Saturday, May 28, 2016
Who said that?
I am so often impressed with the prescient wisdom of people who look across the landscape and are not overwhelmed by the trees to see the forest. I wish I were more like that. The quote in question dates from 1846 and it was written by a Lutheran fairly new to the US who came here to flee a Lutheranism under siege by those who insisted that doctrinal differences did not preclude unity. You know him. CFW Walther. As he stepped off a boat and surveyed the landscape of Lutheranism in America, he found a different challenge than he left in Germany. Here it was not enforced unity but a willing surrender of the ancient and confessional heritage that had been Lutheranisms identity and reason for being.
It was done in the name of enlightened thought but it was the rudest and barest form of ignorance. Lutheranism in America was a liturgical and confessional mess of people who did not know what it meant to be Lutheran in witness or in worship. Walther's appeal to Old Lutheranism was not an appeal to a date in history or a pristine era but to a Lutheranism undeterred by fear of what people thought (papish) and unshaken in witness to the faith once and always believed, taught, and confessed.
Today we live in an equal crossroads. We are told that confidence in the Biblical text is no longer possible because the Scriptures are simply wrong about too many things. We are told that science is a more reliable teacher than the Spirit and reason must judge the Word of God. We are told that whole sections of Scripture are just plain wrong or they have been misunderstood the whole of their history and now the faith is friendly toward GLBT etc... We are told that feelings and preferences matter more than truth that endures forever and you choose a church home like you choose a comfortable pair of shoes (no matter that they may be bad for your feet or destructive to your faith). We do so not because we think ourselves shallow or self-serving but because we think ourselves enlightened, intelligent, sophisticated, erudite, and creative.
Around us is an astonishing mountain of ignorance about the real issues of consequence that face us as churches and as a culture. Abortion is not just a choice. Sex is not just sex. Marriage is not open to regular redefinition. Children are not toys. Science is not unanimous in its conclusions nor more reliable that Scripture and the faithful who have heard and believed its voice. The environment is not a god or the primary cause of the God. Liturgy is not to make us feel good. Confessions are not open to regular re-interpretation or to updating as truth changes and the social conscience of culture shifts. Truth is not a mile wide and an inch deep but pretty much the opposite. Faith is not for a better life now and Jesus is not a life coach.
Even we as Lutherans are divided and confused before the world because we cannot agree among ourselves. So we have an Amish option which pretty much disengages from the world and turns church into a refuge or we have the adapt or die option which embraces every social change or cause (eventually). And then we have Missouri which harbors nearly every opinion depending upon which congregation you attend and to which pastor you speak. Walther looked and saw pretty clearly the landscape then. God help us to see it now as clearly. And then to confess more boldly, worship more faithfully, and live more holy.
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The quote from Walther comes from The Lutheraner, Volume 3, No. 4, 17 October 1846, page 20, and can be found in C.F.W. Walther's Original Der Lutheraner Volumes One through Three (1844-'47): The LCMS in Formation (Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, trans. Rev. Joel Baseley, Mark V Publications, May 7, 2012, 732 pages, the pages alternate between German and English). The quote is at the beginning of the first part of a multipart series, "Does Old Lutheranism Lead to Rome?" Walther begin his series with an excerpt from Martin Luther, and after the quote given above, takes a quick, but brutal slam at the Reformed churches before launching into a detailed answer to the series' question (Hint: it involves No!) Here's the opening part with the bolded quote:
"God be praised! I have become so certain, that I would go so far as to say that id a pastor (Seelsorger) does not see himself as diametrically opposed to the pope, the bishops and their human doctrine and commands with everything in his power, and set himself against them, whether it means his dying or remaining alive, there is no way that he can be saved." (Luther to Nic. Hausmann in the year 1521. (See L.W. Halle, X. 1880.)
We live in an age that calls itself the enlightenment, but in which such astonishing ignorance dominates in the area of religion. This can even be said of those who call themselves Lutheran. For example, these days if a Lutheran is asked what sort of difference exists between Lutherans and the Reformed, what is the usual answer given? Most say, as far as they know, the difference consists in that Lutherans pray, "Father ours" and the Reformed, "Our father," that the former use hosts in the holy Lord's Supper and the latter use plain bread. So naturally few are also able to explain these days how so many Lutherans can possible not desire to unite with the Reformed or want anything to do with the union movement taking place everywhere.... But the differences between the Lutherans and the Reformed have nothing to do with those reasons, that is, it involves the most holy sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, the Office of the Keys, the person of Jesus Christ, the Decree of God unto Salvation, etc., which means, as every Lutheran can see, even from his Small Catechism, it involves "Chief Parts of the Christian religion. But since these Churches are both at odds over this, true unificatioin between them is impossible so long as the Reformed won't acknowledge their heresies that mitigate against God's Word.
One might also be interesting in an earlier Der Lutheraner series, "Dr. Martin Luther's Proof that Lutheranism is the Ancient Church while Roman Catholicism is Recent."
I have experienced being a member of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church for a number of years, and it is not easy to comprehend and contrast the Reformed and Lutheran distinctives. The OPC, being Calvinistic, was a bit too legalistically inclined and leans on the Westminster Confessions. I found they really insist on on members attend services on Sunday morning and return Sunday evening. In the church I attended, only very archaic hymns were sung at services, nothing newer, no choir, very little congregational participation. The Pastor was central, and the sermons excellent and biblical, but often too long. I asked the pastor once why he never had the congregation recite the Lord's Prayer at Sunday worship. He told me the Lord's Prayer was just an "example" or a "model" of a prayer, and we were not obligated to recite it. Being from Catholic and Lutheran background, I found it too disconcerting. I returned to the LCMS, and was invigorated by coming back. The Reformed churches are better than the liberal ones, but there are doctrinal issues found troubling to me, and the worship service lacks a liturgy. As Carl Vehse explained in his response above, there are great differences between Reformed and Lutheranism, starting with their view of the Sacraments, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper. I believe Luther was right, Calvin was wrong.
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