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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

16 November 2006

Seminary Student Struggles with Truthfulness

Q: I am a Lutheran seminary student. Due to the nature of my question, I do not feel comfortable asking the pastors around me for help. I struggle greatly with the tendency to lie. I learned to do it almost earlier than I remember; it was my only defense in order to avoid the wrath of an alcoholic father. It became a comfortable habit until I became a Christian in my 20s. I had therapy because of my upbringing, but we never dealt with this issue.

I know that it’s a sin I need to eradicate from my life. However, when pressed by difficult circumstances — and sometimes at other times — I find myself lying without even thinking about it, or lying when I deem it necessary, even over the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I know I displease God and grieve the Holy Spirit. I know this could negatively affect my ministry. I cry out to God for help, confess and repent, but I still do it. I don’t want to; I hate the struggle. Please give me perspective and help me understand how to be free of this.

Fingers CrossedA: Let’s deal first with the sin of deceitfulness. Anyone else who struggles with being honest should also benefit from this initial response. As you know all too well, we cannot cure ourselves of sinful behavior any more than we can purge ourselves of our inborn sinful natures. Only a gracious God, working through Word and Sacrament, can do so.

It may not happen overnight. Our sinful natures stay with us and certain sins remain special burdens for many of God’s people. Directly fighting by resisting the thoughts and feelings only succeeds in part since because sin is so powerful and so much a part of us by birth. Setting new habits may help, if these habits are godly. Practicing telling the truth in calm circumstances might lead you to honesty under pressure. However, underlying causes won’t feel much effect from surface changes. Since your habitual lying was forged as a defense mechanism, you probably continue to lie mainly because of fear. Of course, most people lie because of fear, but people who grow up in threatening environments often resort to falsehood much more readily.

You seem to be one who dreads the short-term pain of certain truths more than the long-term damage done by chronic lying. Isn’t this the main reason why you contacted me rather than a pastor close to you? Yet while I might be able to point you in the right direction, you need someone working with you, in person, to shepherd you through these trials. Learn to be honest with one pastor or counselor, as part of becoming honest to yourself and with all others.

Turning to God’s Word, I can’t think of any part of Scripture to which you should pay more attention than the First Epistle of John. Living honestly and fearlessly in the light of God’s love fills this entire letter to God’s people. Chapter four, especially, applies His love to fearful hearts: “Whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (vv. 16-19)”

Pastoral InstallationNow we need to address your vocational choice in two areas. One, you’ve introduced. The other stems from differing understandings of the pastoral office among different parts of Lutheranism. Let’s first touch on the problem you came to me with.

While pastors are certainly not perfect, both God and their congregations expect that they will be generally honest, confessing sins and dealing with their shortcomings rather than hiding behind untruth. God includes truthfulness as an absolute requirement for those in positions of spiritual authority. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul said that “an overseer must be above reproach (v. 2)” and“deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued. (v. 8)” After noting similar qualifications for pastors in Titus 3:5-9, he contrasted the pastor’s integrity with “many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers. (v. 10)”

Therefore, until you are certain that your lying is under control, I strongly recommend forsaking seminary studies. You owe this to the congregations of the Christian church. Even more, you owe it to yourself. Most of all, you owe it to God. If you enter the parish under current circumstances, I see disaster waiting to happen. Until you learn fearless living in God’s light and love, you’ll not learn true honesty. And without this core of integrity, the pressures of the ministry — which are many and diverse — will certainly lead to fear, panic, and a series of lies.

Luther RoseNow I want to give brief mention to a fundamental reason why I disagree with your studies for the pastorate. As a member of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, I don’t agree with you, a woman, studying to enter the preaching office. This is not a matter of ability but one of faith an our different understanding of the Scriptures. I’m convinced that the arguments from Creation, including male headship, the example set by Christ in calling only men to be His apostles, Jesus’ incarnation as a man, Paul’s admonitions against women speaking and leading worship, and the like all argue for a male-only clergy.

In the past, I wrote more extensively on this second aspect. Rather than repeat myself, I refer you to these previous columns. They include Family Disagrees Over Women Pastors, Lutheran Differences, and Women Pastors: Yes or No.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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