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Friday, March 22, 2013

Our Fathers & My Fathers – Bente & Harrison (and Wyneken), Part 1 of 3

As I continue to review publications from the old (German) Missouri Synod, I ran across a real jewel – Prof. Friedrich Bente's essay Following the Faith of Our Fathers.  It is a jewel because
  1. it is in English, but more importantly, 
  2. it is a masterful, impassioned essay that builds the Christian faith by honoring the fathers of the old Missouri Synod.
Prof. Friedrich Bente's essay was a resounding plea to the 1923 convention of the (German) Missouri Synod  to hold fast the faithful doctrines.  He is the author of the Historical Introductions to the Symbolical Books and American Lutheranism, 2 volumes.

Matthew Harrison's book (At Home in the House Of My Fathers, 2011) also honors the "Fathers" of the old Missouri Synod.  But his honoring is from a different vantage point...  Harrison's first comment regarding "My Fathers" is the following in his Preface, page xiii:
At first glance the publication of this book might appear to be motivated by mere ecclesiastical nostalgia, a ridiculous longing for a church long gone, or a quest to return Missouri to an allegedly more glorious past. That is not my motivation at all. I don’t long for the past, and neither did the leaders of the Missouri Synod in her first century of existence. I live and long and work for the future of the Lutheran Church, here and now.
What bothers me about Harrison's statement is that it was not an allegedly more glorious past, it was a more glorious past.  Even this book from Harrison testifies to the inconsistency of his statement.  And Harrison calls my longing (Back To Luther!) for the teaching of the old (German) Missouri Synod "ridiculous".  And is Harrison actually admitting what everyone knows – that today's new (English) LC-MS is not the old (German) Missouri Synod?  ...that today's heterodox LC-MS is not the orthodox Missouri Synod?

While I highly commend Harrison for his work of giving voice to the Fathers, yet his book doesn't highlight the real heart of the old (German) Missouri Synod – Walther's main teaching of Justification.  But there is one essay that Harrison included on "Justification" — it wasn't by Walther, it was by Friedrich Wyneken – "Justification: Beginning, Middle, and End", pages 409 - 422.  (Friedrich Wyneken is honored by some as a beacon against "clinical depression" – more on this later.)  Harrison's introduction to this essay includes this:
Wyneken’s rousing encouragement to the pastors to concentrate on preaching Law and especially Gospel is a good admonition to us here and now.
But I tell you, President Harrison, that it was more than "preaching Law and especially Gospel" that former President Wyneken spoke about.  Read Wyneken's essay again – here is what he said (pages 410-411) :

   I especially regard the past year [1859] as an outstanding and richly blessed year for this reason: because the article of justification was quite properly brought into the arena of our synodical circles
   This exceedingly important, foremost article of all the Christian doctrines, which also above all else serves to clarify the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, alone shows the way to the indescribable treasure and the true knowledge of Christ. Also, it alone opens the door to the entire Bible. Without this article, also no conscience can have a true, solid, certain comfort, or know the riches of Christ’s grace [Ap IV 2–3, German][Concordia – The Lutheran Confessions, pg 82, Triglotta, pg. 121, here]
   I am particularly confident that the important essay delivered at the Synod’s Western District [convention, 1859], like the discussions about this in other synods [i.e., conventions], may energize us mightily, and—God grant it—continue to do so.

What was the "important essay" President Wyneken spoke of?  It was Walther's "The Lutheran Doctrine of Justification".  Wyneken highlighted Walther's work – bringing them back to the true Lutheran teaching on Justification!  You, President Harrison, should take heed to what Wyneken wrote.  Walther's essay is one of the great essays that CPH does not offer to the public... it is currently locked away in their Essays For The Church books – volume 1, pgs 30 - 63.

If there is any weakness in the following essay by Prof. F. Bente, it is that he too did not highlight the Doctrine of Justification as well as he could have.  Nevertheless, Bente is one of the stronger voices of the old (German) Missouri Synod and should be studied.  Here is a scanned copy of this essay:
Bente-FollowingFaithOfFathers.PDF  (1 MB, English)
And below is the first installment, Part 1 – Bente's Introduction:
Following the Faith of Our Fathers.
A Paper

Read at the Convention of the Missouri Synod

 in Fort Wayne, in June, 1923,



   Venerable Fathers, dear brethren! Last year we celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of our Synod. The Bible enjoins upon Christians gratefully to remember their departed leaders and to follow and to copy their faith.  Heb. 13:7 we read: "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation."  Note the limitation : "Which have spoken unto you the Word of God." Only he is a true Christian leader who himself follows Christ and abides by His Word.
   But, alas! there have always been, and there still are, disloyal leaders, false teachers. Witness the founders of the numerous sects and cults! Deviating from the royal highway of Christian truth, they struck out on paths of their own, misleading their followers. The history of the Lutheran Church (America included) also records names of teachers and leaders who erred from the faith and deviated from the path. False leaders, however, must not be followed. Our plain duty is to beware of them. They are disloyal to the Captain. No one can follow them without forsaking Christ.
   What of our fathers?  Every Reformation Day we portray and hold up Luther as a leader whom to follow means to follow Christ.  May we say the same of Walther, Wyneken, Sihler, and other sires of our Synod? Are they worthy of our following? In their memory, last year, services of thanksgiving were held at home and abroad.  Everywhere, in all our Districts and congregations, pastors, teacher, and laymen were urged to walk in their steps. Were we justified in doing so?
   It goes without saying that our fathers, too, were poor, sinful men and imperfect Christians. They themselves were first and fore­most in confessing their faults. But whatever frailties and short­comings their lives may reveal, the outstanding fact remains that they were true priests of God, close followers of Christ, leaders loyal to the Captain, and teachers faithful in proclaiming the Word of God. They walked the narrow path, they preached the pure and only-saving Gospel-truth, and they strove and labored to win souls for Christ.
   Such being the case, the admonition stands : "Remember" your leaders! "Follow" your fathers! This "remembering" and "follow­ing," however, dare never degenerate into blind prejudice and un­critical partisanship. We are to prove all things and to hold fast that which is good. No, there must not be found among us a wor­shiper of heroes or an idolizer of human authorities.
--- Page 3 ---
   The sole authority to which we submit our faith and life is the Word of God. This, being in itself the convincing power of the Spirit, is in need of no human support or testimony. By this Word we also test and try again and again the doctrines received from our fathers. We regard nothing as true or right simply because Luther said or did so. The same holds good with respect to the fathers of our Synod. Wherever we follow them, we do so only because we are convinced that their faith was none other than the one true faith once for all delivered to the saints.
   Such is the manner in which we remember, and ought to remember our fathers, – always making sure that in following them we are in reality but following Him who said: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me," and again: "If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
-----  End of Part 1  ---------------------------------

In the next Part 2, Bente brings in vivid detail the sad state of the Lutheran Church in the early years of the old (German) Missouri Synod and how "our Fathers" brought it back... to the Lutheran Confessions.

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