Monday, February 4, 2013

On Worship with non-Lutherans and non-Christians

President Harrison has issued his response to the "ecumenical service/vigil" in Newtown, CT, in which a MO Synod pastor participated. I think he did a fine job of responding to this: he forthrightly said that participation in such a service was unBiblical and secured the repentance and apology of the participating pastor in a gentle and humble manner.

It should also be noted that there is an election this summer and that it would have been very easy for President Harrison to wait until July 26th to release this letter, which will certainly be used against him by the usual suspects. So I am doubly thankful for and appreciative of President Harrison's work here: he has done his job, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. This is just the kind of leadership our Synod has needed in high places for a long time - and Fr. Harrison should be commended for it. Furthermore his last paragraph is completely correct: this individual matter concerning this individual service is now closed.

The broader issue of "ecumenical services" is, of course, still open. And that is what makes the second half of Fr. Harrison's response (the paragraph beginning "To his credit" and following) so very interesting as it is clearly written to "the other side" - those in the Synod who will be angered that the President of Synod called a pastor to repentance and dared to say that his participation in this service was unBiblical and against our Confessions. Can President Harrison find a way to communicate with and convince these elements in the Synod? I hope so.



  1. President Harrison has done a masterful job in a difficult and sensitive situation. The man does have the heart of a pastor, for which I am grateful.

    1. "the usual suspects" will also include conservatives in the Synod, as witnessed on the "usually suspect web sites" who have become keenly skilled in the art of forming circular firing squads and pulling the trigger and pillory Harrison for not saying enough, loudly enough, strongly enough, harshly enough, blah, blah, blah.

      I find myself in total agreement with Curtis and FRBFE on this one!

    2. I have seen no one one pulling triggers or pillorying President Harrison on any of the "usually suspect web sites." On the contrary, I've seen nothing but commendations for how President Harrison is handling the situation. Perhaps you can enlighten us on where such trigger-pulling and pillorying is happening, Paul?

      (Kudos to you for using your real name here, by the way).

  2. Very thoughtful handling of the situation and letter from Pres. Harrison and a thoughtful response from Pr. Curtis. However, as the commentator above has stated, there are quite a few in our Synod for whom nothing is acceptable but utter abasement: the apology was not enough for them - the words weren't right for them - they know he's not sincere - it's all a trick designed to fool the simple minded.

    It is a serious issue, certainly, and I hope that Pres. Harrison can winsomely communicate this with those who think differently. But this "piling on" does no one any good, and only serves to drive people away.

    1. I don't think we should be assigning motives to those who have responded publicly to the public apology issued by Pr. Morris, as if they're after nothing but utter abasement, intent on putting the worst construction on his words, questioning his sincerity, and eager to "pile on." I've read Pr. Morris' apology letter a number of times and the fact is that he doesn't apologize for participating in that unionistic and syncretistic service. He even notes that he knows that others in our church body disagree with him about that. I do not question his sincerity one iota - I believe he is sincerely sorry for having caused offense and for pushing what he believes to be his Christian freedom too far. I also believe that he had the very best of intentions and commend him for doing his best to make sure that it was made clear that those participating in the service were not confessing agreement with the other clergy by doing so. He was honestly and sincerely trying to do the right thing and to be a pastor to that devastated and grieving community. About all of that, I have zero doubt, and I don't think anyone I've seen commenting about his public letter of apology doubts any of that, either.

      But, this remains: By his own public profession to our church body, he doesn't see anything wrong with his participation in that service, except that it would offend some. He believes, again, by his own public profession to our church body, that he was exercising his Christian freedom. This is what some among us have commented upon at, as Paul put it, "the usual suspect web sites." It's not that his apology wasn't enough for them (they readily accept his apology for causing offense and willingly forgive him); it's that there was no apology for participating in that unionistic and syncretistic service. Perhaps, their motivation is to help their brother see not only the offense his participation gave to others, but that his very participation itself, was wrong, in the sincere hope that he would repent and receive absolution.

      I hold no ill will toward Pr. Morris, and I don't think any of what Paul calls "the usual suspects" do either. I think everyone recognizes what an enormously difficult situation our brother found himself in - being the father of four (three grown daughters and a sophomore son), Sandy Hook shook me up something fierce. I can only imagine what Pr. Morris was faced with in those days, and still is faced with today. Horrible! God bless him for doing his best to minister to the people there with the sure and certain hope of Christ. Far from piling on or wishing him utter abasement, he has my prayers, and I am certain he has the prayers of those who have commented upon his public apology. But, that doesn't change the fact that he did participate in a unionistic and syncretistic service and doesn't believe he was wrong to do so. I pray that he will come to that recognition for his own sake, and for the sake of our church body.

  3. Well put, Pr. Anderson. Very. Well. Put.

  4. It's not that hard (not that it is not hard on us). We Lutheran pastors know what to do in the face of death and tragedy. After 9/11 our congregation held a Service of Word and Prayer for our members and those who saw the church sign's invitation and came (quite a few). I also held a service for about 75 airline pilots and flight attendants who were stranded in the days following at the airport in San Francisco (a former member from my parish in New York contacted me for comfort and the word spread. The hotel at which most were staying graciously provided their facilities). I preached, I read, I lead. We prayed and sang.

    I assume the sects, cults and pagans did their thing.

    Fr. John W. Berg

    1. Who are all these people addressed as Father, closet priests?
      Are you waiting for the Lutheran Ordinate? Are you anxious for
      the RCC to bring all her daughters home?

    2. In Thai, the term "krean" (เกรียน) has been adopted to address Internet trolls. The term literally refers to a closely cropped hairstyle worn by most school boys in Thailand, thus equating Internet trolls to school boys. The term "tob krean" (ตบเกรียน), or "slapping a cropped head", refers to the act of posting intellectual replies to refute and cause the messages of Internet trolls to be perceived as unintelligent.[citation needed]

  5. Amen, Heath. Amen, Pastors McCain and Anderson. And, most certainly, Amen, President Harrison. May God preserve him in his duties, and grant him continued success in all his efforts. He is a providing pastoral leadership for our synod that is truly confessional and evangelical. May we all follow his lead. "It's time." ;)

  6. I agree that Pr. Harrison has acted wisely, pastorally, courageously, and delicately. All of these are to be commended as virtues for those who lead us. Of course, it will not be enough for some who will insist that grovelling accompany any apology and it will be too much for those who insist that no apology was necessary. All of this points to the need for our church body to address with full energy the Koinonia Project for this theological disagreement is an issue far larger than the offense given by Pr Morris. I commend Pr. Harrison and Pr Morris for their words and take both of them at their word. And that is good enough for me.

  7. So, now we have added grovelling to pulling triggers, pillorying, looking for utter abasement, doubting sincerity, and accusations of trickery to the descriptive list of those who have commented upon Pr. Morris' apology. Good grief!

    Show me. Show me where those who have commented upon Pr. Morris' apology insist on grovelling, are after nothing less than utter abasement, doubt his sincerity and accuse him of trickery, etc.

    I think Pres. Harrison is handling this situation extremely well. I thought his letter was spot on. But, part of his handling of the situation is his recognition that further conversation with Pr. Morris, as well as in our synod, is needed, since a) Pr. Morris does not think his participation in that service was wrong (except that it caused offense to others), and b) the 2004 CTCR document on this subject "has proven to be less than optimal and helpful." I trust that Pres. Harrison will continue that conversation with Pr. Morris, and I'm delighted to know that he is open to such. But, you all are acting like such further conversation is unnecessary, as if we are simply to accept an apology that was never given. I don't get that. At. All.

    Pres. Harrison asked us "to accept . . . the real apology given [us]." The real apology given us is that Pr. Morris is sorry that his participation caused offense in our synod, and that he recognizes that he may have pushed his Christian freedom too far. Apology readily accepted! By everyone (at least, by everyone I've heard or read). But, there has been no apology from Pr. Morris for participating in that service, since he doesn't believe it was wrong.

    I pray that, if I ever fall prey to the temptation to participate in a publicly broadcast unionistic and syncretistic service after a tragedy like this (which could happen - I am weak and the chief of sinners), my confessional Lutheran brethren would hold me accountable and stay after me, urging me to see the error of my ways and come to repentance, especially if I issued a public apology for causing offense and pushing my Christian freedom too far, while maintaining that my participation itself was not wrong. Having witnessed what transpired the last few days, I have my doubts that many would. Well, except the "usual suspects," that is. Sad, that.

  8. Tom, you are reacting so defensively. Please take a few steps back and just listen to concerns being expressed. The chatter on several discussion sites has included the kind of rhetoric I and others have noticed. Many have noticed this and your little temper tantrum denying any of this, is not helpful, in my opinion.

  9. This does raise the issue of how much we are permitted to disagree with one another.

    I don't agree with Pr. Morris. But a lot of people don't agree with me on things. What do we do with gray areas, such as anti-abortion rallies that may feature prayers involving other traditions or even religions? Without becoming postmodern, is there room for one pastor to believe a certain action violates our synodical policies while another does not? And what should the penalty be when one transgresses - even if one disagrees with the charge? This is the problem when conscience is involved - the lines can get a little fuzzy. Is it possible to hammer down a 100% airtight definition of unionism?

    I don't think Pr. Morris believes that Vishnu is another name for God or that he would kiss the Koran like the pope did a few years back. Nevertheless, I completely disagree with his pastoral act in taking part in this religious observance. In fact, my personal opinion is that I found it kind of shocking. But he has apologized for my offense, so how many times must I forgive my brother?

    My congregation practices closed communion, but I have made rare pastoral exceptions. If another pastor disagrees with me on a particular decision, should I be removed from office and sent to be a greeter at WalMart? What if the hierarchy disagrees (one way or the other) with the actions of a pastor? We know that happens. As for me, I find it hard to trust any juridical action in our synodical apparatus. It is laden with politics and power - and it is a fool's errand to think 21st century churchmen suffer less from original sin than did those in the 16th century who were burning heretics (and "heretics") at the stake. Moreover, we either shut down the "pastoral exception" (which would turn pastors into robots), or we are going to remain stuck with gray areas.

    Pastoral care is more art than science and does involve nuance. But by the same token, we have all seen exceptions that have become the rule.

    These are difficult issues that I don't know we can address with a rule, policy, blue ribbon committee, or even with blogs and facebook posts. I think Pres. Harrison's response is the proper mix of compassion and faithfulness.

    Nevertheless, it is hard to watch an LCMS pastor close out a ceremony with a benediction and not come to the conclusion that this was the very kind of interfaith service that (intentionally or not) gives a false impression of who Jesus is.

    Where are the Urim and Thummim when you need them?

    1. Larry,

      I appreciate your thoughtful response (as usual). But, while there may indeed be gray areas, some are simply black-and-white. I think this is the ongoing problem we have on this issue within our synod - everything has become a gray area. This is what happens when we start adding exceptions. Every pastor becomes autonomous and can determine when an exception can be made.

      If I attend an anti-abortion rally and prayers are said by clergy from other traditions or religions, I am not going to take the stage with them and add my prayers or blessings to theirs. But, I can be there and I can join with them in protesting abortion. Maybe a brother pastor would be of the opinion that I should not be there at all. I suppose some might consider this a gray area where we are free to disagree. I mean, I could imagine some pastors bringing up the fact that we should avoid unionism and syncretism "of every kind," and applying that to even being in attendance at such a gathering, while others would note that by refraining from participating, one would be avoiding unionism and syncretism.

      But, it is never a gray area to actively participate in an interfaith service, where clergy from other traditions or religions are involved, offering their prayers and blessings alongside of ours. If we can't make that black-and-white, God help us.

    2. I agree with you, Tom, but I can see where someone could make the argument that this was not an interfaith service (even though I believe that's exactly what it was). It was not in a church building, the main speaker was not a clergyman but the president of the U.S., there were disclaimers given, etc.

      I would refuse to do such a service hands down. I have led prayers at civic events, and my first question when asked is if there will be any other clergy involved. I always invoke the Trinity and the name of Jesus.

      I have to agree that some of the reaction elsewhere on the Innerwebs has been overly harsh and unhelpful to our Christian witness. I can just imagine how the parents of the children who were killed would react to even this rather mild debate here. Sometimes we come across as being more concerned with policy and punishment than with love and compassion (there is no reason we can't have the mint, dill, and cumin as well as the justice, mercy, and faithfulness). That said, we dare not water down the gospel. This is not an easy issue. It tests the limits of conscience and freedom in the gospel, as well as how binding we want synodical policy to be.

      Again, I think what Pr. Morris did was wrong. And although he didn't apologize for the unionism (which he apparently in his conscience does not believe to have been such), he was man enough to take responsibility for causing offense and apologized for it. He could have simply refused and led the synod on another knock-down-drag-out no-holds-barred bloodbath that would have turned the upcoming convention into a single-issue attempt to oust Harrison. But he didn't do that. I'm inclined to give the guy some credit for that and acknowledge that: 1) he honestly disagrees with me and with others on this issue, 2) the synod is terribly divided on this issue and has been since 2001, 3) we have to find a pastoral way to deal with this and other gray areas better than the way we currently do - especially in the facebook era.

      I hope that with time, conversation, study, prayer, and patience, true consensus of what is true can be reached rather than someone using the political system to wrangle 51% of the delegates to "decide" the matter one way or the other and enforce it with the back of the synod's hand.

    3. I hope that with time, conversation, study, prayer, and patience, true consensus of what is true can be reached rather than someone using the political system to wrangle 51% of the delegates to "decide" the matter one way or the other and enforce it with the back of the synod's hand.

      Me, too, 'cause this sucks and is going to continue to eat away at us if we don't.

  10. Paul,

    Accusing people of pulling triggers, pillorying, wanting utter abasement or grovelling, hurling accusations of insincerity and trickery, and of having little temper tantrums, is not helpful, in my opinion (neither is logging into other sites under a pseudonymn and blasting away at people like an elementary school student, by the way - just sayin').

  11. Larry: totally agree.

    Tom: I will pray for you. That is my only response these days when I run across a person who just wants to be angry and starts saying irresponsible things and repeating false accusations. Sad, but there you go.

  12. Paul, I'm not angry. But, I do appreciate the prayers.

  13. Dear brother Tom:

    With all respect, you know where to find these thoughts very well expressed. Some examples:

    "Consider the little ones who are being misled,"
    "toleration is sin,"
    "he must confess his sin,"
    "he can hardly be considered to have repented,"
    "'nice' LCMS pastors who think joining in worship with those who worship false gods is pleasing to God."

    I could go on and on quoting these people. Yes, the adjectives I used in my response above were my own, and I did not directly draw them from any of any of these comments. But I think my words fairly capture the attitude of many people who are posting about this. While you are not angry, there are certainly quite a few people who very much are. And yes, many them use pseudonyms, which is sad.

    1. Fr. Anderson,

      Perhaps we are talking about two different things, then. I have not read, nor do I intend to read, every response on the sites discussing this issue. I'm sure that there are many less-than-salutary responses (there always are!). If that's what you (and the others who have posted here) mean, then I won't argue with you.

      What I am referring to are the original blog posts I've seen responding to Pr. Morris' apology. I think they've been fair, favorable to Pres. Harrison's handling of this situation, and sympathetic to the extremely tough position Pr. Morris found himself in, while also pointing out what should be obvious to anyone who has read his public letter of apology, namely that he doesn't believe his participation itself was wrong. And, I think that the original posters have the sincere intent of calling their brother to repentance, not desiring utter abasement, grovelling, etc. In fact, from what I have read in the comment threads in those posts, the original posters have been pretty adamant about making that point clear.

      But, yeah, if you guys are referring to some comments among the multitude of comments being less-than-salutary, I certainly wouldn't argue with that.

  14. Then we may have been somewhat talking past each other. Sorry for any confusion.

  15. I don't accept the apology of Rev. Morris. Apologies are worthless unless a child is saying it because the child cannot understand the theology of confession and absolution. However, if a child says he is sorry (an apology) and asked for what, the child will usually admit to his wrong doing.

    Rev. Morris' "apology" is an excuse. It's self-justification for his actions. If all we had to do is proclaim a disclaimer to get away with our participation in evil, then what are we doing.

    Rev. Morris needs to go to his DP or President harrison at this point and confess his sins of offending the Church, syncretism and unionism. Anyone who accepts his apology, as is, is tolerating his sin and sweeping his sin under the rug to avoid dealing with it.

  16. And there is a good example of putting the wurst construction on Pr. Morris' words.


  17. Paul,

    On THAT we can agree! :)


    How do you know that Pr. Morris' apology is an excuse and self-justification for his actions? I guess this is the sort of comment the brothers here are referring to as being overly harsh, and I would agree with them. Why don't you accept his apology for having offended the synod and pushing what he believed to be his Christian freedom too far? I see no reason to believe that he is anything but sincere about that.

    We're certainly not going to win our brother back, or further catechesis on issues like this in our synod, by pretending to read hearts and assigning motives to our brothers when they make mistakes.

    I'd encourage you to think about how you are addressing this issue, my friend. I believe Pr. Morris was wrong, and I pray that he will be lead to see that, but I certainly accept his apology for having caused offense, and I will not pretend to judge his heart and mind.

  18. Brothers,

    You all say that Rev. Morris offended the Church and has issued an apology. As I said, the definition of an apology is nothing more than an excuse or an act of self-justification. Apologies do not remove the enmity between parties. Confession and absolution removes enmity.

    Rev. Morris may be sincere and contrite. If he is, then simply confess the sins committed. Lutheranism and Christianty isn't that difficult. The Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions teach sinners to confess sins not apologize for them, make excuses for them. Show me the teaching of Moses, the prophets,and Jesus on apologies. You won't find one teaching in the Holy Writ.

    Tom, I am not reading the heart of Rev. Morris. He revealed his own heart and the hardness of the same when he refuses to acknowledge his sins.

    I think the LCMS is on a slippery slope here talking about apologies for sinful actions. We, as Confessing Lutherans, have no doctrine that will support apologies. I will leave it to each of you to do your own word studies on this matter.

  19. John,

    Where are you getting your definition of an apology as "nothing more than an excuse or an act of self-justification"? When I'm sorry for something I've said or done to my wife and apologize to her, I'm not making an excuse or justifying myself. This makes no sense. I must be missing something here.

    1. Tom,

      Use Merriam Webster. Apology means...

      Now, as you say, if you do something wrong, you apologize to your wife. However, an apology is not a confession. Apologies are an admission of guilt, yes, but not confession. Usually when one apologizes, the respondent states, don't worry about it, or, that's alright, or something else along those lines. Enmity remains.

      Morris is trying to excuse his actions, that is justify his actions, by saying he asked for a disclaimer before the thingy started. WOW! That's just insane. If it were true and it really worked, all pastors could make such a disclaimer before every sermon or Bible study or blog post. And, I think we all agree, maybe not, that Morris has not admitted in any way his wrong doing of syncretism and unionism.

      He offended the Church with his actions. He should confess it and be absolved. Period.

  20. Quote "So, now we have added grovelling to pulling triggers, pillorying, looking for utter abasement, doubting sincerity, and accusations of trickery to the descriptive list of those who have commented upon Pr. Morris' apology. Good grief!"

    I was the one who made the comment -- directed not at Pr Messer or any one in particular but at those whose venom on issues like this has overtaken their charity. I am not accusing but describing a phenomenon we all know. That is all I meant. BTW no one seems to be offended by the other thing I said -- about those who see no wrong to apologize for.

  21. I feel obliged (compassionately, of course) to caution against adding Merriam-Webster to the Lutheran Symbols, or recommending it as an instrument in settling Lutheran disputes. It's defining testimony as to the meaning of "Jesus," for example, is not completely satisfactory.

    But I admit to being uneasy with accepting the full righteousness, of an apology extended for stimulating a brother’s offense to deeds performed. Frankly, it's a bit lame. The Apostle Paul, for example, advised amending or tempering one’s own actions, if the behavior caused the weak brain in fellowship to grimace. The saint didn’t recommend issuing an apology which at heart says “I’m sorry you’re a weakling. Here, want some more milk?”

    And the Lord never apologized for upsetting the outraged Pharisee, for dining shoulder to shoulder with the sinner and tax collector. I guess He surmised He was really, really correct in so doing, thus giving the distinct impression that His conscience was totally clean on this party stuff.

    Now if anyone suggests that I’m not putting the very best construction on the complicated matters newly grabbing our attention … a solid Lutheran admonition … I’m countering with the very latest in Lutheran rationalization: “I’m sorry if I made your spirit curdle. Don't blame me completely, though. It’s my God-given super-power, to control others at a distance. I think it has something to do with quantum physics and the principle of complementarity.”

    See, the response of the Lutherans to massed tragedy is becoming stereo-typical in this, our Age of Terrorism. It is to eventually fall on the sword of remorse (yes, a sincere remorse, surely, if but for somehow stirring up the thinking of others to a tempest), but only once having cut brethren to the quick, in the process of performing publicly and volitionally engaged-in acts. In such circumstances, expect and count on the inevitably nuanced “apologies.” Count on a devouring of the meat offered to idols, irrespective of the conscience of others, because of the Christian freedom to do so … as if no other options exist to feed the belly; or as if no real alternative can be found, to express a dismay at a vile injury to the body, or to comfort the poor souls grieving at the body’s perishability. Perhaps “Repent, or you shall likewise perish” … a good, shepherdly response to catastrophes natural and man-made, as I recall … is simply the phrase of some cruel gun-toting tyrant, or an unfeeling despot living the life of ease. It’s as difficult to accept as a command to eat the King’s flesh. That stuff will drive away the grieving Galileans in droves.

    Back to the Lutherans, though. The house divided can be counted on not to stand, or to make a coherent stand in the world; it can also be counted on to bleed all over the place. It’s a sad state of affairs; a wound never healing, and it’s flaring up, conspicuously, every decade or so now. “Behold how they cut one another.”

  22. It is indeed only by the grace of God that Rev. President Harrison can respond in such pastoral ways in his preaching, speaking, and writing. With that I completely agree.

    There are a few things to note in these letters:
    * Early in his letter, Pastor Morris refers to this as a "prayer vigil" (which is obviously worship).
    * Pastor Morris identifies "clergy dialogues" as good to engage in, "joint caring efforts" as having limitations to participation, and "joint worship," which he says is "not possible."
    * President Harrison, in his letter calls it an "ecumenical service" or "vigil," both of which are worship.
    * President Harrison concludes that this was beyond the bounds of what is allowed by the Scripture, Confessions, and Synod.

    The confusion is here: Pastor Morris states that he did not believe it was a joint worship service, though he himself called it a "prayer vigil" early in the letter. In other words, he puts it in the "joint caring effort" category, which is a change from what he called it earlier in the letter. Then he issues an apology, but only to those who "believed" that it was wrong, thus simply making it an issue left to the eye of the beholder. When he did that, he himself changed the standard from one of right and wrong to..."whatever one believes is right or wrong."

    Either he sinned against God by joining in "unionism" or he did not. That is the pertinent issue here. Either this was, by nature, a "unionism service," or it was not. If it was beyond the bounds of the Scripture and the Confessions, it should be apparent that it was a sin, and not just something against those who "believe" it was wrong.

  23. What he did, if it was wrong, was not "unionism" friends. Let's at least get our history and terms straight. Unionism pertains to the mixing of different Christian confessions.

    Syncretism refers to the mixing of different religions.

    As far as I'm concerned, it is not going to suffice for us simply to declare this sort of an event to be "syncretistic" with no further reflection on the nature of such events.

    Should an orthodox Christian pastor simply refuse to be involved? The assumption in refusing to be involved is that somehow that refusal will be a strong confession and witness to the truth of God's Word. And who precisely would receive that refusal to be that?

    On the other hand, can we have a conversation about how, perhaps, precisely for the sake of making a very clear and explicit witness toe the Gospel in such a circumstance where this is being sent only confusing and false mesages, participation might be possible, in fact, not only possible, but a good thing for the sake of a Gospel witness?

    Or, are we saying that the "offense" given, actual/real and/or imagined given to those who do not like events like this overwhelms any possible involvement?

    The reality is that events like this simply never would have taken place fifty years ago, and certainly not in the 19th century.

    So, yes, in fact, I do believe there is a place for reasonable, sober, careful and responsible conversations about this in a context where our first reaction is not automatically to praise one position and damn the other, on either side of the debate.


  24. I botched the "on the other hand" par:

    Can we have a conversation about how, precisely FOR the sake of the Gospel, in a situation where only false messages are being given, a pastor could participate in such a way that would proclaim the Gospel and NOT leave the impression all religions are the same?

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. Thank you for the important clarification on terminology Rev. McCain.

    As long as we are on terminology, I guess that means that since it was the mixing of different religions, then it was not ecumenical, since that term assumes unity (ie. the ecumenical creeds).

    You said: "Should an orthodox Christian pastor simply refuse to be involved? The assumption in refusing to be involved is that somehow that refusal will be a strong confession and witness to the truth of God's Word. And who precisely would receive that refusal to be that?"

    Who makes the assumption that the refusal accomplishes this? Likewise, if it is a "strong confession and witness to the truth of God's Word," the Holy Spirit will determine who receives it, not you and me.

  27. Hi Mike, good point. Ecumenical would not apply either.

    What was it exactly? I honestly don't know what the blasted thing was.

    A civic quasi-religious event featuring the President of the USA as the preacher?

    A time for people in the community to come together as a community in spite of their religious differences?

    These things are just a mess and I don't think we should be SO quick to think we can simply rattle off an instant answer/condemnation/judgment.

    I think this even was, frankly, even much less clear-cut an event than the Yankee Stadium event.

    That's my opinion, at this point.

    I just do not see this situation as easily black/white as some wish to see it and in so seeing it that way are quick to jump down the throat of a person, or on their back, excoriating them.

    1. I've come to the conclusion that one cannot participate in such services/vigils/events without either being unfaithful or unimaginably rude.

      The fact is that the folks who arrange them ("community leaders," that is politicians and their handmaidens among the sycophantic clergy) do indeed want to give the impression of "unity among people of faith." We're all religious - ain't that grand.

      So if you participate, then you are giving at least tacit approval to this "unity of the people of faith, all roads lead to heaven so long as you try your best" nonsense.

      The alternative is to stand up there and say, "Look, folks: we're all hurting here but I'm telling you that if you put your trust in Allah or Vishnu or whatever the hell Bah'a'a'akai'ls believe in: you are going to hell. It's Jesus or its hell."

      That's the only faithful option. You will be saying that many of the folks slain are in hell. But is that why they invited you? Of course not. They don't want that message.

      Pastor Morris tried to find a middle way. Show community solidarity but not syncretism. Confess against syncretism, but not so harshly as to offend. I think his middle way failed. Father Harrison is right: his participation was unBiblical.

      But note that their disagreement is, as the lawyers would say, on the facts of the case, not the law. Pastor Morris agrees that syncretism is wrong. He just doesn't think that the facts in this case add up to syncretism. He thinks his words and the "disclaimer" were enough. Harrison says they were not.

      As Fr. Beane mentioned above we are now into odd territory. What is the range of possible disagreement when it is a case of the facts of the case not the law? This is why Christian clergy have historically taken vows of obedience. Your vow of obedience doesn't bind you to follow evil - it binds you to follow a higher-up's opinion in cases like this where the facts of the case may be difficult to discern even though you both agree the theology is clear.


    2. Thank you, Heath.

      Our polity (not to American mention tradition of civil disobedience) doesn't foster a sense of obedience. And in fact, if our churches were ordered to have "contemporary services" I think a few of us would say "no." Saying "no" to the whims of the bureaucracy is often the godly thing to do (we are Lutherans after all). So I don't see a law-based solution to this issue - at least not in American Lutheranism in which the pastor's "bishop" is a kind of two-headed creature consisting of a DP and a lay congregational leadership.

      I think the best we can hope for here is consensus. And we may actually have more of one than we realize. We have had two high level disputes about this since 2001. Only two. Think of how many hundreds (if not thousands) of such events did not occur because a Christian pastor said "no" - and thus it never made headlines.

      Pastors really need to be aware not only of the offense they can cause, but also the way their participation in such events will be interpreted by believers and unbelievers alike. And if we are pressed into a situation where we need to confess that Jesus is the only way to heaven, that even murdered children might be in hell, etc., then we have to confess this. But volunteering to take part in a civic service in order to do this would not help the gospel. It might make us look more like Fred Phelps and his ilk. We should avoid causing offense when necessary. I mean, we could picket Muslim funerals with bullhorns and preach Jesus - but to what end? There is a group of very annoying Christians who do just that in the French Quarter. I don't think their "ministry" is particularly helpful.

      Sometimes there is a time to remain silent, and that can be our most powerful witness at times.

  28. Good points, all HR.

    Is there any room to talk about whether one can be there, without being unfaithful? Or is the very fact you are present means, in spite of anything you might say at the event, mean you are unfaithful?

    Or, do you go and risk being considered "unimaginably rude" for the sake of saying something that is so compelling faithful you will never be invited to participate in said event again? (that would my choice!).

    I think your diagnosis the that "middle way" effort will always prove to be a failure.

    The "odd territory" comment is well worth further pondering. Who are these other religious clergy persons who would feel comfortable sharing a stage with a clergyman who preaches they represent a damning religion? I can't imagine a genuinely orthodox Imam doing that, or an orthodox Rabbi.

    I'm not sure throwing ourselves on authority figures is the answer either, that can cut both ways, can't it? What is your "higher up" tells you go ahead and do it when you know you can't, for the sake of conscience?

    I still want to talk more about what these events are. Why is there any need for them to begin with? I can see in a very small community how the community may feel a need formally to gather as a sort of public grieving event, apart from the various individual funerals.

    I'm not sure that one would have to put things just as you said, Heath, to be regarded as delivering a faithful message, but of course you are exaggerating to make a point. I get that.

    Of course, St. Peter took his life in his hands by saying what he said to a teeming mob of zealous Jews when he said, "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" at the Pentecost event.

    If I were invited to an event like the one we are discussing, I'm thinking I'd inform the organizers precisely what I would be saying and then let them tell me if they still wanted me.

    Our desire to be "nice" and "comforting" can get ahead of the weightier consideration: to be faithful. If you could communicate the only true source of comfort, and hope, at a time of tragic grief, I'd say, go for it and let the nay sayers, say nay.

    I think we are all feeling for young Pastor Morris but at the same time, I share your agreement with President Harrison.

    He was given a chance at bat. He swung and he miss, when he could have knocked one out of the park.

  29. Brothers, why is this so difficult? The Lord said, "Thous shalt have no other gods before Me." Period. God has spoken.

    That should solve whether we even NEED to talk about "joint worship" because there is no NEED. If you want to discuss theology, then gather together, eat some food, and talk. Bear a strong witness to Jesus Christ as The Lord and Saviour by which any sinner can be saved. No need to enter into worship to do it.

    Confession & Absolution - Jesus is clear in the Scriptures. Apologies aren't listed any where in the Holy Writ. I hear everyone saying Rev. Morris sinned. Where is his confession? He necer stated that President Harrison or his DP heard his confession. If they did, that is the kind of news the Synod needs to hear. We don't need to hear the details just that he confessed and was absolved. We don't have that in this case.

    Rev. Morris should have been about his duties, either in the parish serving the congregation and all who would gather, or in the home of the members whose daughter was killed in the masacre, He had no business being at that high school auditorium participoating in the worship of false gods let alone blessing their activities.

    I find it difficult to be Lutheran and hear these non-lutheran discussions. God is clear in this matter. Let us pray for Rev. Morris that the Holy Spirit move him to confess his sins so he can be absolved in the Name of the Triune God.

    1. Dear John:

      How do we know he hasn't confessed and been absolved? We don't reveal the names of our penitents nor if and when they have confessed or been absolved. That is privileged information.

      Maybe his father-confessor is not the DP or the SP (I don't know anyone - other than Dr. Korby - who has treated the hierarchy as confessors, and that story does not end well...).

      As Pres. Harrison pointed out, there is ongoing dialog with Pr. Morris.

      I think we need to keep private confession and absolution private. To "out" a man for making a confession would be a pretty serious matter itself. I agree with you that this (joint worship) was wrong. I think this is something pastors out to avoid at all costs. But I think Pr. Morris committed a sin in ignorance, as he does not define what happened the way we do. This is not to absolve him, but even Scripture makes a distinction between intentional and unintentional sins. Maybe this further discussion with Pres, Harrison will bear fruit.

      But once again, I disagree that penitents should at any time be identified. If a penitent chooses to make this information public, that's one thing. But think about how pastoral care would be if we started pressuring people to make public announcements concerning their private confessions.

  30. Fr. Beane,

    I agree. However, Rev. Morris committed public sins and yes, publically, the Church needs to know he is absolved. How else could you go to the altar with an impenitent?

    If this were me, I would want the Church to know I was forgiven especially after everything that has happened and continues to happen (or not happen). Don't you think a public announcement of the Gospel is needed in the case of such grievous public sins?

    Let me say this, I will agree to withhold the Gospel announcement of forgiveness and hold all that is sacred concerning the Office of the Keys, if he is removed from preaching and administering the Sacraments. When he is reinstate, then we will know all is well.

  31. If Pr. Morris were under excommunication (or defrocked from the ministry), that would be revealed as a *public* matter of discipline - not as a matter of *private* confession and absolution. I don't care if a guy poisons the well, commits genocide, or wears lipstick - private confessions should never be revealed. Penitents should never be outed. No exceptions.

    I don't know all the facts of this case, but I don't believe he has been excommunicated or defrocked or placed under any public restrictions from receiving communion or preaching and administering sacraments.

    Moreover, in our polity, it is virtually impossible to be defrocked for doctrinal reasons. You can take part in the installation of a women "pastor" complete with laying on of hands and nothing will happen to you. You can openly advocate women's "ordination" and nothing will happen to you. You can openly practice unionism and nothing will happen to you. And was Dr. Benke defrocked for, or even charged with, syncretism? You get sacked in the LCMS ministry for hacking off somebody "important" or by running afoul of the Handbook. Or by going bankrupt.

  32. There you go. It's not about God, Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, or even Jesus Christ our Lord.

    It's all about politics.

  33. Now I'm certainly not claiming it was "all about politics" ... but tribalistic maneuverings figured very prominently in the death of Jesus Christ our Lord.

    As far as is known, the high priest did not tear his robes asunder when Christ made His public "I AM" utterance and His "Abraham saw My day and rejoiced" claims to his opponents, which eloquence surely must have been reported by the local gendarmes/spies to their bosses. The clothing alterations occurred only when Jesus was safely tied and bound, and facing a night-time judiciary for fear of the people; acts driven by politics, in other words.

    And after the bizarre quibblings with Herod over executive authority (ending mostly in a few more solid thwacks to the Accused), Pilate caved for political reasons (his preservation in office), while the sons of the Maccabees howled that they had no king but Caesar.

    Politics, pure and simple.

    Political jackals nip at the heels of Christian, as do the other unseen principalities of darkness, vested or not as to raiment. It's always been this Way. Rejoice, therefore, politically encumbered and wearied Christian: you are no friend of the world.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

  34. One of the problems is that we pawn off both legalism and antinomianism as pastoral care, which is ultimately a confusion of law and gospel. I am not saying that this did/has/will happen in this case that we are talking about here.

    On the one hand, when a pastor confesses his sin, he is given practical advice on how to overcome his sin, and is not absolved (legalism). He might be told that he needs to "get his life in order," "pull himself up by the bootstraps," "go to counseling and learn five steps to a better life," or some other such legalistic nonsense. Granted, he may benefit from counseling, but the "getting his life in order," "having five steps to a better life," and "going to counseling" is used as a substitute for absolution.

    On the other hand, a pastor who repeatedly disqualifies himself from the office of the ministry, (see 1 Timothy 3), is allowed to stay in the office, and suffers no temporal consequences for his sins (antinomianism). Of course he can be forgiven, as all repentant sinners are received by Jesus, for He has called sinners to repentance. Yet, the gospel is used as a tool of destruction against the law in the Christian's life. It is like a murderer who is told that, "because he is sorry and has been absolved," he does not need to go to prison.

  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. It is unfortunate that the former president of The LCMS has now felt a need to meddle in the ministry of the sitting president of The LCMS. Tasteless. Embarrassing. Tacky.

    That he continues to demonstrate a total tone-deafness and a posture of self-defensiveness on these issues is not surprising, but disappointing nonetheless.

    Standing up and saying the Apostolic benediction is not, in any way, shape or form, a clear and compelling proclamation of Law and Gospel. And if anyone thinks it is, they may need to review their seminary class notes.

    I’d suggest the former president actually read Acts 4 and pay attention to the words. That might be a start toward his better understanding of these things.

    Would Pastor Morris have been invited to the event had he informed the event planners he will be pointing out that there is no hope or comfort to be found in any of the false and damning religions represented on the stage and that there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4)?

    I doubt it, but if he had, what a marvelous public confession to the only saving good news there would have been.

  38. Thought you might want to know how this is playing out in the media. The MSN had a relatively balanced story -- for MSN -- but take a look at the comments. . . especially from the Lutherans!



  39. And, I notice Matthew Becker, the advocate among us for women and gay clergy, serving at the erstwhile Lutheran institution in Valparaiso, Indiana is speaking for Missouri liberals who are now desperately hopeful they have an issue they can unseat Harrison over:

    1. You guys need to stop referring to him as "young." St. Paul forbids you from despising his youth. The bureaucrats of the synod are coming off very condescending, dismissing this as though it was a mistake borne of inexperience. Pr. Morris is the pastor called and sent by God to Newtown, for those people, in that place, not you, or any of us. He is the right man for them striving to be faithful in a difficult and painful situation. He made a mistake, not from youth, but from compassion. So drop it and treat him like a man already.

  40. I'm not "dismissing" anything. And if you actually think that his youthful inexperience had no part of this, I'd say you are living in some kind of cloud-cuckoo land.

    Chill out, Dave.

    1. I want to live in cloud-cuckoo land.

    2. Dear Paul,

      Maybe, but maybe not. Dr. Benke was hardly a spring chicken in 2001 (no offense to the bishop of the Big Apple). It's too facile to blame the "inexperience" factor. There are many freshly minted pastors who would not think of doing such a thing, whereas even a former synod president is defending interfaith services.

      I agree with Dave on this. Let's stop stereotyping the younger pastors as somehow more tolerant of unionism and/or syncretism. I find the boomer generation (in general) to be more likely to get involved in this kind of thing. Frankly, it's the younger pastors that might save the LCMS Titanic from sinking.

      And of course we all live in cloud-cuckoo land. Almost immediately after becoming a member of synod I have expected to see the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat at any moment. Sometimes our "life together" reads like a page out of a John Kennedy Toole novel. And if you come to visit us in New Orleans, I will take you for a picture with Ignatius under the iconic clock at D.H. Holmes (but only if you promise to behave yourself). ;-)

  41. Larry, I have not "stereotyped" anyone. I'm simply saying that a young pastor who is inexperienced in the ministry has a double disadvantage: not much "life" experience and not much "ministry" experience. His error was motivated out of his deep sense of compassion. But he did err and youthful inexperience was a contributing factor. Just the way it is.

    On the other hand, had he behaved as Elijah and started hacking apart the false prophets on the stage, as the President of the LCMS apparently thinks he should have, since, after all, the even was akin to the Mt. Carmel event, that would have caused even more problems, no? And so, like you say, age and experience is no guarantee of faithfulness, if the LCMS Pres. Em. can get it so totally wrong, again.

    It's just a no-win scenario, all the way around.

  42. It's just a no-win scenario, all the way around. -- the Rev. McCain

    I tend to agree. Elijah made with the bold testimony, and shortly thereafter was fleeing for his life in a state of apparent clinical despondency. As an Apostle, you get butchered or exiled to the isolation ward for your unswerving faithfulness. Naturally, though, we are schooled (rightly) to say that these outcomes actuallyconstitute a "win" situation. One notes that in heaven, however, according to Revelation, the martyred beheaded are griping away about the delay of the Eschaton. This description, so true to life as to behavior, is compelling evidence that the mundane DO populate the invisible where God is present. I am comforted. Sure they are first-rank saints, yes, but I sense I'll get along with these whining and impatient folks, just fine.

    The Lord's response to tragic human happenstance and the vile evils which flow from a fallen environment, in Luke 13, is a teaching moment; but calling on others to "Repent, or you will all likewise perish" will not secure kudos from an audience seeking to be soothed, or from the media seeking a good story.

    While it would not surprise me at all, if the Lord of the Banquet had further undocumented conversations of a comforting nature with the grieving and/or outraged messangers of disaster, we have no evidence of follow-up good wine and Table-Talk of the very highest order. We do have an immediate parable, which speaks to the Lord's mercy, and directed at the recalcitrant. "I'll dung the stubborn, the apparently lifeless (for a finite season)," the Great Physician asserts metaphorically.

    I don't know how to put this delicately, but faithful clerics may wish to choose ... instead of wandering into the morass of potentially syncretistic compromisings ... to strongly endorse on stage the "dung" of antidepressants like paroxetine, say, and maybe group therapy. State clearly that it is NOT the Best Thing available ... based on controlled studies graciously withheld from the naive public by Pharmaceutical concerns ... BUT by all means tell them to "Come and see" at your office to learn what IS, and for an inspiring prayer to God Almighty, the Lord of Armies, prayer which passeth all understanding ... (even of your pious and sincere colleagues sharing the stage).

    Placebos, even those essentially of recycled earth, can't hurt. The audience and the press will probably go wild. Here's a real cleric-servant speaking of the language of the Rieff's "Therapeutic Society," and he's caring and sensitively inviting as well!

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

  43. What leaves me scratching my head when we have these "community/civil/events/vigil/worship/whatever they are" events is that we hear about what a marvelous opportunity it is to comfort people with the Gospel.

    But what we got in the past was a really botched up prayer.

    This time we get a reading from Revelations that just about any person of any kind of "faith" could nod their head to then the apostolic benediction.

    How is that a "public witness" or "public confession" of the Gospel?

    I never hear anyone explain that, are we simply to assume that it is?

    I don't get it.

  44. The apostolic benediction is a testimony to the God who is Triune. The Name has its benefits and its promises for the devout, as the benediction declares. But I think it is rightly employed in the context of a gathering of the company of God's elect, of His people, or listening fervently to Good News and an Epistle, apostolically written to God's congregation. The gathering of the Left Kingdom, even if a suffering and humbled one, is not a holy gathering of God's people. The communion of the Holy Spirit cannot be found, for example, where the Son is not indwelling or recognized as Lord.

    The indiscriminating use of the apostolic benediction within the "community/civil event/meeting/vigil/worship/whatever it is" sends a wrong signal, a signal which essentially contends that there is no Greek or Jew, no slave or freeman, among the entirety of the listening civic gathering. Washington, D.C. may be striving for its own earth-bound version of this state of affairs. But in actuality, that signal in that context is fraudulent ... there are slaves standing shamelessly or unknowingly within the "whatever it is," slaves to Satan, the world and the flesh. The one representing the Lutheran fellowship through affiliation who chooses to use the signal at the civic gathering is either unschooled as to the Benediction's proper use, while sincerely convinced of his compassion in doing so; or is (more darkly) lying to others ... offering a false sense of security, now and in eternity ... and no less importantly, to his own baptized self.

    Religious display planned to be soothing to all comers, whatever one's attitude towards Jesus happens to be, is acting as placebo. And I suppose it might tame the panicked and the depressed individual mind, and rally the community, for a while.

    And I get it.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor


Comments are moderated. Neither spam, vulgarity, comments that are insulting, slanderous or otherwise unbefitting of Christian dignity nor anonymous posts will be published.