Pieper on Preserving Christian Liberty

I think I came across this quote in a book called The Borderland of Right and Wrong by Theodore Graebner. I found it quite well said. Given what Pieper says here concerning things not addressed in Holy Scripture, must we then allow them (I’m thinking primarily of worship practices here): 

An orthodox church body must hold fast to the entire Word of God and to all the teachings revealed in it. To dispense from the acceptance of this or that Scriptural doctrine is an offense against the majesty of God. But the converse is also true. In order to claim the orthodox name, a church body must permit all those things to be free which are not commanded in God’s Word. It must not prescribe to any of its members to believe or to do aught that God has not in His Word prescribed to men. When a religious body does not strictly draw the line of distinction between things commanded and things left to our freedom, that church body likewise sins against the majesty of God by placing itself in the stead of God. God has reserved to Himself the right to command to Christians anything that is to be binding on conscience. ‘One is your master, Christ.’ A church body which restricts evangelical liberty by laws of its own misleads the people into idolatry; for inasmuch as a Christian in ecclesiastical, spiritual matters accepts any command from men, he apostatizes from God. Such a church commits grand larceny on her members, who have all received Christian liberty from their Lord, freedom from human commandments. Indeed, a church body of that kind would subvert the entire order which was to be characteristic of the church, by making a kingdom of this world out of the Christian Church. The kingdoms of this world have the right to issue laws which transcend God’s Word (if not in contradiction to it). But the church has no such right, has no power to legislate beyond the Word of God. It can command only where God has commanded in His Word.

You intend to become Evangelical Lutheran preachers. I charge you therefore to adhere to the principles of our dear church also in this matter – under no conditions to allow liberty where Scripture commands and, on the other hand, never to command anything where Scripture is silent. Only so you will become faithful servants of God and of the Lutheran Church.


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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7 Responses to Pieper on Preserving Christian Liberty

  1. Good order requires sometimes that laws be made which are not specifically stated in Scripture. Pieper’s rhetoric is not nuanced. He himself, I’m sure, belonged to a congregation, synod, or seminary where there were many non-scriptural laws, and he lived in a country where there are many non-scriptural laws, and he obeyed such laws, and to the extent that they did not contradict God’s laws, he *had* to obey them. And so do we. As for pastors and the making of non-scriptural laws, well, pastors have the duty to shepherd God’s people. Pieper’s concern here is good, I think, that pastors should not make sins out of Christian freedom. But I really think he is confusing the realm of righteousness before God, where no laws dare be made, with the realm of righteousness before the world, where laws are necessary to order our life together.

    Pieper: But the church has no such right, has no power to legislate beyond the Word of God.

    AC XXVIII 53: It is lawful for bishops or pastors to make ordinances that things be done orderly in the Church…

    I agree with AC XXVIII 53ff. How about you?

  2. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    I agree with AC 28. I think you make a good point. I have often thought that just because Scripture does not command something does not mean that one way of doing things is just as good as another. Scripture does not command Sunday worship, but for the sake of hearing the Gospel, and gathering for the Divine Service, the Church has had to appoint a day to do this.

    For the record, the book that I got this from gives me a clue as to why so many of the older generation of pastors seem to have little to contribute when it comes to the reasons why certain worship practices are unpopular among us. “If it ain’t forbidden in the Bible, then we’re free to do it!”

  3. Mike Baker says:

    There is a flip-side to this issue. So often, the advocates of “freedom” are actually the tyrants. They talk freedom, but they push their innovations with such force that it carries the force of any church law. Those who question it are condemned and it has divided many churches.

    I submit that forcing change simply because certian things are permited is also a form of legalism.

    I have often seen that a conflict in a church typically consists of two sides that refuse to admit that their way is anything less than absolutely necessary. And they both defend their freedom to force their liberty on other people with a stubborn zeal.

    The chuch has an obligation to defend individual Christians from having adiaphora forced on them in such a way that others look at their resistance as sin or error.

  4. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Good thoughts Mike. Thanks for posting!

  5. Mike Baker says:

    You are welcome, Rev. Beisel. Thank you for your blog.

    I would add that freedom is the ability for you to exercise your own will, but liberty is being protected from having the will of others forced on you.

    We have far too much freedom and not enough liberty these days. The freedom to do as we please has created a new kind of decentralized tyranny.

    To combat this, organizations must establish hedges to promote good order. Having to conform to these rules that protect individual liberty is a far better thing than allowing everyone to exercise their ‘freedom’ on other people without restraint.

    So any church rule or tradition that places limits on the absolute freedom of some in order to preserve the exercise of Christian liberty for others is not only good and confessional, but also deeply scriptural and apostolic. Such forms and policies are rightly instituted by church leaders when they act as safeguards that promote mutual peace and edification among the faithful (as St. Paul instructed us in Romans 14.)

    By way of a secular example: One would hardly consider “Robert’s Rules of Order” tyrannical since they actually promote free expression and the orderly conduct of group affairs. They do prevent you from doing whatever you please and they can be combersome at times, but one can easily see that they are neccessary for fair proceedings.

  6. bioethike says:

    The problem with Graebner, in my opinion, is that he, like Barth and many other theologians of his era, is a divine command theorist when it comes to Scripture. That is, only word-for-word commands in Scripture can bind consciences.

    So, what about embryonic stem cell research? Women lectors? Conctraception? The list goes on and on.

    Robert at bioethike.com.

  7. Rev. Paul L. Beisel says:

    Robert, you make a really good point. A strict “divine command theorist” as you call him leaves a lot of ethical gray area. I’ll have to think about that a little more.

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