Monday, July 6, 2015

"Enough! No More!"

From Dr. Matthew Becker:

Today (July 1) I received official notice that President Linnemann has decided "to initiate formal proceedings under Bylaw 2.14.6 and request [my] expulsion from Synod." As an automatic result of this action, I am on "suspended status" under Bylaw 2.13.4.

According to Bylaw 2.14.6c, I have 15 days to appeal my suspension.

Nevertheless, I have told President Linnemann that I will not appeal his decision. Having suffered through those three previous heresy trials--which burdened nearly 17 of the past 26 years of my ministry--my family and I have come to the point of saying, "Enough! No more!"

Consequently, on July 15, I will be removed from the LCMS.

Yesterday I began to make inquiries into the process for becoming rostered in the ELCA. Later this summer my family and I will be joining Christ Lutheran Church (ELCA), here in Valpo.

My Comments:

While some will characterize this as a victory, it is a small one and a sad one.  It is small because while Dr. Backer has certainly been a visible and vocal challenge to positions of the Missouri Synod, he is not the only voice of dissent nor will the challenges to our rather uncomplicated history of positions taken on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions disappear when he joins the ELCA.  Yet it is a turning point because for too long we have assumed that there is no backbone to our confessional stance and no consequence for those who publicly teach in opposition to it.  I for one do not believe that a diversity in which direct conflict with our stated position is helpful to us but diminishes both our internal unity and external witness.  The LCMS has no thought police but when people enter the pulpits and classrooms of our Church as servants of the Church, it is the barest minimum of expectation that their teaching will be consistent with the stance of our Synod.  If it is believed that we as a Synod are in error, there are provisions for dissent and for calling the Synod to review and change our position.

It is sad because no one wants something like this to end like this.  Dr. Becker is by all means a gifted, talented, and effective teacher and on many points his teaching is exemplary.  I for one never wanted this to end with his leaving but with his agreement to teach in accord with the historic and consistent framework of our Synod's stance on such things as the ordination of women, the historicity of creation and Genesis' record, and other areas with which Dr. Becker has raised question or voiced disagreement.  Repentance from wrong is never defeat but the ultimate victory of God and His Spirit working through His Word.  It was my hope that this would resolve by this gifted teacher determining both to affirm and to teach in a positive manner consistent with the stance of the Missouri Synod.  That this has not happened is of great disappointment to me and, I suspect, to many others.  While there are some in our Synod who want to clean house and create and exodus of those who cannot teach and preach in accord with the public, historic, and consistent position of Synod on these and other controversial issues in the modern Christian world, I would prefer that we as a Synod came to one mind joyfully and willingly to confess with one voice the changeless Christ for our changing world, the truth that is steadfast and enduring, and the Word that speaks the same truth yesterday, today, and forever.  This could have been such an occasion and it still might be, the grace of God still at work!

In the end, however, I suspect that Dr. Becker stated what many who opposed him also felt -- enough... no more...  When division and dispute become the consuming passion of a Christian people, the witness of that people is tainted internally and externally and we can no longer give ourselves fully and wholly to the task the Lord has set before us.  So, while sad that Dr. Becker chose to leave rather than teach consistently with the positions of the Synod in which he has lived for 53 years, I believe that this is one story that needs a closing.  Dr. Becker has promised to pray for the LCMS and we can do no less than to pray for him and his family and for the day when we shall unite in common confession and in uncommon confidence in the Word of the Lord that endures forever and in the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified in which alone there is salvation for any and all who will believe.


Carl Vehse said...

"Having suffered through those three previous heresy trials"

What trials?!? Late last year the Referral Panel decided not to initiate the formal Dispute Resolution Panel procedure (what Becker calls a "heresy trial"). In the last 17 years were there other Dispute Resolution Panel proceedings ("heresy trials") that found Becker innocent of the charges?

"Yesterday I began to make inquiries into the process for becoming rostered in the ELCA."

Thus out of the LCMS frying pan and into the apostate XXXA hellfire.

Anonymous said...

He can have the ELCA. It's a lousy outfit, a snake-pit of false teachers and heretics. Another false teacher joins their ranks. The ELCA is no longer a Christian church, but a cult, as it does not tell sinners to repent and trust in Christ as their only Savior.

Gary said...

I believe that I am where I am today because of an LCMS pastor who believed he understood Scripture and the teachings of the Church Fathers better than the "hicks" in St. Louis running the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. If my LCMS pastor had stuck to teaching LCMS doctrine and practice, who knows, I might still be a faithful LCMS Christian.

However, such is not the case.

Although I am no longer LCMS, Lutheran, or Christian, I am a firm believer that if you join a "club" you should abide by the "club's" rules. If you disagree with the rules of the club, leave. Pastor Becker could have saved himself, his family, and many others a lot of angst if he had simply left the "club" when he no longer agreed with its "rules".

There are other LCMS pastors who should seriously consider doing the same.

Unknown said...

Gary, that is admirable. Honest to admit where you are, and terribly sad that it was because of a pastor. The "club" is not the sum total of it's rules or it's "administrators." The Church is founded upon Jesus Chist, who lived and obeyed all God's rules for all men (none of whom could - or can). It is trust in Jesus' work in our behalf that saves. Focus on men who will fail will always lead to loss of Faith.

Gary said...

I see your point, Janis, but the purpose of a pastor is to be a shepherd; to lead, to guide his flock in the paths of truth.

I loved orthodox Lutheranism. I accepted and believed the Lutheran Confessions and the two LCMS doctrinal statements as in 100% agreement with Scripture and the teachings of the Early Church. I questioned NOTHING that the LCMS taught as doctrine.

My faith and confidence in Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, the two LCMS doctrinal statements, and the leadership of the LCMS was weakened when I discovered that my LCMS pastor did not believe the LCMS doctrinal statements to be true and accurate reflections of Scriptural teaching. I came to realize that my LCMS pastor held to a hybrid version of the Christian faith which I would describe as Lutero-Reformed Catholicism:

1. Once baptized, always saved. A baptized Christian cannot lose his salvation.
2. The children of baptized Christian parents have a "covenantal" right to baptism, conveying assurance of salvation if they were to die before baptism.
3. Prayers to the Virgin Mary are an acceptable Lutheran practice.
4. There should be more than three Sacraments.
5. "Biblicism" is ignorant nonsense. The layperson in the pew needs pastoral guidance to understand such difficult passages as the Creation Story, the Tower of Babel, the age of Methuselah, etc. The Bible should not be read literally in these passages and in many others.
6. The Bible DOES contain errors.
7. The LCMS has been "infiltrated" by Reformed and evangelical influences in their doctrinal statements which express support for Biblicism. Such thinking in the LCMS can be attributed to the backwardness of the pastors and church officials in the Midwest controlling the denomination.

So my faith in the Bible and in the leadership/doctrinal positions of my Church, the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, was already weakened when I encountered former Christians-turned atheists on the internet who questioned the inerrancy of the Bible; pointing out apparent discrepancy and error, after apparent discrepancy and error.

What would have happened if my LCMS pastor had consistently taught me: "Believe the Bible without question. God cannot err. What may appear an error to you, cannot be an error with God. Have faith in the Faith of Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Daniel, Paul, and Peter. No matter what "evidence" skeptics show you, discount it as a trick of Satan. Bottom line: The Bible, God's holy, inerrant Word is NEVER wrong. Ignore all accusations to the contrary as tricks of Satan.

Gary said...

His latest project is to make Holy Matrimony a Lutheran sacrament. You can read it here:

Sue said...

So sad to hear this. Dr. Becker was born into my congregation and I even babysat him. His grandfather was also a pastor and life-long member. He was not our pastor but the institutional chaplain to the many prisons in our area, and beloved in my congregation. I wish him well and will pray for him.

Unknown said...

Gary, always question. I do not and have not believed in the Scripture or Christ because I never questioned (or because I was convinced by arguments in favor). Doubt is not always a bad thing, but it is natural to humans. Faith however, is a gift and not something we will ourselves to do or have. I do not believe because I was convinced during a time of questioning. I have doubts that assail every day. With the man in the Gospels, I ask Christ to help my unbelief. We should not be fideists - faith in faith, but faith in Christ and His work for us. His death in our place to (big Bible word) propitiate God and win our forgiveness is True. Forgiveness every person needs; including your former pastor, yourself, and myself.

Unknown said...

Gary, just a bit of background, too. If you read here regularly, you know I was not born Lutheran, but was raised Southern Baptist, where I was taught not to question, but did, nevertheless. I always considered myself a 'bad' Baptist. I took a long journey, including attending a Baptist seminary. I suffered years of the Baptist way of preaching Law to condemn, Gospel to free, then more Law (what to do this week) which kills. I have been through a period (after seminary) of seriously questioning the Truth. I have been a Presbyterian, done a short 'stint' in he Episcopal church, done a time of not being churched, gone back to Calvinism via Presbyterianism and Reformed Baptist. I dragged a dear husband through the last stages of it. When I (and my husband) found Lutheranism, we finally understood the Gospel is enough to save even Christians. The knowledge we are simultaneously saint and sinner, and that all Christians are is freeing. To know we are all 'wrong' and that Scripture is right (preserved by God, and where we don't understand, it's our puny brains and faith at fault) frees us from being our own god. I realize you probably have heard things like this before, and I am not saying I felt all this in my 'heart,' but that Christ was and is patient with a stupid child.

Gary said...

We have similar stories, Janice. I grew up Baptist, left the Church all together in my mid-twenties. Sporadically attended liberal churches in my thirties and forties, such as the Episcopal Church and the ELCA, and finally came to the LCMS about four years ago. In confessional Lutheranism, I had the same reaction as you did: I felt like I had found "the true Faith".

Anonymous said...

Gary, one man can make you lose your salvation while it was One Man who died and rose for your salvation. You make the first man more important. Why? The tomb is still empty.

Gary said...

Here is the thing with Higher Criticism, which is what my LCMS pastor was teaching...although he would walk on hot coals before admitting it:

Once a pastor "cracks open the lid" to Higher Criticism, even if it is on a very minor issue like whether or not Methuselah really lived to be over 900 years old as the literal reading of the Bible states, then he has opened Pandora's Box. He has opened Pandora's Box because if the layperson cannot trust the Bible when it says in very clear language that Methuselah lived to be over 900 years old, then why should the layperson trust the Bible on even more fantastic claims such as a universe created in six days, human beings created out of dust, or a dead Savior who walks out of his grave with a superhero-like body; that walks thru locked doors and eats broiled fish lunches with his former fishing buddies??

If the man in the pew is told directly or it is insinuated to him that he is incapable of sitting down and understanding the Bible himself; that he needs his pastor, a theologian, or an apologist to explain to him even the most simple teachings in the Bible, such as how old the oldest man really was, then it's either time for the man in the pew to toss his Bible in the trash and simply accept as fact everything that his pastor, theologian, and apologist tells him, or, he can start investigating the evidence for the validity of the Bible himself, and once the layperson starts looking at the thousands of documents on the internet that expose huge holes in the evidence for the claims of the Bible, he realizes: my pastor is trying to pull the wool over my eyes. He is trying to cover up the many holes in Christian teaching with complicated theological theories so that he doesn't have to be explain to parishioners why "nine hundred plus years" does not mean "nine hundred plus years"...and the whole house of cards comes crashing down.

Gary said...

All the above can be avoided by simply telling the man in the pew: You can believe what the Bible says. You can believe what the Church Fathers have always said it says. Don't let science and 'writing analysis experts' convince you that the Bible contains errors. It can't because God promised he would not allow one jot or tittle of his Word to be lost or changed.

Gary said...

Here is an example of what I believe LCMS pastors should NOT do:

Noah and the Flood: Some LCMS pastors and even many evangelical apologists are now adopting the overwhelming secular geologists' assertion that the sediment layers and the fossil record absolutely rule out the possibility of a world-wide flood. However, these (higher criticism) Christians are now claiming that when God/the Bible says in Genesis that the whole earth was flooded that God/the Bible only meant the "earth" of the Euphrates River Valley and that when God/the Bible says that even the highest mountains were covered with 22 cubits of water, that He really meant that the hills along the Euphrates were covered with 22 cubits of water.

Bottom line, "earth" does not mean "earth" and "mountain" does not mean mountain. So, at what point does "is" not mean "is"??

Christian pastors should instead say this: "You have a choice, Mr. or Mrs. Christian. You can believe God or you can believe man. God, in his inerrant, Holy Word, said he flooded the entire earth, 22 cubits above Mt. Everest. Since God is all-powerful and all-knowing, He is perfectly capable of flooding the entire world but yet create the sediment layers and the fossil record to APPEAR as if no world wide flood had ever occurred. Why would he do this? How many times do we see in the Bible situations in which God works in mysterious ways to confound the wise and arrogant? God very well may have "fixed" the sediment and fossil layers to appear to contradict the Bible for the very purpose of bring down the proud and saving only those humble enough to accept his Word by faith, not by evidence.

Gary said...

Correction: I misstated above that my LCMS pastor taught that prayers to the Virgin Mary was an acceptable Lutheran practice. What I should have said was: My LCMS pastor teaches that belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is an acceptable Lutheran position.

I apologize for the misstatement.

Unknown said...

Please know that there are misrepresentations in this vine.

Of course I use higher critical methods. Every pastor consulting a commentary is engaged in higher criticism. It's part of the job.

What Gary may be accusing me of is methodological source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, or canonical criticism - all of which I oppose in my defense of the inspiration, authority and infallibility of the Bible. It takes training to discern the difference. What I oppose is a fundamentalist approach to the Bible. There are defining characteristics to biblicist readings of Scripture. I avoid these and thus stand within the parameters of the LCMS interpretative tradition that permits latitude regarding biblicist hot-topics like the earth's age. Notice, that when speaking about the Bible Gary operates in polarities: inerrant or fabrication; believe God or believe man. The conversation isn't binary. There's important nuance.

As for my "trying to make Holy Matrimony a sacrament", please read the two articles. It isn't so simple. Also, he gives the impression I'm a maverick. Both my work on biblicism and Holy Matrimony, have been given as papers at our Seminaries, Lutheran conferences, submitted for peer review, forwarded by me to our DP. I serve on the LCMS Task Force on human sexuality in St Louis. My work on biblicism has been published with ILC Lutherans and I have been on LCMS radio many times discussing these issues. Moreover, I am presently peaching the Formula of Concord's Bible texts to deepen the faith of the parish I serve. Not exactly the modus operandi of a maverick or a person repudiating orthodox Lutheranism and Holy Scripture.

There's a tradition within Lutheranism that utilizes the Ava Maria as rewritten by Luther. That’s a fact and one about which converts to Lutheranism from Roman Catholicism had asked. What I said about the Immaculate Conception of Mary is that LUTHER found it an acceptable position and other Lutherans too. I said I can appreciate *why* Luther held that position. But, I don't believe it myself.

Unknown said...

The "look-at-what-you-made-me-do" victimization purported above doesn't strike me as laudable honesty. Gary read Bart Ehrman and asked that I respond in the space of a couple weeks to many shifting questions from an atheist blogger amidst my parish work, military service, & teaching obligations, to say nothing of my family. Indeed, he pressured me to convince this atheist immediately or he'd walk away from Christianity. That was an unfair and unreasonable burden. I can shepherd to the sources and encourage but I cannot compel or coerce faith. Gary will remember that what delayed my availability to respond during those weeks was care for a dying parishioner.

Instead of reading scholarly responses to Ehrman as recommended, he renounced faith. Personally, I like Gary. We partnered in ministry and life together in one of the more challenging urban settlings for the Gospel one can find. He took pride in the church and personal care of people. What's not to admire? But the above remarks are neither charitable nor accurate. Additionally, I am not sure what he means by "orthodox Lutheranism." I recall a conversation in which he admitted not having read the Book of Concord. Has he studied Melanchthon's Loci Communes, Chemnitz, Hutter, Gerhard, Hunnius, Hollaz or Pieper who formulated, defended and promulgated orthodox Lutheranism? Saying one knows it without making a study of its Confession and commentators might be premature. The pastors at Gary's former church were concerned as he sparred with capable disciples of Ehrman that he had not yet come to an understanding of Lutheranism. His formation as a Lutheran required time and inculturation. So, yes, in this sense I failed to form him as a disciple of Jesus and for that I am sorry.

Lastly, I am not a nameless, faceless monster pastor. My name is John Bombaro. And I loved Gary and his family as their pastor and the doors of the parish remain wide open to him and his lovely family and devout in-laws. He has made this personal but for the sake of our wives and the fact that our children go to the same school I'll just offer this brief response and welcome him to resume discipleship as the Lord leads him back to the way of truth.

Gary said...

I like Pastor Bombaro. As a rule, he is a nice man. He is a very good preacher and a very kind and caring pastor. However, the fact is that he was teaching non-LCMS teachings in an LCMS church. I trusted him to teach me the truths of confessional/orthodox Lutheranism but instead he taught me "Bombaroism", a hybrid version of Reformed, Lutheran, and RCC teachings. He had me convinced that "Once Baptized, Always Saved" was acceptable confessional Lutheran teaching. He even told me and others in a catechism class when I questioned him on this teaching, "How is it possible that anyone can take a believer out of the Father's hand?"

After doing further study of this topic, reading Lutheran scholars and anonymously asking other LCMS pastors their position on this issue, I found out that his position on this issue is NOT Lutheran at all. I confronted Pastor B. one more time and he finally admitted that this belief was a hold over from his days as a Presbyterian pastor. He had not been able to come to terms with the Lutheran position that a true believer CAN fall from grace and can go to Hell.

Did Pastor B. apologize for teaching me (and others) a false, Reformed doctrine? No he did not. He only promised not to teach it in the church again. He is defensive and arrogant about it. He seemed offended that a layperson would dare challenge him, with his extensive training, on his teachings. But he did finally admit his teaching on this issue was not Lutheran.

Then after more study of LCMS teaching I came to realize that Pastor B's teaching that the children of Christians have a "covenantal birth right" to baptism is another Reformed teaching, not Lutheran. I confronted him on this, and I again was told that his position is "Lutheran".

In another catechism class he taught that the evolutionary development of all species is true...except for humans...who God possible made from the dirt with some gorilla dung mixed in, giving us DNA similarities with the great apes.

The sermon on the Immaculate Conception was presented with no condemnation. It was as if he threw it out to us as a test of how far he could go with his "catholicity". When I challenged him later on teaching RCC teachings in an LCMS church, he admitted he likes to "push the envelope".

I do not need to be a graduate of an LCMS seminary to know that these positions do not square with the two doctrinal statements of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. For the life of me I do not understand why Pastor Bombaro joined the LCMS if he holds these views.

I believe that he was wrong to teach these non-Lutheran teachings in an LCMS church. I believe he has been insubordinate and disrespectful to his superiors in the LCMS. Yet, he has never apologized or repented of any of these actions. He continues to persist in his attitude that HE knows what is best for the LCMS.

I am no longer a Lutheran or a Christian so whether Pastor Bombaro repents of his actions is none of my concern. But I do NOT like or appreciate being deceived, being lied to, by someone in whom I have placed my complete trust. Pastor B, you were my shepherd, and you led me astray from solid LCMS teaching.

You are not entirely responsible for my deconversion, but by willingness to question Lutheran Christian teaching began when I realized I could no longer accept the word of my LCMS pastor as true LCMS doctrine and practice. Instead of being arrogant and defensive, Pastor John, you should be remorseful and admit you have erred. But admitting you have been wrong is not one of your strengths, is it?