X. Does the Bible Teach Separatism

OUR purely doctrinal discussion is now finished. But we have still more in view in the publication of this book. We want to see whether we cannot help along the cause of Lutheran fellowship, comity and cooperation. The Synodical Conference is separatistic. It will not fellowship with any other body of Lutherans, and that mainly because of its particularistic dogmas of election and conversion, which other Lutheran bodies cannot accept. The Missourians even refused to have public prayer with the brethren of Ohio and Iowa at the Free Conference at Detroit. To engage in public prayer with their brethren they thought would, in some way, compromise their principles. In our closing chapter we shall try to show that Lutherans can, if they will, have spiritual fellowship and engage in united practical work for Christ and His kingdom, without insisting on absolute agreement on all doctrines, especially those that belong to the department of difficult and refined dogmatic distinctions. However, before we come to our final chapter, we must try to remove a difficulty.

In order to uphold their ecclesiastical exclusiveness, our Missouri brethren cite a number of Scripture passages. They are given in Dr. J. L. Neve’s account of the Free Conference of Missouri, Ohio and Iowa at Detroit in 1904, where the Missourians declined to engage in public prayer with their brethren. Dr. Neve has taken them from a writing of Rev. J. Grosse, a representative of the Missouri Synod. We shall examine them, to see whether they are relevant.

First, Matt. 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

However, the passage is not apropos, because the Ohio and Iowa brethren and the rest of us Lutherans are not “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” nor are we “inwardly ravening wolves.” That applies only to the “corrupt trees,” “to be hewn down and cast into the fire,” and to those “that work iniquity,” referred to in the succeeding verses. The passage is not relevant.

The next passage: Rom. 16:17: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned : and turn away from them.”

Here is another specimen of the disconnected use of Scripture which has caused so much separatism and strife in the Christian Church. If the Missouri brethren had read the next verse, they would have seen the kind of characters to whom Paul referred : “For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly ; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent.” Such grossness, selfishness and guile cannot be applied to the Lutherans whom our Missouri friends exclude from pulpit and altar fellowship. If the Missouri brethren had read the previous verses, they would have found Paul saying: “All the churches of Christ salute you.” It does not seem from this loving salutation that Paul wanted to build up a wall of separation among the churches of his day.

But Rom. 16:17 (see above) might just as well be used by other Lutherans against the Missouri brethren : “Mark them that are causing divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned ; and turn away from them.”‘ Well might other Lutherans say, if they wished to do so, that it is Missouri that is “causing divisions and occasions of stumbling;” they are the ones who are separating themselves from others by their peculiar doctrines. They might also say that it is Missouri that is teaching doctrines “contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned;” for, if we under- stand history, the Missouri Synod did not always teach this strange doctrine of predestination, but it was introduced later by Dr. Walter and his coadjutors. This is what made the trouble ; this was why some excellent men now in the Ohio Synod could not remain with it; this is why men like Allwardt, Ernst, Doermann, Holtermann, and others were driven from the Missouri Synod and formed the Northwestern District, which united with the Joint Synod. So, you see, everything depends on who the persons are to whom the words of Paul can properly be applied. To our way of thinking, they cannot be applied to either party by the other. When Christian men, who believe the Bible, accept Christ by faith, and try to follow Him in sincerity and truth, get into a dispute, they ought not to fling Scripture passages that would apply only to heretics, rank liberalists and outright unbelievers and sinners. Misapplying Biblical passages of Scripture is the method of sectarians, not of true and loyal Christian Lutherans.

Another favorite passage of exclusivism is 1 Cor. 1 :10: “Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you ; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” In this instance we again see the harm that is done to the body of Christ by the piece-meal method of handling the Word of God, as if it were composed of disjecta membra, instead of being a harmonious and organic unity. Read on a few verses and you will see the kind of strife and divisions in the Corinthian Church which Paul was rebuking: In verse 12 he tells them that he had been told that there were contentions among them ; then he goes on: “Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Cephas; and I of Apollos ; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided ? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized into the name of Paul ?” And then he proceeds to show the Corinthians that Christ and the gospel are the all-important matters, and not the mere human instruments through whom they are given and proclaimed. The simple fact is, the Corinthians were doing what churches so often do today — they were quarreling about their preachers, thinking more of them than of Christ. This was what Paul was rebuking, not a difference of opinion on some such difficult doctrines as the eternal divine decrees or the relation of grace to human responsibility. Besides, the passage might just as easily be applied by other Lutherans to the Missouri brethren as the opposite, for they ought to try just as much as the rest of us to “be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” One party in the controversy should not claim all these passages in their favor. They may be quoted by both parties with equal relevancy, if they are to be used at all.

Our next citation is 2 Cor. 6:17, 18: “Wherefore, come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be to you a Father, and ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Almighty.”

No less inept is this selection. Even the passage itself would preclude its application to Missouri’s fellow-Lutherans, for it says, “Touch no unclean thing.” Are other Lutherans to be regarded as an “unclean thing?” But the preceding verses define precisely the kind of people from whom the Corinthian Church was to “be separate” (verses 14-16) : “Be not unequally yoked with un- believers.” Are the rest of us Lutherans “unbelievers?” If so, why are we spending our days and often our nights in fighting infidelity, rationalism and negative criticism? “For what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity?” We know that Missouri is too charitable to apply the term “iniquity” to the Lutherans from whom she differs. “Or what communion hath light with darkness?” Would Missouri class all Lutherans outside of her own ecclesiastical fold as “darkness?” “And what concord hath Christ with Belial?” Who is “Belial” in the present controversy? “Or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement hath a temple of God with idols?” The rest of us Lutherans surely are not idolaters. Thus you see that the above citation is not pertinent.

And this reminds us of an incident. Years ago we happened to go into a tent in which one of the rankest sects of the day was holding a meeting, one of the noisy, shouting kind. They were the so-called “holiness” people, such as thought they were perfectly sanctified. How they did boast of their superior spiritual attainments ! One of them declared that they had gotten so far “beyond all other so-called Christians that they couldn’t see them any more with a spy-glass!” An expression that seemed to please and amuse the sanctificationists greatly. And we remember that one of their favorite Bible citations was this very one, “Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.” It was their sedes doctrinae. In our early ministry we were forced into more or less controversy with another fanatical sect called “Come-outers.” This same passage was also their stock in trade.

Another much-used passage among Missouri Lutherans is Eph. 4:3-6: “Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Our Missouri brethren should try to obey this injunction, just as all of us should. “There is one body and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.”

Here is an urgent en joinder upon all believers to be united, and we hope that all Lutherans, Missourian and the rest, will heed it. One party needs it just as much as the others. Instead of being an argument for separatism, it is the strongest kind of an argument for union and concord. We all have “one hope,” namely, hope in the Lord Christ; “one Lord,” the same Christ; “one faith,” posited in the same Christ; “one baptism,” for the remission of sins in the name of Christ ; “one God and Father of us all.” In His blessed name, then, why are we not all one body? If all Lutherans who are disposed to be divisive would read what Paul says in the verse preceding the above quotation, they would see how unity is to be conserved : “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love ;” then, “giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” A good preachment, and needed by all parties.

The next citation is 1 Tim. 5 :22 : “Lay hands hastily on no man, neither be partaker of other man’s sins ; keep thyself pure.”

Like the rest, this passage is not applicable. It refers to association with sinners in a sinful way, not with disciples who trust and love the Lord Jesus and try to follow Him in holiness of life. It is not likely that our good Missouri brethren would become contaminated by having fellowship with other Lutherans, for when it comes to purity of life, one branch of the Lutheran Church has no occasion for saying of the rest, “Lord, we thank thee that we are not as other men are.”

We give still another sample of the fragmentary use of Scripture: Titus 3:10: “A factious man, after a first and second admonition, refuse.”

First, it all depends on who is the factious man, whether he is the separatist or the one who is willing to fellowship. One might be permitted to think that the man who does not insist so much on his own views, but is willing to accord to others some liberty of opinion, would be the less factious, not to put it any stronger. But the passage is torn from its connection, and is there- fore not pertinent to the situation ; for the next verse, separated from the tenth by only a semi-colon, reads : “knowing that such a one is perverted, and sinneth, being self -condemned.” In the days of discussion at Watertown, Milwaukee and Detroit, we do not think that the Ohio and Iowa brethren were sinners above others, or that they were “self-condemned.” All that we have ever spoken with, or whose writings we have perused, seemed to think that they had maintained their own position with a fair degree of success. But read the preceding verses, beginning with the 8th : “Faithful is the saying, and concerning these things I desire that thou affirm confidently, to the end that they who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto you ; but shun foolish questionings, and genealogies, and strifes, and fightings about the law ; for they are unprofitable and vain.” Now how would Missouri like it if we were to apply these trenchant sayings to them and their disposition to divide the Church on questions that create schism ? She would say we were quoting Scripture irrelevantly. So we will not be so ungenerous, for she is in earnest, and does not believe the doctrines for which she is con- tending are “foolish questionings,” etc. No more do we believe that the whole passage has any reference to other Lutherans who are just as sincere, intelligent and loyal.

The last passage cited by Mr. Grosse is Exod. 12 :43-48 : “And Jehovah said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the Passover: there shall not a foreigner eat thereof . . . And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Passover to Jehovah, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it ; and he shall be as one that is born in the land : but no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. One law shall be unto him that is home-born, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.”

It seems almost like legalism to go back to the old ceremonial law to find a proof-text for exclusiveness among Lutherans, but we suppose the Missouri brethren would say that the same principle would apply to the Lord’s Supper and other forms of Christian fellowship as applied to the Hebrew feast of the Passover. Let us go on that supposition. Would the Missourians say all the Lutherans who do not agree with them are uncircumcised? Well, then, we ought not to go to the Lord’s Supper at all, not even in our own churches. Of course, we are speaking of the spiritual circumcision, for Paul says (Rom. 2:28, 29) : “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh : but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter ; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Now what is it to be circumcised in heart? Paul teaches it in his letter to the Romans, whose doctrinal portion, the first eleven chapters, is devoted to an exposition and defense of justification by faith alone. Therefore to have true faith in Christ is to have the circumcision of the heart. We maintain that all true Lutherans accept Christ by faith ; therefore, being of the true spiritual circumcision, they have a right to the Lord’s table. Luther’s Catechisms, the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord teach the same doctrine. More than that, all true Lutherans believe that they receive Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, and this gives them additional right to come to the blessed sacrament.

Thus we have seen that none of the Scripture passages quoted to uphold Lutheran separatism and division are relevant. A large number of passages, we believe, might be cited to prove that division and strife are wrong, and that mutual love, forbearance and concord are the desire of Jesus Christ. Those proof-texts our friends of the Missouri camp never quote. Let us note a few: John 10:16: “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold : them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice ; and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” It would appear as if Christ said this expressly to prevent the disciples before Him from thinking that they were the only true sheep — that is, to preclude their becoming exclusive. Does one part of the Lutheran Church comprise all the sheep who hear the Good Shepherd’s voice?

Luke 9:49, 50 (cf. Mark 9:38-40): “And John answered and said. Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name ; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. But Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against you is for you.” Here John’s narrowness, his sectarianism, was upbraided ; for he seemed to think that the chief characteristic of a disciple was to “follow” in the immediate company of Christ and His apostles; but Jesus in rebuking him taught all of us that the chief thing is to be able to cast out devils in His name. We leave it to the judgment of every reader whether all the branches of the Lutheran Church in this country (Missouri included) have not been doing such work in baptizing children, teaching them afterward the way of salvation, and in bringing thousands of adult sinners to Christ.

Let us note some passages in Christ’s intercessory prayer (John 17:20-23) : “Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word ; that they may all be one ; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou didst send me. And the glory which thou hast given me I have given unto them ; that they may be one, even as we are one ; 1 in them and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one ; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.” In view of the fact that Christ has millions of Lutheran disciples in this country, we think the above prayer ought to be fulfilled among them ; and if it were, what a power for Christ and His truth they would be! One of the crying criticisms of the Lutheran Church today is her manifold and mutually exclusive divisions.

In Matt. 23 :8-12 our Lord says : “But be not called Rabbi ; for one is your Teacher, and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father on the earth ; for one is your Father, even He who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters, for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled ; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted.” Will not all this apply to the Lutheran Church in America? We all acknowledge Christ, and Him alone, as our Master ; then are we not all brethren ?

There are a number of passages like 1 Tim. 1 :4, 6 :4, 2 Tim. 2 :23 and Titus 3 :9, which warn against “foolish and ignorant questionings that gender strife ;” but by reading the entire context it will be seen that they cannot be applied either to our Missouri brethren or to those who differ from them, because the great doctrines in dispute, while they may be said, in a sense, to “gender strife,” are not to be classed among the “foolish and unlearned questionings.” Therefore we cannot make use of them on either side of the debate. However, we believe that such passages as the following are immediately applicable to the Lutheran situation in America. Rom. 12:4, 5: “For even as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office : so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another.” The whole of 1 Cor. 12 is extremely pertinent, especially verses 12 and 13: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body ; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free ; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Rom. 15:5-7: “Now the God of patience and of com- fort grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus ; that with one accord ye may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, even as Christ also received you, to the glory of God the Father.” An injunction like this cannot be set aside without virtually un-Christianizing those who are excluded ; for we Lutherans all do with one mouth glorify God, giving Him and Him alone the praise for our salvation. 2 Cor. 13:11: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfected ; be comforted ; be of the same mind ; live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” Eph. 4:1-6 has already been quoted, but here we call attention to this: “Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Note Phil. 2 :2-4 : “Make full my joy that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind ; doing nothing through faction or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind, each counting other better than him- self ; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.” This is most impressive, and should be well pondered. 1 Pet. 3:8: “Finally be ye all likeminded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tender-hearted, humble-minded.”

Consider a few passages that enjoin peace among God’s people : “So then let us follow after things that make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another” (Rom. 14:19). While this refers specifically to the wrangles over meats offered to idols, it still may stand as a good general motto for the Church. “But we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and to esteem them exceeding highly in love for their works’ sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess. 5:12, 13). “But flee youthful lusts, and follow after righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and ignorant questions refuse, knowing that they gender strife ; and the Lord’s servant must not strive, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach, forbearing,” etc. (2 Tim. 2:22-26). “Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). “If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). This is a capital passage, for while it does not ask of us impossibilities, and indicates that we must not be indifferent to the truth, it also shows clearly that we should let the idea of peace be a potent motive in our lives ; that we should be just as irenic as it is possible for us to be; that we should love peace better than polemics. “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated,” etc. (Jas. 3:17). While purity is put first, peaceableness is put second.

How often the apostles deprecated contentions, divisions and unnecessary disputes! In 1 Cor. 1:10, 11, 3:3, 11:18, and Rom. 16:17 Paul rebukes the factious spirit. Of course, all parties may apply these passages to their opponents, but that would not be fair ; we should all conscientiously consider whether they will not apply to ourselves; perhaps, after all, some of us may have been more anxious to vindicate our views than to show forth the glory of God.

The whole of Rom. 14 might well be read in this connection. Take a few verses (1-5): “But him that is weak in faith receive ye, yet not for decision of scruples (margin, to doubtful disputations). One man hath faith to eat all things ; but he that is weak eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth set at naught him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth ; for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? To his own lord he standeth or falleth . . . One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind.” Vs. 10-13 : “But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother? or thou again, why dost thou set at naught thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God … So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more; but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.” Paul was here speaking about meats and drinks and ceremonial observances, but the general principle should be taken to heart by us Lutherans, to see whether we have not been more given to judging, criticising and excluding than looking for the things that make for peace and good will.

Those who are interested in our Lutheran polemics will not need many Biblical citations on Christian love. They are scattered all through the New Testament, much more being said about love among brethren than about contending for the faith, even though that is very, very important. Note just a few leading passages to refresh our memories. John 15 :12 : “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you ;” also 17: “These things I command you, that ye may love one another.” Rom. 13:8: “Owe no man anything save to love one another ; for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the whole law.” 1 Pet. 2:17: “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” 1 Pet. 3:8: . . . “Loving as brethren, tender-hearted, humble-minded.” 1 John 1 :11 : “For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;” 14: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren;” 4:7: “Beloved, let us love one another ; for love is of God ; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God;” 11: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another;” 12: “No man hath beheld God at any time : if we love one another, God abideth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” Here belongs the whole of 1 Cor. 13.

Look at Psalm 133: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity . . . For there Jehovah commandeth the blessing, even life forevermore.” Parallel passages, Gen. 13:8; Heb. 13:1.

We hope the foregoing will not be looked upon as sentimentality and preachment. It is meant for ourself as much as for our brethren. Well are we aware that love, which is an emotion, cannot decide the truth in matters of doctrine, for that function belongs to the intellect; yet there can be no doubt that if the principle of love were always potent in the hearts of men, there would be much less disputation, and that which becomes absolutely necessary for the sake of truth, would be conducted in a much kindlier spirit than has marked many of the controversies of the Christian Church. This part of our discussion will be closed with several pregnant selections from 1 Cor. 13, according to the beautiful Old Version : “Charity suffereth long, and is kind ; … is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil . . . And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; and the greatest of these is charity.”

To clinch and finish the whole Biblical argument : since such Christian virtues as faith, hope, love, brotherly kindness, forbearance, unity and peace are enjoined so much more frequently in the Holy Scriptures than con- tending for doctrine, they ought to occupy a much higher place than they do in our Lutheran Church ; they ought to make us more generous and less critical ; they ought to make us more anxious to find common ground than grounds of difference ; and in cases where discussion becomes absolutely necessary, they should pervade it all with their gentle and magnanimous spirit.