Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pres. Harrison Issues an Apology

While I was away, preaching at a divine service in a nearby community on Saturday evening, Pres. Harrison issued a public apology. I learned of it late last night.

You may read it here.

I am grateful for this apology. I hope it is able to bring some closure to this particular public scandal. I certainly accept it and will do what I can to move forward positively.

That being said, I am still deeply troubled and offended by the public comments made by pastors connected with "Brothers of John the Steadfast" in Saturday's front-page article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. You may read that article here.

To read additional comments by members of "Steadfast Lutherans," go here.

I would hope that Pres. Harrison and the district president(s) of those "Steadfast Lutherans" who were quoted in the P-D article are working to admonish them for their loveless and scandelous words and to bring them to account for the harm they have caused individuals and the overall mission of the church.

One More Response to HRC

HRC keeps coming after me with his wrong-headed comments and questions. Instead of ignoring him or deleting his responses, I simply offer the following brief comments.

To get a better idea of his way of thinking, visit his blog at:

You obviously do not understand the nature of Christian faith. It is not a matter of believing a bunch of propositional statements about the Trinity or any other dogmatic formulation. Authentic faith is the trust that results from the preaching of the gospel about Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of one's sins. Dogma serves the gospel; faith is in the gospel, not in a collection of dogmas or dogmatic formulations per se, however good, right, and true they might otherwise be.

Your blog post attacking Pres. K's exegesis reveals your own misguided reading of Scripture on Elijah, Paul, and Jesus.

Did Elijah preach fire and brimstone to the unbelieving, non-Israelite, Gentile widow of Zarephath? He acted in love and restored the widow's dead child. He had compassion on the woman and her dead son.

Who among us today--after 1555, 1648, 1783, 9/11--is going to act exactly like Elijah did when he entered a mixed-faith setting with those prophets of Baal? If you could somehow get the LORD to light your wood in that mixed-faith setting, would you then seize the other religious leaders and take them out to the  nearest brook and murder them, as Elijah did? Do you not understand that not every action in Scripture is one that applies to our situation today. That particular incident occurred in the long-past historical setting of Israel's nationhood. What God allowed Elijah to do, he isn't allowing anyone who follows Jesus to do in our very different situation. The ancient nation of Israel is not identical to the church of Jesus Christ.

What do you make of the story in 1 Kings 19:9ff.? The LORD was not found in the strong wind that rent the mountains and broke the rocks into pieces, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. The LORD made himself known in the still small voice. "What are you doing here?" That sounds a bit like a gospel voice, but it is actually law.

I suppose if that were you, you could answer in a way similar to Elijah: "I have been very jealous for
the LORD, the God of hosts; for many in the LCMS have forsaken your covenant, compromised your altars..." And, in keeping with the biblical text, the living and true LORD would then say to you, "Don't worry about it. Return to the wilderness in which I have placed you.  Get out among the non-Christians and make a positive witness. I will make sure that not everyone bows before truly false gods of their own making."

Yes, elsewhere Elijah speaks a word of judgment to wicked Ahab. But that was only one word of the LORD and such a word isn't always given to us to speak in every situation.

I know of no pastor in the LCMS who could ever stay rostered if he prophesied along the lines of 1 Kings 21:19. Or did exactly what Elijah did with those Baal prophets. He'd end up on death row as the worst mass murderer in US history. At best we allegorize or spiritualize such words that are given in 21:19 or, better, we tie them tightly to the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from all sins. And we note how that specific prophecy of Elijah did not come to pass because Ahab humbled himself. God showed mercy to Ahab.

Your comments about other religions, were you to share them in an interfaith setting, would not lead to the kind of repentance that AC 12 describes: contrition or terrors that strike the conscience when sin is recognized--AND FAITH, which is brought to life solely by the gospel. You might be able to get people upset and angry with you, but none of the words you indicate ought to be shared in such a setting would ever lead anyone to faith in Jesus Christ. Rather, your words come off as hypocritical and Pharisaical, as if being a good LCMS person, rather than a good Muslim or a good Jew, "because we believe in Jesus and a bunch of other things, and you don't," will get you to heaven.

Those who are grieving know the terrors that strike the heart. They don't need superficial, judgmental rantings about other religions and false gods in that setting. They need to hear the true and authentic gospel, the one that alone consoles the conscience and liberates people from the terrors of evil, sin, and death.

No one was speaking out against Pr. Morris until zealous Pharisees in the LCMS started attacking him for what he had done. As far as I know, no one who heard Pr. Morris condemned him publicly or rejected the words that he shared, except people in his own church body.

What about Paul? Re-read Acts 17. Consider the kind of witness he made to those religious people in Athens. He didn't condemn them, but sought to build upon the knowledge of God that they already had been given. Same goes for his participation in the services of the word and prayer in the many Jewish synagogues he repeatedly visited. He tried to be winsome, not religiously bigoted and hateful.

Your comments reveal a more serious theological problem in your apparent understanding, a soteriological problem. You are blind to the real scandal of Jesus, as if the parable that you quoted is about "non-Christians" and "Christians," when in fact the parable is about the rejection of God's word of grace and mercy, which alone produces the good fruits of love that follow from trust in Jesus.
How does that parable in any way relate to a pastor sharing the gospel within a civic setting? True, people can reject the gospel, but how does the pastor's own sharing of the gospel or a divine blessing in any way go against the teaching of this parable about rejecting the Son of God? If people reject what the pastor shares about the Son of God at the interfaith event, then they bear the responsibility for that rejection, not the pastor who shares the good word.

Could it be that the parable is directed against all Pharisaically-minded people? One could easily apply this parable to anyone who has been given the responsibility to care for others pastorally, through word and loving deed, but fails to heed the word. I'm thinking in particular of the exhortation that Paul gives in 1 Cor. 13 and the basic one that is given in 1 Jn 4. How are you heeding these admonitions, you who refuse to voice any compassion for the people who suffered the deaths of their children and loved ones from the actions of a crazed gunman?

How can any evangelical preacher proclaim that any one specific person who has died is in hell? What arrogance! What idolatry! That is not "rude," that is blasphemy! What an uncaring, hard-hearted, mean-spirited mindset. It makes the death of Jesus cheap, it limits his atonement, it denies the promise that Paul proclaims in Rom. 11:32 and several other places (1 Cor. 15:22-28, etc.), it rejects the hope that Peter gives in Acts 3:21, it ignores the central affirmation in John 3:16-17.

Christian Gottlieb Barth (d. 1862) once said, "Anyone who does not believe in the universal restoration is an ox, but anyone who teaches it is an ass." Those same labels should be applied to anyone who preaches, in whatever setting, that specific people and groups of people are definitely going to hell or are in fact in hell. To speak the way you have done is to put yourself in the place of God in a way that takes you well beyond the limited, finite calling you have been given. Yes, pastors and all Christians have the responsibility to speak God's words of law and promise, for the sake of leading people to the kind of repentance described in AC 12, but that is far different from proclaiming with certainty that God has in fact damned eternally those you think ought to be damned. You are not in a position to say "God damn you" about anyone who has died.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Further Word to H. R. C.

In response to my earlier post about Rev. Harrison's embarrassing and misguided actions toward an LCMS pastor in Conn., "HRC" submitted this response:

Dr. Becker,

Do you think Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

What about Mormons and Christians?

Do you think Muslims are going to hell?

Just curious. . .


You can read his own blog post on my post and the one of Dr. Kieschnick over at:

There is only one God. That fact is beside the point, as is the fact that people believe, teach, and call upon the one God differently and often wrongly.

By his actions, Pr. Harrison has brought disgrace upon our Lord, other Christians, and the tiny LCMS. He has refused to put the best construction on a pastor's caring, evangelical actions, and instead has publicly called upon him to apologize for them. I saw no reason for the pastor to apologize, although it is clear from his own letter of apology that his conscience has been sorely tested by the actions of Rev. Harrison.

From what I can tell, Pr. Morris has been trying to minister to people in a community that is deeply greiving the deaths of many children and several teachers, including a child from his own flock. Clearly, he has been bringing a gospel word and a pastor's heart to a grief-stricken community.

Apparently, only the pharisaically-minded, closed-hearted within the LCMS have been offended by this pastor's pastoral words and actions. He should not have been asked to apologize for what he has done. The letter of Pr. Harrison, now spread to millions around the world, is a scandal, a true scandal, the kind that has led others to be confirmed in their unbelief and hard-heartedness against Christ and those who bear His name. Look what the world is saying in response to these actions by Rev. Harrison. They have led many others to question whether they should continue to be a member in a church body whose president acts in this fashion.

Tonight I understand more clearly why some people put on their car bumpers the following sticker: "Lord, save me from your people."

Do you and others who support Pr. Harrison not understand that our Lord frequently put compassion for people ahead of strict obedience to religious laws and traditions, esp. those instituted by human beings? Could it be that Pr. Morris thought he could help with that mission of compassion by participating in that service? Matt. 7:1ff. seems apropos here.

Jesus, too, bore witness to God's love when he spoke among his fellow Jews in their synagogues, as did the apostle Paul when he shared the gospel in word and deed among Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus may have taught his disciples not to "throw their pearls before swine," but how else is the gospel to be shared with the world? How else could that divine love have been shared with troubled, misguided people had not the apostle Paul participated in the services of local synagogues or engaged in fruitful conversations about general revelation with pagans and others (cf. Acts 17)?

The One to whom those Jews and pagans prayed in partial ignorance, Paul bore clarifying witness through the gospel, in his words and his prayers. Is there any doubt that Paul worshipped the true and living God when he participated in the services of Jews or when he told pagans that the One they worshipped in partial ignorance he would make clear?

Don't take my word for it. Consider these words from  Dr. Luther:

"Not only a teaching of St. Paul, the prophet Elisha (II Kings 5:18-19) has also proven its truth with an admirable example in the Old Testament.  According to Moses and also against Moses (as our rebellious spirits would understand Moses) he permitted Naaman, the Syrian commander, to worship the true God in the temple of Rimmon, the idol of Syria.  Now if the first commandment were to be kept with Karlstadtian strictness, Naaman should not have done such a thing, nor should the prophet have permitted it.  For it is, of course, strictly forbidden to go into an idol's temple and worship before an idol while at the same time worshiping the true God. God strictly forbids the Jews to construct altars, images, or holy places for the purpose of serving and worshiping him without his command.  Even more strictly does he forbid them to serve and worship in the presence of other gods.  From this example one can see again that in the Old Testament also, true idols can do no harm as long as one worships while they are around, and only the true God is worshiped from the heart.  Yet our enthusiasts would ensnare us who are free Christians and tie us down so rigidly that we should not be able to put up with any idols without committing sin." (LW 40:95)

It seems to me that you need a refresher course in Christian freedom. I fear that too many within our synod display the kind of Pharisaical-Karlstadtian legalism and judgmentalism that Dr. Luther so rightly condemned. This kind of nonsense about "unionism" needs to stop. It is a wrong-headed, wrong-hearted notion. It has been a theological and missional mistake for decades. Plain and simple.

My thanks to Gil Pingel for drawing my attention to that relevant quote from Luther.

Rev. Harrison's Latest Offenses

By now many millions around the world have learned about the actions of the current President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Rev. Matthew Harrison, toward an LCMS pastor in Newtown, Conn. who participated in a civic religious service of prayer and healing following the terrible tragedy there. The story was in today's editions of the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, and other US newspapers, as well as in news reports from local tv and radio stations. Reuters has picked it up as well. Here is the link to that article:

You can also do a search on any of the major news organizations' websites and find additional links.

For Rev. Harrison's letter:

For Pastor Robert Morris' letter of apology:

President Harrison's actions toward this pastor, as summarized in his letter, are contrary to the best of evangelical-fraternal Lutheran pastoral theology. His letter should be an absolute embarrassment to all individuals who are connected with the LCMS. Given how LCMS laity and clergy are responding negatively to his actions and letter, it is clear that he does not act and speak for many. He certrainly does not speak for me. (No surprise there, I suppose.)

For a very different perspective on this whole mess, see the comment of the previous president of the Synod, Dr. Kieschnick:

I would hope that this latest action by Rev. Harrison would be sufficient to lead LCMS electors to remove him from the office of president and to replace him with someone who is wiser and more evangelical, or at least more caring toward pastors who must face extremely difficult, challenging situations of pastoral care. Maybe someone more like Dr. Kieschnick?

Matt Becker