Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Who are we talking about?

A while ago (I have a large stack of unread mail) Christian News published a piece by the Rev. Paul Harris on Lutherans Going East (June 6, 2020).  The editor of CN introduced the item with these words:
Many Lutheran laymen and pastors are fascinated by Eastern Orthodoxy, and the stories of Lutherans “going East” are abundant. They have a type of conservatism, a venerable stability, a great respect for tradition, and a conservative moral mindset. But the real draw is to leave the incessant, tedious doctrinal divisions of the West for the liturgical-based theology of the Eastern church.
I contend that some high church, conservative-appearing Lutherans are basically Eastern in thinking already (evidenced by the fascination with infant communion and the blind devotion and adoration of optional liturgical forms), so to fully commit is not a huge leap. This new school of confessionally-minded Lutherans eschews doctrinal clarity and precision for liturgical niceties and describes adiaphora (external things things neither commanded, nor forbidden by God in Scripture) in mystical, absolute terms. Actions and tradition take precedent naturally over Scripture’s teaching of grace and justification by the Gospel, to these new-age Lutherans—doing and seeing replaces speaking and hearing.
The first paragraph is, in my view, a good assessment of the attraction to Orthodoxy.  It is deep in history and appears, at least, to be mostly unaffected by the doctrinal divisions that have plagued the West.  Though I am not sure that this last statement is true.  Some of the folks who have headed East have found that this is not only a tradition with distinct and deeply entrenched cultural and ethnic divisions but also doctrinally somewhat divided.  There were those not too long ago who suggested such eloquent voices for Orthodoxy like Ware, Schmemann and Meyendorff and even, perhaps, the whole school of St. Valdimir's represented a different Orthodoxy.  But not being Orthodox (Eastern, anyway) I cannot attest to the claim.  The point only that the appearance of a united doctrinal communion and its actuality are, as we all know, not quite the same thing.

Indeed, Lutheran suffers from nitpickers and individuals who insist that Synods, theologians, and even Confessions are not all that important and should not be weighted with much authority and that only Scripture alone can convince.  I think this is a foolish overstatement.  Of course it matters what the Synod says, what its teaches and our Lutheran forbearers taught, and the Confessions say.  Why else be Lutheran?  But it is also true that the decisive authority is reserved for Scripture alone.  Though here, it would take an idiot to suggest that Scripture is so convincing that every doctrinal argument and dogmatic controversy can be settled in a church body by saying Thus saith the Lord.  Would that it would be so but it is not.  It is not for Lutheranism in general and it is not for the Missouri Synod.  It is not a failing of the Word but our failing as sinful people.

But the second paragraph refers to things that have no real basis in fact.  Yes, there are individuals who have left Missouri, indeed, Lutheranism!  I would be curious to know how they could be classed together as a unified or homogeneous bunch as to have the character of a group.  I know one who is Orthodox but uses a Western Rite and others who have not been ordained and others who have left their new home in search of still greener pastures and others who have found a home in and are happy having swum the Bosporus.  I do think that those who left shared a seriousness with regard to worship, a deep sensitivity to the lex orandi lex credendi expectation, a fear that the claim of Augustana to be catholic in doctrine and practice has given way to a Lutheranism as a brand of theology and liturgy, and a longing for unanimity and unity through time and geography.  Only a fool would suggest that you can find such an idealized identity in WELS, ELS, or LCMS and I would suggest that it cannot be found in Rome or Constantinople either.

The part I believe is anecdotal and not accurately reflective of reality is this:  This new school of confessionally-minded Lutherans eschews doctrinal clarity and precision for liturgical niceties and describes adiaphora . . .in mystical, absolute terms. Actions and tradition take precedent naturally over Scripture’s teaching of grace and justification by the Gospel, to these new-age Lutherans—doing and seeing replaces speaking and hearing.  I find it not credible to suggest that there is such a school much less to substantiate the charge that this school prefers doctrinal ambiguity over liturgical uniformity.  Every confessionally minded and liturgical concerned person I know in Synod is adamant about the desire for and the very need for doctrinal clarity with liturgical integrity.  After all, this is the day in which worship where anything goes and solemnity live side by side in Missouri, when some Missourians are having virtual communion while others are maintaining the fullness of the Divine Service, and some Missourians are advocating methodologies of church growth that fly in the face of our Confessions while others insist that nothing less than the full confessional identity will help us grow at all.

The main article by Harris is something else and needs its own treatment by someone much more familiar with and able to compare Rome and Constantinople but the introduction to this article in CN is worth its own harder look to see if the charge made can stick.  The last line of the intro is worth its own judgment and I would ask you to weigh in:  Fort Wayne seminary graduates, even some of my own classmates, having not been grounded on the entire body of Lutheran orthodoxy have been especially susceptible to the kinder, gentler heretical “orthodoxy” of Easternism. If what the editor says of the seminary failing to ground those studying to be pastors in the entire body of Lutheran orthodoxy is true of Ft. Wayne, then it is even more true of St. Louis.  And this is where I say I do not see it.  I do not believe it.  It has not been my experience -- either with the pastors who have been formed by the Seminary over the years and the faculty, many of which I count as long-time friends.  No seminary is perfect and no candidate is as fully prepared as they might be and it is impossible to ascertain from even three years of academic training and one year of vicarage whether or if someone will drift away from the pledges made at ordination.  But I say it is an unfair and unsubstantiated charge against one of the most faithful institutions and learning communities of the Synod!


Anonymous said...

Let’s just start by an unbiased compare/contrast of online bookstore offerings from CSL/CTS.

St. Louis has listed in order (under books):
“Reflections with Dale Meyer”
“The Way of Concord” by Robert Kolb
“Inviting Community”
“First Things First: A Primer in Lutheran Theological Prolegomena” by David Lumpp

Ft. Wayne has listed in order (under systematic theology books):
“Acquiring the Mind of Christ: Embracing the Vision of the Orthodox Church” by Archimandrite Sergias Bowyer
“Baptism” by David Scaer
“Being as Communion” a study of Orthodox ecclesiology by Jean Zizioulas
“Book of Pastoral Rule” by Gregory the Great

Admittedly, seminary students should be well read in a wide range of traditions, but it seems that the emphasis is on Orthodoxy more so at Ft. Wayne. Maybe this is where the observation of a “school” comes from.

Anonymous said...

The Lutheran reformers quoted the Early Church Fathers often to show that their teaching was catholic and orthodox. Our current school is wont to quote the Fathers often to equate ourselves with what is Catholic and Orthodox, as a “longing for unanimity and unity through time and geography.” As for doctrinal clarity, note Robert Kolb’s charge on the CPH website that we have neglected to seriously study Walther since the middle of the 20th century up to the present. Read John Stephenson’s CLD series book on the Lord’s Supper, where the precision of Walther and Pieper are casually brushed aside for a 20th-century-ecumenical eucharistic vision of John 6 and the idea of sacramental sacrifice. Read David Scaer protest that the confessions do not prohibit early communion, and that the Lutheran mass is a sacrifice. This new school teaches the primacy of “doing and seeing” the sacrament and liturgical rites for salvation versus preaching, hearing the gospel, and accepting it by faith for salvation. And the effects of this school are noticeable. Note the consternation expressed by LCMS laity when suspension of congregational worship meant no more weekly communion. How will we worship? Isn’t communion the whole point of worship? Maybe we need to “do” online communion now? Our theology of the sacrament has experienced an increasingly “Osiandrian drift” of sorts. Instead of speaking with Luther of the sacrament as a comfort and testament that brings forgiveness “through the word,” we increasingly focus on the body and blood in mystical, indwelling soteriological terms.

Anonymous said...

See this post for an exchange between the two schools:


One views Orthodoxy in an apologetic function inferior to the Book of Concord (Rev. McCain), while the other views Orthodoxy in a restorationist function (Father Braden). Much is made by Eastern-leaning Lutherans of Luther’s approval of the Ethiopian deacon Michael’s views after meeting him in 1534. The parameters for doctrine and fellowship can be interpreted by this as broader then, rather than Walther and Pieper’s insistence on fellowship based upon full agreement on all articles of faith drawn from scripture alone. This is where the charge of fuzzy doctrine comes in. Many CTS Lutherans are attempting to expand upon what the confessions can mean.

There is a blog on Patheos right now that asserts the SBC is headed for a split because Baptists are a big tent who have no strong confessional basis for agreement in their church. Ironically, it is the “confessional” camp in the LCMS today that seeks to expand the tent of Lutheran orthodoxy to teach fashionable ecumenical positions to escape the “boredom” and intellectual narrowness of traditional Lutheranism.

Anonymous said...

See this excellent message by Pastor Philip Hale, the author of the passage under discussion:


“There is much false emotionalism in Lutheran circles over receiving Communion. It is seen as greater and more powerful than the Word preached, taught, read, and trusted – perhaps because it involves our actions and looks more impressive than just listening to and living in God’s Word. But the act of receiving the Supper can easily become a cursed work of the Law, if preaching does not preserve it, so it is administered correctly. The bare act of physically receiving the elements does not make one a Christian or grant faith – quite the opposite – it requires (besides faith) self-examination and some knowledge of Christ to benefit from this specific gift of forgiveness, whereas Baptism does not (See 1 Cor. 10-11).

“So no one needs Communion, nor is it necessary in any scriptural sense. To make it required, is to impose a law upon the Gospel. Even the idea of weekly Communion can be an idol – a legal mandate and cursed law. The forgiveness of sins must be free, it cannot be compelled or shoved down anyone’s throat. Communion by itself, without faith, does not help, instead it harms. But the push in high church circles to commune very young children, without full instruction, and even infants in some cases, is somewhat parallel to virtual attempts at communing in separate meals, while pretending to be together by linked computers. Both sides miss the point of the Supper: to promote faith in those who already believe – it is not for everyone and it is certainly not the center of our religion – Christ has not limited His help to a meal. Forgiveness is not limited to the Supper. It can always be desired, but it does not have to be received at every instant for you to have comfort.”

Anonymous said...

Wow! I can't believe that a Lutheran minister wrote the statements that were quoted above from Rev Hale regarding the Lord's Supper.

If what he wrote is considered acceptable doctrine, it looks like we're really in deep doo-doo.

Carl Vehse said...

On August 25, 2020 at 4:23 PM, Anonymous asserted, "If what he [Rev. Hale] wrote is considered acceptable doctrine, it looks like we're really in deep doo-doo."

What did Rev. Hale write doctrinally that Anonymous declares will leave him and others in deep doo-doo?

In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther wrote, "False witness, then, is everything which cannot be properly proved. Therefore, what is not manifest upon sufficient evidence no one shall make public or declare for truth."

Anonymous said...

Carl Vehse

The words of Rev. Hale: “So no one needs Communion, nor is it necessary in any scriptural sense.”

I am anonymous, although not the Anonymous who posted the comment above.

You quoted the Large Catechism, so I assume you still have it handy. I will quote from the Large Catechism regarding the Lord's Supper, from 'Concordia-The Lutheran Confessions', copyright 2005, Concordia Publishing House.

Page 436, the words of Martin Luther:

“Since we now have the true understanding and doctrine of the Sacrament, there is also need for some admonition and encouragement. Then people many not let such a great treasure – daily administered and distributed among Christians- pass by unnoticed. So those who want to be Christians may prepare to receive this praiseworthy Sacrament often.“

“They act as though they were such strong Christians that they have no need of it. ... Some pretend that is is a matter of liberty and not necessary. They pretend that it is enough to believe without it. For the most part, they go so far astray that they become quite brutish and finally despise both the Sacrament and God's Word”.

“We have, in the first place, the clear text in Christ's words, 'Do this in remembrance of me'. These are inviting and commanding words by which all who would be Christians are told to partake of his Sacrament. Therefore, whoever wants to be Christ's disciple, with whom he here speaks, must also keep this Sacrament”.

“They should not act from compulsion, being forced by others, but in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, to please Him. However, you may say, “But the words are added 'As often as you drink it'. There he compels no one, but leaves it to our free choice”. I answer, That is true, yet it is not written so that we should never do so. Yes, since He speaks the words 'As often as you drink it', it is implied that we should do it often.”

I quoted the words of the Lord Jesus Christ and Dr. Martin Luther. If you object to what they said, please feel free to take it up with them.

Anonymous said...

The comparison of bookstore offerings is ridiculous and completely subjective. The bookstore at Ft Wayne is so much larger than St Louis. The St. Louis books are most likely in stock at Ft Wayne and the Ft Wayne books available by order from St. Louis. Really this is the goofiest criteria to use to make a point.

Carl Vehse said...

A different "Anonymous" on August 27, 2020 at 9:27 PM, quotes a sentence taken out of Rev. Hale's message, "Nothing Has Changed," and then proceeds to quote passages from the Large Catechism (Part V, Of the Sacrament of the Altar, 39-40, 45-46). The different "Anonymous" then closes with the statement, "If you object to what they said, please feel free to take it up with them [the Lord Jesus Christ and Martin Luther]."

Of course, as a Lutheran, I don't object to the excerpts, which declare why Christians should desire and frequently partake in the Lord's Supper, according to Christ's commands.

What I do object to is taking Rev Hale's sentence out of its context, and then quoting some LC excerpts as if they would demonstrate that Rev. Hale's message directly opposes Lutheran doctrine.

Rev. Hale's message was specifically addressing the "long-standing doctrinal and spiritual weaknesses among us: the attempt to practice online virtual communion," in which, according to Rev. Hale, "[a] surprising number of Lutheran pastors and churches, though, are trying to redefine the Supper, against Christ’s will stated in Scripture." Against such redefined Supper Rev. Hale stated, "So changing the essence of Communion, to give people the appearance of normalcy and some emotional comfort, is simply wrong and un-Lutheran." Rev. Hale doesn't denigrate the Lord's Supper, but states, "It does always forgive, but it gives no other type of forgiveness than found in the Gospel itself. This is why it has been called the visible Gospel."

In his Christian Dogmatics (CPH, 1934, pp. 53-4) J.T. Mueller explains this relationship of Word and Sacrament:

"The entire forgiveness which Christ has secured for sinners by His death on the cross is offered and conveyed to the believer in the Gospel, so that, if he trusts in the Gospel promise, he possesses by faith all the merits of Christ, together with spiritual life and eternal salvation. This does not mean that the sacramental promise is superfluous. The Christian Church can never dispense with the Sacraments, since they convey the spiritual blessings of the Savior in a particularly close and comforting manner. The Sacraments are the visible Word (Verbum visibile) and the individual application (applicatio individualis) of divine grace. But the Christian believer who trusts in the divine promise of pardon which is offered in the Gospel to all men is already in possession of salvation. The Sacraments offer nothing new; they only seal and confirm the same grace and the same absolution which the Gospel announces, gives, and confers. In this sense the Sacraments are not absolutely necessary. . . As long as a believer trusts in the grace of Christ offered in the Word, as did the thief on the cross, he is saved, even though he has never received the blessings of the Sacraments. Hollaz is quite right in saying of the secondary fundamental articles as such: 'A simple want of acquaintance with them does not prevent salvation, but the pertinacious denial of, and hostility to, them overturns the foundation of faith'." (Doctr. Theol., p. 99.)