“Many heresies have arisen simply because pastors became embittered with one another.”
“So now, Peter’s statement [1 Peter 4:8] is to be understood thus: ‘Love covers a multitude of sins,’ i.e., love covers the sin of our neighbor. That is, even when resentment occurs among Christians, love still bears all, willingly overlooks things, yields to the neighbor, endures and bears his faults as a brother, and does not look sharply at all [faults]. “So Peter does not at all mean that love merits the forgiveness of sins before God, that love reconciles us to God without Christ the Mediator, or that we can be pleasing to God on account of love without Christ the Mediator.
Rather, Peter means that a person in whom Christian love dwells is not obstinate, not harsh or unfriendly. On the contrary, he sees the neighbor’s mistakes and faults in a good light, forgives him as a brother, appeases him, and shows himself to be willing to yield for the sake of peace, as the proverb says: ‘Know, but do not hate, the ways of a friend,’ Thus, I should learn my friend’s ways (WeiBe), but not hate him – even if [his manners] are not always smooth (schnurgleich). Nor was it without design that the apostles exhort people to such love, which the philosophers call ‘leniency’ (epieikeia [in Greek]). “If the people, then, are to be or remain united with one another – whether in the church or in secular government – they must not carefully count up (auf der Goldwage abrechnen) every fault against one another. They must allow many things to flow by [without noticing them], always seeing them in a good light and having patience with one another in brotherly love,” [Our translation, Walther’s emphases: ct. Concordia Triglotta, pp. 185-89; Tappert, pp. 139 ff.}
That is the correct interpretation of these Bible passages. It is love that keeps a communion from being tom to shreds. When someone in the District/Synod has been offended, perhaps even by its leaders, or at least by those who especially wield influence in the District/Synod, it often results in animosity against that man, and the animosity produces the kind of conduct that poisons the brotherly communion that had existed.
My dear brothers, let us be on our guard! Satan is sly. Right now we are brothers, living together in peace and love. But Satan will most certainly lay for us snares by which he hopes to destroy the sweet, brotherly love we now have in our hearts. We dare never think that it is enough if we just remain united in our faith and doctrine. No, once love has been destroyed, it won’t be long before one person believes what the other person rejects, and the other teaches what the first considers an error. As the Apology testifies, quarrels and divisions because of personal sins can easily produce heresy.
For example, one person takes a stand (on a given issue), and another person takes the opposite stand. Perhaps the one person dislikes the other; he simply can’t stand him, and for that reason he inflexibly maintains his position. It is frightening (schrecklich) what harm can result when members of a church organization do not vigilantly guard their fraternal love. Be on your guard, be on your guard, for also here Satan will try to destroy his sweet, loving fellowship. Once he has divided your hearts, he will think, “Now I will also divide them with regard to faith and doctrine.”
And you pastors. see to it that you don’t expect too much from your people, as our quotation reminded us. You can’t turn every (piece of wood) into a dowel. It simply can’t be done; not all wood is suitable for dowels. Not every indiscretion is of the sort that necessitates the procedures of church discipline. But once the devil has created dislike and animosity [in you] toward a particular member, he sees to it that you deal far more sternly with his transgression than you do with a member who has always treated you with love and goodwill.
“Divisions will also easily develop if the people immediately want to master and nitpick everything in the life and conduct of the bishops or pastors,” says the Apology [in the previous quotation]. Also our dear congregations should note this carefully. When a pastor makes an occasional mistake, they should not be too harsh In their judgment but should consider, “Did he do that out of weakness? Is it really serious enough to sound the alarm or not?” And if you determine that it was done in weakness and is [a matter] of little importance, then you should either ignore it or tell him in a friendly way, “You did not handle that correctly.” Otherwise, if the congregation insists on nitpicking (ausecken) about every little thing, then the beautiful relationship of the spiritual father and his spiritual children will come to an end. Then the devil laughs up his sleeve, when the people no longer heed the pastor’s word; then he has torn the members from their orthodox pastor. We must support one another! The pastor should not expect the members of his congregation to be nothing but angels, and the members should not demand that their pastor be an angel either, for that he cannot be.
“Essays for the Church” , CFW Walther volume 2 : 56 © 1992 CPH