Monday, February 2, 2009

Saving Private Ryan

Welcome to Ketchup Week. All this week I’m posting things that were written or quoted/transcribed a while back but got lost in the stack, and have now been reinvigorated.

This post was written during the first part of last year, when our previous Vicar was still here – one in a continuing stream of storied and distinguished Vicars, or something like that:

I was passing by a T.V. at the airport and caught a glimpse of a scene from the movie Saving Private Ryan with Tom Hanks. In the scene, a French family is living in the remnants of their bombed-out house, with little roof left to shelter them from the downpour and hopelessness of their situation. The village had been overrun by the Germans. The French father begs an American soldier to take his daughter, to save her from the threat of starvation and German occupation. No parent could watch that scene without being torn. It was a moral dilemma.

Cut to now. In my church we’re starting a Bible study on The Theology of the Cross. I’m really excited about this class, which truly gets to the heart of Lutheranism.

So far we’ve had one class. Part of teaching The Theology of the Cross is to contrast it with The Theology of Glory, which is often seen in Evangelical circles. I patiently bit my tongue on several occasions, avoiding comment on the Theology of Glory manifesting itself in our own circle, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (through such programs as Ablaze!). Our pastor did allude to the false theology oozing in under the door at a couple of points, and I suspect he will delve into the seemy underbelly of confused theology in the LCMS at some point (if not, you have my assurance that I’ll give him a little “nudge”).

After class, I was talking with our Vicar. Somehow the conversation meandered toward apologetics, and we discussed the quandary of whether he would tell his flock-to-be about the theological battle(s) that currently rage in the LCMS. This is a dilemma not unlike that faced by the French father. Should the Frenchman attempt to hold on to his child at the risk of starvation and mistreatment at the hands of the Germans, or, out of love for her, send her away with the American troops? The French father’s decision and the Vicar’s decision seem a little alike. But where the father’s decision was a moral grey area, the Vicar’s really isn’t, if you listen to what St. Paul has to say to Timothy:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16).

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

So the pastor’s job is to teach and to guard his flock. It’s not an optional task, or one that should be done only as time allows. A proper and ongoing Catechesis is the best way to guard the flock, but at times, the undershepherd will also be required to point out false doctrine for the sake of the sheep, so that they aren’t deceived. At times, the sheep may not want to hear what the shepherd has to say and may even bleat, kick, and fight, but the good shepherd looks after his sheep even when they fight back.

Dr. C.F.W. Walther has this to say in his 25th, 29th, and 30th Evening Lectures respectively:

If you wish to be faithful ministers of Christ, you cannot possibly become such without striving and fighting against false doctrines, a false gospel, and false belief.

Every sincere preacher and minister of Jesus Christ shows himself full of zeal and earnest determination, though he may not reap any better reward from his congregation than unpopularity, hatred, and enmity. A sincere minister will go through such experiences rather than gain any one for himself by hushing the truth, veiling it, or grinding down its sharp points.

For in times of tribulations, when wolves and foxes try to break into the flock, it is of paramount importance that the shepherd take a firm stand and be ready to give his life, to shed his blood, for the truth and for his flock.

Take the time to appreciate and thank your pastor for those times when he preaches or teaches something that the flock may not want to hear, but is for their spiritual nourishment. Offer him your support, and keep him informed on threats to the flock that he may not know about. No pastor can possibly keep up on every threat that’s hiding behind some bush or rock.

But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:13-18)

Walther quotes from The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, (St. Louis: CPH, 1986) 267, 308, 318.

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