". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Walther and Luther on Quarrels Among Christians

A blog I read has lately been the scene of a rather intense theological discussion that has at times been enlightening but has at other times been discouraging due to the behavior of some of the participants. A wise commenter posted this passage from C. F. W. Walther's Essays for the Church, Vol. 2 (Concordia Publishing House, 1992). It resonated with me for a whole host of reasons, and I thought I would share it here.

Alas, dear brethren, how often do we not get into arguments and quarrels! Therefore, when I notice that if I carry the fight out to its bitter end our whole communion will suffer as a result, then—unless God’s honor and the salvation of souls are at stake—I should say, “Let’s drop this subject. It is clear that we can’t reach any agreement. Let us not destroy our precious fraternal harmony.” Everyone must keep this in mind: When people get worked up at conferences or conventions, you must immediately ask yourself, “Where will this end?” Then the officials have to say, “This will never do; there will be no further discussion of this subject, because it is not only a matter of someone’s feelings getting hurt, but the devil is trying to rob Synod of its precious possession.”

When someone has gone too far but says, “Dear brother, I didn’t intend to be so mean,” I should immediately forgive him. But if I would respond, “Do you realize the full enormity of your conduct? Do you really repent of what you’ve done?” then I am being too legalistic (da wird die Goldwage genommen). That is wrong. We should not do that unless the offender has clearly demonstrated that he is a hardened and unrepentant sinner. In that case we must firmly inform him, “If you do not repent of your sin, you are lost.” That is the proper procedure.

Luther therefore says, commenting on the words [in John 15:9], “Abide in My love”:

“You cannot avoid offending another person at times, just as little as you can keep one foot or toe from touching the other or [as little as you can avoid] hurting yourself [occasionally]. You cannot avoid such bumps and bruises to another’s ego, especially in view of the fact that here on earth we live in the kingdom of Satan, who is constantly tempting us, and on top of that, because our flesh is still weak and full of sin. No doubt that is why the most saintly and dearest of friends will occasionally disagree and prick up their ears at one another, why the devil occasionally fills our hearts with suspicion and bitterness because of one statement or one glance, so that these former friends are filled with antagonism toward each other. He is a master at that trick, works hard at perfecting it, and often succeeds with it before we are even aware of what he is up to. That is what happened between Paul and Barnabas. Acts 15:39 tells us that ‘they had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.’

“Another example of this is the case of Jerome and Rufinus, who were the best of friends, as close as brothers. Yet they disagreed so bitterly about a preface that they never became friends again. No doubt the same thing would have happened between St. Augustine and Jerome if Augustine had not been wise enough [to avoid it]. Thus any little thing can create such quarreling and enmity that it does great harm to a whole group. Blood soon begins to boil, and the devil shoots his poisoned arrows into our hearts through evil tongues, so that neither one can say or think anything good about the other one. The devil fans that fire and tries to arouse people against one another in an attempt to create heartache and murder. . . .

“Therefore we Christians must constantly be on our guard against the devil’s skill and trickery. We must so conduct ourselves that we do not allow such poison to grow up in our hearts. Even though we are tempted to become bitter and hateful, we must suppress such feelings and remind ourselves not to let our mutual love die, but firmly cling to it. And even if resentment or disunity does arise, we must re-establish and strengthen our mutual love. For, to begin to love is not very difficult, but as Christ says in this passage, abiding in love is truly an art and a virtue. Even though, when they are first married, many couples are so madly in love that they virtually eat each other up, later on they become mortal enemies. Now, the same thing also happens among Christian brethren. Some trivial incident destroys their mutual love, and those who should cling to one another in love with all their might allow themselves to be torn apart and become the most bitter enemies. That is what happened in Christendom after the time of the apostles, when the devil raised up his troublemakers (Rottengeister) and heretics, so that bishops and pastors burned with hatred against one another and consequently the people, too, were divided into all kinds of sects and parties. As a result of that, Christianity suffered mortal harm, for where there is no love, there doctrine cannot remain pure."


Leah said...

Thank you so much for these quotes Cheryl! I had a post in the works partially on this subject and so I may borrow a portion of this as well, especially since these men say it so much better than I.
(That is if I ever finish it ;)

Cheryl said...

Leah, you're welcome! See also the one I posted today from C. S. Lewis. It rocks, too.