From the Disk of the Pastor June 2009
Dear Friends in Christ,
One of my pet peeves as some of you know is when people are more against something than for anything. This always distorts and damages. When your focus is what you are against, the truth itself is lost. The only thing that matters is that we oppose the thing we are against.
In the United States, and in American Lutheranism, there is a history of strong anti-Roman Catholic attitudes. Lutherans are not unique in this. Talk show host Barry Farber speaks of growing up in North Carolina in the 1930's. He is Jewish. But the relationship between Jews and Evangelical Christians was quite good in those days. So even though the KKK was active in his community, Jews rarely felt the wrath of the Klan. But Catholics were far less fortunate. Unfortunately, many American Lutherans drank in this societal attitude. The result was a great deal of damage to our theology and our piety. The truth itself was the first casualty.
As Lutherans we have a clear pattern for establishing the truth. We have the Scriptures and the Confessions. The two sources are there to keep us bound to the truth. It must be understood that the Confessions, that is the Book of Concord, is not a second scripture, but a collection of writings faithfully drawn from the Scriptures. The Confessions serve to keep us from doctrinal drift. Non-confessional churches tend to drift from one view to the next. In Bremen, Indiana, were I vicared, a man claimed God called him to start preaching and start a church. He did and it grew to some size. He was getting on in years so he groomed his son to become pastor after him. He sent the son off to England to get some education. The son returned and split the church. The father was an Arminian while the son was a Calvinist. The congregation had nothing to which it could turn to judge which was correct. The point here is that unlike many such free churches, we have a pattern of sound words and teaching. We can study and find the truth. And indeed this is what we must do. We must constantly be searching through the Scriptures and the Confessions seeking that which is true and from God. While we do this we must shut out other influences. We don’t use the Bible to justify our being against this or that. We use it to find the truth. If that makes us against this or that group so be it. But if it means we are in agreement with this or that group, that is fine as well.
We have quarrels with Rome and with the Reformed. We have some disagreement with the Calvinists (Presbyterians, for example), but we have much stronger disagreements with the Arminians (Pentecostals). We also have much in common. So back to Rome. In our Catechism it speaks of making the sign of the cross. It is not necessary that we make the sign of the cross or not make it. But many refuse to do so because it would look too “Catholic.” Yet, the sign of the cross has a long and rich history in Lutheranism. It is a remembrance of our Baptism. While of itself, making the sign of the cross is not of great import, it is wrong to refuse to do so because we are anti-Catholic. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper was held in low regard and some theologians even went so far as to de facto deny the real presence to show that they weren’t “Roman”. The truth of God’s Word was lost.
Our focus must always be on being Lutheran. We must not be against this or that. We have something in common with all other Christians churches. In some cases we have much in common. Our liturgy and common piety will look rather Roman. Our preaching will sound almost Calvinist. This is perfectly fine. We need not be concerned about this. This is simply reflecting who we are as Lutherans. Our focus needs to always be on who we are, rather than who we are not. That is how we stay focused on the truth of God’s Word.
Rev. Jody R. Walter