Sermons and Papers

Genuine Terrorism

by Pastor Robin D. Fish, Sr.

On September 11th, two aircraft loaded with passengers and fuel struck and took down the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Another crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania as heroic passengers apparently thwarted a fourth terrorist attack on our nation. The carnage was appalling and the scope of it was staggering, and, although it is not politic in post 9/11 America, nothing really out of the ordinary happened. The scale of the event was terrible, and the physical concentration of the deaths was shocking, and deliberately so, but nothing happened that day that doesn't happen on other days.

Planes crash. People die. Over five thousand people die on average in the United States on any ordinary day. Some die tragically. Some die suddenly and unexpectedly. The deaths of each of them is a sorrow and shattering event in the lives of their loved ones and friends. There is no desire to diminish the loss of each person and family and organization on September 11th. They deserve our sympathy and our support, as do those who die every other day of the year. What catches our attention is the concentration of those deaths in one area at one time at the hand of evil people. As a nation we need to respond to the act of war and violence, and we have.

Jesus said, "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." As unpleasant and shocking as the deaths due to that terrorist attack are, they are only the destruction of the body. There is a deeper tragedy, and a greater violence that is to be done - often has been done. That is the terrorism of false teaching and preaching. Every time a false teacher preaches, he has the potential to destroy a living soul, and lead another being down the road to eternal death and destruction.

"The truth shall make you free." Conversely, the lie enslaves, imprisons, and kills. The most deadly truth of the terrorist attack on America is not 747's loaded with fuel, it is Yankee Stadium, loaded with well-intended but totally misguided so-called "religious leaders" each teaching by example that there is no difference between their faiths - at least none of any real consequence. They prayed and preached and listened to the readings from one another's holy books, and made it clear by their conduct and their words that it is all the same. Jews and Moslems, Hindus and Buddhists, Christians and Sikhs, we all follow that indistinct path toward the same divine being or condition. What matters is not the title, or the teachings, but human comfort, and peace and unity in the face of some unknown threat.

From the perspective of a common parish pastor, and a life-long Lutheran, the most horrifying event wrought by the Terrorist Attack of September 11th was the rush by all who called themselves "Christian" to set aside their confession of Christ for their fifteen minutes of fame in Yankee Stadium. As a Missouri Synod Lutheran, it was Rev. David Benke standing before a television audience of millions in the name of my beloved Synod and adding our public confession to the debris of the twin towers. He implicitly denied Christ and the confession of truth itself by standing shoulder to shoulder with those who reject Christ and participating in an event which has elevated the danger to all faithful confession - and confused thousands of men and women who should have been able to depend on him for clarity and guidance.

First, in the ecumenical fervor which has accompanied the "Prayer for America" service, the public posture of our society has been shifted and hardened in the attitude that holding to one's own faith in distinction from another's is arrogance, and somehow unpatriotic. How dare we stand divided when the enemy threatens us all alike? It is the cry of Charles the fifth of the Holy Roman Empire against Luther and the Confessors at the time of the Reformation. The enemy then, as now - strangely enough, was the Turk, militant Islam.

Second, this has become the occasion for monstrous evil in our Synod. Suddenly it is acceptable to practice unionism and, worse yet, syncretism within a church body whose membership requirements explicitly list "the renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description." Political maneuvering has already been accomplished to hold those guilty of high treason against the Gospel as beyond the scope of church discipline. Only a convention, conveniently three years distant, can hold the President accountable. And only he can hold the Rev. Benke accountable, and yet to do so would be to acknowledge his own complicity in the error.

It is distressing to read the printed editorial comments of some from within our own Synod comparing faithfulness to the Gospel to the Taliban, or to read quotes of President Kieschnick brushing aside theological concerns with a dismissive "But Guess what? Leaders are always disappointing somebody." It hurts to read of faithfulness as an obstacle and theology as a "speed bump on the road", but it is utterly terrifying to read the leader of the once conservative, once faithful Missouri Synod addressing concerns about an act which boldly repudiates the faith of those who die rather than deny Christ throughout the world even today in terms that suggest that the time for faithfulness has passed:

"This is not your grandfather's United States of America," he said. "Things have changed a bunch in the past 30, 40, 50 years. Were there people of the Islamic faith in the country in the middle of the 20th century? Maybe. But not as many as there are today."

The justification for this new openness is publicly portrayed not as theology, nor as a new and clearer understanding of God's Word, but personal experience. "Kieschnick said Monday that besides the prayer controversy, two recent events have strengthened his belief that his tolerance is just: his tour of ground zero, and his recovery from surgery. 'I saw the rubble, I smelled the burning stench,' Kieshnick said." The commitment he expressed in the face of this situation is not a new one. It can be ferreted out of his pre-election speeches and comments. The Terrorist attack on America simply provided a convenient stage upon which to enact his platform of reform.

The true terrorism we have witnessed is against the saving truth of the Gospel, and the clear confession of Christ. It has confused men and women, clergy and laity, about what and when and how one could and should stand for the truth. The spirit of our age and the cultural ideal of individualism war against the concept of objective truth on the one hand, and the concept of the body of Christ on the other. Rather than strengthening the truth, or even the concept of the truth, the terrorism of syncretism at Yankee Stadium has challenged the historic confession of Christ as "the way, the truth, and the life". Far from expressing the unity of the body of Christ as the Church, Benke's behavior and Kieschnick's endorsement of it call the very idea of the Church into question by boldly suggesting a greater and more fundamental unity.

They call it acceptable because the Yankee Stadium service was merely a "civic event." But what marks it as a "civic" event? If it is the presence of political personalities we would then need to insist that our elected representative must be excluded from the Church, and religious men from the governing of our society. If the civic nature is determined by the celebrities and other non-religious people participating, then we must exclude the possibility of outreach and evangelism, for that would turn all of our services into mere "civic events". If the elements of worship - Invocation, Scripture lessons, Sermons (called "reflections"), prayers, songs of faith, and Benedictions - do not mark this as a worship service, then we are at a loss to identify worship by any external marks. And if such worship activities can be conducted jointly with the worship of entirely different deities without meriting the charge of syncretism, we have just defined an ancient sin out of existence - and marked as foolish and useless the martyr's death of all those who have died rather than deny Christ by granting their worship to any other god.

The true disaster caused by the September terrorists is the dilution, perhaps even destruction in some quarters, of the confession of the Gospel, and the erasing of the confessional nature of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. We have sold our birthright for a mess of new age pottage. In the name of acceptability to the world around us, and looking good on television, we have seen the leadership of our Synod turn their back on "Scripture Alone" for experience, and "Christ Alone" for the vast ecumenism of Yankee Stadium Prayer Services and civic unity.

Lastly, the terrorists of September have brought about something unseen in the Missouri Synod until these days: our leader attempting to manipulate the Synod through the use of public opinion by accessing secular media. We have had in-Synod newspapers lobbying the membership with their own agendas for decades - Jesus First, Forward, Missouri in Perspective, and Christian News, to name a few. But this is the first time that the leader of our Synod has chosen to manage a theological controversy by frequent access to secular media, spin doctors, just as in secular politics, in tow. Now we do not even resort to the Word of God to resolve our theological controversies!

The true terrorism is the terrorism that destroys souls and conceals the way of life. The loss of life, though tremendous and tragic is a consequence and symptom of sin. The truth of the clearly proclaimed Gospel is our only recourse and hope. It is genuine, terror inspiring actions which threaten to confuse or obfuscate that one hope of mankind. To act against the truth or the clear confession of the truth is the act of the real terrorists of September.

The Apostle Paul writes, 1 Timothy 6:3-5, If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.

On the other hand, he says, 2 Timothy 1:8-11, 13-14, Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. . . . Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.

May the Lord guide us and keep us in these days!

Robin D. Fish, Sr.,
Pastor, peace Lutheran Church, Greenview, MO

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