Revoco, Retraction, and Withdrawal

Here are a few thoughts about the ongoing suspension controversy in the ELS.

(For those who have not heard, we now have two controversies: one on the doctrine of the ministry, and one about the irregular suspension of a pastor. They follow the same pattern: an inadvisable decision is made on some official level, and other people are chastised or even threatened for taking firm opposition. Either controversy has a reasonable probability of bringing permanent division to the ELS.)

Before the suspension, Pastor Preus was told that the only way to avoid it was to retract his paper, Clarifying the Issues. (Mirrored on

It was suggested by a third party that he might retract only the offending paragraph of the paper, but the presiding official of the ELS considered that to be insufficient. Pastor Preus would have to retract the entire paper.

It should be pointed out (again) that there is a difference between retracting a writing and withdrawing all or part of a writing. When something is retracted, well, here’s the definition:

From WordNet (r) 2.0 (August 2003) [wn]:

      v 1: formally reject or disavow a formerly held belief, usually
           under pressure; "He retracted his earlier statements
           about his religion"; "She abjured her beliefs" [syn:
           {abjure}, {recant}, {forswear}, {resile}]
      2: pull away from a source of disgust or fear [syn: {shrink
      3: use a surgical instrument to hold open (the edges of a wound
         or an organ) [syn: {pull back}, {draw back}]
      4: pull inward or towards a center; "The pilot drew in the
         landing gear"; "The cat retracted his claws" [syn: {draw

Obviously, it is the first meaning that is in play. Pastor Preus was being asked to “reject or disavow a formerly held belief,” namely, the entire content of his paper. On what basis? Not because he had written anything wrong, but because his paper rejected the doctrinal authority of a synod-adopted statement that confuses God’s Word with man’s word.

Pastor Preus was decidedly not being asked to withdraw his paper, in whole or in part. Here is the definition of withdraw:

From WordNet (r) 2.0 (August 2003) [wn]:

      v 1: pull back or move away or backward; "The enemy withdrew";
           "The limo pulled away from the curb" [syn: {retreat},
           {pull away}, {draw back}, {recede}, {pull back},
           {retire}, {move back}]
      2: withdraw from active participation; "He retired from chess"
         [syn: {retire}]

To withdraw a paper is to remove it from the discussion, without the implication that the paper was wrong or inappropriate. This alternative was not offered to Pastor Preus. He was required, under threat of suspension, to retract his entire paper — an express admission of wrongdoing or false doctrine. Such a demand is warranted when the false doctrine is proven beyond question from the Bible. But such proof was never attempted. The closest thing to proof was a claim that passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 5 “imply” that the presuppositions of the adopted doctrinal statement are correct. It should go without saying that implication is a poor foundation for doctrine.

Another option that Pastor Preus repeatedly advocated was his personal withdrawal from the controversy, as you see in the second meaning above. He offered to stay out of the controversy voluntarily, if he could only avoid retracting his paper.

This might puzzle some readers, because it seems like such an extreme suggestion, all to avoid retracting a little paper. Why not just retract and have peace? Wouldn’t that be a smaller price to pay?

No. Retracting a paper without biblical proof that it teaches false doctrine would be theological adultery, and a denial of the Bible’s own supreme authority in doctrinal matters. Standing aside from a controversy is only self-discipline.

Pastor Preus’ irregular suspension is currently under appeal. From the explanations given at the 2006 ELS convention, the entire synod was locked into this process from the moment Pastor Preus appealed his suspension. Apparently, there was no alternative: none. The only other option that Pastor Preus had was not to appeal the suspension.

When the commission on appeals is finished examining the situation, and returns with a decision, it may define the ELS forever. If the suspension is upheld, it will prove for all the world to see that the ELS has fallen into the same trap as Rome, by taking the Bible from its rightful place as the source and norm of all doctrine. Oh, in name, the Bible would still be the “norma normans,” but I’m sure ELCA theologians claim the same thing.

Satan has been working hard against the ELS, because he has much to fear from what God has done among us. He has been successful these last two years in dividing God’s people. But when Martin Luther wrote the hymn A Mighty Fortress, he included this: “This world’s prince may still / scowl fierce as he will. / He can harm us none; / he’s judged, the deed is done. / One little Word can fell him.” Somehow I don’t think the word Martin had in mind was “revoco.”

2 thoughts on “Revoco, Retraction, and Withdrawal

  1. Pastor Jacobsen,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re right on the money with the statement that there are now two issues being debated, the ministry and Pastor Preus. The two will undoubtedly be conflated in the coming months (I registered for my hotel room in Mnpls, how ’bout YOU :^), so it’s good to see that you are distinguishing between them.
    Let me know if you are “chastised or even threatened for taking firm opposition” for your words. So far, if ever I were called to give an answer to the powers-that-be, I think I’d vouch for the appropriateness of what you’ve said. However, your tone puts you in mild danger of jeapardizing my voucher (and that’s no small thing! When tied to the stake, a guy can use all the character witnesses he can get!). You used many high-octane phrases here, but I didn’t see that you ever said what, exactly, was irregular about Preus’s suspension.
    He was suspended because he’s entrenched in the position that he’s of a different confession than the ELS. What’s irregular about that? What do you think should have happened? Or, do you think that pastors should be allowed to go around saying that what the Synod teaches is unscriptural and non-binding? …because I, for one, and not interested in being a congregationalist.
    ps- btw, technically speaking it was actually my wife who reserved my hotel room in Mnpls. I don’t want to mislead anyone.

  2. Thanks for your comments, and your concern, Dan. Yes, I reserved my own hotel room and bought my own airline tickets already! Just after I bought my nonrefundable tickets, I received word that the Board for Publications will be meeting in MPLS the day before (the day I plan to arrive), combining two meetings into one to cut costs. The reason for wanting to cut costs should be evident if you’ve read the back page of the Sentinel lately.

    About the word “irregular,” I refer you to [the longer explanation for the suspension of Pastor Preus][explanation]. In particular, see the sections *Authority of the Synod President* and *Were the Proper Steps Followed?* They are a defense of the suspension’s validity, recognizing that some circumstances of this suspension deviate significantly from the synod’s bylaws, guidelines, and handbook. Such deviations make it irregular. My use of the word “irregular” does not question the validity of the suspension. That question is for another time. If it had been my intent, I would have used the word “invalid” instead.


    But I’m curious what other phrases in here you thought were high-powered. Perhaps my all-too-brief characterization of the exegesis offered in defense of the PMW? If so, I would encourage you to read the same explanation I linked to above, and closely evaluate the quality of the exegetical defense offered there. You can compare that to the expressions in [The Presidium’s Response][response]. Is this the kind of exegetical defense that you see in, for example, Pieper’s *Christian Dogmatics* or even Koehler’s *A Summary of Christian Doctrine?*


    Neither am I interested in being a congregationalist. Our pastors should not be contradicting the synod’s doctrinal statements on a regular, permanent basis. However, isn’t there a difference between a pastor criticizing the doctrine of a synodical statement and a pastor criticizing the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession? I think there is. The temporary, ad-hoc nature of synodical doctrinal statements means that they have not proven themselves in the same way that the Confessions have. Even the Confessions are subject to testing in the fire of the divine Word. Even more then, and even after they have been adopted, synodical doctrinal statements are subject to testing against both the *norma normans* and the *norma normata*. Not so?

    Then, if one of our pastors finds that a particular adopted statement fails a critical test, shouldn’t he be allowed to publish the fact and clearly disavow that statement’s doctrinal authority over himself? I grant that these are questions that deserve more careful consideration before they receive an answer. So I would counsel patience toward Pastor Preus and others of his opinion (of which there are not a few!). Perhaps his suspension could be withdrawn until the synod has had a chance to examine the situation more thoroughly, including the way we deal with potential problems in our doctrinal statements.

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