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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Prayer Fellowship – Albrecht, Part 4 (conclusion)

This continues from Part 3 of Prof. Walter Albrecht's great defense against the practice of prayer fellowship with those who teach or follow false teaching – unionism, one of the great problems for today's LC-MS. (See Part 1 for Introduction)

This final Part 4 contains responses to Theodore Graebner's points: (1) Historic Position of Our Church, (2) Later Stages of the Controversy, (3) The Brux Case, (4) The Question of Offense, and (5) Participation in Religious Features of Civic Programs.
-------------------------------  Part 4 conclusion  ------------------------------------

by Walter W.F. Albrecht
(continued from Part 3)
The Historic Position of Our Church
This section is evidently written to support Thesis XI of the Statement, namely that "in keeping with the historic Lutheran tradition .... such fellowship is possible without complete agreement in details of doctrine and practice which have never been considered divisive in the Lutheran Church." But if our fathers were not infallible it must be granted that they may have done some things in the infancy of our Synod which they later corrected by refusing to do them further.
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In the passages from Dr. Walther here offered in translation he is always discussing the proper behavior of the members of the Church toward individuals or groups in their midst who fall into a doctrinal error. Dr. Walther is talking of "breaking off" fellowship. Watch his verbs, "discontinue, deprive, severed, break off." The author of "Prayer Fellowship," however, is speaking of "granting" fellowship. Moreover, in the translation it is not clear when Dr. Walther is speaking of Christendom and when of a church body. Frequently "Church" is capitalized, while "the church militant" is not capitalized, but "a visible Church" is capitalized. Dr. Walther's emphasis on certain terms is also omitted. In addition, the author puts an interpretation on Article VII of the Augsburg Confession as speaking of the visible Church that is not Dr. Walther's position, as can be seen from the Proceedings of Synod of 1866, p. 50. Furthermore, the author's attempt to make the Augsburg Confession say that agreement in fundamentals suffices for fellowship among church bodies does not harmonize with the declaration of the Formula of Concord: "If otherwise there is agreement among them in doctrine and all its articles, as also in the right use of the Holy Sacraments," etc. Trigl., 831, X. [, Epitome X, 7 or 5]  Dr. Walther's own action in refusing to join any of the existing Lutheran bodies and instead organizing the Missouri Synod disproves the author's contention that Dr. Walther declared unity in the fundamentals sufficient for fellowshipAccording to the author's position Dr. Walther was a "separatist."
Huelsemann is quoted p. 23 as saying : "With respect to the dogmas which do not involve an overthrowing of the means necessary to obtain salvation, all believers may err. . . . Toleration of non-fundamental errors and deficiencies of knowledge is part of the fellowship of love among those who, without division, are joined together in a visible Church." Dr. Walther gives this interpretation of Huelsemann's words: "From this it is manifest, we hold, that Huelsemann teaches nothing else than do we in agreement with all orthodox teachers, namely, that an error is divisive of church fellowship only if it either subverts the dogmatic foundation (justification) or, though not doing this, assails the organic foundation (Scripture) because it, though convinced from Scripture, stubbornly and consciously contradicts the clear Word of God." L. u. W., 1868, 144 f. It is evident,. therefore, that Huelsemann uses "toleration" not in our conventional meaning of the recognition of the rights of a private. individual to his own opinions and practices in religion, but in the sense of forbearance, long-suffering, patience, while instructing the erring. The conventional toleration the Lutheran Church insists upon as a principle of the State, not of the Church, Pop. Symb., p. 12Toleration of false
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doctrine in the Church is unionism, Pop. Syrnb., p. 106Dr. Walther: "The fact that the Church Militant attains to no higher degree of unity than a fundamental one, does not prove that any error against God's Word may have equal right in the Church with the truth or be tolerated," Thesis X. [source unknown?] Even our author says p. 26 that "a tolerance of error" makes a Christian prayer objectionable.
The Later Stages of the Controversy
Dr. Bente's attitude in regard to joint prayer is excused as due to unusual provocation. But why single out Dr. Bente as the sole culprit and except the rest of our erstwhile Union Committees and the faculty of St. Louis? Moreover, we have shown above that not merely in 1904, but also in 1881 our Synod in two languages refused prayer fellowship to her antagonists.
The Brux Case
This case is presented in such a way that the reader is left under the impression that Dr. Brux was practically exonerated and his critics censured by Synod. It was impossible to draw an exact line, or in other words, it was a case of casuistry. While it is true that Synod showed great patience and leniency toward the appellant and also endeavored to correct any financial injustice done him, it is nevertheless recorded: "Dr. Brux states that he withdraws his appeal and expresses his regret for the publication of any subjective judgments. He withdraws the charge of false doctrine against Synod. As for the essay "Prayer Fellowship," he states that he had never considered the treatise as final, but merely as a contribution to the discussion of the issue. . . . Furthermore, he states that, if there is any passage in his essay which any one is inclined to interpret as being unscriptural, he is willing to reconstruct such a statement or withdraw it entirely." All this is a retraction, even if one might wish that it be more forthright.
The Question of Offense
In the question of offense the author, it seems, is not satisfied with the past teaching of our Synod. His position apparently is that, unless offense is given, that is, unless a person commits a wrong, another's assertion that nevertheless offense is taken ought to be disregarded. Shorter, that an actual wrong must have been committed before there can be any offense. But this does not agree with the position taken by St. Paul in Rom. 14. There Paul urges that, if some of the brethren regard the eating of the meat coming from the idolatrous sacrifices in heathen temples a sin, love was to induce the other brethren, who knew better, not to eat this meat because this exercise of their liberty might destroy the faith of the
page 18
weak brother. Paul says : "But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. . . . All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offense. It is good neither to eat flesh, or to drink wine, or any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." Nor is the position of the author that of Jesus. When it was a question of whether Jesus ought to pay taxes, He answered in the negative, nevertheless paid the tax. Why? "Lest we should offend them." Matt. 17:24-27.
The author grants that Scripture forbids every kind of prayer fellowship which involves any objectionable feature such as com­promise of the truth or giving of offense (p. 23f.). A little later, however, he states: "There are simply no texts regarding offense to justify the use of the term in the matter under discussion" (p. 26). How can both be true?
Suppose brethren are induced to sin against their conscience by being browbeaten into joining in prayer they regard as wrong by assertions such as this: "No Christian has a right to take offense at anything which God has commanded in His Holy Word" (Statement X). Here our Synod has held that this is contrary to love and an offense. What is wrong about this position? Is it not always wrong to act contrary to one's conscience, even an erring conscience?
And to the sophistic argument, "Testimony against error is no testimony, unless it is understood," by our refusal of joint prayer we may be harming the kingdom of Christ, we answer, obedience to Christ's "Mark them, avoid them, beware of them" is our first duty; only after that do we owe those affected an explanation of our stand. If then we must suffer misunderstanding and slander, we comfort ourselves with the word : "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ye ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing." 1 Pet. 3:15-17.
While the author wants to hear nothing of consideration for weak brethren in our own midst, he is solicitous about the weak in the other camps. He says: "By not doing so (explaining our correct refusal), we easily may offend weak disciples in other camps" (p. 27). A little more of such concern for our own family seems to be called for.
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Participation in Religious Features of Civic Programs
The St. Louis Pastoral Conference feared "grave misconstructions" by the public of a firm stand on unionism and the separation of Church and State. Christ said: "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell," Matt. 10:28.

As to Dr. Caemmerer one merely wonders why, if he went half way, he didn't go all the way and, in consistency with the principles he subscribed to in the Statement of the Forty-Four, leap over all man-made walls and barriers and all ecclesiastical traditions and proclaim the name of the Triune God in a genuine benediction to this motley crowd of Christians, Jews, pagans, Turks, and Hottentots. Did he perhaps feel the Savior standing behind him and saying: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearl before swine" (Matt. 7:6)? To us such conduct indicates a bad conscience.
    It is evident, then, that the brochure "Prayer Fellowship" can not be recommended to our pastors and people as a safe guide in the question of prayer fellowship. Would to God the esteemed author had never written a word of it!
---------------------   End of essay  -----------------------

The last section on participation in "religious features of civic programs" hits home even today.  The incident of Dr. Caemmerer referred to in the last section above is detailed in Graebner's booklet, page 28 f..  In November 1944, Prof. Richard R. Caemmerer was substituted for another Missouri Synod pastor who declined to give a benediction at a St. Louis program for V-E Day by representatives of "St. Louis churches" – Catholic, Jewish, Presbyterian, etc. —   Sound familiar?  Of course.  The 9/11 Yankee Stadium program, the recent Newtown program, etc., etc.  Albrecht's rebuttal could be lifted nearly word-for-word in response to the "civic (religious) programs" of our day involving LC-MS clergy.

I see that a ELS theologian Erling T. Tiegen has written extensively (2004) on the subject of Prayer Fellowship and Church Fellowship here [2017 - now broken].  He makes 2 statements that appear to address the subject properly showing that the ELS has not departed entirely from its moorings from the Synodical Conference:
  • Circumstances do change. The circumstances do not change so as to make the doctrine of Church fellowship kick-in or kick-out.
  • But there is no prayer which is NOT fellowship.

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