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Pastor's Corner

May 2018

Is Doctrine Worth Dying For?

We can imagine many things that we would die for. Men willingly die for their country serving in our armed forces. We would die for our spouses and for our children. As Christians, we know that we would willingly die for our Lord Jesus Christ. But would we die for doctrine?

Most people think of Christian doctrine as more of a nuisance than anything else. It’s that pesky stuff that keeps the various Christian denominations from being united in one visible church. When it comes to a church body like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, our insistence on pure doctrine means that we can’t even share Communion together with close family members who have joined themselves to congregations that teach different doctrines than ours. Most people would gladly dispense with doctrine and get about the important business of serving God and loving our neighbors.

Given that prevailing attitude, it may seem crazy even to ask if we would die for doctrine. Most people won’t tolerate unpleasant dinner table conversation about doctrine, much less contemplate dying for it!

It may be surprising to learn, therefore, that many faithful Christians through the ages actually have died for doctrine, sometimes in surprisingly horrible ways. You could say that the early Christian martyrs died for the doctrine that Jesus is the only God, and that the Roman Emperor is merely a mortal man and not a divinity comparable to the Holy Trinity. Still, it’s easy to see how those early martyrdoms were suffered directly for Jesus’ sake, not just for some teaching. Perhaps a clearer example of someone dying for doctrine is John Huss, a precursor to the Lutheran Reformation.

In 1415, close to a hundred years before Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses, John Huss was burned at the stake at the Roman Catholic Council of Constance. Huss had been summoned to the council with the promise of safe conduct back home following the proceedings, but instead he was condemned and executed by being burned alive. He had every opportunity to save his own life simply by denying a few doctrines, but he refused and willingly suffered a terrible death rather than compromise on doctrine.

What was the doctrine that John Huss was willing to die for? One of the main doctrines was his teaching on the nature of the Church. Huss taught that the Church is, properly speaking, the communion of saints, that is, the fellowship of all of those holy people, living and dead, who are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church condemned this doctrine because they taught that the Church includes wicked people (such as many of those men through history who have held the office of Pope even while leading openly ungodly lives), and that to be in the Church requires not belief in Jesus, but submission to the Pope. John Huss refused to accept the Roman Catholic doctrine, and so he willingly endured the flames and commended himself into the hands of God.

Our own Augsburg Confession teaches the same thing about the Church as John Huss did, and the Lutherans who signed their names to the Augsburg Confession were willing to die for that doctrine. Are you? Would you allow yourself to be burned alive rather than deny the doctrine that the Church is the communion of saints? Would you be willing to do for the other doctrines contained in the Book of Concord? I hope so, because our doctrine is not something dreamed up by men to engender needless controversies, but the teaching of Christ and His Apostles. To deny Christ’s doctrine is to deny Christ Himself. We love Christ’s doctrine because we love Him. May God give us the strength to confess His true doctrine no matter what—even to die for it if need be. After all, like John Huss before us, even if we die for Christ’s doctrine, we will live eternally with Him. The doctrine of Jesus Christ really is worth dying for!

I was overwhelmed with astonishment, I could not understand for what cause they had burnt so great a man (John Huss), who explained the Scriptures with so much gravity and skill.

Martin Luther

 

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