He’s No Abe Lincoln

If you don’t know the history of this type of phrase Google, Yahoo, or Bing your way to Quayle-Bentsen 1988 debate. In sum, it is a famous putdown where Senator Bentsen assures Vice-President Quayle that he in fact is no Jack Kennedy.  The way in which Bentsen does it is rhetorical oration at its best.  I seek no such heights here.  I’m only here to say that the president of the Lutheran Church Misery, oops Missouri, Synod is no Abraham Lincoln.

This came to me while reading “This Day in U.S. Military History” for March 4.  This was the day Lincoln was first inaugurated in 1861.  In the second last paragraph Lincoln says: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’”

The History Channel calendar leaves out the word dissatisfied in “dissatisfied fellow-countrymen.”  Where I’m quoting from (http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres31.html) has it as does the official government site.  I’m curious about the History Channel lacuna.  I find it changes the tenor of Lincoln’s remarks. It is more accurate to say there were dissatisfied fellow-countrymen in the United States in 1861 even as there are dissatisfied fellow-Missourians in the LCMS in 2013.

Of both dissatisfied groups, it is true to say that we “have no oath registered in heaven to destroy” the government in their case the synod in ours.  Now for the kicker.  President Lincoln did take a solemn vow to ‘preserve, protect, and defend” the government that was a union of states.  No, president of our Synod has ever taken such vow.  Yet the four presidents I have been a pastor under act like they have.  They can’t, won’t, don’t deal biblically, confessionally, theologically, or openly with the divisions that exist among us.  Why?  Because that threatens the union.

The solemn vow of synodical president is the same taken by pastors at their installation.  The pastor who believes his chief mandate is to preserve unity in a church would doubtless become a man-pleaser, a servant of men, rather quickly.  Thankfully, his prime directive is to preach the Gospel purely and administer the Sacraments in accord with Christ’s institution while remaining faithful to the Lutheran Confessions.  But since a pastor directly serves the Body of Christ at a given locale as opposed to a political entity like a synod or district he has more of a Call to be concerned with preserving union than any district or synodical president.

Lincoln’s closing paragraph is the most famous.  There he says the “chorus of the Union” will yet swell from the “mystic chords of memory” when they are again touched “by the better angels of our nature.”  It is true we could all use some touching “by the better angels of our nature,” but I’m afraid right now all that does keep us together are chords of memory.  It’s surely not agreement in doctrine and practice.  Even so, I would agree with yet another sentiment of Lincoln’s.  “We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.” The longer our union is held together by memory and not by a common confession the more we will get along only when we’re remembering the good old days.  And even then our different confessions can’t but grind, grate, and irritate.


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.
This entry was posted in Missouri Megatrends. Bookmark the permalink.