The Antichrist and the Witness of the Missouri Synod–An Open Letter
I was just reading a piece by [an LCMS pastor]….I can’t remember if I talked with you about his essay on repenting of the reformation.
I’m so saddened by that essay and another one which recounts Benedict’s praise of Luther. Anyone who knows anything should recognize that the Pope’s version of Luther is clearly inadequate. I know… the “best construction” of the Pope’s praise of Luther would be to say that although he knew that he was skirting the actual controversy between Rome and the Church of the Augsburg Confession, the pope wanted to try to speak well of Luther as much as possible. But whatever the Pope’s intention, the quotation of him as we have it is simply deceptive, to anyone who may not fully grasp what Luther’s dispute with Rome was.
If I was Pres. of the LCMS, and I started quoting positive things out of Robert Bellarmine without plainly stating that we continue to reject as heresy the central thrust of his theology, that would be dishonest. It would be the kind of thing you would expect from an antichrist. By doing that, I would mislead the people in the LCMS, as though Bellarmine was a trustworthy theologian. (He was not. But the story is he had great compassion for lice…., even as he served the antichrist in his murder of souls.) And if I was trying to entice the Pope to join the LCMS, honesty would require that I tell the Pope plainly what we teach and confess.
But the spirit of antichrist doesn’t care whether Roman Catholics get the idea that the Pope is saying that now Luther isn’t so bad. The spirit of antichrist knows that Roman Catholics are not going to leave the pope, by and large, and that they’re not going to run out and start reading Luther. It knows that catholics, like nearly all church members in the first world, consider distinctions between denominations archaic and intolerant. Rome is with the times while at the same time appearing to be hopelessly behind the times to full-blown secularists. It manages to modernize in such a way as to attract intellectuals while at the same time seeming like a bastion of traditionalism, appealing to the knowledge of the decalogue that is inscribed in people’s hearts. Rome can do this because, despite its emphasis on the sacrifice of the eucharist, it remains at heart a religion of law, free will, and self-deification. So embracing Luther is no different than embracing any other religious celebrity, as long as Luther is not allowed to be Lutheran–as long as he’s just one more guy who says that we should do good works if we want to please God.
I’m saddened and concerned, first of all because X is still attending N’s former congregation. And the senior pastor there used to preach law and Gospel. He was Lutheran. He’s a brilliant man, talented, and so on, and it’s impossible to imagine that he came under the influence of any of the personalities associated with this kind of teaching. But the congregation changed; his preaching changed, the sorts of stuff he teaches changed. In 2000 X sent me a Book of Concord that she bought at [congregation]. Now I go over to their house and see they’re doing taize for advent and for the last few years the kinds of books they’re reading are NT Wright and I don’t know what else.
So in my opinion the time is long past that the LCMS confessional pastors stop keeping silent about the romanizing we tolerate rather than possibly wound an ally. I have to listen to all my members who don’t like chanting and closed communion and private confession tell me I’m too catholic because of Fort Wayne.
But they have a point. Fort Wayne has harbored romanizing; not just some of the tendencies of some of the […] people, but clearly this paper by N. And P’s paper, while perhaps not saying anything heretical, seemed an absurd topic for a confessional Lutheran exegete. Z’s reading of …seems to present real problems if you want to try to harmonize it with the Formula on Law and Gospel… Maybe he’s right. But in that case, don’t read the Church Postil; Luther is continually saying, don’t make Jesus into Moses or a hangman. That could be another reason Z dislikes the historic lectionary.
There has been a legitimate renewal of confessional theology in the LCMS that went along with a renewed appreciation of the liturgy. This renewal was labeled “Roman” by people who had been raised with TLH–spoken–and “Lift High The Cross.” Also the liturgy became a main battleground within the LCMS, and many of us who had been burned by evangelicalism (or LCMS aping thereof) become hostile and bitter toward anything that sounded vaguely evangelical. This was not renewal, but simply hatred.
So now what happens? For so long if you were liturgical, that was pretty much good enough to be on “our side.” Then you start getting various high church guys questioning whether the Pope is really the antichrist. After all, the Pope doesn’t throw unwashed plastic individual cups with drops of Jesus’ blood in the trash. Only people in the LCMS do that. The lack of reverent handling of the reliquiae becomes a mark of the antichrist, and by that standard, the LCMS is more the antichrist than Rome. And so a hatred of the laypeople also was coddled among some pastors, for being sublutheran. While the criticisms are real, the reaction among many of us was not from the Holy Spirit but from the flesh. Hatred of the people to whom Christ called us to be shepherds? How could we tolerate that among ourselves?
But where did we get the idea that suppression of the Gospel is the same as irreverent handling of the sacrament? The antichrist is the antichrist because he is in the church and claims to be a shepherd while exalting himself and his word over Christ and His. A person who does not believe the Gospel or who in ignorance desecrates the sacrament, while guilty, is not the antichrist. The antichrist inserts human merit into the Gospel and claims divine prerogative to silence Christ’s voice in the church–that is, the preaching of the forgiveness of sins on account of his blood. Now how one handles the sacrament matters more than the preaching or the confession of the church? That kind of theology bears the marks of antichrist far more than sinful handling of the reliquiae. When LCMS congregations throw individual cups with consecrated wine in the trash, they sin against the sacrament, they make a bad confession; if someone wants to say they desecrate the blood of Christ I won’t disagree (although the idea that “sacramental action” really means you can lock up consecrated elements in a tabernacle and as long as at some point in the future you have a vague plan of receiving them they are Christ’s body and blood forever–how that got to be the “confessional” view I have no idea, since Rome also eats the hosts it displays in monstrances–eventually)–but they don’t suppress the gospel by doing so. The benefit of the sacrament of the altar is received through faith in Christ’s words instituting the sacrament along with the bodily eating and drinking. It has nothing to do with outward displays of reverence. Throwing unwashed, used plastic individual cups in the trash because of a mistaken receptionistic theory, or just out of ignorance, is nowhere near as big a profanation of the Sacrament as turning Christ’s testament into our offering to God.
Also Walther became someone to laugh about, even among first year seminarians who could barely write their names. The LCMS is better today than in Walther’s day; we have the Sacrament of the Altar more often, and more children younger than 14 commune–I heard this from a pastor I often agree with. More recently I’ve started asking myself–that, really, is orthodoxy? If so, then Rome has always been better than the LCMS!
Somewhere we forgot that the Pope is the antichrist, not evangelicalism, as much damage as evangelicalism has caused us. Now the real Romanizing among the confessional Lutherans in the LCMS is going to bring the authentic theology and practice of Lutheran orthodoxy into disrepute so that many laypeople continue to run away from it and think that the LCMS megachurches represent something more like what they were taught growing up–after all, at least the megachurches don’t teach or behave as if the true worship of God was a matter of ceremonial.
I think it’s going to be painful if we don’t clearly address this. There are Roman tendencies among us that must be addressed for the sake of the Gospel. Otherwise we sacrifice our confession to expediency or friendship. It also remains important to preach clearly against Rome, which we have stopped doing. It is still the antichrist, and these days it looks like the good guy to whatever real Christians are actually left in mainline denoms because they still stand against homosexuality and abortion.
Heck, in Illinois, Catholic Charities shut down rather than place children with homosexual households. Our LCFS has capitulated to Caesar. Kyrie eleison!
In my congregation I would be surprised if 20 percent of the members on an average Sunday could tell you all ten commandments, let alone tell you the answers to Luther’s questions on any of the chief six parts of the catechism. The vast majority figure Christianity is Christianity and doctrine is generally not something to worry too much about. This makes people ripe for evangelicalism–but it also works really well with modern Rome, which is well-positioned to present itself as the true church of Christ as protestantism dies out and as people become so apathetic that they don’t even remember why it started in the first place. Other than the sacraments and the liturgy, really how different are Rome and Evangelicalism? In both cases what matters to them is inner renewal, union with Christ, holy living. If people don’t like to hear about true and false doctrine–and they don’t–and all that really matters in the end is the transformation and renewal that proceeds from union with Christ, eventually people won’t be able to remember why evangelicalism can’t be absorbed into the church of the antichrist. After all, doesn’t Jesus want us to be one? Besides, the Catholic Church is vastly superior to evangelicalism in every way. Everyone would rather be in a church with a real intellectual tradition, with claims to be the direct descendants of the apostles, wouldn’t they? Consumerist warehouse looking buildings continually playing “praise and worship” music that will be dated in three years can’t last forever, but Rome claims that it will.
And increasingly, it’s hard to tell the difference between Rome and Evangelicalism in the sense that you have a latitude regarding what you believe; you just can’t clearly and unequivocally teach that we are justified by faith alone apart from the deeds of the Law.
That’s why we need to start preaching against Rome again. They may not be engaging in polemics against us anymore, and they no longer say “we are the true church, and outside of us is only damnation.” But otherwise there will not be a clear voice teaching the doctrine on which the church stands or falls–that we are not justified by works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.
This needs to be preached for the sake of those Catholics who are under the law and have never heard the Gospel clearly; and for the sake of young Lutherans who face a future in which protestantism will be dead and Confessional Lutherans are an inconsequential, tiny minority.
Already you have to ask yourself how many of the young Lutherans have fallen into an opposite error? We’ve taught people how important the liturgy is as a way of avoiding the LCMS megachurches. But how many people get that ceremonies and liturgy really are not of themselves worship, since that is only faith in Christ in the heart?
I meet Catholics regularly who love to hear Lutheran sermons but who remain in the desmesne of antichrist. Do we do them a favor by not regularly pointing out how Rome suppresses the Gospel? If the pope really is the antichrist, who are we really serving when we don’t make that clear to our people? Not them, because doctrinal indifferentism is really works righteousness. They are learning from us that it isn’t a matter of vital importance if a church formally or implicitly teaches that we are justified by works of the law.
Not our “separated brethren” in Rome or elsewhere. If they’re under the sway of the antichrist, or in danger of it (like evangelicalism), the one really loving thing confessional Lutherans could do is preach the true Gospel of Christ, and point out Rome’s falsification of it. What matters most is not whether I like the worship service (either high or low), but how I am saved. This of course requires preaching of the law to a nation and church people who are almost incurably blind to the depth of their sins because they simply are ignorant of the Bible and do not know His commandments nor the many examples in Scripture of His terrible wrath. But even though that’s hard–where else is the Gospel going to be heard? Among the evangelicals the old emphasis on union with Christ is paired with a doctrinal indiffernce and a desire to be tolerant; they definitely don’t want to be looked at, for the most part, as old, anti-Catholic fundies.
The most ecumenical thing Lutherans can do is clearly show the wrath of God which the law pronounces on the ungodly and the self-satisfied, and the pure Gospel of Christ that does not make demands but presents Christ crucified as God’s free gift–the fulfillment of the law. If Lutherans are serious about ecumenism they should show clearly how the teaching in the churches increasingly denies the true Gospel, and warn people that the false gospel of Rome and the grave errors of evangelicalism are damning–one cannot trust simultaneously in Christ and one’s renewal and be saved; trust in renewal, a feeling of conversion, the saints or the blessed virgin as intercessors, or one’s mortifications–they are all idolatry. Trust in them must be renounced if we are to be saved; none of them are the Mediator. So true ecumenism would mean exposing the antichrist. It’s true that is unpleasant, and many people that you care about will be greatly offended and hate you, but how can we claim to love them and not be willing to bear that?
For the sake of witness to the Gospel, the LCMS confessionals have to get ahold of themselves, love the Gospel more than their friends and more than successful politics, and more than their hatred of evangelicalism; we should privately, where possible, show other pastors how certain tendencies among us which we tend to adopt uncritically are contrary to the confessions and Lutheran orthodoxy, and finally publicly condemn and separate from “confessionalism” that does not know how to distinguish law from gospel (and makes fun of this especially brilliant light without which the Scripture cannot be understood), or which consistently speaks as though reverent (or hyperreverent) outward behavior should be considered worship of God, or that the commandments of men are the worship of God, or which sneakily tries to conflate the mystical union with justification, or which gives the appearance that the religion of Rome is not repugnant to us, since it continues to dress like a lamb but speak like a dragon, anathematizing the Gospel of the substitutionary death of Christ, received by faith alone, or which cannot clearly confess that while there are indeed many antichrists in the world, an orthodox teacher cannot pretend that THE man of sin, as described by the apostles, is no worse than the other antichrists in the world and probably actually much better.
Not being able to say clearly that the pope remains the very antichrist as much today as in 1530 shows a weak or defective grasp of the doctrine of justification.
May Christ remain among us and continue to injure the antichrist through the pure preaching of His word.