Sermons and Papers

“Integrity and Outreach”

Banquet Address to the Lutheran Concerns Association in 2002

by John C. Wohlrabe, Jr., Th.D.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, my fellow confessional Lutherans, it is certainly an honor and privilege to be invited to speak to you tonight at this annual banquet of Lutheran Concerns. Rest assured, your concerns are my concerns as well.

At a recent Navy Senior Chaplain Leadership Conference, we studied Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership concept, which is derived from Jesus’ leadership example. And a statement was made that I have been pondering since: "Leaders manage meaning." Please remember that, because we will get back to it later.

I must confess, though, that I have a hard time managing the meaning of apparel within the Missouri Synod, and I was at a loss as to what to wear for this august occasion tonight. In the military, you learn early on that wearing the right uniform is very important. But, things are pretty well laid out for you. The uniform of the day is spelled out in the Plan of the Day. If there is a special function at which I am asked to speak or pray, for example, a civic function – and I am talking about a REAL civic function, coordinated through the command or local civic leaders where the military or civic purpose predominates, not the religious, and the impression of unionism and syncretism is not given -- then I simply call the commanding officer’s secretary and find out what the C.O. is going to wear.

But, I readily admit that I do not have this uniform thing figured out in the Missouri Synod yet. A few months ago, I attended the Symposium at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. Before transferring to Naval Air Station, Brunswick, Maine, I served as SEVENTH Fleet Chaplain aboard the USS BLUE RIDGE, homeported in Yokosuka, Japan. Our ship traveled throughout the Western Pacific. And one of the best deals going was having fitted suits and shirts made in Thailand or Hong Kong, where you usually got at least one nice, silk tie thrown in as well, all for an incredibly low price. It sure beat some of the other things that sailors and Marines spent their money on there! Anyway, I had several very reasonably priced suits made, and I was wearing one of those light, Casmir wool suits the day that both Pastor Klemet Preus and Dr. David Scaer spoke at the Symposium. In his presentation on the "Preus Legacy", Klemet made mention of a vicar who commented on the works of Martin Chemnitz translated by J.A.O. Preus. Klemet said: "I won’t say what seminary he was from, but he did not wear a clerical collar if that’s any help." Well, even though I do wear a clerical collar on Sundays when I preach and when I make hospital calls, I figured that he was referring to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, since most of the profs and students around Fort Wayne wore clerical collars all the time, so I thought, "whew, since I’m a St. Louis grad and I’m wearing a tie today, I must be in the right uniform."

Then David Scaer took the podium and spoke on "Missouri’s Identity Crisis: Rootless in America." In discussing those caught up in the Church Growth Movement, he stated: "Churches held up as models are Baptistic and Pentecostal in worship style and have borrowed heavily from American marketing techniques. Its preachers are recognized by their high-priced, carefully-pressed suits with tasseled shoes so they resemble successful entrepreneurs with their higher then average salaries." As I cautiously moved my brief case over my black tasseled shoes under the table where I sat, and while turning several different shades of crimson in my Hong Kong tailor fitted suit, I realized that I was indeed out of uniform. I should have called David Scaer or his secretary first to find out what the appropriate uniform for the Symposium was!

I also noticed, that several of the pastors at the Symposium wore buttons, like "Speed Bump" or "Hyper-Euro-Lutheran" or "Voters Supremacy" with a red circle around it and a red line through that. In view of my personal uniform angst, I thought of having my own button made with the letters W.W.W.W. on it: "What Would Walther Wear?" But then, I realized that someone might think that either I was trying to Reclaim Walther, or that I was trying to start some new form of Missouri pietism -- ‘me genoito’ (may it not be!). Anyway, until this old salty sailor gets his land-legs back, I think that simply wearing my military uniform is the safest thing I can do.

Without trying to be ostentatious or flamboyant, there is something to be said for wearing appropriate apparel. It can identify the dignity of our calling and the respect that we have for those with whom we are engaged. In other words, there is an aspect of integrity and outreach involved, which is my theme tonight.

I first attended Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, during the spring quarter of 1978. Because of the G.I. bill I had earned and the self-discipline and determination that I had learned as an enlisted sailor, I finished Concordia College, Ann Arbor, MI early, at the end of Winter quarter 1978, and drove straight down to St. Louis. Because I missed out on the early registration there, I had to take whatever classes the registrar, Wild-Bill Schmelder, gave to me. First period, 0730, was Systematics I, with Dr. Richard Klann. As I understand it, Dr. Klann grew up in a German enclave in, Kitchner, Ontario, Canada. He spoke with a distinct German accent. He used to grill us with questions to see if we had sufficiently digested Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics the night before. He was also proud that he served as a chaplain during World War II. We students often wondered though, which side? Even though I’m sure he had served with the Canadian Forces, we thought he might have learned some of his questioning techniques from the Gestapo! Anyway, second period, 0830, was Dr. Martin Scharlemann, the General, who had served as an Army Air Corps chaplain in World War II, an Air Force Reserve chaplain after that, and who taught Hermeneutical Principles and other exegetical courses at the seminary. What a way to start the day, with Klann and Scharlemann! What a way to start my seminary education! It was actually somewhat familiar; like being back in boot camp!

Then came a break until early afternoon, when I had Dr. August Suelflow for American Lutheranism. That is where my love for the study of American Lutheran church history began. From early on in the course, Dr. Suelflow made it clear that a study of the history of American Lutheranism is a study of the tension between integrity and outreach. Both are at the heart of what being Lutheran is all about. To be true to our Lord, His Word, and our Confessions, both integrity and outreach must be maintained. Like many paradoxes in Lutheran theology, it is never a matter of either/or, but always a matter of both/and. Integrity is the desire and intent to remain true to the teaching of God’s Word in both doctrine and practice. There is a strong sense of stewardship of God’s mysteries as one seeks to hold and confess the faith once delivered to all the saints. Outreach is a desire and intent to share that treasure through confession, evangelism, missions and the formal recognition of the unity of faith wherever God the Holy Spirit has established it.

In the Preface to the Book of Concord, we clearly see this both/and of integrity and outreach: "We took up… and again unanimously subscribed this Christian confession, based as it is on the witness of the unalterable truth of the divine Word, in order thereby to warn and, as far as we might, to secure our posterity in the future against doctrine that is impure, false, and contrary to the Word of God. This we did that we might testify and declare…to everyone… that it was in no way our disposition and intention to adopt, to defend, or to spread a different or a new doctrine. Rather, with divine assistance, it was our intention to remain and abide loyally by the truth once recognized and confessed at Augsbrug in the year 1530, in the confidence and hope that thereby the adversaries of pure evangelical doctrine would be constrained… and that other good-hearted people would have been reminded and stimulated by this our reiterated and repeated confession the more seriously to investigate the truth of the divine Word that alone gives salvation, to commit themselves to it, and for the salvation of their souls and their eternal welfare to abide by it and persist in it in a Christian way without any further disputation and dissension." Integrity and outreach! It is what we as Lutherans are all about.

When the Saxons of Missouri and the Loehe ‘Sendlinge’ (sent ones) of Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan came together in Chicago in 1847 to form the Missouri Synod, the first Constitution gave as reasons for forming a synodical organization: "The preservation and furthering of the unity of pure confession… and to provide common defense against separatism and sectarianism…The unified spread of the kingdom of God and to make possible the promotion of special church projects. (Seminary, agenda, hymnal, Book of Concord, schoolbooks, Bible distribution, mission projects within and outside the Church.)" Therefore, conditions for membership included: "Acceptance of Holy Scripture, both the Old and the New Testament, as the written word of God and as the only rule and norm of faith and life. Acceptance of all the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church…as the pure and unadulterated explanation and presentation of the Word of God. Separation from all commixture of Church or faith, as, for example, serving of mixed congregations by a servant of the Church; taking part in the service and Sacraments of heretical or mixed congregation; taking part in any heretical tract distribution and mission projects, etc." ["Our First Synodical Constitution," CHIQ 16 (April 1943):2-3] Again, integrity and outreach were maintained.

Time does not permit me to go into detail, but it can be safely said that for most of the first one hundred years of our Synod’s history, diligent effort was made to maintain both integrity and outreach. In saying that, I do not want to sound nostalgic or imply that our forefathers were perfect. Far from it! For example, prior to World War I, both integrity and outreach were intricately linked to the German language in an English speaking country. There was also considerable struggle over the sending out of missionaries called Reiseprediger (riding preachers), because our forefathers were concerned that this affected the integrity of the doctrines of church and ministry. However, throughout that time, our Missouri Synod forefathers were committed to maintaining both integrity and outreach. They wrestled with doctrinal issues, and didn’t take the purity of doctrine (die reine Lehre) lightly. Missionaries and chaplains were sent out at home and abroad. Congregations were started across the frontier. Efforts at recognizing true unity between Synods were conducted. Synodical members took seriously their confessional subscription and their agreement to walk together according to our Synodical Constitution. Those who disagreed left the Synod and joined a church body to which they did agree. And God blessed the Synod with confessional unity and numerical growth.

However, the seeds of change were developing just prior to World War I, interestingly enough, in New York City. The formation of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau in 1914 saw the beginning of an emphasis on outreach over against integrity. These views were spread through publications like The American Lutheran (and eventually Lutheran Forum, Missouri in Perspective and Forum Letter). In time, this group participated in concerted politicking at the 1935 synodical convention, which ousted Friedrick Pfotenhauer and elected John Behnken, our first American born synodical president. It continued with the Statement of the Forty-four in 1945, which unfortunately, was simply swept under the carpet in order to keep a superficial peace within the Synod. In addition, professors were called to our seminaries and colleges who had been influenced by liberal German theologians like Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann, Werner Elert, and Paul Althaus. The 1965 Mission Affirmation and the formation of the Lutheran Council in the USA both stressed outreach at the expense of integrity, as did the declaration of fellowship with the American Lutheran Church in 1969.

This stress on outreach at the expense of integrity is closely linked to those who invoked "Law-Gospel" as the ruling or only hermeneutical presupposition in Lutheran theology. During the 1960s, we came to know it as Gospel Reductionism. Originating at Valparaiso University within the Missouri Synod, it was taught by several professors in the Systematic Department at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, as well as elsewhere. It paved the way for the use of the historical-critical method in Biblical interpretation. This view falsely identifies the Law as only that which condemns, and the Gospel as only that which frees or liberates. The Gospel is pitted against the rest of Scripture. The Law is seen as "sub-Gospel." The third use of the Law, the informing or guiding use of the Law, as articulated in the Formula of Concord, Article VI, is therefore discarded. Instead of Scripture being the norm for the church’s message, the Gospel alone becomes the norm, and the Law no longer has any normative authority for the church’s practice. There is no longer any authority for either codification or enforcement of doctrinal standards. According to this understanding, Gospel becomes "a carte blanche for moral and doctrinal freedom," which ultimately leads to doctrinal and moral anarchy. All of this is well identified and documented in a new book written by Scott R. Murray and published by CPH, entitled Law, Life, and the Living God, which I strongly recommend to all of you.

However, what has become more and more clear recently, particularly this past year, is that not all of the proponents of Gospel Reductionism left the Missouri Synod in the 1970s with the Walk-Out at Concordia Seminary and the formation of the AELC. Unfortunately, many have stayed. Several of these individuals have organized into a new political action group called Jesus First, and they publish their views in print and over the internet through DayStar. Because outreach is stressed over integrity, they do not view their disagreements with the integrity of the Missouri Synod as something that should cause them to leave. Rather, the doctrinal integrity of the Synod is something to be discarded, overcome or changed. As we have seen in recent times, some have become more and more emboldened in their defiance of the confessional position of our church body. Attempts on the part of confessional pastors and lay people at holding to the integrity of our Synod’s confessional position and our agreement to walk together according to our Synodical Constitution are decried as loveless or uncharitable. Those who take issue with violations are accused of terrorism, of making our Synod look like the Taliban of Christianity and are charged with Pharisaical judgmentalism. What Dr. Kurt Marquardt wrote in his 1977 Anatomy of an Explosion, remains ever so true today: "‘Law and Gospel’ also have been turned into ‘a lifeless speculation.’ In chic Lutheran usage, ‘evangelical’ means tolerant, and the ‘Gospel’ is identified with a kind of secular permissiveness." (pp. 143-144)

Outreach at the expense of integrity has severely impacted the LCMS in missions and chaplaincy work. In this important area of outreach, we have intertwined ourselves with a church body that we, as a Synod, have now officially acknowledged as being no longer orthodox. Yet, we continue to work hand-in-hand with the ELCA overseas in both missions and the four so-called International Lutheran congregations, as well as in the military and institutional chaplaincies. We continue to support missions and missionaries like LAMP, which are not committed to starting confessional Lutheran congregations. We endorse institutional chaplains, some of whom are female, as well as missionaries and "lay ministers" who are not ordained, and yet who preach and administer the sacraments in direct opposition to Scripture and the Confessions. Some of our own church leaders flaunt conditions for membership that are clearly set forth in our Synodical Constitution, openly involving themselves in unionistic and syncretistic practices and characterizing the differences between the Missouri Synod and the ELCA as "trivial" and "idiotic."

I would like to share an e-mail exchange I had with one of our synodical mission executives, who will remain nameless. He wrote to me: "Dear John, I just wanted to share a quotation I remember from Werner Elert’s, The Structure of Lutheranism, where he quotes Luther’s view of moving forward aggressively with the Gospel in the world of the unbeliever without even a call, ‘But when the Christian is at a place where there are no Christians, there he needs no other call than that he is a Christian who is inwardly called and anointed by God. There it is his obligation to preach to the erring heathen and non-Christians and to teach the Gospel as a duty of Christian love, even though no one calls him to do this.’ (WA 11, 412, 11ff. Ehlert, pp. 389-390) Brother John, I am troubled by your statements… God’s very mission is at stake when we communicate with others "charges" that fan the flames of dissension. Jesus’ very high priestly prayer shows concern for the Gospel moving forward, ‘May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.’ John 17:23. As God’s "sent ones" we need to use every ounce of energy to move the Gospel forward. We should constantly ask ourselves, ‘What is the ultimate goal of my activities and communications? Are they to reach the souls of those who are heading straight to eternal damnation?"

To this e-mail message, I responded: "Dear [‘so-and-so’], I would like to share a quotation from Luther’s ‘Sermon on suffering and the cross’ (W.A. 32.37f): ‘And we can see – unfortunately it is a general thing – that many abuse the Holy Gospel, behaving as if they were freed from all obligations through the Gospel and that there is nothing more they need do, or give or suffer. This is a sin and a shame.’ In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, our Lord also says: "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.’ (John 17:17) Christ calls us to reach out with the Gospel (outreach), true; but He also calls us to be faithful (integrity). Brother [‘so-and-so’], I am troubled by what seems to be an ‘exception makes the rule’ approach, or worse yet, a no rule approach (antinomian, Gospel Reductionism) to missions in our beloved Synod. Christ calls us to make disciples of all nations by baptizing in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and by teaching ALL that He has commanded. It is not an either/or; it is a both/and! Outreach and integrity must go hand-in-hand. I can share with you many horror stories, beginning with my vicarage, but particularly involving 20 years as a Navy chaplain, where those LCMS pastors, chaplains, and missionaries who repeatedly let the exception make the rule caused severe damage, gave a faulty or poor witness, and made things extremely difficult for those who followed and who sought to remain faithful. As Luther said, ‘This is a sin and a shame.’" By the way, I did not receive a response to that e-mail.

Recently, a district president wrote an article in his district news-letter, comparing the paradox of pure doctrine and missions to two tectonic plates lying deep beneath the surface of the Synod. He states that these are the bedrock on which our Synod was founded. I read his article with interest after I had already written the main part of this presentation. In some ways, he anticipated what I was going to say, only with a different analogy, a different emphasis, and then, a different application. He notes that the two plates of pure doctrine and missions, as he describes them, are affected by the societal quaking which our nation is presently experiencing. He believes it is ill advised to build during such a tremor. He then goes on to observe: "The plates of both time and eternity are moving and every indication is that the aftershocks will continue and may even increase. This is not the time for "quick fixes," hysterical leadership, closed minds, failure of nerve, or thin faith." I would agree with this assessment. However, I hope that he and others supporting his views would even handedly, without prejudice, apply this very assessment to the initial decisions and actions by our synodical and district officials who responded to the catastrophic events surrounding 9/11 in and around New York City. Specifically, I am referring to the actions and decisions that ran counter to our Synod’s long-standing confessional integrity and that greatly aggravated the quaking within our church body to this day. I also prefer the terms used by Dr. August Suelflow: "integrity and outreach" seem more comprehensive than "pure doctrine and missions." Integrity includes pure doctrine, but also more. It involves doctrine and practice. It embraces honor and honesty; saying what you mean and meaning what you say. Similarly, outreach is a broader, more comprehensive term that includes missions, but involves confession, social welfare, the recognition of Christian fellowship and more.

I began this speech talking about my civilian uniform anxiety, spoofing some of the characterizations within our Synod and some of my beloved professors from seminary days. I think it is important that we keep a sense of humor, especially that we maintain an ability to laugh at ourselves during challenging times. Dr. Martin Scharlemann used to refer to Rule # 6. It was a few weeks before final exams, I believe in the Spring of 1978. Many of us were anxious and stressed over our studies. For two weeks in a row, Dr. Scharlemann wrote in the campus student paper and the daily announcements: "Remember Rule #6!" That was all. Everyone was wondering what in the world he was talking about. Then, finally, during the week of final exams, he published this story. A British Royal Navy Admiral had an aid, a young Ensign, who was always meticulous but overly anxious, apparently worried about his performance, his appearance, and undoubtedly, his future as a naval officer. One day, while the aid was assisting the Admiral, the senior naval officer said: "Don’t forget Rule #6!" Well, the aid began searching all of the military manuals to find out what this Rule #6 was, but to no avail. He even searched the British Museum library, all the way back to the Magna Charta, with no luck. Finally, the young Ensign returned to the Admiral with his tail between his legs, and said: "I’m very sorry, Sir, but I can find no reference to Rule # 6. What is it? Have I missed something in the performance of my duties?" The Admiral paused, looked up from sipping his brandy and puffing on his cigar, and with a rye smile said: "Young man, don’t take yourself too bloody seriously! That is Rule #6."

Personally, I think that this is good advice with respect to our individual nuances and idiosyncrasies. By laughing at ourselves, we can focus on that which is infinitely more important. What is more important, and I’m confident that Dr. Scharlemann, Dr. Klann, Dr. Suelflow, Professor Schmedler, Dr. Scaer and Dr. Marquadt would concur, is that we, both individually and collectively as members of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, take seriously our Lord’s call to maintain both integrity and outreach. There has been a struggle over this for more than fifty years within our Synod, as confessional pastors and lay people have sought to pull the pendulum back from an either/or to a both/and. The outcome is still unclear, and I must confess, this concerns me greatly. It should be crystal clear to pastors and laity throughout our Synod that both integrity and outreach are vital to our identity and mission as confessional Lutherans.

In his acceptance speech at the 1992 synodical convention in Pittsburgh, Dr. Alvin Barry said: "Keep the message straight, Missouri. Get the message out, Missouri." Dr. Barry had a way of putting things simply and clearly, and thus, he had a gift for managing meaning. Integrity and outreach: our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has indeed called us to both. "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen." (Jude 24-25)

Soli Deo Gloria

John C. Wohlrabe, Jr., Th.D.

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