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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pieper – Foreword 1891 – Pt 1: Too American? Un-American?

Although I call Franz Pieper the 20th Century Luther, he was very active in the German Missouri Synod in the 19th Century.  In 1891, he wrote the Foreword to the journal Lehre und Wehre at the beginning of the year to assess how his church body stood.  And it provides a striking view of not only the Missouri Synod, but also Lutheranism in the world and in America.  He begins by detailing how other so-called Lutherans viewed the Missourians (LuW volume 37, pgs 1 - 5):
     From Germany has ever and always come the reproach to us Missourians that we have become too "American".  
Yes, Germany's theologians knew about the Missourians in America.  The fact that Germany's theologians hardly ever mention those "Missourians" is because they would not admit that they were the legitimate Lutheran Church.
In particular one has expressed the view that our doctrine of church and ministry, of church order and church government, etc. were modeled and designed to the prevailing love of democratic trends in our country.  Hence, we had to lead the proof towards the German theologians that what was called "American" of us is genuinely biblical and Lutheran.
     For several years, and particularly determined in the past few years, has the opposite accusation against us been raised from our own land. The accusation is namely that we are not "American" enough, but still cherished "foreign ideas" too much, in particular, yet too much of German ideas. This is suggested to our own detriment, to the detriment of the church, yes, even to the detriment of our Republic. We remember an article which was published a few years ago in the "Lutheran Observer". Initially great praise – effusive praise – was paid to us by them. The Saxon immigration to Missouri was compared with the immigration of the "Pilgrim Fathers" and it was thought the courage of faith and ecclesiastical work of our fathers in such a way that the latter themselves would have rejected such praise in their presence. But even in this article it was finally pronounced that we Missourians only had a future in America and would look to be quite a blessing to the church if we were more Americanized. Whenever since the "Lutheran Observer" had often rejected "foreign" Lutheranism for an "American Lutheranism", in view were us "Missourians" especially in those discussions.
     What have we to respond to this accusation? First, we must reject even the expressions "foreign Lutheranism" and "American (page 2) Lutheranism" as unseemly. These expressions lead to the idea that Lutheranism changes its ways depending on the countries in which it finds a church home. If this were the case, Lutheranism would thereby issue a testimonium heterodoxiae of itself before all the world. The religion which changes in the course in time or from the climate of the country is not the true Christian religion. The Christian religion is bound as we know well to God's Word, as it is revealed in the Holy Scripture. God's Word is only for the whole world and all peoples. The true Church of God sharpens one therefore everywhere and at all times, no more and no less than by God's Word. What is written, it always praises on earth; what is not written, a Christian shall never and nowhere believe or do with it. As surely now as Lutheran church is the church of the pure Word, so surely it stands with all its teachings on the clear unchanging word of God, so surely it is only one in doctrine and practice in all countries. The differences can only be minor things, indifferent things, related things that actually "belong not to the Christian church" as the Apology speaks of. 1) [Müller, pg 259, Triglotta, pg 399, Apolgia Confessionis paragraph 38] There is therefore no "American Lutheranism" in the sense as if here in America the Lutheran Church in its teaching and practice would differ from the Lutheran Church in other countries.
     But in what parts therefore does one find us "Missourians" missing in "American Lutheranism" and finds the reprehensible "foreign ideas"?
     We start with the main points. Above all is our closed church position called "Un-American", the practice that we want to foster church fellowship only with those who profess with us in all things true doctrine. How they get to this call of "un-American" is easily explained. The American Protestant sects are mostly unionist through and through. Although they maintain their special fellowship and even fight among themselves, nevertheless they carry no concerns, and they do not feel it a self-contradiction to maintain church fellowship at every opportunity. The General Synod also takes part in this way entirely. The Council has even not bothered further the pastor who explained at the meeting in Minneapolis that if he "feels" in such a way, he will invite pastors "from other denominations" to his pulpit and even preach in other pulpits. If it is thus almost completely with the American sects and also for a large part of the Lutheran fellowships, it is understandable if one cannot understand our church position and so calls it "un-American". (page 3)
     And how does such ones look to explain our position? Beside other explanations it also emerges again and again that we would still be controlled too much by foreign ideas. One therefore speaks of the hope that a more "liberal" Lutheranism takes place among us if we would take on a more American spirit by a long stay in the country.
     But the "special position" reprimanded to us may already therefore not be "foreign", i.e. "German", because the same unionism, which dominates the sects here and part of the Lutheran Church fellowships, is nothing unusual also in Germany. In today's German state churches, the Union is either officially proclaimed, or nevertheless is really in custom and practice. Also in the so-called Lutheran State churches one maintains safely, as is well known, church fellowship with the grossest false teachers. Therefore can our church "special position" not be of German origen. It will also not be supported or maintained by the immigration. On the contrary! The religious material that we are fed by immigration from Germany is for the most part of such a nature that it would result in something of a General Synod, at most a General Council fellowship if it would be left to itself.  But for a so-called "Missourian" fellowship, they must be educated only by us here in this country. Yes, this conviction that one may maintain fellowship only with the church which confesses the true doctrne and has the corresponding practice to this conviction, rather actually has her home on American ground.
     What one calls "un-American" has here in America its real cooker. The conviction that one should avoid religious fellowships leading to false doctrine was awakened here in America and received through our congregational schools, through our confirmation classes, through the teaching in our colleges, as well as by public preaching and teaching the catechism. Briefly, our church position is a result of the fact that here in America a true Lutheran Church emerged by God's mercy that in the matters of Christian doctrine and church practice is not changing by the fashion, but is determined by the clear and unalterable Word of God. So frankly the true Lutheran Church has always admitted that there are faithful children of God even in the heretical communities which still hold key parts of Christian doctrine, yet it decided to reject church fellowship with these sects. And this position is required by God's Word. False teaching should one – the word of God calls everywhere – not confirm, but punish. The Word of God commands all Christians not to visit the fellowship of those who have written on their banner false teaching, but to avoid, Romans 16:17. (page 4) Our church's "special position" is not "foreign", but Christian. If we were Americanized in this matter, we would fall in this teaching of God's Word.
(to be continued in Part 2)
     How Pieper shows that the true Lutheran Church regained its footing here in America!... not in Germany, for the German immigration brought people who had been fed false teachings by German theologians.  It was in America that God had mercy on us to see His true Gospel again.

Yes, America, God did bless you.  He sent the American Luther, C.F.W. Walther!

     In Part 2, Pieper discusses the language question.

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