Lesson in Lutheran Controversy for the CRC

Dr. Harold Lindsell, editor of Christianity Today, makes a most important observation in his recent editorial in the April 11 issue, “Who Is Right in the Missouri Synod Dispute?” The context is the article by Dr. John Tietjen, former president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. As most observers of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church know, Dr. Tietjen was recently removed from his office as president of the Seminary. In October, 1975 Dr. J. A. O. Preus, president of the Missouri Synod Church, presented an article in Christianity Today giving his summary of the basic issues at stake in the ouster of Dr. Tietjen. His position was that the authority of the Bible is the basic theological issue in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Now writing in the current issue of Christianity Today, Dr. Tietjen claims that this answer is merely a smokescreen to cover up the real issues. And in his counter claims, he says that the authority of Scripture is not the issue; that he for one holds to the authority of the Bible, and the inspiration and the infallibility of Scripture.

Now Dr. Lindsell comments on these assertions of Dr. Tietjen. Using the argument of Tietjen that the interpretation of Scripture is the issue, and not the authority of Scripture, Dr. Lindsell cites the fact that is one’s interpretation of Scripture goes contrary to other passages of Scripture, then the authority of Scripture is definitely at issue. Indeed, one’s interpretation of Scripture then denies the infallibility of Scripture. Dr. Lindsell concludes that what is at stake in the Missouri Synod Church is the authority of Scripture, Dr. John Tietjen to the contrary, notwithstanding. For if Dr. Tietjen wants to allow freedom to ministers of the Missouri Synod Church to interpret Genesis 1–3 as allegorical or as “wisdom literature,” and still wants to claim that these same men hold to the authority of Scripture and its inerrancy, then says Lindsell, he is caught in an inescapable dilemma. Either he must admit that the Biblical writers who held that Genesis 1–3 are not allegorical, wisdom literature, but pure history arc wrong in their views; or his position that ministers who hold to the allegorical, wisdom literature interpretation of Genesis 1–3 are in contradiction to Scripture. Thus Lindsell concludes that the issue is indeed the authority of Scripture, the question of Scripture’s inerrancy, and that one‘s interpretation of Scripture either sustains or denies Scripture.

What is so interesting about this exchange of ideas in Christianity Today is this: what Lindsell says about Tietjen and the Missouri Syond can be said with equal support about some theological leaders within the Christian Reformed Church. Who of our leaders would ever deny the authority of Scripture, its inerrancy, and its infallibility? I don’t know a single one who would care to deny these doctrines. And yet there are those who come out in print frequently with a position that clearly calls into the question the very doctrines that they espouse. For example, it is being said in some quarters of the CRC that the issue is not the authority of Scripture, but the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That is what we must emphasize today. And when the emphasis on the infallibility/inspiration of Scripture is made in this paper and from some pulpits, then many of these persons are quick to criticize those persons as missing the boat when it comes to where the real emphasis should be. But unfortunately, so often the criticism arises from a false antithesis between the Lordship of Christ and the authority of Scripture, as if we are called upon to choose which one to push. The truth is that if the authority of Scripture is accepted and believed consistently, then all the other doctrines which Scripture teaches will fall into place. But if the authority of Scripture is denigrated and relegated to a forgotten and long-dead controversy, these other doctrines will also be lost in short order.

So, let us continue to listen to the Harold Lindsell’s of our Christian Reformed Church, who are not silent about the emphasis on the authority of Scripture, and who are not going to be silenced when they continue to claim that this is the central issue in the ongoing disCllssions in our church. For if these men are silenced in their call for renewed vigilance in upholding the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, make no mistake, the other doctrines of Scripture will soon be denied as well.

Harold Lindsell concludes his article by asking, “Will it [Missouri Synod] continue to uphold its traditional commitment to an inerrant Scripture, or will it become a ‘broadening church’ like others before it? Only time will tell.” The same question must be put to all of us in the Christian Reformed Church.