We have heard recently of yet another pastor defecting from the purely confessed, preached and taught Gospel, and the rightfully administered Sacraments, with his announcement that he is converting to Roman Catholicism. A tragedy, indeed! It is a tragedy precisely because it is a sin. Have we forgotten this?
What saddens me nearly as much in these recent cases is the reaction I receive from some Lutheran pastors. Rather than making it very clear that leaving Lutheranism for Romanism is a sin against God’s most Holy Word, instead they are more quick to chastise and criticize anyone who makes such an assertion. I hear comments that are in the best tradition of the Lutheran pietists who eschewed polemics: "We can't fault anyone who leaves. Rather we should focus on our own problems."
Lutheran blog sites lament the, real or imagined, wrongs, ills, problems and such in the Lutheran Church. That there are real wrongs, ills and problems is true; however, attempts to affix blame on them for a pastor’s decision to abandon his ordination vows is inappropriate. The only one to blame when a pastor violates his ordination vows and abandons them is the pastor involved.
We should expect more watchmen on the walls of our Lutheran Zion than angst-ridden hand-wringing and a kind of excuse-making for the one who leaves his post among us. We need to call a thing what it is. In this case, as in the rest, it is a defection from the truth of God’s Word and the public embrace of error.
When I read an account of a man headed across the Tiber, or the Bosporus, to Rome or Constantinople, my reaction is one of sadness and disappointment. If the man simply leaves quietly, I am not of a mind that much more should be said. But when a man leaves and then proceeds to use the occasion to propagandize his former church body with tales of his departure and a whole host of attacks on it, and his former confession, no matter how “politely” they are offered, here is where I personally draw the line and recognize that there is required a public word of Law: to depart from the Lutheran Confession is to sin and err. Why? Because the Lutheran Church has exclusive claim on the truth, and all aspects of it? No. Rather, because it is the Lutheran Church, and in the Lutheran Church alone, that we do find the public confession of the Gospel purely preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. Is the Gospel heard in other churches? Yes, of course. That's not the point though.
Simply put, if there are pastors or persons out there who do not comprehend this point, then to that extent they do not comprehend what it means to be Lutheran, and to remain Lutheran. In spite of the blemishes and errors and mistakes that are made within the congregations or administrative structures of various Lutheran denominations, it remains the truth that the Church of the Augsburg Confession is where we find the Gospel purely confessed. If it were not so, or if I believed that one finds the pure confession of the Gospel as part-and-parcel of another church’s public confession, I would be the first to advocate a visible, public expression of that unity in doctrine.
When a pastor leaves his former confession, and when he turns his back on his public confession of the truth of the Gospel, concretely located and anchored in the Lutheran Confessions, there is nothing here to “admire” or “praise” or otherwise laud as admirable. If he left out of conviction, yes, we can acknowledge that he has taken a principled position, but we must make it very clear that such a decision is sin and error since it is a violation of the Word of God.
Enough of the hand-wringing and excuse-making and finger-pointing in such cases. When a pastor abandons the Lutheran Confession and becomes a public advocate of an erring confession, this must be rejected and condemned, not coddled and commiserated with.
Such a firm response will be met with accusations of being “judgmental” or being “unkind” or “judging hearts.” No, there is no judging of hearts, only judging of public confession, which is what the teachers of the church are called to do. It is sad to read on other blog sites such an evident confusion over the nature of the Lutheran Church and its confession.
The one good thing I will say about the most recent departure is that, apparently, as has been the case in other recent and notorious defections from Lutheranism, this pastor did not accept a call to a Lutheran congregation under false pretenses, did not linger in his congregation while all the while recruiting people for his new “start up” parish in another communion and, did not have his parish pay for him to take D.Min. classes at an erring church body’s seminary and so forth. Further, he has not engaged in sheep-stealing from his former Lutheran parish. This much I do commend him for.
But his decision to leave was wrong and sinful and I pray God lead him to repent of this sin, and if that repentance does not happen, I pray God safeguard him and keep him in the true faith, protecting him from the dangerous errors which he has claimed now to be his own. May God in His mercy, defend and guard him from error, and preserve him until life everlasting, according to His grace.