Friday, April 16, 2010

Vas Ist die essence of duck?

When I was in college (the Senior College) we had a professor named Soovik who came from Estonia, suffered under the second world war, the Russian occupation of his homeland, and immigration to a new country.  He was a rather amazing person.  He taught philosophy.  His perennial question: Vas ist die essence of duck?  (Okay, so you have to know about the Senior College/Seminary campus and the lake and the ducks to get it.)  Anyway, his point was “what is essential of _________?” (Fill in the blank)

Well, what is the essence of Lutheran?  Clearly this is an urgent question. To the ELCA the essence of Lutheran is a church where the Gospel is principle more than proclamation, justice more than salvation, diversity more than unity.  To WELS the essence of Lutheran is a church apart – distinct from others in prayer, worship, scouting, military chaplaincy, etc.  To the LCMS Lutheran is....ah.... well... I guess that is the point.  Within Missouri, more than within the other groups, is a serious break about how to answer this question.  Some would answer with fundamentalism – trumpeting about the six day creation, inerrancy, moralistic rigidity, and salvation that speaks like decision theology but without the decision.  Others would answer with non-denominational Christianity – a church without much of a tradition, borrowing from culture to be relevant, and willing to do whatever is necessary to fill the pews.  Still others would answer with a Germanic heritage and a rigid adherence to a tradition that begins with 1847 and whose saints are Walther and Pieper and whose hymnal is THE Lutheran Hymnal (‘41).  At the point I began my education to become a Pastor in the LCMS, there was the flowering of another Lutheranism which was evangelical and catholic, in confession, in form, in piety, and in worship.  It was defined by folks like Piepkorn and Hummel, it was pastored by folks like VonSchenk, it was accompanied by folks like Buszin and Manz, and it was educated by folks like Pelikan (just to name a few).  It was the Lutheranism that flowed from its confessional identity to its liturgical identity to form a seamless garment of a reformation church that was not afraid of its past nor unwilling to admit its failings.

Well, I am still looking for that evangelical and catholic Lutheranism.  I think it is the essence of Lutheran but I am sorry to say that too many of us act as if it were Camelot, a wisp of a dream that came and went, leaving mythical characters and great music (which fewer and fewer folks still sing).  As someone who grew up when there was Camelot in the White House and dreams fueled by a space race to the moon, well, you see what the American political landscape looks like now.  Unfortunately, it seems as if the church landscape is equally marred by pragmatists, borrowers, and shape shifters who have stolen my Church.

I know I am not alone.  John Nunes and I talked about it.  Paul Maier and I talked about it.  Wil Weedon and I talked about it. Lou Neuchterlein and I talked about it.  Dave Benke and I talked about it.  A host of folks whose names are not so well known have talked to me, emailed me, and followed this blog with the same thoughts in mind.  I have a hope that remnants (a good Biblical term) of the ELCA, Missouri, and others might bring this Lutheranism back to its fighting form that it may take on the other versions in a fair fight for the heart and soul of the essence of Lutheran.  But I am more a romantic than a realist.  Maybe it is the hope of Camelot reborn.  But I know we must be careful.  There were folks who thought that voting for a certain Presidential candidate last time around was a vote for Camelot, too.  Didn’t turn out like that.  So we must be careful about those whom we elect.  At best they will not hinder this movement; at worst they may actively fight against it.  All things being equal, I can only pray that they will tolerate it.... so I may survive and the vision that fueled my idealistic heart so many years ago... and still fuels the hearts of those I think may be the brightest stars in the Lutheran sky.


Anonymous said...

Wow. I like and appreciate much of what you say -- in this post and others -- but I really take exception to your characterization of the WELS here. That may be your perception of the WELS -- though I can't help but wonder what it is based on -- but I would challenge you to find any statement or publication, official or unofficial, from a WELS source that reflects the idea of Lutheranism that you ascribe to the synod. I doubt that there are even many WELS laypeople who would go so far as to associate the essence of "Lutheran" with the narrow focus you describe. Yes, we do have what others perceive to be a much stricter take on the doctrine and practice of fellowship, but we hardly confuse that with the essence of being Lutheran.

It's these attitudes and assumptions that make me less and less optimistic about the possibilities of Missouri & Wisconsin Lutherans ever getting together again.

Pastor Peters said...

I am sorry if I mischaracterized the WELS. I based my words on the WELS church in my community, the WELS families we have received over the past 10 years (20 or so), and my personal experience with the brother of a friend who is currently a WELS Pastor.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure movements are the essence of duck. Witness the Emergent/Emerging movement ('scuse me, conversation). It is all over the board, and it's initial (and most of it's current) leaders have drifted into heresy.

I'm not saying Missouri looks any way like that. What I am saying is movements do not stay focused without leaders. You listed early
leaders of this camelot-like movement. Certainly future presidents of Synod may turn out to be disappointments or more than, but the attempt must be made.

Conversations with names we know or don't know allow for wishful thinking, but there must be truly godly men (still sinful humans, of course) who will step in. If not, the ducks will just be sitting in their little local church-ponds.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Peters: I share Prof. Sooviik’s early history, and I too was at the Senior College; in fact, the first student to register when it opened in September of 1957. But the Holy Spirit thought it best that I should not become a Pastor. Nevertheless, the same Spirit has kept alive in me the love for the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Church.

While at the Senior College, I became painfully aware of the fact that there was some tacit disagreement on the nature of the Gospel, both among the professors and the students. Prof. Paul Harms was the champion of the unequivocal Gospel, the one which proclaims freedom to His people. Most of the others let it be known that the grace of God was available for all of us, but if we did not exhibit a certain behavior, it was not really certain that we were His children. During the rest of my life, much to my sorrow, I have observed this division in our church.

Prof. Harms’ proclamation of the Gospel was fearless. Not because he risked martyrdom, although there were some who cast metaphorical stones against him, but because in proclaiming the freedom of the Gospel he risked the possibility of chaos and lawlessness among his listeners. But he knew that the children of God are a new creation, made for His Kingdom, so that the Spirit Himself would guide His children to conform to the will of our Lord. So also our Confessions.

As I look at the nature of Lutheranism, this dichotomy, in my opinion, still characterizes us to this day. It is a nature that is, and a nature that should be.

Americans tend to put faith in sports metaphors. So, as the coach used to say, we have to get back to fundamentals. Life shows that most problems are not caused by some sophisticated, esoterically nuanced ideology, but in abandoning the fundamentals. Most will object that we still proclaim the Gospel in our church. We do, but we tend to speak of it as if it ended with our Lord’s resurrection. According to the Synoptic Gospels, during His entire mission on earth our Lord only mentioned His death three times. During the rest of the time He was proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom. Luke 4:43 “But He said unto them, ‘I must preach the Kingdom of God to other cities also, for therefore am I sent.’" When the time was right, He turned His face toward Jerusalem, to pay the awful price that would “open the Kingdom to all believers.”

If our people do not know about this Kingdom, its nature and its importance, we cannot enjoy the fullness of the gifts which our Father wants us to have. Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” In an email about 5 years ago, Prof. Harms wrote me that if the Gospel is not fully proclaimed in the Church, the Church becomes anorexic. With today’s awareness of eating disorders we might say that it becomes obese from eating too much of the wrong stuff.

Christ is Risen!
(In Estonian: Kristus on surnuist ulestousnud!)
George A. Marquart

Past Elder said...

Some random thoughts:

WELS -- having started in WELS, I think your characterisation is right on, and that, coupled with coming to see the innovations of the Wauwatosa theologians, is why I left WELS for LCMS warts and all.

Camelot -- this is an unfortunate metaphor. There never was a Camelot, neither in Mother England nor in the Kennedy Administration. The former is a Romantic construct of the 19th Century, TH White, Broadway and Hollywood. The latter was pure marketing facade over a political landscape actually worse than it is now.

The tradition that began with 1847 did not begin with 1847. It was an establishment here in the US, in a fractured "Lutheran" environment alarming like our own, of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, wisely seeing no need to import the structures of the state churches of Europe.

And damn straight The Lutheran Hymnal is THE Lutheran Hymnal.

Lee said...

"Some would answer with fundamentalism – trumpeting about the six day creation, inerrancy, moralistic rigidity, and salvation that speaks like decision theology but without the decision."

Classic line. I really enjoy your blog and the way you struggle with these issues of Lutheran identity.


Steve said...

I love your posts and the truly deep conditions you are able to verbalize. I would love to attend a church where the Word and Sacrament reigned supreme and Bach and our LSB were the musical diet (ok, we could have some Praetorius, Schein, and Schutz too).

Maybe the "essence of duck" is the struggle to move from the comfort zone of carnality into the fear and trembling of working out one's salvation through God's working in us for His good pleasure. That's also why us sheep are so dependent on you shepherds.

Past Elder said...

What? No Scheidt? Judas H Priest, that's the REAL "Three S's", Scheidt, Schein, and Schuetz.

Gott hilf mir seitlich.

Steve said...

My deepest apologies, I completely forgot Scheidt and misspelled Schuetz. Well, may I blame it on my English and Baptist roots? Took me 41 years but I finally got here. Hey, at least I didn't put in a couple of my other heroes, Purcell, Handel, and Vaughan Williams. (I shouldn't discuss my musical fascination yet doctrinal consternation with Rutter and Willcocks)

Unknown said...

I found the characterization of the WELS to be complimentary in some ways. WELS takes positions on issues like fellowship, scouting and the military chaplaincy that while not popular, are protective of doctrine and practice. As contrasted with the ELCA, which is more Lutheran in essence?

There are many faithful LCMS confessional Lutherans who will be in heaven with the family of believers one day, include WELS. While it would be wonderful to be in fellowship in our church bodies on earth, it is far more important that we are in fellowship in heaven.

Anonymous said...

Ist die quiack subscription to the Book of Concord, and not the quacktenus one, nicht var?

Carl Vehse said...

"Well, what is the essence of Lutheran?... To the LCMS Lutheran is....ah.... well... I guess that is the point. Within Missouri, more than within the other groups, is a serious break about how to answer this question."

The history of doctrinal change within the Missouri Synod is discussed by Dr. Mark Braun, Professor of Theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College and the author of A Tale of Two Synods (Northwestern, 2003) in "Changes in the Wisconsin Synod."

Despite the article's title, the first 11 pages (and approximately 140 out of the 184 references!!) in the 25-page paper are about the doctrinal changes in the Missouri Synod that occurred during the first 70 years or so of the 20th century.