois. He could have preached it today anywhere in western civilization.
A University of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod shares common cause with all faith based institutions of higher learning. Aristotle once wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Faith-based colleges and universities represent a broad spectrum of religious thought and the right to that thought must be supported by all. To support one another in the free exercise of religion does not mean seeking a compromise in faith.
Rather, it means engaging in respectful conversation. It means speaking with a united voice. It means being prepared to take together the actions necessary to meet the challenges before us.
Though differing in theological orientation, we must stand together and face the current challenges to the free exercise of religion in higher education. In the words attributed to Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” When government, accrediting agencies or public opinion require the religious commitment of any faith based university or college to be separated from a worldview, lifestyle and morality that arise from that commitment, everyone is threatened even if their own faith commitments differ. Faith must inform actions and attitudes. Without faith, our actions are shallow attempts at the intellectually dishonest subterfuge of “I personally believe such-and-such but would never let it affect my public position.” This becomes institutional obedience to that eleventh commandment described by Dr. King as “Thou shalt not get caught.”
A UNIVERSITY WHERE CHURCH AND WORLD MEET
So, where does that lead a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod University? As with any faith-based University, it leads us to a place where our faith intersects the world. Here is where the needs of the world are to be engaged with answers that arise from our central convictions about God. It is here that the Church and the academy meet and where conflicting claims can be evaluated, debated and perhaps resolved through a foundational commitment to unchanging truth rather than the ever changing ethos of our culture which is, as one person put it, “feet planted firmly in mid-air”.
Foundational to Lutheran education is the truth that those human beings who comprise a University, though as broken and pain-filled as anyone else, have the obligation to see our world as God sees it. We confess that He is the Creator of all and that He loves His creation even in its worst manifestations. He loves it so much that in Christ He has redeemed the world. His mercy to us compels us to see the world through His eyes of acceptance and love. His acceptance and love in turn compel us to embrace all who share our common humanity and to walk with them no matter how crooked and winding the path may be.
The manner in which the Church engages the world at Concordia may not be satisfying to those who would silence the voice of communities of faith. If I may quote Dr. King once more:
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.
In his context, Dr. King spoke about peace, economic justice and racial justice. Those struggles continue to this day but have been joined by a myriad of other issues including the obvious hot button topics like the sanctity of life from conception to natural death and marriage as a life-time monogamous union of one man and one woman. How we respond to issues of peace, economic justice, racial justice, life, marriage and so many others is the outcome of what we believe about God.
More specific to a faith-based University is what I will term “educational justice”. By that I mean a system and structure that opens opportunity to students and faculty alike not only to learn but to integrate the life of the mind with a commitment to live for something greater than self. There are barriers, real or perceived, that have prevented many from the benefits of higher education. Those barriers must fall. Concordia must continue to seek out those students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds as well as all other parts of our society and open the door that they might earn a Concordia degree. Our student body must be diverse in all of its dimensions to prepare every student for life in a culturally diverse and globalized world.
That very term “globalized” has become something of a catch-phrase in academic circles and runs the risk of becoming simple another trite phrase. Concordia is positioned to use it in more ways than as a simple buzzword that sounds contemporary and yet can be hollow and devoid of real meaning. “Educational justice” means that we must take seriously the reality that our world is interconnected and interdependent. This campus already has the presence of students from many nations – a number that will multiply in the next few years. The presence of the international community or lack of such a presence says much about a University’s commitment to global educational justice. Our campus is also diverse in its American student population who represent multiple economic, racial, language and religious backgrounds. A student at Concordia studies alongside of a broad spectrum of the crown of God’s creation – the human race in our diversity. That is globalization at its best.
“Educational justice” also means bringing a Concordia education to those who cannot physically be here in River Forest, Illinois. We must find new ways to deliver education to men and women around the world through our Graduate School and undergraduate programs even if the requirements of their lives do not permit attendance at a brick and mortar school. In doing so, however, the quality and depth of that education cannot be compromised if educational justice is to be served. This is no small task. But it is one that must be undertaken. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” While I would argue as a Lutheran theologian that it is the Gospel that is in fact the most powerful weapon, a University of the Church has been given the educational task, grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as its mission and through that educational task brings change to the world.
AT THE CENTER: THE STUDENT
At some point we need to bring this address and a long Inauguration ceremony to a close. I think it is also important to state the obvious.At the center of all educational theory and planning is one concrete reality: the individual student. Please let me emphasize this. It is not “students” as some faceless, generic and abstract concept but the flesh and blood reality of the individual. He or she is why a university exists. Neither Concordia nor any other school has an existence apart from this reality. If we did, we would simply be intellectuals talking to each other in meaningless chatter. It is all about the student. Whether the topic is finances, globalization, technology, academic disciplines or anything else that topic has no meaning apart from the individual student.
Each student is a unique creation of God who is loved by the Creator. Each has immeasurable value by virtue of who he or she is as a human being and as a student given to us as a gift of God. Nothing is more important. The real work of a University is not accomplished on a campus or through distance education technology. The real work and the lasting legacy of the faculty and staff of a university are found in the concrete life of its individual student and alumnus.
By intentionally and self-consciously opting to continue to be a LCMS university filled with the message of the love of God in Christ, Concordia will continue to fulfill a unique mission. Graduates will continue to be formed for Church vocations to serve the Church and the world by lives dedicated to the work of God through Word and Sacrament. Pastors, Teachers, Deaconesses, Directors of Christian Education, Church Musicians and others will impact both Church and world because of this University.
But we form servants also for vocations throughout society. Allow me to name but a few of the many. Concordia needs to prepare men and women to be physicians, nurses and health professionals who serve Christ in their vocations of mercy and healing. The world needs business leaders and lawyers whose professional lives are guided by the ethical implications of the Christian faith. The world needs military leaders guided by the ethics of faith that inform their decisions. The culture needs artists and musicians who use the beauty of God’s creation to glorify Him. Humanity needs Concordia trained leaders who have the convictions and courage to advocate for and to serve those who are in need, those who suffer, those whom the world looks past as if they did not exist, those whom Jesus described as “the least of these my brethren.”
Above all things, Concordia must be what it was formed to be: a place where the Word of God reigns supreme and where that Sacred Word shapes and informs all that is done. As an institution of the LCMS, Concordia is united to a confession of faith and practice that cannot be compromised even under intense external or internal pressure from the contemporary culture. This University, as part of the Church, is to be “in the world but not of the world.” We are a voice toward the conscience of the world. Only by recognizing that and rededicating the University to what it in fact truly is – the place where Church and academy meet – can Concordia serve the Church and the world. This is a different and special place. The ancient words of Joshua to Israel speak directly to the Lutheran universities of 2014, “Choose this day who you will serve……….but as for me and my house (and our University!), we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14).
Daniel L. Gard
Week of Pentecost 17, 2014
On 13 September 2014, the CTCR adopted without dissent a document titled, “Knowing What We Seek and Why We Come: Questions and Answers concerning the Communing of Infants and Young Children.” The CTCR also adopted as a supplement to the aforementioned document, “Response to the Request for a Supplement to the CTCR Opinion, Response to “Concerns of the South Wisconsin District Circuits 18 and 19 Regarding Infant Communion” (1997).” Both documents are given in their entirety below.
Among other questions, the CTCR document addresses, “What historical precedent is there for paedocommunion?” Answer: “there is no evidence for a widespread practice of paedocommunion in the earliest centuries of the church’s history.”
In the early days of the Missouri Synod, the Synod’s Constitution while not mentioning an age for confirmation suggested that a minimum of 100 hours of instruction should be given before a person received communion.
The document also discusses the Scripture passages regarding self-examination and notes how even though the Lutheran Reformers were aware that the Eastern churches practiced infant communion, they did not seek to introduce this practice.
The document is well worth the read.
The supplemental document.
Another helpful resource on the topic of infant communion can be found here:
“Theses on Infant/Toddler Communion” by Professor John Pless.
[Note: This two part article was originally written as a portion of a larger piece prepared in 2002 for a joint meeting of the seminary faculties and Council of Presidents. Yet it is still just as relevant today and is offered for prayerful consideration by all.]
YOU GO! That’s what Jesus says we owe the brother or sister when we discover differences and offenses. You go to seek to be reconciled in Christ. You go to hold each other accountable to the Word of God. You go, so that repentance and forgiveness of sins are at the heart of our life together.
Now some may ask at this point whether the steps of Matthew 18 actually apply in the case of a doctrinal offense, particularly a public one. When it comes to doctrine, don’t we have the obligation to point out error and speak the truth? Of course, we do. But do you read anything in Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 or Matthew 5 that excuses us from going first to the brother when the difference is public doctrine? No. Love demands it – both our love for the truth and our love for the brother. When you become aware of a problem – you go!
I understand here that our confession on the basis of Scripture makes a distinction between public and private offense. The reference in the Large Catechism is well known:
“Where the sin is so public that the judge and everyone else are aware of it, you can without sin shun and avoid those who have brought disgrace upon themselves, and you may also testify publicly against them. For when something is exposed to the light of day, there can be no question of slander or injustice or false witness. For example, we now censure the pope and his teaching, which is publicly set forth in books and shouted throughout the world. Where the sin is public, appropriate public punishment should follow so that everyone may know how to guard against it” (LC VIII, Kolb/Wengert, p. 424).
In his Pastoral Theology, John H.C. Fritz also uses the example of Paul confronting Peter before the whole group because Peter had given public offense to the Gospel (Galatians 2). So yes, there are times when that must be done, particularly when the Gospel is clearly at stake.
However, I fear we too often have rushed to bring an offense to further public notice among us, when what would have been more helpful should have been further brotherly discussion under the Word of God instead. Listen carefully to the Lord’s apostle,
“Brothers, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
There are several things to note in this Scripture:
- It refers to “any trespass.” I hear no distinction between doctrine or life, public or private.
- Go to each other in a spirit of gentleness, not pride.
- Watch out, because the devil has a trap laid for you, too.
Again I fear, my brothers, that too often we have come to each other in a spirit of pride, not gentleness. We want to stake out the rightness of our own position rather than win our brother back. We want to defend ourselves rather than do what is good for the whole body.
JHC Fritz, who has much to say regarding dealing with public offense, also gives this fascinating caution:
“The highest law, however, is under all circumstances the law of Christian charity (love). If Christian charity therefore demands that a public offender be spoken to privately, it would be unjust at once to proceed against him publicly; for the purpose of church discipline is to bring a sinner to a knowledge of his sins and to true repentance. By bringing the case at once to the attention of the congregation (although according to the letter of Matt. 18 we would have the right to do so), we might keep the sinner from confessing his guilt…” (Fritz, Pastoral Theology, CPH, 1936, p. 237).
We have to be careful that before we bring public charges against someone that we have first exhausted all avenues to speak to the brother in love, as a brother.
Let me put it another way. Luther used the Pope as an example in the Large Catechism reference. That should lead us to be extremely careful in how we invoke this passage of our confession to justify immediate public exposure or condemnation of the faults of fellow pastors in the Synod. You see, within the Synod especially we are talking about BROTHERS, brothers by Baptism, brothers in office, brothers who have taken the same vow. Should not love for the individual brother (as well as love for all the sisters and brothers) lead us to be very careful when we proceed publicly against another BROTHER? To do so only after every other avenue has been exhausted?
Of course, the converse is also true (and this has been forgotten by many as well). Because we are BROTHERS, we are concerned about one another. When we see a brother doing something that may/will lead him or others away from the truth, we cannot stand idly by. He is a brother in Christ and must be approached with our concern – because he is a brother. We do not just let him go his own way.
So, because we are brothers, we must be quick to go to one another in private. And then slow to take a matter public even when we may believe we have the right to do so. Why? Because we are brothers who are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3).
So, now, how do we do this? When we recognize differences and when we go to one another, how can we really work to resolve these differences?
- We are called to come together in a spirit of humility under the Word of God. Hear Peter’s admonition concerning humility – “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” Remember what he says next: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:5-6).
- That humility has two sides – 1) We must be ready to put everything we think under the Word of God. And 2) We must be willing to listen to our brothers, for God has given them to us to help us listen to the Word of God.
- We must each come with a desire to hear and confess together God’s Word, no more, no less.
- In so doing, we must listen not only to ourselves, but to the testimony of our Church in her confessions.
- It is important to define our terms and clarify what is really at issue – what are the questions? What are the real problems? What are people really saying?
- Then, we must listen carefully to the Word of God and to each other. A good exercise is to ask each group to state in non-pejorative terms the position of the other side – that way we are sure we understand what others are really saying. Even more, we must let the Word of God be just that – God’s Word and the final authority. Remember, God’s Word does not allow for a diversity of doctrine or a deviation from sound practice.
- That means we must be ready to put aside our own opinions and be ready to say together what God says. And if we conclude that God’s Word is not clear on an issue, we must be ready for that also.
But the bottom line is that we are called to deal with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. We have one Lord and Master. Christ died for each of us. So we don’t each go off on our own. We confess together. We bear witness together. We show mercy together. We seek to live together in Christ’s love, holding onto each other under the Word of God.
+Herbert C. Mueller
First Vice President
[Note: This two part article was originally written as a portion of a larger piece prepared in 2002 for a joint meeting of the seminary faculties and Council of Presidents. Yet it is still just as relevant today and is offered for prayerful consideration by all.]
How do we work with each other when we have differences we ought not ignore and divisions we must not allow to stand? The answer is at one and the same time simple, yet also impossible for us – apart from Christ and His Spirit.
The simple fact is, we are called to deal with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Pastors, you are brothers in Christ and brothers in office. Brothers who live by and live under the same Word of God. Brothers with one teacher, one master, one confession, one Lord.
And WHEN we must deal with diversity and differences among us, we must do so as brothers. This is not an option, not an opportunity. This is the only way – for Christ has made us – pastors and lay people – brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now let’s review some specifics of what this means:
- We must be careful how we speak of one another – because we are brothers in Christ. We must be careful what we call one another because each of us is someone for whom Christ died. We must not call each other names or demonize those who are opposed to us. Even as we discuss differences, we must be careful to protect the reputation of a brother, because that’s what he is – a brother.
- We are mutually accountable to one another and are called to live as brothers in a relationship of trust under the Word of God. When we hear something about a brother, we are called to “put the best construction on everything.” We are not to spread rumors but when we have a question about someone, we are to go to the brother and speak with him privately. This also means that when a brother approaches us with a concern about something we have done or said, we do not ignore or belittle him because “we know we are right.” Instead we go together to the Word of God to examine the issue and find our answer. We must all recognize that just because we have God in mind when we are taking a course of action does not mean that we are right. We realize instead that we need one another to help us remain faithful to the Word.
- When one of us develops an idea that may be different from what has been commonly accepted doctrine or practice, we do not simply go forward on our own, but we bring it to our brothers, remembering we are committed to the same confession and remembering how easy it is to develop blind spots. We are not alone. God has given us brothers. And here it is disingenuous to go only to brothers we are sure will immediately agree with us.
- We are to be very careful about taking stands of conscience. George Wollenburg, in an unpublished essay prepared for the Council of Presidents in 1975, writes, “It is therefore a most serious matter to say, ‘My conscience impels me to do this.’ A person who says this lightly or without the most agonizing searching of his own heart and the will of God as it is expressed in Holy Scripture is guilty of blasphemy in the most serious meaning of that word. By such a statement he is also seeking to persuade others to agree with him for he seeks to instruct their consciences as well as his own. To appeal to conscience can only mean that it is out of the fear of God’s judgment and out of terror before God that one acts in order that there might not be uncertainty and doubt about salvation.” (George Wollenburg, 1975 unpublished essay, p. 4)
- When we do believe a brother has given offense, we are called to go to that brother with the purpose of working to win him back, to be reconciled to him. In just a little bit of light heartedness, I have called this the “You Go Principle.” Compare with me Matthew 18 and Matthew 5. In Matthew 18 we read, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). And the implication is, keep on going until you are reconciled or until it is abundantly clear that you cannot resolve it without help from others to discuss the issues in good faith. And if you recognize that you are the one who has given offense, Jesus in Matthew 5 instructs, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Why? Because you have a brother or sister with whom you need to be reconciled. There are a couple of things I want you to notice about these two Scriptures. What does the Lord tell you? How do you treat a brother with whom you have a difference or who has given offense? YOU GO! In Matthew 5 you are the offender – so you go to be reconciled to your brother. In Matthew 18, he has sinned against you. No matter. YOU GO! Why? He’s your brother and you need to be reconciled to him. You need to gain him back as a brother.
There is much more that can be said on this, more than we have time for here. However, the basic point is very simple. Whenever we deal with diversities and differences within our synodical fellowship – whatever the arena, whatever the relationship – we pastors are called to treat each other as brothers, men who have one Lord and master – Jesus.
Continued in Part Two