Ends And Means In West Germany

The ruling Social Democratic-Free Democratic coalition (SPD/FDP) in West Germany has been shaken by a scandal similar to the Nixon administration’s Watergate but somewhat clearer in outline. In April, 1972, there was a virtual revolt against Chancellor Willy Brandt in the Bundestag. At stake was his Ostpolitik, which many Germans felt involved an abdication of rights and responsibilities to East Germany and the U.S.S.R. in exchange for meager or even imaginary concessions on the part of the Communists. A vote of confidence was taken, and on the basis of party loyalty and pledges from disaffected FDP members, Christian Democratic Union leader Rainer Barzel was ready to replace Brandt as chancellor.

When the secret ballot was tallied, Barzel fell two votes short of the number needed to oust Brandt. At the time, the SPD charged the CDU with trying to buy votes for the ouster. Now it has been revealed that the shoe was on the other foot. Kurt Wienand, business manager of the SPD, appears to have bribed a CDU member of the Bundestag to vote against his own chief, Barzel, and an FDP member not to do what he had publicly declared he would do, namely, vote to repudiate Brandt. Large sums of cash were involved.

Wienand has resigned in disgrace, and there may be further consequences for the Brandt government. The influential German newsweekly Der Spiegel comments: “The real scandal, the giant scandal, if you will … is that almost the entire SPD in the Bundestag expressed confidence and even thanks to its business manager [Wienand], even though he is quite evidently unable to defend himself against the charges … made against him” (June 25, 1973, p. 3).

The issue seems similar to that of Watergate: to some of those holding political power, their power (and the good it enables them to do?) is so important that they feel justified in using almost any means to hold on to it. If such attitudes predominate, we may well ask whether “free,” “representative” government can continue to mean anything at all.

What Good From Watergate?

It is better to trust in the Lord

Than to put confidence in man.

It is better to trust in the Lord

Than to put confidence in princes.

As the people of the United States continue to agonize over the Watergate affair, we might well try to sort out some of the lessons to be learned from it.

What emerges most clearly is that holding high office does not prevent human beings from succumbing to temptation. We naturally tend to expect higher quality ethical performance from people who are entrusted with great responsibility. Indeed, sometimes we allow our admiration of those in high office to invest them with a certain sanctity so that we find it unthinkable that they might take part in wrongdoing. This kind of idolizing is what the Psalmist may well have had in mind when he cautioned that ultimate reliance should be placed in God alone. We must never assume that mere selection of one party or another will guarantee moral order.

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We have the news media to thank for blowing the whistle on Watergate, even if some did so out of ulterior motives. The Watergate affair is a vivid reminder that democratic governments need the services of watchdog journalists even though politicians often consider journalists a thorn in the flesh. There is a theological reason for this need: it is based upon the fact that man is by nature prone to sin, that under pressure he is susceptible to temptation. The Bible teaches that man cannot be thoroughly moral on his own. The more we can build this consideration into our culture, the more justice, peace, and order we will have.

A Church Mystery

On June 24, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the highest standing authority on doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church apart from the Pope himself, issued a “Declaration in Defense of the Catholic Doctrine on the Church against Certain Errors of the Present Day.” The Latin title—by which the declaration will be known to scholars—is “Mysterium ecclesiae,” “The Mystery of the Church.” Put briefly, it reaffirms the traditional Catholic teaching that the church’s “magisterium” (teaching office) is infallible when the bishops dispersed about the world teach in communion with the “Successor of Peter” (i.e., the Pope), “but even more clearly both when the bishops … (as in Ecumenical Councils) together with their visible Head, define a doctrine to be held, and when the Roman Pontiff ‘speaks ex cathedra,’ that is, when, exercising the office of Pastor and Teacher of all Christians, through his supreme apostolic authority he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church” (Magisterium ecclesiae, chapter 3, italics ours).

This decree says nothing new, but it makes it clear that the Roman church, including the Pope (who formally ratified the declaration), is taking a definite stand against theologians such as Tübingen priest-professor Hans Küng, who would formulate papal “infallibility” in such a way as to define it out of existence. Küng’s reaction, predictably enough, has been to take refuge in his German academic tenure, the legal rights recognized “in all civilized countries of the West,” his popularity among Protestants, and the respect he enjoys in the media—all points that are irrelevant to the principle at stake. In other words, he is using his secular status against his church. If the church defends itself by withdrawing his “missio canonica” (his right to teach candidates for the priesthood), he will still retain his government-guaranteed tenure at Tübingen University.

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Küng is popular enough and clever enough to use his leverage to evade, perhaps indefinitely, the sanctions of his church. Of course, we, like Küng, reject papal infallibility. But unlike him we do not belong to the Roman Church. We do wonder about Küng’s logic—or even his sense of fair play toward his Roman brethren—in continuing to insist that he is right and playing his secular status and media image for all they are worth. Earlier opponents of papal infallibility—such as the famous nineteenth-century scholar Ignaz Döllinger—reluctantly left the Roman church when they could not persuade it to abandon the doctrine. This is clearly more straightforward than Küng’s present game, and perhaps more honorable as well. He presents himself as a man constrained by academic integrity to hold a position rejected by his church. But is it fair to the church to refuse to let it define what it is, and to play off secular power and influence against it? Küng no doubt believes he is acting in his church’s best interests. To those on the other side, this must seem a “mysterium ecclesiae” indeed.

Heretics And Apostates

Paul speaks of two people “who have swerved from the truth by holding that the resurrection is past already” (2 Tim. 2:18). He opens the door to a distinction that Christians must make between heretics and apostates.

Every believer, however sincere, holds to some heresies. For example, if immersion is the proper form of water baptism, then those who sprinkle or pour are in error. If infants should be baptized, then those who do not baptize them are in error. A believer can fall into error or heresy through honest ignorance or an honest misinterpretation or misunderstanding of Scripture. But this kind of person is always willing to forsake error when properly instructed.

All heretics are not apostates, although all apostates are heretics. When, then, does a heretic become an apostate? “To be an apostate is to enter into unbelief and to dissolve any union one might have had with God in Jesus Christ. The normal mark of a genuine apostate is his denial that Christ is very God or his repudiation of Christ’s atoning work on the cross (Phil. 3:18; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 Jn. 4:1–3)” (Harper Study Bible, p. 1,791).

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In Paul’s letter to Titus (3:10) he uses the Greek word from which we derive the English word “heretic.” This is a man who refuses to abide by generally accepted teaching, and holds stubbornly to different ideas. In Second Peter 2:1, Peter condemns those who bring in destructive heresies. In Titus, Paul’s instructions are to admonish such a person and if he will not change his mind “to have nothing to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10, 11).

There are apostates in the churches today, and at the close of the age, just before the second advent of Christ, there will be widespread departure from the faith. Christians need to be careful about applying labels to those with whom they disagree, but they need to be even more careful that they themselves do not become apostates.

Missouri Synod: The Conservative Victory

American church history abounds with instances of a liberal drift in which the unorthodox theological left gained a foothold, promoted non-biblical doctrines, and at last controlled millions of dollars in assets that it then used assiduously to propagate views at odds with the orthodox theology of the founding fathers. Many of those who had helped to erect the institution or who sought to retain its identity stood by helplessly as the transition took place. Out of conscience, when they could no longer support alien institutions, they regrouped and financed new institutions faithful to the original goal.

The move from theological orthodoxy toward a liberal heterodoxy has been going on in the three-million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. But in this denomination the orthodox saw what was happening and decided to try to stop it. The actions of the Synod at its July convention in New Orleans show a measure of success so far. It has been a difficult experience, but the majority has preserved, at least for the time being, the basic theological integrity of the denomination. We recognize that many liberals in the Missouri Synod would doubtless be considered conservatives in some other large denominations. But conservatives in other denominations have learned, to their regret, that if strong decisive moves are not taken in the fairly early stages of drifting away from orthodoxy, recovery becomes virtually impossible.

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We commend Dr. Jacob A. O. Preus for his courage and his perseverance in the face of an assortment of peripheral accusations. In the outpouring of sympathy for the liberals who have taken a beating, of sorrow over the disturbance of harmony, little concern is shown for the doctrinal purity of the fellowship. When did you last hear comparable compassion for the theologically orthodox who are increasingly being crowded out of Southern Baptist seminaries? Also one should recognize that within the Lutheran family there are two other large denominations, the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church, which could readily provide a home for the more liberal Missourians. Why can’t liberals be content to leave at least one large, well established branch in each denominational tradition in the hands of their more conservative brethren?

The battle for Missouri is by no means over. But it is heartening to see Bible-believing people defend their rights and seek to preserve the integrity of their institutions. We are sorry that bitterness almost inevitably accompanies doctrinal strife. Both sides think their views best express the Word of God for the world that so desperately needs it. But while they are locked in internal conflict, they cannot live up to their potential. Would not peaceful separation be preferable to prolonged conflict? The Missouri Synod, sharing the name of the “show me” state, could well show the way for other denominations.

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