The Ministry of the Baptized (Editorial)
By Stephen Krueger
By now, it is common knowledge that a group of President Kieschnick’s critics have done what was once unthinkable in the LCMS. The group of 100 or so (mostly pastors) have filed a lawsuit, presumably on behalf of the synod, against President Gerald Kieschnick, First Vice-President William Diekelman, and the synod itself. Filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court, the plaintiffs are alleging that Kieschnick rigged the results of the 2004 convention by granting unusual exemptions to electoral circuits which, among other things, voted him into office for a second term. That’s count one. Count two further alleges an entirely different grievance, already heard from the synod’s Board of Directors majority, that the bylaws have granted the Commission on Constitutional Matters authority which the board majority thinks belongs to it instead.
There are dozens of things wrong with this picture, and the DayStar community, among many others in the synod, is discussing this bizarre turn of events. Pastor and friend Jonathan Coyne of the Jesus First Leadership team has a good article on the matter in the last installment of the Jesus First online newsletter (http://www.jesusfirst.net). You can read Pastor Coyne’s piece along with the text of the lawsuit for yourself as he notes some good arguments about why the suit is as outrageous as it is (it violates St. Paul’s scriptural injunction about not filing lawsuits against fellow Christians, the Fourth Commandment, the Eighth Commandment, etc.). It shouldn’t be lost on anybody that the plaintiffs who are usually railing about Biblical inerrancy and purity of doctrine do not seem in the least bit interested in applying same to themselves.
We would add a couple of thoughts to the subject beyond what has been said.
Confident that President Kieschnick will defend himself just fine, nevertheless, the lawsuit against him is full of such pure, unadulterated smear and godless slander that it’s got to take its toll anyway and that’s a shame. No matter how big and decent a man or woman is in public life, to have your good name and reputation dragged through the gutter in full public view in secular court has got to take its toll. It’s got to hurt personally, and it’s got to hurt the synod to hear the allegation: “Commencing in 2003 or 2004, or before, defendants and each of them, for their own personal gain, embarked upon a scheme to perpetuate themselves in office.…”
There was a day in which no one in the synod would have even tolerated anyone who would dare to utter such a thing against a synodical president, let alone drag him into secular court with such words. But apparently those days are long gone. About all one can say these days is what Joseph Welch said in 1952 as he watched a young assistant get smeared by Sen. Joseph McCarthy at that famous open hearing before the Senate’s special Subcommittee on Investigations: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
Yet as tragic as this lawsuit is as it drags a good man through the muck, what is more deeply tragic is that once again the synod is being distracted from its core by which it is given grounds to celebrate, usually despite itself: the Gospel.
It should really come as no surprise that President Kieschnick’s critics in failing to make their case before the synod in convention should run off to where they did: the secular courts. It’s where you would expect to find consummate legalists, trying to find aid and comfort in the Law. In that regard, if there is any redeeming quality in what they are seeking, it is to serve as a warning to us all because there is a legalist in us all bound and determined to justify ourselves through some presumably righteous legal scheme or other. When you’re a self-justifying legalist, fault-finding in others is just part of the game.
Isn’t that precisely why St. Paul says what he says in that 1 Corinthians 6 text which everybody is citing these days? He writes about lawsuits between Christians (after he says “Don’t do it!”):
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that? In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you (1 Corinthians 6:5-7a).
What is so defeating about lawsuits between believers anyway? Isn’t it the defeat of something far more than that lawsuits don’t look good to the world (to be sure, that’s true enough) and hurt the church’s witness? Yet doesn’t the problem go deeper? Isn’t the problem that lawsuits are a critique upon the very faith by which believers believe? If you’re hanging your heart on the jurisdiction of the Law, and what could be more “legal” than a lawsuit, you are not hanging your believing heart where it needs to be: on Christ and his Gospel. Could it be that is what is so defeating ultimately about lawsuits? They defeat the Gospel as the grounds to the believer’s faith! What makes “the saints” so helpful in deciding about differences between believers (1 Corinthians 6:1) rather than the secular courts (or religious ones, for that matter) is that the witness of those saints is not ultimately to secular or religious Law but specifically to the Gospel, rightly distinguished from the Law (so Lutherans say they believe), as the only sufficient grounds to the believer’s believing.
Well, what if faith were directed to the Gospel instead and not the Law? What difference would faith in the Gospel make? What would the other option, the one which is hardly a “defeat” but the one which is called a “victory” elsewhere, look like?
On the 17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 11 of this year), the church heard as its Gospel Reading the story from Matthew of Peter’s question, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus, of course, answers his disciple, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-35). Then comes, how typical of Jesus, a story.
The story is about the victory of mercy over enforcing the legal obligations of the Law. There is a king whose slave owes his lord ten thousand talents. It is an impossible sum. A single talent is said to have been worth 15 years wages of a laborer. In other words the slave is in way over his head. Of course, by rights, legally, the king has every right to exact payment of the awesome burden which would require (so the story goes) the slave, his household and all his possessions to be sold. Yet the slave begs for mercy, “Have patience with me, and I will pay everything” (v. 26).
While the slave undoubtedly has all the good intentions of any debtor, there is no realistic way he can make good on his obligations to the king. Patience, more than likely, won’t do the trick. Something far more radical is required.
“And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt” (v. 27).
The story, as most know, doesn’t have a happy ending. Rather than be overwhelmed with gratitude and joy at the forgiveness of an impossible load, the slave then turns around and tries to exact a modest debt by force from a fellow slave, showing no signs of a changed heart at the mercy shown to him.
He’s the kind of guy that runs off to court and sues his brother anyway. He’s hung his heart on somewhere else other than the source of all mercy and forgiveness, whose name is Christ.
That’s the real shame here with this lawsuit. It distracts the church from celebrating the victory that is Christ. No wonder St. Paul says what he says. “In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you” (1 Corinthians 6:7a).
Indeed … and in spades!