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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lawrence Rast - Pt 3a: Pieper- Connecting Link to Lutheran Fathers

This post continues from Part 2b in a series (Table of Contents in Part 1) reviewing several essays of Prof. Lawrence A. Rast Jr., president of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTS-FW).  This Part 3 is a review of an essay that Rast delivered in 2004 on the subject of Franz Pieper, "A Connecting Link...".  The 27-page essay, one of several essays, can be downloaded here (1 MB PDF file).

Franz August Otto Pieper (1852-1931):
A Connecting Link between the Present Age
and that of the Fathers and Founders of Lutheranism

37th Annual Reformation Lectures, (download here==>> LSQ 45:1, pgs 5-31)
sponsored jointly by Bethany Lutheran College and Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary,
October 28-29, 2004 in Mankato, Minnesota
***  A review by BackToLuther  ***
This essay, which purports to side with and praise Pieper, is very difficult for me to review.  On the one hand are the many references to the writings of Pieper and Walther...  I must confess that a first reading of this essay brought mostly joy to my heart.  For it seemed that Rast was giving voice to both Pieper and Walther... bringing praise to Franz Pieper, the teacher of the church whom I have given the title Twentieth Century Luther.  I made note of the fact that Prof. Rast did not gloss over Pieper’s life with a few biographical details, but actually seemed to commend several of his important theological teachings.  It seemed to me that perhaps here was a teacher in the LC-MS who could give it some hope for its future, that could perhaps take a lead in turning it around...  that perhaps he could, with the aid of Prof. Roland Ziegler, produce a “renaissance”.  But since reading and reviewing the 2 prior essays in Parts 1 and 2 (“Demagoguery...” and “Collecting Autographs”) and other essays, that initial joy has turned to sadness, and now even anger, and so my comments were crossed out and corrected.  So on the other hand, there is a most troubling discrepancy between Pieper’s teaching as Rast reports and Rast’s own teaching.  Examples will be given throughout this extended review.  As I reflect on this experience, I recall that this scenario of joy-to-sadness-to-anger has happened before to me several times as I read other essayists from the LC-MS, for example David Scaer, and Matthew Harrison.  It grieves me how today’s LC-MS can suck the Christian faith out of even its teachers... and so also the sheep under their care.

I wonder... Dr. Rast – did Prof. David Scaer give you some tidbits of info to include in this essay of yours... you know, since he also wrote about Pieper in his 1993 essay “Francis Pieper” for the Reformed book Handbook of Evangelical Theologians by Baker Book House?

This essay is different than the essays of Part 1 and Part 2 that were delivered to followers of Prof. David Scaer and the audience of Concordia Theological Quarterly (CTQ) – it was delivered to the lecture series sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod – the ELS.  This synod continues to be separated from the LC-MS – Rast’s synod.  (Hmmm... why did they separate anyway?)  Did Prof. Rast feel safer delivering this essay on Pieper to an ELS sponsored event than the other audiences? — Prof. Rast was also President of Concordia Historical Institute in 2004 and so he perhaps commanded respect from the ELS, a former member of the Synodical Conference.  But does he deserve their respect?

But let us move on to the actual essay...

Introduction (pgs 5-9)
On page 5, Rast quotes Theodore Graebner’s comments printed in the Lutheran Witness at the death of Franz Pieper in 1931.  I wonder if Dr. Rast has ever discovered that his synod, the new (English) LC-MS, was started by Prof. Graebner, the professor who eventually railed against the central teaching of Christianity that Walther and Pieper brought to light again?... the professor who secretly impugned the teaching of Pieper on church fellowship?  He should research this since he was president of Concordia Historical Institute for so many years (2001-2007).

On page 6, Rast says:
Certainly there are different emphases evident in the work of the two men—the questions they faced and the nature of the institutions they led differed markedly in some respects.

Rast does not elaborate on this comment of “different emphases” between the work of Walther and Pieper.  What was it that Pieper “differed markedly” from Walther?  Ah, but Rast calms us down and says:
Yet Pieper’s expressed principle was that what he taught was not anything “new,” either differing from the theology of Walther or from the Lutheran Reformation back through the early church to the Scriptures themselves.

Oh well, I guess we will have to assume Rast meant well with his phrases “different emphases” and “differed markedly” ... surely he would not try to drive a wedge between these two, would he? But let us proceed further...

Rast quotes from Pieper’s 1897 essay “Church Government” (pgs 6-7), a doctrine for which Rast is at sharp odds with Pieper and Walther.  In Pieper’s essay, he speaks of a peace in the Missouri church, a peace brought about by a “church government [guided] solely by the Word of God”.  But Rast’s 1999 essay “Demogoguery...” would claim the old Missouri was guided by their environment – American democracy.  But let us proceed...

On page 7, Rast gives a stunning quote from Pieper reproduced in part below:
We Missourians only then hold a church body as such to be orthodox when the true doctrine sounds forth from all its pulpits and professors’ chairs and in all writings which are published within the church body, and every false doctrine, on the contrary, as soon as it makes its appearance, is eliminated in the way which God directs.

How Dr. Rast could keep a straight face while giving this quote from Pieper to this audience is truly amazing!  Surely there were some snickers in the audience when he spoke these words?!  Ah, but Dr. Rast has an answer for those who might use this against today's LC-MS for he says in footnote # 3:
... simply wrenching the text from its historical context misses Pieper's overall point.
Well now, look who's warning against "wrenching the text"!...  the very one who calls Walther's teaching on church polity "democracy" because of its "historical context"!  Rast goes into overdrive in footnote # 3 to attempt to hide his LC-MS from the glaring truth by using his knowledge as President of Concordia Historical Institute (CHI) to try to explain away today's LC-MS because of a so-called "historical context".  It is not the first time CHI has been used this way.  Prof. Theodore Graebner was a charter member and W.G. Polack the secretary in 1927.  Make no mistake... Pieper meant exactly what he said!  The reader should read the whole quote (on page 7) of Pieper and learn the Christian teaching of Church Fellowship.  But let us proceed...

On page 8, Rast gives another similar quote from Pieper and then makes this statement:
Pieper’s statement reflected a conviction on the part of Missouri that they had been singularly blessed by God in being able not only to articulate a biblical theology, but to practice it, as well. That is to say, Missouri’s doctrine had its origin not in human activity, but in the gracious blessing of God, which enabled the Missourians to confess the true doctrine both in word and in deed.

That is a good description of the old (German) Missouri Synod.  But Dr. Rast... you could have injected the words  “we have been” at this point to claim the same status, but you did not.  You remain the “reporter on the beat”... just reporting how it was “in the old days”.  Could it be that you are admitting today’s LC-MS is not “singularly blessed by God”?  Could it be that you want to give your LC-MS license to not “practice” church/congregational polity like the old (German) Missouri Synod?
Now Rast even highlights the fact that old Missouri even practiced its doctrine saying:
“For doctrine practiced was what the Missouri Synod was all about.”

But Dr. Rast, didn’t the old Missouri practice its warnings against modern dance?...  and not allowing lodge members to have communion...  not allowing women suffrage in congregations?  Maybe while you were “beat reporting”, you could have also mentioned these?  But Dr. Rast, because the old (German) Missouri Synod practiced an apostolic form for its congregations, maybe its doctrine was not quite right since you say it was determined by “historical context” (American democracy) rather than the Bible’s teaching?  But let us proceed...

On page 9, Rast attempts to defend Pieper against various attacks on his teaching:
Others dismiss him as a source for fundamentalistic thought within the confessional Lutheran tradition in America, specifically the Missouri Synod.

I have already spoken in Part 2 on Rast’s attempts to discredit “fundamentalism” while not praising its teaching on the Bible’s Inspiration and Inerrancy.  Pieper would not mind being called “fundamentalistic” if the charge came from those who attacked the Bible!  
But the other term that Rast uses in this sentence is “tradition”.  Although this term can be understood rightly, yet it can give the notion that being a “confessional Lutheran” is just one item on the buffet of many “traditions” – take your pick.  Jaroslav Pelikan also freely used the term “tradition” -- I will comment further on this later.  But let us proceed...

Continuing (page 9) his seeming defense of Pieper, Rast makes perhaps his grandest statement for the whole essay:
...Pieper believed that the Missouri Synod, along with its partners in the Synodical Conference (the Norwegians [ELS] and the Synods that later formed the WELS) had recaptured faithfully this unchanging truth. In a way, it was a very simple matter for him. If God is the author of the Scriptures—and He is—then what they say is true. And if it was true when they were written, it was still true for the faithful early church, still true for Luther, still true for Walther, still true today, and will always be true. For “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  In this respect Pieper simply saw himself as providing a link to the unchanging chain of those whom God had enabled to make the faithful, scriptural confession.

On first reading, I was thrilled at this.  I wrote in the margin:  “good paragraph” and “Dear God, Dr. Rast, you sound so wonderful here!  I hope you are making it your own!”.  I was stunned when he wrote:
If God is the author of the Scriptures—and He is—...

Again, on my first reading of this, I thought Rast was making a public confession here... you know, that he believed that God is the author of the Scriptures.  But as I have re-read this paragraph many times, Rast has given me reason to wonder that this is not his confession, but rather he was only being a “beat reporter”, just reporting what “Pieper believed”, what was a simple matter “for him”, what Pieper confessed when Pieper said “and He is”, what “Pieper simply saw”... only about Pieper and not about himself.  This is the standard practice, the modus operendi, for reports on the old (German) Missouri Synod by writers for the Concordia Historical Institute – the house that Prof. Theo. Graebner built.

--------------------------- continued on Part 3b --------------

My review of this essay continues in Part 3b where Dr. Rast covers Pieper's biography and his literary legacy...

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