The Testimony of the Spirit

Pr. F. Dean Lueking, Pastor

Grace Lutheran Church

River Forest, Ill.

Text: Romans 10:10

Trinity V

July 22, 1973

 

“For a man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.”

 

From the Heart

I begin this sermon by doing what the text says Christians do, confessing with my lips the faith that is in my heart:

“I believe in the living God, who brought all things into being from nothing and who sustains my life and yours to this moment. His miraculous power of creating is evident to me in the birth of my children and yours, and in the countless ways He surrounds me with providential love in daily life. I believe that in all things of life He is at work bringing good out of evil, for He has shown this supremely in the sending of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into our fallen world to rescue me and all mankind from sin. I believe that Jesus is Lord. His birth of the Virgin Mary, His life of ministry and miracles, all come to their fulfillment in His atoning death upon the cross and His glorious resurrection and ascension. I believe the Gospel of God’s grace for me in Christ because He has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in my heart through the Word of forgiveness that is proclaimed in preaching and offered in the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion. I believe that my purpose in life as a pastor, husband, father, and citizen is motivated by Christ’s love for me. I gladly affirm the Holy Scriptures as God’s written Word to me and to you, and with all Christians throughout the world today and in ages past, I look forward to the resurrection of the body and life eternal with the whole company of heaven.”

 

God’s Work, Not Man’s

This testimony to you from my heart is not the result of the decision of men concerning what is binding on my soul and conscience. This testimony is the handiwork of the Holy Spirit, who has been at work in my heart through the Word since the time of my baptism 45 years ago. Human decisions and efforts to regulate my faith life cannot penetrate to the deepest reaches of my inner life and spiritual center. That seat of my existence and center of my soul is where God’s working, not man’s prevails. The text calls this “the heart.” Man believes with his heart. Believes what? That God our merciful Father has made us His own beloved children through His Son. With my heart I trust Him—in life and in death. Every believer does. God’s mighty works are not only that He is who He is and does what He does. His mightiest work is that we believe Him with the heart and confess that faith gladly and freely with our lips!

 

Convention Decision on Matters of Faith

This heart of mine, which offers you the testimony of faith you have heard, has something else to say to you today. From my heart I tell you that the key decision of our Synod’s recent Convention in New Orleans runs head on into the message of this text and the deepest convictions we hold as Lutheran Christians. By a 562-455 vote the delegates declared that President Preus’s “Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” be elevated to the status of a doctrinal statement, binding on all members of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

 

This Is Wrong

From my heart I tell you that is wrong.

It is right for Synodical Convention delegates to hear matters of doctrinal importance and try to understand them.

It is right for Synodical Convention delegates to express themselves concerning their understanding of doctrinal issues.

It is right for Synodical Convention delegates to make every effort to admonish, reprove, encourage and edify each other with the clear teachings of Holy Scripture.

But it is wrong for Synodical Convention delegates to assume that a majority vote makes a resolution on doctrine binding on the conscience of anybody.

That is wrong—disastrously wrong!

 

Why This Is Wrong

It is wrong because God’s Word along, not man’s, can bind the conscience, soul, and heart of the Christian.

That is what Martin Luther’s reforming work is all about. Popes and councils can err, he said. It is the Word alone that can bring conviction, obedience of faith, and joyful, free confession of that faith from the heart.

It is wrong because the action of making convention resolutions on doctrine binding sets us on the path to sectarianism (“we alone have the true measure of what is Scriptural”) and off the path of Lutheranism as a confessional movement in the mainstream of Christianity.

It is wrong because it flies directly in the face of our own Synodical tradition. Our Constitution states so clearly: “All matters of doctrine and of conscience shall be decided only by the Word of God. All other matters shall be decided by a majority vote.” (Article VIII C)

It is wrong because it rejects the conviction and insight of our most honored spiritual fathers in the Missouri Synod. Franz Pieper stated it with unmistakable clarity:

“Christ has commissioned neither some one person (Pope, princes, governors, presidents, etc.) nor a college of persons (bishops, pastors, boards of directors, consistories, parliaments, conferences, synods, councils, etc.) to decide and ordain ecclesiastical matters for the Church in any way binding the conscience… In general, when the power to make binding decisions and laws in the Church is said to inhere in any body of men, be they ecclesiastics or laymen or a mixed board, this is not a Christian but a Papistic position, because in the Christian Church God’s Word is the only authority and all Christians are and remain responsible directly to God for all they believe and do… The order that obtains in the Christian Church is this: If the question at issue pertains to matters taught and decided in God’s Word, the Christian position is that no man and no assembly of man, no matter how learned and renowned they may be, can decide for a Christian what is Scriptural doctrine. This matter every single Christian must decide for himself on the basis of the clear, infallible Word of God.” (Christian Dogmatics, 2.427-433)

Given these indisputably clear statements, how could a majority of delegates come to the conclusion that the Synod defy its treasured heritage and lay the basis for expelling some of her finest sons and daughters whose conscience will not be bound by the resolutions of men?

 

The One-sided Approach

This happened because there has been no open and honest airing of doctrinal issues among clergy, laity, and synodical leaders. Instead, good Christian people have been mailed a steady stream of biased, judgmental, and alarmist literature that can only mislead them (e.g., “Christian News” and “Affirm”). Faithful men who teach our seminarians at Concordia, St. Louis, have been branded defenders of false doctrine in sermons, conferences, and meetings all over the United States with no opportunity for answering the charges against them when they are made. And for the past 4 years the administration of the Synod itself has not brought about fair, fraternal airing of doctrinal issues, but led the attack against the brothers.

At the convention, resolutions prepared by heavily one-sided floor committees precluded any semblance of fair procedure. Picture in your mind 1050 voting delegates, surrounded by several thousand more advisory delegates and spectators behind them in an immense auditorium the size of Wrigley Field. Imagine the impact of lengthy, detailed, complicated charges presented day after day from the podium. Is that the forum in which to act upon the most profound convictions and testimonies of the heart? Out of that parliamentary chaos and mass confusion, came a decision that shows the damage of such chaos and confusion. I do not say that these brothers are evil men, or that President Jacob Preus is to be vilified for his conviction about the binding nature of his Statement. I cannot and will not judge their hearts. But I must offer my heart’s testimony that the action itself is categorically wrong. I cannot write a document that any Synod can vote into binding status of doctrine. You cannot. No man can. The Word alone, as we confess in our classic Lutheran Confessions, can reach the heart and hold it fast in soundness of faith.

 

The Better Way Is the Only Way

I understand the anguish others feel over the divided Synod in which we walk together as brothers and sisters in faith. I feel that, too. I can understand the impulse to settle things for good with Convention resolutions. Those resolutions deserve our utmost seriousness and attention, but they remain under the Word. And we remain under the Word. The way to solve our difficulties is not talking about the Word but getting into it together and staying under the power of the Gospel till we agree! We must hear it together. We must do it together. And that hearing and doing can bring blessing only as it takes place in Christ-like love and mutual trust.

 

When Hearts Are Stirred

The Convention gave us who were there a personal and dramatic experience in what it means to make human resolutions binding on the conscience. When that resolution passed which declared the Preus Statement binding, over 400 voting delegates processed forward to the podium to record their conscience vote of opposition to such an action. As these men and women, joined by many more advisory delegates and spectators, sang “The Church’s One Foundation” the tears were streaming down many faces, so deeply was the heart stirred.

 

Is This the Testimony of a Heretic?

More powerful still, however, was the experience of hearing the president of Concordia Seminary, Dr. John Tietjen, speak his testimony of the heart in the face of the charges that he is a defender of false doctrine and therefore one who has no place in the Church of God. Here are his words:

“I stand before you as a brother in the faith, a baptized child of God. I acknowledge that my life comes to me from God, the Creator, and that indeed He has made me and everything that is. I affirm before you that Jesus Christ is God and man, born of the Virgin Mary, our Savior and Lord who gave His life in atonement for the sins of the world and was raised again for our justification. I affirm before you that I have been called to this faith not by my reason but by the Holy Spirit and that I live by the forgiveness of sins which I receive daily through the means of grace, the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the Sacraments, and together with all of you I look for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our life together with Him in resurrection in heaven.”

That, fellow Christians, is testimony from the heart! Is this the kind of leadership we want to banish from our Synod? But he was not heard by the majority of delegates whose minds have been trained to see him as an enemy who must be removed. The devastating charges leveled against John Tietjen, which seek to measure this fellow Christian by the yardstick of orthodoxy which men have devised, will now follow him as the newly elected Board of Control of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, takes action soon. If this is the function of Convention resolutions on doctrine, to expel a brother from his work and his place in the Synodical fellowship, then the word of judgment is not falling on John Tietjen but on the Missouri Synod. It is for the Synod that we weep. For the judgment of God will be far more devastating to it than we can imagine.

 

What Can We Do?

What is to be done now?

1) Already the voices of protest are raised throughout the Synod. Pastors, teachers, professors, and laity who are beginning to understand what has happened are stirred to the depths. The protest must not be raucous and inflammatory, however. We have had enough of that. We must speak the truth in love. In New Orleans we saw raw power displayed; the only thing that can expose that is the truth. It must be understood. It must be spoken by parishes, not just clergy.

2) We must not give in to the temptation to walk out on the whole mess in disgust, looking immediately for greener pastures in some other branch of the Lutheran family. We must bring the testimony of the heart to many good Christians who may be deeply disturbed and confused by all that has taken place.

3) In our own parish we shall promptly find the ways to bring interested and concerned members together for presentations and discussions of these matters by the many able people without our congregation who were at New Orleans and have much to say that can help us see the issues more clearly and respond appropriately. Do not be afraid of these coming opportunities. They will not be shouting matches and bickering contests. They shall be, God-willing, solid opportunities for your growth in faith and your appreciation of what it really means to be a confessing Christian in the Lutheran tradition.

4) I ask you not to withdraw your support of our Synod’s work here and over-seas. We have faithful brothers and sisters to support, whose ministry of the Gospel must not be blurred by the heat of present emotions.

5) I ask our young men who are considering the pastoral ministry, and especially their older brothers who are now at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, not to withdraw now from that faculty which is second to none in our land. At this moment the right instinct is not panic or quick judgments, but steadiness in pursuit of a theological education that will equip you well for coming days.

6) I ask you to stand fast in the bonds of faith and love with any brother who is expelled from his post for Christian service on the basis of man-made standards of faithfulness which are placed over the testimony of faith from the heart. What form this should take, and how it will happen is not yet clear. But we cannot abandon men and women in Christ who are precious gifts to our Synod.

 

To Keep Something Alive…

There is so much that is unknown about the future and where these tumultuous events shall take us. Therefore it is all the more important that we keep clear what is the issue and what we are to contend for. I find these words of T. S. Eliot most welcome on the subject:

“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause,

there is no such thing as a Lost Cause

because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause.

We fight for lost causes

because we know that our defeat and dismay

may be the preface to our successor’s victory,

though that victory itself will be temporary:

We fight rather to keep something alive

than in expectation that anything will triumph.”

This, fellow Christians, is what we fight for, to keep something alive, the testimony of the heart.

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One thought on “The Testimony of the Spirit

  1. This was necessary because other synods that decided to open doctrine up for discussion usually bowed to the more liberal wing. Those teachers and students knew the traditional doctrinal positions of the LCMS before entering Concordia. I think what was happening at Concordia was nothing short of an attempt by liberal theologians to change the LCMS from within. They began using the historical critical method of interpreting the bible. The problem even today in the LCMS is that they value advanced degrees from institutions outside the synod. I talked to an LCMS pastor who got his Masters from the ELCA seminary in Minneapolis. How can someone trained there respect the traditional doctrinal positions of the LCMS. The church body formed from Seminex was later instrumental in starting the ELCA. My wish would be that the LCMS, Wisconsin Synod, and ELS could get back together.

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