What’s Worse than a False Dichotomy?

What’s worse than a false dichotomy?  The failure to recognize a true dichotomy.  President Harrison’s latest discovered truth is in his words garnered from “studying and paging through my Greek New Testament” yet, strangely enough, it is quoted from Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. It is that witness and confession belong together (Lutheran Witness, December 2010, 29).

Check out a concordance and an English dictionary.  A witness is always one who has seen something firsthand.  I cannot be a witness to the life, death, resurrection, or ascension of Jesus because I did not see any of these first hand.  I can and do, however, confess these things happened.

The 70s and 80s were the decades of the “Witness Workshops.”  In the seminary I was sent to learn the Kennedy Evangelism method at a local church.  Everything was about your witness, witnessing, being a witness, what is your witness.  It’s was a pit that long before the Jehovah Witnesses had claimed, plowed, and harvested this ground decades before.

We are not the church of the witnesses but the church of confessors.  We don’t assert in our confessions to witness to anything.  No, we believe, teach, and confess things.  The very magazine Harrison’s article is published in, The Lutheran Witness, is a witness to the state of Lutheranism in the LCMS.  I’d say that historically this witness testifies that we are shallow, ashamed of our Lutheranism, and panderers in the extreme.

Anyway, the Kittel quote Harrison uses doesn’t say what Harrison wants it to, i.e. that we need both witnessing and confessing today.  Kittel refers to I John 4: 14ff and concludes, “’Witness’ and ‘confession’ merge into one another.”  I don’t know if it’s Kittel’s point but I know it is John’s: apostolic witness is to give way to the confession of what the apostles witnessed.  Read for yourself:  “And we have seen and testify [witness] that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”

But papering over what he believes to be a false dichotomy is not my problem with President Harrison.  Not recognizing the true dichotomy that exists in the LCMS is.  There is a dichotomy: between those who believe praying with pagans is a denial of the gospel and those who believe it’s a furtherance; between those who believe closed Communion is to be practiced and those who believe it is to be ignored; between those who believe the Order of Creation applies in all of Creation and those who believe it applies in the pastoral office and the home; between those who wish to save a Synod and those who wish to save souls, their own included.

I, a confessing Lutheran, can live together doing acts of mercy with other confessing Lutherans who believe witnessing is the church’s prime directive.  I may not be able to marry them, but I can live with them.  I can’t live together with those aren’t in the same house as I am because at the end of the day we each go home to our own.

Pascal said, “’A man does not prove his greatness by standing at an extremity, but by touching both extremities at once filling all that lies between them’”(The Pilgrim’s Regress, 95).  This is true when you’re talking about two things that are true but not when you’re talking about truth and falsehood.

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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