In a recent post, I said that some conversations are not allowed. This may seem a rather bold thing to say. But it is the truth. And it deserves a bit more attention.
Pastors often have questions of casuistry. A good Winkelconference will set aside time for pastors to confidentially bring such matters to the group. These situations can be difficult. They deal with matters that are not directly addressed in scripture or the confessions. The pastor will often search the scriptures, confessions, and writings of the fathers for guidance. Based on those scriptural principles, the pastor must then choose the path that best serves the Gospel, and gives the least occasion for offense against the Gospel. These conversations deal not in “This saith the Lord”, but in the wisdom God gives drawn from the Word of God. An example in Holy Scripture would be Solomon and the two women who each claimed that a child was theirs. An example that pastors often must deal with is what should be allowed for funerals. There is, of course, what is best. And then there is what is necessary for a pastor to minister to the family.
Should the pastor offer services for those who are non-members? When I got a phone call from someone whose dearly departed was baptized in the church decades ago, and now resided in a different state, was not a member of any church, and the family was seeking a “venue” for a “celebration of life”, the answer was easy. They would have walked away anyway when I showed them the service we would be using, and forbid the use of projection screens. But what if the person was related to a member? Ideally it is still no. But if the pastor refuses to offer services, the family will seek pastoral care elsewhere. Is it better to make a clear statement regarding pastoral services and the need for membership in the church, or to ensure that, even in a bad situation, a family is cared for properly? The local “marryin and buryin” generic pastor will say terrible untruths. Do we simple abandon the family to them? What if the person came to church regularly, or even occasionally? They were receiving spiritual care from the pastor, even if they did not commit to membership. The pastor may have had conversations about spiritual matters – especially as death approached. The pastor will have to balance many factors when making a decision. Other pastors can help clarify things and give an objective opinion.
Hymns at funerals are an area where the pastor must often compromise and do things that, in the best of circumstances, he would not do. And yet, limits exist. Where does the line get drawn? If we put all hymns on a spectrum, divided into such categories as A) Great hymns that are encouraged (“A Mighty Fortress”), B) Acceptable hymns used without complain (“Amazing Grace”), C) Unnaceptable hymns that might, in certain circumstances be allowed anyway (“In the Garden”), and D) No (“Ragtime Cowboy Joe” – Not kidding). But where many hymns/songs might fall on that spectrum is a question of human wisdom. Short of taking the strict Calvinist “Only the Psalter” route, these questions will need to be addressed at some point. This is not a matter of confession or of intentional sin. It is a matter of human wisdom in ministering to those who are faithful, but weak in some way. Love covers these sorts of sins. An ongoing conversation can help us all strengthen our practice as we continue to instruct our people.
That is casuistry.
Matters clearly taught in Holy Scripture are not casuistry. For example, scripture could not be clearer that Jesus – in his body – died on the cross and that Jesus – in his body – was raised on the third day. You can not claim the resurrection was only spiritual. It is not a conversation we can have. Similarly, as Pastor Harrison notes, “you cannot stretch days into eons” regarding the six days of creation. Day means day. Anything outside of the normal definition of day is not a conversation that is allowed. Dr. Jurchen has recognized this, and has asked for forgiveness for causing such confusion. That the Saint Louis faculty published an article that posits day means eon, is not acceptable. They are not allowed to have this conversation. They are not leading the church in a fruitful discussion, they are suborning heresy. That is not allowed. The conversation must end with a statement of the clear truth of holy scripture on their part, as Dr. Jurchen has done. They not only published the article, they rebuked pastors who spoke clearly and faithfully to them. They must acknowledge all of this. An anonymous statement online that they will no longer discuss it, while it can still be downloaded and read without so much as a disclaimer, is so inadequate as to be farcical. I’m not saying this for ego’s sake. I’m saying it because the clear confession of Christ commands it. But an example may help show why I say this.
If I am in the Navy, serving on a boat, I can have a lot of different discussions. I can talk about the weather, the state of repair of the ship, the latest news about the work being done in congress, my dislike of taxes, my daughter’s loose tooth, the terrible food, etc. But a conversation I may not have is “How about we get rid of the captain and take over the ship ourselves.” That is mutiny. Even the conversation is disallowed. Back in 2000, when the election was in doubt for over two months, our armed forces were reminded that, no matter how they may feel about the election, the recount, and the court case, they were not allowed to talk about the Vice President in a disrespectful way. They could not suggest that he was trying to “steal the election”, they could not suggest that he was unfit for the presidency. Had he not been the Vice President, the situation would have been different. But as the Constitutionally elected Vice President, certain conversations about him were not allowed. To engage in them would place the soldier outside of the proper discipline required for the military.
So also in the church. We are under orders. (That is what ordination means.) We are to teach and preach according to the Word of God. In matters that are reflective of human wisdom, there may be discussion, and even disagreement. In matters made clear by Holy Scripture there can not be. We are not to disregard Holy Scripture. It is not allowed. We can not teach that Jesus didn’t really rise from the grave. We can not teach that the body and blood are only spiritually present. We can not teach that infants should be excluded from Holy Baptism. And we can not say that day means eon. It is not up for discussion.
Leading a discussion that suggests Scripture is untrue is theological mutiny. It is not allowed in the church. It is especially not allowed by those under orders as teachers in the church. And it is most especially not allowed by those who are set forth to train future pastors. If the limit of what can and can not be discussed is not clear to them, they can not be teachers in the church of any sort. While I think they are sincere when they say they personally teach a six 24-hour day creation, it is still disingenuous of them to say that they are leading a conversation the topic of which is “how many years was each day of creation”. The topic is off limits.
If that is the conversation that is being had in evangelical circles today, I do not care. They may note that the conversation is taking place. They may not put it forward as a legitimate option. We are not evangelicals. In the same way, they can note that Rome is teaching the infallibility of the pope. But they may not put it forward as a legitimate God-pleasing option.
The existence of the discussion elsewhere does not make it acceptable in a church that takes seriously the Word of God. And if they can not see that distinction, then they need to step down from their position as teachers in the church, and yield to those who “have been found faithful.” (1 Cor 4:2)