President Harrison is theologically astute and not a timid soul. He has written and translated many orthodox things, showing he has a depth of scriptural knowledge. But as the official head, and de facto chief pastor, of the LCMS, he is responsible for leading and guiding the synod with the Word of God. This is not merely a matter of maintaining the machinery of the synod or being a well-manicured figurehead, but actively shepherding her—by speaking for Christ.
Rev. Harrison is very conscious about how his name is used publicly. I was alerted to this fact by a personal phone call from him recently (on Feb. 17)—while I was out watching my children play. It was my first time to have a conversation with him. He charged me directly: “I will hold you personally responsible for anything said falsely about me” in Christian News, he reiterated several times, because I, as a LCMS pastor, “am a member of synod.” Well and good, but the question that came to my mind in the following days is: what about the name of Christ? Isn’t it also significant? Does it matter what I preach, teach, and write concerning the Lord’s name? Will I be held “personally responsible” if I commune those not in our fellowship or preach false doctrine? Will he view my sermons online and hold me “personally responsible” if I deviate from the Lutheran Confessions or confuse law and Gospel? I hope so, but thankfully Pres. Harrison has not had to call me personally to correct my doctrine.
I pray Rev. Harrison does put his full personal authority behind correcting those guilty of open communion—those pastors allowing visitors to profane the holy body and blood of Christ and make a false confession of fellowship. Perhaps those congregations acting contrary to Scripture are threatened by the president with removal from synod. Perhaps pastors giving permission to divorce or commit sexual immorality are being chided and made “personally responsible” for misusing Christ’s name. I pray Pres. Harrison is going after congregations which sin against the divine call of Christ by disposing sinfully of faithful pastors. He must be a busy man. After all, his duty is to serve Christ, as president of the LCMS, and uphold the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions—in which the names “Matthew Harrison” and “Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” are notably absent. If our elected head cares so much about how others use his name, he is certainly to be even more diligent about false doctrine in our midst.
I am not breaking the 8th commandment to say Pres. Harrison is a sinner and fails in his duties, because we all are sinners before God—and He certainly needs our diligent prayer. But as a friendly reminder to all those God has put into authority in His Church: no pastor should care too much about his personal name. In fact, that is a detriment to being truly pastoral—actually speaking the Word of God. Faithful pastors will be mocked and persecuted for standing on God’s Word. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” Jesus said to prepare faithful confessors of Him (Mt. 5:11). Calling out sinners and demanding repentance is bad re-election strategy, but blessed spiritual work.
As much as we value our own reputation—what others say about us—we are not to honor our name or status above Christ’s Word. God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. This is the charge of the holy God to everyone. It is also the privilege and duty of pastors, and heads of the household, to lead others to the right knowledge and confession of God’s name. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!
Being in the fellowship of a synod has to mean something—it does signal a common confession of Christ. But to become a pastor, I did not take a vow to speak glowingly of the LCMS or its current doctrinal state, nor did I promise in my ordination vows to always speak tenderly of the currently elected president, or any of synod’s leaders or officials. No, I took a vow to specific doctrine, the teaching of Christ expressed in the Book of Concord, which is to hold my allegiance above synodical politics or the reputation of anyone, even my own. Every pastor made this promise, to which Christ will hold them personally responsible on Judgment Day.
We should encourage our pastors to be faithful, and not just keep the status quo intact by telling people things are fine and dandy. The boat needs to be rocked. Congregations that do not want to be Lutheran should be sent packing. Pastors who are unfaithful and unwilling to be corrected should be removed. Those who misuse the name of Christ must be held personally responsible.
Instead, the LCMS has too often played the public relations game: “see no evil, hear no evil,” “let’s ignore the open doctrinal problems in our midst and the dysfunctional bureaucracy that tolerates any sin (except 8th commandment violations against public figures) and trust things will change without church discipline or the binding Key.” This is foolish and not pastoral. We need pastors, not politicians.
Synod itself can be a false god, if it is held more sacred than Scripture’s doctrine—so that the only sin is to disrupt our false pretense of peace and unity under Christ. No leader, political or churchly, is above Christ. I’ve had many people tell me over the years that I can’t criticize synod, seminary professors, or synod leaders. But isn’t God alone above criticism? The Word of God judges all people. The public actions of all pastors are to be judged, and they must personally be held accountable when they sin against the name of Christ. We have no inerrant authority other than Scripture. But to not allow criticism and enforce fake positivity is to denote something sinful as “inerrant.” It is all backwards.
Only God’s name, the Word of Scripture taught and applied, achieves real change. To think it will happen without severe problems or having your name dragged through the mud is naive and unbiblical. Christ calls us to love Him more than our own family and name. Every pastor who wants to be faithful must be willing to lay down not only his reputation, but his own life, for the sake of Christ’s name.
How you speak about President Harrison, and all pastors, is important and their office deserves respect, but no one is above correction and reproof. So I speak, not as a man with mere human authority, but in Christ’s name: “Do your job, Pres. Harrison. Enforce the pure doctrine of the name of Christ. If your name has to be made dirt to speak the truth and make those in synod personally responsible for doctrinal error, so be it. God be praised, if that is the result. Use the full authority of your office and person for the name of Christ, maintaining and promoting the pure doctrine of our Lord, who lives to forgive sinners. Your name, Pres. Harrison, can achieve nothing, but Christ’s name can do all things.” I pray for his strength for the many phone calls and meetings he has ahead of him, protecting the name of Christ. Amen –ed.