When pastors lose their faith

Strange Herring tells of a pastor in the Netherlands who does not believe in God, but who still insists on the right to minister in the Protestant state church.

I have long thought that a major source of liberal theology is pastors and theological professors losing their faith, but instead of being honest and leaving their positions, they decide, instead, to attempt to change all of Christian theology so that it conforms to their unbelief so that they can keep their jobs.

It is true, though, that God works through a pastor, by virtue of his calling, administering valid sacraments and effectual preaching of God’s Word, even if the pastor turns out to be an unbeliever. Right? We don’t want to be Donatists (see Augsburg Confession Article VIII). But doesn’t the atheist pastor need to go?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Matt C.

    "turns out to be an unbeliever" is the key phrase there. Now that he is outed, on what grounds can anyone claim to think he has a legitimate calling? ACVIII is in answer to the problem of hypocrites and wicked men hidden within the church. This fellow is no longer hidden. The people going to this man are under no misunderstanding of who he is and what he represents. Whatever they seek from him, it is clearly not the Word and Sacrament that ACVIII maintains is efficacious.

    Can God use him? Sure; he used Pharoah, after all. However, the Bible also tells us to beware of false prophets and teachers, not to continue attending their services.

  • Matt C.

    "turns out to be an unbeliever" is the key phrase there. Now that he is outed, on what grounds can anyone claim to think he has a legitimate calling? ACVIII is in answer to the problem of hypocrites and wicked men hidden within the church. This fellow is no longer hidden. The people going to this man are under no misunderstanding of who he is and what he represents. Whatever they seek from him, it is clearly not the Word and Sacrament that ACVIII maintains is efficacious.

    Can God use him? Sure; he used Pharoah, after all. However, the Bible also tells us to beware of false prophets and teachers, not to continue attending their services.

  • Elizabeth

    I was a called teacher in the LCMS. As one learns more about the world and thinks for oneself I am now an atheist but at the time I was never wicked or an "unbeliever".

  • Elizabeth

    I was a called teacher in the LCMS. As one learns more about the world and thinks for oneself I am now an atheist but at the time I was never wicked or an "unbeliever".

  • Dan Kempin

    ". . . so that they can keep their jobs."

    I'm not sure that accounts for the motivation. If the job was his concern, he could have kept his mouth shut.

    The same phenomenon is seen in lay members who come to reject the views of their own denomination, yet instead of affiliating with a group that shares their beliefs, they stay and fight (protest?) to change the people they do not agree with.

    I'm not sure I can speak to the motivations of the people involved, but it seems as though their conviction becomes negative, perhaps even rebellious. In other words, they don't seek people of like mind who agree with them, but the concession of those who disagree. It makes no intellectual sense for an atheist to desire to minister in the church. On the other hand, if he presses the point and is allowed to stay, he has effectively compelled the church to concede that they do not really believe what they say they believe.

    What is being challenged is not the theology of the church (Donatism), but her faith.

  • Dan Kempin

    ". . . so that they can keep their jobs."

    I'm not sure that accounts for the motivation. If the job was his concern, he could have kept his mouth shut.

    The same phenomenon is seen in lay members who come to reject the views of their own denomination, yet instead of affiliating with a group that shares their beliefs, they stay and fight (protest?) to change the people they do not agree with.

    I'm not sure I can speak to the motivations of the people involved, but it seems as though their conviction becomes negative, perhaps even rebellious. In other words, they don't seek people of like mind who agree with them, but the concession of those who disagree. It makes no intellectual sense for an atheist to desire to minister in the church. On the other hand, if he presses the point and is allowed to stay, he has effectively compelled the church to concede that they do not really believe what they say they believe.

    What is being challenged is not the theology of the church (Donatism), but her faith.

  • Dan Kempin

    It is ironic that the historical Donatist controversy was not about those who ministered falsely or without faith, but about those who failed to confess the truth when under persecution. They caved to the pressure. They (pastors) effectively conceded a false faith, since they forsook it under persecution–or so the argument went–and this was seen as a very serious matter. ALL of the church saw it as a serious matter, and the subject of the debate was not whether they were right to cave, but how they could be restored when they had repented.

    Does not the church face the same issue here? She is being pressured to "concede" that an atheist can minister in the church. In doing so, she would admit that her beliefs are a fraud. At least the traditores were faced with imprisonment or worse when they conceded the scripture. Are we yet facing anything beyond social pressure?

    (Rev. 3:2-3)

  • Dan Kempin

    It is ironic that the historical Donatist controversy was not about those who ministered falsely or without faith, but about those who failed to confess the truth when under persecution. They caved to the pressure. They (pastors) effectively conceded a false faith, since they forsook it under persecution–or so the argument went–and this was seen as a very serious matter. ALL of the church saw it as a serious matter, and the subject of the debate was not whether they were right to cave, but how they could be restored when they had repented.

    Does not the church face the same issue here? She is being pressured to "concede" that an atheist can minister in the church. In doing so, she would admit that her beliefs are a fraud. At least the traditores were faced with imprisonment or worse when they conceded the scripture. Are we yet facing anything beyond social pressure?

    (Rev. 3:2-3)

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    So, Elizabeth, did you resign your call as a teacher in an LCMS school? Or did you continue even after you stopped believing in the existence of God? (I don’t understand what you mean in saying you were never an “unbeliever.”) You use the past tense, so I assume you are no longer teaching in a Christian school. At what point did you leave?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    So, Elizabeth, did you resign your call as a teacher in an LCMS school? Or did you continue even after you stopped believing in the existence of God? (I don’t understand what you mean in saying you were never an “unbeliever.”) You use the past tense, so I assume you are no longer teaching in a Christian school. At what point did you leave?

  • Dan Kempin

    *Unnecessary hair-splitting: By 'means' of his calling, not by 'virtue' of his calling.

  • Dan Kempin

    *Unnecessary hair-splitting: By 'means' of his calling, not by 'virtue' of his calling.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ubivoli ubivoli

    No, we are not donatists. Yes, he needs to go: he is not professing orthodoxy while living differently; he is insisting upon his rights.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ubivoli ubivoli

    No, we are not donatists. Yes, he needs to go: he is not professing orthodoxy while living differently; he is insisting upon his rights.

  • Manxman

    Of course these atheist "pastors" have to go – it this a trick question?

    If 1 Timothy 3:9 tells us that deacons must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience – how much more should a pastor, in a higher position, adhere to those same truths.

  • Manxman

    Of course these atheist "pastors" have to go – it this a trick question?

    If 1 Timothy 3:9 tells us that deacons must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience – how much more should a pastor, in a higher position, adhere to those same truths.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/wcwirla wcwirla

    He needs to go. AC VIII is written to protect the hearers' confidence in the Word and Sacraments should they discover that the ministers who administer these things are wicked. It does not protect a minister who openly confesses that he does not believe what he is bound by holy orders to preach and teach. That is beyond hypocrisy (a good hypocrite would not be known); this is downright stupid.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/wcwirla wcwirla

    He needs to go. AC VIII is written to protect the hearers' confidence in the Word and Sacraments should they discover that the ministers who administer these things are wicked. It does not protect a minister who openly confesses that he does not believe what he is bound by holy orders to preach and teach. That is beyond hypocrisy (a good hypocrite would not be known); this is downright stupid.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/DonS DonS

    Matthew 18:6 comes to mind as well. Personally, I think the drive behind the desire to stay in the church and conform it to the views of the unbeliever is rooted in an inner knowledge/sense of wrong. We all have a knowledge of God, and atheism is usually rooted more in rebellion than in a genuine belief that God does not exist. There is a desire to destroy the church to thereby destroy the reminder of the existence of a God who will one day judge all.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/DonS DonS

    Matthew 18:6 comes to mind as well. Personally, I think the drive behind the desire to stay in the church and conform it to the views of the unbeliever is rooted in an inner knowledge/sense of wrong. We all have a knowledge of God, and atheism is usually rooted more in rebellion than in a genuine belief that God does not exist. There is a desire to destroy the church to thereby destroy the reminder of the existence of a God who will one day judge all.

  • Mary Ann

    Dr. Veith: In this same vein is something that appeared from CNN and posted on the free republic website:

    "Episcopal minister defrocked after becoming a Muslim
    CNN ^ | April 2, 2009 | Patrick Oppmann

    SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) — Ann Holmes Redding has what could be called a crisis of faiths.
    For nearly 30 years, Redding has been an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. Her priesthood ended Wednesday when she was defrocked.
    The reason? For the past three years Redding has been both a practicing Christian and a Muslim.
    "Had anyone told me in February 2006 that I would be a Muslim before April rolled around, I would have shaken my head in concern for the person's mental health," Redding recently told a crowd at a signing for a book she co-authored on religion.
    Redding said her conversion to Islam was sparked by an interfaith gathering she attended three years ago. During the meeting, an imam demonstrated Muslim chants and meditation to the group. Redding said the beauty of the moment and the imam's humbleness before God stuck with her."

    To me, if we dine with the devil , so to speak, we shall soon become part of his following …we must stay in the pure Word and in the true Sacraments or risk losing our faith.

  • Mary Ann

    Dr. Veith: In this same vein is something that appeared from CNN and posted on the free republic website:

    "Episcopal minister defrocked after becoming a Muslim
    CNN ^ | April 2, 2009 | Patrick Oppmann

    SEATTLE, Washington (CNN) — Ann Holmes Redding has what could be called a crisis of faiths.
    For nearly 30 years, Redding has been an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. Her priesthood ended Wednesday when she was defrocked.
    The reason? For the past three years Redding has been both a practicing Christian and a Muslim.
    "Had anyone told me in February 2006 that I would be a Muslim before April rolled around, I would have shaken my head in concern for the person's mental health," Redding recently told a crowd at a signing for a book she co-authored on religion.
    Redding said her conversion to Islam was sparked by an interfaith gathering she attended three years ago. During the meeting, an imam demonstrated Muslim chants and meditation to the group. Redding said the beauty of the moment and the imam's humbleness before God stuck with her."

    To me, if we dine with the devil , so to speak, we shall soon become part of his following …we must stay in the pure Word and in the true Sacraments or risk losing our faith.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    If you don't believe the Book, (Bible) get the hell out of the business.

    Or as they say in Texas, 'Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.'

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    If you don't believe the Book, (Bible) get the hell out of the business.

    Or as they say in Texas, 'Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.'

  • Elizabeth

    Why won't any of you respond to the accusation that he turns out to be an "unveliever" Can't a person change?

  • Elizabeth

    Why won't any of you respond to the accusation that he turns out to be an "unveliever" Can't a person change?

  • Dan Kempin

    I'm not sure I understand the point you are making. Perhaps you could explain a bit further.

  • Dan Kempin

    I'm not sure I understand the point you are making. Perhaps you could explain a bit further.

  • Pingback: Atheist Pastor in the Netherlands « Joewulf’s Weblog

  • Pingback: Atheist Pastor in the Netherlands « Joewulf’s Weblog

  • Booklover

    Yes the atheist pastor needs to go. It is better for a millstone to be wrapped around his neck and tossed into the lake than that he should lead one of these little ones into sin. Or something like that.

    But we should never stop praying for the pastor. I have often noticed that "believers turned atheist" have been subject to a lack of love. Somewhere.

  • Booklover

    Yes the atheist pastor needs to go. It is better for a millstone to be wrapped around his neck and tossed into the lake than that he should lead one of these little ones into sin. Or something like that.

    But we should never stop praying for the pastor. I have often noticed that "believers turned atheist" have been subject to a lack of love. Somewhere.

  • Grim Reaper

    Yes, I kind of lose faith in general when pastors can't even set a good example of good manners….I mean, you would think they would know better…..
    But NOT all pastors are good…..just take this example….http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/04/11/california.gi

    You've heard of the Sunday-school teacher who killed an innocent 8 year old girl by locking her up in a suitcase. How desparate are these pastors these days? Very.

    And the future doesn't look bright either. These pastors come in looking for salvation but do nothing good but TAKE TAKE TAKE from the churches without giving anything back. They'll do anything without actually getting caught. But it's true what they say, WHAT COMES AROUND GOES AROUND.

  • Grim Reaper

    Yes, I kind of lose faith in general when pastors can't even set a good example of good manners….I mean, you would think they would know better…..
    But NOT all pastors are good…..just take this example….http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/04/11/california.gi

    You've heard of the Sunday-school teacher who killed an innocent 8 year old girl by locking her up in a suitcase. How desparate are these pastors these days? Very.

    And the future doesn't look bright either. These pastors come in looking for salvation but do nothing good but TAKE TAKE TAKE from the churches without giving anything back. They'll do anything without actually getting caught. But it's true what they say, WHAT COMES AROUND GOES AROUND.


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