Monthly Archives: March 2019

Avoiding the Wrong Right Side of History


Ben Shapiro has a new book out called The Right Side of History where he maintains “As a society, we are forgetting that almost everything great that has ever happened in history happened because of people who believe in both Judeo-Christian values and the Greek-born power of reason.”

Ben Shapiro is a religious Jew who has recently had prominent Christian spokesmen like Jon MacArthur on his popular radio program to discuss not only politics but theology. Interestingly, David Horowitz, a secular Jew, also has released a recent book titled Dark Agenda: the War to Destroy Christian America.

Interesting times we live in to be sure!

In any case, all of this put me in mind of a recent message I wrote “Avoiding the Wrong Right Side of History”.

And why did I write this particular kind of message? Because I preached it. And why did I preach it? Because I have been finishing up getting my Masters of Divinity degree through the AALC (the Association of American Lutheran Churches) and I had a preaching class. In addition, I am now getting some more experience in some local congregations in the Twin Cities area and beyond (If any of you have more questions about that, feel free to ask in the comments below).

Here’s the message, based on the texts for last week’s 3 year lectionary:




“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just..”


— Ezekiel 33:17




“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just..”


How can we in the church avoid such confusion? Where we come to believe that the words given to us by God to believe and do are not just?


How can we be sure we are among the godly ones whom the Lord hears?


The text from a few weeks ago, from Jeremiah 17, gave us the right advice: “…the man who trusts in the Lord… is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green…”


This morning, to better comprehend how to avoid saying “The Lord is not just,” let’s begin with our Prime Example of a Good Tree.


I am speaking, of course, of the tree, the roots, and the leaves of our dear Lord Jesus.


You might recall the beginning of the book of Luke, in that story where Jesus, as a 12 year old, gets accidently left behind in Jerusalem by his parents.


There, He was amazing the teachers in the temple courts, listening to them and asking them questions.


There, we are told, in His “Father’s House,” “ everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers….”


In other words, Jesus wasn’t just interested in memorizing the right answers for the test, but He was engaged in this content, content that helped Him to grow as a human being….


As the text goes on to tell us “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man….”


Like that tree, planted by the water, producing the wonderful green leaves.


Let’s take a step back, and try to relate this to us: Do you like to learn things? Well, it depends on what you’re learning about, right?


For example, am I learning how to be better at something I enjoy? We all like to learn sometimes.


And evidently, when Jesus was almost a teenager, there were certain things that he was really interested in as well.


For example, He loved the Holy Scriptures passed down to God’s people….


But here is the question that might nag you: Why does God need to learn?


Why does He need to grow?


How is it that “very God of very God,” could increase in Wisdom?


How is it that the Son of God (who became sinless man in Jesus Christ) could increase in favor with God?


Before we move on this morning — getting to how I’ve titled this message — we need to deal with a little challenging theology.


Hold on, because I don’t think it will be too bad.


The short answer is that this text mainly refers to Jesus according to his human nature, not according to his divine nature.


As you know Jesus Christ is amazingly 100% man AND 100% God. So as God, yes, Christ did know everything, but as man, He did not.


Still, don’t the Scriptures also tell us that this baby boy, born of Mary, even now this budding teenager(!), was sinless?


If this is the case, why would Jesus need, even as man, to learn?


To grow in wisdom? Even to grow in favor with God?


Here we need to remember that even if we were sinless, that wouldn’t make us omniscient.


That is, if we ever found ourselves to be without sin, that would not mean that suddenly we would know everything that we needed to know, or even that we had matured into what we are to be.


The angels, after all, have no sin, bur are they all-knowing? No.


Now here as Christians, interesting enough, according to our New Man, we are, like the angels, without sin.


In other words, our New Man in Christ simply does not like sin by definition.


Our old Adam does of course, but not our New Man.


But even though that is true, it doesn’t mean that our New Man knows everything it could or should know.


Nor does it mean that our New Man has matured into that which it should ultimately be.


How can we better understand this?


Think of a sapling of an apple tree that we would plant in our yard  — no doubt some of you have done just this.


Now there is nothing wrong with that sapling, it is exactly what it should be as a sapling.


But as it grows into a mature tree, what does it do but provide shade for our lawn, beautiful flowers in the spring, a place for birds to nest, and squirrels to hide, pollen for the honey bees, ultimately fruit, good fruit for us to eat.


Better yet, right?


And yet, was there anything wrong with the apple tree when it was a sapling, when it was just not fully matured into a fruit bearing tree?


No, not at all!


In like fashion, there is nothing wrong with our New Man when it is created within us by grace through faith in Christ.


But, we must say like the boy Jesus, Jesus according to his human nature:


“There is room to grow, room to bear fruit, room even to do those things which are pleasing to God.”


Like that tree, planted by the water, producing the wonderful green leaves.


So we grow. We increase in wisdom and stature with God and men. We progress.




And what does this look like as far as the big picture?


Where, in other words, are we going?


What is the real end to which God is leading us, and would have us see?


If we are to believe the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments, God ultimatley means for His world to know not only true order… true hierarchy… but beautiful harmony as well!


A peace where everything knows its place and everything will come together as one — just like Eden again only even better!


More mature!


He means for us to increasinlgy know what the Old Testament calls shalom! Here, Scripture often gives us the picture of a grand feast, a great wedding party that all enjoy in full.


And this shalom, this abundance, is something he means for us to begin to know here as well. In our families, our churches, our neighborhoods, our towns, our states, our nations… and beyond…


As Revelation 7 beautifully puts it, giving us a picture of heaven:


 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!”


Worldly politicans want to recreate a similar kind of picture. They cannot.


How is it that we get there? What makes for such joy and unity? Where is the blueprint for this?


Remarkably, we’ve heard it all before, and maybe, unlike pre-teen Jesus, we are sorely tempted to think we don’t need to know it better…


Why, God has given us the 10 commandments! Let’s take a brief look at these again with that picture from Revelation in mind.


“You shall have no other Gods before me.” He is the Maker of all human beings, from Adam and Eve down to today.


We are all, not just Christians, brothers and sisters — ultimately “one blood” because of our glorious God who demands of His offspring their worship, their fear, love, and trust.


Their all.


“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” This is the Name He has commanded us to put on all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; claiming them as His own.


“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

His words alone are Spirit and Life! Rest! Abide! Be at peace! You–along with all the nations–at Jesus’ feet.


And, of course, there’s the second table of the Commandments: Honor your father and your mother,

you shall not murder,

you shall not commit adultery,

you shall not steal,

you shall not give false testimony,

you shall not covet your neighor’s house, wife, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

We know we don’t follow this blueprint. Even if we know we should and make the effort to do so, we fall short of the glory of God.


Because of our sin, we simply do not love the way that Jesus Christ loved, and that God requires we love.


It is ultimately because of Jesus’ living in accordance with God’s law — the law of love — and His great sacrifice, that this sin is forgiven us.


And… we can begin to know in our own experience that picture of heaven, that picture of people united in praise of their King.


Because of what He has done, our good works really are acceptable in God’s eyes, and take on eternal significance, producing not just earthly blessings but blessings that will persist in the life to come as well.


Our work is very, very meaningful…


And so driven by the Gospel of Jesus Christ — the glorious truth that through His perfect life and innocent death we have peace with God — we can know what makes for the beginnings of real peace in this world.


So act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God… and entrust final judgment to the Lord, not the world…




After all, how does our world, living off the fumes of Christian influence of days gone by, look at the matter?


There are times where we might feel some real discouragement over the lack of growth we see…


Or, in the world’s opinion, not “progressing” or “evolving” like we should.


These are not always the same things. God means for us to grow in one way, producing the leaves and fruit that is pleasing to him, and the world, perhaps another.


We might hear powerful and compelling voices around us, talking about how we have failed, because of what we have done or have not done.


We might even hear of the failure that is our family line or or our town or our nation or our race or our class or our religion.


Some might look and say:


“I don’t see much good there.”


“It looks to me like you have real privilege! And that you are only interested in feathering your own nest!”


“It looks to me like you are only concerned to retain your own connections and the power they bring you!”


“It looks to me like you are only concerned about caring for your own….”


Nevermind that you know that you are already not the kind of father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, church member, citizen, or neighbor that you should and could be!


Like those directed againt the prophet Jeremiah, the attacks can be relentless and unmerciful.


And now, the accusation that is greater than them all:


“You make yourself out to be a victim?” “You, the oppressor?” “You the vicitmizer….”


“What — are you the poor? Are you hungry and thirsty? Are you the one weeping now? Give me a break!”


Perhaps such persons might even accuse God of playing the victim when, in His word, He complains about spurn and betrayal from His people!


This is wrong.


And yet, it is very possible that many, hearing such things, begin to wonder: “It is true? Am I, by virtue of my blessings, my accompishments, my status… uniquely evil?”


It is even possible that some who are Christians might begin to doubt that they are Christians…. “Maybe if I do what they say, maybe I can still be saved…”


In this world of constant accusation, “Who should we listen to? What should we do?”


Take the world’s accusations with a grain of salt, and flee to the Word of God.


There is no doubt that an element of the truly righteous life, or good life, is that it is characterized by real love and compassion which does not think about rewards, comes spontaneously comes from the heart, and shares the love of God with all people (see, e.g., Deut. 11).


That said, here is the answer you will be hearing from evensome quarters of “Bible believing” churches–more and more:


The truly righteous life, or good life, is always about compassion (acts perceived as compassionate!) which never thinks about rewards, always comes spontaneously from the heart, and never fails to indiscriminately share the love of God with other full human beings in equal measure.


Do you see what I did there? There is so much that is wrong with that kind of assertion. There are so many Scriptural truths that that kind of statement “throws under the bus”…


I won’t go into detail now, but the point is this: even those in the church may turn against you.


Don’t be bamboozeled by the world and its “right side of history”.


Don’t buy into just any “arc of the moral universe [which] is long, that bends toward justice.”


Don’t just buy into any notion of “social justice” and fall for the smiley face hiding the venoumous tongue.


Don’t say “The way of the Lord is not just,” when it is man’s own way that is not just..


There is no doubt that all of us need to feel the conviction of God’s law, for our Old Adam — not our New Man — would like nothing better but to remain and wallow in its hatreds, and prejudices, its arrogances, fears, and envy.


We need to feel the weight of His demands… we need to be brought back to the realization of what he has created us for.


That we might be “in the groove” as one theologian has put it.


You cannot, however, trust the world to do this convicting rightly.


The Bible speaks of the searing of the conscience that occurs when a people abandons the word of God and His “natural law,” that is, the law which is in accordance with how we were made, what we were designed for.


The world can, to say the least, be “off the reservation”. They will assert that there is no God ; they will call evil good and good evil ; many will get to the point where they will not even be able to detect their sin…


They will get the law wrong.


And when they give you their law, they will not do so to help you, to “judge” you like your dentist might in pointing out your cavity, but in order to write you off at the drop of a hat if you question them… or if you do not immediately submit to their authority.


They will get the gospel wrong.


The world wants us to grow in one way, our Savior another.


In the face of this, do not ever despair. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man!” And remember, “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind.”


So do not discount everything the world says, but also hold it lightly and go to the Word of God that you might discern what is right…


…for by it you can trust that you will not only find peace with God and other men there, but you will find the growth–the critical growth–that the Lord intends for you and all persons.


So, let us grow and increase in knowledge!


As Jeremiah says,


“let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth!”


For He, and only He, is the friend of sinners. The One who is compassionate, who forgives, who even lifts you up to His throne — to reign with Him forever.


Rich and poor, powerful and not powerful, black and white, privileged and outcast, good and bad, come to the feast!


All you who are poor in Spirit.


Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.








Posted by on March 29, 2019 in Uncategorized


The LC-MS Machine, Circa 1935?: of Conspiracies and Changing Culture…

Frederick Photenhauer, first victim of LC-MS politics?


“To speak of a party split or divisions in the Missouri Synod, of a liberal and a conservative party among us, would be absurd.”

–Missouri Synod President Frederick Photenhauer in 1923 (quoted in Alan Graebner, Uncertain Saints, p.188)


Following up with the article by Pastor Mark Brown the other day, my guess is that Pastor Wilken, in his tweeting out of the article, means to get everyone really thinking with this statement….[i]

Here is my take (which I don’t doubt that Pastor Wilken would agree is obviously true):

While it may indeed be enthusiasm/pietism to say that politics in the church are bad, it is also a good and salutary thing to desire that our politics would be less contentious, and that the trust among us stronger

To be sure! I would go so far to say that those who do not think our politics should be democratic at all should have our respect. : )

Who, after all, really wants vigorous politics in a family environment?

And what, first and foremost, is the church if not the family of God?

Furthermore, when people proceed as if things like government or even marriage are just tools, that misses the point, I think. These are first and foremost descriptions of various kinds of relationships we have with others.

All this said, in this post, I want to quote some excerpts from one of the most engaging, vigorous and challenging papers I have ever read from an LC-MS pastor. This paper dealt with the relationship between theology and politics in the church…

Years ago, in the year 2000 (or 2001), my mother-in-law attended a theological conference geared towards laypeople in St. Cloud Minnesota. To this seminary drop-out who had left in part due to theological confusion (I still was thinking about women’s ordination as something the church should do at the time!) she passed on a paper written by Pastor Laurence White, of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Texas. The paper, titled “Strangers in Our Father’s House: the Dilemma of Missouri’s Confessional Remnant,” had made quite an impact on her and it is easy to see why.

Pastor White:

In 1923, commenting on the divisive modernist/fundamentalist battles that were tearing other Protestant denominations apart, Missouri Synod President Frederick Photenhauer confidently asserted: “To speak of a party split or divisions in the Missouri Synod, of a liberal and a conservative party among us, would be absurd.” (Graebner, p.188) Less than two decades later that which had seemed absurd was becoming reality. Ironically, Photenhauer himself would become the first casualty of Missouri’s party split. The cumulative result of the changes to come over the next seventy-five years would be the loss of Missouri’s most treasured possession, her unique identity as a confessional church, fully united in doctrine and practice. In his book Uncertain Saints, Dr. Alan Graebner, certainly no bronze age Missouri conservative, expressed this sense of loss by aptly choosing to entitle the chapter on the Synod’s most recent history “Humpty Dumpty and All the Kings Men…”

Pastor Laurence White. Listen to a recent interview here.

Curious to know more? I jump to the section in White’s paper (you can read the whole 45-page blast here) where he talks about his own confusion as a student at the St. Louis seminary in the turbulent 1970s, during Missouri’s own “Battle for the Bible”…

In 1974,  during my last year at Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield,  a group of the more conservative students on campus arranged for a series of informal gatherings with leading faculty members on Sunday evenings.  Our first guest was Dr. Clarence Spiegel, already in his seventies, and a longtime veteran at the Seminary.  Dr. Spiegel drove up in his massive Cadillac, smiled his impish smile under a halo of fuzzy white hair, and sat down in my living room with a bottle of beer.  This was, of course, the year of the Seminex walkout at St. Louis, and our first question to the venerable professor was “How did we get into this mess?”  His response took over two hours as he reviewed forty years of history.  Let me attempt to cover some of the same ground a bit more rapidly.

Spiegel contended that the initial overt indication of the existence of two theological factions within the Synod was the appearance of Missouri’s first organized political campaign at the 1935 Cleveland Convention.  Dr. Frederick Pfotenhauer, synodical president since 1911, was standing for re-election at Cleveland.  The silver haired president, for whom English was a sometimes uncomfortable second language, was the stalwart epitome of Missouri’s “old guard. The general assumption was that he would be re-elected without significant opposition. Missouri had never unseated an incumbent president.  In this establishment oriented, conservative church body, the concept was almost unimaginable.  For such a thing to happen a great deal of organizational work would had to have been done well in advance.  But it did happen, thus indicating that behind the scenes pockets of unrest and theological dissent had come to exist in Missouri long before the 1935 convention. Pfotenhauer failed to gain a majority on the first ballot.  The second runner up was J.W. Behnken, the Synod’s 1st Vice President.  Tension gripped the convention hall as it became obvious that something very unusual was about to happen.

Dr. Spiegel’s memories of this dramatic moment were particularly vivid because he happened to be the pastor of the local congregation in Cleveland which hosted the 1935 convention.  He recalled being summoned from the vestry of his church after the opening service by Vice President Lankenau who had come from the floor of the convention, dismayed at the organized attempt to oust Pfotenhauer.  Something had to be done, the Vice President declared.  But by then it was already too late to stop the well organized campaign.  Behnken repeatedly pleaded with Pfotenhauer for permission to address the delegates in support of the incumbent.  With the gentlemanly grace of a bygone era, the president refused, saying, “You must not say anything.  Let God decide the matter by the vote of the convention.” On the next ballot Behnken was elected.  Missouri’s introduction to church politics was a resounding success – but it did not stop there.

The group that engineered Pfotenhauer’s ouster was emboldened by their success at Cleveland.  That which they had been doing surreptitiously for a many years now moved confidently into the open.  They continued to meet regularly in a series of “Roundtable Discussions” during subsequent years.  With the former president, and the “old guard” which he personified, safely out of the way, the time had come to begin to openly nudge backward Missouri into the American Lutheran mainstream.   In 1945, they issued the bitterly contested Statement of the Forty-four, along with an  essay entitled 32 Theses Against Unevangelical Practice by Pastor H.C. SchwanShortly thereafter, a companion volume of supporting articles, Speaking the Truth in Love, was published.  The forty four signers of A Statement, styled by their opponents as the “Statementarians,” included some of the most prominent pastors and professors in the LCMS – men like Richard Caemmerer, O.P and A.R. Kretzmann, Theodore Graebner, William Arndt, and Oswald Hoffmann (22-24, link added by me).[ii]

Interestingly, in a recent dissertation by a well-known WELS pastor, we read this…

By the early 20th century some in the Missouri Synod began to think that there was a need to improve the public image of their synod. Missouri Synod Lutherans in the Eastern United States and those who were predominantly English speakers were particularly sensitive to the image of their synod as an insular, German-speaking church body. The anti-German spirit and hysteria that developed during World War I served to increase those concerns.

In 1914 a group of Lutheran pastors and laymen in the Eastern United States founded the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau to help Missouri Synod congregations with publicity and advertising….

Those who founded the Bureau set out to change the image of their synod, but in so doing also ultimately changed the doctrinal stance of their synod…[while] the Bureau claimed that [their periodical,] American Lutheran[,] was only a “technical magazine” which suggested “modern methods of congregational work,” in the 1930s and beyond it contained articles advocating fellowship with the ALC and promoting an understanding of church fellowship that was contrary to the historic practice of the Missouri Synod…. (239-241)

Hmmm. American Lutheran Publicity Bureau… Lutheran Forum… The Engelbrecht Machine article… Does this say to you: “…the plot thickens…”?

“I’d argue that the Walther period, being immigrants and not really speaking the local language, was something of a Garden of Eden period. We all got pushed out and have to figure it out now.” — Pastor Mark Brown

Or, maybe not.

Maybe it is basically as simple and challenging as the following, which my pastor, after I asked him, said about this 1935 election:

I would say it had much to do with breaking away from German culture. Hitler had risen to power in Europe. War (caused by Germany!) was once again on the horizon, and the realization was growing that the synod must finally embrace both English and the United States. In such a scenario the younger generation, which knew nothing of Germany or the German language, certainly had the upper hand. So the transition was forced upon the synod from an insular and self-maintained church body held together by the discipline of German culture, i.e. “one big German family,” to a church body sans such an identity.

Jettisoning such an identity, what would replace it? At the time, I would think, the model most appealing would have been that of a political party, which at that time, created a unity by assembling the “planks” of minorities within the party into a “platform” which then became the identity of the party.

In such a model, political maneuverings would be expected.

Certainly much to be pondered here. About secrecy. About conspiracies. About theological vs. “practical” ideas driving us. About the importance of cultural and even ethnic glue. About how culture and accommodations to it changes us for good and for ill… (I think this post summing up one of my pastor’s papers is also worth looking at in this regard…)

For now though, here is my prayer:

Lord, thank you for the gift of politics in this fallen world – even in the church. Help us to be good political players, looking to please you, as we are mindful of your calling us to be the church through your Son Jesus Christ. Help us to be as one, even when we disagree… to be “good churchmen” as used to be said. Let us not look on contempt on the brothers who actually do make their heartfelt concerns known to us! Let us examine our own complacency, and desire to be loved by the world! Let us be quicker to listen than to speak, to endeavor to treat all among us as brothers and sisters dearly loved by our Lord who bled and died for our sins.

Make us to be able to trust one another more often and as individuals about more things – even as we also realize that you, ultimately, are the only One who will never let us down! Lord, if it be thy will, calm our politics more and more. Let us not be sons of thunder, but those who always find common cause – even as we struggle about particular means – in the work of your own dear Son. Amen.



[i] Pastor Wilken’s more complete statement, left at my blog and in a Lutheran Facebook group, was as follows:

“I only disagree with one point. As a card-carrying member of Your Grandfathers’ Church, I have absolutely no problem admitting that politics is a necessary part of church life. And NOT a necessary evil, but a necessary good. Choose your side or candidate, and work openly for it.

Only a misguided pietism/enthusiasm supposes that things like church elections and conventions are directed immediately by the Holy Spirit. And it is evil to claim to believe such a thing while working the political system secretly.

Politics is a good gift from God. Like all good gifts, it can be, and often is abused. What we need is honest politics. If you work behind the scenes to compile lists of candidates, count votes, rally for a candidate or issue, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you do, don’t lie and say you don’t. Own it.

That goes for both sides in church politics.”

[ii] White goes on to say the following:

“A Statement’s focus was inter-Lutheran relationships.  It denounced the “ingrown legalism and traditionalism” which had crippled the Synod’s theological vitality.  It must be admitted that there was some truth to their charges.  Our theological arteries had hardened a bit over the years.  But more significantly, A Statement’s twelve theses constituted what Kurt Marquart has aptly described as “a radical, revolutionary overturning of the Lutheran doctrine of the church.” (Marquart, p.58)

One contemporary observer noted that the publication had “set Missouri aflame.” While scathing denunciations poured forth from across the church, the Statementarians actively lobbied throughout the church body for additional support and hundreds of other pastors added their names to those of the original Forty-four.  Five of the St. Louis Seminary’s best known professors were Statementarians, while the faculty of the Springfield Seminary formally rejected the document as false doctrine.  The harsh words of condemnation with which the Springfield faculty deplored A Statement and its divisive potential are indicative of the intensity of this debate:

“It has been a real shock to us that such a loveless, unmotivated, and widely disseminated attack should be made on brethren in Synod by men in prominent positions, presidents of districts, leaders of youth or of the LLL, a university president, and worst of all, five members of a theological faculty in our Synod.  Such an attack cannot but bias many young and inexperienced pastors to whom it has been mailed…The Statement leaves the impression that it is veiled propaganda for a liberal and loose Lutheranism…You are pouring water on the wrong fire.  We certainly are not with you in this unhappy undertaking, brethren.” (Robinson,p.268,269)

President  Behnken protested the issuance of A Statement and made it very clear that he also believed it to contain false doctrine….”  (24-25).

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Posted by on March 25, 2019 in Uncategorized


L’affaire Englebrecht

Post by Pastor Mark Brown

Presenting a precis of an argument around an article in a journal with a circulation of around 1,500 is probably not the most exciting hook for a posting, but give me a chance.  It demonstrates a desperate need that we in the LCMS have to admit something and build something.  The journal is the Lutheran Forum published by the ALPB (American Lutheran Publicity Bureau).  The ALPB is one of those hardy little groups that live to keep the institutional church honest.  I’d say it was dedicated to a prophetic calling, except that word in our day has been abused beyond recognition.  The argument revolves around three intersecting things: a) LCMS “silly season” otherwise known as the run-up to the Synodical Convention, b) the facts of organizational behavior and c) the missing somethings.

An interim editor, Pr. Matthew Staneck, was presented with a submission by a former chief big-wig at CPH, Pr. Edward Englebrecht.  If you have a copy of the Lutheran Study Bible, you can open the title page and see his name.  When you get your name on the Bible, you’ve made it.  Pr. Englebrecht’s article could be boiled down to two parts.  The first part was an introduction to a particularly nasty form of organizational behavior called mobbing.  Mobbing is coordinated clandestine activity by a larger group to bring an individual or a minority group into line.  The legitimate form of this is how political parties act.  The “whip” is the person who counts the votes.  If you are not lined up with the “correct” vote, the whip can apply the whip.  In the Congressional format that is things like losing a chair on a committee, having your bills moved to the back of the schedule, having expected monetary help for your campaign disappear, and other such events that would hurt your chances of staying a congress-person.  Vote the correct way or bear the whip.  When politics becomes something unclean instead of just how we humans make collective decisions, whip activities take place in clandestine ways.  Shadowy unknown groups operating behind anonymity carry on the whip activity.  It should surprise nobody that mobbing activity happens.  It can be seen as part of the scapegoat phenomenon detailed by Girard.  The ultimate whip is the identification of the scapegoat.

It is when you move into the second part of Pr. Englebrecht’s paper that questions rise.  If all of this was simply the typical progressive consciousness raising exercise, we could all mutter “yes, yes, terrible thing, thank you for informing us of the blatantly obvious” and having fulfilled all righteousness gone back to life.  But Englebrecht’s paper was not just a lecture in organizational behavior.  He proceeded to say that all this mobbing activity is how the LCMS works at the highest levels, and that he himself had born the brunt of this activity.  Of course, he did this with the largest brush possible, smearing everybody that works at CPH and the International Center as part of a nefarious machine.  And approaching the LCMS silly season the implication was that the current administration was involved in mobbing.  The insinuation was left hanging that if we wanted to purify the synod, these folks had to go.

For the most part, the whips that Englebrecht claimed to have suffered are simply the everyday existence of a lowly small parish pastor.  During talks his microphone would cut out.  People would approach him afterward a little too friendly with backslaps a little too hard.  While he was speaking people in the audience would stare at him.  But then it crossed into the strange, and the only confirmable detail of his claim was disconfirmed.  Englebrecht claimed that the person ordering these nefarious activities to get him in line was called the “main nag” and that this “main nag” was the person who posted under “Gan ainm” (Gaelic for without name) on the ALPB online forum.  (Part of the claims for the machine was a penchant for anonymous activity with anagrams taken directly from Tom Riddle to Lord Voldemort.)  Pr. Staneck had claimed that he had checked out the story and believed it, but within a couple of days “Gan Ainm” had been proven not to be connected in any way to a “main nag”.  The editors and Pr. Englebrecht steadfastly refused either to retract the article or to clarify who they were speaking about.  Those who could conceivably have been slimed as part of “the machine” bailed out of participation at ALPB.  Those who had been most vocal in support of Pr. Englebrecht retreated to consciousness raising defenses.  And eventually interest just dwindled.  A tempest in a teacup.

Which is probably where it should end. Rehearsing the sad affair doesn’t help in any way.  A place that had a well-deserved reputation as a fair dealer had burned a good bit of that reputation.  Plenty of heat had been added to a silly season, and a coda to a distinguished editorship.  But the real point of this article is those missing things, and to address why such a silly article would not only be considered for publishing, but that an informed LCMS reader would have to spend more than a second thinking about it.

The reason that an informed LCMS reader, even as the strangeness of the claims compounded, would spend more than a second is because the LCMS has a reputation for brass knuckled politics.  Part of this is simply the fact that the progressive faction lost in the LCMS.  And just like in our national temporal politics, the official organs of news tilt heavily in their favor.  The wrong side lost, so it must have been by nefarious means.  You are seeing the same thing play out in the UMC today with various “false voter” conspiracy theories regarding their most recent gathering.  But even correcting for the general FUD of progressive atmospherics, LCMS politics has been tough.  Maybe tougher between factions that agree, than with the defeated progressives.  Every convention is the battle for the bible.  Every gathering is a bunch of pastors longing for their “Worms Moment”.  Here I stand, casting whoever is on the other side as the nefarious agents of pope and antichrist demanding they recant.  And much of this politics takes place behind a veil of anonymity.  The United List, a slate of candidates that has won most slots for many elections, is put together by an anonymous group.  Wherever Missouri politics is talked, the number of anonymous ID’s goes up dramatically.  Official sources are read like Pravda where the news is between the lines.  And in that fever swamp you can imagine mobbing being a real activity.

How do you get to such a politics?  The short answer is that we don’t believe our own two-kingdoms theology.  That two-kingdoms theology would tell us that Christ rules everywhere, but in the gospel he rules directly, in the law he rules by means and those means are often fallible and sinful humans.  The church is part of that same two kingdoms split.  The vast majority of the visible church is part of the left hand kingdom.  And the way that things in the left-hand kingdom are decided is called politics.  We should be able to admit this without problem.  And in admitting this there is the great freedom from fear in admitting that even your political adversary is trying for the same good if by different means.  But the LCMS has never been able to admit the place of politics within the church.

There are two sides of the same coin of political denial.  One side is almost perfectly represented by Pr. Englebrecht.  Rooted in the deep history of people like CFW Walther and the German experience, the LCMS would find a leader and grant that person, if not officially then unofficially, almost unlimited authority.  LCMS Ph.D.’s have long expected that type of genuflection.  As one LCMS wit has put it, LCMS polity has a North Korea Juche element.  Let us now praise our wise and benevolent leaders.  When someone, especially someone not credentialed, even worse someone who simply counts votes, challenges a decision these folks have tended to lose it. Everything from the Walkout to imagining deep cabals. We can’t engage in politics, because we are the experts permeates everything, because we are simply right.  The flip side of that coin has always been the “grandfather’s synod” set or those more Luther than Luther.  Always on the lookout for doctrinal degradation, these often self-appointed guardians are there to spot Stephan or the CSL faculty or Melanchthon going off the rails talking with Calvin.  This group knows how to count votes, but will never admit that it is driven by politics.  Instead they are fighting for a pure church.  And we are always only one bad election from losing the gospel.  Admitting that politics is good and necessary for a left-hand kingdom entity, and that we are engaged in it, would be giving up their self-image.  The image of the great wise sage, or the image of the Steadfast Protector of the gospel.  Hence both groups engage in anonymous and opaque forms of politics.

Admitting the fact, necessity and goodness of politics by itself would go a long way to helping the synod.  But you can admit that and have nowhere to go.  That was part of my initial charm with the ALPB.  Prior to this article, it was not ruled by fear and carried on its work in a visible way.  The other missing something in the LCMS has always been a viable clearinghouse for honest politics, an honest broker.  The in-house organs are fine, but they are in-house and always have been.  I don’t really want to use the word propaganda because of its severely negative overtone, but they are always good representatives of the spiffy image of whichever group is in political power.  And there is nothing wrong with that, but it is not an independent source. And because we have branded politics as unclean, the only source for political news has been from the far outside – Herman Otten and Christian News.  There are two things you can depend upon CN to deliver.  Whoever is the challenger for political authority will be making a trip to New Haven, MO, and within three years of winning authority CN will be running “I’m so disappointed” stories about the new boss.  Warped and twisted by the secret wars of decades, because we are unwilling to establish a visible source, CN remains the only open venue for politicking within the LCMS.  This is the second missing thing.  The LCMS desperately needs a News Outlet that is not Issues, Etc, or Congregations Matter, or CN.  These all have their place, but none of them are both open and licit.

Maybe there is a political version of Grisham’s law at work, the bad politics drives out good.  But as long as we in the LCMS put up with a politics of anonymity and purity, we will never move to a better church-political environment.  And the necessary somethings for that better environment are an admission that politics can be a noble endeavor and having an open and licit venue to practice it from.


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Posted by on March 22, 2019 in Uncategorized


“How Shall We Sing…? With Joy!” by Rev. Delwyn Campbell

Pastor Delwyn Campbell


For my post this week, I want to give the floor to the Reverend Delwyn Campbell. His excellent article informs us of current Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod mission efforts in inner city communities. Enjoy!

For those interested in more of the kind of history Pastor Campbell mentions below, see pages 17-21 in this LC-MS document (the document will download upon clicking that link), and also check pages 41-61 in the book United by Faith (2004).


The LCMS project, “Mission Field: USA,” led by Rev. Dr. Steve Schave, has an ambitious goal. Going into inner city communities that have either a declining Lutheran population or no Lutheran presence at all, to preach the pure Gospel and establish Confessional communities in such places as Ferguson Missouri under Rev. Micah Glenn, Albuquerque, NM with Rev. Adam DeGroot, and Gary, IN, where I serve. Each of these communities has in common a lack of a Germanic Lutheran population, and a population of groups that are not stereotypically Lutheran.

For many Lutherans, the idea of developing a Lutheran community in places where there seems to be little cultural connection seems like a fantasy, a foolhardy notion, or perhaps something akin to romantically going to Africa or South America.  We go there, implant our (German) Lutheran culture and worship, subliminally in that order, and make that community become Lutheran. To a certain extent, that works because the missionary understands his/her native culture much better than the culture of the mission community. It also requires that both the missionary and the people he serves accepts the cultural superiority of the missionary’s exegesis of the Christian faith.

One issue that clearly sets Confessional Evangelical Christians apart from the general Christian culture in many urban communities is the issue of “Enthusiasm.” I’m not talking about the feeling of joy that one has when the Cubs win ball games in September and have a clean shot at the post season, or the Bears get quarterback that can throw passes that actually reach receivers instead of linebackers and defensive backs. I’m talking about what the Epitome of the Formula of Concord describes in Article II, paragraph 13:

The Book of Concord Article II: Concerning the Free Will

[13] 6. Likewise, we also reject and condemn the error of the Enthusiasts, who contrive the idea that God draws people to himself, enlightens them, makes them righteous, and saves them without means, without the hearing of God’s Word, even without the use of the holy sacraments.

The glossary of the newest edition of the Book of Concord, Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions, defines the term this way:

Enthusiasm. Enthusiasts. Belief that Christians should expect special revelations or experiences from the Holy Spirit. Enthusiasts expect God to draw, enlighten, justify, and save them without the means of grace (Word and Sacraments)[1].

Although that perhaps sounds weird or spooky to your typical cradle Lutheran, for those who have come to hear about Jesus Christ at a “revival,” watching The Word Network or Trinity Broadcast Network, or going to church with their grandmother, that is part and parcel of Sunday church or Wednesday night Bible Study or Friday Night Evangelism service. That is the essence of the song, “The Presence of the Lord is Here.”

The presence of the Lord is here,

The presence of the Lord is here.

I feel it in the atmosphere,

The presence of the Lord is here,

The presence of the Lord is here[2].

For those who came out of the American Slavery experience, God was not found in the text of Scripture, because from colonial days, many of the local governments made it illegal to teach them to read:

Excerpt from South Carolina Act of 1740

Whereas, the having slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences; Be it enacted, that all and every person and persons whatsoever, who shall hereafter teach or cause any slave or slaves to be taught to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe, in any manner of writing whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such person or persons shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds, current money.

Excerpt from Virginia Revised Code of 1819

That all meetings or assemblages of slaves, or free negroes or mulattoes mixing and associating with such slaves at any meeting-house or houses, &c., in the night; or at any SCHOOL OR SCHOOLS for teaching them READING OR WRITING, either in the day or night, under whatsoever pretext, shall be deemed and considered an UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY; and any justice of a county, &c., wherein such assemblage shall be, either from his own knowledge or the information of others, of such unlawful assemblage, &c., may issue his warrant, directed to any sworn officer or officers, authorizing him or them to enter the house or houses where such unlawful assemblages, &c., may be, for the purpose of apprehending or dispersing such slaves, and to inflict corporal punishment on the offender or offenders, at the discretion of any justice of the peace, not exceeding twenty lashes.


“I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider thrown into the sea…”

Instead, God became known to the slaves and to their descendants by His emotional impact upon those who heard the stories of God’s intervention in the lives of another group of slaves, the Israelites who escaped from Egypt. In the story of the Exodus, the American slaves heard the prophecy of their own liberation from chattel tyranny and its heir, Jim Crow institutional racist subordination and economic subjugation. While the primary form of subjugation ended at Appomattox Courthouse, VA in 1865 with the defeat of the Confederacy, it didn’t die, but simply morphed  into other, less self-evident forms for the next 100 years.

There was, however, an interesting segment of Lutheran history that provided an alternative to this stereotype, the story of Rosa Young. An Alabama schoolteacher, Young desired to erect schools for those who had been recently freed from slavery but were still shackled by their lack of education. After planting a school, finding herself lacking resources, she contacted educator and founder of the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington, asking for his assistance. “Washington replied that he was unable to help, but advised her to contact the Board of Colored Missions of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).  According to Washington, Lutherans were doing more for African-Americans than any other denomination.

The LCMS sent pastor Nils Bakke to investigate. When he found she was telling the truth, he arranged for help. Young joined the Lutheran church and with its aid founded thirty rural schools, a high school, and a teacher training college, on whose faculty she served. She also planted Lutheran churches. Although derided for leaving the Methodists, she defended herself: “I was born and reared in gross darkness, wholly ignorant of the true meaning of the saving Gospel contained in the Holy Bible…I did not know that I could not read the Bible and pray enough to win heaven.”[3]


This historical connection between the LCMS and the spiritual and educational enrichment of the American Descendants of Slaves often goes unknown and uncelebrated, even within the communities where it had the biggest impact. The Divine Service is viewed as a manifestation of white culture, the songs and sermonic style fail to reflect the cultural sensitivities of many in the black communities, and fears of being labeled an “enthusiast” lead some to keep the enthusiastic preaching that is the hallmark of black Gospel preaching under wraps.

Lectures are not sermons, although you can learn a lot about Jesus from a sermon. While God can speak in a “still small voice,” I find that it is still good to

Psalm 47:1 ESV

Clap your hands, all peoples!

Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

If for no other reason, it’s good to “preach it like you feel it!” Even the Lord Himself will return to us one day, not with a whisper, but with a shout:

1 Thessalonians 4:16 (ESV)

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

To paraphrase a Christian songwriter, “why should the organ have all the good music?” Worship is not a dry reception of dry promises into a dry life. It is the response of our joyful hearts, having been washed from our guilty stains in living water by the Word, tasting the fragrant bread of God’s exceeding great and precious promises refreshed by the fountain of the Holy Spirit to bring forth “streams in the desert” of our lives that are drained daily by the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Knowing these things, I remain “glad when they said unto me, let us go into the House of the Lord.” I hope that wherever you are, you will also, as you “think about the goodness of Jesus and all He has done for me,” be encouraged to “cry out, “Hallelujah – I thank God for saving me!”

“To the Glory of God alone.”




[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 669.

[2] Byron Cage, Live at New Birth Cathedral,” composed by Kurt Carr, GospoCentric Records, 2003

[3] Dan Graves, “It Happened on June 1 – Rosa Young Spread Learning & Lutheranism in Alabama.” accessed Feb 22, 2019.



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Posted by on March 21, 2019 in Uncategorized


Should We Learn from the 16th Century Lutherans’ Views of Church and State?

If a pastor says to kings and princes…. ‘Consider and fear God and keep his commandments’ he is not meddling in the affairs of secular authorities… — Luther (picture of the Apostle Paul before Agrippa)


Did any kind of “separation of Church and State” exist for 16th-century Lutherans?

Is there anything that we can or even should learn from them today? This post seeks to intelligently start the conversation…

Undoubtedly, more and more these days, issues of church and state are on the minds of Christians.

Fellow Patheos blogger D.G. Hart has an interesting column about the dust-up surrounding Jerry Falwell Jr.’s fairly recent comments, and writing in The Week, Damon Linker talks about Christian cultural commentator Rod Dreher’s proposed book project exploring what an impending socialism might mean for Christianity:

Dreher is proposing to adapt and apply [the argument of Polish writer and former anti-Communist dissident Ryszard Legutko] to the United States, describing a country confronting what he calls the “Woke Menace” of a newly radicalized and emboldened left that aims to centralize power and stamp out all dissent. Those who believe in the sanctity of traditional marriage, who think that the free exercise of religion goes beyond worshipping in church and private homes, who therefore believe that devout Christians (and Jews and Muslims) should be free (in some instances) to discriminate against homosexuals and the transgendered, who consider abortion to be murder and abortion in the third trimester to be infanticide — Americans who hold these and similar views find themselves confronting the prospect of a party gaining power that considers every one of these positions not just erroneous but fundamentally illegitimate, beyond the moral pale, rooted in irrational animus and bigotry, and worthy of being excommunicated from public life.

And many will think (even if they don’t say it out loud quite yet): “Why not? Separation of church and state, right?”

“The modern world drove the church out of the state and into the soul.” — Scot McKnight (215, Kingdom Conspiracy)

Let’s explore all of this a bit more… look at the history.

Unlike the religions of Islam and Judaism–and basically every religion in world history for that matter–Christianity is unique in the big distinction it makes between God’s government and man’s government. Certainly, one of Jesus’ most well-known sayings – besides “love your enemies”! – is “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s”.

A little less known saying: “Then the children [of God] are exempt [from taxes]. But so that you do not cause offense… ” (see Matthew 17:24-27)

And just what, following up on St. Augustine’s distinction between the “City of God” and the “City of man,” is the nature and character of Martin Luther’s Reformation “doctrine of the two kingdoms”? Let’s now both introduce and seek to “problematize” the question.

Different answers have been given at different times, so it makes sense to revisit what the 1530 Augsburg Confession, the earliest Lutheran Confessional document and a document specifically responding to the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, has to say about the issue:

“[E]cclesiastical and civil power are not to be confused. The power of the church has its own commission to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. Let it not invade the other’s function, nor transfer the kingdoms of the world, nor abrogate the laws of civil rules, nor abolish lawful obedience, nor interfere with judgements concerning any civil ordinances or contracts, nor prescribe to civil rulers laws about the forms of government that should be established. Christ says, “My kingdom is not of this world” [Jn. 18:36] and again, “Who made me a judge or divider over you?” [Lk. 12:14]. Paul also wrote in Phil. 3:20, “Our commonwealth is in heaven,” and in II Cor. 10:4,5, “The weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy arguments,” etc.

In this way our teachers distinguish the functions of the two powers, and they command that both be held in honor and acknowledged as gifts and blessings of God (see Tappert, p. 83, The Book of Concord, bold mine).

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” — Matthew 22:21

In many ways, this description of the two kingdoms sounds a lot like the modern American concept of “separation of church and state,” does it not?[i]

At the same time, how did persons look at this kind of thing in the past, particularly those whose nations had adopted Christianity, like the nations in the Middle East (before Muhammad begin to change that around the 7th c. A.D.) Rome, and many European nations as well?[ii] Particularly interesting here are the views of the Christian theologian Martin Chemnitz, who, many years after the rise of Christianity in general and Lutheranism in particular in his native Germany, wrote the following in his Loci Theologici (late 16th century) regarding the fourth commandment, “honor your father and your mother”.

It is fascinating reading from a day gone by….

At this point…we shall make only a brief explanation regarding the duties of government officials. The Decalog prescribes that they are to be the fathers of those who are subject to them, cf. 1 Peter 2:14; Rom. 13:3-4. These are general principles. The specifics can be very easily determined from the list which has been drawn up, as they are categorized in 1 Tim. 2:2;

[1.] The first duty of a ruler is to care for those who are subject to him, so that they may “live in godliness,” that is, this first concern must be for their religion, that they true doctrine may be taught to the people and they may be instructed in the true worship, kept from outward blasphemies and godless forms of worship and whatever else is a detriment to piety. In Judg. 17:5-6 the account of the idolatry of Micah is described when there was no king in Israel and “every man did what was right in his own eyes,” cf. Is. 49:23. For this reason it is the duty of government officials to be supportive of churches and schools, to provide for them and protect them, cf. Ps. 2:11-12; 47:9. Therefore the ruler must by his own confession be a good example to others. Here, note the examples of David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and others.

[2.] The duty of the ruler is to see that the people “live in honesty,” that is, they are to establish and defend external order and not tolerate anything in conflict with it. The ruler must establish discipline, as it is written in Deut. 17:18, “Let the king receive a copy of this book (Deuteronomy) and let him write a copy of it and read it all the days of his life,” that is, let him rule according to the Decalog. And I Peter 2:13, “Let him rule according to the ordinance of men,” that is, in keeping with laws which are favorable and which are keeping with the law of nature.

[3.] It is the duty of the ruler to see that the people “live a quiet life,” that is, he must be concerned about the physical welfare of his subjects, as Joseph was, and not burden them down, disturb them, or jeopardize their property but rather nurture them, love them, and shower them with all good things, I Peter 2:14; Rom. 13:3. They must not be a terror for those who are good.

[4.] It is the duty of rulers to see that the people lead “a peaceable life.” This refers to the fact that rulers are to defend the bodies and properties of their subjects against the violence and injustice and thus protect the peace.

[5.] The ruler is to “execute wrath upon evildoers,” Rom. 13:4, that is, he is to compel them with force and physical punishments to obey the laws and he is to chastise the stubborn by court judgments, legal penalties, or wars. For “he does not bear the sword in vain,” Rom. 13:4.

[6.] He is to execute judgement. There is a description of a good judge in Deut. 1:16-17; Exodus 23; and 2 Chronicles 19. (v. 2, 400-401, bold mine).

“A Church isn’t proclaiming the full biblical gospel unless it calls kings and nations to acknowledge and serve the king of kings.” — Peter Leithart, author of Defending Constantine.


Later on, Chemnitz writes about the civil use of the law, or its first use.

Again, this is a different world. Since Chemnitz’s thoughts are so foreign even for devout Lutherans today, I am opting not to summarize, but quote in full:

“Properly the question is not whether the magistrate has the power to establish laws to which we must give obedience. But regarding the Decalog or the divine law the question is whether its teaching is to be set forth to those who are not truly repentant or whether it is useful to compel the unregenerate to obey or be forced under the doctrine of the divine law, so that they do not commit outward sins. The teaching of the civil law must be dealt with primarily to give an explanation to the very difficult argument which has arisen over the use of the Law over the unregenerate. This has caused a serious disturbance. For Scripture simply affirms, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” Rom. 14:23; again, “An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit,” Matt. 7:7. But because God does not will iniquity, therefore they seem to be doing wrong who do not want or force the unregenerate not to commit outward sins, for no person should be encouraged to sin and it is a sin to ignore discipline in the unregenerate. At this point voices are raised that it is more advisable that the unregenerate wallow around in every kind of crime rather than to some degree control their habits by any kind of morality, for “it is easier for the harlots and the publicans to enter into grace than for the Pharisees,” Matt. 21:31. It is correct to say this if we attach the concept of works righteousness to this discipline under the article on the remission of sins; but, on the other hand, it is certain that God earnestly demands obedience or discipline even from the unregenerate, so that even in this life He punishes the violation of His law with terrifying penalties and gives external rewards to those who live under His discipline, even the unregenerate.

In opposition to this the scholastics say that it is a cruel idea found in the Master of the Sentences [Lombard] when he says, “The whole life of the unbeliever is sin.” They say that to the man who does the best that is in him, God always gives His grace. This argument greatly disturbed Erasmus, for he says: “Is it all the same whether Socrates lives an honorable life or gives his mother poison or dishonors his sister?” Again, “If discipline does not merit the remission of sins, at least it renders the mind more open to grace. Socrates will be better prepared and more suited to receive grace than Phalaris will.” There is no doubt that this is a difficult argument. It cannot be settled more simply, more correctly, and more easily than on the basis of the doctrine of the civil use of the Law. We must be careful that we do not apply the pedagogical use of the Law to this point, as if there is in the unregenerate a certain preparation of for grace; but the matter must remain within the boundaries of the civil use because in this way men can be taught about the Gospel, through which later on the Holy Spirit is efficacious. For the doctrine of the Word of God cannot be taught when crime rules. Likewise, because in those who try to govern their morals by honorable discipline, there are many shameful lapses and their hearts remain impure. Therefore outward discipline instructs us to find out where righteousness comes from. This can most correctly be discovered in I Timothy 1 and Romans 1 and 2. (v. 2; 439, 440, bold mine)


“Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world?” “If we endure, we will also reign with him.” – the Lord’s Apostle, Paul

Is this a massive confusion of spiritual and political powers on Chemnitz’s part? This was a different time, to be sure, even as one notes key phrases from Chemnitz that indicate the questions many in his own time had: “this has caused a serious disturbance”, “they seem to be doing wrong…” (we note the less than full-throated condemnation!).

In any case, one can see that Chemnitz’s own understanding of the role of Christianity in the “Kingdom of the left,” i.e. civil government, is worlds apart from that of most modern Lutherans, even conservative 20th century champions like Francis Pieper (see first footnote below), Kurt Marquart[iii], and Herman Sasse[iv] (see “The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession” in The Lonely Way, v. 1). The duties of Christian clergy and secular rulers were certainly very distinct (note that secular here means “of the world” or “of the earth,” not “opposed to God”). Nevertheless, one is taken aback with how much religious duties – nay particularly Christian responsibilities – fall on the shoulders of the secular ruler.

“God intends the secular Regiment to be a model of… the kingdom of heaven” — Luther

Another relevant comment here, even though I doubt it will do much good for those determined to be upset at “Christians who seek dominance”: Please note that, strictly speaking, none of what Chemnitz says really fits the specific criteria for what we today call theonomy[v] or theocracy[vi] (see Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, v. 2, 347 ; also, people who want to bring up things like shellfish really need to read Acts 10-15, and, if they really want to dig deep, can read pp. 235-301 in John Gerhard’s early 17th c. work On the Law)

And…as I have argued, if the Western world is going to remain itself, if it is going to persist, it must regain wisdom (see series from five years ago here).

This means it is going to need to find ways to honestly come to grips with its Christian heritage in some way, shape, or form,[vii] and to give thanks to God–to Jesus Christ–for its true blessings (no, “Judeo-Christian values” will not cut it). Obviously, this is going to be more difficult to do–and yes, perhaps it is impossible to do–when Christian influence and true faith has waned as much as it has (see footnote 7 below).

“Aristotle… requires that a legislator pay careful attention to the situation and the people, because there is a remarkable dissimilarity among peoples and different temperaments for different places.” — John Gerhard, On the Law, 296) (pictured: Aristotle)

One more important note here: in my last post, I pointed out that Scot McKnight, insists that Christians attempting to influence government in a Christian direction (in order to back up the Christian voices, for example) necessarily means that Christians are giving final authority to the state (216-217, Kingdom Conspiracy). What really, does this mean (I did email McKnight and he replied but not with an answer to that question)?

On the contrary, God does expect today’s rulers to “Kiss the Son,” lest He be angry…

Even if a country like America had a government which explicitly acknowledged its Christian heritage… Even if it defended it and perhaps embraced it… Acts 5:29 would *still* apply to each individual believer.

Finally, for those who really want to dig deeply into this topic–in both a highly intelligent and very culturally aware way–I recommend the following no-nonsense lecture from Dr. Eric Phillips, The Responsibilities of the Christian Prince According to Augustine, Luther, and America, below:




[i] Francis Pieper, the highly respected America Lutheran theologian writing in the early 20th century, certainly seems to have thought so:

“The principles of Christ’s rule over His Church are subverted by those who intermingle the secular realm with the Kingdom of Grace, that is, who intermingle Church and State. This includes (1) those who turn the Church into a worldly kingdom by attempting to build the Church with earthly, or worldly, means (external power, natural morality, culture, etc.). Instead of employing solely the Word of God, thus eo ipso destroying the distinctive character of the Church; (2) those who would make of the State a spiritual Kingdom by attempting to rule the State not by reason, but by the Word of God, by “Christian principles” (Christian Dogmatics II: 392-393).

[ii] Yes, we all know that the sword was used in this or that case by Christians, or those claiming Christ at least,g to “convert”. Let’s look at the less controversial situations though and take it from there: Once large groups of people begin moving from darkness to light, is assistance also not necessary to help cultures take active steps to transform themselves politically to accommodate the Christian way of life – whether we are talking more or less radical changes? After all, while not becoming radical Protestants who would consider rebellion against rulers not sufficiently Christian or friendly to Christianity, surely we can at least imagine saying that we must obey God rather than men in circumstances beyond simply the freedom to preach the simple message of Christ crucified and risen – and taking stands as we are called by our circumstances to do so.

[iii] Marquart writes in his essay “The Two Realms (Kingdoms) in the Lutheran Confessions“:

“When addressing non-Christians the church’s preachment of the law is bounded by her missionary commitment (Mt. 28:19-20), hence limited to the second (“theological”) use. While the Table of Duties (second and third uses) must be proclaimed to all Christians (including rules), governments and states as such are accountable to God not through the church but through all who have standing under Rom. 13:1-7 (ultimately even the general citizenry), and by way of natural reason and law (first use). (God and Caesar Revisited, Lutheran Academy Conference Papers, no. 1, 1995, p. 46).

[iv] Sasse, in his essay “The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession” in The Lonely Way, v. 1:

“There is as little possibility of a Christian state as there is of Christian agriculture and Christian technology…. There is no Christian order for society, for that would be an attempt to make sin disappear in the world, that love would take the place of law, in other words, that the kingdom of God would have come in glory…. (93) The task of the church over against the governing authorities is an especially difficult responsibility. It must guard itself against any illusion of a “Christian state” and must limit itself” (99).

[v] From Wikipedia: “Theonomy, from theos (god) and nomos (law), is a hypothetical Christian form of government in which society is ruled by divine law.[1] Theonomists hold that divine law, including the judicial laws of the Old Testament, should be observed by modern societies” (italics mine).

[vi] One popular definition: “a system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god.”

[vii] Relevant quote from Luther to ponder. Luther’s talk about “rul[ing] it in [an] evangelical manner” being impossible means that people will not be effectively governed by the Gospel alone, without the use of force and coercion… (“To rule the world with the gospel would be like a shepherd putting wolves, lions, eagles and sheep all together in the same fold…. The sheep will indeed follow the way of peace, but not for long,” he said elsewhere).

“Certainly it is true that Christians, so far as they themselves are concerned, are subject neither to law nor sword, have need of either. But take heed and first fill the world with real Christians before you attempt to rule it in a Christian or evangelical manner.

This you will never accomplish; for the world and the masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name. Christians are few and far between (as they say is). Therefore, it is out of the question that there should be a common Christian government over the whole world, or indeed over a single country or any considerable body of the people, for the wicked always outnumber the good.” (Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed)


Images: Scot McKnight CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

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Posted by on March 5, 2019 in Uncategorized