by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison
Some 144 years ago, a seminary student in Bavaria wrote Dr. C. F. W. Walther with a troubled conscience. His Bavarian church was orthodox in its confession but was slipping badly in its practice. How long should one remain in a “corrupt” church? Dr. Walther responded, “Stay, be faithful, and make them throw you out.” Young John Fackler ignored Walther’s advice and, in fact, was soon studying at the St. Louis seminary and even living in Dr. Walther’s home! I found this story so interesting I translated Walther’s two letters to Fackler in At Home in the House of My Fathers (CPH, 2012; pgs. 177ff). But I had no idea where Fackler ended up serving in the Missouri Synod . . . until a few months back.
I had the pleasure of preaching the 150th anniversary of St. John’s, Corcoran, Minn. As I was preparing for this occasion, I learned that the founding pastor was—you guessed it—John Fackler! Imagine my surprise when, at the luncheon after the anniversary services, I met Myrtle Klemp, who, still spry at 99 years of age, told me, “I was baptized by Pastor Fackler! I knew him well as a child.” Amazing!
Consider the dates of the events of the New Testament. Jesus is crucified in A.D. 33. St. Paul is converted in 36. His first missionary journey is in 46–47, the apostolic council (Acts 15) is in 48 or 49. Paul writes Galatians in 55; 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy in 56; 2 Corinthians in 57; Romans and Titus in 58; Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon in 59; 2 Timothy in 60; and Philippians in 61. (These are the dates I’ve got scribbled in my Greek New Testament, taken from Bo Reicke’s Re-Examining Paul’s Letters: The History of the Pauline Correspondence, T&T Clark, 2008). Dating the Gospels is more challenging, but suffice it to say that the generally accepted dates for authorship have been creeping closer and closer to the historical events of Jesus’ ministry (i.e., 30–33). Reicke also noted that the only reason critics have asserted that the Gospels were written after A.D. 70 was that they contain Jesus’ prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, which occurred in that year. The critics argue such prophecies had been placed in Jesus’ mouth only after the fact. But just for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the Gospels were all written as late as A.D. 80.
My father-in-law is 90 years old (a decade younger than Myrtle). He was born in 1924. Transposing this century onto the first, Jesus would have begun His ministry in 1930, was crucified and risen in 1933. My father-in-law has vivid recollections of events from the late 1920s. He is also a WWII veteran and remembers helping to liberate Paris, returning home for a brief furlough after victory in Europe and preparing to ship out to the Pacific when the atom bomb was dropped. In this year of 2014, there are people all around us who are completely cognizant of events from 1930. Myrtle has vivid memories from before 1920! If I were to assert that the first resident pastor of St. John’s Corcoran had been a thief or a drunk, a man who pastored that church in its early years, Myrtle would vigorously assert by personal experience that such an accusation is completely false.
Yet no one from within the Christian community took it upon themselves to write a refutation of the events recounted in the Gospels or Acts or even St. Paul’s letters. Yes, there were some kooky Gnostic writings that were obviously spurious and written by individuals in heretical communities, most written well beyond the lifespan of actual eyewitnesses. But no legitimate insider wrote something that said, “Hey, folks! I was with Jesus! I knew Paul! And these Gospels and letters of Paul are bogus! It didn’t happen that way!” In fact, the essential criterion for acceptance of a New Testament document by the Church was whether or not it was known to be the product of an apostle or directly based upon apostolic witness (e.g., Luke/Acts).
This indicates that what I know to be so by faith—that is, the words of Jesus, the accounts of Jesus, His death and resurrection, and the words and works of the apostles— is entirely true and accurately given in the New Testament. Amazing. Joy indeed!
Pastor Matthew Harrison
“Let’s go!” Mark 1:38
Web page: www.lcms.org/president