You Could Learn a Lot from a Dummy

This post takes its title from the 1980s’ U.S. Department of Transportation ad campaign to get people to wear seatbelts.  They showed you a crash using test dummies and then this tag line.  In the 1990s Big Brother gave up making nice and revealed the iron fist behind the velvet glove.  “Click it or ticket.” Put it on or pay up.  It’s ironic, perhaps moronic, that I sitting in a 4,000 pound automobile surrounded by metal and air bags must wear a seatbelt but the guy on the less than 1,000 pound motorcycle surrounded only by air doesn’t have to wear a helmet. You think I’ve digressed, but it’s not nearly as far as you think. This post is about learning from dummies.

The dummy to learn from is Voltaire.  I say he is a dummy because “When Voltaire was asked how he, who denied God, could take Holy Communion, he replied that he ‘breakfasted according to the custom of the country’” (Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, 299).  Yet even from this dummy we can learn because he also famously said, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

Many posts ago I spoke about the principle of authority among Roman Catholics, the Reformed, and Confessional Lutherans.  I said you could know what the principle of authority in each group was by what you were not allowed to criticize.  In Rome it’s the papacy, in the Reformed its reason, and among Confessional Lutherans it’s suppose to be the Bible.

This fits in with Voltaire’s observation.  Because the Pope rules over Catholics as sure as the proverbial bear eliminates in the woods.  And reason surely rules the Reformed who can’t get past the finite being capable of the infinite in the Person of Christ. And the Bible use to rule all Confessional Lutherans as sure as higher criticism was allowed to walk out of the LCMS 40 years ago with not so much as one attempt at rapprochement.

I said the Bible use to rule because as of 1999 CPH brought back higher criticism by publishing Dr. James Voelz’s What Does this Mean?. Under the banner of reaching the postmodern world Dr. Voelz’s was allowed to criticize Scripture saying among other things that it was lot more like a waxen nose than some thought (page 221, fn. 9).

But it was really the 2004 Synodical Convention that dethroned Scripture.  There it was decided that the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) was bound not by Scripture buy by resolutions and received CTCR reports.  There it was also decided that if you had the permission of your ecclesiastical supervisor you could not be criticized for what you did. They actually said you couldn’t be brought up on charges. I phrased it the way I did to show you that if you can’t criticize a person who has the permission of his ecclesiastical supervisor than you really aren’t allowed to criticize the latter either.  “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” In 21st century Missouri Synodom you can’t criticize the CCM or ecclesiastical supervisors, but you can criticize Scripture.  Who’s the dummy now?

So what does that have to do with the digression about the government having seatbelt laws in all 50 states and helmet laws in only 19?  You can still criticize our government, but you still can’t criticize the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or Bill of Rights. Pastors and people of the LCMS have less freedom to question their theological leaders than they do their political ones, and more freedom to criticize the Sacred Text than the secular ones.

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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