“The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power;
and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?”
and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?”
Two generalizations can be made about average members in LCMS congregations:
(1) They have a heartfelt desire for the lost and they give generously for Gospel outreach. They want to do everything possible for the sake of the Gospel and they don’t want anything to stand in the way of the Gospel.
(2) They will go to great lengths to see that the 8th Commandment isn’t broken. They don’t want to hear harsh language or unloving comments. Any such talk is repulsive to them and they will not stand for it.
Generally speaking, these are highly commendable characteristics — but not when they are knowingly or unwittingly a cover-up for anything inferior or false. Neither are they commendable when they are inundated with spiritual naivete and gullibility.
The theological and political tensions apparent in the LCMS today are symptomatic. The tensions are not themselves the problem — they are only indications that something is not right. If we are to get to the heart of the matter — and if we are to extol mission work and evangelism in accordance with Christ’s commands and promises — and if we hope to dispel discord and strife, we must carefully examine man-made movements like the Ablaze! initiative.
We can no longer afford merely to make generalizations about generalities, but must rather come to some specific conclusions, braving the “scandal of particularities” about whether the direction of Dr. Kieschnick and the Ablaze! movement should be commended or condemned.
A heartfelt desire for the lost must be founded upon something better than good intentions as the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That expression was coined for a reason. Moses, for example, imagined his intentions were righteous, but his passionate action designed to leave an impression upon the people only served to anger God (Numbers 20:10-12). His passion kept him from entering the Promised Land.
Nadab and Abihu paid a high price for their good intentions, concocting their own recipe for an “unholy fire” in the tabernacle of the Lord only to be consumed by a holy fire from the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-2). The Corinthians had good intentions of being loving toward everyone but were excoriated by the apostle Paul when they acted upon a belief that permissiveness was a loving way to accept members in a Christian congregation (1 Corinthians 5:1-2; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:4).
When a desire to save the lost leads people to abandon the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, downplay pure doctrine, or rely on means other than the Means of Grace for missions and evangelism, then that heartfelt desire is misguided. It will be held accountable for doing violence to the Word of God and doing great harm to mission prospects, misleading them, letting them build on shifting sand rather than on the solid Rock.
When efforts to “be nice” or avoid any sort of criticism means that Christians remain silent when they ought to renounce false teachings and practices, then that heartfelt desire is likewise misguided. The Scriptures are profitably used for rebuke and reproof (2 Timothy 3:16) — and sometimes that rebuke is rather sharp (Matthew 16:23; Galatians 2:11; James 4:4) which does not mean that it is unloving.
Notably, our Lord Jesus Christ has some rather pointed words to say about those who cause others to stumble, saying that it would be better if they had a millstone hung around their necks and they were cast into the depths of the sea (Mark 9:42). To all the world, those words sound unloving, but our Lord was not breaking the Eighth Commandment.
Furthermore, people in the church who esteem peace, love and friendship in a worldly way — who make every effort to be kind and caring at the expense of pure doctrine — are incapable of comprehending why the world would ever hate Christians in the way that our Lord described: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you,” (John 15:19) and they fail to heed the Scripture which says, “Adulterers and adultresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God,” (James 4:4).
The Lord God is the One who chose a word like “harlotry” to describe the blending of His Word with human accommodations (cf. Hosea). It is the Holy Scriptures which use the reference to adultery when people attempt a cohabitation between worldly and that godly peace which can come through Christ alone (John 14:27). We ought not be proud about being so complacent about doctrine or “open-minded” about mitigating God’s Word with secular values.
To the world, naivete, ignorance, gullibility, and complacency give an outward semblance of peaceful coexistence, but in truth they represent a false peace which is no peace at all. They open the door to ungodly admixtures and confusion which ultimately destroy peace between man and God. Those who want such worldly and outward peace surrender many things, even the Gospel. Thus the prophet Jeremiah spoke (see also Ezekiel 13:6 and Galatians 1:6-7),
"How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them? Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors, because from the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain; from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord." (Jer 8:8-12)
When some in the church attempt to redefine peace and love in a worldly way, Christ’s people cannot remain silent. When church members have surrendered themselves to secular approaches to sacred matters, it’s time for a careful and thorough re-examination because God’s people cause great damage when they remain uncritical and silent, foregoing rebuke and reproof even when they are needed. Luther, for example, wrote:
"A teacher, who keeps silent to the error and still wants to be a proper teacher, is worse than a public enthusiast, and he does more damage with his hypocrisy than a heretic and he is not to be trusted, he is a wolf, a fox, a hireling, a belly-server etc. and he may betray and surrender doctrine, word, faith, sacrament churches, and schools, he is hand in glove with the enemies or he is a doubter and a weather-vane and wants to see, what the end is, if Christ or the devil will win, or he is totally uncertain by himself and not worth to be called a student, let alone a teacher, and he wants to irritate nobody nor say Christ’s word nor wants to hurt the devil and the world."
Faithful preaching and teaching leads people to deny themselves, take up the cross and follow Christ. It also exposes that which is falsely called “Christian.” The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod must be scrutinized today just as the Christian Church has always been judged, as the apostle Peter wrote: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not heed the gospel of God?” (1Peter 4:17).
In that light, two questions deserve to be asked. First of all, should Dr. Kieschnick and his administration be praised or rebuked? And secondly, does the Ablaze! initiative further the Gospel or obscure it — and should it be commended or condemned? The following comparisons are made with two premises in mind: (1) not everything which uses the name “Jesus” or “mission” is in fact praiseworthy (e.g. “If it’s about missions, it’s got to be good!”), and (2) if sharp rebuke is appropriate, it does not violate the 8th Commandment.
In Acts 17, we read about how the Bereans received the apostle Paul’s teaching — that they “were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
In subsequent posts, additional analyses will address the specifics of the Ablaze! initiative and the Fanning the Flame efforts in light of God’s Word — “to find out whether these things are so” and to determine whether Dr. Kieschnick’s efforts to promote Ablaze! should be commended or condemned.