Facing Wokeism as a Church  (After Lutheranism Part 4)

As I wrote when I started this “After Lutheranism” series, one of the greatest threats to American church bodies is our ongoing failure to adequately oppose the progressive social justice agenda or “wokeism.” Indeed, the recent events surrounding our now infamously bad additions to Luther’s Large Catechism are leaving many Christians with a sinking feeling about the LCMS. After all, the same patterns which have typified the downfall of so many different institutions are observable among us as well. Is the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, once known for staunch adherence to God’s Word, now going woke?

Evidence to the contrary is sadly lacking, but there is one objection I see coming up again and again: The LCMS certainly runs on the politically conservative side, so it therefore cannot truly be going woke. It usually goes something like this: “How can you say the Synod is going woke when there are so many conservatives? You may not agree with them on everything, but aren’t their views pretty close to your own? Certainly, they must be far closer to yours even than to the average American’s–let alone some purple-haired trans lesbian’s! Clearly, the contention that Synod is going woke must be the product of a growing over-sensitivity and extremism on the right rather than reality.”

The problem with this objection isn’t that it’s making a false observation. The LCMS does remain an relatively conservative church body by typical measures. The problem is that the objection only considers positions on the wider debates of our day which are far too superficial. Yes, we may look almost identical on a standard American opinion poll because we have a lot of complaints in common. However, complaints alone do not determine one’s vision of what his society should look like or what direction we should take to get there.

The foundational beliefs which determine vision and direction usually fail to be captured by mere complaints. For example, the average conservative LCMS functionary and I would agree that women shouldn’t be permitted to be pastors. And that agreement would indeed set us both apart from the average American who considers such a view archaic, though not unheard of. However, Lutherans and conservatives alike have a well-earned reputation for merely being a few decades behind the times. Accordingly, whether we would allow women’s ordination today is far less relevant than whether we embrace the worldly priorities which would make it a reality in the future.

Details like that are precisely where our differences emerge. The average LCMS conservative believes that we need more women in church leadershipjust not in the pastoral office. He would also accuse men of sin for believing otherwise. Handing our reins to feminism while retaining a small space for the Bible to set a few seemingly arbitrary boundaries does lead to women’s ordination whether the conservative wants it to or not. It is one well-trod paving stone in the road to hell because God isn’t the one who told us to seek women leaders.

And that is how all of these woke-adjacent issues work. The West has been given a vision and a direction by progressive liberalism. Conservatives follow the crowd slowly because they hem, haw, pause, wander, and daydream, but they do ultimately follow. What they don’t do is openly defy the crowd by offering a different vision and pointing out a different way of getting there. That kind of difference is anything but superficial, and yet you would never discover it by asking about the controversies of the day. You’d find it by asking about issues that are not yet real controversies. For example, instead of asking whether women should be ordained, you would ask whether women should be allowed to vote. Or instead of asking whether gay marriage should be legal, you should ask whether sodomy should be criminalized. Those are the kinds of differences that matter in the long run, and they are precisely where adherents of ancient Christianity depart from the merely conservative Christianity of today.

And because conservatives are genuinely dubious of the ancient faith of their forebears, they will ultimately find common cause with that purple-haired trans lesbian. For example, they fundamentally agree on the equality of men & women and the evils of sexism. They merely disagree about whether a refusal to ordain women is truly sexist or not. That’s why the conservative always has far more vitriol for a man who says women shouldn’t be pastors because they’re easily deceived than he has for any actual pastrix. He may see both conclusions as wrong, but only one “error” really cuts him to the quick.

No matter how much a conservative Christian agrees with me superficially, I’ve come to realize that he will always side with the woke against me whenever their shared fundamental beliefs about pluralism, secularism, equality, multiculturalism, and globalism are threatened. And that is exactly the behavior we’ve been observing from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod over the past few years. If you know, you know; and those of us with a genuinely different vision for the West know.

It remains to be seen whether the LCMS will successfully overcome this very real slide into wokeism. I am no prophet, but as the “after Lutheranism” theme of my last few posts suggests, I don’t really expect it to do so as an (intact) institution. Nevertheless, whatever happens to the institution, the large faithful remnant among us will stand against it–both now and after Lutheranism should it come to that. The question with which we are left is “how.” While I’ve written a fair amount on that subject as it pertains to laity, we need to start grappling with the question of how our clergy and leadership ought to oppose wokeism among us.

The question is difficult only because so many people think wokeism is purely political and fail to recognize it as a false religion. So when many pastors hear that they need to oppose wokeism, they erroneously think they’re being asked to take up a political crusade. While there’s nothing wrong with a pastor taking political action, neither is it a requirement of the office. Many pastors find themselves too busy, too disinterested, or too ill-suited for political leadership, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But wokeism, driven as it is by critical theory, is a wolf set on destroying Christians in both body and soul. It is a false religion put into practice through corrupting institutions–governmental, ecclesial, economic, or otherwise. Any man who seeks to be a true shepherd rather than a hireling must therefore be prepared to drive these wolves away from his flock. With this proper understanding, the following responsibilities of a pastor in opposing wokeism should become clear.

Care about your flock.

The extent to which many Lutheran clergy make themselves aloof from this conflict is egregious. “Trust not in princes.” “We lose down here.” “We don’t need a political savior.” “God is still in control.” “Our home is in heaven.” “Set your hope on things above.” “We are but sojourners and exiles here.” These are the kinds of rote responses given by many pastors when laymen speak up about their distress over what’s happening to their families, homes, and nation. There’s truth in most of them. Many of them are even explicitly Biblical. However, there is something very wrong with how many pastors are applying these sayings.

When Scripture speaks this way, it is as encouragement. We live in a wicked world and many evils befall us–often specifically because we are faithful to Christ, for the Spirit of the Age hates us for our Lord’s sake. The Christian needs to know that evil does not get the last word. And so Paul tells us that our current sufferings cannot be compared to the glory that awaits us. Peter tells us that our sufferings now will result in glory and honor on the Last Day. Jesus tells us that we are blessed when we are persecuted because our reward will be great in heaven. As we fight the good fight of the Faith, we need to be reminded that Christ is our conquering king. Whatever setbacks we experience in this life, his armies will nevertheless receive the crown of victory and trample Satan underfoot. His heirs will nevertheless inherit the Kingdom.

In contrast, many pastors offer these aphorisms not to encourage us in our fight, but to discourage us from fighting at all by telling us that our battles are meaningless. “Trust not in princes” and “we lose down here” are deployed to tell us that politics don’t matter therefore we should ignore them. “We are sojourners whose home is in heaven” is deployed to tell us to stop bothering to defend our homes from perverts and invaders. “God is still in control” and “set your hope on things above” are deployed to tell us not to concern ourselves with our children’s well-being. These are the very earthly vocations Christ has commanded of us, but too many pastors are quick to tell us there’s no point to any of it. By telling God’s faithful to abandon the field, these sayings are emptied of all Biblical wisdom and turned against their godly purpose. Words meant to avert desperation are instead leveraged to encourage complacency.

The impression this gives to faithful Christians is that our shepherds simply want us to stop bothering them with our petty concerns. But what are our “petty” concerns today? Schools try to convince our sons to literally emasculate themselves. Society teaches our daughters to be whores. Our government threatens our families with destitution unless we submit to medical experiments. Our families disown us and our employers fire us because we refuse to deny God’s condemnation of sodomy. The heartless cruelty of nihilistic clergy telling us that this is all beneath concern cannot be overstated. Lutheran churches who persevere in this battle will be shepherded by men who actually care that such things are happening to their flocks. Wherever this is the case, comforting the afflicted and encouraging the defeated will be a pastoral priority–as they should have been in the first place.

Boldly call evil evil and good good.

One of the most spiritually devastating aspects of woke culture is the constant gaslighting. Whether it’s claiming that trans women are women, that men can marry each other, that all religions are basically the same, or that everybody is completely equal in every way, Western Christians are constantly surrounded by lies. But the ubiquity of the deception isn’t even the most dangerous part. Our culture goes even further by having authority figures in government, universities, businesses, and media tell us over and over again that we are the crazy ones for doubting these lies. It is an understatement to call this a spiritually toxic environment in which to live and raise our children.

Man was never created to exist atomistically; peer pressure is part of our design. We will always be affected by the voices shouting in our ears whether we want to be or not. Therefore, as the Spirit of the Age constantly corrodes our grasp on natural law and Biblical wisdom alike, Christians need men who will boldly proclaim God’s Word in opposition to these lies. Where the devil is at work, our Pastors should be constantly pointing out the deceptions and reminding believers that they aren’t the crazy ones. And they should be doing so with confidence.

Sadly, this is far less common among us than it should be, and the reasons are legion. Some pastors try to avoid it out of a relatively innocent desire to be apolitical–they know that politics are divisive and would prefer not to involve themselves in it. Given that shepherding a church is already quite difficult, it’s understandable that a pastor would want to keep things simple and avoid such treacherous waters. Nevertheless, God’s Word stands in judgment over politics as well. Where Scripture speaks and sheep need to hear, a pastor has no excuse for silence.

Other pastors avoid it out of a desire for worldly approval. They crave the recognition of unbelievers and want to be seen as the reasonable ones, rather than one of those Christians. They may speak the truth from time-to-time, but not with boldness. On the contrary, they bury Scriptural proclamation in endless nuance designed not to edify, but to avert the world’s ire. They might reluctantly admit that sodomy is a sin, but they’ll never use the term “sodomy” and will immediately change the subject to easier issues like pornography. They might briefly acknowledge that feminism is wrong, but they will spend far more time talking about what evil and abusive failures men are. Where their congregants need bold presentation of God’s Word, they proclaim sensitivity & “winsomeness” uber alles and thereby propagate their own timidity among God’s people.

But the worst of the bunch are the blatant false teachers among us. The LCMS continues to be plagued with antinomians. These men will not proclaim any of the specifics of God’s Law over and against the Spirit of the Age, preferring to acknowledge sin only in the abstract–enough to justify their jobs, but not enough to actually be faithful. Because wokeism primarily denies and corrupts First Article gifts rather than their own reductionist gospel, they have no interest in the subject. What’s worse, if they actually hear any Lutheran speak out against the gross public sins America celebrates, they will fall upon him like a pack of wolves to accuse him of self-righteousness and hatred for the Gospel.

Those congregations who persevere through the woke calamity will have pastors who routinely remind them that while the world has gone mad, God’s Word remains the same forever. They will have pastors who are unafraid of being blunt in sermons and Bible Studies wherever God’s Word is blunt. When they offer nuance, it will be to help their wavering sheep understand the virtue of God’s proclamations, not to hide from worldly condemnation. They will openly speak against the insanity of wokeness so that their congregation can build on the Rock.

Don’t bind your congregation’s conscience to modernism.

As I’ve said, it’s understandable that many pastors don’t want to get involved in politics. The body of Christ has many members with different functions and we certainly don’t need each member to be an eye. And yet, many of these apolitical pastors who cannot be roused by all the woke, ungodly attacks against the Church quickly find their ferocity whenever modernism is threatened. If men in their churches begin to believe that the postwar liberal consensus is at the root of many of the problems in our society and seek to undermine it, then and only then is it time to break out the church discipline. While they have no interest in politics for themselves, they deliberately hamstring other Christians who are better suited to that purpose when they rock the boat.

But such action for the sake of modernism is highly dubious, for modernism is not a Biblical doctrine, and the postwar consensus is not a Scriptural command. On the contrary, a straightforward reading of Scripture will put many of its shibboleths under judgement. The Bible tells us that women are the weaker vessel and that wives should submit to their husbands, but our pastors get outraged if anyone questions egalitarianism. The Bible tells us that the nations are God’s creation but pastors eagerly pursue diversity and hinder anyone who tries to preserve their nation by halting globalism. The Bible tells us to flee fornication and condemns adultery, but pastors rush to the defense of every unrepentant fornicator they can find and tear down men who express the godly desire for a virgin bride. Scripture tells us that any man who fails to care for his family is worse than an unbeliever, but our pastors condemn and deride men for putting their own children before foreigners.

It is not God who instructed our clergy to be outraged over such things, but many of them nevertheless seek to tie the hands of laymen who bring God’s Word with them into their earthly vocations. A good father who protects his family from wokeism or a good citizen who tries to steer his nation down a godly path will inevitably question social ideals which Americans take for granted. Lutheran congregations who cultivate such godly men will have pastors who refuse to be an enforcer of the Spirit of the Age, but instead feed them with God’s pure word, affirm their Christian freedom to do good for their neighbors, and uphold their authority in their own homes.

Be willing to suffer alongside your sheep.

For most of my life, every pastor preaching or teaching the various verses about persecution would include the comment, “thankfully, we don’t need to worry about that sort of thing in America.” Clearly this is no longer the case, and for now, that blessed time is drawing to a close. The pagans that surround us have once again been given free reign to take their hatred of Christ out on His followers. The satanic woke assault on nature and goodness is the great conflict of our time. Those laymen who live out their faith in opposition to the Spirit of the Age are beginning to suffer for it once again.

Pastors who attempt to drive off the wolves that would deceive, discourage, or distract their congregations from this conflict will likewise face consequences at the hands of the world. Feminism in particular is deeply entrenched in our congregations and will take decades of patient struggle to finally root out. A pastor may not be fired for condemning sodomy the way a layman might, but there will still be a cost to being faithful to Scripture, for many rank-and-file Lutherans who sit on boards and councils are quite worldly indeed. So what I’m asking of pastors here is no less daunting than when Peter instructed slaves to be obedient even to cruel masters.

But as Peter also says, that is what we have been called to. And when we suffer for doing good, it is a gracious thing in God’s sight. There are many false teachers who would rob all Christians of that comfort. What Scripture means coram mundo, they will apply coram deo and assert that your actions were not truly good because you’re a sinner. They will say you’re suffering because you weren’t sensitive enough, winsome enough, or loving enough. And because we are sinners, there will always be some faults even in our best actions. But you will never be more perfect or more loving than Christ, and He still endured suffering at the hands of the world. As we strive to be truly Christlike, we must rest in the sure and certain knowledge that our faults are forgiven, and through faith, our good works are made acceptable to God. These comforts are truly meant even for sinners like us. When we comfort one another, we will suffer, but we will suffer as one, as we ought.

As fellow members of Christ’s body, faithful Christians need to support everyone who is fighting on the same side of this battle. Maybe we think they are being too extreme, or maybe we think they are being too hesitant, or maybe they’ve made big mistakes. But as long as we are truly on the same side, we should be understanding about such things. Pastors need to support the laity who fight the good fight rather than undermining us, and laity need to treasure those clergy who serve them well as more valuable than gold. Let us all learn. Let us all grow. Let us all fight. And let us all be one body as we do it. But as for those Christians who would beat their fellow servants and team up with the world against the Church, there can be no real unity, for we are on different sides. There are many men of high standing and repute in the LCMS who would do well to consider which side they are truly on.

Throughout history, Satan has attacked the church in many different ways in different times and places. But today, in our own time and place, wokeism is where his stroke falls heaviest against us. This is what is undermining our doctrine right now. This is what is leading to our persecution. This is what is driving ordinary men down paths of reprehensible wickedness. We must therefore faithfully resist him, for it is not our place to choose which walls are under attack.

Those churches which man their stations and remain faithful through this conflict will be the ones to inherit a future after Lutheranism. May God send faithful workers into the field to support His people; and may He preserve each of our churches with an unyielding faith in Jesus Christ.

Posted in Lutheranism, Politics, The Modern Church, Theological Liberalism, Theological Pietism, Theology, Tradition, Vocation | 6 Comments

Loving God’s Law After Lutheranism

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding, therefore I hate every false way.
-Psalm 119:97-104

Back when I was about to start seminary, the class I looked forward to the most for my first term was Theological Ethics. I had wandered off from the Church during high school and college–mainly due to my own failure to properly apply God’s Law to my life and circumstances. And it was certainly the conviction wrought by God’s Law over my sins that sent me running back to the Gospel I had learned in my youth (and then into studying apologetics to see whether that blessed assurance was really true. It is.)

Under the circumstances, it should be no surprise that, like the Psalmist, I love God’s Law and want to meditate on it. I love that it revealed my sin. I love that it’s restrained me from even greater wickedness. I love that God did not just save me only to abandon me, but actually wants me to do works that please Him and even teaches me how. Yes, the Law causes pain when I take it seriously, but that’s only because of my sins. And since there is no longer any condemnation for me because I am in Christ Jesus, that pain is fleeting in the face of learning God’s Wisdom.

So upon returning to the faith, I sought to learn more and more about God’s Word and Lutheran theology. But while I always count on Lutherans to expound wonderfully on many different matters of theology, I found myself having to read men from other traditions to deepen my understanding of the details of morality (and always having to tweak and adjust what I read to “Lutheranize” it.) While I went to seminary to ground myself in many different matters of doctrine, I was particularly looking forward to finally getting some of that missing ethical insight.

What I got in Theological Ethics was not exactly what I expected, to say the least. The majority of the class was devoted to making sure that ethics didn’t get in the way of understanding that we are saved by grace alone–something every Lutheran learns from the cradle. Even a class specifically about ethics couldn’t focus on equipping future pastors to understand God’s Law and apply it to the real-life circumstances they and their future congregants were likely to encounter.

As grateful as I am for my time in seminary (and even for Theological Ethics, in which I learned much, even if it wasn’t what I was expecting) it did serve to reinforce my gnawing suspicion that contemporary Lutherans have a serious Law problem. A kind of soft antinomianism is entrenched in our institutions. We treat the Law like those action movies where two officers have to get two keys and turn them clockwise simultaneously to unlock the nuclear weapons. In practice, far too many of our pastors and theologians see God’s moral instructions as something to break out only in the most dire and exceptional circumstances. They don’t (usually) go full antinomian and explicitly deny God’s Law, but they do passive-aggressively despise it to keep it out of anyone’s mind.

As is typical of passive-aggression, their techniques for Law-avoidance are legion. In many cases, they avoid it simply by sniping at other Christians. Though they’ll cite the 8th Commandment endlessly when it comes to those who object to public false teaching, they won’t give a second thought to accusing faithful men of works righteousness if they even express what they feel is “too much” interest in morality. Likewise, if you argue in favor of moral wisdom learned from Scripture, they’ll accuse you of adding to God’s Word instead. Ironically, they’ll invent rules as legalistically as any Pharisee if you (like Jesus, Paul, or Luther) make even the most obvious of inferences from God’s commands. The intended effect is to shame any pastor or layman who dares break their embargo on Biblical morality.

Another approach they take is to try and lock down God’s Law so that it only has the specific effects they desire. Lutherans teach that there are three uses of the Law: 1) to restrain our overt sinful actions and reduce the harm we do to ourselves and others, 2) to reveal that we are sinners by nature whose only hope of salvation is the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and 3) to teach forgiven Christians how to live in God-pleasing ways. Second use is the only reason soft antinomians tolerate God’s Law at all. Their occupation as pastors would dissolve without it along with their false piety, for without some abstract form of sin, no one would require forgiveness from them. But theologians like Gerhard Forde, Steven Paulson, and their many followers in the LCMS have made it their life’s work to reduce God’s Law to a mere technicality sufficient to justify their paychecks.

Third Use was the first to be rejected, based on a corruption of simul justus et peccator. This (true) teaching that Christians are simultaneously saints and sinners was perverted to claim that A) totally depraved sinners cannot be reformed by the Law and B) already perfect saints have no need to be reformed by the Law, therefore C) Christians ipso facto have nothing to learn from God’s Law except their identity as sinners. Of course, this legalistic sophistry not only ignores Scripture’s constant moral exhortations to believers, but also the obvious fact that even perfect humans still learn how to do good. Even Jesus Christ required such instruction according to his human nature.

But the matter didn’t stop at Third Use, for First Use is under assault now as well. This time, it’s Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms that’s perverted in service to the antinomians. Here, the teaching that the Church and civil government have two distinct sets of God-given responsibilities is recast into 20th Century “separation of church and state” in which government is required to be religiously neutral. Of course, that kind of religious neutrality is not only logically incoherent (for one cannot even serve two masters, let alone hundreds) but unbiblical as well. According to Scripture, civil government is established specifically to punish wrongdoers and commend right-doers–and God is still the one who defines that right and wrong.

Nevertheless, our soft antinomians willfully defy Scripture in order to support the post-WWII consensus that the only good society is one that’s both secular and pluralistic. Consider, for example, how the President of the LCMS recently condemned in the name of Christ any who would use the civil law to restrain the wickedness of sodomites as God Himself did in Israel. Or consider the broader reaction against Christian Nationalism by those who insist that God’s Law has no place in the way a nation governs itself. “That would be theocracy!” they wail, pearls clutched firmly in hand. Once again, the purpose is to keep God’s Law under lock and key, lest anyone actually hear it and perceive its wisdom.

And where good Lutheran doctrines cannot be perverted, they are simply forgotten. For example, Luther taught that there are two kinds of righteousness: righteousness before God (coram deo) and righteousness before the world (coram mundo). The former can only be received by faith in Christ, because none of us can keep the Law perfectly in God’s sight. The latter, however, can be achieved through basic virtue and decency, for imperfect humans cannot hold each other perfectly accountable. This is a good, proper, and useful theological distinction; and it is forgotten whenever Lutherans want to shut down uncomfortable conversations about morality.

The whole “debt-free virgins without tattoos” controversy made this deliberate oversight plain to many of us. When men acknowledged that they actually want wives with moral character (an obviously coram mundo judgment), many of them took fire from pastoral white knights. Some were accused of denying the forgiveness of sins for Christian women with a history of fornication. Others were called hypocrites for daring to care about a woman having slept with two dozen strangers when they themselves had lusted after women in their thoughts. Judgments like these, however, are plainly coram deo, dealing as they do with imputed righteousness and perfect adherence to God’s Law. In all these objections, apples are conflated with oranges to shut up those who want God’s Laws and values to govern their lives.

I could go on listing examples, and I have done so in the past–from “Saint/Sinner Nestorianism” to bizarre legalisms like “avoid moral specifics when preaching” to reducing Law & Gospel to a tool of emotional manipulation to produce shame and relief at will. As I said, their techniques are legion. One cannot observe this cavalcade of anti-Lutheran & anti-Christian stupidities coming from our highest profile leaders and fail to notice the pattern:  They are all an attempt to steal God’s Law away from faithful Christians.

These are not the actions of a church body with a bright future, for there can be neither Church nor Christianity without God’s Law. For one thing, of course, there is no Gospel of forgiveness if there is no sin. Even most soft antinomians would agree with that, though as I said, they think they can get away with second-use-only without turning the Law and Sin into a meaningless abstractions rather concrete wrongdoing.

There is also the practical matter that without God’s Law, neither family, nor congregation, nor society will actually survive. Sin isn’t just naughtiness–it is destruction and uncreation. When we disregard God’s Law and embrace open sin, providence will grind us into dust one way or another. And as I wrote last time, our refusal to learn wisdom from God’s Laws about sexual morality is the root of our terminal demographic decline.

But more to my point here, if we divide God’s Word into Law and Gospel, but consider preaching the former to be beneath us, we have absolutely no business being a church body anymore. The Law is God’s Word, and we don’t get to second-guess God about which of His words are valuable. Every Christian has parts of the Bible he doesn’t like simply by virtue of being a sinner, but faith and humility require us to acknowledge that we are in the wrong on such matters. How, then, ought we to regard something as beyond the pale as striving to categorically dismiss half of Scripture because you don’t like how it makes you feel? Do you really think a church can deliberately embrace and enforce faithlessness of that magnitude without our Lord removing its lampstand? When you consider that even our Synodical President openly treats the Law as something to be taught only as a matter of last resort, it should make it plain how unfirmly our denomination stands.

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod needs to wake up and realize that we have a severe Law problem on our hands. And it goes far deeper than simply having a bunch of fools in our midst who teach this antinomian garbage. This is deeply embedded in our institutions, in our leadership, and in our culture. We are actively and passively conforming ourselves to this error. Having attended one of our seminaries myself, I can attest that this is how our clergy are being trained. For all intents and purposes, neglect for the Law is part of the curriculum. Sometimes this is deliberate, as it was in Theological Ethics. Sometimes it is entirely absentminded. Either way, we have made soft antinomianism a matter of outward piety throughout our leadership. We have been trained to perceive contempt for God’s Law as love for the Gospel because that is how our prominent antinomians present themselves.

But here is the key point we all need to drive home in our own minds: If they truly believed the Gospel in the first place–that they are forgiven and redeemed from sin by Christ’s blood–then they would have no need to hide away from the Law. The Law always accuses, but there is no condemnation for those of us in Christ Jesus. There remains our own feelings of guilt and shame, but these are entirely healthy feelings for sinners to have, just as pain is a healthy sensation when one’s hand is to close to the flame. But like pain, guilt & shame are not pleasant.

Also like pain, we cannot leave guilt & shame behind in this life. At the very least, this is because we all continue to sin. We will always have new failures to be ashamed of. Other times, it will be because you cannot leave the consequences of your sin behind. If you’ve done things like mutilated your family through divorce or let your children grow up to be wantons, perverts, or pagans because you failed to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord, you will naturally be reminded of it until Christ returns. And of course, for those with besetting sins, it is a constant struggle even to leave the sin itself in your past because it continually stalks you.

As these circumstances have multiplied among us and among our leadership, we are therefore more and more subject to the sinful impulse to scream “DON’T JUDGE ME” whenever the Law written on our hearts is brought to our minds–the same impulse that has proliferated in Western culture at large. We are therefore commanded to be sensitive by refusing to mention the specifics of God’s Law that we most desperately need–the parts that will restrain our children from following us into sin, that will point us to the absolute need for a savior, and that will teach us how to live apart from that sin. And the more we neglect them, the more sensitive we will become to anyone else who mentions them. Thus, the vicious cycle continues as we desperately try to hide our shame behind fig leaves.

But that is not a cycle in which a Christian ought to live–especially a Lutheran who knows we are saved by divine Grace alone apart from our works. Forde taught that Law and Gospel were found in the provoked feelings of shame and relief respectively, leading many astray in a vain pursuit of the more pleasant feeling of the pair. Real Lutherans know better. We know that God’s assurance of our forgiveness in Christ is real no matter how we may feel about it, for God’s proclamations transcend emotion. When we receive the Sacrament while set on fire for the Lord and ready to take on the world, we are forgiven. When we have to reluctantly drag ourselves to church and the altar because we feel like sinful refuse, we are still forgiven. And when we hear God’s just statutes, we know them to be true and good no matter how anyone may feel about them, and so the faithful Christian seeks them out regardless.

So how do Lutherans overcome the contempt for the Law we’ve instilled in our hearts? Well for one thing, you know a lot of the antinomians’ tricks now, so don’t fall for those. But there is much more to be done.

Unfortunately, we cannot rely on our leadership or our institutions to help us in this matter, for that would be the blind leading the blind. Thankfully, we have not been left as orphans. If you need a perspective from outside contemporary culture, then the simplest solution is to read old books. And we are truly blessed in this regard. Holy Scripture is wide open to any of us who wish to learn what our leadership tries to hide. Likewise, the Lutherans Confessions and other works of the early Lutherans are available to anyone and readily demonstrate that they did not share our modern contempt for God’s Law. Once again, I can attest from personal experience that the more you read faithful writings, the more you will be able to recognize and overcome the antinomianism being foisted on you. This is especially necessary for pastors whose training has required them to face the most temptation in this regard.

But what starts with self-study does not end there. Share what you have learned with your brothers and sisters in Christ however you can, and learn from others who have taken up the same journey into the Faith. And if you find you need to resist some of them–even pastors and presidents–you can stand firm on God’s Word just as Luther and countless other Christians through the ages have done. And whenever you do find Lutheran pastors and teachers who have overcome the antinomian impulse, treat them as a precious treasure, for that’s what they are.

From the very beginning, Satan has used many and various ways of hiding whichever parts of God’s Word he finds most opportune to hide. And from the beginning, whatever heartache his efforts have caused, his designs have always failed as God’s Word is proclaimed again and again throughout the world. This age is no different in either respect. God’s Word will prevail with or without Lutherans. Let us therefore repent and pray that it would prevail with us.

Posted in Ethics, Heresy, Law, Lutheranism, Sanctification, The Modern Church, Theological Pietism, Theology, Tradition | 9 Comments

Forming Christian Families – After Lutheranism Part 2

Any discussion of a future for Lutherans after Lutheran denominations pass away must begin with God’s first instructions to humanity: Be fruitful and multiply. Practically speaking, our rejection of God’s command in Genesis 1 is the most significant proximate cause of our decline. The future belongs to those who show up for it, but like most Americans, we embraced deliberate barrenness and thereby strangled our future before it even reached the crib.

What’s more, even when we did reproduce, we failed to pass on the faith to our youth. Parents outsourced their children’s theological education to the church for an hour or two each week while simultaneously outsourcing every other subject to pagan schools who (at best) told them God had nothing to do with anything. More typically, of course, our families were told to fornicate freely, hate children, and pursue mammon over all else. And most recently, they are taught to carve up the bodies God gave them and embrace their true identity as the opposite sex, an animal, an alien, or God knows what else.

Now, simply having babies again won’t be enough to save the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod; it’s too slow for that. The cynic in me is inclined to think that this is why Synod has been largely unconcerned with God’s command, preferring instead to recruit other nations to replace their people. Encouraging child-bearing would only help their sheep rather than themselves. But If we, as individuals and congregations, cannot finally rise to the challenge presented by the sexual revolution and recover genuine chastity among us, then we will not have any future at all–with or without Lutheranism.

So how do we do this? By doing what we should have been doing in the first place: Teaching God’s command to be fruitful and multiply as normative for Christians, and by proclaiming marriage as God’s solution to the sexual temptation that surrounds us all. Both of these are straight out of both Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. But while it is simple in theory, there are several complicating factors at work that make putting it into practice more difficult.

The first is that we have abandoned this teaching for several generations now, and much of the practical know-how has been lost in the meantime. The Church can deliver imperatives like “get married” and “don’t fornicate” all day, but when youth naturally respond by asking “how”, we don’t have much of an answer for them. We tell them to be warm and well fed, but do nothing to meet their needs.

The second is that when we observe the practical impediments to marriage in our culture, our latent antinomianism kicks in, and we refuse to specifically address them because the Bible doesn’t specifically address them. For example, does our culture encourage young men and women to eschew any parental involvement in their love life and instead find mates by spending copious amounts of time alone to explore their mutual romantic feelings? We should be addressing things like that because it naturally leads to fornication rather than marriage–both matters of Biblical command. But since we cannot tell the difference between gaining moral wisdom and adding to God’s Law, we remain silent and shame others into doing the same. Antinomianism will get its own post in this series, but it nevertheless bears mentioning here first.

The third complication is a growing disconnect between pastors and laity. Word and Sacrament are the meat and potatoes of pastoral ministry. But practically speaking, there is a great deal more that pastors need to carry out and oversee as part of their job. And because they have the kinds of duties that are never truly finished, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and burnt out. Good boundaries are therefore an absolute necessity. The problem, however, is that as laity find themselves more and more oppressed by the world and seek pastoral assistance, boundaries are increasingly being established for the sake of dismissing those concerns. (This will also get its own post in this series.)

Pursuit of marriage is one such example. Suggesting that the church needs to take an active role in helping their youth find suitable marriages often triggers responses like “pastors aren’t matchmakers” and “that’s a left-hand kingdom issue.” These responses aren’t exactly incorrect, but their use to end conversations is pastoral malfeasance. As a Pastor, it’s your job to tell your sheep that they need to find ways to develop chastity for themselves and their children. And as you are likely a father, you yourself need to successfully accomplish this. Indeed, managing your own family well is a God-given qualifications for your job. As such, leadership and example are the bare minimum of your lot in this matter. So yes, you must work with your people to help make marriage practical. Your boundaries need to be established through delegation rather than dismissal. Pastors and laity need to work together on this; our congregations will not survive without such cooperation.

So with this in mind, what kind of steps do churches need to take to exhort their membership to pursue marriage and family? Here are some ideas to consider:

If your congregation does not recognize the marriage imperative, teach them.

For the vast majority of Christians who have ever lived, marriage is a divine imperative. Apart from a relative few exceptions, marrying and having children is part of leading a godly life. Churches have, unfortunately, allowed our wicked culture to bury this fact, and so most of us delay and avoid marriage while we pursue mammon, debauchery, popularity, or other godless passions instead. But God’s Word’s still stands in judgment over both us and our culture. Christians need to hear that judgment. We need to hear it loudly and plainly. Most importantly, we need to hear it in our local congregations rather than from podcasters and bloggers like myself who are more likely to broach the subject.

Worldliness may have made such teaching unusual in American churches, but it is simply part of delivering the whole counsel of God. Pastors, if you’re already following and preaching from the lectionary, there will be ample opportunity to bring this up organically in your sermons. God’s Word offers frequent exhortation to marriage (unless, of course, you’re legalistically restricting yourself by refusing to preach the Law.)

But teaching in the church does not end with sermons. So do a topical bible study on LGBTP issues, hookup culture, or chastity–these are weighty issues about which most Christians need to hear God’s Word. Do an in-depth study of the Ten Commandments or Luther’s (original) Large Catechism; if you do it well, you will hit the proper points.

You can also bring the issue up to your relevant boards (elders, youth, education) to make sure your most active members have it on their radar. If your congregation is like most in the LCMS, the membership will be older, and they have absolutely no idea how horrible America’s coupling customs have become in the past 40 years. For the sake of the younger generations, do not let your leadership stay in the dark.

Laymen can also do this in a more limited way. If you are a teacher, you can instruct as many students in these issues as will listen. If you are a board member, you can bring it up to your board. When you attend Bible Study you can bring up the subject yourself when the context permits it. If you have no position in your congregation, you can bring your concerns to your pastors or elders to try and get it on their radar (also, you can work on bettering yourself so that you can serve your congregation in more roles.) None of us can do it all, but all of us can do something.

Teach Biblical chastity rather than just adding Biblical expectations to broken customs.

I’ve written about this before, but while the church has continued to teach “no sex before marriage,” “marriage is between a man and a woman,” and “abortion is murder,” we cannot simply teach these rules in a culture which otherwise discourages marriage, androgenizes men & women, guides everyone into fornication, and despises children. We need to start from the ground up with the understanding that our society is our mortal enemy in this respect.

We need to explicitly talk about marriage as an expected and esteemed estate, giving special honor to husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers. We need to talk about children as joyous gifts of God rather than expensive burdens to be avoided through contraception. This is how the Bible and our Confessions talk about these things, so this is another one that we should have been doing all along. Boys and girls alike should be raised to aspire to marriage and children. Since our culture will not do that for us, it falls to the Church to teach God’s Word on the subject and to train Christian parents to do the same in the home.

One uncomfortable corollary of this, however, is that we will also need to cast down any American idols which teach us to despise marriage. The Spirit of the Age proclaims education, career, and youthful debauchery–establishing marriage as an optional arrangement that one should only pursue once these idols have been fully satisfied.

Teaching Biblical priorities means teaching them in contradistinction to worldly priorities. We need to start explicitly teaching that marriage is a work more pleasing in God’s eyes than any college degree or high-profile career (women especially need to hear this as everything else in our culture is dedicated to telling them the opposite.) We need to teach that the typical high school-to-college pipeline is no reason to put off obedience to God’s command to marry. We need to stop splitting up our families and congregations by sending our kids across the country for college and careers, away from the only people in their lives who understand the Biblical priorities, and into the care of pagans who work hard to instruct our sons to be incels and our daughters to be whores. We need to put the same kind of effort into finding suitable spouses for our children as we do into finding suitable colleges.

Another uncomfortable corollary is that our congregations will need to provide church discipline for those who wantonly despise marriage by divorcing faithful spouses. Every divorce between members of a Christian congregation involves a grievous sin. Either one is murdering her family through divorce, or one spouse has committed adultery against or abandoned the other (meaning abandoning the fundamental responsibilities of the marriage like refusing sex or physically maiming a spouse you’re supposed to protect.) So in 100% of divorces between members, one congregant is grievously sinning against another.

But Jesus says, “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault… if he does not listen, take one or two others along… if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” A member’s divorce is an uncomfortable subject because it’s so personal, but it is not a special case where God’s Word stops applying. Aggrieved husbands and wives need to know they can go to their congregation to be vindicated and to receive help in winning back their erring spouse to Christ through repentance. If you cannot honor marriage when it is under threat, then you cannot honor it at all.

Organize parents of young children to work out how they’ll help their children marry

Parents everywhere are beginning to wake up to the dangers posed by American culture in general, and our growing sexual anarchy in particular. To be sure, our culture has been toxic for quite some time, but the kind of imminent harm posed by transgenderism and pedophilia has made it almost impossible for Christian parents to continue ignoring the issue. We’re wary of government schools, television programming, and social media like never before.

Unfortunately, despite the growing awareness, parents are not yet sure about how they’re going to deal with it. It’s one thing to want to direct your children towards marriage instead of degeneracy. It’s another thing to actually help them achieve that when your entire culture is aligned against you. For the most part, parents are still in “we’ll do our best” mode, which is a hope but not a strategy.

But none of us are going to figure out a strategy alone because marriage is inherently social. In light of that fundamental reality, congregations should organize their committed young parents into meeting regularly to discuss their concerns, ideas, and specific challenges when it comes to marriage for their children. Not only will they collectively develop some strategies, they’ll also learn they’re not alone and get to know likeminded families with children of the opposite sex who will also be aimed at Christian marriage and family.

Families can organize this on their own, of course, but doing this as part of their congregation is a force-multiplier. They can receive encouragement, spiritual guidance, and leadership from their pastors. Other members can offer assistance, such as babysitting on-site so parents can actually attend the discussions and the children can spend time playing together. Other local congregations willing to address the same challenges can also be brought into the endeavor. But most importantly, this is entirely in keeping with proper Christian fellowship. Not only is marriage both a Biblical command and a holy estate that’s been made part of the ordinary Christian life by God, but spouses sharing the same Faith is clear Biblical wisdom. Where better to look for prospective wives and husbands than among other Lutherans?

Therefore this will ideally evolve into finding ways to facilitate match-making within local congregations. Instead of expecting our children to find spouses somewhere out there in a culture that hates marriage, we can direct them to worthy individuals they actually know who share Biblical values. We can even host dances or or other social events as they get older. This can not only provide a better foundation for marriage, but also make marriage a possibility at ages considerably earlier than America’s absurd median of thirty years old. This can also help resolve some of the issues surrounding the unattractiveness of Christian men to Christian women, as  the social mechanisms of female attraction like status and preselection bias can once again be leveraged towards monogamy rather than polygamy.

Start reestablishing gender roles in your congregation’s culture

We cannot expect men and women to unite in healthy and fruitful ways when we strive to treat the sexes as interchangeably as we can get away with. Egalitarianism is yet another idol which is worshiped by many American Christians, and it needs to be cast down. There is no Biblical command to equality.

Naturally, this needs to begin with the gender roles that God has explicitly established. The father is to be the authority within his home and family. I’ve already written about this at length, so I won’t labor the point here, but we cannot expect marriages to thrive while we deny the way God designed them to work. Pastors need to preach this faithfully and support the fathers in his congregation rather than undermining them  out of his own fear of his female sheep. The same needs to be taught when it comes to teaching and authority in the church. The more a role involves teaching men, the less it should be carried out by a women–from obvious roles like pastor or elder, all the way down to simpler ones like lay reader.

But the more faithful we are in those explicit Biblical commands, the more the distinction will naturally bleed into other roles that are wise but not commanded. Not only will Christians begin to reject the worldly imperative of putting women into every role, they’ll begin to recognize the beauty inherent in masculinity & femininity and lose their desire to deliberately confuse the two. Men and women can work together enjoying their differences rather than ignoring or hating them.

Given the nature of all this work, it should be clear why pastors and laity need to work together in this. By virtue of his office and qualifications, a pastor could accomplish most items from this list. However, no pastor can accomplish everything from this list–it is simply too much; and though these things are responsibilities, they are far from his only responsibilities. Laity, in contrast, can only accomplish some of the things in this list. Our roles may involve teaching, serving on boards, and so forth, but those scopes are relatively narrow. We do, however, have far more access than any pastor to our own homes. We must constantly reinforce and practice at home everything we receive from the church, or it will all be for naught.

From beginning to end, this endeavor relies on those complimentary positions. Fathers need to reclaim the role of catechizing our children rather than outsourcing it to the pastor; pastors need to make sure the men in their congregation are actually equipped for that. Parents need to help their children achieve marriage; pastors need to remind parents that this is both a responsibility and a possibility. Parents need to teach their children to be chaste; pastors need to teach parents what Biblical chastity entails. Clergy and laity alike need to know that they are not alone in this. We are one body with many members, and we need to start acting like it.

These ideas are, of course, only a start. But we have to start somewhere. If we cannot finally rise to the challenge of the sexual revolution and recover chastity, then we will not have a future. We can hardly expect God to provide success when we despise the gifts he has already given us. This endeavor may be different, and change may be uncomfortable, but that does not stop it from being essential. Those of us who decide this is just too hard–that disregard this challenge and refuse to take up their cross–will find that they enter the next life not having fought the good fight, but having taken the good vacation. If our line isn’t to end with us–both genetically and theologically–then we have a lot of work to do.

May God preserve us from such an ignoble fate, and empower us by His Spirit to rise to the challenge and tread the Spirit of the Age under our feet.

Posted in Chastity, Christian Youth, Culture, Family, Lutheranism, The Modern Church | 9 Comments

After Lutheranism – Part 1

How does Lutheranism end for us?

It’s taken a great deal to get me, a lifelong member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, to ask myself such an ominous question. But then, these past few years have thrown an awful lot at faithful Lutherans.

Most recently, of course, is our entire debacle surrounding the Large Catechism with Annotations and Contemporary Application. The false teachings, the crypto-marxism, and the invitation of heretics and women to teach us theology were all bad enough on their own. And yet, Synod found a way to make it worse through its response. President Harrison’s retaliatory strike against critics–not only taking the standard corporate approach of blaming the whole thing on racism, but actually wielding the office of the keys against the outspoken–plunged the entire matter to further depths of wickedness.

Our response to Covid and especially the forced vaccinations is another recent travesty that cannot be overlooked. Given LCMS history, our willingness to cooperate with government interference in our churches and our credulity for their dubious claims about masks and vaccines is shameful on its own. And yes, the controversy has led to all manner of division in the church through everything from policy debates to simple broken attendence habits. But worse than anything else was the refusal of our leadership to offer any support to conscientous objectors to the vaccine mandates. I will never forget that a random layman had to do the job Synod wouldn’t and publicly articulate from Scripture and our Confessions what faithful Lutherans ought to have already known–that God specifically authorized fathers to oversee their households, including the decision of whether its appropriate to administer experimental medical treatments. As a tyrannical government tried to coerce us by threatening to steal our livelihoods and make our families destitute, the shepherds in charge of my church body couldn’t be bothered to even lift their little fingers for their sheep.

In addition to acute failures like these, there are also longstanding challenges to our theology and practice from within. We are, for example, plagued by soft antinomians (so-called Radical Lutherans) who teach a hatred for God’s Law disguised as a love of the Gospel. I first encountered this in Seminary, and grappling with the issue in my own mind is one major reason I started blogging in the first place. But many of our foremost theologians remain obsessed with Forde while others work hard to keep false teachers like Steven Paulson employed writing theology for us. Surely, the fact that so many of our heretics voluntarily walked out during Seminex was a blessing from God, but they did not all leave. And we have done very little to discipline those that remained. What’s more, many took the victory we were handed as an excuse to rest on our laurels, presuming that the “Battle for the Bible” was the last issue we’d have to grapple with.

And the list could go on. There’s the constant push for contemporary worship, the continuing decline of our National Youth Gatherings, the collapse of our colleges into generic secularity, and more. And all this in the midst of the ongoing woke war against Christianity that should remind us all of Christ’s promises of persecution. Despite all the vicious blows the world has been delivering, our leadership has done precious little to rise to the occasion. We are deeply divided in theology, in liturgical practice, and more, but our response has been to paper over these divisions for a false pretense of peace rather than risking controversy by actually dealing with them.

But worst of all from a practical standpoint is simply our demographics. Like most church bodies in America, we are not-so-slowly dying simply because we couldn’t be bothered to have (and catechize) children to replace ourselves. This is not just unfortunate circumstance, for added to our list of grave errors is our wholehearted embrace of contraception culture. We may have tried to weakly resist some of the evils that came along for the ride, like rampant fornication, but so long as our vision of chastity is merely “no sex outside of marriage“, we are just as destined to fall to barrenness as any other group of Americans. Rather than embracing the extreme discomfort of repenting and teaching genuine chastity to our people, our leaders have instead opted to blame the lack of diversity among their dying sheep and replace them through a string of short-lived church-growth programs that inevitably end in failure. Missionaries do the Lord’s work, but most Christians who have ever lived only evangelized their own families; that is the ordinary method of church growth which we have absentmindedly neglected to our destruction

This is only a brief list of the fundamental problems in my denomination, but it does not produce a rosy outlook for the future of the institution. I will be genuinely surprised if we don’t see a major split in the next few decades, and I honestly expect my children or grandchildren to see it end altogether.

But the LCMS is just one Lutheran synod, right? It’s not the whole of Lutheranism. This is true, but broadening our view doesn’t offer much better news. Many of the other confessional Lutheran bodies are facing the same challenges we are, and I am unaware of any which are adeptly meeting them. But worse yet is that fact that real Lutherans–those of us who actually believe our theology is true–are a minority among those who bear the name. The state churches of Europe and mainline church bodies like the ELCA aren’t even churches–their religion is Theological Liberalism rather than Christianity, and their God is the Spirit of the Age rather than Jesus Christ. I suspect that the word “Lutheran” reminds more people of sodomite bishops and Sparkle Creeds than anything resembling real Lutheran heritage.

To be sure, there remain many faithful Lutherans among us–both in terms of individuals and congregations. And God has given us a truly priceless treasure when it comes to Lutheran theology, history, and practice. That heritage alone provides a remarkable advantage. However, I’m growing increasingly skeptical that that heritage will continue under any of our existing church bodies or even under the name “Lutheran.”

But it doesn’t have to.

When the Church of Rome or the Eastern Church tries to call us upstarts who have only been around 500 years compared to their two millennia, we often remind them that Lutheranism has existed since Genesis 3, when God first promised us a savior. The history of the Church is the history of those who believed that promise and to whom that faith was credited as righteousness. We may be constantly assailed by the devil through false teaching, worldliness, or outright violence; but one way or another, God always has and always will preserve His Church and His teachings. He did it before Luther. He can certainly do it without Luther. Likewise, those of us who have remained faithful can hold fast to the Gospel we have received through Lutheranism without calling ourselves Lutheran or belonging to a church body that’s called Lutheran.

The Church is no stranger to massive upheaval. From Constantine’s legalization of Christianity, to the fall of Rome, to the Great Schism, to the Reformation, our one holy catholic and apostolic Church has made disciples by teaching the same Word and baptizing in the same Name. But it does not always look the same superficially speaking–in terms of earthly hierarchy, organization, or custom. The persecuted Church of the first few centuries probably wouldn’t have expected the emergence of Christendom. Neither would the medieval Church have expected we’d one day be dispersed into denominations. Well, more and more people are beginning to sense that we stand on the cusp of another change whose magnitude scales with these other profound stages in the Church’s appearance. As Christians bear witness to the fall of modernism, we therefore need to understand that our current assumptions about structure and tradition may not last too long.

Accordingly, the greatest concern of Lutherans today shouldn’t be finding a way to ensure that our (often corrupt and feckless) institutions survive. I’ve lost count of the Lutherans who claimed that we should have been silent over the false teachings in the new Large Catechism because it made us look bad. I don’t know how often I hear Lutherans impose incoherent understandings of the 8th Commandment in order to shut down any controversy for the sake of outward unity. We even have proposals going to Convention this summer to crack down on using the internet to express anything negative about our church body. But the goodwill required from ordinary Lutherans to support such blatant self-serving nonsense has been utterly exhausted. All of this dead thinking is directed at preserving Synod as though that were somehow more important than faithfully teaching God’s Word. But if Synod cannot or will not help us faithfully teach God’s Word, then it has no reason to exist.

That is why the concern of pastors and laymen should be to preserve the Lutheran heritage we’ve been given and pass it on to our children. No matter what happens to denominations or to Lutheranism, we know that both family and the Faith will persevere until the End. Fathers will need to reclaim ownership of their children’s catechesis, of course. But while we cannot continue the custom of outsourcing Christian education to our churches, neither can we succeed in a vacuum without a congregation of fellow Christians. The Faith is passed on, not reinvented by the family each generation. So if you cannot imagine your church weathering the current storm and cannot find a way to help it reach a place where it could, then it is time to find a new church. But no congregation will survive without hard work from its faithful laity to help direct and carry out the enormous amount of work required for this battle.

The good news is that this is what we all should have been doing in the first place. Our families and local congregations are where our most important responsibilities have always been. For Lutherans to take up these challenges is simply to repent and return to faithfulness. This we can do, with or without Synod. That said, we should be grateful to God for any of our institutions who are also willing to pursue faithfulness over worldliness and follow along. And if our Lord once again defies my expectations and salvages Lutheranism or the LCMS by His mighty hand through the many faithful men who are still among us–an outcome I still pray for–then I shall greatly rejoice.

But as you may have noticed from the title, this is only “Part 1.”  That is because this subject cannot end with generalities and complaints. Lutherans must consider what this change in direction and circumstance may look like for them going forward. There are no clear answers about the future, of course. But in the follow-up essays, I intend to continue  to do what I’ve always tried to do and provide some food for thought on overcoming the challenges that confront us.

Posted in Chastity, Culture, Family, Lutheranism, Musings, The Modern Church, Tradition, Vocation | 16 Comments

Scouring America’s Shire

An often overlooked sequence in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is the ‘Scouring of the Shire.’ After the Ring is destroyed, Sauron is defeated, Aragorn claims his throne, and all the more epic plot points have been resolved, the hobbits return to the Shire only to find it in the grips of a petty but cruel tyranny. From the moment they try and cross the river to their homeland, they are hindered by a gaggle of novel & senseless rules enforced by their fellow hobbits. They see ugly new industrial construction taking root where trees had been torn down. And all these changes seemed to have been wrought without resistance by a contingent of Men (lead by Saruman) who had usurped control in their absence. For Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, reclaiming their homeland is the final battle of the War of the Ring.

It’s not too hard to see why so many neglect this episode. For one thing, it was skipped in the Peter Jackson film adaptations which, sadly, define the story for many. But even apart from that, it’s easy for a child or casual adult reader to consider it anticlimactic. These hobbits had just taken a hand in the fates of ancient nations, great men, and walking legends. How can expelling a relative handful of petty thugs from a rural backwater compare to such an adventure?

But in many respects, this is the hobbits’ truest test–the culmination of their time out in the world. Every orc slain, Balrog faced, or battle fought was merely preparation for them to do their more menial duty in their homeland. And this duty was borne not from destiny or from being the chosen one, but simply from being good citizens who knew better than their fellows. They don’t have a contingent of soldiers from Aragorn, a Wizard, or a Fellowship of legendary warriors to assist them in their task. All they have is the mettle they had already earned: unquestionable dignity and the courage to put their common sense into action.

And the fearless application of common sense really is their pathway to success. When they’re confronted by a long list of policies like refusing to open the gates after dark, no beer or pipe weed for commoners, the seizure of the food they produce for “fair distribution,” and the like, their response is to show open contempt–not only for the rules but also for the hobbits who chose to enforce them. When they’re arrested by their moral and physical inferiors, they go along only insofar as it serves their own ends. When they encounter the weak who recognize the evil but consent to it anyway, they share their character and strength through gentle rebuke. And only after they get the lay of the land and understand the nature & number of the oppressors do they thoughtfully consider their options and rally their countrymen to fight off the small number of thugs whom the Shire-folk had obeyed only because they didn’t know what else to do.

Their defiance of the new regime is rooted solely in what they recognize as good and decent for Shire folk. They do not ruminate on whether it’s ok to break the rules, whether they’re being impolite, or even whether their resistance is justified. They have no need of such introspection because they already know these things just as the vast majority of the other hobbits did as well. The difference is that the four who had set out for Rivendell were used to adversity whereas those who remained in the Shire were not. When they finally propose armed resistance, Merry expresses the reality of appealing to their countrymen well:

‘Raise the Shire!’ said Merry. ‘Now! Wake all our people! They hate all this, you can see: all of them except perhaps one or two rascals, and a few fools that want to be important, but don’t at all understand what is really going on. But Shire-folk have been so comfortable for so long they don’t know what to do. They just want a match, though, and they’ll go up in fire.’

This chapter strikes more of a chord with me now than when I read these books as a child because this is precisely where high fantasy intersects with reality. Tolkien’s fantastical tale of wizards, elves, orcs, and dark lords is compelling to ordinary humans because it expertly crystalizes universal virtues like hope and courage. We might not see Nazgul or magic rings in the real world, but the virtues are more real than anything we do see. To paraphrase Chesterton, while fairy tales don’t teach us that dragons are real, they do teach us that dragons can be slain. We take that knowledge–along with the virtues the story inspires–back with us into reality to face our own mundane battles. And as America now lies in the grips of a petty but cruel tyranny, the ‘Scouring of the Shire’ is more timely than ever.

In many respects, the Midwest is America’s Shire. We aren’t known for producing great works or art or having profound cultural influence. Our affairs are of little concern to our distant rulers just as their affairs are just stories on the evening news to us. To the coastal elites, we’re flyover country. And yet, the Midwest remains a wonderful place to live a good, simple, and virtuous life amidst farms and nature. Our treasure is the privilege of owning our own homes and raising families in communities of decent people.

But like the Shire, the world didn’t leave us alone forever. The wicked ideas of our elites were imported here and have taken root. We consume their media without much discernment. We foolishly entrust our young adults to them for four years of debauchery certified as education. And when the certified return–some educated, many corrupted–we entrust young and old alike to them through the schools and corporations they manage.

As a result, we are no longer hearing stories about the crazy things some Harvard professor teaches or about some weirdos living way off in California. Our own libraries and cafes have trans stripper story time for kids. Our own livelihoods are threatened by HR departments pushing DIE and vaccines. Our own schools have litterboxes in the bathroom to accommodate furries. Globohomo has had its way with us; and many are finally waking up to the grim reality that they’re here, they’re queer, and they’re coming for our children.

Also like the Shire, most of us have absolutely no idea what to do about it. We are used to being comfortable, and we don’t like to cause a fuss. In many respects, we don’t even know how to cause a fuss. Following the rules was just part of being neighborly back when we had normal rules, and so the advent of unjust & unnatural rules throws us for a loop. We need to be roused to action. We need confident men of good conscience to brazenly declare what we already know to be true–that the petty tyranny which has enclosed on us is truly evil. We need men of hope to remind us that it doesn’t have to be this way. We need men of strength and courage to openly defy the new Rules and resist the wicked however they must.

But where are we to find the steel that we’ve lost–the strength of character we see in  characters like Tolkien’s hobbits? Great works of literature like Lord of the Rings inspire us to virtue, but they can’t really train us in it. Only real-life experience can do that. If we are to scour our own Shire, then embracing righteous conflict is the only way to acquire the necessary virtues.

These conflicts need not be epic showdowns between great powers. If our virtues are small, then we will simply need to start small. We can stand up to speak the truth at school board meetings. We can publicly and unabashedly call out evil when we see it in our community. We can proclaim God’s Word in our churches and in our homes. We can despise the sniveling weasels who would hold us back through their fear of what our tyrants do and do not allow. We can encourage those who know better but are fainthearted. We can fearlessly tell the truth and live as though righteousness were more important than “proper” manners.

It will be neither easy nor peaceful. Many will lose their jobs or their families for their commitment to the truth. Eventually, some will start to lose their freedom and then their lives. But every battle will make us stronger. Every defeat will make us tougher. Every victory will make us more hopeful. Every action taken by & for our people will make us more of a community. And then we use what we’ve learned to escalate to ever larger conflicts until every last tyrant is removed and every collaborator stands publicly ashamed of their cowardice. And it all starts with embracing the small and mundane opportunities to scoff at someone mindlessly saying “love is love,” to pull the plug on our televisions, to confidently rebuke a fool who tolerates depravity, or to stand up for someone being cancelled.

It’s clear from our circumstances that we are not the men we need to be. If we were, it never would have come to this. But that doesn’t mean we cannot become those men or that our sons cannot. By the grace of God, even pleasant and docile Midwesterners can learn to stand up in righteous fury for our children and our communities. May our Lord grant us that opportunity to scour our Shire and deliver us from the Spirit of the Age.

Posted in Christian Nationalism, Musings, Politics, Vocation | 6 Comments

Moral Wisdom vs Adding to God’s Law

“Where does it say that in the Bible?”

When it comes to learning God’s Law, it can be a great question when asked in good faith–when one seeks Scriptural warrant for doctrinal assertions out of curiosity or skepticism or a desire for assurance. When the Bereans did that in response to Paul’s preaching, they were commended for it. Jesus likewise condemned the Pharisees for taking their traditions and elevating them above God’s Word, constantly citing Scripture to demonstrate that they should have known better.

If we never compare our own beliefs and practices to God’s inerrant Word, then we are unlikely to recognize when we have strayed from it. And when we find ourselves in conflict with what Scripture plainly teaches, the Christian has only two choices: repentance or apostasy. The rules and doctrines which God has given us are absolute; we do not get the gainsay Him with our reason or experience. And so we recognize those who have departed from the Faith by rejecting Scripture. Therefore, Christians should ask this question regularly, for sinners like ourselves are prone to wander.

But although it can be a good question, it is by no means a sufficient one when we consider Biblical morality. After all, Scripture does not simply present us with a collection of moral rules. It also teaches us moral wisdom–the practical ability to discern right from wrong and make good judgments in everyday life.

Biblical wisdom is founded on God’s absolute and infallible statutes, but it does not stop with them. As any parent knows, raising a human to maturity is more involved than just programming a computer. We may start with rules, but we cannot end there. We each must learn through reason and experience to recognize the applications and implications of God’s Law in our hearts. That’s why it’s not exactly uncommon for Christ or his apostles to tell people to judge for themselves. That’s why Jesus expects us to know that if it is wrong to commit adultery, it is likewise wrong of us to abandon self-control by lusting after strange women. That’s why the Bible contains the Book of Proverbs, which teaches wisdom through observations, generalizations, and application of God’s statutes, rather than by simply repeating them.

In short, we are to adopt the mind of Christ, not just His rules. For that, we cannot simply ask “where is that in the Bible” and dismiss any answer other than a direct prooftext. We must also ask, “How does the Bible lead you to believe that?”

In this, there is a measure Christian liberty and greater intellectual freedom–not liberty to depart from Scripture but to build upon it. Here we may therefore disagree with one another without necessarily disagreeing with God. We can argue and debate. We can call each other wrong, deceived, or even foolish. We can even decide we need to work separately due to our disagreements, as Paul and Barnabas did. All this can be done without calling each other unbelievers.

And so, as we endeavor to learn from Christ and become wise, Satan does not tempt Christians with a single error, but with a pair. On one hand, one must be careful of taking what wisdom he has acquired and elevating it to the level of Scripture so that it eclipses Scripture. After all, our reasoning may be in error; our experience may be limited; our personal or social prejudices may be projected onto the text; and we’re sinners to boot. This was, for example, Rome’s error during the Reformation, and so Sola Scriptura was used as a corrective–restoring the Bible’s proper posture of judgment over traditional errors, rather than the inverse of using the Magisterium to determine what Scripture is allowed to say.

On the other hand, one must not escape the process of iron sharpening iron–dismissing your wise brothers by accusing them of adding to God’s Word. After all, our goal in reading Scripture is attaining knowledge and understanding, not simply memorization. Sadly, this error is far more common in American evangelicalism where Sola Scriptura is absurdly abused. Eschewing creeds, traditions, and human reason, they likewise oppose wisdom herself, condemning those who learn from Scripture as adding to it.

When we refuse to let God’s Word make us wise, the result is a gradual replacement of Biblical wisdom with worldliness. After all, life still presents us with difficult choices. If we forbid Scripture from preparing us for them, the Spirit of the Age will eagerly take its place and teach us everything it wants us to know.

Take, for example, a question like whether contraception is moral. Scripture makes no explicit statement on the subject. However, if we believe God’s Word when it counts children a blessing, barrenness an affliction, being fruitful the first command to mankind, marriage the human norm, and chastity a moral absolute, it’s hard to avoid recognizing that 99% of the ways in which Westerners use contraception are wicked. We can also look at the fallout from that use in light of Scripture–commoditization of children, the illusion that chastity is outdated, avoidance of marriage, birth-rates low enough to end our civilization–and observe how evil those fruits are.

Yes, there are extreme medical circumstances which make deliberate infertility the best among poor options, just as amputation is sometimes the best medical option. And to be sure, God created us with observable cycles of fertility that tend to space out children. So we cannot really conclude that it’s never okay to space out children with contraception (and yes, to my papist readers, Natural Family Planning is still contraception; it’s just much healthier, organic contraception.) Nevertheless, it is quite appropriate for a Christian to conclude that contraception is sinful as a generalization. It is also quite appropriate for a Christian to teach that wisdom to others.

And yet, because there is no verse, this wisdom was disregarded as “adding to God’s word” in many protestant churches. As a result, the wisdom was lost, and many have suffered the natural consequences of immorality because they had no one to warn them. Now, because this is a matter of moral wisdom rather than moral absolute, I’m not going to claim that everyone who blessed the Pill has departed from the faith and become an unbeliever. I will, however, say that they are wrong, foolish, and deceived. As a result, I would openly dispute with them just as they would openly dispute with me so that more Christians are not caught up in error.

When we short-circuit this process of iron sharpening iron, we all lose out on wisdom. What’s worse, the consequent foolishness does not remain idle. For if we refuse to reason from the Bible, we will inevitably lose our ability to even understand the Bible. For example, a popular way to rationalize away the Bible’s clear prohibition on homosexuality (which is an explicit rule that has clear verses) is to claim that Scripture was only referring to Greek customs of the time, not to the “loving” gay relationships of today. And so they dismiss God’s clear instructions by dressing them up as adding to God’s Word.

Yes, that’s stupid. Yes, no one who truly seeks to learn from Scripture would ever make this mistake. Yes, they might as well say that “You shall not murder” only refers to the blunt and edged weapons of the time and not to modern firearms. But fools find it compelling precisely because they’ve already fallen into the habit of treating even the simplest use of their brains as adding to God’s Word. All that’s left are meanings that are narrow beyond reason. (And to those conservatives who are proud they haven’t fallen into this trap on homosexuality, cultivate some humility quickly because that’s exactly what you fell for with feminism.)

This distinction between moral absolute and moral wisdom is also quite relevant to the LCMS’s ongoing Large Cataclysm controversy. In true corporate fashion, our leadership has attempted to distract us from the grievous errors they packaged alongside our Confessions by recasting it as a controversy about racism. The subsequent retaliatory witch-hunt, which repurposes excommunication as a tool of cancel culture, is in desperate need of Biblical warrant for declaring Christian men to be damned for all eternity over the non-sin of racism. I’ve already written about how the oft-misunderstood sin of partiality is inappropriately used for this task; but another common tactic is to take disagreements about Biblical morality that fall into the category of wisdom, and trump them up into just cause for declaring men eternally damned.

Consider, for example, the charges against Ryan Turnipseed, an intelligent young Lutheran who, as of this writing, has been placed under the lesser ban and thereby barred from the Lord’s Supper. (He made the letter from his church public; read it here.)  He has been called to repent of things like:

  • Social media posts that were “not made in love.”
  • Associating with sinners.
  • Other men’s supposed denigration of women. (You read that correctly, the letter actually calls him to repent of other men’s statements.)
  • “Divisively” criticizing the Large Catechism. (And to be clear, it’s called divisive specifically because Ryan did so in a forum in which his concerns might actually be heard rather than swept under the rug of process, as other private concerns about that volume already had been. This isn’t unlike what a certain Reformer did 500 years ago. Posting points for debate on Twitter is just as normal today as posting points for debate on a cathedral door was in Luther’s time.)
  • Most outrageously of all, “not joyfully submitting” to the authorities who are abusing him in this manner.

Even if one is too detached from cancel culture to recognize these standard tactics of tone-policing, guilt by association, and accusations of racism/sexism, one should still notice something else these points all have in common. They are, at best, matters of wisdom rather than Divine Command.

There are times to minister to tax collectors and prostitutes; there are times when bad company corrupts good character. There are times to rebuke sharply; there are times to speak tenderly. There are times to answer a fool according to his folly; there are times to not answer a fool according to his folly. There are times to submit to earthly authorities; there are times to obey God rather than man. Recognizing the right times is a matter of Biblical wisdom, and all of us must learn to make the best judgments we can whenever those times confront us.

People certainly can and do judge poorly, so Christians ought to hold one-another accountable for that. Iron must sharpen iron. However, correcting such judgments is generally a matter for rebuke and/or instruction in God’s Word. For those in authority, it can also be a matter of removing them from that office if they have proven themselves unfit for it. But it is by no means a matter for the lesser ban, and especially not the acts of excommunication which President Harrison has been encouraging and, perhaps, even demanding.

When the evidence of wrongdoing is sufficient, excommunication can be appropriate in instances of overt transgressions against Biblical absolutes like murder, adultery, heresy, sodomy, and so forth. After all, there is no argument to make against God. Wisdom, however, requires a great deal more patience because wisdom is not gained in a day. If Ryan Turnipseed’s pastor and elders were truly acting in good faith, they would be trying to teach him wisdom over time. They would be enlisting his father to assist in that endeavor rather than demanding that he recuse himself from it. Even if their absurd charges were legitimate, the fact that they are instead trying to shoo him out the door after a few months and a handful of adversarial meetings is absolutely unconscionable.

For the sake of our churches and the souls which they shepherd, we cannot let demands for an explicit verse derail wisdom. We cannot shrug our shoulders at the specific evils assaulting them because God didn’t giftwrap a temporal solution in Scripture. And we certainly cannot let the devil trick us into abusing our laypeople who care more about learning God’s Word than about violating the social taboos foisted upon us by wokeism. There is still time to repent.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

Posted in Ethics, Law, Lutheranism, The Modern Church | 5 Comments

The Sin of Partiality Explained

Partiality in judging is not good. Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right” will be cursed by people, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.
Proverbs 24:23-25

Many conservative Christians have been going all-in against supposed sins like racism and nationalism lately. My own church body even went so far as to threaten anyone on the ill-defined “alt-right” with excommunication. But as often happens when you doggedly pursue the world’s values, these conservatives have found themselves out on a theological limb. Naturally, they tie their moral outrage to their faith, for that ought to be the habit of a Christian. But they never actually received that outrage from Christianity in the first place–they just adopted it alongside the rest of the modern world. So sure, their actions earn them worldly accolades, but how are they to justify their vehemence to those like myself who were once convinced conservatives stood on Scripture?

“Love your neighbor” is a popular go-to, of course, but being a summary of the Law, it quickly descends into meaninglessness without any of the specifics it was meant to summarize. Citing the “law of love” can delay calls for a Scriptural warrant, but it does not actually answer them. By itself, it’s an inadequate rationale because it doesn’t define what love is. So where is a conservative to find Biblical specifics with which to convince themselves (and others) of their faithfulness?

“Partiality” is one of the early favorites in this quest. After all, God repeatedly declares that He Himself shows no partiality, and He counts it as a sin in both Testaments. Considering how tightly partiality is tied to favoritism, it’s easy to link that to favoring a particular nation, race, sex, or other group. It’s understandable that so many would consider this fertile soil for planting the seeds of antiracism or other woke nonsense in Scripture. Unfortunately for them, Biblical partiality can by no means be faithfully used to buttress Critical Theory’s narratives of oppression.

In the Biblical sense, partiality is simply a corruption of moral or legal judgment driven by personal interest. The consequences are laid out quite clearly in the Proverb cited above–it leads a man to declare evil good and good evil and thereby fail in his responsibility to judge with right judgement.

Many of partiality’s mechanisms are also made quite explicit in Scripture. For example, when Moses appoints leaders among the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1, he warns them, “You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s.” So allowing a man’s worldly power to intimidate you into favoring him in your judgment would be one such mechanism. Deuteronomy 16 provides a similar warning to such judges: “You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow.” And so we recognize bribery as another mechanism by which one is tempted to pervert justice for his own benefit.

The long and the short of the matter is that self-interest should seize no foothold in the mind of a judge. The righteous laws he has been appointed to uphold–whether legal or moral–should alone determine his judgments. And we can see this wisdom at work in functional legal systems. For example, when a judge simply cannot set aside his self-interest, it’s generally his responsibility to recuse himself from the case. Likewise, Americans have a legal protection so that spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other in court for precisely this reason.

Scripture also makes it quite clear that God Himself judges impartially. In Romans 2, Paul declares that “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” Likewise, he warns slave masters in Ephesians 6 that their respective earthly station will not influence our impartial God when He judges the faithfulness of slave and master alike according to justice.

Now, does this mean that God will be impartial with respect to black & white or American & foreigner–and that we ought to judge likewise? Absolutely! But that doesn’t compel anyone to antiracism, globalism, or the like. For just as Scripture explains to us what partiality is, it also gives us many examples of what partiality isn’t.

For example, it is quite clear that choosing one tribe of people over another cannot be partiality. Globalists often slather over Deuteronomy 10 when God says, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” However, in doing so, they almost universally fail to quote the preceding sentences which read, “Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”

Indeed, our impartial God set the Israelites apart in a way far different than anything He did for other ancient tribes. That is why in Romans 3, when Paul asks “what advantage has the Jew,” he can answer “Much in every way” and ascribe it to God’s action. But this is by no means partiality. All will indeed be held accountable by God to the same Law without respect for tribe. But he will nevertheless show mercy to whom he will show mercy  and be generous with what is His, for these are matters of unmerited Fatherly love rather than the pronouncements of a judge. He gave to the Israelites far better than they deserved, just as He gives to us far better than we deserve.

And so the sin of partiality cannot mean that we ought never prefer one thing, person, or people over another. When a groom takes an oath to love his bride above all others, he’s not taking an oath to show partiality. Neither does a father show partiality when he pursues the welfare of his own children more than the children of strangers. Neither does a ruler show partiality when he defends his nation against another nation. Neither does a soldier show partiality when he specifically targets enemy combatants rather than his allies. Such priorities are by no means perversions of justice. They are merely the faithful and just fulfillment of the vocations God has given us.

Neither can partiality mean that we ought never recognize any kind of stereotype–another shibboleth of antiracists, feminists, and other Critical Theorists. When James warns Christians not to show partiality in the congregation by the way they treat rich versus poor, he also negatively stereotypes the rich by saying, “Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?” Accordingly, it is clear that when he warns against making distinctions and becoming judges with evil thoughts, he is referring to applying worldly standards of judgment to Christians rather than simply observing the many patterns of distinctions that exist among different kinds of people.

This is why the same God who condemns partiality also says “wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord,”  “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” and “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” We must judge by justice alone, but the judge still recognizes the human relationships and distinctions which God Himself has ordained and protected with His just Law. Only then can a judge truly render justice to everyone under his purview.

Now, are there specific instances in which partiality and today’s various -ism’s coincide? Certainly. The judge who blithely condemns an accused black man just because he knows blacks are more likely to commit crimes has indeed demonstrated partiality. His job was to consider the evidence. The husband who just ignores the sounds that frightened his wife in the night because he knows women tend to be insecure has indeed demonstrated partiality. His job was to protect his family. The officer who ignores a rapist because the victim was a foreigner who shouldn’t have been there in the first place has indeed demonstrated partiality. His job was to restrain the evildoer. The men who do such things have let their own interests turn them away from justice.

The sin, however, is in the abandonment of righteous judgment and responsibilities rather than in any observations about or preferences for a particular group. Partiality only computes to racism, sexism, homophobia, and so forth when we accept Critical Theory’s narratives as defining justice in the first place. But those narratives are what false teachers project onto Scripture, not what they find there. God defines his justice quite well in Biblical Law. Rooting our judgments in anything else will inevitably corrupt us.

And this is where we find the great irony of modern partiality. The high and mighty who are actually able to subvert justice through intimidation are not the racists, the sexists, the nationalists, and so forth. Rather, the doctrines of Critical Theory are culturally and legally ascendant among us. If our conservatives truly heeded Scripture’s warnings against being intimidated by the high and mighty, they would first look to cancel culture and wokeism to find partiality at work.

If they did so, they would find no shortage of examples among us. For example, say a so-called “Nazi” falls under church discipline, and his church breaks just about every rule they have when carrying it out. Justice would insist on due process, whereas dismissing that as irrelevant nitpicking because he’s a hated Nazi would be blatant partiality. Likewise, say you encounter a woman who really wants to teach men theology and exercise authority over them in the Church. Justice would insist you clearly tell her “no.” But if you were uncomfortable telling her “no” and worried that your wife or daughter or congregants might think its sexist, then partiality would lead you to carve out a path for her to teach instead. Or say you find out that a book you championed ended up including all manner of false teachings and worldly errors. Justice would insist you either make sure the problems are fixed or rescind your endorsement of that book. Partiality, however, might instead lead you to seek retribution against the volume’s critics and insist that the obvious problems don’t exist to protect various reputations. All of these things are very real examples of the Biblical sin of partiality running rampant in the Church.

The scales are falling off the eyes of many as they watch conservative Christians and our institutions lose their religion over the worldly concerns of Critical Theory and scramble in vain to find a Biblical justification to cover their nakedness. But appeals to Biblical partiality will not save them, for it does not at all mean what they want it to.

A time of choice is upon you, conservatives. Would you follow “justice and only justice?” Would you be no respecter of persons? Would you work to keep your church on the straight and narrow? Then its time to take a good, hard look at yourselves in the mirror, because the eyes of the faithful are on you. And when you one day stand before God to make an account of your work, there will be no partiality with Him.

Posted in Ethics, Law, Lutheranism, The Modern Church, Theology | Leave a comment

They Will Know Us By Our Love (and Hate Us For It)

It’s always struck me as odd that many Christians will stake their eternal souls on Jesus’ promise of forgiveness while simultaneously doubting his promise that the world would hate us on his account. In many and various ways, we expect that if we’re just loving enough or “winsome” enough, then we can avoid that particular inconvenience. “Didn’t Jesus also say that they would know us by our love? Who could possibly hate us for that?”

Well, the Devil, the world, and our sinful flesh for starters. After all, we’re not going to be any more loving than Jesus is, and they hate him too.

Yes, they will know us by our love, but we cannot help but misunderstand that saying when our theology seldom rises above bumper stickers and praise song choruses. For the most part, mere sound bites (even Scriptural ones) shouldn’t be absolutized, especially when divorced from their proper context. If we are to avoid such errors, we will need to take greater care with God’s Word. So let’s consider the two places Scripture delivers that specific promise.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12)

Even this small expansion of these verses gives us two very important details that are missing from the sound bite.

The first is that the love which we are to show comes from God rather than from the world. We are to love as Christ loved us. Now the world certainly noticed the love of Christ, but it also executed him for it. The love of Jesus is not found in this world’s mealy-mouthed platitudes about niceness and sentimentalism. Rather, it is a perfect and uncompromising love which relentlessly pursues the true, objective good of the beloved no matter how much it must defy this world and its prince–all at the cost of his own life. Jesus’ love is one that overturned tables, defied merely cultural expectations, offended the state, and provoked the ire of false religion. It demands attention because it is different than the world’s faulty ideas of love.

The second missing detail is who Christians are to love:  one another. In other words, what will mark us a different in the eyes of the world is the way Christians love other Christians. The more we abide in the love of Christ, the more apparent it will be that Christians do not love other Christians the way pagans love other pagans. After all, love is the fulfilling of the Law, not ignorance of the Law, abandonment of the Law, or corruption of the Law. Accordingly, the love that we give will not be the love a pagan expects to receive. As a result, it will inevitably offend them.

It’s easy to see this dynamic at work. The world already recognizes Christian love. It does so when we love each other enough to have half a dozen Christian children instead of rejecting family like the world taught us. It does so when we love each other enough to rebuke the gender confused instead of disfiguring them like the world taught us. It does so when we love each other enough to teach God’s Word instead of leaving it to personal preference like the world taught us. It does so when we love each other enough to abide by God’s rules about fornication and adultery instead of using each other for hookups like the world taught us. If our love is in accordance with God’s, it will always put the world in the uncomfortable state of shame.

Far too many Christians forget these essential details. As a result, they strive to play the world’s game of love and foolishly expect Christians to excel at it. They want to be seen by LGBTP activists as the most affirming of sodomites. They want to be seen by feminists as the least sexist of anyone. They want to be seen by multiculturalists as more welcoming to invaders than anyone else. And they perpetually fail because inasmuch as they actually care about God’s Word, it will hold them back from this kind of foolishness.

When we experience this, a Christian has only two choices: Either we repent and renew our commitment to abiding in God’s love rather than the world’s, or we begin to resent Christians more faithful than ourselves for “holding us back.” Those who choose the latter will quickly find their love for one another growing cold. They will begin viscously condemning those brothers and sisters whose love violates worldly taboos. They will begin demanding that churches provide what God has forbidden because they know the world will like it. And ironically, they will lovelessly accuse their fellow Christians of being loveless whenever God’s promise of worldly hatred is fulfilled. “If only you were more loving, the world wouldn’t hate you!” “You’re making Christians look bad!” “Don’t you realize that they’re supposed to know us by our love?” And so instead of loving one-another and bearing with one another under persecution, they actually join the world in its hatred of Christians.

For all of its great blessings, it may be that the success of Christendom lulled us to sleep in the face of this temptation to worldly love. After all, our cultures and governments have been informed by God’s Word for thousands of years. We have often held Christian faithfulness in high esteem. As a result, we have experienced great overlap between “worldly” ideas of love and Christian ideas of love. But this was never uniform, for government in a fallen world was always prone to sin. And as the West continues to apostatize, this overlap will continue to shrink.

And so, Christians need to adjust our expectations. Though it can be recognized by natural law, the love God commands is and always will be alien to those enslaved by sin. That didn’t suddenly change due to modernism. We shouldn’t expect the world to be impressed with how much we love by modern standards, but uncomfortable with how much we love by God’s. We must therefore become all the more careful about judging our love according to God’s Word rather than worldly philosophies. The more Christians do this, the more we will fulfill our Lord’s command to love one-another.

Posted in Apologetics, The Modern Church, Theology, Tradition | 1 Comment

Contending Against Critical Theory

In Part One, we covered what Critical Theory is. In Part Two, we covered why the danger it poses is primarily spiritual rather than merely political or cultural. If you haven’t read those posts, read them before you go any further.

If you have read them, then hopefully you now understand that Critical Theory is a false religion whose proselytes often do their work whilst claiming the name of Christ. And as you watch them use the power of both the institutional church and the state to lawlessly attack Christians, you will also begin to realize that Critical Theory is yet another iteration of the Antichrist.

The question that Christians must therefore ask ourselves is this: How are we going to persevere unto the end? How are we going to resist the wiles of the devil and remain faithful to Christ in the face of this ungodly fury?

Recognizing Critical Theory in Practice

The first thing Christians must learn is how to recognize Critical Theory at work amongst us. As I’ve explained, Critical Theory consists of elevating various narratives of oppression to the place of God. Therefore, undue concern for those narratives is the first and most important sign. Are the values & concerns of Critical Theory placed alongside (or, worse, ahead of) Biblical values & concerns? This is usually quite easy to spot. 20th Century categories like racism, sexism, and homophobia are not Biblical sins; if you see them placed alongside real sins like murder or adultery, they stick out like a sore thumb. Likewise, you will never read about Jesus condemning the Pharisees for their lack of female representation or Paul instructing Timothy to appoint Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity officers in the churches. These are the concerns of the Spirit of the Age, not the Holy Spirit.

Take a good look at your congregation or larger church body. Do people complain that your congregation is too white when Scripture never makes diversity a measurement of success? Do they encourage young women to earn the feminist merit badges of degrees, careers, and worldly “accomplishments” while softly (or not so softly) despising God’s calls to marriage and family? Do they lean hard into “Hate the sin, love the sinner” when it comes to culturally celebrated sins like sodomy, but immediately find their outrage when it comes to what the world hates–inequality, nationalism, attacks on democracy, and the various -isms and -phobias of modernity? If you find yourself answering yes to these questions, then Critical Theory is undoubtedly being practiced around you.

The good news is that as they become bolder, such discernment will be easier and easier for us. The bad news is that their boldness is proportional to their control of our institutions. When they finally go mask-off, it’s because they are already confident of their victory. It therefore behooves us to learn to recognize the signs before they become blatantly obvious. There is no other way to care for our congregations, our families, our communities, or our nation in the face of these ravenous wolves.

For example, a decade before Matthew Harrison of the LCMS was excommunicating anti-feminists, he could be found explaining that he really wished that God had allowed women’s ordination. And while he said he would not go against God’s Word on the matter, he also said he would try to make it up to women by encouraging as many as possible to fill non-pastoral offices in the Synod. (This occurred during a Q&A session at the Northwest District convention on June 22 of 2012, when someone asked him how he would explain our refusal to ordain women to a daughter. Sadly, the full video has been lost sometime over the last 10 years, but I wrote about it shortly after the fact.)

Looking back on that blog post knowing what I know now, I shudder at my own naiveté. I recognized it as an error, of course, but as an innocent one rooted merely in poor phrasing (the very same excuse now being used to dismiss the Large Cataclysm.) And who knows? Maybe it started out that way. But false teaching does not remain idle. Accepting the Spirit of the Age’s judgement against God’s word–that “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” is an arbitrary and inscrutable rule which harms women–will only cultivate further contempt for Scripture, even if you reluctantly consent to follow it regardless. God seeks our obedience, not mere compliance.

We cannot simply observe these errors and assume them to be benign, nor those who openly hold them as trustworthy. There is nothing in Scripture that instructs a Christian that more women in leadership is a good thing. That is an imperative that comes solely from the world. When you see this impulse in your leaders and your institutions, you should immediately know who they have begun taking marching orders from. The best time to start fighting back is when you first notice it.

By now, you might be thinking, “If that were really the right way to recognize Critical Theory, then it would mean that most of our congregations are already drowning in it.” If so, that’s good, because it means you’re finally coming to understand the gravity of your situation. Too many conservatives think that the Reformation or even Seminex was the war to end all wars. Satan has moved on to new lines of attack, and conservatives failed to notice. We are quite late in recognizing what the Devil has been doing among us.

But “late” is not the same thing as “too late.” Christians have never needed the world’s blessing to oppose the kingdom of Hell or advance the Kingdom of Christ. How much worldly clout did Christ and his Apostles wield? How much institutional approval did men like Athanasius or Luther possess when they contended for the truth against worldly powers? The war is never over until the final trumpet sounds our victory. Our concern is only deciding when and how to fight. So lets consider a few opportunities.

Stop Receiving Critical Theory’s Sacraments

It should be obvious, and I did touch on this last time, but it bears repeating. The first thing conservatives need to do is stop assisting the adherents of Critical Theory in attacking anyone who denounces their gods. Given how predictable they are, there is no longer any excuse for this. In SJW’s Always Lie, Vox Day does a good job of describing how these people approach their cancellations:

The eight stages of the SJW attack sequence are as follows: Locate or Create a Violation of the Narrative. Point and Shriek. Isolate and Swarm. Reject and Transform. Press for Surrender. Appeal to Amenable Authority. Show Trial. Victory Parade.

There isn’t a single step in there that conservative Christians don’t regularly assist with. We join the pointing and shrieking to prove we’re not racist. We isolate the target to avoid being associated with them. We encourage people to resign and surrender over fake concerns about tone and scandal. We often are the amenable authorities to which SJW’s appeal, and we have helped carry out their show trials. We even celebrate alongside them when it’s over because we like patting ourselves on the back for finally getting rid of those people.

We need to understand that these witch hunts aren’t simply how they punish those who blaspheme their narratives. They’re the mechanism by which they advance their religion. Every time they point and shriek at someone–every time they demand disassociation–they induce people into offering a sacrifice to their gods in exchange for a temporary peace. Through repetition of this false sacrament, they actually create a habit of worship among crowds of normal people whose own gods are simply not jealous enough to object.

But that blasé attitude toward idolatry does not belong to the Triune God who describes it as spiritual adultery. Remember your sinful nature and how willing it is to abandon God for its own fleeting benefit. Yes, it’s easy to find fault in those they cancel–none are sinless, after all. But as you tell yourself you’re only joining the dogpile because you’re concerned about some blind and impartial justice, how certain are you really that it’s not your own sinful nature at work? How certain are you that God is the one who told you to be offended? If taking the Mark of the Beast couldn’t be made to appear very reasonable, nobody would do it.

With every university, every television show, and every government institution telling you to worship Critical Theory’s gods, it appears very reasonable indeed. And if mass media and the education industrial complex have you so discipled by the world that you cannot help yourself, then it is time to give them up. You don’t have to watch TV. I cut the cord 15 years ago over nothing more than finances, and I have never once regretted it. You don’t have to send your children to college to be reeducated either. There are many other ways of becoming truly educated. TV “programming” is a more literal term than most people suspect. When you stop being programmed, you’ll be surprised about how much of your urgency about racism, sexism, and homophobia just evaporates.

Discern the Wolves from the Thralls

Critical Theory may be everywhere, but you will still need to discern how corrupted your local institutions and individuals truly are. Some are wolves who actively promote the false religion of Critical Theory amongst us. Others are simply thralls lost in the darkness of our culture and thereby enslaved to it. Precisely because we have been systematically discipled into it for generations now, none of us are completely devoid of Critical Theory’s doctrines. I have been railing against it vehemently, but I still find myself unconsciously submitting to their narratives sometimes. There is no instant fix here.

The wolves need to be marked as false teachers and openly treated as enemies. The thralls, however, need to be steadily and patiently lead out of the darkness. They need to see people bluntly and unapologetically rejecting the narratives. They need teachers who will explain to them what’s really going on in terms they can understand. They need God’s Word to fill the ethical and cultural voids left when the narratives begin to recede. They also need to continuously receive these things for years. Most people don’t immediately change their mind when they’re proven wrong. Most people can’t immediately drop their bad habits. Most people can’t immediately adopt contempt for what they’ve been taught to worship their entire lives.

What thralls don’t need is to be treated like a wolf. Wolves know what they’re doing; thralls do not. If you assume they do, then you will only end up confusing them. And the more you confuse them, the more they will cling to what they “know,” which will generally include the doctrines of Critical Theory. The highly intelligent are the most inclined to make this mistake because these matters seem so obvious to them. However, what’s obvious to them is often opaque to others. Giving in to their temptation towards impatience ends up being wholly counterproductive.

So how do you recognize a wolf? Through observation. Because of how syncretized we’ve become, nearly everybody offers a pinch of incense to the narratives now and then. Wolves, however, are much more consistent about it. To them, the narratives are prioritized above all other concerns. This means it will always bleed out into their behavior. And one of the biggest tells is what conservatives see as hypocrisy–fluidly moving from one position to its opposite, but always keeping liberation from oppression as the practical goal. As I wrote in Part One, rampant and unapologetic behavior of this kind isn’t really hypocrisy–it’s rank pragmatism. The wolves will always use whatever tool is handy to acheive their goals. In the end, thralls will try to make themselves appear consistent, but do so badly. Wolves, in contrast, simply don’t care.

Stop Making “Best Construction” a Moral Absolute

As my Lutheran readers will know, “put the best construction on everything” comes from Luther’s explanation of the 8th Commandment in the Small Catechism. At its best, it simply means we try to give our neighbors the benefit of the doubt when we merely suspect they’re guilty of some private sin. At its worst, it means to desperately create doubt when our neighbors are in open & public sin in order to pretend that evil is actually good.

For the sake of tone policing and deflecting unwanted criticism, many Lutherans sadly go all-in on the latter. And in doing so, they actually make the 8th Commandment self-referentially incoherent. Because if they applied “best construction” in that sense to themselves, they would never be able to voice their accusation that someone had broken the 8th Commandment without also breaking the 8th Commandment.

But that’s not how God’s Law or the Lutheran Confessions work. We don’t get to take a poor reading of Luther’s commentary and then use it to dismiss God’s Commandments. And insofar as we’re talking about Critical Theory, it is really the 1st and 2nd Commandments which are being set aside. For when those among us proclaim its ungodly and deceptive narratives, they generally do so in the name of Christ. We have to remember that we are ultimately confronting a false religion.

Putting the best construction on a false religion never involves assuming the godliness of its doctrines. When Mormons come to our door and tell us how much they love Jesus, best construction doesn’t mean assuming their Jesus is the same as ours. When Muslims piously follow up Jesus’ name with “peace be upon him”, we don’t just forget that they vehemently deny what Christ said about Himself. Likewise, when Critical Theorists lie and deceive by Jesus’ name, the only “best construction” is to lay it bare and thereby create opportunities for their repentance. First and foremost, we proclaim the whole counsel of God and tear down worldly philosophies which set themselves against it. “Best construction” is always and only subsidiary to that.

Remember your Vocations

When we go to church on Sunday morning, it is indeed for the sake of receiving from God rather than “doing” for him. The Divine Service is God serving us through Word and Sacrament. But that doesn’t mean that the Christian life is one of being wholly inert and passive. And so when the church is under attack from both without and within, it does not mean sitting quietly by and watching it happen. God has given each of us different responsibilities in life. Some of those are in our homes, some of those are in our congregations. But each of us needs to be asking how to carry out those responsibilities in a time of total spiritual war.

If you attend Bible Study, you can bring up these topics when the text or the conversation warrants it (and truly, laity are often far more free to do so than our pastors are.) If you teach, then make sure your students know what Critical Theory is and how it works. If you are a father or mother of white Christian children, you need to be aware of how much the world hates them for those identities and start coordinating with other parents to find ways of protecting them. Likewise, take your children’s catechesis into your own hands; don’t expect your church and/or Christian school to do it alone without your support and oversight. If you are on a nominating committee at church, don’t appoint people to spiritual leadership roles unless they are openly against Critical Theory. (If it never occurred to them that they need to oppose it, then they are too out-of-touch to lead. If they aren’t willing to oppose it openly, then they lack sufficient courage to lead.) If you are an elder, consider whether your church’s practices are more inline with Scripture or with the world. If you’re a woman and your church offers you roles it shouldn’t due to feminism, refuse to occupy them and let other women see you doing so contentedly. There is literally no limit to our opportunities to fight this war.

And in every vocation you have, let people see you stand boldly against the Spirit of the Age. Find ways to encourage and support anyone else you see doing so as well. When you know thralls are around, find opportunities to gently cast doubt on the narratives for their sake. And above all, never bend a knee to those false gods. If you are ever called racist, sexist, homophobic, fascist, insensitive, or anything else on the usual list, make it abundantly clear you hold nothing but contempt for those labels and that the accusations are meaningless to you. And remember: The truth is always more important than your tone.

Be Ready to Suffer

As you do these things, you will quickly find that it will not always go over well. Jesus promised that the world would hate us on his account. How do you think you will be able to avoid that when you begin to spit on the world’s most beloved idols? The world will do the same when it’s squatting inside the Church. You will stand before boards, councils, and functionaries who wish to pass judgment on you. Very often, it will be men and women claiming the name of Christ who drag you there.

Make no mistake: your reputation, friends, family, employment, church membership, and someday, maybe even your life will be on the line. You therefore need to be clear about two things: First, that faithfulness to Christ must stand above any of these blessings he’s given you thus far, for Satan may be given rein to take them away. Second, that you need to be as wise as serpents when you consider how you ought to be faithful. Circumstance demanding a measure of persecution is not the same as you proudly falling on your sword. Don’t let Satan bait you into taking foolish chances or making meaningless sacrifices. Your life belongs to God, so offer it up when He demands it, not when the world does.

Finally, root yourself firmly in God’s Word. Yes, you will need that foundation when they begin to twist Scripture on you as Satan did when he tempted Christ. But also, you will need God’s encouragement. When Jesus said “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” he really meant it. Likewise, the same promises echoed by the Apostles are the sure and certain words of God Himself. He will neither leave you nor forsake you. His Word will continue to nourish you even if errant pastors and bishops refuse to for the sake of their false gods.

May God have mercy on us all, and bring us safely to the victory over the world which has already been won for us in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Posted in Culture, Ethics, Feminism, Heresy, Humanism, Law, Lutheranism, Musings, Politics, The Modern Church, Theological Liberalism, Tradition, Vocation | 5 Comments

Critical Theory is Spiritual Poison

Note: If you haven’t yet read Part 1 in this series, “Know Your Enemy: What is Critical Theory?” please do so first.

Many Christian conservatives might be tempted to agree with my assessment of Critical Theory, but also relegate it to the realm of politics. And if it’s just political, how important could it really be for the Church to address? “Jesus didn’t send us to wage a culture war,” one conservative piously declares. “The Gospel is more important than any social issue,” another responds by rote. But while neither of those statements are false, to apply them to Critical Theory is to overlook a very important fact: Critical Theory is as much a false religion as an errant form of politics.

It’s easy for unobservant Christians to make this mistake because the most obvious friction with Critical Theory generally begins when we read about its “accomplishments” on the news. Whether it’s feminists rallying together to promote abortion, LGBTP activists pushing a pornographic curriculum teaching children about gay sex, or CRT activists proposing a new hate crime bill, it’s always happening out there.

Christians must inevitably encounter evil politics in this world, even if we need not participate ourselves or bring it into the Church. We don’t have to abort our children or send them public schools. We generally have no intention of committing hate crimes anyway even if it makes for poor laws. But at the end of the day, civil law doesn’t have to match our doctrine for us to continue in that doctrine. And if policy does result in persecution, well Jesus said those persecuted in his name would be blessed. (And while such dismissiveness amounts to contempt for one’s children and grandchildren, that’s not my present point.)

It becomes even easier to adopt such complacency about politics when Christians presume that everyone else arranges their politics and religion the same way we do. Whether it’s Jesus saying “render unto Caesar”, Augustine’s Two Cities, Luther’s Two Kingdoms, or Rome’s Two Swords, Christians have always recognized some kind of distinction between earthly government and the Church. For all of Christianity’s differences on how that distinction works, it’s one we take for granted at a fundamental level.

We would do well to remember that not everyone sees things the same way. Islam, for example, is simultaneously a religion and a political ideology. Uniting all the earth into a single community sharing a common and perfected Sharia is the point, and outward adherence to such law is how one is saved. There is no relevant distinction between politics and religion in that goal–only between Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. Anyone who fails to grasp this will never understand Islam in either a religious sense or a political one.

When Government is Religion

Critical Theory presents Christians with a similar arrangement. We may see it as mere political activism, but that’s because we forget how all-encompassing their narratives of oppression are. G.K. Chesterton famously wrote, “You cannot evade the issue of God; whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him.” Well, the Marxist would say the same about class and the Queer Theorist the same about heteronormativity. Feminists likewise view everything through the lens of men oppressing women. Critical race theorists view everything through the lens of whites oppressing people of color. Every individual, institution, social custom, and field of knowledge is placed under the judgment of Critical Theory’s narratives. Nothing is immune, including other religions. And in every one of those narratives, goodness is defined purely in the pragmatic terms of successful liberation of the oppressed from the oppressors.

Compare the way Critical Theory treats its narratives of oppression to what Luther wrote about idols in the Large Catechism:

A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.

If we understand idolatry in Luther’s terms here, then we should also understand that to the Critical Theorists, their narratives are effectively their gods. We are not dealing with mere political ideals, but with religious doctrines. In Critical Theory, the two are one and the same.

Critical Theory may not recognize itself as a religion, but it unquestionably occupies religion’s mental space. Indeed, it’s often noted how the acolytes of Critical Theory act with religious fervor. Any denials of their narratives are treated as high-handed blasphemy. Being identified as an oppressor calls for excommunication from society. When they cancel their infidels in this way, they cut off friends and even family among them with little hesitation, demonstrating how their politics supersedes any of the most fundamental human relationships. Conservatives have generally offered these observations ironically to suggest they take their narratives too seriously. But the truth is that they take activism religiously because it truly is their religion.

So when Christians confront Critical Theory, it is not simply a political conflict we engage in through our civil vocations. When we confront it outside the Church, it must be seen as a false religion attempting to draw souls away from Christ. But more to the point of this essay, when we confront it inside the Church, it must be seen as a heresy to be refuted and rejected.

Blending True and False Religion

Conservatives resist this classification because so many of the proponents of Critical Theory among us also hold to various Christian doctrines. However, the same was true of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. Gnostics happily  borrowed stories, persons, and even theology from Christianity. However, everything it adopted was made subservient to its own theology of hidden knowledge and matter/spirit dualism. In other words, Gnosticism used Christian lingo because it was syncretistic, not because it was in any way Christian.

The pragmatic view of truth at the heart of Critical Theory also lends it to syncretism. It liberally borrows from Christianity when a verse or a story is useful in support of its own doctrines. Individuals are likewise quite comfortable confessing to a Christian identity when doing so is useful to their causes. However, what may look like devotion amounts only to utility because they are quite happy to disregard anything in Scripture or theology which fails to support their activism. Think about how often you’ve heard people say that they would never accept any god that “oppresses” women or who failed to adequately condemn the “sin” of racism. Consider what it means that such human standards are held even over God Himself. What, then, do they truly count as their god?

All this is apparent in practice as well because even articles of faith are constantly subjected to deconstruction. When Critical Theory enters the Church, it respects no distinction between the Two Kingdoms. When feminists see “wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord,” they recognize it as aiding the oppression of women and come up with many inventive ways to make sure it can never be applied in practice. Likewise, when Queer Theorists see Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6, they spin yarns about how Paul couldn’t possibly have been referring to the loving homosexual relationships we see today. And as we recently saw in the new Large Catechism, our doctrines concerning theft and covetousness can easily be recast into Marxist concepts, and pedophilia can be recast as a speck in our neighbor’s eye.

And we could keep going at this all day because the examples are an ever-growing legion. Many people are now saying we must confess that David raped Bathsheba because of the power imbalance between them. Bible verses about hospitality are being co-opted to demand “pronoun hospitality” for people who deny their God-given sex. “Equity” is being misused to represent the equality of outcomes demanded by Critical Theory, and “partiality” is being redefined as discrimination so they can finally claim evidence of racism being condemned in the Bible. Even the Gospel itself is being denied as cancel culture enters our church body through the use of excommunication against those who reject Critical Theory too aggressively. Our entire church body is being steadily eaten alive by the Critical Theory present in our own institutions, but conservatives want to call it a mere “culture war.” After all, Calvinism is surely the bigger problem today, right?

And this has been going on for generations already. Even a decade ago, 56% of LCMS members believed the sin of homosexuality should be accepted, in contradiction to Holy Scripture. God only knows how much higher that figure is now. Feminist denials of Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2 have become matters of church tradition. The Duluth Model  which renders Biblical headship as inherently abusive is offered as guidance from Synod. Statements calling racism a sin have long ago made it into Synod documents and now into both of our Catechisms. And all this syncretistic heresy has been allowed to build up among us because conservatives were fooled into thinking that these are merely political differences.

Conservative Syncretism

But the problem doesn’t stop with our leniency and complacency about what is actually false religion in our midst. Conservatives themselves end up throwing in their lot with the heretics on a regular basis. They engage in the same kind of syncretism whenever they adopt the narratives and terminology of Critical Theory and attempt to put it in service of the Faith. We try to appear sensitive to LGBTP sinners by adopting their framework of sexual orientation and perceptions of gender. We try to placard Christianity’s justice by denouncing racism alongside the Critical Theorists who own the terms we put into our own mouths. But syncretism does not undermine false religions; it only undermines Christianity.

Here’s how conservatives usually fall into this trap: Even false religions make true statements from time to time, and so there will always be some overlap. Sexism may not be a real sin, but there are real sins which could be considered sexist. The same could be said of racism, homophobia, and the rest. Critical Theorists know this, and they are not shy about pragmatically using our convictions as leverage to make us support their convictions. And so Christians are often challenged to denounce Critical Theory’s enemies for the sake of the Bible.

Conservatives, being the innocent doves they are, blithely take this bait. “There are some genuine evils out there! Don’t Christians therefore have a moral obligation to denounce them when called upon?” No. You do not need to let God’s Word be their means of manipulating you into action anymore than Jesus did.

The Pharisees often tried to trap Jesus in such ways, but unlike conservatives, our Lord never fell for it. For example, when they approached him with a trick yes/no question about paying taxes to Caesar, Jesus didn’t simply answer “yes” because it’s technically correct. And he certainly didn’t launch into a sermon about how important it is for his disciples to be good citizens in order to prove to everyone how seriously he took Romans 13 (which he would inspire a few decades later.) Instead, he departed from his opponents’ script and changed the rules of the engagement altogether. He turned their attack into an object lesson about how they had already accepted Caesar’s rule along with his money & the taxes that came with it. He didn’t deny that we ought to pay taxes to lawful government, but he refused to adopt his enemies’ frame in any way while affirming it.

The same could be said of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. (Yes, that text is a later addition; but I also believe that the early Church’s frequent inclusion of it alongside Scripture indicates it’s a true story.) The Pharisees came to Jesus with an Old Testament law which really does require executing adulteresses. But Jesus didn’t recognize a moral obligation to support the Pharisees on that account. He knew they were his enemies; he knew it was a trap; and he knew how sketchy it was to A) bring the matter to him in front of a crowd and B) only bring the woman and not the man.

So Jesus didn’t fall for it. Instead, he changed the rules of engagement and responded by writing something in the dirt. We don’t know what he wrote, but we do know everyone voluntarily left after reading it. He didn’t deny the Biblical law that applied to the guilty woman before him, but neither did he allow it to be a lever his enemies could use to force him into their agenda rather than his Father’s.

Like the Pharisees, Critical Theorists are happy to use our own principles as tools to gain our submission to their gods. However, we only have to denounce what our God tells us to denounce, not what their gods tell us to denounce. Yes, there’s occasional overlap, but if it is truly our God who drives our action, it will be apparent by the fact that we only make our condemnations on His terms and not our enemy’s. That will never involve taking their lengthy list of fake sins like racism or sexism and adding them to God’s Law.

Since President Harrison used it as a condemnation in his letter, let’s take “fascism” as an example. When people say “fascist” today, they certainly aren’t referring to historical fascism. Hardly anyone has bothered to read Mussolini’s fascist manifesto, let alone figure out where exactly they take issue with it. (Or even if they do; most people will be surprised by the contents.)

No, what ultimately triggers people about fascism is the Holocaust. But while it would be appropriate to condemn any modern fascist who has a dozen Jews buried in his basement, that’s completely immaterial to anything that’s actually at issue in the LCMS today. And if it were actually germane, we could make the condemnation on the basis of the 5th Commandment without ever using a weasel word like “fascist.” Some might pretend to oppose “beliefs that lead to a Holocaust” as well, but since the little they know of fascist beliefs comes from parroting the TV, that’s a moot point.

And avoiding their terminology is key because to our pragmatic Critical Theorists, to every institution under their influence, and to the audiences they hold captive, “fascist” means anything it’s convenient to mean at any given moment. On that basis alone, condemning fascism is grossly irresponsible from the perspective or either politics or spiritual care. Our every condemnation lends Christianity’s legitimacy to their weapon of convenience. God never commanded us to be grossly irresponsible.

But it gets worse than that because of the syncretism. To speak of such things as sin, we are joining the Christian faith to an alien religion and propping up its idols. Our God never commanded us to prop up vain idols–quite the contrary. Morally speaking, we ought not make ourselves servants of a false religion by carrying out its prerogatives.

Anyone who truly believes God commands him to denounce a particular sin which Critical Theory would also decry must do so without falling into these traps–and without blaming  God by saying He commanded him to be trapped. One may only speak of their “sins” in extremely specific senses and without adopting their shorthand. After all, that shorthand is their religious doctrine. They own it and will shapeshift it into anything they want after the fact. Christianity has given us thousands of years of terminology with which we can condemn sin without borrowing from postmodern pagans.

And fair warning: when people actually try to do this, they will be amazed at just how vapid they sound most of the time. But using Christian terminology isn’t what makes it vapid; it’s just revealing what has always been true. The fact is, most of the time when we feel a need to condemn such sins, the impulse comes from the Spirit of the Age rather than the Holy Spirit. After stripping off the cultural taboos Critical Theorists have constructed around their list of fake sins, there’s really not much there of substance.

It is clear that the conflict between Christians and Critical Theory is a spiritual battle, and it must be fought as such. When we can finally understand that, we can begin to take it seriously. We will recognize that we are free in Christ to refrain from fighting for the other side. We will also understand that we can make no pretense of fighting the good fight when we studiously ignore the deadly heresy Satan has planted right in our midst.

And that leaves us with two final question for next time: How can we recognize Critical Theory among us, and what can Christians do about it?

Posted in Heresy, Lutheranism, Politics, The Modern Church, Theology, Tradition, Two Kingdoms | 1 Comment