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At Home in the House of My Fathers

by John T. Pless — November 28, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: At Home in the House of My Fathers: Presidential Sermons, Essays, Letters, and Addresses from the Missouri Synod’s Great Era of Unity and Growth. By Matthew C. Harrison. Fort Wayne: Lutheran Legacy Press, 2009. 826 pages. Hardcover. $19.95.

BOOK REVIEW: At Home in the House of My Fathers: Presidential Sermons, Essays, Letters, and Addresses from the Missouri Synod’s Great Era of Unity and Growth. By Matthew C. Harrison. Fort Wayne: Lutheran Legacy Press, 2009. 826 pages. Hardcover. $19.95.

Pastor Matthew Harrison, Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care is the editor of At Home in the House of My Fathers. This volume of over 8oo pages contains sermons, letters, convention addresses and essays of the first German-born presidents of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: C.F.W. Walther, F.C.D. Wyneken, H.C. Schwan, Franz Pieper and F. Pfotenhauer. While the volume has particular interest for those in the Missouri Synod, readers from other segments of North American Lutheranism will find in this volume primary sources for understanding the circumstances of Lutheranism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Moreover the documents in this volume suggest that Walther and his immediate successors were well aware of challenges to Lutheran identity in the new world and attempted to respond faithfully.

The documents in At Home in the House of My Fathers range from sermons to personal correspondence to convention essays. Over a third of the book is devoted to the writings of Walther. In light of the eventual break between Walther and Loehe, Walther’s trip report on his 1851 journey to Germany to visit Neuendettelsau is most interesting, leaving the reader to wonder “What if….” As an addendum to the trip report, Loehe’s correspondence on unionistic communion practice is included. Walther and Wyneken stood with Loehe in his insistence on not communing non-Lutheran or Lutherans who remained in a union church. Walther’s classic essay, “Why Should Our Pastors, Teachers, and Professors Subscribe Unconditionally to the Symbolic Writings of Our Church?” delivered to the Western District Convention in 1858 is included. Several of Walther’s writings on the ministerial office are assembled here. In light of present challenges, Walther’s letter to Pastor J.A. Ottesen, “On Luther and Lay Preachers” sounds a clear note against the Schwaermer who would assert an entitlement to preaching without call and ordination.  

Two letters from Walther to Erlangen theological student Johann Fackler are especially significant. In response to Fackler’s inquiry as to whether or not he should leave the Bavarian territorial church whose confession was orthodox but corrupt in practice, Walther urges the young man to stay until he is expelled. No doubt there is some relevance here for pastors tempted to prematurely leave a church body. Fackler, however, did not heed Walther’s advice and ended up in Saint Louis.

Readers concerned about Lutheran liturgical life diluted by the American Protestant environment will resonate with Walther’s essay of 1883, “Methodist Hymns in a Lutheran Sunday School.” Lest there be any doubt, Walther was decidedly against the practice!

For Walther, true doctrine was never an abstraction or theoretical assertion. True doctrine gives certainty in the consolation proclaimed to broken sinners. False doctrine robs Christ of His glory and sinners of the absolution. This is a theme that echoes throughout Walther’s work even in his polemical moments. Here witness his 1872 sermon “On Pure Doctrine for the Salvation of Souls” preached before a meeting of the Synodical Conference in Milwaukee in 1872 as well as sermon from 1874 on Absolution and another from 1877 on the 300th anniversary of the Formula of Concord.

In 1887 Walther presented a fascinating conference paper on “The Fruitful Reading of the Writings of Luther.” In this paper Walther encourages pastors to read Luther and provides helpful tips as to how this might be best undertaken. Well read in Luther himself, Walther suggests that Luther will be understood best by starting with the polemical writings (such as “The Great Confession on Christ’s Supper”) and then moving to the Reformational writings like “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church”). After that one should move to the doctrinal writings such as “The Bondage of the Will.” After that would follow a study of the Reformer’s exegetical writings, sermons, and letters. Walther lays out a hermeneutic for reading Luther for pastors encouraging them to read a bit of Luther each day and assemble a collection of Luther’s citations for pastoral and sermonic use.

Lest one be given the impression that this anthology presents the early Missourians as plastic saints without trial and suffering, Harrison has included letters from Walther and Wyneken describing their mental breakdowns. Anfechtungen was not unknown to these men. Both Walter and Wyneken know weakness and affliction; but they also know how to make an evangelical use of the doctrine of justification for consolation under cross-bearing. There is an authentic Luther-like echo in letters as they face these realities head on.

Eleven pieces by Wyneken are included in At Home in the House of My Fathers. Here we see Wyneken as churchman and missionary addressing conflict in these tender years of the Synod’s life. Wyneken demonstrates no triumphalism in an address of 1857 under the title “The Missouri Synod: A Strength Made Perfect in Weakness.” It is reported that Billy Graham once referred to the Missouri Synod as a sleeping giant. Synod leaders have often quoted this cliché to prod the Synod “to be all that you can be.” Wyneken is far too much a theologian of the cross for this sloganeering. Rather he calls Missouri to faithful reliance on the Lord’s promises in the midst of struggle and contradiction. Echoing Walther, Wyneken delivers an address in 1852 entitled “On the Spiritual Priesthood and the Office of the Ministry” and aptly subtitled “We Will Not Tolerate Any Little Lutheran Pope.”

The post notable contribution from Heinrich C. Schwan is “Propositions on Unevangelical Practice” delivered to the Central District in 1862. Here Schwan is forthright in addressing a seemingly ever-present problem in the Missouri Synod – pastors who equate orthodoxy with abrasiveness and confessionalism with legalism. Schwan’s also addresses the Temperance Movement in an 1871 essay. Several of his essays deal with synodical unity. With the Missouri Synod now addressing proposals for restructuring, his 1896 convention essay “On the Synod’s Constitution and Institutions: Striking the Middle Road between Freedom and Love” is strikingly contemporary. Schwan’s funeral sermons for Wilhelm Sihler and Walther are included as well.

Francis Pieper is most often remembered as the author of a three volume Christian Dogmatics. In the nineteen essays and editorials, we are given a glimpse into the mind of Pieper as a churchman as he labors to guide the life of the growing Synod while passing on the theological legacy of Walther. An essay from 1901, “The Assassination of President McKinley and Public Misfortune: What Does God Desire to Teach Us through the Public Misfortune That Has Come Upon Our Country?” is a call to repentance and faith. Other essays such as “All Christians Agree with Us” and “Ecumenical Lutheranism” reflect Pieper’s believe that confessional Lutheranism was not a sectarian movement but the embodiment of New Testament Christianity.

Significant items from Friedrich Pfotenhauer who in some ways was a transitional president for the Missouri Synod reflect the relationship of doctrine to mission, issues of church structure and unity, and encouragement for pastors. In “Revitalization of the Synod Shall Come from Neither Missions or More Synod Power: The Word is the Only Remedy,” Pfotenhauer is pointedly relevant as he speaks to those who see the survival of Lutheranism tied to managerial maneuvers. Only the living Word of the Lord will bring renewal and revitalization, not cleverly designed programs and movements of missionary activism. Likewise his essay, “Avoiding Political Factions in the Church” and “God’s Co-Workers Do Not Lust for Power” are especially timely as the Missouri Synod approaches yet another convention with threats of acrimony and rancor.

The key to the future of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod lies in her past. In other segments of American Lutheranism, the great names of Charles Porterfield Krauth, Theodore Schmauk, Henry Eyster Jacobs, Herman Amberg Preus and J. Michel Reu are all but forgotten. The results of such spiritual and historical amnesia are clear. Thankfully, there are those in the Missouri Synod who still remember that the early decades of the life of the Synod were marked with unity and growth as C.F.W. Walther and others who followed him were unashamed to be confessing Lutherans in a religious context hostile to the truth of the Reformation. Harrison has collected and translated the literary legacy of these years in sermons, essays and correspondence. Not only an item for church historians but for pastors and laity, this anthology will give insights into the Missouri Synod’s theological vitality and missionary zeal in the nineteenth century and it promises to encourage and inspire similar faithfulness today not only in the Missouri Synod but in global Lutheranism.

John T. Pless is Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana 

The past (and Confession) is the key

Posted by John Hannah at November 28, 2009 22:53
It looks like this book is a part of Pastor Harrison’s campaign to be President of the Missouri Synod. One might infer that if you vote for him, he will bring back “the good old days once again.” Those were the days before Behnken became Synodical President in 1935 and controversy began to engulf the Synod. At Home in the House of My Fathers contrasts nicely with President Kieschnick’s missionary challenge to the Synod, “This is not your grandfather’s church.”

Walther achieved a great deal that was worth emulating. Law and Gospel and his insistence upon unconditional subscription to the Book of Concord certainly were notable and enduring contributions to American Lutheranism. His organizing of Seminary and Synod for receiving all those German immigrants into confessional congregations was a remarkable triumph, indeed. More often then not the Synod’s pastors was competing with Methodists who were able to be on the scene first. It is amazing that any Lutheran congregations were established at all. That they were is all to Walther’s credit.

Walther also had his failings. He took the lead in overthrowing the first leader of the Missouri Synod, Bishop Martin Stephan. His biggest failure was the Synodical Conference. Just when the General Council and Charles Porterfield Krauth insisted on complete subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, Walther founded a competing institution (Synodical Conference) on the utopian notion that Lutherans can agree on all doctrine and practice. The Synodical Conference broke up after ten years in 1882 amidst bitter internal controversy. So much for full agreement in all doctrine and practice.

Harrison’s campaign suggests that the LCMS can salvage Utopia by overthrowing the current leader. This drama gets repeated regularly in the Synod. The Brief Statement (1932) was an attempt to revive the Synodical Conference and to command agreement in all doctrine and practice. It still serves as a de facto confession for many in the Synod. A Statement (1945) by the “44" challenged the notion that full agreement is necessary when we are agreed on the Confessions. Revenge against those “44" lives on. It was seen in the overthrow of President Harms (1969). We saw it in the purge begun at New Orleans (1973) resulting in the overthrow of the Seminary faculty. Then came the overthrow of President Bohlman (1981). Just when one would think that Utopia (agreement in doctrine and practice) has finally been reclaimed we have an attempt to overthrow President Kieschnick. The quest for Utopia and the overthrow of Bishop Stephan gets replayed again and again and....

Unconditional subscription to the Lutheran Symbols? YES! Complete agreement in all matters of doctrine and practice? No thanks. It is neither desirable nor workable. It always ends up like the Synodical Conference of 1872. As long as complete agreement is the goal anyone can come along and upset the apple cart by noting a single minor deviation and creating an argument. Arguments can then be magnified to become the inspiration for bitter recriminations. As long as there is a single congregation that makes a single exception to the prevailing notion of “closed communion.,” accusations will abound. As long as a single congregation of the Synod has women serving as Eucharistic ministers....

Pr. Pless is correct. “The key to the future of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod lies in her past.” There is a past we do not want repeated.


The past (and Confession) is the key

Posted by Rev. Glenn Stubbs at November 29, 2009 18:21
John Hannah, brilliant.
Only God is perfect. We need to leave the insistence for perfection (translation: You will be assimilated!) buried with the dead past and not a steady state item on the Synodical agenda.

pastorf@frontiernet.net

Posted by Pr. Tom Fast at November 30, 2009 20:00
Demagoguery works as a political strategy, but it doesn't do much to help resolve legitimate controversies. I do believe Pr. Harrison is interested in resolving some serious controversies that presently afflict the LCMS...controversies that the Council of Presidents also recognize as needing resolution as evidenced in the "Theses on Worship" they recently published. From Pr. Hannah's response, I'm not sure he is so interested in resolving the problems, as he is in making sure the present administration stays in place. Of course, that is his prerogative. I don't begrudge him that at all.

As for me, I'm tired of dealing with what I am convinced are serious theological issue, especially as manifested in novel worship practices, by elections and power plays. We get "our guys" in power for a few years and have things our way. Then they get "their guys" in power and have things their way. Back and forth we go. What is so refreshing about Pr. Harrison is his clearly articulated desire to stop the back and forth, and facilitate a conversation a long time in coming. The fact that Pr. Harrison would like to allow our forefathers to have a place at the table doesn't sound unreasonable to me.

Just where is the Missouri Synod which agrees on the Confessions? So far as I can see, it is nowhere----Utopia. And this, because we remain unwilling to talk. Should we ever garner enough evangelical courage to engage in serious and long term conversation, perhaps the dream can become a reality----confessional subscription might actually lead to a confessional practice.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. :-)

Synodical Purity

Posted by John Hannah at December 02, 2009 15:28
It seems that much needs to be straightened out in Missouri (according to Pr. Fast, Pr. Olson, Pr Ramirez, and Rik). If Harrison is elected, according to this reading, he will have much work cut out for him.

I am not sure how he can proceed, given the authority Walther assigned to Presidents.

I am grateful for Pr. Stubbs generous appreciation of what I wrote.

synodical purity

Posted by Pr. Tom Fast at December 02, 2009 18:42
Yes, Pr. Hannah. I do think there are some serious issues which are in dire need of attention in the LCMS. You may think I'm crazy in saying so, perhaps I am, but I think our worship controversies are every bit as serious as the controversies over homosexuality in the ELCA. Perhaps more so. It is one thing to wrestle with how the Church should deal with the presence of a homosexual in the midst of the congregation. It is quite another to wrestle with how the Church should regard the Presence of the Lord on her altar in the midst of the congregation. The latter is the bigger issue and is, imo, the chief issue at stake in the so called "worship wars of Missouri." I'm optimistic that these struggles will lead to a richer and, ironically, more outreach oriented congregational life should the Lord's Supper ever be restored to it's central and proper place.

I don't think that qualifies me as a member of the modern day cathari. So perhaps those in Missouri who are concerned about this issue should not be considered members of a purity cult, as we so often are.

But this is all just my take on things. And you know what they say about opinions...

Restoration of the Eucharist

Posted by John Hannah at December 03, 2009 20:46
Thanks, Tom. It is my judgement that the centrality of the Eucharist is being restored in the same way it was lost--very gradually. In the 45 years I've been ordained we have advanced significantly. I would estimate that only 1% of congregations celebrated every Sunday back in 1965. That would even include those with two Sunday services, alternating between a Eucharist and something else (usually Morning Prayer). Obviously we've come a long way. I do believe we are going downhill now rather than uphill in bearing the burden and achieving the desired outcome.

I don't think we need to overthrow our President in order to accelerate the advance. Nor do I think that Harrison or any single President can actually improve on the situation. It will not help to remove the President and could actually hinder the restoration of the Eucharist if bitterness is involved. Afterall the Eucharist mean "thanksgiving."

Peace, JOHN

restoring Eucharist

Posted by Pr. Tom Fast at December 04, 2009 03:50
Pr. Hannah,

You certainly make valid points about going downhill instead of uphill wrt restoring the Eucharist. However, my clear sense is that we are rapidly losing steam. That's precisely what is so maddening. I do fear the many liturgical novelties being introduced in the lcms are rather unhelpful and even a distraction. Our religious environment here in America isn't exactly incarnational and sacramental....some have even argued it has gnostic underpinnings. Introducing novel liturgical practices in such an environment and from such an environment does not bode well for those of us who wish the downhill momentum to continue----especially when the final justification for these novelties is the cry: "freedom in worship." For goodness sake, I don't even know what that cry means. But it works well, so I can't blame them for using it.

Of course, my take might be all wrong. But that's why we really need a serious and extended conversation.

Just recently I read Philip J. Lee's "Against the Protestant Gnostics." It was as clarifying as it was alarming. Frontier style revivalism has little to offer in the way of shaping a more sacramental piety. So as to be kind, I will refrain from connect the dots. It is a penitential season, afterall. :-)

Pax

Tom Fast

Losing Steam?

Posted by John Hannah at December 04, 2009 22:41
Do you have evidence? I do not, I must admit, but I suspect that we remain well above the 1%. The question is whether we are declining or advancing. I don't have data but still suspect we are advancing.

Peace, JOHN HANNAH

massional or missional?

Posted by Pr. Tom Fast at December 05, 2009 01:35
Fair enough question. I only have a sense of things based on personal observation and not any careful study. Of course, no one has really engaged in a careful study of these things, which is part of the problem. But I'd best not get going here. Pretty soon these boxes are going to be one letter wide. :-)

I really do believe we are squandering the progress that has been made. This is one of the primary reasons so many folks are so frustrated. If seeker sensitivity remains the primary criterion for Worship, we who wish to restore the centrality of the Supper are in deep kimshi. And kimshi doesn't taste nearly as good as the Body and Blood of Christ.

These are "good old days???"

Posted by Pr. Tom Fast at December 05, 2009 19:42
I just found out that President Kieschnick is publishing a book of his own. It is entitled: "Waking the Sleeping Giant: The Birth, Growth, Decline, and Rebirth of an American Church."

It will be fascinating to compare MH and JK's takes on all things synodical past, present, and future. Perhaps someone will review it on this site much as Prof. Pless has Harrison's book.

More on this new book can be found at:

http://books.google.com/books?id=APB6QgAACAAJ&dq=sleeping+giant+church&lr=&ei=6cgZS4u_OKHiyQSsv9z3BA

Response to Pr. Tom Fast in "Synodical Purity" posting

Posted by Rik at December 04, 2009 21:55
Pr. Fast,

In your post "synodical purity" you included:

"You may think I'm crazy in saying so, perhaps I am, but I think our worship controversies are every bit as serious as the controversies over homosexuality in the ELCA. Perhaps more so. It is one thing to wrestle with how the Church should deal with the presence of a homosexual in the midst of the congregation. It is quite another to wrestle with how the Church should regard the Presence of the Lord on her altar in the midst of the congregation. The latter is the bigger issue and is, imo, the chief issue at stake in the so called "worship wars of Missouri."

In all respect, I cannot concur with your statement above. To be sure, yes, there are difficulties within the ELCA (including Lutheran CORE), and there are difficulties within the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. I am amazed that you consider the problems in Missouri to be greater. To be sure, Satanos desires to tear both apart. My concern addresses how you summed up the problems within the ELCA: "the controversies over homosexuality in the ELCA."

Were it simply a controversy of how to deal (theologically and practically) with those who consider themselves to be homosexuals within the church, that would be one thing. Were it how to deal with practicing, unrepentant homosexuals within the church, that would be even more of a concern. But the issue (at the ChurchWide Assembly [CWA]) dealt with practicing, unrepentant homosexuals seeking their right to be pastors in the church. This right here, in my opinion, is greater than whether a Missouri Synod congregation has a traditional liturgical worship service with Word and Sacrament or a "contemporary" liturgical worship service with Word and Sacrament. But that wasn't the worst of what happened at the CWA.

The acceptance of the ELCA sexuality statement and its related recommendations, was not simply about the peripheral subject of human sexuality--oh, that it were! Instead, that was only the tip of the massive iceberg of what has been threatening the ELCA and its so-called unity (what kind of "unity" is "agreeing to disagree" really--it goes beyond a "fragile unity", to "unity" in name only, or membership within a common organization yet separated by greater diversities that contradict one another).

The main issue at stake at the ELCA Church Wide Assembly was the underlying question of how the ELCA interprets Holy Scripture, which can be seen in how the statement "Gift and Trust" largely ignored and evaded Holy Scripture, which clearly goes against the Lutheran principle of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone!). What was decided in Minneapolis this last August went against the ELCA's own Constitution, which was noted by many commentators at Lutheran Forum Online. As Prof. Hinlicky has expressed in a previous blog at LF Online, "It's Not About Homosexuality...Not Really" (see archived blogs from earlier this year).

Additionally, the ELCA's acceptance of fellowship with the United Methodist Church (UMC) and the numbers by which this passed, points to just how far the ELCA has distanced themselves from Martin Luther himself, who was unable to come to a united position with Ulrich Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy, especially due to a difference in sacramental theology, particularly concerning Christ's real presence in the Sacrament, or lack thereof. Read the Augsburg Confession or the Book of Concord as a whole, and it will quickly become obvious that "agreeing to disagree" is not a Lutheran approach to unity or church fellowship."

In light of the above, I lament the so-called "worship wars" (better construction: worship disagreements) within the LCMS, especially any congregation (if they exist) which deletes the confession and absolution from the liturgy, assuming it is too negative, and a stumbling block to church growth. Yet I can't stress enough how much the ELCA has repelled itself from the Christian faith in the examples given above. If you find fault with what I have here written, please show me my error. May God have mercy in both church bodies, and redirect His church to His truth, and real unity, via the Holy Spirit of God through the Holy Word (Deus Revelatus revealed to us in the Holy Bible). May He, in love for his sheep, lead His flocks to under-shepherds who are faithful to our Good Shepherd, have true care and compassion for them, and strengthen them Word and Sacrament.

ELCA and LCMS

Posted by Pr. Tom Fast at December 05, 2009 02:04
Rik,

I told you I may be crazy. Did you think I was joking or something? :-)

There is a certain triumphalistic spirit in the LCMS where we point the finger at the struggles in the ELCA and then pat ourselves on the back in the LCMS because, afterall, all we are doing is arguing over worship. While I concede much of what you say and welcome your correction, I do note that worship is strictly a first commandment issue, while it took the Lord five more words before He got to sexuality. I'm kind of goofing around here, but the point I'm making is that I believe (and surely not everyone agrees) that our worship issues---issues which I hope we can bring to the point of being controversies---are extremely important and should not be downplayed, as so many are in the habit of doing. Let me state again: I think the issues underlying our struggles with worship are hugely important. It is most certainly not about guitars or aesthetics or rubrics. It is about fundamental theological and anthropological matters.

Let me agree with you further by saying something else a little crazy. You may be a homophobe if you think the main problem in the ELCA is the issue of how to handle homosexuals. With that statement I intend to show my agreement with your second and third to the last paragraphs in particular.

I think you vastly underestimate the seriousness of our worship problems in the LCMS. Other than that, I generally agree with most everything else you wrote. I apologize for alarming you by my provocative statements.

I hope this makes sense. I'm pooped tonight.

LCMS Tsuris (troubles)

Posted by Rik at December 05, 2009 08:25
Pr. Tom Fast,
Just so I understand you correctly, your primary concern within the LCMS is that many congregations do not offer Holy Communion on a weekly basis? What other concerns do you have? I'm interested in hearing you out, whether you consider your perspective "a little crazy" or not. Could you rank your top concerns with Missouri?

-Rik.

And yes, those Lutherans not directly involved with the ELCA turmoil have no right to respond in smug, uncaring, superior ways. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (I John). We need to love the sheep without faithful shepherds, and we must recognize our own failures, hence our real need of God's amazing grace. May He forgive us, renew us, and lead us. May we truly "delight in (His) will and walk in (His) ways to the glory of His Holy name.

Less cute, but more clearly put

Posted by Pr. Tom Fast at December 05, 2009 14:43
Rik,

After actually getting some sleep, I realize that my response to you was clear as mud----trying too hard to be cute. In fact, I think I was inaccurate in what I wrote. Let me just say that I was purposely under-emphasizing the problems in the ELCA and slighty over-emphasizing the problems in Missouri primarily due to the fact that it is often the case that others do the complete opposite.

So far as my list of concerns wrt the "worship wars of Missouri?" My concerns don't matter that much. I am not a liturgical scholar. Besides, even if I were, I have no forum (pardon the pun) for presenting them in any way that would be fruitful. But I have many, many colleagues who agree with me, if not on the details, on the fact that these are far more serious issues than folks realize. And the issues are not just about the frequency of the offering of Holy Communion. I'll leave it to them to make lists and engage in dialogue....if they ever have the opportunity to do so. Furthermore, I've learned in recent years that the internet is a terrible place to try to engage in serious theological discourse. At least I find it to be so. But maybe it's just because I'm not a serious theologian.

FWIW, I'm thankful for the "Three Day Model Theological Conference." But if it took two years for 35 like minded men to write a set of Theses on Worship (see the COP), then how can we expect much to come of a three day conference filled with many more men who are not so like minded. But at least it's a start.

Thanks again for helping me to clarify my comments.

And because I know most alpb guys expect me to say this, I will: Matt Harrison for president! :-) Far be it from me to disappoint the opposition.

Overthrowing?

Posted by Pr. John Rutz at December 05, 2009 17:37
Pr. Hannah,

You write, "Walther also had his failings. He took the lead in overthrowing the first leader of the Missouri Synod, Bishop Martin Stephan," and then follow in the next paragraph saying, "Harrison’s campaign suggests that the LCMS can salvage Utopia by overthrowing the current leader. This drama gets repeated regularly in the Synod."

Are you suggesting that to elect anyone but the incumbent as President of the Synod is "overthrowing" the Synod's leader, which you have identified as a "failing" in C.F.W. Walther? Surely not. Our polity doesn't provide for lifetime tenure for the President of the Synod. The position does not involve any term limits, to be sure, but election at each convention seems generally to be understood as an appropriate check and balance on the President, a way that the members of the Synod can influence the direction of their Synod. This is even more clear in the current proposal for revisions to the constitution and bylaws, in which the responsibilities and authority of the President would be greatly increased.

If your concern is simply that politicking for office can be unseemly, I wouldn't disagree with you. On the other hand, as in the civil sphere, it is often nearly impossible to discern a difference between fulfilling the duties of president and politicking for reelection.

If expectations are fulfilled, the LCMS will have in President Kieschnick and Pr. Harrison two nominees for president who both have nearly universal name recognition as well as significant experience serving the Synod in executive positions. Surely it's not a failing or "overthrowing" the President of the Synod to let it be known that one is willing to accept nomination. And many pastors, whether open to nomination or not, feel free to share their thoughts concerning the future of our Synod.

We can probably agree that some proponents of each of these men may at times tend to be rather more enthusiastic in their support than seems proper, but to assert that by his willingness to accept nomination and by expressing his views concerning the future of our Synod Pr. Harrison is seeking to "overthrow" President Kieschnick, I just can't see that.

John

Thanks Matthew Harrison for a wonderful book!

Posted by Rev. Olson at December 01, 2009 05:55
Pr. Hannah,
Thank you for your assesment.
However, your history lesson gets a little shaky at the following point:

"[Walther's] biggest failure was the Synodical Conference. Just when the General Council and Charles Porterfield Krauth insisted on complete subscription to the Lutheran Confessions, Walther founded a competing institution (Synodical Conference) on the utopian notion that Lutherans can agree on all doctrine and practice. The Synodical Conference broke up after ten years in 1882 amidst bitter internal controversy. So much for full agreement in all doctrine and practice."

There were “Four Points” of disagreement between the Synodical Conference and the General Council. They were, millennialism or chiliasm, altar fellowship, pulpit fellowship, and secret societies or lodgery. Hardly issues to be swept aside, and most certainly issues which raised doubts concerning confessional subscription.

I am unsure as to what "breakup" of the Synodical Conference you mean? Perhaps you mean the withdrawl of the Ohio Synod which joined the Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Synod of Pennsylvania and Other States which later joined the LC-MS in 1886. The Predestinarian Controversy was at issue during this time, another important theological issue that Walther and the Lutheran Confessions (F.C., S.D., Art. XI) clearly deemed church fellowship decisive.

Walther was happy to hear of Krauth's confessionalism on paper. His concern was more to do with Krauth's fellow churchmen and congregations of the General Council and their practice of that confessionalism. Here again settling the "Four Points" of disagreement first before altar and pulpit fellowship with the General Council could be established was the goal of the Synodical Conference.

I do agree with you that some things like disgreement over doctrine and practice in the LC-MS never change. I for one hope it stays that way (FC, SD, X, ln. 31).
God's Word does matter.

The Synod needs to have an honest coming to terms again with such Bible passages as; Galatians 1, I Cor. 5 and Romans 16:17. The Statement of the 44 seems to still ring in our ears some 65 years later.

Respectfully,

Rev. Jon C. Olson

Love the Book and the Review

Posted by Pastor Ramirez at December 01, 2009 18:12
I am thrilled that Pr. Harrison has taken the time to sit at the feet of his fathers in the faith, and am even happier that he has made these works accessible to English speakers. Thanks for another great book Lutheran Legacy.

In Prof. Pless’s review, he is careful to point out that Harrison’s book is not a hagiography.

I would second Pr. Olson’s post, which invites us to look a little closer at what really happened to the General Council.

The General Council was a failed experiment precisely because it drove a wedge between doctrine and practice, and wouldn't discipline abuses.

It is absurd to blame Walther for the General Council's failure, it was doomed from the beginning precisely because they took a "teach them into submission" route on correcting problems. Prof. Arand from CSL has a great book called "Testing the Boundaries" on the various approaches to doing Lutheransim in America. The General Council fell apart before it began because of the suspicion of the Midwest synods of laxity from the easterners. They worried, and ultimately were proved correct, that the General Council lacked the commitment to stop heterodoxy. The General Council failed to take seriously that doctrine and practice are intimately intertwined.

Walther, and the Missouri father, knew that Pastoral Ministry not only is gentle, teaches, and leads, but also speaks the word of the Law, condemns, and says enough is enough, when confronting sin and error. The Four Points were not minor problems, false doctrine never is. Lodge membership, Altar and Pulpit Fellowship, and Millenialism are serious issues.

Of course, the proof is in the eating of the pudding...the General Council, in large part because of its inability to deal with anti-confessional "practice" and lax discipline, wound up getting right back into bed with the General Synod. And where is the General Council experiment now? In the bowels of the ELCA. Perhaps being of one mind was a rather smart thing to strive for by the Missouri fathers. It actually sounds quite a bit like...St. Paul.

Let's face it, confessional reductionism never works. On the other hand, we don't need to be constantly throwing up new confessions when the BofC covers the issues rather well. This is a fear that I think we all share with Pr. Hannah.

But that is really the point. The Confessions clearly DO speak to nonsense in the Missouri Synod like female communion assistants and loose communion admission. Why? Because they are catholic documents that confess the Scriptures. The Confessions were never meant to be exhaustive. And the Bible is crystal clear about women and authority, and also about admitting to the Lord’s Supper only those of the same confession. The abuse of “pastoral exceptions” in the Missouri Synod is ridiculous. Many churches let any baptized person come to the altar. The church catholic has always followed the biblical teaching on these issues. Any Church Father that saw women up by the altar distributing the elements would be scandalized beyond belief. Let’s be honest, they would probably think that the Montanists had survived!

And I can’t imagine why an ALPB “evangelical catholic” would be upset about a Harrison presidency Pr. Hannah. He certainly is a rather evangelical and catholic guy, especially compared to the missional, emergent, super hip, baby-boomer driven, trendy, kingdom-building, methobapticostal Ablaze!TM MovementTM that the Missouri Synod has been mired in for the last few years. I would assume that any evangelical catholic would welcome a change from that.

We Can Learn from 19th Century Saints

Posted by Rik at December 01, 2009 21:08
Some have assumed this book, "At Home in the House of My Fathers" is an outgrowth of politicking, or is sourced in other impure motives. Rather than forcing the book's editor into some stereotypical box to be cast aside, we would do well to put the best construction on everything. Disagreements within the LCMS will never be resolved by polarization and polemics, but by discussing differences in light of Holy Scripture, using common hermeneutical principles. It is the Spirit of God, through the Word, who brings about true unity.

In a fast-paced, confused, do-it-yourself generation, we would do well to hear the clear Biblical voices from those who speak from the history of our synod. Early American Lutheranism was not without its challenges--must we be so self-confident that we believe we are beyond learning from these confessors of American Lutheran history? Let us not be tricked into throwing away our Lutheran heritage because the grass looks greener elsewhere...at the mega-church down the road. Our pastors are carefully trained in the Word of God, and the biblical languages, and strive to be faithful to the one true God, in His power. We have no reason to try to become what we are not, because we might be able to momentarily increase the numbers a little by our own plans, reason or strength. Rather, let's trust in the efficacy of God's Word, rightly seeing Him as our strength. He is faithful.

Looking Back

Posted by Robert Hartwell at December 16, 2009 20:27
Dr. Pless' comment, " The key to the future of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod lies in her past."

One should heartily agree however one might guess that Dr. Pless means the 1800's when I would indicate the 1500's.

The beauty of the work by Harrison (and the review of it) is that we need to have more access to the writings of the church fathers (and mothers), both the ecumenical and sectarian ones. The difficulty however is that the tendency of humanity is to do violence to our faithful ancestors by taking them captive to the felt needs of today rather than understanding them in their original context. For those who seek to find their future in the very esoteric and complicated past of Walther, I would suggest that it will be a future with a "two day wake and a grand memorial service." Certainly this thinking will ultimately be the death of the Confessional Lutheran Church in North America and the other places that she exerts her influence. For those who find the future by going back a little father to the Lutheran founders before segmentation and schism, we just may find our future: a reclamation of the proclamation of the Gospel in its truth and purity through Word and Sacrament as the “euangelion” of God. Said in a better way, we may find our future by looking back to the renewal of the evangelical catholic church of the reformation, a message that is needed today more than ever.

Now in Print

Fall 2014


Fall 2014 cover

In this issue:

Teaching Redeemed
Sexuality to Youth

St. Hans Nielsen Hauge

The Past, Present, and
Future of American
Lutheran Bishops

The Numismatic Luther

Prosperity Identified,
Dissected, & Reconfigured

Debating the Lectionaries

...and much, much more!

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