An Answer to Pastor David Rohde’s “Why Stay?”

When I learned that a paper on why to stay in the LCMS was being given at a free conference in Brenham, Texas, I told one of my members he should go and hear it.  He is contemplating going to seminary, and he needs to know what the best reasons for staying in the LCMS are.He went to the conference.  When he came back he got a copy of the paper from its author.  He asked me to read it.  I replied that I would read it if he would go back through all the Convention Workbooks for the Texas District and the LCMS from 1984 to date to see how many resolutions were submitted from St. Paul, Wilson, Texas while Pastor Rohde was pastor there, 1984 – to the present.  He found one resolution submitted by that congregation in 2004.  One resolution in 23 years from the man who says, “It is always easier to flee; but we are called to fight” (p. 22).  Warfare for the Synod or a district takes place nowhere else other than the convention, and it is waged by resolutions.  True enough, as Pastor Rohde points out, those in power manipulate the process to make our resolutions (My congregation submitted 6 to the last district convention and 7 to the last synodical one.) of no effect, but as Pastor Rohde points out, we are called to suffer such indignities.   I was not going to read his paper, but then my conscience was bothered by the fact that this young man went through a mountain of Convention Workbooks.  I read “Why Stay?”  I sent it to my elders saying it deserves a response.  This is that.

Rev. Pastor Rohde says on page 1, “[T]he answer for our present situation is not for those who are called shepherds to round up the sheep and leave the fold; rather our responsibility is to identify the wolves and drive them out of the sheep pen.” If my sheep and I leave the LCMS, we aren’t leaving the fold.  We are the fold complete with sheep and a shepherd.  Synod is as Pastor Rohde describes it on page 13 “more of an association within an earthly institution.”  We don’t cease to be Church if we leave the LCMS.

Pastor Rohde uses the Arian controversy to show “that even in the midst of heresy in connection with the Person of Christ there was no thought of creating another body of believers as a way to escape conflict” (p. 3).  This is a favorite argument of those wishing to stay and “fight.”  Arguing from the nascent days of the Church to us is akin to arguing from the days of the Patriarchs to the New Testament.  People ask in Bible class how come they had so many wives, and why doesn’t the Lord judge them for it?  The 6th Commandment was not yet written in stone.  We benefit from centuries of having the 6th Commandment preached, taught, and lived among us.  The Patriarchs were surrounded by paganism.  Athanasius lived during the time the Church was clarifying the Biblical confession of the Holy Trinity.  We have centuries of clarity of thought on this issue.  Being willing to pray with pagans in any fashion after so many years of enlightenment is much more serious than what Athanasius was faced with.  Even as now we could not bear with a member having multiple wives without imperiling our own salvation,  so we cannot bear with those willing to let Jesus appear to be one option among many gods.  No matter how much they proclaim Jesus is the only way to be saved their actions belie that confession.

Pastor Rohde deals with Romans 16:17 in the same manner that the Statement of the Forty-Four did in 1945.  They concluded that it was not to be applied to erring Christian brothers.  Pastor Rohde concludes that since Athanasius never used it “as a way out (p. 6),” we aren’t to use it either.  What are we to do with our officially adopted “Brief Statement” which cites Romans 16:17 as the proof text for separating from a heterodox church body?  Does Pastor Rohde wish to argue that the LCMS is not a heterodox church body?  Does he wish to argue that our current crisis is nothing more than the “casual intrusion of error?”

Pastor Rohde says the 3 epistles of John support staying in the Synod.  Two passages we have historically used to teach sheep are to judge shepherds and leave unfaithful ones, are used to support the opposite.  He says the situation is that Gnostics have gained control of the congregation.  I don’t think the Gnostics are in control of the church John writes to anymore than the “super apostles” were in control of the church at Corinth. But Pastor Rohde uses his assumption to prove his point. “There isn’t a hint of John encouraging the faithful to leave this congregation.  Rather, he commands them not to take part in false teaching or even to aid the false teachers in any way” (p.8).  So Pastor Rohde has us picture faithful Christians listening to false teaching as they try to remove the false teacher.  Contrast this with Franz Pieper’s view.  “It is important to point out again and again that in all Scripture there is not a single text permitting a teacher to deviate from the Word of God or granting a child of God license to fraternize with a teacher who deviates from the Word of God” (Vol. III, 422).

Pastor Rohde seems to respond by saying in effect, “Our teachers aren’t deviating that much.”  He says on page 20, “Notice that our problems do not consist of a denial of the Trinity, or the divinity of Christ, or the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the miracles of our Lord, or even his bodily ascension into heaven.  Many of our problems revolve around practical issues.”  I would say that the LCMS vindicating David Benke’s participating in a syncretistic prayer service is a denial of all these things in that it regards Jesus as just another deity to be prayed to.  Besides it is the way of postmodernism not to deny what other people are asserting but to assert that their views can be regarded as true alongside contradictory ones.  Rodney King has become the chief theologian of the LCMS: “Can’t we all just get along?”

On page 9 Pastor Rohde brings out an argument I first heard in 1985 from the now sainted Pastor Rehwinkel, a leader of the conservative movement in the LCMS during the 60’s and 70’s.  He too argued that time was running out for the liberals to remake the Synod.  Rehwinkel told us that 1989, 1992 at the very latest, would be the high water mark for them.  If we could just hold out till then, we would be the majority.  1992 is 15 years in the rearview mirror.  In 1985 we argued over accepting unionism.  Now we argue about accepting syncretism.  In 1985 we still argued about women voting.  Now we have women elders, presidents, readers, and communion assistants.  In 1985 we knew lay ministry was an oxymoron.  Now we’ve sanctioned this alchemy.  In 1985 we argued about the doctrine of closed communion.  Now we argue about the practice of open communion.

The good ship Missouri, which Professor Marquart assured us in that same meeting in 1985 was turning, has hit the rocks and is now sinking into ELCAism.  Pastor Rohde styles those leaving the Synod as fleeing Elijahs, hardly a flattering similitude.  It does sound nobler to be captain-like and go down with your ship, but the LCMS was never my ship.  Is it yours?

If anything Pastor Rohde’s arguments prove too much.  If he is right, we shouldn’t have broken with the ALC in 1983.  In fact, we should declare altar and pulpit fellowship with the ELCA right now. Can’t we say about it what Pastor Rohde says about us: “Notice that our problems do not consist of a denial of the Trinity, or the divinity of Christ, or the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the miracles of our Lord, or even his bodily ascension into heaven.  Many of our problems revolve around practical issues.”  Does the ELCA do any of these things in their conventions?  How about the Roman Catholics?

It seems to me that the weight of our own theology will necessarily break us off of the LCMS tree unless we start to repudiate it.  What I was taught about the differences between heterodox and orthodox churches, fellowship, and false teaching only leads to one conclusion.  So the question is was I taught wrongly?  Perhaps as Pastor Rohde believes Romans 16:17 and 2 John 9 don’t apply to erring Christians.  Maybe it is only a casual intrusion of error for the LCMS to allow praying with pagans, women to be readers in church, laymen to administer sacraments, and open communion as another way to practice communion.  I can only stay in the LCMS if I distance myself from the theology I was taught in her seminary. 

Pastor Rohde believes it’s easier to go than stay, I think the opposite.  By staying he doesn’t face the loss of his health insurance, his income, his way of life, but does he face the loss of his own soul?  I can’t speak for him, but this is my fear, not for him, but me. 

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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