Saturday, January 20, 2007

Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn Receives Sabre of Boldness

Fort Wayne, Indiana, 18 January 2007. The Hilton Hotel at the Grand Wayne Center was the site for the awarding of the 2007 Sabre of Boldness Award, a recognition given annually by the editors of Gottesdienst for Christian courage and faithfulness in the face of trouble or affliction. This year’s recipient, Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn of St. Louis, a longtime member of the faculty of Concordia Seminary, was cited as one “who has been a rock for decades, providing to an entire generation of confessional Lutherans instruction—in speaking and in writing—as well as stalwart support, encouragement, and aid to the cause of the Gospel, and who has never flinched in the face of hostility.”

There were three other nominees who were also recognized for their faithfulness and valor. They were

  • Rev. Rolf Preus, a pastor in Minnesota who took his stand against his church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, because they had adopted an unbiblical, purely functional position on the Office of the Holy Ministry. In spite of bureaucratic warnings, he refused to back down. For this he was removed from the ELS ministerium, leaving him a man without a synod.
  • Rev. Eric Stefanski, whose tireless efforts in cyberspace have often made him an easy target for enemies of the Gospel—for which he has suffered personal loss—while the fruit of his networking skills may well prove to be monumental.
  • Rev. Thomas Olson, Decatur circuit, Indiana, who during the past year stood toe-to-toe with a high ranking administrative bureaucrat, mano-e-mano, and without flinching told him to repent for manifest and public errors, notwithstanding the headaches he knew this would cause for him in his own situation.

Dr Feuerhahn, who was present at the ceremony, graciously received the award to a standing ovation, and spoke for a few minutes extemporaneously on the importance of the confession of faith in love, and concluded by thanking those present, most especially his wife Carol, who was with him.

The ceremony opened with preliminary remarks made by Chaplain Jonathan Shaw, editor of the Sabre of Boldness column in Gottesdienst. He then introduced Dr. Eckardt, who, prior to the announcement of the nominees and winner of the award, gave the following address.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your kairos, as a former synodical president used to like to say. It’s your appointed time. It’s time to stand and be counted, and time to make your stance known. And speaking of time, Time magazine has it right: the man of the year is You. You da man. You have left your homes, you have taken up the call. You have arisen to defend the cause of a faith worth dying for. You were in the field, you were grinding at the mill, you were eating and drinking, you were marrying and giving in marriage, and you stopped everything. You heard the trumpet sound, and you came. To arms! To arms! you heard. You donned your armor, you rose to the challenge, and you prepared to march. Yes, you heard that the grand Sabre of Boldness was about to be drawn, so you came.

Well, okay, maybe that’s overstating the matter just a hair. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that you’re really just here to attend a symposium. Still, I’d like to think there is some truth to the idea that you like to be in the company of compatriots all bent on confessing the same Gospel.

In the year 1095, when Urban II called faithful men to arms, he told them how the infidel Turks were advancing into the heart of eastern Christendom. Christians were being oppressed and attacked; the holy places were being defiled; and Jerusalem was groaning under the Saracen yoke. The Holy Sepulchre was in Muslim hands. To arms! said Urban, for God himself will lead you; you will be doing His work. God wills it!, said he.

Nine hundred years later, it is infidel rock musicians who are advancing into the heart of Christendom. And it’s Christians’ ears that are being oppressed and attacked by the pounding of barbarian drumming and the twang of electric guitars; it’s the holy and sacred liturgy that is being defiled; and it’s Wittenberg that’s groaning under the Willow Creek yoke. The Holy Altar is in the hands of buffoons; and their teenage daughters are dancing around it as before a golden calf; and too many Lutherans are either utterly fooled or utterly tempted by this hedonism thinly disguised as contemporary worship; they can’t help themselves, so they join right in, at the expense of everything they used to call holy.

But today there are no Crusades, there will be army of Red Cross Christians marching to regain our Holy Lands. A sword will be drawn tonight, but only as a gesture symbolic of resistance. The arms to which you are being called are the arms of spiritual warfare, as the Apostle has described it.

Maybe it’s just my own fertile imagination, but it seems to me that this thing gets bigger every year. It started small; it was just a mustard seed, when, twelve years ago a few random Lutheran gentlemen sitting with Lutheran beverages in a Holiday Inn right here in Fort Wayne hatched the idea of handing out an annual award for boldness. In fact, it was just a whim back then, just a twinkle in the eye. But as soon as it hatched, it seemed to catch on. It seems that folks just love nominating people for this thing.

I guess we all still want our heroes. And ever since the greatest ones in our generation died, we have longed for more of them. In the church, there was Robert Preus, and in the world there was Ronald Reagan. So now we look for more heroes, and we rejoice when we see glimpses. We hear of soldiers like Jason Dunham who died last Thursday because he jumped on a live grenade to save his buddies; and we remember churchmen like Kurt Marquart, who never flinched when standing toe to toe with bureaucrats who flaunted their authority. Our need for heroes has never waned, even if the cultural icons of liberalized America would scold us for having it. They have even altered the heroes of our modern mythology. Dirty Harry has almost been forgotten, cowboys have gone gay, and, unbelievably, Lois Lane was last seen saving Superman. Where have all the heroes gone?

The very existence of the Sabre of Boldness is testimony to our perennial quest for heroes. I might add that it’s this very fact that gives us poor, miserable Gottesdienst editors the idea that we can grant anyone an award of any kind in the first place. Whoever gave us that right? I keep thinking—hoping, really—that the longevity of the award, now in its twelfth year, will somehow serve to provide it with a legitimacy which, if the truth be known, we could never provide. Then again, I have to remind myself that this award really has no benefactors. It’s merely something given as a simple acknowledgment, a humble doffing of the hat, toward someone we wish to designate with that lofty and elusive title hero.

And yet, the Sabre’s recipients over the past eleven years would doubtless blush at the very notion of being called heroes. Heroes? they’d say. We aren’t heroes; Christ is our Hero. Saints and martyrs are our heroes. John the Baptist was a hero; the Holy Twelve were heroes; Stephen, Polycarp, Perpetua, Laurence—people like them were heroes. Or even like Martin Luther. They are the heroes, not we. And who could gainsay that correction? Or dare to add to so august a list of heroes as that with the names of our own compatriots?

Then again, what’s the difference between an apostle or prophet who suffers for doing his duty and a simple pastor or layman who suffers as a Christian today? Which of the heroes of old ever stood and said, count me in! I’m a hero too! Rather, they would all said with John, I must decrease. And so too must this award be understood rightly, lest it be misunderstood as a sort of self-congratulatory thing among us confessional Lutherans. We are not here to award ourselves, certainly. And even if we were to admit that maybe there is a tinge of ego that shamelessly arises in the heart whenever a man secretly wishes he were the one picked—you know, like the donkey in Shreck—we who have our theology right can at least recognize the Old Adam for who he is, and wish ourselves rid of him once and for all. No, this award is for someone else. It’s not for us. It’s never for us. It’s for our heroes. And yes, we do still have them, though they often walk among us unnoticed. Indeed, the recipient of the Sabre bears the Sabre not for himself alone, but, we hasten to add, for all of the unsung heroes in the world, who in the simple course of doing their Christian duty, have quietly steeled their chins against the devil, and refused to let him have his way. When threatened, they were not intimidated; when enticed, they were not fooled; when tempted, they did not fall; and when pressured, they did not yield.

It is this multitude of simple heroes that we salute tonight. In granting this award to one, the truth is that we seek to honor many. We can’t name you, for you are too numerous, and too unsung—you are not really known to us; we only see glimpses of you here and there, in the little acts of courage born of a Christian heart which takes its stand, when it can do no other.

Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.
Editor-in-chief, Gottesdienst


Father Eckardt said...

Bearers of the Sabre

1996 The Reverend Peter C. Bender
1997 The Reverend Jonathan G. Lange
1998 The Reverend Dr. Edwin S. Suelflow
1999 The Reverend Gary V. Gehlbach
2000 The Reverend Peter M. Berg
2001 The Reverend Dr. John C. Wohlrabe
2002 The Reverend Erich Fickel
2003 The Reverend Dr. Wallace Schulz
2004 The Reverend Charles M. Henrickson
2005 The Reverend Edward Balfour
2006 Bishop Walter Obare
2007 The Reverend Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn

Anonymous said...

Could you write an explanation of why each of these men received the award?

Father Eckardt said...

Bender -- fearless preaching
Lange -- faithful pastor in a hostile setting, eventually lost his parish
Suelflow -- District President who consistently defended and supported faithful pastors
Gehlbach -- faithful confession against his own district's follies while on district staff
Berg -- faithful confession which earned him grief in (and ultimatly expulstion from) the WELS
Wohlrabe -- faithful confession as chaplain which earned him trouble in the military chaplaincy.
Fickel -- faithful pastor, through considerable turmoil in the parish
Schulz -- faithful confession while on LCMS presidium, regarding the Yankee Stadium matter, which resulted in great animosity toward him.
Henrickson -- faithful confession regarding the Yankee Stadium matter, amid threats from adversaries
Balfour -- faithful confession as member of LCMS Board of Directors
Obare -- ordaining confessional pastors in Sweden who had been denied ordination because they refused to recognize women's ordination.
Feuerhahn -- faithful lifetime of teaching and supporting confessional Lutheran pastors

Anonymous said...

will the photos go up on the Gottesdienst site?
Michaelk Borussia

Father Eckardt said...

Might be difficult to get them right away. I had someone taking pics, but have to get the pics sent to me.

Norman Teigen said...

Interesting story on the Sabre of Boldness. I have referenced this site since one of the nominess, Rolf Preus, has been frequently mentioned in my blog Norman's Demesne.