So we embrace Christ as Lord & as the sole mediator between God & man. Furthermore, we believe this, in part, because of a conviction in our soul; but what must primordially form our belief is the witness of God’s written Word. There was a time we can recall when that conviction existed not, but Scripture’s witness remained yet steadfast. Our convictions matter tremendously, but there always remains the possibility of even the most ostensively committed Christian losing their senses & turning away from Christ (Gal. 1:8). Scripture alone, not man’s intuitions, is solely sufficient for forming something as central to our life as our convictions. God’s Word is the physical, tangible anchor to our soul in the storm of life.
Therefore, being that these are two central tenets to Christian life, we rightly can & should judge whether someone speaks from the Spirit of Christ or the spirit of the flesh, particularly by their dedication to these two fundamentals. It is unfortunate that Rev. Benke, a pastor & leader in the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod lead prayers at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 23, 2001 in the manner that he did. Just to make clear his failing & give assurance that we are not taking any of his statements out of context, allow me to present the full transcript of his prayer that day:
“Oh, we’re stronger now than we were an hour ago. And you know, my sisters and brothers, we’re not nearly as strong as we’re going to be. And the strength we have is the power of love, and the power of love you have received is from God for God is love. So take the hand of one next to you now and join me in prayer on this field of dreams turned into God’s house of prayer.
O Lord our God, we’re leaning on you today. You are our tower of strength and we’re leaning on you. You are our mighty fortress, our God who is a rock. In you do we stand. Those of us who bear the name of Christ know that you stood so tall when you stooped down to send a son through death and life to bring us back together.
And we lean on you today, O tower of strength. Be with those who mourn the loss of loved ones. Bring them closer to us day-by-day. O heavenly father, we pray at this time that you might extend Jacob’s ladder for those who ascended the stairways to save us as others escaped the fire and flames. O tower of strength, open innocent and victimized hearts to the sacrifice of the innocent one. Pour your consolation upon the promised eyes, especially our children.
O heavenly father, unbind, unfear, unscorch, unsear our souls, renew us in your free spirit. We’re leaning on you, our tower of strength. We find our refuge in the shadow of your shelter. Lead us from this place strong to bring forth a power of your love wherever we are in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.”
To be clear, we are not criticizing him for a failure to speak of Christ. He does so, & commendably even indicates the significance of Christ’s death, as well the cross’s ability to reconcile God & man. Our issue is not in the general indicatives of that 2nd paragraph, but the specific imperative he gives his audience at the end of the first, & what that says about the his view of Christ, despite the 2nd paragraph’s apparent soundness of doctrine. It is not his words concerning Christ that we question, but his action that surrounds those words.
As the video illustrates, the audience he instructs to “hold hands…& join (him) in prayer” is clearly & purposely made up of every kind of religious belief the melting pot of NYC has to offer. It seems, by the transcript of the entire proceedings, each & every one was accorded an opportunity to pray to his particular deity. Muslims sang & read from the Koran, & made statements like “I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God”. Sikhs prayed to their god. Hindus prayed to “guru fathers”. A Roman Catholic prays to Mary. And yet in the very midst of all this adoration for lying religion, we have a supposed disciple of Martin Luther, no less, throwing the majestic name of Christ into the mix, as if it represents nothing more than just another name, just another form, of for the same deity that all the others are addressing. One must wonder, does he really believe that one & all, they address the same God? More precisely, what does this say of his view of Christ? Can Christ really be thought of being one & same with the Muslim’s “Allah” when the Koran calls Christ nothing greater than a prophet (The Koran: “Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them…Jesus son of Mary, was only a messenger of Allah…say not "Three”…Allah is only One God. Far is it removed from His Transcendent Majesty that He should have a son”) & even denies that Christ died upon the cross, therein also denying His life-giving resurrection (“they slew him not nor crucified him…but Allah took him up unto Himself.”) Can this image of Allah & the Christian’s picture of Christ as God ever be as one?
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Apparently for those in attendance, it can. It is of no surprise that the Rev. Calvin Butts, a proponent of the entirely unbiblical & Marxist “liberation theology” (recall the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of President Obama’s former assembly) can call for a joining of hands in prayer, as he is clearly heretical. But for a supposed representative of the Augsburg Confession to join his God to theirs in this way is untenable at best & utter blasphemy at worst. It is interesting to note that Butts is the only other ostensive Christian at the podium that day to call for all in attendance to hold hands & join him in prayer. Since Butts was the one to precede him, maybe Benke felt obliged to do the same. We’ve all bowed to peer pressure to do things we’ve regretted later. So I would imagine the members of the LCMS honestly believed he would be open to their rebuke & repudiate his reference to this vast gathering of disbelievers in Christ’s glory as “God’s house of prayer”.
"I am ecumenical wherever I go, that is the problem” − David Benke, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/10/02
Disturbingly, he not only refused to repudiate his actions that day, but presses on with his heresy in a public campaign against the those of his own body calling him to account! Their formal rebuke was private, constrained within LCMS church structure, but his response was to publicly assail their motives. He decided to retain a law firm & take every opportunity to publicly libel the faith of those doggedly holding to Scripture’s image of Jesus as the only “way”& the only “mediator between God & men”. It speaks especially poor of his character that he chose to take this fight outside the bounds of his church, & into the court of secular public opinion. To this day, as the posted recent video clearly demonstrates, he not only continues to stand by his actions that day, but he also presses on to publicly vilify those of his own assembly who refuse to lose sight of Lutheran roots in, of all the crazy things, Luther, & his attendance to sound Biblical principles, as spelled out in the 28 articles at Augsburg nearly 500 years ago. In it, Luther was likewise addressing those of his day who sought to diminish the central & fundamental positional role of Christ…
“The churches, with common consent among us, do teach that the decree of the Nicene Synod concerning the unity of the divine essence and of the three persons is true, and without doubt to be believed: to wit, that there is one divine essence which is called and is God, eternal, without body, indivisible [without part], of infinite power, wisdom, goodness, the Creator and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and that yet there are three persons of the same essence and power, who also are co-eternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And they use the name of person in that signification in which the ecclesiastical writers [the fathers] have used it in this cause, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which properly subsists. They condemn all heresies which have sprung up against this Article, as the Manichees, who set down two principles, good and evil; in the same manner the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Mohammedans, and all such like. They condemn also the Samosatenes, old and new; who, when they earnestly contend that there is but one person, do craftily and wickedly trifle, after the manner of rhetoricians, about the Word and Holy Ghost, that they are not distinct persons, but that the Word signifies a vocal word, and the Spirit a motion created in things.” Article 1, The Augsburg Confession
By specifically vituperating those who espouse no belief in the Biblical Christ, Luther, Melanchthon, et al. demonstrate utter opposition to the very manner of ecumenicism that Benke professes. As if there was ever doubt of his position in contrast to the Confession, Benke let slip his real belief on Feb. 18, 2003 when he incontrovertibly stated, in an e-mail exchange, his position that “the Muslim God is also the true God”.
Dr. Wallace Schulz, who was at that time the Second Vice President of the Synod, would be the one to formally charge Benke with the act of syncretism. As Benke would offer no apology, publicly or privately, on July 6, 2002, Schulz suspended him. It would seem good congregationalist church structure had won the day for orthodoxy. But, like cockroaches, you’ll never know how extensive your infestation is until you turn on the kitchen light in the dark of night. Shockingly, on April 10, 2003 the Synod’s president, Gerald Kieschnick, reinstated Benke on the grounds that he had appointed him to deliver the prayer. This absolved Benke of the charge of syncretism under LCMS rules, for it was now argued that he was simply acting in obedience to Kieschnick, his superior at the time.
Benke’s case polarized the Synod. Now it was no longer a fight for Biblical integrity in a mere district of the most orthodox representation of Lutheranism on American soil, but the Synod as a whole. By defending Benke, President Kieschnick revealed his own poor image of Christ. As Schulz succinctly summarized:
“If the Panel’s decision is permitted to stand unchallenged, its impact will reach far beyond the Benke case, fundamentally changing our Synod and leading it to resolve spiritual issues on the basis of men’s opinions rather than God’s Word.” - Dr. Wallace Schulz, official letter to LCMS Secretary Raymond Hartwig, May 11, 2003
Kieschnick won reelection in both 2004 & 2007, probably for the same reasons he was originally elected in 2001- his reputation for prospering church growth. He was well known for his ties to non-Lutheran mega churches in his prior years as the Texas District’s President, where he oversaw its 12% growth rate that looked especially favorable when compared with national numbers that shrank within the same time frame. But in retrospect, it is no surprise that he could grow membership when one considers his very inoffensive message that compels the proselyte to bear no cross of any real substance. His Gospel Lite message simply adds Christ to whatever it is one already thinks about God, the way that some “preachers” simply add a standard single tag line about Christ at the end of their so-called “sermon” every week. No doubt, he would have to have been doing something incredibly wrong to not be filling churches to the rafters in the course of leading his congregations towards the fairy tale Osteen sort of Christianity. The true Gospel always has been & always will be offensive to all who cannot accept it.
Matthew 10:34-39 Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (35) For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (36) And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. (37) Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (38) And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (39) Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Thankfully, a good majority of the LCMS finally came to their senses & replaced Kieschnick in 2010 with Matthew C. Harrison. The new president seems desirous to heal the major rifts in the church that actually date back to the Synod’s Concordia Seminary battling to maintain the concepts of sola Scriptura & inerrancy in the late 1960’s. The Synod had been going through a similar battle with many of its seminarians espousing the higher-criticism method of interpreting Scripture. Naturally, this method appeals to liberals as it generally results in a picture of Christ as not supernatural, but just another “good teacher”. This small view of Christ fits well with large scale ecumenicism & a “social” Gospel that centers on man’s work, in missions & such, instead of upon God’s work on the cross. The Synod elected a conservative, one J.A.O. Preus, principally to resurrect the concept of the Bible’s inerrancy.
President Harrison seems intended to heal the strife by taking direct aim at the “Center” of the problem:
“People follow conviction, not coercion. That’s why theology, the Gospel and all its articles, is and has to be the force which binds us. Missions are not the binding center of the church’s life. The Gospel is. And where this is actually so, there is mission aplenty. Dale Meyer has nailed the issue in a recent brief, but penetrating, editorial titled, ‘Where is the Center?’
'There, I believe, is the Center: A theological enterprise centered in theHe quotes a past Synod president:
Scriptures of Christ. Such a Center is manifest in congregations walking
together because we talk together about our shared confession of the doctrines
of the Gospel. There are very few reasons left to perpetuate the Synod except
that we want to bind ourselves together around these doctrines and voluntarily
hold ourselves accountable to one another for the theology we preach and teach.
. . . We need each other, not so much for structured work as for nurture and
growth in the full Word that leads to salvation. . . . Theology can’t just
underlie; it has to be our Center'”- “It’s Time”
“Hence, if a church-body wishes to be preserved from party spirit or be cured of this malady when it has broken out, the only remedy is diligent study of God’s Word. The Word of God has the property of unifying and preserving in unity. Those who say that doctrines should not be discussed in order to avoid divisions within the church do not know what they are talking about. Luther writes in the Smalcald Articles:
‘Therefore the church can never be better governed and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ, and all the bishops, equal in office (although they be unequal in gifts), be diligently joined in unity of doctrine, faith, Sacraments, prayer and works of love.’”
He gives a 3-part plan for courage in the fight:
"The challenges we face are many, and it will take courage to face them. There is a great deal of fear and discouragement these days in the church. Believe me, Luther’s knees were knocking when he gave his “Here I Stand” speech before the world. And ours will be too. But courage is simply fear that has been baptized. Luther noted three things that gave him courage:
1. First, repentance, because repentance is the path to a good conscience before God. And a good conscience frees one to act, to dare something for Christ and the Gospel. “A good conscience fills a man’s heart with courage and boldness.”
2. The clear Word of God, because we are not left wondering what the will of God is, paralyzed and unable to act. If I know clearly that my action is consonant with God’s Word, I can have courage that he shall bless, come what may. “Christian faith is ready to rest completely on God’s Word with all confidence and courage, and then to go joyfully on its way” (Luther).
3. Sacred vocation, because we can have courage that the Lord has placed us in this place, in this Synod, for this moment. Now is the time for courage, and to get our act together. The situation is ripe and brings to mind a statement of Luther: When the situation is hopeless and all plans and efforts are in vain, then be courageous, and beware of giving up; for God calls all things from the dead and from nothing. When no resource or hope at all is left, then at last God’s help begins."
Though desirous to heal the Synod in its entirety, he is not living in fantasy land in regards to compelling the most hardened liberals towards this Biblical Gospel “Center”:
“It is possible to unify 85% of the Synod in doctrine, practice and mission, I’m convinced.”
The big question is how does he plan on dealing with the remaining 15%? As of now, David Benke still holds both his NYC pastorship & position as Atlantic District President…
This all bears great import because of the fact that, while much of the larger Lutheran church has regretfully fallen under the spell of “higher criticism”, the LCMS has its roots in the forthwith departure of Christ focused & Bible centered believers from that larger assembly in the mid 19th century. But merely leaving the fellowship of heretics does not free us to thereafter blithely live without thought to continue to adamantly counter heresy at its every beastly appearance. We do well to keep in remembrance the admonitions of the apostle:
2Timothy 4:1-5 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: (2) preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (3) For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, (4) and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (5) As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Acts 4:11-12 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. (12) And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.