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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Faith of Our Fathers – Bente, Part 2 (Confessional Loyalty)

This continues from Part 1, my introduction and the first installment of this 16-page essay from Prof. Friedrich Bente.  In this Part 2, Bente gives the reason why the term "confessional Lutheran" is used so much today.
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Following the Faith of Our Fathers.
A Paper
Read at the Convention of the Missouri Synod
 in Fort Wayne, in June, 1923,

Let Us Follow Our Fathers in Their Confessional Loyalty.

Long before our fathers embarked for the New World, the Lutheran Confessions had fallen into universal desuetude in Germany. And what were the conditions in America? True, as early as 1748, almost a century before the founding of our Synod, Muehlen­berg had organized the Ministerium of Pennsylvania with a consti­tution recognizing all of our confessions.  But, alas! in less than fifty years this synod had abandoned everything save the Lutheran name. In its new constitution of 1792 the symbols were not even mentioned. On the contrary, the Prussian Union of 1817 was held up as an excellent example to follow in America.  And several years rater (1819 and 1822) resolutions were adopted to bring about just such a union. With the exception of tiny Tennessee not one of the six Lutheran synods existing in 1820 was loyal to our symbols. As a result, the so-called General Synod was, in the same year, organized with a constitution containing no doctrinal basis whatever, not even an allusion to the Lutheran Confessions.  Such were the conditions prevailing in and before 1820. And in the decades following they became still more deplorable.
When, in 1845, Wyneken urged the General Synod to return to the Lutheran moorings, his fervent appeal was treated as a great joke. With increasing malice, coarseness, and contempt Lutheran periodicals spoke of our Confessions as "Luther's old hat, coat, and boots," as "old rags," which the General Synod, "moving forward gloriously, had long ago forgotten." Luther and the Lutheran confessors were openly derided. November 23, 1849, Benjamin Kurtz wrote in the Lutheran Observer: "The Fathers – who are the 'Fathers'? They are the children; they lived in the infancy of the Church, in the

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early dawn of the Gospel-day.... We are three hundred years older than Luther and his noble coadjutors and eighteen hundred years older than the primitives ; theirs was the age of infancy and adoles­cence, and ours [is] that of full-grown adult manhood.  They were the children; we are the fathers; the tables are turned."  Indeed, as late as 1855 these decided enemies of Lutheranism made a bold attempt to scrap the Augsburg Confession and replace it by the so-­called Definite Platform, a botch document shot through and through with Reformed sentiments.
Concerning the Lutherans whom he had met in America, Wyneken, in his renowned pamphlet published during his stay in Germany, declared : "They have entirely abandoned the faith of the fathers." Four years later (1845) he characterized the General Synod as "Reformed in doctrine, Methodistic in practice, and labor­ing for the ruin of the Church whose name she falsely bears."  In 1858 Dr. Sihler felt justified in speaking of the leaders of the General Synod as "open counterfeiters, Calvinists, Methodists, Unionists, and traitors and destroyers of the Lutheran Church."
Such was the deplorable condition of American Lutheranism when our fathers began their work in this country.  By her own children the banner of the Lutheran Church had been hauled down and trodden in the dust.  What was left of the Lutheran pledge was, as late as 1850, denounced by Krauth, Sr., as a mere "solemn farce."  True Lutheranism was down and out; nothing remained but the empty name. . As a result large parts of the Lutheran Church had already been absorbed by the Episcopalians and other sects; and the remainder was headed toward the same disaster.
And what stand did our fathers take?  From the very outset it was their object to bring back the wayward Lutheran churches to their home. Before their arrival in St. Louis, the Saxons had already adopted a constitution in which they pledged themselves to the Lutheran symbols.  And all constitutions adopted subsequently em­bodied the same platform.  Every congregation which they founded after 1839, the synod which they organized in 1847, and all manner of organizations within local congregations or synod, –they all were planted four-square on the Lutheran basis.  Nothing daunted by ridicule and malice, Walther, Wyneken. and Sihler unfurled the Lutheran banner, determinably, aggressively, victoriously.  And throughout their lives they stood by these colors, never shirking or faltering in defending them against attacks from without or within. Our fathers restored the Lutheran symbols, the Book of Concord of 1580, to its original place of honor and authority in the Lutheran Church.
And why and how did they subscribe to these symbols?  Our fathers have been charged with basing their faith and theology, not on the Scriptures, but on Luther, the Lutheran dogmaticians, and

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the confessions. What is the truth? Indeed, they cited the symbols, also Luther and other teachers of our Church; not, however, to prove that their doctrines were true and divine, but to establish them as truly Lutheran and as always taught by the Lutheran Church.  In order to prove that these doctrines held by the Lutheran Church are true and divine, our fathers appealed to the Scriptures, even as Luther and our symbols do.
The Bible, says the Formula of Concord, is "the only true stand­ard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged." To this our fathers subscribed with all their hearts. Again: The true saving faith is "to be founded upon no church teachers, old or new, but only and alone upon God's Word, which is comprised in the" Scrip­tures of the-holy prophets and apostles as unquestionable witnesses, of divine truth.'' Such were the sentiments also of our fathers. In­deed, they were fully aware of the fact that no one could subscribe to our confessions without recognizing that the Scriptures alone are the norm and basis of faith, and without at the same time rejecting the very attitude with which they were falsely charged.
According to our fathers no amount of quotations from Lutheran teachers and symbols, even if piled up to the skies, is sufficient to prove a single doctrine as true and divine. They declared with Luther "The Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel." Never for a moment did our fathers regard the Lutheran confessions as an inspired source and norm of truth. Nor did they subscribe to them without previous critical investigation. On the contrary. they tested. tried, and judged the symbols, their standard being- the Scriptures, the only a priori reliable norm of truth.
Our fathers adopted the Book of Concord because they had found its doctrines to be in complete agreement with the. Bible, because they had found them to be the identical doctrines of the Word of God. In the formula of Concord the Lutheran confessors declare that they subscribed to the Augsburg Confession, "not because it was confessed by our theologians, but because it was taken from, and firmly founded in, the Word of God."  This was the reason also why our fathers adopted the Lutheran Confessions.
And the manner of their subscription reveals the same splendid spirit of joyousness, straightforward honesty, and definiteness in which true Lutherans always and everywhere have been wont to take the Lutheran pledge.  Our fathers subscribed sincerely, seriously, and with all their heart.  They did not limit and restrict their sub­scription to mere fundamentals, nor to what has been called the confession in the confession, nor to its theatrical and antithetical declarations.
In a closing paragraph of the Smalcald Articles Luther protests "These are the articles on which I must stand, and, God willing, shall

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stand even to my death; and I do not know how to change or to yield anything in them. If any one wishes to yield anything, let him do it at the peril of his conscience." Such was the determination also of our fathers. – Brenz subscribed, declaring: "All these con­fessions agree with the Holy Scripture, and ... I testify in this my own handwriting that I thus hold, confess, and constantly will teach, through Jesus Christ, our Lord." Such were the sentiments also of our fathers. – Brixius wrote : "I subscribe to the Articles of the reverend Father Martin Luther and confess that hitherto I have thus believed and taught, and by the Spirit of God I shall continue thus to believe and teach." Such was the mind also of our fathers.
In the Preface to the Book of Concord the confessors of 1580 declare : "Therefore we also have determined not to depart even a finger's breadth either from the subjects themselves or from the phrases" of the Confession. In the Preface to the Thorough Decla­ration we read with respect to the Augsburg Confession: "We intend also, by the grace of the Almighty, faithfully to abide until our end by this Christian Confession. . . . And it is our purpose, neither in this nor in any other writing, to recede in the least from that Con­fession." Such was the Christian spirit and manner, in which our fathers also were committed to the Lutheran symbols. The "spirit of Missouri" has frequently been spoken of with aversion. But the truth is that the spirit of our fathers was in every respect none other than the sincere, serious, straightforward, and earnest spirit of our early confessors themselves, Luther included.
Indeed, our fathers were both faithful Bible Christians and genuine Lutherans, and the latter not in addition to, but because of, the former. Genuine Lutherans,– for they adhered most faithfully to the doctrines set forth in our symbols. True Bible Christians, – for they adopted these symbols only because they had found them to be drawn from the Word of God, which alone they recognized as the final and infallible norm of Christian truth. For this reason, too, our fathers adopted the old Lutheran slogan and placed it at the head of the Lutheraner: "Gottes Wort und Luther's Lehr' Vergeht nun and nimmermehr." Speaking of our fathers, the sainted Dr. Koren truly said: "Die Missourier heissen nicht bloss Lutheraner; sie sind es auch."  [The Missourians are not only called Lutheran; they are it also.]
And what was their success? – Congregations, synods, and theo­logical schools restricted in doctrine and practice to the Book of Concord, published 350 years ago, cannot thrive in free and progressive America! – such was the unanimous verdict of the sects as well as the Lutherans when our fathers began their work in this country. All were agreed that confessionalism would prove a millstone about the neck of Missouri.
In an address delivered March 10, 1846, the famous Reformed theologian Dr. Philip Schaff maintained that it was "impossible to

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build a confessional Lutheran Church (let alone the exclusive Lutheranism of the Formula of Concord) on the Reformed English soil of America"; that it would be "easier to direct the course of the Mississippi to Bavaria than to convert the Chinese through German sermons." In the Lutheran Observer, Benjamin Kurtz, denouncing our fathers as obsolete "resurrectionists of elemental, undeveloped, halting, stumbling, and staggering humanity" and as priests ready "to immolate bright meridian splendor on the altar of misty, musky dust," declared that the men of Missouri, "bent on going backward," were of necessity bound to go "downward." They all protested: You Missourians are entirely out of date, you are altogether too narrow, too bigoted, too rigid, too rigorous, too ex­clusive, to prosper anywhere. The road of confessionalism will lead you to inevitable ruin.
These dire prognostications, however, did not impress or move our fathers in the least. They knew that it was God's truth for which they stood.  They were persuaded that divine truth is nowhere too narrow, too bigoted, too rigorous, too exclusive, but just right everywhere. And they believed that it is safer to go down confessing the truth than to live by falsehood and by disloyalty to God and His Word. Moreover, our fathers were fully convinced that the only road which could lead our Church to real success was the very one which they had chosen. They fully realized that a Lutheran Church deserving that name could survive only as long as she remained faithful to her principles. Lutheranism, they held, could not live without the Lutheran standards.
On the other hand, our fathers were persuaded that true Luther­anism, standing, as it does, for nothing but the pure Word of God alone, was able to thrive anywhere. They knew that, while Calvinism, Puritanism, etc.., depended for their success on favorable legislation, Lutheranism, in order to live and prosper, was not in need of any external helps or props whatever.  Moreover, they were satisfied that, the freer the political atmosphere, the better Lutheranism would be able to develop in harmony with its own innate principles and expand by its own inherent power and resident spiritual forces.
Our fathers have been charged with lack of vision. And true, their foresight was not a mere matter of shrewd calculation. Theirs was a spiritual vision, which saw things by faith and in the light of God's Word and promises. And the facts have shown long ago that this was the true vision, keener and farther-reaching than the sight of calculating reason. Even such critics of our fathers as Schaff lived long enough to see that their prophecies were false. Surely history has fully vindicated the faith of our fathers. The ship which they launched 1847 in Chicago has fully demonstrated its seaworthiness.

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No, indeed, the Lutheran symbols did not prove to be a mill­stone about the neck of our Synod, but rather a life-buoy that kept her afloat for these many, many years. And as for America with its principles of free thought, free speech, free press, and complete liberty of conscience and religion – why, nowhere in the world did genuine Lutheranism ever come out purer and thrive better than in our country.  Read our Statistical Year-book for 1922. It tells the story. Its figures are eloquent with the success of our fathers!  Behold this venerable body assembled at the very place where Wyneken began his work (1838) eighty-five years ago and Sihler (1843) eighty years ago! Its pastors, teachers, leaders, and congregations here present or represented all subscribe to the Lutheran symbols in the spirit and manner of our fathers. Surely the labor of our fathers was not in vain.
Furthermore, our fathers must be credited also with having in a large measure given strength and impetus to confessional movements outside of our Synod, at home as well as abroad. Abroad in Germany, in Alsace, in Australia, and South America. But especially at home; for to-day there cannot be found in America a single Lutheran synod that flouts our Confessions as they did in the early days of our fathers.
Walther was the leaven in the lump. He himself saw it working. As early as 1846 he felt justified in stating: "No doubt but God has arisen in order to remove the rubbish under which our precious Evan­gelical Lutheran Church was buried for a long time also here in America." And in 1866, in a letter to Pastor Brunn: "It is true that our testimony extending over a period of twenty years has by the grace of God cooperated in causing some synods to speak again of the Confession, and to base and pledge themselves upon it, at least formally."
The Ohio Synod, the Iowa Synod, the synods constituting the former General Council, the synods of the former United Synod in the South, etc., all are committed to our symbols. Even the General Synod finally consented to take the Lutheran pledge. And the United Lutheran Church, the Merger of 1918, adopted a constitu­tion with a doctrinal basis that includes all Lutheran symbols. More or less markedly, therefore, the entire Lutheran Church of America bears the stamp of Walther.
Of course, this does not signify that they all live up to the Lutheran standards. "It is a long stride," says Walther, "from the formal acknowledgment of the symbols to a true knowledge of them and a truly Lutheran spirit and the consequent discipline of doctrine and life." But it does signify and mean that the powerful waves of confessionalism emanating from our fathers reached far beyond their own boundaries.

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Brethren, let us follow our fathers. May we never grow indifferent and disloyal to our symbols!  May they always govern our teaching and preaching as well as our life and practice! Wherever, in the past, Lutherans adhered faithfully to their Confessions, they flourished.  But wherever these symbols were trodden in the dust, the Lutheran Church always fell an easy prey to her enemies: to unionism, sectarianism, liberalism, and infidelity. Accordingly, dear brethren, if we shall but continue to walk in the steps of our fathers, God will continue to bless us even as our fathers. By His grace, we, too, shall prove to be real builders of the Church of the pure Word and Sacraments. May there never be an arm uplifted in our midst, therefore, to haul down the flag which our fathers hoisted!  May there never be an effort made to remove our beloved Synod from the foundation that made her strong and influential!
Everywhere Christians are in need of the Lutheran Confessions, but nowhere more so than in our own country, the paradise of free­dom and religious liberty. Where cults and sects galore freely fly their colors, the Scripture light of Lutheranism dare not remain under the bushel. When falsehood is broadcasted, the pure Gospel ­truth entrusted to our Church must strive for an ever wider hearing. Let us therefore keep our flag afloat, – always following the faith of our fathers!
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   On the bumpy road I had back to my old faith, I wanted to call myself a "confessional Lutheran".  When a pastor (Church of the Nazarene?) came to our door in the 1990s and wanted us to join his church, I said I was a "confessional Lutheran" and turned him away.  But there was still something more I wanted to say to him ... but I wasn't sure what it was.  Now I do ... it is the Article Of Justification, the same article that gave President Wyneken spiritual life (see Part 1).
   In the next Part 3, Bente addresses the other great issue of his day – the Inspiration and Inerrancy of Scripture.

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