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A Two Part Essay for Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church

A Beloved Family of Believers Fighting the Good Fight of Faith


Part I.    The Church’s Most Recent Difficulties and Their Relation to a Proper Theology of the “Call”

– and –

Part II.  The Right of a Christian to Withdraw from or Leave a Fellowship


Reverend Christopher I. Thoma



The people of God of Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church and School have experienced extraordinary pressures. For the most part, the pressures have been exerted due to a divisive issue that took place within the congregation resulting in a two-fold effect. The first has been that various members of the teaching staff actively sought or received calls to serve in other locations, in some ways binding the hands of leadership and causing “last-minute” difficulty and unstable fluidity to the Day School staffing models being managed by the congregation. The second is that multiple families have abruptly chosen to be self-dismissed from the fellowship.

The purpose of this document is to examine both of these effects, to apply the Word of God in order to properly identify the theological tensions, and to offer direction in order that the pastor and congregation leadership will be better equipped to serve faithfully, to discern, and if possible, to avoid similar situations in the future.

PART I:  Understanding the “Call” 

The lacking of a clear definition and understanding of the term “call” appears to be a significant point of contention as the congregation attempts, during critical times, to choose, manage, and care for her servants. In addition, the special committees which have been given the responsibility for navigating these waters have lacked objective parameters based on a right understanding of the “call”.

To surmount this dilemma, Our Savior leadership must ask and answer questions like: “What is a call?”, “Who may be called?”, and “What is the process for identifying positions and from whom is the call actually issued?”

The universal church’s historical practice to accomplish the carrying out of the Lord’s mandates with regard to the call has varied as it has existed with one foot in the adiaphorous[1] and the other in the Word. In other words, there is somewhat of a freedom in Christ’s church to establish offices and accomplish “calls”. But the sinful nature still dwells within man, and because of this, the adiaphorous facets of the process can become cumbersome. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that all answers to the questions emanate from God Himself as revealed by His Word. The church must always seek to be faithful in her carrying out of the mandate to call servants by aligning with the Word. Here the people can know what a “call” actually is, who may receive one, what are the parameters of the call, and from whom is the call issued.

To begin, our first task is to define what is meant by “call”, which even in the present day may or may not presumptively be accompanied by the term “divine” no matter who is being called. In other words, whether you are a pastor, teacher, or DCE, it is assumed that all stem from a divine mandate for that particular office to be established. This is incorrect thinking. To make matters worse, while a proper distinction may be made between “Divine Call” and “Call”, both terms currently exist in our Synod side by side with other terms such as “contracted”, “interim”, “solemn”, “commissioned”, and the like. How did it get this way?

Briefly, it may be that the term “call” was first convoluted when the term “minister” was clouded. In the early 20th century, the LC-MS most likely had a firmer grasp on the difference between “Divine Call” and “Call”, and yet when the Synod chose to make parish teachers “Commissioned Ministers” in order to provide them with certain tax and transportation benefits only offered to Ordained Ministers, the clarity was lessened. With this, we begin to see parish teachers and other professional church workers receiving what are assumed to be “divine calls” as opposed to “calls” understood as contracts or appointments. Of course this is a sizeable topic and could easily consume several pages of discussion. Suffice it to say that with regard to the scriptural mandate, the Lutheran Church fully acknowledges in her confessional subscription that the only “divine call” is that to the Office of the Holy Ministry, or the pastor.[2] All other offices in the church (contracted, interim, or volunteer) stem from and serve as auxiliary to the Office of the Holy Ministry, which is the office of the divinely called and ordained servant of the Word.

Now this is not to contradict the scripture’s voice that all Christians are priests by divine right through Holy Baptism (1 Peter 2:9). It is simply to say that there is only one divinely called and instituted office which fully encompasses the works of preaching, teaching, spiritual governance, and sacramental administration which of their general vocation, Christians do not hold. C.F.W. Walther clarifies this in Thesis I (of the section entitled “Concerning the Holy Ministry and the Pastoral Office”) in his volume Church and Ministry.[3] He does so by Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and the witnesses of the Church and the private writings of her teachers.  Thesis I states: “The holy ministry or pastoral office is an office distinct from the priesthood of all believers.” Walther refers to 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 1 Corinthians 12:29; Romans 10:15; and James 3:1. In addition, he refers to Augsburg Confession Article XIV which deals with the “proper call.”

Walther continues this rhythmic exposition of Scripture, Confessions, and witnesses in Thesis II which states: “The ministry of the Word or the pastoral office is not a human institution but an office that God Himself has established”[4], and in Thesis III which offers: “The ministry is not an arbitrary office but one whose establishment has been commanded to the church and to which the church is ordinarily bound till the end of time”.[5] Lastly in Thesis VIII, Walther provides: “The pastoral ministry [Predigamt] is the highest office in the church, and from it stem all other offices in the church.”[6]

Understanding this exposition, Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church is to rightly distinguish the only divinely instituted office in the church, that is, the only office receiving the “divine call” as the Office of the Holy Ministry, or the pastor.

At this point, even with this clarification, it would probably be imprudent for any Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation to no longer use the term “call” with regard to her auxiliary staff as it may still cause confusion in our dealings with the synod. The usage of the term remains the current practice of our Synod. Perhaps it would simply suffice for the congregation to have a firmer grasp on the difference between “divine call” (which is to be understood as the pastoral call) and “call” (which may simply be accounted as a synonym for or working in tandem with more common words like “contracted”, “commissioned”, and “interim”.) This alone will provide better delineation and direction when employing staff (determining processes, writing contracts, and establishing periods of service, that is, interim/non-tenured/tenured).

The issuing of the call, divine or appointed/commissioned/contracted, has differing sources. Nevertheless, they both have a sole source for process given in the scriptures: The church. It is a “right” given by God to His church.[7] As we have already seen by Walther, the issuance source for the divine call is God, achieved in ordination and moved through the congregation in the actual calling process. In the case of the call, the congregation is both the source of the issuance (based on the determined auxiliary needs) and the calling process’ voice. Even with Confessional clarity, certain discussions remain, gravitating illegally to particular authoritative degrees. For example, some argue that because the congregation holds the sole authority and power over the process, by extension, this somehow extends to the man in the office; that he must preach and teach in substance and practice as ordered by the assembly even if it is in opposition to the Word. Instead, it is the congregation’s duty to call a man to preach and administer rightly and only to remove him if he unrepentantly succumbs to false doctrine and ungodly practice.[8] For some, this line of authority with regard to the pastor is blurry. Even further, it may be a common misunderstanding that once an auxiliary office holder is “called” as opposed to “contracted”, it is impossible to remove them from office as needs arise or change because the person has been placed there divinely by God. As has been said, a called auxiliary worker and a contracted auxiliary worker are the same. And although as a church we do hold to particular spiritual guidelines for the removal of any worker (doctrine, practice, Christian charity, love, and honor), it would be fundamentally untrue that a congregation cannot maneuver or remove an auxiliary worker because of changing needs, financial strain, and the like. Of course it should be assumed that any changes in need and actions taken to meet the need would be fully supported by appropriate documentation and enacted through the appropriate leadership who have been given such authority by the congregation.

For additional clarity, an understanding should be provided with regard to “tenured” and “non-tenured” calls not only because our Synod employs these terms, but because we ourselves employ them in our Day School staff handbook (2008).

These terms do not apply to the Divine Call. Consider the following offered by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the LC-MS as they discern from Walther the length of a pastor’s call:

First, in his Pastoral Theology (Pastoraltheologie) Walther cites approvingly a statement from Joachim Mörlin. Mörlin rejects the argument of those who insist that since they pay the pastor’s salary, they can hire and fire him at will, thus treating “the call of the preacher as nothing other than a contract of the kind made with a cow or sow-herder.” Second, Walther rejects the practice of licensing candidates for a set period of time as had been customary among Lutherans in eastern America. In 1846 he wrote, “Unfortunately it has become customary in our country to hire ministers for one year, even as we hire our servants and cattle herders. . . . Even in emergencies these calls with a time limit cannot be justified.” On the basis of the divine nature of the call itself Walther argued against the idea of a temporary call. The very idea that a divine call could be issued for a set number of years was a contradiction in terms. Since God is the one who issues the call, it is also God who terminates a person’s service in a particular location, and this for one of two reasons. First, God issues another call to that person to serve elsewhere. Second, God removes the individual altogether from office due to the false teaching or immoral life of the one who holds it.[9]

Since the congregation holds the authority in determining the call, the terms “tenured” and “non-tenured” may or may not be used. If they are used, it will be necessary for the congregation to define them as she deems appropriate. The synodical definition states quite simply and flexibly: “A call may be for a limited period of time (nontenured) or unlimited (tenured).”

As was mentioned at the beginning of this section, tension now exists because of the confusion between the Core Staffing Committee and the expressed need for a Call Committee. At present, the Core Staffing Committee is put in place and charged as follows:

The purpose of the Core Staffing Committee is to engage in a general review of current staffing positions and needs, taking into consideration future planning, timing, appropriate implementation and finances.  This committee will review current work load distribution, and as appropriate recommend staffing adjustments to address the tasks most efficiently.  A quarterly staffing review should be completed prior to each congregational meeting, a report with recommendations made to the church council prior to the meeting.[10]

Considering the phrasing of the purpose statement above, namely “and as appropriate recommend staffing adjustments to address the tasks most efficiently”, it would appear entirely possible that while determining models (that will inevitably include existing staff with specific “called” duties), working in good faith under urgent pressure, the Core Staffing Committee may inadvertently discover a sense of freedom to traverse the boundary of the autonomous voice of the church (the assembly) to call (choose and appoint) servants to meet the needs identified. Dogmatically speaking, unless the mandate is previously given by the congregation to the Core Staffing to deliberately exercise calling authority for filling positions, no matter how slight the movement or duty adjustment, such work could be an overstepping and infringement of the congregation’s voice in choosing her servants.

Perhaps Acts 6:1-6 is an applicable example of how Our Savior has chosen to work. In this text, needs were identified and brought forth to the Apostles. The Apostles, in turn, turned those needs over to the body of believers to choose the servants from within their midst, based on properly established, Biblical criteria, who would meet the needs. The choosing was to be done through a careful handling of the Word. In our current context, it has been the long-standing practice in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to handle this through the establishing of a Call Committee. Typically, the Call Committee is comprised of members who are determined by church leadership (certainly in conjunction with the recommendations of the pastor) to be both spiritually discerning and if possible, sharing of an “expertise” in connection to the specific need identified.  The Call Committee then exerts the voice of the whole, serving as the prayerful “chooser” of the proper candidate to be recommended to the assembly.[11]

Certainly it is adiaphora as to whether or not a congregation provides for the standing Core Staffing Committee to simultaneously serve as a Call Committee. At this present time, this is not our practice. However, in light of current conditions, a possible course for the future may be that a standing Call Committee be established (assuming into itself the duties of the Core Staffing mandate) that both deals with Core Staffing issues and has the standing charge from the congregation to determine additional Call Committee members as needs arise in order to move swiftly to employ servants in our midst.

In conclusion, when a congregation understands the elementary differences between “divine call” and “call” she is better able to exercise faithfulness to her head, Jesus Christ, and to the servants within her care who are working to accomplish the mission of extending the Kingdom of her Lord.

PART II: The Right of a Christian to Withdraw from or Leave a Fellowship

The purpose of this section will be to answer the questions: “What are acceptable criteria for withdrawing temporarily from a fellowship?” and “What are acceptable criteria for leaving a fellowship?” As it was for Section I, these questions are answered with similar consideration of Walther’s work in Church and Ministry, namely, “Concerning the Church – Thesis VIII”.

When the scriptures speak of membership in the church, they do so often in relation to the image of holy marriage (Ephesians 5:22-32). To be a Christian is to be a member of the Bride of Christ, the church. Her groom is Jesus Christ. There ought not to be a divorce from the Savior. In the same manner, just as there is no permanent separation from Christ, a temporary separation is equally intolerable and ungodly (John 15:5, Hebrews 10:25). In order to retain salvation, a Christian cannot reasonably justify any deliberate decision to be disconnected from the Word and Sacrament gifts provided for the nurturing and strengthening of faith.[12] There is no acceptable reason for seeking permanent or temporary separation from Him. Therefore, there is no need for this document to present hypothetical examples in these areas. The document will not provide leniency of excuse to those who self-dismiss with the intention of abandoning the Faith and neither will it offer reasonable justification for those who dismiss temporarily because they “just need some time away to heal”. On the other hand, this document will move forward recognizing fully that membership in a local congregation is not binding until death as it is for a man and woman in holy marriage, but rather it is more than acceptable for peaceful transfers to occur.

Certainly it is no small thing for a member to permanently separate from his congregation, nevertheless, a member is only bound to a fellowship in so far as the scriptures bind him, and with this, there are legitimate, though sometimes regrettable, reasons for leaving a local fellowship and searching for another just as there are acceptable, though sometimes regrettable, reasons for divorce.

It should first be understood that even in troubled marital relationships, God always sides with marriage. Forgiveness, reconciliation, and loving unity are always His desires for that which He has created (Mark 10:9). Division in and of these creations is only due to the hardness of man’s heart (Matthew 19:7-8). Thus, when attempts to reconcile fail amongst Christians, it is due to the failures of man and never in accordance with the will of God [although God promises to work even such tragic circumstances for the good of those who by faith love Him (Romans 8:28)]. With this, Christians must know that they can disagree and yet remain together. It is not necessary for salvation that all Christians should agree in all external things.[13] From the previous section, the term “adiaphora” reveals that there will be uncertain circumstances that will call for the community of believers to exercise Christian liberty in accordance with the Word. Because of the sin-nature, man is imperfect and is not always like-minded in his interpretive skill, thus it will be nearly impossible for all members to agree. Nevertheless, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian community will be determined to love one another, never actively seeking or perpetuating division over adiaphorous issues. Such an ability flows from the wonderfully active grace given by Christ to His bride through Word and Sacrament.

In Walther’s volume, he spends considerable time with the scriptures, Confessions, and historical witnesses in order to define the church so that she may understand divisive circumstances in a fellowship. As has been said, Walther’s chief canon for discernment is that of the Word of God. In light of God’s Word, Thesis VIII speaks plainly:

Although God gathers for Himself a holy church of elect also where His Word is not taught in its purity and the sacraments are not administered altogether according to the institution of Jesus Christ, if only God’s Word and the sacraments are not denied entirely but both remain in their essential parts, nevertheless, every believer must, at peril of losing his salvation, flee all false teachers, avoid all heterodox congregations or sects, and acknowledge and adhere to orthodox congregations and their orthodox pastors wherever such may be found.

A. Also in heterodox and heretical churches there are children of God, and also there the true church is manifest by the pure Word and sacraments that still remain.

B. Every believer for the sake of his salvation must flee all false teachers and avoid all heterodox congregations or sects.

C. Every Christian for the sake of his salvation is in duty bound to acknowledge and adhere to orthodox congregations and orthodox pastors, wherever he can find such.[14]

Although there are many Godly and practical reasons for leaving a fellowship to join another (employment changes, shut-in status, etc.), clearly Walther calls for a discernment of faithfulness to pure doctrine and practice as the gauge for not only determining whether or not to join a fellowship, but whether or not the Christian should remain in the fellowship. Following Walther’s lead, right away the Christian is called to self-examination of motives when facing the desire to leave. The Christian may ask himself:

1. What are the specific reasons for this desire?

2. Do these reasons align with the Word of God and justify my departure?

3. If my reasons are determined to be in alignment with the Word of God, are my actions of the same? Are my actions surrounding my departure resulting primarily in the perpetuation of peace or division? Are my current actions above reproach, that is, performed to bring and strengthen faithful doctrine and peace (Romans 12:18) rather than divide the fellowship?

4. How have I personally communicated my reasons for leaving to those with whom I am closest in the fellowship? Have I been truthful?  Has this communication been Godly and of high caliber?

5. How have I personally communicated my reasons to the pastor and church leadership? Have these been Godly and of high caliber?

6. Have I patiently, devoutly, and humbly sought discussion of the doctrinal issues (or any other pertinent issues) of which I am in opposition with the spiritual leaders, namely the pastor?

7. Have I fervently and urgently, without reservation, hesitation, or excuse, sought after reconciliation as the Lord instructs in Psalm 34:14; Matthew 5:23-26[15]; 18:15-17[16]; and Ephesians 4:26 in order that I may remain?

The aforementioned examination is by no means thorough; however it does attempt to present the elementary and acceptable assumption that Christians are called to fight against fleshly desires which are most often stirred by injured feelings and damaged egos. The Christian, no matter the conflict, is called by Christ and empowered by His Spirit, to seek faithfulness to Christ in all things. The following are three additional assumptions pertaining to the fellowship as a whole that may be gathered from the above examination:

1. A truly orthodox fellowship abides by the conviction that she is not in existence because she is dependent upon man or has built herself. Neither is she to be consumed by the conviction that she exists as a “country club” designed to be “believer-specific”. The church is built by Christ and on His Word. She will exist with or without the particular individual (Matthew 16:18). And the church exists as Christ has made her, to preach the Gospel purely and to administer the sacraments rightly according to His command. So also it is then that Paul instructs Titus and Timothy in the same (1 Timothy 1:3, 10; 4:6; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).

2. An orthodox fellowship abides in the conviction that it is only false doctrine that can or should divide a parish. By this same conviction, an orthodox fellowship confesses that God does not desire for His church to be encumbered by false prophets or false prophecies which stray unrepentantly or unabashedly from the pure doctrine of Christ (2 John 9-11; Galatians 1:7-9; Matthew 7:13-23), nor shall a fellowship be long-suffering of actively divisive members (Titus 3:10-11). With regard to false prophets, it is the duty of the pastor (and those who serve in auxiliary positions of service) to watch doctrine and personal life closely (1 Timothy 4:16). It is also the crucial duty of the membership to discern the spirits, namely, the preaching and teaching of her servants (1 John 4: 1-6), thus knowing to correct and rebuke (2 Timothy 3:16), and if need be, to flee (Deuteronomy 13:1-3; Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:23-24; Acts 20:30-31; Romans 16:17-18; 1 Corinthians 10:18,21; 1 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Galatians 5:9; Titus 3:10-11; 2 John 10-11; Revelation 18:4).[17] With regard to divisive members, the same Christian love and concern is to be offered, not toward punishment, but for repentance and faith (Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20; 2 Corinthians 2:7-8; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; Revelation 2:2, 14-16).

3. A truly orthodox fellowship abides by the conviction that “directional” divisions can and do occur (Acts 15:36-41),[18] but that these are never insurmountable because of the Gospel and are always reconcilable toward and through Christian love, honor, and respect. And though these directional divisions may conclude with differing opinions and perhaps even visible separation, they indeed can be positive exercises in Christian love as the fellowship herself witnesses opposing parties keep appropriate confidences, speak well of one another, and explain everything in the kindest way.[19] This serves to further the fellowship’s security, and even in the midst of a “parting-of-ways”, the foundational love in Jesus Christ shared by both parties through faith is neither negated in the participating parties or the members of the fellowship who will ultimately remain. Even further, the “parting-of-ways” in peace can be the joyful opportunity for Christians to discover how the Lord strengthens the various fellowships within the broader communion of our synod for specific efforts being carried out in specific locations. Said another way, it may be the active will of God to move a member to transfer to another parish in order to use his gifts to accomplish the divine purposes of God in that place.

Regrettably it seems that in this day and age, what has been presented here does not always occur. In fact, it could be that in our post-modern era many (if not most) divisions are driven by subjectivism rather than being controlled by the objective parameters of the Word. In other words, divisions in the church are most often driven by personal criteria imposed upon the fellowship which are foreign to the Word of God. Most often people are driven to leave a fellowship because they have taken offense[20] in some way where offense was not given, differ on styles, are not personally satisfied by the programs offered, or simply do not like the pastor or other servants. Of course, this list could go on and on, and yet since none of our personalized tastes, priorities, or opinions may stand as credible criteria for choosing an orthodox fellowship, they cannot be criteria for leaving one either.

In conclusion, both church leadership and laity must seek to resolve all conflicts by the Word of God and to act in all circumstances of adiaphora with prayerful consideration influenced by the Word. Inevitably, with each event, the fruits of faith will be made manifest by the differing parties. No matter the conflict, the believers are called by their Lord to discern the fruits in order to discern those who would be leading or traveling to the “wide gate” which leads to destruction, or to the narrow gate which leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-23). We pray that as conflicts arise, the fruits do not reveal hardened hearts nor deliberately divisive desires and actions, but rather in the midst of turbulence, show a Godly adherence to the Word and a genuine desire for cultivation of peace empowered toward faithfulness by that same Word.


Glossary of Terms for Section I
(Footnotes for both sections follow.)

Core Staffing Committee – A committee of members whose purpose is to serve as the congregation’s voice in prayerfully identifying the staffing needs of the congregation.

Call Committee – A committee of members whose purpose is to serve as the voice of the congregation in prayerfully considering the needs identified by the Core Staffing Committee, choosing the appropriate candidates to meet the needs presented, and providing a recommendation to the congregation for acceptance or rejection.

Divine Call – The call issued by God through the congregation to a pastor.

Auxiliary Servant – Any office of service (except that of the pastor) in the church’s order.

Call – The call issued by the congregation to an auxiliary servant of the parish, whether he is interim, contracted, volunteer, or the like.

Non-Tenured Call – A call issued and held for a limited period of time (interim, contract, term-limited volunteer). Not applicable to the Pastoral Office.

Tenured Call – A call issued and held for an unspecified period of time. Not applicable to the Pastoral Office.



[1] “Adiaphora” are those things neither commanded nor forbidden by God in His Word. For example, it is neither commanded nor forbidden that the church must genuflect during prayer; therefore genuflection may or may not be done. Prayer itself, however, is commanded and is therefore not to be considered adiaphorous.

[2] It should also be noted that within our synod, it is common that a graduate of one of the synodical colleges is typically “called” while a graduate of a secular university is to be “contracted.” A contracted worker may receive a “call” after participating in a colloquy program designed to be certain that the servant has been properly instructed in the Lutheran doctrine.

[3] C.F.W. Walther, Church and Ministry (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 161-76.

[4] Walther, 177-90.

[5] Ibid., 191-7.

[6] Ibid., 289-302. Please note that Walther does not arrive at Thesis VIII without first clarifying in Thesis IV that “(T)he ministry is not a special or, in opposition to that of ordinary Christians, a more holy state, as was the Levitical priesthood, but it is a ministry of service” (198-212).

[7] Ibid., 49-66.

[8] A thorough examination of Walther’s volume (which includes ample notation) will provide a vivid picture of the protection the Lord provides for a flock encumbered by a false prophet.

[9] CTCR, The Divine Call (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003), 19-20.

[10] By-Laws Article VIII, Section E, 1.

[11] “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:1-6).

[12] In the midst of turmoil, something similar to the following is sometimes said, “I just need time away to heal.” In a mortal sense, this may be true. This is unacceptable, however, if the person is refusing regular fellowship with the Savior. It may be acceptable in certain circumstances if the person is receiving Word and Sacrament counsel, sustenance, and encouragement from an orthodox, sister congregation or pastor who is actively seeking to support the person toward Godly reconciliation.

[13] However, it is necessary and paramount during times of disagreement that the people of God show forth a deliberate eagerness “to keep the oneness of the Spirit with the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:4). When this is not present, the fruits will be easily discernable.

[14] Walther, 20-1. Walther’s commentary commences on pages 101-48.

[15] Luther offers some keen insight into this text from Matthew 5 when he writes: “Many people who are otherwise fine, respectable, learned, and upstanding become filled with secret anger, envy, and hate, and are embittered by it. Still they never become aware of it, and their conscience is satisfied that what they are doing is in pursuit of their office or in obedience to righteousness. Their screen is so lovely and delusive that no one dares to speak of them as anything but pious and upstanding people. The ultimate result is a sin against the Holy Spirit and hardened hearts, which become confirmed and obdurate in this poisonous vice. There are two aspects to this wickedness. In the first place, the heart is full of anger, hate, and envy. But in the second place, it refuses to admit that this is sin and malice, but wants it to be called virtue; this amounts to slapping God across the mouth and calling Him a liar in His words. You see, that is why Christ warns everyone so diligently to be on the lookout here and not to be fooled by this hypocrisy and pretense. It is incredible that such a simple bit of instruction can be so far-reaching and strike such great people. By the words ‘if you are offering your gift at the altar’ He makes it clear that He is talking about people who serve God and claim to be His true children, who have a reputation as paragons of virtue. What is wrong with them, then? Nothing at all, except that their heart is crammed full of hate and envy! My friend, what is the use of continual fasting and praying, of giving away everything you have for God’s sake (1 Cor. 13:3), of whipping yourself to death, and of doing twice as many good works as all the Carthusians put together if meanwhile you ignore the commandments which God wants you to obey? Does it not bother your conscience to slander and defame other people and at the same time to offer a great sacrifice? That is the same as bringing on war, murder, and bloodshed—and then paying a thousand guldens to have Masses said for the souls of those who were killed; or stealing a large amount of money—and then giving alms for God’s sake. In this way they deceive God as well as themselves with their pretty pretense, and they imagine that now He has to consider them real living saints. Therefore He says now: ‘If you intend to serve God and to offer a sacrifice, but are guilty of harming someone or of being angry with your neighbor, you should know immediately that God wants no part of this sacrifice. Lay it right down, drop everything, and go straight to your brother to be reconciled.’ With the term ‘sacrifice’ He is referring to every possible work done in the service or to the praise of God, since at that time offering a sacrifice was the best possible work. He rejects it completely, demanding that you leave it unless your heart tells you beforehand that you are reconciled with your neighbor and unless you are unaware of any anger against him. ‘If this is so,’ He says, ‘come and offer your sacrifice.’ He appends this to avoid the impression that He wants to reject or despise such a sacrifice, which was not an evil deed, but one that God had ordered and commanded; what was evil and what ruined it was their disregard and contempt for His other and higher commandments. That amounts to abusing sacrifices to harm your neighbor.” [Luther’s Works, Vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works, 21:80 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1956).]

[16] The reconciliation process prescribed by Christ in Matthew 18 has three steps. The steps themselves are not meant to be singular in effort. In other words, considering step one, a person may seek several meetings over a long period of time in order to reconcile. The Lord does not intend for us to be legalistic. This means that we are not to act hastily with singular action in order to get through a process and “win.” The Lord desires that we truly and humbly seek genuine conversation with others in order to reconcile and rebuild.

[17] The Constitution of Our Savior states: “If a pastor or an auxiliary office holder of the congregation should persistently adhere to and preach or teach false doctrine, or lead an ungodly life or willfully neglect official duties, he shall be earnestly admonished by the congregation. If such admonition is of no avail, he shall be expelled from office in accordance with Christian practice (Matt. 18:15-20).” (Article VII, D.)

[18] Paul and Barnabas, two very close friends in the ministry (Acts 9:26), experienced a sharp disagreement which ended in their decision to part ways. However, this was not doctrine-related, but rather centered around an adiaphorous issue involving John-Mark, Barnabas’ cousin. Notice also that after the separation, neither held ill will toward the other (1 Corinthians 9:6) nor became distracted from his mission to spread the Gospel.

[19] It is a grievous sin to gossip.  As God’s Word says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Any discussion should include only those involved. Circulation of concerns beyond those directly involved, whether in public or private, will inevitably result in misinformation and misunderstanding. This is not to be tolerated within the church. Consider further Luther’s explanation to the Eighth Commandment in the Small Catechism.

[20] There is a difference between “being offended” and “taking offense.” One way to understand this is to recognize that the Bible equates sin to offense. Simply put, if someone sins against you, or you sin against someone else, an offense has occurred. This is discernable in light of the Ten Commandments. For example, if someone knowingly or unknowingly takes the Lord’s name in vain, in light of the 2nd Commandment, a sin has been committed. Taking offense is different. For example, if one person says that he likes the color red and then becomes angry when another person declares that he likes the color blue, then the first person has taken offense. The issue is not with what the second person has done to the first person, but rather it has to do with the condition of the first person’s heart.