On Thursday night, January 22nd, the editors of Gottesdienst again acknowledged the faith and courage of confessional Lutherans in Scandanavia, by awarding the Sabre of Boldness to Rev. Juhana Pohjola, Dean of the Luther Foundation in Finland. Two years ago, when the Finnish situation first came to the attention of the editors, the Sabre was awarded to Bishop Walter Obare of Kenya for his intervention in Finland to ordain some persecuted confessional pastors. Last night’s ceremony, the fourteenth annual, was held at the Fort Wayne Hilton, where Rev. Pohjola was in attendance to receive the award. Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckardt, the Editor-in-Chief, noted that Rev. Pohjola recently refused to allow the Bishop of Helsinki, who ordains women and persecutes confessional Lutherans, to come to his altar, and that he refused to recant in this matter when threatened by the Finnish government, for which he was exiled from the ministry and from his parish for three months.
The ceremony opened with remarks by Gottesdienst Sabre of Boldness editor Chaplain (LTC) Jonathan Shaw which focused on the value of shared hardship, a concept understood by soldiers in warfare. He introduced the entire editorial staff of Gottesdienst, and then yielded the podium to Dr. Eckardt, who gave a brief address to the attendees before listing this year’s nominees and announcing the winner.
Rev. Pohjola, upon accepting the award, offered thanks on behalf of his compatriots in Finland, and spoke briefly of a motto under which they endure: Victor quia victimi, which roughly translates, “victorious because of sacrifice,” indicating an awareness of the sacrifice of Christ for us sinners and also of the need of enduring affliction for the sake of the Gospel.
The other nominees for the Sabre of Boldness for 2009 were
• Rev. Todd Wilken of Waterloo, Illinois, for his boldness in proclaiming without compromise the cross of Christ on the radio and now internet program Issues, Etc. This he did even against the knowledge that it could cause him to lose his post at the Synod’s KFUO radio station in St. Louis, which in fact, last year, it did.
• Mr. Jeff Schwarz of Hamel, Illinois, the producer of Issues, Etc., for his boldness in bucking the threats of people in high places and keeping the show on, until they took it off the air; and he also lost his position for this stance.
• Rev. Eric Stefanski of Harrison, Arkansas, our seemingly perpetual nominee, for a lifetime of achievements with CAT41 online.
• Rev. Dustin Anderson of Marseilles, Illinois, for his faithfulness in applying the Word of God in a case requiring admonition and the need to repent, though he was physically assaulted twice for it.
Dr Eckardt’s address:
Fourscore and seven years ago—I was half expecting President Obama’s Inaugural Address to begin that way. What a cool way to start a speech. I always think of that old Far Side cartoon where you’re looking over Lincoln’s shoulder at Gettysburg, at the text of the speech, and you see scribbled there on the top of his next page: “and then the bartender said, ‘hey, that’s not a duck!” (wait for laughter) Fourscore and seven years ago . . .”
So anyway, that’s how I’m starting my speech.
Fourscore and seven years ago, many momentous things happened. 1922. The USSR was created. Mussolini became Prime Minister of Italy. The entrance to King Tut’s tomb was discovered. And, not to be missed, the Molly Pitcher Club was also formed, to promote the repeal of prohibition. The Molly Pitcher Club. You know that that was? The purpose of the Molly Pitcher Club was to achieve the repeal of prohibition. What a great club! Consider how indebted we are to them: we would not be here tonight, were it not for the efforts of the Molly Pitcher club, begun fourscore and seven years ago. We’d be somewhere else, where you could get a drink, like a speakeasy, a place where you needed a special password to get in, and everyone was on the lookout for the law. But the Molly Pitcher club was successful, and here we are, and if you’re interested, there’s a bar right over there, and nobody will arrest you for having a drink. And remember tonight to raise a glass to the winner of the Sabre of Boldness award, and the other nominees. Umm, be careful about that cigar you want with your cognac, though. The nanny state is at it again.
But more importantly: fourscore and seven years ago, on this very date, Pope Benedict XV died: January 22nd, 1922. Now, he is not our forefather, notwithstanding all the sneers about the Romanizing tendencies of us Gottesdienst folks, although it’s worth mentioning that he did promulgate the first Code of Canon Law, which was credited with reviving religious life and providing judicial clarity throughout the Roman Church. Heaven knows, we could use a bit of canon law around here. Instead we get its converse, writ large: adiaphora. The sanctuary was once a holy place; now it’s a stage. Now there’s no longer any thought of letting all mortal flesh keep silence; instead all carnal flesh wildly gyrates around a golden calf of amusement, in what they call celebrations of meaningful togetherness. I’ve always thought the very word meaningful was invented to cover a void. Void indeed: now that anything goes, and everything is adiaphora, there’s really nothing left that’s worthy of veneration or worship. And Jesus went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
But even more importantly, fourscore and seven years ago, our forefathers were just getting started. Hermann Sasse had just been ordained two years earlier, and was probably already delving into his study of the Marburg Colloquy in which Luther defended the Real Presence in the Sacrament, against the Reformed, which he would publish in 1934. And Francis Pieper, who had stepped down from the presidency of the Missouri Synod, was now busily writing his Christian Dogmatics. Men like these are our forefathers, whose piety led them to make their confession against the encroachment of the Pietism and Methodism that were so much a part of the American frontier, knowing that the Gospel and the Presence of Christ among us were at stake. Call them hyper-Euro Lutherans if you want, but at least they were Lutherans!
Fourscore and seven years ago, in short, there was no drinking allowed, but the traditions of the liturgical churches were still safe, and our Lutheran forefathers were boldly defending and confessing their faith, the faith we still desire to defend and confess today. I wonder if Walther ever had bootleg whiskey, you think? I bet he did. He was no Pietist, you know.
Incidentally, it seems people are always in search of a name to call this movement begun by our forefathers: for a while we were the Synodical Conference, and then perhaps the Society of St. James, and then Confessional Lutherans, or Hyper-Euro Lutherans. It may come as no surprise to you, but I sort of like the ring of “Gottesdienst Lutherans.”
At any rate, tonight, four score and seven years later, we are, as Lincoln was, engaged in a great war. But ours is not a civil war, for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. And in our struggle, we are pleased tonight to honor the valor of those who have been at the front and have not flinched in the line of duty. To use Lincoln’s words again, it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. Although this award goes only to one, it bears repeating that one bears it on behalf of all the unsung. The lapel pin has two sabers: one for the bearer and the other for all the others.
We haven’t heard of your deeds, and we don’t even know your names. But we know of your Spirit. We know that it is the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, which has moved you to refuse to acquiesce when the Gospel was at stake, even at the greatest personal cost. There are thousands of you, and this award is for you all. You myriads in North Korea, in Kenya, in Sudan, in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere, whose suffering and martyrdom is itself infinitely more honorable than anything we could bestow. And even here at home, there are many of you who, while not called upon to resist to that extreme, nevertheless know that you risk and sometimes incur the loss of livelihood, of income, of home, and worst of all, of reputation. Perhaps no one will ever notice your silent suffering, and you know this, and yet you also know that you cannot do otherwise, for to act against conscience is neither safe nor right.
So we wish to do our small part and recognize, if only annually, that it is you who are waging the greatest battles among us. Our nominees are just a few whose deeds have happened to come to our attention, and we humbly ask that this be seen as giving honor also to the many whose deeds we have missed. The world may despise you, but we salute you. And of course, what’s far more important, blessed are you, when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for Jesus’ sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
22 January 2009
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Sabre of Boldness Recipients:
2009 The Reverend Juhana Pohjola
2008 The Reverend Aaron Moldenhauer
2007 The Reverend Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn
2006 Bishop Walter Obare
2005 The Reverend Edward Balfour
2004 The Reverend Charles M. Henrickson
2003 The Reverend Dr. Wallace Schulz
2002 The Reverend Erich Fickel
2001 The Reverend Dr. John C. Wohlrabe
2000 The Reverend Peter M. Berg
1999 The Reverend Gary V. Gehlbach
1998 The Reverend Dr. Edwin S. Suelflow
1997 The Reverend Jonathan G. Lange
1996 The Reverend Peter C. Bender