Kenneth Korby, of blessed memory, said the above when speaking of the persecution that would come to faithful pastors. It is an allusion to Psalm 91. And it is true. The people will not tolerate sound doctrine. For years the synod has been failing at its task of supporting pastors who wish to be faithful in their ministry.
That’s not exactly the typical Rah-Rah placement day speech. Roughly the equivalent of calling the graduating class at West Point “canon fodder”. During times of war that may, strictly speaking, be true, but it’s impolitic to say so on graduation day. A few years ago, there was a crisis of too few congregations for the number of pastors. 32 men were not placed. It was not a happy day at the seminary. Our then-future Synod President preached one of the best sermons ever heard in a seminary chapel the next day.
Since then, several classes have graduated. All of the men have been placed. Not all still serve. A “stubborn insistence” that the church not go against the Word of God has felled a few of them. They are now serving time in the Lutheran purgatory known as CRM, while the synod studies the issue for another year at least. While the synod studies, brothers work at Walmart, or McDonalds, or whatever job they can find with their degree in theology, to try and support their family. Living with parents or in-laws is the reward for the faithful pastor these days.
These men, these confessors, are to be your model. They knew their livelihood was at stake. They could have given in on the word of God, let the couple that was living together outside of marriage come to the altar. Pretend that it was not a lie and affront to God. They could have backed off the demand that those who are to be communed first be instructed and absolved of sins. After all, don’t we practice “close” communion as a synod? Doesn’t that mean that our practice is close to faithful? What’s the big deal pastor? Why are you being such a prude, while the guy down the street is giving it away from free?
That is not to say that there are not faithful congregations and faithful laity who will stand with and for you. There are. They are a gift from God, and they will lighten your burdens. Treasure them.
But not everyone is so, among the members of our congregations, nor among those tasked with episcope. Some of your brothers stood up to those who would distort the word of God, and were removed by their voter’s assembly. Others were forced to sign their resignation papers, by those who work at desks in office buildings rather than at altars and pulpits, with vague promises of future calls. Those promises were almost certainly lies. Instead of getting a name on call lists, the victim of these lies signed his name to psychological evaluations. The Soviets did the same to dissidents in the past. There is a cost to faithfulness.
Those who remain behind, still blessed to serve, live in fear that such things could happen to them. It is, of course, expected that the world will do such things to us and our families. That the church does so is disgraceful. And yet, our synod is merely preparing us for the reality that may soon be coming to us all.
We have now a Supreme declaration that opposition to same sex marriage is, by definition, driven by animus. The final blow is all but certain to arrive in the next few weeks. Those who attempt to make bread for a living, are suddenly at the center of a media circus if they will not celebrate every deviant practice of man’s imaginings. Unelected tribunals impose ruinous fines on those who dare to believe that “male and female he created them.” Hateful activists seek out targets for their next execution spectacle. It’s not a merely a matter of showing love to those who are sinning. It’s showing love to those who would spit on you, and pluck out your beard, hit you with rods, and place the crown of thorns on your head.
Those who study history know that the signs are pointing toward a persecution. Those who stand firm will put at risk their office, their congregations, their families. Those who will not bend to the spirit of the age will be broken. You have entered the church not in a time of great evangelistic opportunity, but a time of confession. It is indeed a time of opportunity. The opportunity to be faithful when others will not. We do not need cannon lawyers and men who speak glowingly of “churchmen”, using it as euphemism for politicians and cowards. This is a time for men who will stand fast. Who will speak the truth against the rising tide of demonic activity. Who will preach to their people the full strength Word of God. Who will not shy away from calling sinners to repentance, and giving the Gospel of salvation to those who do. You are not called to form committees, and study issues, and serve with distinction on synod boards and commissions. You are not called to stand safely behind the nearest synod report. You are called to bring the Word of God to people that will stop their ears like a petulant child should you try and speak it to them.
You are on the front lines of a war. You are being sent to a losing battleground. The culture has us overrun. There are canons to the left and right, sending volley after volley, and thundering out lies against you. Some of you will be hit. Some of you will fall. The truth is that the battle is lost. But the war has already been won. Unlike the wars of men, where the outcome is in doubt until the final surrender is signed, Jesus Christ has already won the victory. It is a total and unconditional victory. It is not a surrender, for not one of his enemies remains to even wave the white flag. Death is dead. The grave is destroyed. Satan and his forces are routed, mortally wounded. Even if they weren’t, they would never admit defeat. They would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. They will be bound and cast into the lake of fire, where they will do neither.
Victory in eternal things does not mean victory in this world, however. Christ’s resurrection does not mean an easy time for the church, among the country clubs, and speaking the Gospel gently to the glitterati. Our past as nation of Christians does not mean that the Spirit of God will continue to shine His bright beams on our people. We are in a period of darkness and confusion. It seems as if the Spirit’s work may be moving on from our field of service to other places: Africa, Russia, etc. But that does not mean that we do not continue our struggle. We spread the seed because we are given to do so, not because we have been promised a great harvest with full barns and overflowing granaries.
You are entering the battle. Hold on to what you have learned in the seminaries. It will serve you well on the battlefield. And if you need someone to provide cover, look to your brothers in arms. There are among them brave and faithful men who will have your back. Who will share their foxhole with you. It may be a bit crowded in there, but they will give of what they have.
Welcome to the front lines. We aren’t canon fodder, that was Jesus job. But we do follow him.