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

Know Your Enemy: What is Critical Theory?

I’ve been writing a lot about the tragedy unfolding in the LCMS lately: the false teachings included with Luther’s Large Catechism along with President Harrison’s response of blaming criticism on the “alt-right” all of whom he has declared worthy of excommunication. Since then, the story has been picked up by media outlets like Rolling Stone, who was eager to jump on the bandwagon in condemnation of the “white supremacists” lurking among us. Even Occupy Democrats took the time to praise President Harrison for his bold stance against the “alt-right.” The narrative is quickly solidifying that everything tearing my denomination apart is connected by a shadowy demonic ideology which our church body must come together to oppose.

Predictably, many conservatives are buying this story. Like Charlie Brown kicking Lucy’s football, they hope against hope that this time, when they prove their deep and abiding hatred for racism and fascism, people will finally believe them. With that settled, the left will finally become reasonable again, and conservatives might even be in a position to address a few other minor issues like our children being groomed by pedophiles, our teenagers cutting their bits off, and our entire society burying God’s Word in a steaming pile of nihilism.

Well, fools they may be, but conservatives are right about one thing: There is a shadowy demonic ideology driving this conflict. But it’s not President Harrison’s “alt-right” bogeyman.

What truly ties this controversy together from beginning to end is a philosophy called Critical Theory. And unlike the alt-right, which is shadowy primarily because it doesn’t yet  understand even itself, Critical Theory is shadowy only because conservatives never really took the time to understand it. Though confronted by it constantly, we were so busy becoming as innocent as doves that we never bothered to become as wise as serpents.

It’s time to rectify that. We need to be able to know our enemy for what it is and understand how it works. Accordingly, my next few posts will be an attempt to explain Critical Theory in terms even a conservative can understand. So we’ll start with the basics:

What is Critical Theory?

Put simply, Critical Theory is a philosophy whose purpose is to tear down any and all barriers to human progress. Like so much other wickedness, it was inspired by Marxism and emerged out of the Frankfurt School in the early 20th Century. But rather than asserting any particular belief, this philosophy focuses on undermining other established beliefs along with any social structures and institutions built on those beliefs. That’s why it’s called Critical Theory; it clears the way for what they see as the advancement of mankind.

Now, one might naturally ask, “if it asserts no inherent beliefs, what does it mean by ‘progress’ or ‘advancement?'” Well, being inspired by Marxism, it should be no surprise that progress is understood in terms of liberation from oppression. However, there is no single sense in which liberation or oppression are consistently understood. Critical Theory is centered more around stories of good guys and bad guys than around a straightforward belief, system, or ideology. As a result, there are many “flavors” of critical theory out there–each centered on a different narrative of oppression.

Marxism is the obvious example, as it was the prototypical critical theory (preceding the Frankfurt school by quite some time). In its narrative, the oppressors are the “haves,” the oppressed are the “have-nots,” and classism against the have-nots is the greatest sin. Its purpose is to liberate the have-nots from the haves by seizing the means of production and thereby tearing down even the idea of private property, which kept the rich rich and the poor poor.

But whereas Marx focused primarily on economic oppression, his intellectual descendants continually “discovered” new forms of oppression getting in the way of progress. Naturally, they felt the need to apply Marxism’s approach to matters of culture besides economics (which is why Critical Theory is often identified as “Cultural Marxism.”) And so Feminism is another example of Critical Theory, in which men are the oppressors, women the oppressed, and sexism the primary sin. In Critical Race Theory, the narrative is that whites are the oppressors, people of color the oppressed, and racism the primary sin. Queer Theory, of course, spins yarns about the alphabet people needing to be liberated from the chaste (those of us who are “cishet” and monogamous) and establishes homophobia and transphobia as the great sins. And there are numerous others–a wide panoply limited only by the imaginations of tenured professors.


With the different pairs of oppressor/oppressed assigned by narrative, the work of being “critical” begins. Every facet of society–politics, religion, economics, culture, art, education, and so froth–is examined through the lens of the narrative and is judged as either aiding the oppressor or the oppressed as humanity progresses to liberation. Of course, anything found to be aiding the oppressors must be removed from society.

One of the most common methods of doing so is to declare such things to be “social constructs.” In other words, instead of being some kind of transcendent value or natural good, it is merely an invention of a certain class of people (usually the ‘oppressors’ in the narrative) and imposed on the rest of society for the advantage of the oppressor.

For example, both Christians reading Scripture and scientists reading nature recognize “male’ and “female” to be real and incontrovertible facts of the created world. A Queer Theorist, however, would declare these to be categories invented by humans and assigned (rather than observed) by society at birth in order to impose heteronormativity. After all, it is precisely such categories which identify sexual perversions for what they are and therefore stigmatize the perverts. Liberating the perverts from stigma therefore requires the removal of these categories.

So the social construct must then be “deconstructed” through many and various ways in order to liberate the oppressed. This approach is facilitated by reducing any “oppressive” facet of the world to a matter of mere power dynamics. Wherever we might see authority, they would only see a power disparity. They likewise reduce hierarchy to entrenched power, delegation to power over slaves, cooperation to manipulation, and so forth.

For example, you might think of marriage as the foundational human relationship from which all society proceeds. You may recognize it as natural–maybe even designed and ordained by God on the very same day He created Man. You may easily observe that it’s far and away the best way to raise children, protect women, civilize humanity, and so forth. However, through a feminist lens, marriage is reduced to a tool that men have used to oppress women throughout history. The God-ordained headship of the husband is reduced from authority to power–a mere vehicle for abuse. The observation that men and women complement each other by providing things that the other lacks is recast as men manipulating women into oppressive gender roles. And so, some of the greatest blessings God has bestowed upon us are transformed by this simplistic reductionism.

And the efforts do not stop with the present. All of history ends up being reduced to flat conflicts between oppressor and oppressed as well. Naturally, the past always belongs to the oppressor. After all, they were the ones who invented and imposed all these so-called social constructs in the first place, and the nature of “progress” is to deconstruct them. That’s why they’re always tearing down statues, editing old movies, putting trigger warnings on old books, and either retroactively cancelling historical figures or trying to reinvent them as members of an oppressed group. Left alone, Critical Theory ends up corroding everything good about civilization.

A Pragmatic View of Truth.

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of Critical Theory, however, is that it takes a pragmatic approach to truth. Natural law and human reason both make it clear to us that truth is a matter of a belief corresponding to the real world. As Aristotle put it, “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.” This is what every competent philosopher has believed until the past century or two.

Critical Theory, however, departs from that understanding, instead teaching that truth is a matter of “what works.” When explained from certain angles, this approach can appear to make sense at first blush. For example, if you were asserting the laws of aerodynamics as “true,” the pragmatist would say that it’s irrelevant whether or not those laws correspond to reality (they may even say it’s impossible for a human to know whether they do.) Instead, what’s important is that following those laws will help you make your plane fly. According to pragmatism, that utility is what makes the laws of aerodynamics “true,” and they would cease to be true as soon as they cease to be helpful.

But while most of us can appreciate the practicality of engineering over and against pure science, we can also recognize the obvious pitfall of pragmatism: it consistently passes off lies as truth whenever those lies are deemed helpful. Any toddler can figure this out, for when mom asks about the broken vase on the floor, it’s very useful to the little boy to say that the dog did it. It’s very useful for the negligent student to say that the essay he bought was his own work. It’s very useful to the adulteress to tell her unknowingly cuckolded husband that her baby is also his. This is why you can never trust an epistemological pragmatist.

That’s also why you can never trust a Critical Theorist. In Critical Theory, truth and falsehood are always a matter of “what works” in liberating the oppressed.

For example, older conservatives may remember the days when “racism” was an umbrella term referring to a variety of race-based animosities and prejudices in America. But that was an abstract ethical question. By that understanding, some people are deemed racist and some are not based on their observable behavior. A white person could be innocent of racism and a black person could be guilty.

But if your entire purpose is to liberate people of color from white oppression, that kind of objectivity is not always helpful. And so the definition of racism was changed. Even a quarter of a century ago when I first went to college, I was taught that racism was a matter of being born white in an historically white country. (This was done during freshman orientation because they wanted to make sure everyone learned this. They made us all play a game called “Archie Bunker‘s Neighborhood” to drive the point home.) “Privilege” language wasn’t in vogue yet, but the fundamental concept was the same, encompassing every white person who benefits from the structures of “white privilege” built by our ancestors for the benefit of their descendants. That way, every white person is ipso facto guilty of racism and no person of color could possibly be called racist.

That’s a much less useful definition if you’re looking for any kind of moral truth, but it’s very useful for undermining an “oppressive” society. After all, you might notice that privilege in that sense is literally every parent’s job. I teach my children to read so that they’ll be able to learn more effectively throughout their lives:  privilege. I support school environments and traditions that help manage their education:  structures of privilege. I teach them to behave in ways that will help them to live moral, healthy, and fruitful lives:  even more privilege. And it’s not a coincidence that my children and I share the same race, so this is all clearly white privilege as well.

As a moral condemnation, this new definition of racism makes absolutely no sense–it is not immoral to have been simultaneously born a particular skin color and loved by your parents. However, if your goal is to tear down evil white oppressors in order to liberate the poor oppressed people of color, it’s quite useful indeed. And to the Critical Theorist, that makes it “true.” And it’s worth noting every expert in the field of “racism” has long been using that new definition. The dictionaries are already updated. The definition you grew up with is obsolete no matter how often you use it.

It’s Worse Than Hypocrisy

A failure to appreciate the twistedness of this pragmatic view of truth is at root of conservativism’s tendency to dismiss this sort of thing as hypocrisy. We’ve all heard the line, “if it weren’t for double-standards, the left would have no standards at all.” While liberals chanted “believe all women,” we remembered all the women who accused President Clinton and how the left never cared about them because President Clinton was useful to their agenda. We hear all the time that things like wearing blackface or using the N-word are considered racist in the extreme. But when they see pictures of Justin Trudeau wearing blackface to a party or hear audio of Joe Biden using the n-word, the left never cares because those men are useful to their agenda.

When conservatives see that, they dismiss it all as hypocrisy–that liberals proclaim these principles but have no interest in living up to them. And so we get all the lines about liberals being the real racists and hear every conservative ask in unison what would happen if the situation were reversed. And every last one of those efforts falls completely flat because conservatives are still thinking in terms of the correspondence view of truth and because of Critical Theory, liberals are not.

These things are not principles to today’s left. They are tools which are picked up when useful and put down when they are not. When you watch a man explain in the same interview that A) race is a social construct which produces racism once its imagined and B) you’re racist if you don’t immediately recognize a person’s race when you see it, the obvious contradiction is not hypocrisy. He’s simply using lines that “work” according to his narrative in different contexts. It’s no more hypocritical than putting down a hammer and picking up a screwdriver. That’s why conservatives who perpetually hope to provoke first shame and then repentance by denouncing liberal “hypocrisy” never accomplish anything.

Critical Theory is practiced almost exclusively through expedient lies. When you read crazy stories about how America’s preference for white meat turkey at Thanksgiving is racist, or that it’s transphobic when a normal man doesn’t find a mutilated man pretending to be a woman sexually attractive, it’s not because anyone actually believes such things (apart from a handful of truly broken and deluded souls.) The point is to create confusion and put opponents in a constant state of defensiveness—constantly trying to prove that they’re not racist, sexist, homophobic, and so forth. And while conservatives scramble to defend their good name to people who couldn’t care less, “progress” marches on unimpeded.

And it has worked amazingly well because conservatives never bothered to learn. They just keep taking the bait and allowing themselves to be manipulated through arguments about principles. But the only “principle” of Critical Theory is fighting for the oppressed against the oppressors. Their presumptive narratives govern all. There is no good faith present in this conflict except when a show of good faith is deemed temporarily useful.

But this is just the beginning, for we have only scratched the surface of this topic. Our considerations thus far have mainly been a matter of politics. But the true danger of Critical Theory is a spiritual one. In the next post, I will explain why Critical Theory is not simply an undesirable brand of politics, but a false religion claiming for Hell the souls of those whom it deceives.

Posted in Feminism, Lutheranism, Natural Law, Politics, The Modern Church | 2 Comments

Excommunicating the Alt-Right

In an age of squishiness from most church leaders, many rank-and-file Christians are eager for the day when their leaders take a clear an unequivocal stand on God’s Word. Nothing is more disappointing than when that day comes and the clear, fiery denouncements are made on behalf of the world rather than the Word.

So it is in a recent letter  from President Harrison of the LCMS. Shortly after finding nothing of consequence in an official catechism that contains blatant false teachings and adopts the framework of today’s most prominent anti-Christian ideologies, he has mustered remarkable zeal to rally against the real danger to our church body: “a few members of LCMS congregations have been propagating radical and unchristian ‘alt-right’ views via Twitter and other social media.” And he takes this “danger” very seriously indeed, threatening (and encouraging) excommunication for anyone who will not repent of being “alt-right.”

Given the gravity of this threat, it behooves us to consider carefully the content of Harrison’s accusation.

A Nebulous “Sin”

The Word of God certainly stands in judgment over worldly political philosophies and movements, the alt-right included. And while the LCMS has not, to my knowledge, threatened our proponents of explicitly anti-Christian political philosophies like Marxism or feminism with excommunication, Harrison minces no words in condemning the alt-right in the name of God “in toto.” But it’s curious how poorly he defines this supposedly grievous sin for which we must expel people from Christ’s church unless they repent.

The alt-right is a nascent political movement that, by nature of its youth, has no firm definition yet. It’s a right-wing ideology that despises progressivism, but also possesses a great contempt for mainstream conservativism’s failure to conserve anything of value. It’s also willing to question many of the ideals of modernity–equality, democracy, pluralism, multiculturalism, and so forth. But broadly-shared specifics are fairly hard to come by because there is little consensus on what will replace those ideals.

The most prominent definition I know of (that was developed by someone who actually identifies as alt-right) is political commentator Vox Day’s attempt to help define the movement back in 2016 with his 16 points. It hardly caught on or became representative, but as radical as most Americans would consider Vox Day, it’s worth noting that there’s still no overlap between his points and Harrison’s list of supposed alt-right beliefs: “white supremacy, Nazism, pro-slavery, anti-interracial marriage, women as property, fascism, death for homosexuals, even genocide.” How can anyone in good conscience declare the damnation of everyone bearing a label which you cannot even properly define?

But even leaving aside the likelihood that Harrison’s characterization of the alt-right is entirely slanderous, there’s an even bigger problem here. Harrison’s letter is quite explicitly about excommunication–publicly declaring men & women to be brazen unbelievers and barring them from the Sacraments to assure them that they must repent or be damned for all eternity. How can a label as nebulous and non-Biblical as “alt-right” be used in such a serious public condemnation? I don’t advocate for anything on Harrison’s list, but I am a right-winger who has rejected mainstream conservativism and questions the ideals of modernity. “Alt-right” isn’t a label I embrace, but it wouldn’t be unfair to apply it to me either. Must I therefore repent of these views or be damned?

The specifics on Harrison’s list aren’t any better. In contemporary usage, white supremacy, Nazism, and fascism are all practically meaningless. For instance, I’ve personally been called a Nazi simply for believing that marriage is between a man and a woman–a view officially taught by Synod. And yet, here is our President using a spurious label with which I’ve been slandered and deeming it worthy of excommunication.

White supremacy is another label that’s been applied to everything from opposing reparations to preferring white meat on Thanksgiving. One prominent Lutheran pastor recently suggested that there’s a real definition “somewhere between the woke left’s ‘shoelaces are white supremacy’ and the anti-woke’s ‘it’s not white supremacy to think non-whites are gross and should be imprisoned on a volcanic island.'” But when I asked him to provide that real definition, he simply blocked me–this despite him personally harassing at least one LCMS pastor in regards to a specific target of Harrison’s excommunication. Such unseriousness is all too common, which is why these labels no longer mean anything beyond “someone progressives don’t like.” They have no business being applied seriously in any theological context without a specific definition.

The inclusion of “Pro-slavery” and “death for homosexuals” is problematic in an entirely different way. They are at least specific, but both of them can be plausibly applied to Scripture as well in some senses.

Now, I’ve said my piece on a Biblical view of slavery at length elsewhere. I believe it’s a product of the Fall; I’m glad it’s no longer part of American society; and I have no desire to reintroduce it. Nevertheless, can we truly proclaim being “pro-slavery” to be an undeniable sin worthy of excommunication in the absence of repentence? After all, the Bible gives instructions specifically to masters, and while it requires good treatment of their slaves, demands for unilateral emancipation are conspicuously absent. Must Paul therefore be excommunicated for his pro-slavery “oversight?” Should he have, in fact, threatened Philemon with excommunication rather than urging Onesimus’s freedom in love? Must the Old Testament patriarchs and kings be sentenced to eternal hellfire because they all committed the pro-slavery act of owning slaves? Must Walther and other early fathers of the LCMS be excluded from the Church because they refused to go all-in on abolition? If not, then why would we attach such a penalty to being pro-slavery today?

“Death for homosexuals” is an even clearer matter. God himself gave that very law to ancient Israel. Now, that is certainly part of the Old Testament’s civil law, and therefore it is not binding on Christians today because we aren’t ancient Israelites. We are under no obligation to enforce the death penalty against those guilty of the sin of homosexuality. At the same time, Scripture contains no prohibition against supporting such a civil penalty. Biblically speaking, this is adiaphora, plain and simple. What’s more, that penalty was explicitly commanded by God himself for a specific place and time. Are we therefore to join with the Marcionites and other heretics who posited an evil demiurge in the Old Testament who was opposed to the loving God of the New? By no means! Contending that this is grounds for excommunication is fundamentally anti-Scriptural and anti-Christian.

Now, let’s consider “Anti-interracial marriage.” As I understand it, some of Harrison’s targets do count that as a sin. I think they are wrong about that. There are certainly circumstances such as parental disapproval which would make some interracial marriage a sin and practical/medical concerns which could make it unwise. Nevertheless, I see no reason to consider it sinful in itself. But is error about sin truly the issue here?

There is likely not a single person on earth with whom I completely agree about everything–including members of the LCMS. And in my experience, our pews are filled with people who openly hold to some error or another. I’ve seen men speak up in Bible Study to denounce the idea that a Pastor forgives sins in God’s name despite Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Those who think our official position on closed Communion is sinful are, unfortunately, legion. There are many who wrongly said it was a sin not to wear masks and not to take experimental vaccinations. There are even people among us who believe restricting access to abortion is a sin. But I’ve yet to see Synod broach the subject of excommunication over errors such as these. There, they are content to address the matters through longsuffering and patient instruction.

What’s different about alleging that interracial marriage is a sin? Well, the most obvious difference is that the contention is quite offensive in the eyes of the world, leaving many modern Americans up-in-arms. But do we excommunicate for open defiance of the world or defiance of God? I might not think they are correct, but it’s a position held in good faith that God never instructed me to be offended over. I can certainly see why those involved in interracial marriages would be personally offended over the contention, and I can hardly blame them for taking offense. But neither do we typically excommunicate over personal offense. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that this error is being targeted with such extreme prejudice solely because of its opposition to the Spirit of the Age.

That just leaves us with “genocide” and “women as property.” I’m entirely comfortable dismissing the former as over-the-top nonsense cynically added to Harrison’s letter to raise the stakes rather than anything that’s seriously at issue here. I invite anyone to produce evidence to the contrary before I’ll say any more on “genocide.” As for “women as property”, I suspect the biggest problem there is that most Americans posses a child’s view of property: “It’s mine so I can break it if I want to!” We exclude any of the authority and responsibility inherent in true ownership, and so we find it fundamentally dehumanizing. Now, that assurance of misunderstanding is precisely why I wouldn’t describe women as property–our language is what it is at this point. But Christians nevertheless need to remember that Scripture describes us as God’s property, bought with a price. That does not dehumanize us or instrumentalize us in His sight.

Who Stands Condemned?

Having established the dubious nature of Harrison’s accusations, we must also consider just who he is accusing. Yes, at least one individual who is being subjected to church discipline for alt-rightism is common knowledge at this point (and I encourage you to consider his side of the story), but that’s not what I mean. The open question is who else falls under his condemnation made in the name of Jesus.

As Harrison writes, “These ‘alt-right’ individuals were at the genesis of a recent controversy surrounding essays accompanying a new publication of Luther’s Large Catechism.” But he also writes, “I am not speaking about the individuals who may have expressed theological concerns about the essays published alongside the Catechism. I’m talking about a small number of men who based their opposition upon racist and supremacist ideologies. The former we welcome. The latter we condemn.” So who is who in these two groups?

Part of the problem is the aforementioned nebulous nature of the accusation. “Alt-right” can mean a lot of different things. But then, “genesis” can mean a lot of things too. The true genesis of the controversy is the theologians who included false doctrines in their essays and the editors who invited false teachers to write for it.  Clearly that’s not what Harrison means, however, since he blessed the individuals and the project in toto.

So what then does he really mean by the beginning? There were concerns raised privately by pastors before it was even published. Was that the genesis of the controversy? Do they stand condemned? Or was the young man who most widely publicized some of the most egregious inclusions the genesis? My own commentary was pretty close behind, so do I get included as the beginning or was I too late to the party to be condemned?

And let me just take the opportunity to point out that when President Harrison quotes Luther’s Small Catechism as part of his grounds for excommunication (“hating, despising, or slandering other groups of people (prejudice, racism, and so forth)”)  he is quoting a recent (and dubious) addition that was not present in the edition I  was catechized with. It’s a very clear example of why Lutherans must be vigilant indeed about what gets added alongside our Catechisms. We therefore ought to be grateful to everyone who raised the alarm over the additions in the Large Catechism and its application of critical theory to our Confessions–regardless of any supposed motivations.

What’s more, Harrison’s two groups–the “genesis” and the “concerned”–are hardly mutually exclusive. I’ve certainly expressed theological concerns about those essays. But as I said, I did so early on and could plausibly be labeled “alt-right.” Do I therefore stand condemned here? Or is my critique welcomed? I’d wager there are many faithful critics of the new Large Catechism out there asking themselves the same question. When we’re just tossing about eternal damnation here, it might behoove us to be clearer and define our terms better.

But then, it’s hard to dismiss the possibility that this ambiguity is precisely the point. Inasmuch as we ask ourselves now whether we are targets for excommunication, we will be asking the same question before we speak out next time Synod publicly embraces false teaching. If a pastor acts like Luther did and publicly stands against the official errors of his day, will Synod come for his pulpit? If a layperson talks about public teaching on social media, will he be getting a call from his elders if he gets too many views? Whatever the letter says about welcoming theological concerns, the clear and objective effect is to place a Sword of Damocles over the necks of any would-be critics.

Who’s Next?

That threat-point is something every Lutheran needs to take very very seriously today. Just as the meaningless labels used by Harrison make his current set of targets ambiguous, they also make it easier to move on to others. The first of the excommunicated are the easiest marks. They hold very extreme positions; they are very blunt about doing so; and they have triggered many people. It’s tempting to simply write them off as outliers because in many ways, they are.

But the labels used by Harrison to justify excommunication are not outliers. In America, they are being applied ever more carelessly and liberally every day. Is it easy to call the guy who opposes interracial marriage a “racist“? Sure. But how often have you been called a racist by a liberal media, by strangers on Twitter, or by real-life acquaintances over entirely innocuous matters? Like it or not, that is it’s own cottage industry now. And make no mistake: there are already Lutheran men at the heart of this controversy with the president’s ear who openly call people racist even for trying to be color-blind, the gold standard for every Boomer. There are groups like Lutherans for Racial Justice already trying to push Critical Race Theory in the Synod. Do you really think this will stop with the easiest targets?

Lutherans have a reputation for being behind the times, but surely cancel culture has been around long enough for us to be aware of how it works. Surely we have seen wokeism consume enough institutions by now to recognize it when it starts happening to our own. This danger is already inside our walls. Do you really think it won’t intrude into your congregation or your home as well if you just ignore it now? Do you think they won’t teach your children to fear fake sins to advance their activism? Do you think they won’t condemn you if you do your job and interfere those efforts?

President Harrison’s letter is exactly what an ideological purge looks like in its early adolescence. But the stakes are far higher than the mass graves filled by cultural revolutions of the past. The weapon that has been put into play is not the barrel of a gun, but separation from the life-giving Word and Sacrament of Jesus Christ. The battleground which may be reduced to ash is the rarest of church bodies–one where God’s Word has long been taught in its purity and the Sacraments administered properly. And if we simply accept the false-teachings among us, we face nothing less than the removal of our lamp-stand.

This Is Not The End

I have been a member of the LCMS my entire life. I was baptized, taught, and communed in her congregations. I was educated in her grade schools and seminaries. I want the same for my children. If there were nothing worth fighting for here, then Satan would not be attacking us like this. And that is why we ought to continue to publicly object to these travesties.

I do not know what the future holds for our Synod. I do know that God will not abandon his faithful. The Word of God which President Harrison misused in his letter does not return void:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31–39).

Posted in Lutheranism, Politics, The Modern Church, Theology | 22 Comments

The Last Confession?

As a child, I never really “got” the Nicene Creed. It was basically just the Apostles Creed, but it took a million hundred hours longer to recite on Communion Sundays. And the second article was particularly egregious. How many different times does it have to say Jesus is God before finally moving on to “born of the virgin Mary” and so forth?

Naturally, that was just the attitude of a child who took basically every blessing for granted. But as an adult, one of my favorite classes in Seminary was Church History in which I was taught the story behind this creed. Of course, on one hand you have the orthodox Christians who understood the Trinity. On the other hand, you have the Arians, who taught that the Son was a subordinate deity created by the Father. That much, at least, I learned before seminary.

But what was most interesting to me was the third party–whom my professor called the Eusebians after the Nicomedian bishop who sheltered Arius (after he was first deposed but before his heresy became a Church-wide controversy.) Eusebius knew Arius as an opponent of modalism–the previous widespread heresy–which asserted that the Son and the Father are the same Person appearing in different forms. Well, the Arian heresy that posited two wholly distinct gods was certainly opposed to modalism. It doesn’t seem that Eusebius really embraced the full Arian program, but he did judge the matter according to the last controversy instead of the current one. It was more important that Arius was boldly anti-modalist than any allegations of error that could be written off as mere poor phrasing or overzealous rhetoric.

This misjudgment was facilitated by the fact that the Arians used slippery language to avoid directly stating that the Son was a lesser creation. They worked hard to give the Church’s useful idiots plausible deniability. That’s precisely why the Nicene Creed labors the point about the deity of the Son. The Arians were willing to accept “God of God” and “very God of very God” so long as the Son remained a true god created by God the Father. They were willing to accept “begotten before all worlds” so long as that just made the Son the first of the Father’s creations. They were willing to accept “begotten not made” language so long as the Father brought the Son into existence in time.

But what they couldn’t accept was “being of one substance (homoousias) with the father.” Homoousias was a word that’s not even from the Bible but nevertheless rightly describes what the Bible says about the Father and the Son. And the faithful Christians at Nicea used it precisely because the Arians couldn’t accept it. As odd as it may seem to modern ears, the purpose of our Creeds isn’t so much to unite the Church as it is to divide false teachers from her.

And the divisive nature of Nicea made it a very controversial decision. The conflict over Arianism raged for decades afterwards, with the Eusebians being far more willing to tolerate Arius than “divisive” rabble-rousers like Athanasius, the foremost Trinitarian bishop who was exiled multiple times over his refusals to make peace with heresy. For a time, it even seemed that Arianism would actually prevail.

Interestingly, it was precisely the Arians’ success that became their undoing. Their rapid progress towards toleration emboldened them, and they soon began to discard their slippery language. Rather than simply rejecting “same substance”, they began to assert that the Father and Son were of dissimilar substances. It became clear even to the Eusebians that what Athanasius had been railing against for decades wasn’t just a matter of poor phrasing or an innocent misunderstanding. They realized that the Arians were, in fact, effectively teaching polytheism. It was the Council of Constantinople that finally settled the matter using Nicea’s language in the 2nd article.

So the Nicene Creed was a hard-fought victory for the Christian Church–one which greatly benefits us whether we realize it or not. But a battle was necessary for that victory. Prior statements of faith like the Apostle’s Creed didn’t address Arianism specifically enough for the Eusebians who either couldn’t or wouldn’t discern the errors. (Yes, the official Apostle’s Creed was a later development, but there were many prototypical versions around prior to Nicea.) The Bible itself clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is truly God, and Athanasius worked hard to catalogue and promulgate just about every way that it does so. Nevertheless, a brief summary in an official creed proved an invaluable tool because most people don’t respond to theological controversy by doing a deep dive into Scripture.

Nevertheless, the Nicene Creed didn’t answer every potential heresy any more than the Apostle’s Creed did. On Trinity Sunday, we traditionally read the Athanasian Creed, which is even longer and even more repetitive because it addresses a number of Christological and Trinitarian heresies that emerged after Arianism. The Athanasian creed aspires to be completionist regarding the two natures of Christ and the three Persons of the Godhead in order to separate those errors from the Church.

But the Athanasian Creed wasn’t the last confession either. When the controversies of the Reformation came around, they centered on ecclesial and soteriological issues which the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds had no occasion to address. Once again, Christians needed clear exposition of the Biblical teachings at issue, so the Lutherans needed to pen the Augsburg Confession, the Formula of Concord, etc. (Here, of course, my non-Lutheran readers will look to their own councils and confessions coming out of that period. The absence of truly ecumenical creeds after the Great Schism is a tragedy. That said, the Augsburg Confession should be an ecumenical creed.) And as with Nicea, those confessions were highly controversial and divisive precisely because they delineated truth from long-held errors in the medieval Church.

When observing such a pattern, it’s hard to credit the notion that the Book of Concord was  finally the last confession we’ll ever need. Until Christ returns, we will always need new confessions because Satan will always be sowing new heresies among us.

The Church is now beset by a host of strange new errors that our ancestors in the faith had no real need to directly and decisively address. Instead of the nature of God or of the Church or of salvation, today’s errors assault the nature of creation. Satan has tricked us into abandoning the Christian understanding of man & woman, and so we descend into sexual and social anarchy. He has tricked us into dismissing the nature of family, and so we hate children and abandon our nations for the sake of strangers. He has tricked us into disregarding providence and creation in favor of a mythology that teaches us the universe is random and nihilistic. Our confessions may not directly address gay marriage, critical race theory, bottom surgery, or women’s ordination (though they address all of them indirectly), but that is only because the Devil is attacking different targets than he did 500 years ago.

And yet, I hear many Lutherans dismissing the current controversies that plague the Church because our Confessions don’t really address them. The Large Cataclysm was only the most recent example of this. By a combination of malice or incompetance, it contains many of these specific false teachings sown by the Spirit of the Age. Nevertheless, many Christians are unable to even discern those errors, and countless more think the entire matter is beneath their notice. When faithful Christians objected, we were opposed not only by the false teachers, but also by our new Eusebians who will happily tolerate heretics just to get along. They will fight the old and comfortable wars willingly enough, but they neglect their duties in the current one.

Christians need to dig in to fight another protracted battle for the Faith. Simply quoting those who came before us will not be sufficient for the task. Rather, we will need to truly understand & embrace the heritage of our ancestors in the Faith so that we may once again use it to creatively divide truth from falsehood. That is ultimately how we will place ourselves and our culture under the judgement of God’s clear Word rather than trying to make God’s Word adapt to our wicked culture.

In doing so, we will need to learn the lessons of the past.

First, don’t fear being divisive. If we do not divide truth from error in our theology and our institutions, we will have failed. This will cause a lot of unrest and hurt feelings. It will inevitably cause some people to leave. But you need only look at the world around you and at the fate of those who follow false teachers away from Christ to understand that there is much more at stake than unrest and hurt feelings. It is always the false teachers that are at fault over division. Separating the Arians from the Church was a victory. The same will be true for today’s false teachers.

Second, don’t be impatient in forcing good changes. During the Reformation, there were many men who, upon learning the extent of the errors with which they were faced, easily forgot the needs of the people who were still trapped in those errors. The vast majority of men and women in our own pews are likewise trapped. For example, they falsely believe that fake sins like racism and sexism are truly abominable. Their consciences have been malformed in this regard, but they remain consciences. As Luther famously noted, to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. They will need to be taught repeatedly that “sexism” is a good thing required by God before they can safely begin hindering women from teaching and having authority over men. They will need to be taught repeatedly that “racism” isn’t sinful before they can safely stop being ashamed of their heritage. Now, this doesn’t mean we attack our radicals when the boldness they possess is already in such short supply. It does mean that we direct our zealous youth to treat our congregations as true brothers and sisters in the faith that we must patiently guide in the right direction one step at a time.

Third, don’t expect it to be over in a day. When we read history, we naturally focus on the most interesting events. The side-effect is that we often overlook the time-scales involved between those events. Athanasius spent most of his life fighting against the Arians. He was a secretary in his 20’s at the first Council of Nicea where the anti-Arian language we’re used to was adopted. But the Council of Constantinople was almost 60 years later–almost a decade after Athanasius’ own death. In the meantime, he was exiled 5 times by multiple emperors (I believe over a third of his time as Bishop of Alexandria was spent in exile.) It’s easy to get caught up in the current victories and current defeats–treating each one as though it either ended the war or ended the world–but we can’t afford to be so impatient. Conflicts this large take place over a very long time. Those of us called to fight against today’s false teaching will therefore need to get used to the idea of fighting over the long haul and teaching our sons to do the same. This will be a marathon, not a sprint.

Lastly, don’t fear standing alone. God made men to be social creatures–we’re intended to influence one another. Naturally, being the one man standing up and telling the rest that they are wrong is a daunting proposition. And yet, when opposing worldly errors being imposed on the church, there’s no way out of that. When false teaching is the norm, true teaching will always stand out like a sore thumb and make everyone uncomfortable. But God has given the Church no shortage of men who did precisely that. Whether Elijah, Athanasius, Luther, or a multitude of others, we ought to know what standing against the world looks like by now. The sure and certain Word of God is a foundation that will outlast anything the false teachers are standing on. And when one does stand alone upon it, he often finds that God hasn’t left him as alone as he had assumed.

In the early 20th Century, people naively referred to World War I as “the war to end all wars.” Many actually thought mankind had finally gotten all that violence out of our system and could look forward to peace. The rest of the 20th Century brutally laid that notion to rest. It’s easy for Christians to make the same mistake and be tempted by the prospect of a final, perfect peace in this life. But we don’t get that luxury until the final trumpet sounds. Sometimes, Christians don’t even get the luxury of a temporary peace. We don’t get to choose the circumstances into which God has placed us; we only get to choose whether to take up our crosses and follow Him.

So it is today. The fact that the Book of Concord and the ecumenical creeds do not directly repudiate our current false teachers only means that we will have to take up that task ourselves, just as the authors of those confessions did before us. And we need not despair of that task just because Synod has chosen to resume its distribution of the Annotated Large Catechism without any changes. President Harrison’s one-sided condemnation of those who objected will surely embolden today’s heretics just like the Arians centuries ago. And just like the Arians, they will slowly start saying the quiet part out loud regarding their false teachings.

Lutherans need to be ready to use that–to continuously show it to our Eusebians and place it under the condemnation of Holy Scripture. And if our current set of confessions don’t speak to issues of Biblical anthropology, then perhaps the time is coming when we’ll need to change that. It’s not going to be easy or pleasant, but it’s the work we have been given. There’s nothing for it but to gird our loins and get to it.

Posted in Lutheranism, Musings, The Modern Church, Theology, Tradition | 3 Comments

Does Context Avert the Large Cataclysm?

Of all of the Lutheran Confessions, Luther’s Large Catechism is my favorite. Yes, the Augsburg Confession has more historical and theological significance, but as a layperson, the two catechisms were written specifically for the formation of my faith and as a tool for me to pass that faith on to my children. Having used the Large Catechism for both, it has a special significance in both my mind and my heart.

Considering how the Large Catechism was meant for the education of the laity, it’s quite fitting that faithful Lutheran laymen are the ones leading the outcry over the controversial edition of the Large Catechism recently released and then pulled by CPH–now being dubbed “the Large Cataclysm.”  We saw many short excerpts from it and were disgusted by what we read. But because we are laity, I’ve seen many defenders of the volume attempt to subject us to the cult of the expert. “Surely all these questionable quotations would be vindicated if they were read in context by the same experts who approved them in the first place!”

So are those quotes truly meet, right, and salutary once they have been read in context? Well, as a layman who has both studied at seminary and read the full essays from which those quotes were taken, it seems appropriate to examine two more of these essays with the context in mind.

First up is Joel Biermann’s “Lawful Lethal Force” on the vocational “exceptions” to the 5th Commandment. In it, he contends (correctly) that God and civil government are both allowed to use lethal force without necessarily breaking the Commandment. However, the essay concludes with this absolute stinker which has been repeatedly highlighted:

Finally, the recognition of a legitimate place for the use of the sword within God’s plan for His creation is not a license for any Christian to use the sword for any reason unilaterally deemed legitimate and necessary. And it certainly does not provide a scriptural foundation for a right to bear arms.4 Lethal force, Luther consistently taught, is rightly used only by the one placed into the Amt of authority in the state. It is never exercised for the sake of self, but always and only for the sake of the neighbor.

The plain reading of this paragraph is a repudiation of personal self-defense–condemning lethal force in defense of one’s own life as murder. After all, to defend oneself or one’s family against a violent attacker would be a unilateral decision in the moment borne out of necessity. Likewise, whatever else one may think of the 2nd Amendment, America’s right to bear arms undeniably gives ordinary citizens access to effective self-defense. And of course, most ordinary Christians confronted with a home invasion have not first been “placed into the Amt of authority in the state.” Taken together, there is no other reasonable way to read this paragraph as written.

So does the broader context of the essay help the matter? On the contrary, it only reinforces the normal understanding of the quotation. The essay as a whole is essentially about the distinction between murder and killing. God permits and even commands certain kinds of killing as part of certain vocations. But The last paragraph explicitly asserts that self-defense is not counted among what God permits or commands.

The greater context of the piece also explains quite well how Biermann came to his reprehensible error. In expositing government’s role in wielding the sword, he describes a progression from God to government to ordinary citizen, with the sword only being an allowance of the next higher authority. But this order is mixed up. According to Luther (in his explanation of the 4th Commandment in the Large Catechism ironically enough), the true progression of authority is God to parents to government. Luther recognizes the 4th Commandment as being the source of all temporal authority and civil government as proceeding from disparate fathers as they cooperate and delegate in the governance of their households. In other words, civil government’s sword is delegated from fathers specifically and God ultimately. And since the normal adult state of ordinary people is to be parents, the sword is by no means granted to us solely by a government that stands beneath us.

It is true that the sword should only be wielded on behalf of our neighbors rather than ourselves, but that’s entirely irrelevant in Biermann’s context. Love for neighbor is part of our explanation for why self-defense is appropriate. If someone tries to murder me while I’m walking down the street alone, my children would still lose their father, my wife her husband, my mother her son, and so forth. That’s to say nothing of being attacked while I’m with the people God has entrusted to my care. This is why violently defending myself would the appropriate course of action. When it comes to self-defense, “never exercised for the sake of self, but always and only for the sake of the neighbor” is a meaningless distinction because everyone is valuable to their neighbors, and even the hypothetical neighborless man is valued by God Himself. We are each likewise responsible for self-care, which is why suicide is counted as a violation of the 5th Commandment.

To reverse the matter as Biermann does and negate self-defense altogether is to teach Christians to count themselves as altogether worthless. The Bible does teach self-sacrifice, but it is always the sacrifice of something valuable–as any real sacrifice is. If a man chooses to relinquish the life God has given him, it is not done at the whim of a murderer, but for the sake of attaining something far more glorious in God’s sight. Without a God-given regard for self, Jesus’ instruction to “love your neighbor as yourself” would be incoherent.

Likewise, we must remember the purpose of a catechism: to instruct ordinary Christians in the faith. The doctrine of vocation is all well and good. It must be taught to Christians. But when someone is breaking into your house, and you go to grab your gun, it’s not the time to be having an internal theological discussion about how vocation parses out or reflecting on whether your motives are truly selfless enough to be shooting the assailant. It is, instead, a time to do the job that God has given you. The appropriate way of approaching this in a catechetical context would be to first affirm that self-defense is valid, and then use vocation and love of neighbor to explain why. Biermann not only fails at this, but overtly denies the Lutheran Confessions and the Scriptures which they help exposit on this subject. Here, the context clearly condemns the essay rather than absolving it.

Next, let’s consider “Sexual Purity,” Andrea Schmeling’s essay on the Sixth Commandment, which contains this now-infamous line:

However, though some of us are burdened with homosexual lust, pornographic addiction, transgenderism, pedophilia, and polyamory, more often they are the speck in our neighbor’s eye rather than the log in our own (cf. Matthew 7:3–5). For decades, if we didn’t wink at fornication we certainly turned our eyes from it, as long as the acts performed outside of marriage were heterosexual ones. We shudder in disgust when it suits us, forgetting that we, too, follow our hearts, that organ which produces every evil thought and sexual immorality (Mark 7:21–22).

Now, before we start with the problems, there is actually a good point in here that the Church has been far too permissive about fornication. I’ve written about that at length already, so I won’t labor the point. Suffice to say that contemporary Lutherans absolutely deserve to be called on the carpet over it and need to repent. However, I will also note that in my experience, those who push this line are usually (not always) the first to object to any serious treatment of fornication. There are, for example, a number of specific Lutheran individuals I’ve seen defending this Large Catechism to the hilt who absolutely lost their minds even over the relatively mild “debt-free virgins without tattoos” observation from a few years ago.

So what are the problems that critics (including myself) have pointed out with this line?

First, why is this long list of sins–most of which are particularly grievous–being described as mere “burdens”? In a sense, these are burdens to anyone attempting to leave them for a chaste and decent life (with at least one exception, which I’ll get to in a bit), but is that really the most important category to put them in? It blithely adopts our culture’s ongoing destigmatization of sexual sin which has made these perversions so difficult to deal with.

Most Americans have a very stilted view of morality. The things we can control through immediate decisions and sheer force of will are counted within the realm of morality, but everything else is utterly beyond our responsibility and beyond any accusation of sin. This is why LGBT “born this way” rhetoric is so effective. We think there is no room between a conscious decision on one hand and meaningless circumstance–permanent and amoral quirks of psychology or biology–on the other. But this impoverished understanding ignores some of the most relevant parts of man’s moral nature–our characters, our virtues, our dispositions, our habits, and more. All of these aspects of a human being are ones which we build up over time. They are not a matter of immediate choice, but they are our direct responsibilities and proceed from a multitude of our past choices. All perversions and disorders found within them are our own personal sins. That’s why Christians have often used categories like concupiscence, besetting sins, and sins of weakness.

What’s more, this isn’t our first rodeo. Destigmatization of sin is a very well-worn path from “this is an unfortunate circumstance” to “don’t judge them for their orientation” to “acceptance would ease their heavy burdens” to “how dare you call it a disorder” to “we’ll be teaching it to your kids as a celebrated lifestyle.” With homosexuality and transgenderism having already travelled that road, why would we want to help pedophilia join them?

Anyone applying the 6th Commandment to contemporary circumstance should highlight and correct the shallow understanding which has lead so such debauchery rather than adopting and reinforcing it as Ms. Schmeling does. Yes, there can be aspects to homosexuality or pedophilia similar to addiction that can make the perverse desires a struggle to abandon in some cases. Yes, that’s burdensome. It requires time, hard work, patience, pain, and perseverance–all of which are hard to come by in our culture of instant gratification. But that is neither the whole story nor the most important part.

I also just have to point out: If all this “best construction” is really what the author meant by “burden,” then why is polyamory on this list at all? The desire to maintain a collection of willingly shared side-pieces instead of a spouse isn’t a besetting sin or a sin of weakness. It’s just an old fashioned matter of straightforward lust wrapped up in web of perverse rationalizations. I see no rationale to consider it a burden.

The second error the critics have highlighted is just as bad. All of these sins–including pedophilia, the most grievous one of the bunch–are quite explicitly described as mere specks in our neighbors eyes. Jesus tells us not to bother with such specks until we’ve removed the log in our own eye and that doing so is hypocrisy. But are homosexuality and pedophilia really sins which Christians should just ignore while we focus on fornication? Is it really hypocritical for us to address them?

Modern Lutherans may have shown ourselves inept at addressing fornication, but dismissing that sin has never been part of our doctrines. We have failed to live up to those doctrines, certainly, but that kind of failure is not what hypocrisy means. Hypocrisy is pretending to have a standard which you do not apply to yourself. We ought not wait upon perfection in lesser sins before we bother to place greater sins under the judgment of God’s Word. Rather, we confess our sins and continue to proclaim the whole counsel of God.

A statement like Schmeling’s implies an equivalency between all these sins and fornication. That is a heinous error. Different sins are by no means equal. Scripture makes it clear that some are worse than others in our eyes, in God’s eyes, in temporal punishment, and in eternal punishment. No reasonable Christian can compare the couple who fooled around in the back seat to that pair of gay activists who adopted, repeatedly raped, & pimped out two young boys and conclude, “It would be wrong of us to address the latter with any more ferocity than the former.” No morally sane individual should be referring to such as a speck in our neighbor’s eye.

Now, with the errors laid out, it’s time to ask: Does the greater context of the essay change our perception of the quote? Well, it actually does in one respect.

Although these sins are certainly not equal, they do share a few important characteristics. First, they are all paid for by the blood of Christ–even the worst of them. I communed alongside a convicted child molester for several years at one of my congregations. He knew the evil of what he had done; he continually repented of those sins; he did not return to those sins; and he willingly accommodated the fact that people needed to keep an eye on him to make sure of that. Based on what I knew of him, I expect to see him in heaven because even his pedophilia is forgiven.

The second shared characteristic of these sins is that they are all damnable apart from repentant faith in Christ. On Judgement Day, the couple who fornicated cannot save themselves by pointing to the gay men who raped and pimped out their adopted children. Yes, the latter will be punished far more severely in Hell in proportion to the sin, but that will not prevent the lesser eternal punishment of the fornicators.

And after reading the essay several times, I do think that this second shared characteristic is closer to what the author was trying to get across by lumping all these together. She  starts by discussing how Luther addressed the most frequent sins in his own society in contrast to those of ancient Israel. Then, immediately preceding the infamous line, she writes:

Like Luther, we also must address the most common unchastity among ourselves: that in the name of “sexual freedom” we feed our continual burning and honor neither virginity nor marriage. Our sin isn’t even secret: we speak of our lusts through crude joking and foolish talk, often naming ourselves by our sexual sin as no murderer or liar ever does.

So in the larger context of the essay, the point is that mundane fornication and divorce are more rampant than the sins in her list. Christians cannot allow the gross debauchery we see everywhere in our society to excuse us of those mundane sins rather than deliberately pursuing purity in our own lives. And both those things are true. So I’m pretty sure the author’s ultimate purpose was not to make pedophilia and homosexuality equivalent to mere fornication, to minimize them as mere “burdens,” or to destigmatize them. The context does indeed testify to that.

But all those errors are how she chose to make her larger point.

The context may clarify the author’s intentions about the infamous line, but that line is still there and it still says what it says. Context does not let the author, her editors, and her doctrinal reviewers off the hook. And it was an entirely unforced error because her point could have been made in any number of more appropriate ways. For example: “Homosexual lust, pornographic addiction, transgenderism, pedophilia, and polyamory may be more grievous sins that attract more attention. However, ordinary fornication and divorce are more common–so much so that many Christians turn a blind eye to them.” See how easy that was?

I’ve had editors warn me when its easy to take something I’ve written the wrong way. I also review my own writing with that in mind and frequently go back to fix it. How on earth did such bad phrasing make it to the final manuscript of a professional published volume? “It probably wasn’t the author’s intention to destigmatize pedophilia” is the platonic ideal of damning with faint praise. Is such a low bar really the best the LCMS can do for the Large Catechism? Because I’m pretty sure that a random nobody on the internet just explained her point better.

And so those who sounded the alarm on this quote were hardly in error or being uncharitable. Their understanding of this snippet was an accurate reflection of what the written words mean. The context does give us more insight into the author’s intention, but it doesn’t change the text. I’ll even go a step farther and say that the errors pointed out by critics are probably what a casual reader of this essay would walk away with. That kind of incompetence is inexcusable packaged alongside one of our Confessions as an attempt to explain it.

I’ve seen many critics defending the Large Cataclysm by treating errors like these as mere poor phrasing that doesn’t really detract from the volume as a whole. But this is like claiming that apart from the enemy soldiers inside, the Trojan Horse was a pretty amazing gift–or more famously, asking “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the opera?” Even if some of the problems did amount to (extremely) poor phrasing, they are still significant enough to overshadow the rest. If this were published as a collection of essays inspired by Luther’s Large Catechism, it would be a poor one because of problems like these that critics would be right to denounce. But publishing it as “Luther’s Large Catechism with Annotations and Contemporary Applications”–as one of our Confessions–is a travesty. The context does not change this.

Posted in Chastity, Ethics, Law, Lutheranism, Theology | 4 Comments

Subverting Luther’s Large Catechism

Christians living today are fortunate to have received such a treasury of theology from our ancestors in the faith. They may have departed this Earth to be with Christ centuries or even millennia ago, but they still have the opportunity to teach us through what they’ve left behind. Like Scripture itself, one of the advantages of these texts, creeds, and confessions is that they offer us a word of wisdom from outside the contemporary assumptions, struggles, and circumstances in which we are naturally buried. They can provide insights which could be all too easy for us to blithely overlook due to our own culture.

The challenge in receiving such words from outside is that it’s not always immediately clear how they apply to contemporary assumptions, struggles, and circumstances. God has not given us a flowchart determining how we each should live. And so, every age of Christians will also have to use the wisdom God has given them to discern how best to follow His Word. Those who do this well will apply Scripture and sound doctrine to their lives and their culture. Those who do this poorly will instead apply their own lives and culture to Scripture and sound doctrine, baptizing that which should be under judgment.

Though I have only begun reading CPH’s new publication, “Luther’s Large Catechism with Annotations and Contemporary Applications,” it is sadly clear that it contains a great deal of the latter.

This new volume quickly became the subject of controversy, and it has already been temporarily removed from CPH’s store. Upon its release, quite a few Lutherans took notice and started to catalogue some of its very questionable topics and quotations. So I began reading the included essays myself to see how representative those quotes truly are. Naturally, beginning with the ones which raised so many red flags doesn’t lend itself to a balanced review of the volume as a whole. Nevertheless, to borrow Luther’s analogy, the right amount of falsehood in your doctrine is like the right amount of rat droppings in your bread. The Large Catechism is one of the Lutheran Confessions; one cannot simply package it with doctrines of the Spirit of the Age and expect that to be overlooked. So let’s take a look at a pair of examples.

First up is “Encouragement for Christians with Gender Dysphoria and Homosexual Attraction,” Stephen Lee’s attempt to apply the 6th Commandment to the LGBTP issues that plague our society. And if ever there were a need to apply Biblical wisdom to a contemporary issue, transgenderism is certainly the right occasion. As far as perversion goes, it’s extraordinary even when taking a long view of history. And to be fair to Lee, the author does attempt to maintain Biblical conclusions on sexuality while still offering compassion to Christians who are entangled with these perversions.

The big problem with the piece, however, is that Lee takes many of the concepts of transgenderism and uses them as the tools of his analysis rather than the subject of his analysis. For example, the essay runs with the false concept of “gender identity” and consistently treats gender as something genuinely distinct from sex rather than recognizing that unbiblical distinction for the deception it is. He also describes the recognition of male and female as something that happens by Christian faith rather than by simple observations that even the pagans figured out. He perpetuates the idea that these perversions are inborn by describing natural sexual desire and self-recognition as gifts which God just doesn’t give to everyone. He repeatedly describes the transgender experience in terms of “sensing” themselves as the opposite sex, which I suspect is an attempt to affirm the experience–the genuine confusion, pain, and alienation–rather than dismissing it. However, that choice of words very much crosses the line into interpretation of that experience. “Sense” is what one immediately perceives–what we see, hear, etc– rather than what one, for example, falsely concludes based on shifting feelings of alienation.

But the worst example comes when he writes, “Christians with gender dysphoria generally continue to experience it, no matter how much they grow in faith and love toward God.” But from what do we dare to derive such certainty regarding permanence? From the “born this way” refrain of LGBT activists? From the despair of a teenager who thinks he’ll always feel that way because experience has not yet taught him the transience of emotion? Lee attributes this to a CTCR document from 2014, but that document only describes the condition (without evidence, I might add) as “what may well be a permanent, difficult reality.” It seems that Lee is the one establishing permanence as a norm rather than a mere possibility.

Yes, there are Christians who suffer illness, injury, or deformity until the very end of their lives here on Earth. Yes, they need pastoral care regarding these thorns in the flesh. But why should that be preached as the expectation or the default on this issue when we pray that God would heal everyone else? Why would we teach hopelessness as a doctrine? Why would we presume that even God Himself cannot stand before the might of sexual confusion or perverse desire? Has the Devil truly discipled us so thoroughly that we just take his word for it on the matter? Considering the rapid explosion of transgenderism which bears all the marks of a social contagion, it is foolish in the extreme to simply assume that there’s anything permanent about it–other than the damage they inflict on themselves because fools keep telling them there’s no other hope.

My first impression is that these problems aren’t malicious on the author’s part–merely naïve. As I said, the author works hard to maintain the Biblical conclusions about sexuality–that male & female are real creations of God and that homosexual sex cannot be legitimated. However, by adopting so much of the framework of LGBTP ideology and setting it alongside our Confessions, he does more to undermine those conclusions than I suspect he realizes. Even mere naiveté has no place included alongside our Confessions as an explanation of how to apply it to contemporary issues.

Another of the more problematic essays is “Justice For All, Exemptions For None” by John Arthur Nunes. But before I start listing the problems, I do want to give him credit for one of his good points. He writes:

Luther stingingly indicts those merchants who “defraud, steal, and rob us” through market practices and markups. I would include pawn shops laundering stolen goods, usurious credit industries, and the rent-to-own furniture sector in which low-income lessees resort to paying up to three times the sticker to furnish their home. There are attempts to legislate against or limit these predatorial corporate activities—for example, in the cases of “price gouging” and “payday loans.” After reading the Large Catechism, however, no Christian could defend these deeds as not rising to the Seventh Commandment’s prohibition against stealing, irrespective of the deeds’ permissibility.

While I think most of us would naturally look down on these industries, I want to highlight this part simply because so few contemporary Lutherans even remember that usury is a sin. It’s a shame that the indictment seems restricted to excessive interest rather than interest in general, but we have to start somewhere.

The big problem with Nunes’ piece, however, is not so much in the specific details, but in the fact that the entire thing is framed in the concepts of Marxism and Critical Race Theory. He begins his introductory paragraph with class warfare: “For middle- or upper-class Christians it is not uncommon to think that many commandments are most acutely relevant to the crimes found in poorer communities.” He then adds, “A transformative insight of [Luther] consists in applying God’s Law prohibiting theft to less-than-obvious perpetrators—the virtuous who possess economic and societal privilege.” Whereas covetousness is one of those sins which applies to virtually everyone, Nunes’ purpose is to single out the villains in the Marxist paradigm of oppressor/oppressed–a choice that can hardly be considered coincidental, couched as it is in the modern social justice terminology of “privilege.”

The further you go into the piece, the harder it becomes to plausibly chalk up this language to coincidence. Nunes continually interweaves Luther’s words with Marxist concepts. When Luther talks about those who steal with honor in the eyes of the world, Nunes connects it to “systemic deprivation of others.” Likewise, in his “Sins Within Structures” section, Luther’s statement that “God does not want you to deprive your neighbor of anything that belongs to him” is immediately recast as a matter of providing “access to goods and services” (access, of course, being fundamentally different than ownership.) One could make a case for such provision under the 5th Commandment, but to inject it here is to replace the Biblical view of property with an alien one.

Nunes then proceeds to follow this substituted concept of access to decry additional sins of “privilege” such as… networking. He explains, “For example, in our context, ‘minority’ business owners or newcomers to the United States might be excluded because of an inequity of connectedness.” But neither networking nor inequity are examples of covetousness. They could be leveraged as such, of course, but so could literally any facet of society. Nunes, however has a laser focus on the primary paradigm of Critical Race Theory: white (non-minority) oppressors versus oppressed people of color. He then attempts to project that paradigm back onto Luther’s words, associating the well-networked as Luther’s “great noblemen, gentlemen, and princes” who he, of course, labels as possessors of unconscious “nepotistic” bias. He then proceeds to work his complaints about “gentrification” into the mix as well. He always stops just short of outright saying “white privilege” and the like, but his purpose is clear.

In the end, what Nunes has produced wears the clothes of Luther’s analysis of the 9th and 10th Commandments. Wrongful gain with worldly approval is indeed precisely where Luther places covetousness and where Christians must be most on guard against it. But throughout the piece, these fine garments are placed onto the deceitful frameworks of Marxism and Critical Race Theory. These are poisonous, anti-Christian, and anti-truth philosophies–ironically rooted in covetousness–which Nunes is quite blatantly turning into stowaways onboard the Large Catechism. And unlike Lee’s piece, I can find no plausible reason to chalk it up to naiveté–especially considering the man’s history.

I could keep pointing out the problems with this tome. These two essays by no means account for all the red flags that have been raised. I’ve also read “Hatred as Murder” and “The Commandments and Social Justice”, which both include some obvious use of Critical Race Theory. “Lawful Lethal Force” attempts to delegitimize private self-defense and relegate the sword exclusively to the state–as though God had given fathers neither responsibility nor authority for their families’ safety. The book establishes even more women as authoritative teachers of men in our church body, which I’ve already written more than enough about. The inclusion of radical “Lutheran” Stephen “Christ sinned” Paulson in any capacity is indefensible. Perhaps I will continue later and critique some of the other entries. For now, however, these two examples should suffice to demonstrate that the red flags were not raised irresponsibly, and Synod was right to pull it down and review it. This volume contains some very serious problems–problems which faithful Lutherans cannot ignore when they come down to us from Synod and from CPH as an exposition of Lutheran doctrine.

Naturally, all this controversy has brought out our 8th Commandment Police who are determined to cast all public criticism of public error as a sin. I’ve seen a number of people claim that the critics are simply reading these essays in the worst possible light instead of putting the best construction on them. They try very hard to invent ways of interpreting them as orthodox and salutary. Then they claim that if such a way exists, the 8th Commandment demands that it must be read that way by any critic.

But as with all of God’s Commandments, we need to practice the 8th in the real world rather than an imaginary one. Could a world exist where these essays would be read innocently because the errors they promote don’t exist? Sure. But in the face of the widespread and well-defined errors with which our society is saddled, it is far more appropriate to ask whether these essays conform to those errors. Writers who were both faithful and competent at applying our Confessions to present circumstances would be aware of those errors and explicitly place them under the judgment of God’s Word. “Best construction” does not give anyone a pass on that responsibility–particularly if one accepts the task of explaining the Lutheran Confessions to God’s people.

Posted in Lutheranism, Theology | 7 Comments

Them’s Fightin’ Words

Say what you will about the brutality of dueling, at least it was a mechanism which reminded men that their words have value–that they can be worth fighting over.

As we sit and lament cancel culture, it may be tempting to think this is still the case. After all, we experience conflict over words all the time, and certain kinds of speech have once again become personally dangerous. But while we may think words are worth destroying another person over, we do not think they’re worth fighting over. The “beauty” of the duel was that it was a two-sided fight. When an insult was offered, both the target and the insulter needed to think it was worth shame, injury, or possibly even death in order to proceed all the way to a duel. Otherwise, one would simply withdraw either the insult or the complaint.

Cancel culture, in contrast, is entirely one-sided. A mob conspires to go after a man’s reputation, his livelihood, his family, his life, and anything else they can destroy. All this they do without any real threat of reprisal. That’s why the mob is far quicker to pull the trigger on violence than any duelist–they have no skin in the game themselves. Cancelling is no less brutal than dueling, but it provides cowards with a risk-free path to the violence they wish to inflict on their enemies.

Given such circumstances, it shouldn’t be surprising that many people who desire to publicly gore our culture’s sacred cows will use pseudonymous accounts on social media–they write under persistent handles rather than their real names. After all, there is no such thing as engaging the mob on equal terms. Public discourse is no longer a fair fight, and acting as though it were is a delusion that can lead to severe consequences.

Nevertheless, I’ve observed a great many Christians deride pseudonymity as cowardly. Some of them do so because they are too out-of-touch to truly understand the nature of cancel culture. Others, unfortunately, do so because they themselves are part of the mob. They allow the world to teach them when to be offended and react with all the fury of an SJW when it comes to non-sins like racism and sexism (though they usually try to create a false contrast with the radical left by appealing to “real” racism or “real” sexism.) Of these two types of Christians, only the latter desire to dox, but both join together in accusing the pseudonymous of cowardice.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of courage, and I’ve witnessed a number of exchanges recently that have made this plain. They’ve gone something like this:

1: Why don’t stop hiding behind an anonymous Twitter account and put your name on your words, you coward.
2: Well, why don’t you and me step outside and we’ll settle this like men, you coward.

By themselves, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about either of them. But what stood out to me was how many people would cheer on #1, but then immediately decry #2 as childish bravado. Making threats, you see, is beneath such fine, upstanding, and mature men.

This is nonsense. If you really believe such threats are just machismo, then there is no functional difference between the two statements in that respect. You should be condemning both. Make no mistake: “Step outside so we can fight” and “Dox yourself so we can cancel you” both threaten violence in 2023 America. Boomers might be oblivious enough to believe otherwise; but anyone else who would deny the equivalence is likely part of the mob trying to passive-aggressively obscure their attempted attack.

But while both threats are paired with an accusation of cowardice, they are differentiated by the aforementioned difference between dueling and cancelling: whether or not the proposed violence is entirely one-sided. Demanding a dox is a desire to be able to inflict violence on a person from a place of personal safety within a mob. Demanding a fist fight is a desire to be able to put oneself at risk in order inflict violence on your opponent one-on-one. So which of these threats really requires bravery? Demanding the abandonment of pseudonymity in cancel culture–to tell a man he must let you safely destroy him for the sake of his honor–is an act of cowardice, plain and simple. Though cowardice is the accusation on both sides, only one of them has thoroughly proven their own.

When Aristotle wrote about the virtue of courage, he found it to be more a matter of skill than of temperament. The veteran soldier, for example, was almost ipso facto more courageous than the new recruit because he had been through many battles in which his courage had been honed by practice. Many American Christians today have overlooked this aspect of courage because in the past few generations, bravery has seldom been demanded of us.

It wasn’t that long ago that I attended a Bible study in which we were discussing Jesus’ warnings about persecution. The teacher made an assertion which I have been taught by Christians my whole life: “We are fortunate to live in America where we don’t have to worry about such things.” That presumption is an echo of the America in which the Boomers grew up–a country which may not have been particularly faithful, but which could at least be called Christian without immediately provoking scornful laughter. This is no longer the case.

Jesus warned of even family turning against each other on His account. It’s hard to consider that merely hypothetical when half your family has disowned you precisely because you openly embrace Jesus’ teachings on controversial subjects. In our current age, Satan is most fiercely attacking the First Article gift of family–and all the sub-topics which orbit it like sexuality, education, headship, and nation. Any layperson who has publicly spoken out on those topics has learned the risks it entails from friends, employers, family, and government.

This reality on the ground is completely outside the experience of many of the aging pastors and members of my denomination. Those who can still can consider Jesus’ warnings hypothetical generally do so because they themselves haven’t had to pay for being faithful. When you haven’t experienced any significant repercussions, it’s easy to think that any talk of persecution is an exaggeration and that Christians are therefore “hiding” behind pseudonyms out of cowardice. And yet that assessment is merely their own lack of courage in the Aristotelian sense. They have not practiced. Nevertheless, that does not stop them from loudly decrying “anonymity” with all the self-righteous ferocity of a Pharisee. “If you were really witnessing faithfully, you’d embrace the consequences instead of hiding!”

Scripture has promised persecution to faithful Christians, yes. But Scripture and history alike have also taught us that there is both a time to embrace persecution and a time to put it off for another day. Paul escaped Damascus in a basket because he had better things to do than face the lethal consequences of proclaiming Christ in the synagogues there. Luther lived under the pseudonym of Sir George at the Wartburg to avoid his death sentence and continue his work of teaching the Gospel and translating the Bible. Jesus repeatedly slipped away from the Jews who were trying to stone him because his hour had not yet come; He had other things to do first.

None of these men were cowards. They were exercising their own God-given wisdom in deciding when to accept persecution and when to avoid it to continue their work. There are times when faithfulness demands our reputations, our suffering, our families, or even our lives. Christians must be willing to give up any of those for our Lord. But that doesn’t mean we eagerly jump on our swords at the first opportunity, as though our reputations, families, & lives were worthless or as though the vocations God has given us were of no significance.

Upon hearing this, some will try to paper over their own cowardice by stealing the bravery of others. “How *dare* you compare getting doxxed and cancelled to the real threats directed at men like Paul or Luther!” It’s true that there is (so far) a disparity in threat level, just as there is a disparity in response (being pseudonymous isn’t exactly as severe as fleeing a city.) But at what point does a Christian’s suffering for his faith actually become real to such men?

When the world merely mocks a man for being Christian, does his brother in Christ who lost his job for the Faith sneer at the pain? Does a third man who was beaten for Christ dismiss the first two as drama queens? As the martyrs beneath God’s throne cry out “how long, oh Lord” do they also call out “that’s nothing, you sniveling pansies” to all their brothers still on Earth? Nothing could be further from Christian love. Creating a hierarchy of persecution with which to dismiss those on the bottom is merely a conceit by which one pretends that him who assumes small risks is the same as him who assumes no risk whatsoever. In contrast, those who truly walk the same road are more likely to experience comradery than contention–even when one is further ahead.

Obviously, I don’t use pseudonymity myself. Considering what I’ve already written under my own name both here and on far larger platforms like the Federalist, what would be the point? But I decided against pseudonymity well over a decade ago in a very different world where cancel culture was not yet a thing. It was an act of naiveté rather than courage–one I suspect I’ve only made a down payment on. But there’s no taking it back now. Nevertheless, I will by no means judge another man for choosing differently. What gives any of us the right to condemn another for making that choice in their lives and according to their own God-given wisdom and vocations?

And those of you who are tempted to condemn the pseudonymous as cowards would do well to ask yourselves what price you’ve paid for faithfulness. If God has spared you all of this, you should devote yourself to gratitude rather than self-righteousness. And if the world does not even consider you enough of an enemy to bother hating you, you should consider which side of the Great Conflict you’re truly on.

Posted in Culture, Ethics, Musings, The Modern Church | 3 Comments

Silencing God

Arguments from silence are generally recognized as being weak, proceeding as they do from a lack of evidence rather than an abundance. But the most pathetic form of this argument–the weakling among weaklings–is when you actually have to create the silence first by hiding, dismissing, or otherwise disqualifying all the evidence contrary to your position.

But weak or not, many Christians today are particularly vulnerable to such arguments. Many of us have been taught a hideously disfigured version of Christian freedom that says, “Do whatever you want as long as the Bible doesn’t forbid it.” Not only does such false teaching deprive us of God’s positive laws–the things He has commanded us to do–and replace His will with our own desire, it also provides us with a perverse incentive to find as little in the Bible as possible.

Satan, of course, does not neglect to take advantage of our idle hands. He has given us a surfeit of false teachers who try to silence Holy Scripture. If they can inject just enough uncertainty or just enough confusion, then the Bible no longer applies. To our poorly catechized minds, those troublesome verses just float away into the ether, leaving us “free.” From there, “do as thou wilt” becomes the whole of our law.

One of the most common methods the Devil and his thralls use is to create a mythology and place it alongside Scripture. They then use this mythology to determine what the Bible is “allowed” to say. And the most obvious way to recognize this tactic is when you notice that actually reading the Bible is irrelevant to their conclusions.

I ran into one example of this in the wild recently. According to this old saw, what we know as “homosexuality” today was unheard of when the Bible was written. They allege that it is therefore impossible for the Bible to directly address something which was so completely outside of its context. And since the Bible says nothing at all, dilapidated “Christian freedom” demands our silence as people simply do what they feel like.

This argument appears compelling to many because we have been so well-trained in shallow thinking. But once you take a closer look, it’s a very different story.

To be sure, the modern mythology we’ve constructed around homosexuality was not present in the ancient world. After all, “homosexuality” is a relatively new word. It was invented by psychologists in the late 19th century first to clinicalize and then to destigmatize sodomy. Antiquity did not consider “sexual orientation” to be cast in stone the way we (erroneously) believe today, nor did they consider it an identity. Neither did the ancient world have the kind of rigorous advertising campaign homosexuality now enjoys. Here, it’s advocated by activists, endorsed by law, celebrated in parades, normalized in mass media, and even taught in schools with truly obscene levels of detail.

But to assert that this mythology makes a difference is to perform a Biblical bait-and-switch. It presumes without warrant that when the Bible condemns sodomy, it is only condemning specific cultural incarnations thereof rather than the thing itself. “But sodomy has received a facelift since then! Today, sodomy is romantic! Today, it leads to lasting relationships!” Great. But your idea that serial monogamy and romance legitimize sex is wholly modern; it’s not Biblical. You might as well say that you can have sex with your dog because Moses couldn’t have been writing about Labradoodles. They weren’t bred until the 20th century, after all! “Missing the point” is an entirely inadequate phrase to describe desperately running away from Scripture’s point in such an obvious fashion.

The fact that this argument is pure presumption that deliberately disregards the Bible is made even more apparent when you realize that it makes its conclusion without ever cracking open the Good Book. It asserts that it is “impossible” for it to condemn sodomy based entirely on historical context. So no matter what the Bible actually says, it cannot say what they don’t want it to say. If your hermeneutic determines what the Bible says without having to actually read it, then it’s not a good hermeneutic. And yet, they actually think their wordplay has silenced God–and many Christians are foolish enough to agree with them.

Now, if I wrote for the sake of conservative applause, this would be a great place to stop. Most of the more conservative Christians would be completely on board with it. After all, they were never taken in by this deception.

Or were they?

Conservative Christians may still be loud and proud about opposing sodomy. They are, after all, traditionalists at heart, and sodomy has not yet become Western tradition. But other sins have, and many who consider themselves staunch, faithful conservatives have fallen for this same kind of deception hook, line, and sinker. Feminism has been embedded in our culture long enough to become a tradition, and many conservative men are quite eager to carry water on its behalf. This can be easily seen when it comes to the issue of women teaching men in the Church.

Here too, we have invented a modern mythology. As the story goes, there are many women today who have been called by God to teach men in the Church. They have been given exceptional gifts to this end–indeed, we are told that they are far superior in skill to any available male teachers. We are told that lazy and evil men have abandoned their posts, and so women must now pick up their slack. We are told that evil misogynists have been keeping these brave women down for so long that no Christian had even realized this sad state of affairs in the past 2000 years. If you should even open your mouth to stand in the way of their “divine” call, you must be a goblin, a Pharisee, or the like. So sayeth our modern mythology.

As with sodomy, this mythology is used to wipe away the clear Biblical prohibitions. When Paul wrote “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” he could not possibly have been referring to modern women called by God to teach! No, he must have been referring to something else. Women in antiquity were uneducated, so maybe he meant that women should remain silent only until they’re educated. Or maybe he was referring to one specific woman who was a troublemaker for Timothy, and that’s why it’s singular. Or maybe he was referring only to the very specific and narrow title of pastor and not to any pastoral responsibilities. Or maybe he only meant that wives shouldn’t be in authority over their husbands–unless absolutely necessary, of course. Or maybe it’s something else altogether. All of these different interpretations are deemed acceptable because it doesn’t even matter what the verse really means so long as it doesn’t mean what it actually says. All we know for sure is that it couldn’t be referring to modern, educated women because this is an entirely new situation which the Bible could not possibly address.

This is just as much a bait-and-switch as our mythology of homosexuality. Instead of the plain meaning of the text, the words must be so culturally conditioned as to become a secret code for something else altogether. It is true that our culture is different than Rome’s. Nevertheless, it is only modern convention which demands that skill is the only legitimate qualification for anything, that women be leaders, that they be counted as equal to men in every way, and that we must be offended at any suggestion to the contrary. The Bible demands nothing of the sort from us. If we take off our feminist glasses for a moment, we see that the “calling” they speak of is merely what these women feel like doing and their supreme qualifications generally amount to them doing well in school–a matter that is hardly surprising given how feminized schools have become.

And as with Sodomy, it is a conclusion which precedes anything they might read in Scripture. Many advocates of women teachers make this quite obvious:

Make no mistake, this is not a statement about what God says. This is a statement about what God is allowed to say. Jesus must measure up to the feminist standard, or he is simply unacceptable as a deity.

And it really should be no surprise that conservatives fall for this as well. We have imbibed the disfigured version of Christian freedom as deeply as anyone. Lutherans in particular seem perpetually terrified of actually teaching us the things God has told us to do. We’ve made it easy for Satan to take advantage of us.

But we need not simply lie back and accept this state of affairs. We have Scripture. We have theologians from outside of our time & culture who were far wiser than us. And any one of us can take a good long look at our own lives and aspirations and consider whether we are pursuing God’s priorities or our own.

So you have a dilemma on your hands, conservative Christians. Do you continue to follow the world–just 10 steps behind due to your traditionalism? Or do you instead recognize the world’s deception and repent of your having fallen for it?

Posted in Apologetics, Chastity, Culture, Ethics, Feminism, Law, Lutheranism, The Modern Church, Theology | 7 Comments