The Withertongue Emails: Part XXV


My dear Filthpit,

Your young pastor revels in sameness. His desire is for repetition, imagining that there is fidelity and safety to be had there. He has been captivated by expressions of empty platitudes. He sees sin hiding behind every change and novelty, whatever contradicts what he already believes is good and right and true. He loathes sentimentality in others, even though he’s drawn to church historical practices simply because they are “historical.” As if what makes a thing for or less godly is where it happens to occur on a timeline. 

Likewise, for him, a respectable pastor is one who busies himself extinguishing the fires of emotion and pleasure that draw Christians away from knowing and understanding the true doctrines of the church and how they are to be applied to daily living. For him, faith, hope, and love are merely terms in need of a systematic category and explanation.

Your client has become, thanks to your efforts, a slave to repetition and a tyrant who makes freedom the bogeyman. But the greatest victory for you has been to convince your young pastor to view all the stuff of the church, its history and practices, in purely dogmatic terms. No longer does he ask, “Does this point us to Calvary’s cross and the Enemy’s gifts?” “Does this strengthen faith and increase love in the Christians under my care?” “Is it possible I have confused the Gospel and its instruments?” Instead, his primary concern is to cultivate a nostalgic piety for historical, dogmatic, and liturgical artifacts. He naively imagines the present is evil by virtue of it not being like it was in the church in the early twentieth century, or during the Reformation, or in the days of the Early Church.

He doesn’t notice that when he looks down into the well of history he sees his own reflection. Instead he asks, “Do my colleagues approve of what I do?” “Do those I regard as examples of orthodox theology praise my efforts?” “Would my forefathers be proud to attend my church?” He has become so focused on himself and what he does, he does not even notice his congregation. Your client views his congregation as a means to accomplish his own desires. In truth, Filthpit, he has projected all his shame, guilt, fear, and blame onto them. They are judging god and tempting devil to him.

Your greatest work is done. Anyone who tries to change his mind on these matters will be viewed by as disreputable or an enemy. A danger to Christian faith and life. An advocate of sin. 

He remains unchanged by the pleas of his congregation. The retired pastor continues to pester your client, but his advice and counsel are met with quiet rage. Your young pastor is unchanged. That is, his heart is stagnant. You have trained him well. 

Your proud teacher, 


Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.
Twitter @DonavonRiley