Saturday, January 19, 2008

Rev. Aaron Moldenhouer Receives Sabre of Boldness for 2008

The Sabre of Boldness was awarded to Rev. Fr. Aaron Moldenhauer, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Beecher, Illinois, on Thursday night, January 17th, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the thirteenth annual Sabre ceremony, sponsored by the editors of Gottesdienst. Fr. Moldenhauer is a recent graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, who for reasons of conscience was compelled to leave the Wisconsin Synod during his vicarage year and colloquize into the Missouri Synod. For this he has endured considerable scorn by many who were close to him. Fr. Moldenhauer was unable to attend the ceremony, but his wife Tabitha was present to receive the award for him.

At the ceremony, Chaplain Jonathan Shaw made preliminary remarks to a banquet room-full of expectant guests, explaining the spirit of the Sabre award, and the courage and integrity it bespeaks. Chaplain Shaw, a Lieutenant Colonel at the Pentagon, is the Sabre of Boldness column editor for Gottesdienst. He introduced Fr. Burnell Eckardt, editor-in-chief, who also made some remarks (printed below) before introducing the eight nominees. He then announced Fr. Moldenhauer as the winner.

[the full list of the eight nominees may be found in the previous post at this blog]

The text of Fr. Eckardt’s speech follows:

Welcome, everyone, to the Sabre of Boldness Ceremony for 2008, the Academy Awards of Confessional Lutheranism. It’s rather daring, I suppose, to say such a thing. Or foolhardy, maybe, since we are not in Hollywood here, nor do we really want to be. You can wear a tux to this event if you want to, or a classy formal dress, but it really isn’t expected. Yet we do admit to having taken some small delight in arranging an annual list of nominees, and then, while everyone waits with bated breath, finally announcing the winner. It may interest you to know that many years ago, the Synodical president was once a nominee, and I dutifully sent off the correspondence apprising him of it, explaining how we choose one from among the nominees. I remember that his personal assistant asked me privately if he could get some advance indication of whether or not his boss was actually going to end up the winner; after all, this is the president of the Synod, and we would have to plan accordingly, and blah blah blah. “I’m very sorry,” I answered cheerily, “but the envelope must remain sealed until award night.” For one brief moment I felt I had power over the President of the Missouri Synod.

At any rate, any comparison to the Academy Awards really ends there, because in virtually every other way this is unlike that event. I would guess, for starters, that the Academy is a tad better known than this is, notwithstanding any illusions Colonel Shaw is probably harboring in his heart. We do occasionally rub shoulders with a guy named Cary Grant, but if his parents really meant to name him after the movie star, they may have been disappointed when he became a Lutheran minister.

That’s how it goes: There really isn’t any glamour involved in being a confessional Lutheran, after all. You don’t get a mansion on Sunset Boulevard, and you’ll never drive a Ferrari, since, as we all know, you’d need the salary of a movie star, or a Synodical President, to get that kind of perk.

Moreover, the award you get here is not an Oscar; it’s just a little lapel pin, and your name on the Sabre which is permanently mounted at Peace Lutheran Church in Sussex, Wisconsin.

But actually, as you know, your true trophy isn’t made of gold; it’s made of scars. It’s made of men reviling you and persecuting, and saying all manner of evil against you falsely for Christ’s sake.

And since this is so, there is really no way we can recognize who all of you are. In fact the ones we recognize here tonight, and the one we select, is asked to bear the Sabre for all of you. You unsung warriors, who quietly suffer rejection and pain and sorrow, and the only reason we didn’t nominate you is that we didn’t know about you, and we realize that we have no choice but to be content with a little list that is really a thousand times smaller than it needs to be.

And we also know that if we’re really interested in honoring those who suffer bravely for the name of Jesus, we ought not forget the Christians who suffer real martyrdom and physical persecution all over the world; those who stand up as Christians in Kenya and their homes are burned; they confess the faith in Sudan and get raped; they ally themselves with the Church in North Korea and they get thrown in a vermin-infested prison. They risk everything and often shed their blood in places all around the world, for the sake of Him who was crucified for the world. And all the world owes them immeasurably, for the unspeakable testimony to the world that their martyrdom is.

But for now, we wish to do our small part and recognize those among us who suffer bravely. None of our nominees has faced martyrdom, but the faces of the devil can be just as terrifying when they appear in the form of loss of reputation, or livelihood. Blessed Martin Luther once quipped that the three worst losses a man could endure are his faith, his eye, and his reputation.

And inasmuch as it is our duty to give encouragement and aid where we can to those who suffer such losses, we are pleased and honored to have the opportunity to do so now. The world may despise you, but we salute you. And if even within the churches you find scorn, we should not be surprised; if, say, even your own familiar friend, in whom you trusted, which did eat of your bread, hath lifted up his heel against you. But dare we be ashamed of you? Dare we look askance, as others may do, and wonder what terrible thing you did to gain such grief? May it never be! If we would not think to chide our dear Christ Himself, whom dogs compassed about, how could we do so for those who have had the simple courage to confess Him before men, and so have taken up their crosses?

This, then, is for us a glimmering moment, even if it is too brief. It’s not about the award ceremony, really. It’s about the fact that here we get to see things set right, if only in just this little way, just for a moment, as the battered get some honor, the slandered get some approval, and the maligned get some acclaim. It isn’t much, we know; but we are comforted to know that it is a very small foretaste of the full vindication the little flock of Christ will experience at His Day of Reckoning. I could well imagine singing, on that day, that old hymn once known only to Norwegians:

Despised and scorned they sojourned here; but now how glorious they appear!
Those martyrs stand a priestly band, God’s throne forever near.


Norman Teigen said...

Interesting choice. I think that all of us who read your blog are surprised.

Being surprised does not mean that one is disappointed.

Father Eckardt said...

I think Fr. Moldenhauer was also surprised. One of the factors we consider is the "unsung" consideration, which sometimes results in choices like this. He is certainly a worthy bearer.

Anonymous said...

"...who for reasons of conscience was compelled to leave the Wisconsin Synod..."

Can you please explain.

Philip Wright said...

"For this he has endured considerable scorn by many who were close to him."

Can you explain how this might be a certain criteria which earns one the Sabre from the "Gottesdienst" crowd in the LCMS but then, clergy and people of that same institution, turn around and make those who leave the LCMS endure considerable scorn for having done so?

D.A. said...

Mr. Wright,

Maybe you could start your own theological journal and then give awards to whomever you like.

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps Mr. Wright could have his question answered without being the recipient of considerable scorn. I am unfamiliar with this award and I think it is a fair question. Somehow I doubt the "Gottesdienst" crowd (as Mr. Wright called them)would offer such an award and yet be guilty of such a thing. Public refutation is always a nice way to clear up a misunderstanding. (IMHO)

Philip Wright said...

I concur; if the editors and contributors to Gottesdienst are, in principal, opposed to heaping scorn upon those who leave one denomination for another within Christendom (in pursuit of a "fuller" understanding and expression of the Christian faith) then the criteria for this years awarding of the Sabre is honorable.

D.A. said...

What I meant yesterday was that the recipient of this award (which is a dubious honor at best: you've been mistreated enough that someone gives you an award?) is not chosen by the readers of this blog or of Gottesdienst. He/she is chosen by the editors. I assume they have more info about the nominees than is made public here (actually, I know they do, and if you had been in Fort Wayne for the little ceremony, you would too), and maybe they have good reason not to make any more public.

Oh, and I think you mean "principle".

Philip Wright said...

D.A. (shall I assume you are a district attorney? :)),

Thanks for the "principle" help; I always get those two mixed up.

D.A. wrote:
What I meant yesterday was that the recipient of this award ... is not chosen by the readers of this blog or of Gottesdienst. He/she is chosen by the editors.

My response:
I was never under any suspicion otherwise.

D.A. wrote:
I assume they have more info about the nominees than is made public here (actually, I know they do, and if you had been in Fort Wayne for the little ceremony, you would too), and maybe they have good reason not to make any more public.

My response:
I also fully assumed they had much more info then I did about the worthiness of the one who received the Sabre. This is why I raised my concern here, on the editor of Gottestiendt's blog instead of on someone else's blog. Secondly, I only raised the concern in regards to specific wording from the editor in this blog post. Finally, I in no way doubted the candidate's worthy reception of the award nor asked for a fuller explanation of his worthiness. Instead, I merely inquired into what I perceived could be a double standard: recognizing "our" guy for enduring scorn from his former denomination but heaping scorn upon a former colleague/colleagues for leaving "us" and going elsewhere (I don't think it takes a trained journalist to scour LCMS blogs and find this happening in that past). And so I agreed with your statement, "Public refutation is always a nice way to clear up a misunderstanding." It appears that I will have to wait longer for such a refutation.

D.A. said...

Just call me Jack McCoy.

Father Eckardt said...

Wow, when the cat's away, the mice play!

One of you alludes, rightly, to the need for discretion when we award the Sabre. One should always, after all, be discreet. Having said that, however, since we did mention the Wisconsin Synod, it is appropriate that we mention that the matter of conscience pertains to their deficient doctrine of the ministry, which is a public matter.

Now on to the more serious matter of Mr. Wright's intimation of hypocrisy on our part ("our" meaning Gottesdienst, not the Missouri Synod). Since we are all Missouri Synod pastors, you think you can assign guilt by association, a rather juvenile device, to say nothing of its shamelessness.

Philip Wright said...

Dear Editor,
You wrote:
Since we are all Missouri Synod pastors, you think you can assign guilt by association, a rather juvenile device, to say nothing of its shamelessness.

I respond:
I never actually assigned guilt to any of you. I most definitely raised the possibility of hypocrisy. And your response is not a flat out denial. Which is fine. But I do remember a couple of years ago a former editor? if not contributor to Gottesdienst left the LCMS and months and months of scorn was heaped upon him by at least one editor of Gottesdienst (if not more) and upon blog page's of Gottesdients editors.

Anonymous said...

That former editor has slammed the Lutheran doctrine of justification and was rightly criticized for it. He was and remains in error.

Philip Wright said...

Wow; how opportune!

While I have no idea who penned that last post, that is exactly what I was initially, and have been, referring to!

Anonymous said...

So, we shouldn't speak against those who rest part of our justification on our own works?

Father Eckardt said...

I believe you are referring to Fr Fenton, who in fact was vilified by many, whereas we at Gottesdienst--in particular Fr Petersen at his blog, and I, whether in this blog or or not I can't remember--have taken pains to defend the man's reputation and integrity, while standing in opposition to the theological position he has taken. But this is not "scorn" as you put it; this is dealing with the substance of disagreement.

For a clear instance of our defense of his integrity while lamenting his renunciation of the Lutheran faith, I refer you to the following, from our publication in the Christmas issue of Gottesdienst 2006, words which I wrote myself:

"The matter of John Fenton is also a personal one, but in an entirely different way. His departure is personal only because it is the departure of someone I have counted for a long time, and still do count, a close personal friend. As for the reason, it is because he has elected to resign and leave his parish and the Lutheran faith. He and his family have begun the process required for entry into the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. His struggle to reconcile his convictions to his practice is what led him to this move, and while he and I, in all our many discussions pertaining to the beliefs of the Lutherans over against the Orthodox, have never quite agreed on matters at issue, I must say that I have always had a profound respect for his point of view, and for his courage to act in accord with it. It was Luther, after all, who said that to act against conscience is neither safe nor right. On the one hand, his public profession of faith now differs from ours, and we pray for his return to a confession which is truly orthodox. On the other hand, we have always agreed with him that the Missouri Synod has a rather ugly history of betrayals of the orthodox and catholic Christian faith, the most celebrated of which we call the 1989 Wichita amendment to the Augsburg Confession (when laymen were given license to do what AC XIV does not allow). We live with warts like those, and while he has now freed himself from them, surely he is aware that he will inherit others. At least let no one say that this man lacks integrity. We were honored to have had him with Gottesdienst virtually from its inception. The pain of losing him as an editor will be acutely felt."

This does not strike me as scorn, but you be the judge . . .

Philip Wright said...

Dear Editor,
I had never read that piece before and I appreciate you posting it. My fears have been mostly, if not completely, allayed. Thank you for your patience in responding.

A caveat:
As a closing note, and not to open the breach just closed, I do remember on David Peterson's blog Fr. Fenton being accused of "sin" for rejecting the Lutheran Confession of faith (and if I remember correctly Peterson himself made such an accusation).

My previous comments refer mostly to that time of treatment and scorn merely as example, for what is more scornful for a Christian than to be accused of sin, of separating oneself from God, when in all actuality you have made such a heartfelt and well-intentioned move to grow closer with God? (Of course, my own ecclesiology may be different than others. They may see it their bounden duty to heap scorn on someone in order to get them to return. I personally do view this situation that way).

Caveat over...thank you once more.

Father Eckardt said...

You are welcome.

For the record, Fr. Petersen, as I recall, was also gracious in his treatment of Fr. Fenton's departure. Neither of us agrees with him, of course (or else we would be doing the same), but still, to call attention to such matters is not scorn. Scorn has to do with acrimony.

Petersen said...

Dear Mr. Wright,

Of course I wrote that Fr. Fenton sinned. False doctrine is sin. It is not neutral. We are not free to either believe or teach false things about Christ. Without going back and looking, I am quite sure I qualified what I wrote at that time by noting that Fr. Fenton reciprocates this charge against us. He does not think we are righteous and pleasing to God in teaching the Lutheran doctrine justification by faith. That is why he left. He felt it was sinful to teach and believe that and went where his conscience led him.

At the same time, Fr. Fenton and I regard one another with respect and friendship and recognize that the sins one of us is committing (or both of us, for either one of us is wrong or we are both wrong, we cannot both be right) are sins of ignorance, and both of us uphold the principle that a man must follow his conscience.

I am in regular contact with Fr. Fenton and I am confident that while he certainly doesn't like to read or hear that I say his doctrine is false and therefore sinful he understands my position and I think he even respects it. If he is not so crass as to come right out and say it back regarding our doctrine it is simply that he prefers a more indirect form of speech and I direct, but he certainly says and believes that what he considers to be the false doctrines of the LCMS (for which reasons he left) are sinful.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Petersen