Alas, dear brethren, how often do we not get into arguments and quarrels! Therefore, when I notice that if I carry the fight out to its bitter end our whole communion will suffer as a result, then – unless God's honor and the salvation of souls are at stake – I should say, "Let's drop this subject. It is clear that we can't reach any agreement. Let us not destroy our precious fraternal harmony." Everyone must keep this in mind: When people get worked up at conferences or conventions, you must immediately ask yourself, "Where will this end?" Then the officials have to say, "This will never do; there will be no further discussion of this subject, because it is not only a matter of someone's feelings getting hurt, but the devil is trying to rob Synod of its precious possession." When someone has gone too far but says, "Dear brother, I didn't intend to be so mean," I should immediately forgive him. But if I would respond, "Do you realize the full enormity of your conduct? Do you really repent of what you've done?" then I am being too legalistic (da wird die Goldwage genommen). That is wrong. We should not do that unless the offender has clearly demonstrated that he is a hardened and unrepentant sinner. In that case we must firmly inform him, "If you do not repent of your sin, you are lost."
…Two men in a Synod/District may disagree about something, and that disagreement can easily become a fire that inflames the entire Synod/District, for both of them then often try to gather support for their own position. We cannot prevent bitter thoughts from arising. Unfortunately our hearts are such touchy tinder that such sparks can immediately start a fire; but we should immediately get water and put it out. …
As important as it is to be concerned with purity of doctrine, we dare not become irrational about it. If a member of a communion says something that is not correct, we must avoid attacking him immediately as a heretic.
…Very sternly the apostle Paul writes, "Let there be no divisions among you!" [1 Cor. 1:10], and then he sharply rebukes [the Corinthians] because there already were divisions among them, and he adds, "Those who make divisions are carnal" [1 Cor. 3:3]. Let us take that to heart! Let us watch and pray that no unnecessary disputes will ever arise and be fostered, and that no one will go public in uncertain matters until he has informed others about it, so that, whenever possible, the fire can be quenched. … Only when God's glory or the salvation of souls are clearly at stake, then we must engage in battle, even if it means the destruction of a synod that previously enjoyed God's blessing. What does God care about a synod, when the saving truth hangs in the balance? When it comes to insignificant matters that have nothing to do with the salvation of immortal souls, we should never get involved in a serious dispute. But if someone who is always itching for a fight starts one, we must firmly put such a fellow in his place. Appropriate is 2 Tim. 2:14: "
…warn them before God against quarreling about words." A person may express an idea in a way that is completely wrong, even though he intended to say the right thing. That is why Gerhard writes: "It is wicked to interpret a poor choice of words as error, when you know that the right meaning was intended" (Locus on Good Works, sec. 38). Let us avoid ever doing that in this District! When someone makes "a poor choice of words," we should avoid immediately labeling him as either a heretic or a false teacher. If necessary, we should instead correct him gently.
- excerpt from C. F. W. Walther, 'Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod'