Friday, July 22, 2011


If you've been around the Lutheran cyberworld, you have run into the Quote Wars. Somebody quotes the Bible or the Confessions to support his point, and then says, "So, what do you say to that?" Or there will be quotes from Luther, from Walther and Pieper, from Cyprian and Augustine, even from Sasse and Marquart: "Take that! And that! So how do you answer that, huh? See, Luther said it. You'd best not disagree with Luther!"

Once upon a time, my children were active on the Higher Things email list. Oftentimes, theological discussions would arise onlist, and those topics would invariably spill over to the dinner table. At one point, there was a discussion of the image of God, what it is, what it's not, what it means, etc. The teenagers onlist were debating; pastors got involved too and gave input. As the kids and I talked about the right and wrong points of various participants, I was reminding them of what Pastor says in Didache (and other venues) about the image of God being interwoven with a plurality of persons in one union, giving and receiving love.

The surprise came when one of the pastors (who was disagreeing with what my kids were saying as they echoed Pastor B) quoted Pastor B to prove his point.


When questioned, the pastor was adamant that this quote from Pastor B's book proved that my kids were wrong. It's right there in print; this is what Pastor B says; so thus-and-such is what he means, and he agrees with what I'm saying. Wondering if we might be misunderstanding Pastor, I asked him about the topic. Nope, I'd understood correctly from the start. Nope, that quote was taken out of context and did not mean at all what the other guy took it to mean.


It made me wonder about other quotes. What happens when someone says, "This is what Luther says! Don't you agree with Luther?" What happens when someone pulls out a Bible verse and asks, "You aren't going to tell me you disagree with God's word, are you?" (Interestingly, the devil kind of said the same thing to Jesus during the temptations immediately following His baptism.) I've seen quotes that I had a hard time believing were quotes from the person cited; when I looked into the matter further and saw the context of the quote, everything fell into place. No, that writer/speaker was not saying what the quoter suggested he was saying ... even though those are the words that came from his pen or from his mouth.

I've become very skeptical of Quote Wars, especially when agreement-with-quotes is used as a litmus test. Wouldn't it work better to communicate in your own words with the individual person?


  1. I am not a quoter. I wrote a lovely response to all this and it disappeared.....anyway....

    I personally think all of those things which are quoted are meant mainly for the Pastors to be able to better preach to their congregations and understand the big picture and understand the why they were written. They are called to understand the whole of faith. Those quotes are in response to something at the time they were written. They were meant to better understand the big picture which isn't complicated but very simple. I know you know that and I know why you are saying all this.

    I am a big picture person myself and the big picture is the simple picture of our confession of faith in Christ and Christ crucified. This confession includes these things which is what Christ's people need to hear......Jesus loves you. He is pleased with you. He prays for you. He forgives you. He is proud of you. Your sins are forgiven. Your sins ALREADY are forgiven. What you do and say does not increase your righteousness and we can't believe by our own reason or strength....oh....that might be a quote....
    Stop reasoning and trying to have strength....that wasn't a quote.....that was me. Daily dying and rising....that is for everyone. Repentant faith. Loving our neighbor. Compassion for our neighbor. Compassion for ourselves. Resting in Christ. Resting in

    All of these things are MY confession even if it isn't perfectly stated. It is the big picture. My pastors are called to preach the Gospel to me which is NOT Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. That is THEIR call to this poor miserable sinner.

    Sigh. Love you dear. I know what you are saying. Pastor Bender preaches the Gospel to your dear children. I love that Jesus gives us Pastors to preach the Gospel to us.

    Those quotes btw were written in response to specific things which may not be what we think they are. I think you stated that. I think I said that too....just a few paragraphs ago. We have studied quotes at church and often times I do not want to but this quoting war might be why we study them at church that we better understand why they were written and don't take them out of the context of which they were written. I am always struck by how much I do not know about those writings when I hear more about the context of when they were written. The other thing which strikes me is that these writings are not always of huge interest to me when I am still doing the best I can to live the rest of my life and understanding these writings is not necessarily pertinent to my life. Understanding and holding onto my Confession of faith in Christ and Christ crucified and proceeding in faith is what matters. Loving my neighbor and having compassion on them also is what *I* am called to do.

    Sigh.....too many words.....Lol......

  2. point in all that is....I am not a quoter......the quotes tend to muddy the water and help people to *try* to understand the simple truth of the Gospel. The more I stress over all those quotes (which I rarely do) the more paralyzed I become to lead my life in the confidence of Christ's love and forgiveness for me. That is all.....I think......oh....the quotes don't help me do that.....

  3. Karin, you said the lovely response disappeared. But there's a lovely response right here. And yes, I agree with you about the importance of those writings from which the quotes come. The books are valuable. But it's so easy to take one section of a book and emphasize it so much that it begins to imply something that the author would never have said.

    And Karin, I'm not opposed to people quoting (like when you said "We cannot by our own reason or strength..." After all, some of those quotes are so deeply embedded within us that they become our own words: this is good. The problem comes when we toss out quotes and expect that they will "fit" the person we're talking to. It's like we don't care about what the person's situation in life is, we don't care about the person's own particular interests or hang-ups, we don't care about how we're communicating our message -- we just care about tossing out a quote to show we're right about whatever-it-is.

  4. They had that problem in the early church. During the early iconoclast controversies, at one of the (condemned) councils, the iconoclasts pulled quote after voluminous quote from the various fathers and bishops "proving" that icons were heretical and to be abolished as idolatry.

    At the Seventh Ecumenical Council, when they condemned the iconoclasts, they took great care going through all of the fathers and bishops and read huge sections of their writings to show that the "quotes" were misquoted and what their actual positions were on such things.

    Sadly, it's nothing new. I'm know I've done enough of that myself. Granted, my new philosophy on these things is just: shut up and move on. When honest discussions become nothing more than debates (I will prove to you that I am right!), then I try and extricate myself from the "discussion" - both because I'm sick of debates, and also because I get all to easily sucked into them, and it's not healthy for me.

    Plus, like you said, when "quote wars" start, I have no confidence that what the person is quoting is actually what was meant. And I'm always fearful that if I get sucked into one of those things, my blinders will go up and I'll start seeing my own proofs in small quotes in Scripture, the Fathers, wherever, while ignoring the larger context and meaning of the passages.

    They're just not good for anybody, least of all myself.

  5. I think we are on the same page. I think I am thinking about the parish that was before the benefit of everyone having their own Book of Concord and the most awesome CCA conference. That is all. Before these incredible conferences I am not sure how readily available these writings were and yes, I think they do not take the original subject into consideration when it becomes a quote war. Sigh. I just have major compassion for those who are traveling roads I traveled years ago and ache for personally spoken compassionate responses to those issues which might be controversial. I am not sure that makes sense......but it does to me! Ha! My silly little tired self signing off......