I`m going to be honest here, and tell you of the one thing that frustrates me more than anything else in the ministry … When dear saints of the Lord look their pastor in the eye and say “Well, that`s just your opinion (or interpretation, or way of doing things).” Instantly in my mind I hear myself grumbling, No it isn’t … but then you REALLY don`t want to hear that! Hearing those words rankle me to the core for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they are so often said simply as a means to end conversation when one side doesn’t like where things are going. It`s almost as bad as being told by someone that I will just have to agree to disagree with them. (Why should I agree to that?)
But the real reason I find the whole idea so distasteful, is precisely the reason why anyone making such a claim in the church should find it equally appalling. There is no room for personal opinion in the preaching and teaching of Christ`s Church. I shouldn’t do it. My congregants shouldn’t put up with it. I made a vow in my ordination that when it came to preaching and teaching I would put personal opinion behind me. I vowed that my opinions would now be those of the Lutheran Confessions, and the Scriptures they come from. I do my very best to remove my own opinion from my reading of the Holy Scriptures, allowing the Scriptures and the Confessions to guide my opinion of the Word of God. Who am I that I should have an opinion about the very Words of God? I will stand by God’s opinion on such things!
When we allow personal opinion (or interpretations, or ways of doing things) to remain uncontested in Christ’s Church then we allow someone or something to stand alongside our Saviour in the hearts and minds of His people. When we allow personal opinion (or interpretations, or ways of doing things) to remain uncontested in Christ’s Church then we open the door to ever revolving controversies that have ready been settled and pave the way for everlasting discord.
Please note, I am not saying that I am right and you (dear reader) are wrong. I am often wrong myself … but only when I lower my guard and let my own personal opinions, interpretations, and ways of doing things creep in where only the beliefs, teachings, and confessions of the Holy Christian Church should be. Pastors shouldn’t do it, and lay people shouldn’t condone it!
Consider these illuminating words from CFW Walther:
The purpose for which the Church demands a subscription to its Symbols is twofold:
a) that the Church may convince itself that its teachers really possess the orthodox understanding of Scripture and the same pure, unadulterated faith as the Church;
b) that the Church may bind them with a solemn promise to teach this faith pure and unadulterated or renounce the office of teaching instead of disturbing the Church with their false teaching.
This twofold purpose is completely nullified if the servants of the Church are permitted to accept the Symbols of the Church on a conditional basis. For when the Church is satisfied with a conditional subscription, it openly admits to its teachers that its Symbols may contain doctrines that are contrary to Scripture. By making such an admission, the Church loses all means of convincing itself what the teacher believes when he subscribes conditionally, and releases him from the obligation of teaching the Word of God pure and unadulterated according to its Symbols, which are the norm for teaching in the Church.
Furthermore, when congregations demand that those who want to teach subscribe to their Symbols, they are looking for a guarantee that no teacher with an erring conscience nor an outspoken errorist will come in and teach them all sorts of errors. However, if congregations demand only a conditional subscription to their Symbols, they weaken that guarantee, give the false teacher a weapon against themselves, and rob themselves of the right of deposing a teacher who teaches contrary to their Symbols.
Finally, the purpose of binding the teachers of the Church to its public Confessions is to remove the long controversies that have been thoroughly discussed and settled, at least in the orthodox Church. A mere conditional subscription, however, opens the door for a renewal of controversies that have ready been settled and paves the way for everlasting discord.
Why Should Our Pastors, Teachers, and Professors Subscribe Unconditionally to the Symbolical Writings of Our Church?, Essay delivered at the Western District Convention in 1858. by C.F.W Walther, Translated by A.W.C. Guebert and Matthew Harrison, published in “At Home in the House of My Fathers”, by Matt Harrison. Lutheran Legacy, 2009.