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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Stoeckhardt on Missouri-5b: Means of Grace (Baseley's attack against Walther)

(Jan. 7, 2015: added information from letter of Walther below)
This continues from Part 5a, highlighting a major convention essay (in English translation) by George Stoeckhardt: The Missouri Synod (Table of Contents in Part 1).  In this part 5b, I am proceeding from Berthold von Schenk to a pastor in today's LC-MS who is much less crass in his attack on old Missouri: Pastor Joel Baseley, who has translated sermon books (e.g. From Our Master's Table from Brosamen) and periodicals from C.F.W. Walther.  This is a most difficult task for me as I held out hopes for this pastor that he had returned to the faithful teachings of Walther.  The first portion from Stoeckhardt is where he quotes Walther verbatim.  The quote from Pastor Joel Baseley is from this month's "Time in a Bottle" newsletter presenting his latest translation of Der Lutheraner:
G. Stoeckhardt:
"This treasure, justification, forgiveness of sins, is comprehended in the Word, in the Gospel. It is the hand of God.  Faith is the hand of man. Faith takes what the Word gives. Faith must have something to which it clings. This is the doctrine of universal justification.  In absolution, as well as through the Gospel generally, the treasure which is the forgiveness of sins is distributed. There it is said: Your sins are forgiven you.  And this is God speaking.  Faith now takes what God gives, grants. --  When the pastor absolves you, this is always God's word to you; you can believe that it is God who through the mouth of a poor sinner says to you: As you believe, so shall it be.... As gold remains gold, even when it is stolen or is cast into the mire, thus absolution remains absolution, even though it is despised by unbelievers."  "In absolution God gives and grants, regardless whether it is accepted or not."  "Cursed be the doctrine which makes the worthiness, power, and validity of absolution dependent on my faith."

page 295:
What is briefly the neo-Lutheran perception of the church? The apostolic symbol is still confessed: "I believe one holy Christian Church”, and it is conceded that the church is the congregation of believers; but it is immediately added that this does not fully define what the church really is. The church is described mostly as an institution, as a sanitorium, and the functions and external trappings of the church are included in the essence of the church...

page 326:
The foremost means of grace, we can say, the true means of grace is the Word. The Sacrament is simply confirmation of the Word or is the visible Word.
Joel Baseley
Time in a Bottle Newsletter (Dec.), Vol. 3 #17:
This issue of Der Lutheraner's (Vol. 4, Issue 17; April 18, 1848) lead article stiffles earlier attempts to re-establish individual Absolution as the standard form in the Missouri Synod. After Keyl's series (Vol. 3 pp. 15, 18, 34) ends with the promise (p. 35) "This worthy effort will meet many obstacles on the way which will seem insurmountable; only faithful preachers and willing hearers will be all the more convinced at length of the contrary. Now for their sake in the installment that follows the chief reasons for retaining general confession and against the introduction of private penance will be refuted (p. 35);" The Lutheran never publishes this promised final installment and, it seems, this article signed "I.N." does away with the issue under the banner of "adiaphoron." While a careful theological structure had been constructed in the early years of this publication to champion the cause of the better general practice of individual confession and absolution, based not upon legalisms, but based upon the merits of individual absolution over and against the corporate practice, and, thus upon regenerate, sanctified reason, the argument is here difused and the cause lost; abandoned. While the article rightly places the matter under the banner of "Christian Freedom," arguments for the inate superiority of the former practice seem neatly put away, even while another synod, in the final little article of this issue, is reported as considering returning to a practice of "announcing for communion." Hmm. While the author and publisher of what you're now reading is a dedicated proponent of the rights of Lutheran lay people and the proper authority of the voter's assembly, if Walther's inclusion of this article and cessation of the Keyl series is his conceding that compelling arguments of regenerate reason, which originally gave rise to the practice of individual confession and absolution, will no longer convince or find a place in the voter's assemblies of lazy preachers and parishoners that do not desire to do what is better, but what is easier, then I have come to understand the criticism of Walther and his voters assemblies. The tyranny this enables is no more benign that that of a papacy, but is certainly less avoidable since its danger sits not upon a single throne in Rome but in every parishioner's and pastor's sinful heart. When a demonstrably "better" form of confession is against a believer's conscience it is more than legitimate to make the point that that concience should not be forced, thus destroying the weak brother, yet if the arguments for the 'better' form are stiffled, even by a majority vote, the weak (joined by hypocrites), voting against what is essentially better, maight squelch their own being made strong by better instruction. It's an interesting enigma in this issue that the ones most fearing this practice (out of weakness) are the ones most needing it (to be strengthened)! Sanctifucation, dying to sin and self, is unpleasant for sinners but freeing for saints; and believers are blessed to be both; and God, not us, is the true Master who alone works through his means in our hearts.

Pastor Baseley said a mouthful in this December newsletter!  As I read the newsletter announcing his latest installment of translations of Der Lutheraner, I wasn't paying much attention until he made the following statement:
“then I have come to understand the criticism of Walther and his voters assemblies”.
Oh… what?  The translator of several of Walther’s sermon books and essays in recent years appears to maybe “come out of the closet” against Walther, against his “voters assemblies?”    And what is this: “the criticism of Walther and his voters assemblies”?  Who is Baseley referring to with “the criticism of Walther”?  Could it be that Pastor Joel Baseley has planted himself squarely among those that Pastor Jack Cascione has so earnestly warned against?  Pastor Cascione is by far today's most widely known defender ("Reclaiming Walther" website here) of Walther’s teaching on the voters assembly.  As I reread Baseley’s newsletter, he comes very close to charging Walther with teaching that the supremacy of voters assemblies is based upon “arguments of regenerate reason” rather than God’s Word, a serious charge indeed! –  Pastor Baseley seems a little upset and even has 8 misspellings in this short newsletter… a fact that is not important in itself.   But just how upset is Pastor Baseley?
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To Pastor Joel Baseley:  I have wondered about you.  I cautioned you about the praise you received from Prof. John T. Pless who is rather outspoken in his criticism of Walther’s theology.  I then pointed you to Walther’s core teaching  – the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification… but you did not respond.  And now you would “understand the criticism of Walther and his voters assemblies”?  Could it be that you are coming out of the closet, Pastor Baseley, that you are just like Matthew Harrison who proceeds as if to praise Walther and Pieper by publishing books of Walther’s works but essentially only uses these to clandestinely bring alternate teachings for the "here and now"?… and have you hid your own theology at variance with Walther until the right time?  Could it be, Pastor Baseley that through all your indignation at Walther’s doctrine of “voters assemblies”, that perhaps you don’t quite understand what true absolution is, whether it is pronounced to an individual or to a congregational body?  Do you not understand that if you don’t have the right doctrine of Justification, that your doctrine of Absolution, whether individual or corporate, is nothing?  Or had they not taught you that at CTS-FW?

Before I would begin to review your contentions against “Walther and his voters assemblies”, to review your case for “individual Absolution”, I must ask the much larger question: What is Absolution?  George Stoeckhardt answered that question above by quoting Walther:
“Faith must have something to which it clings. This is the doctrine of universal justification.  In absolution, as well as through the Gospel generally, the treasure which is the forgiveness of sins is distributed.”
Do you preach a Universal Justification?... an Objective Justification?  … a God who is already reconciled to all men, even before they believe?  Do you teach an Absolution as Stoeckhardt/Walther teach, that it is only a distribution of just this forgiveness of sins, this Justification:
“As gold remains gold, even when it is stolen or is cast into the mire, thus absolution remains absolution, even though it is despised by unbelievers.”
If you, Pastor Baseley, do not teach a Justification, an Absolution just like George Stoeckhardt and C.F.W. Walther taught, then it is all for nothing…. nothing because the poor sinner would have to think that he would have to summon up faith to make the absolution effective or that he would have to be better than others in some way, or that he would have to improve himself to make himself worthy to receive the absolution.

Pastor Baseley, you have an odd title for your newsletter, calling it “Time in a Bottle”.  Where does this phrase come from?… is it a line from one of Paul Gerhardt’s wonderful Lutheran hymns?  No, I see, it is a popularly known song by Jim Croce in the 1970s.  I remember this song all too well, like I remember thousands of other popular songs from my youth, a time of my falling away from my Christian faith.  Why do you use this “catch phrase” song?  Are you saying that Walther and Luther have been kept “in a bottle” and you are bringing them out, like opening a time capsule?  You have seemed to imply in the past that they should not have been put “in a bottle”, but is this really true? In this newsletter, you seemed to have found yourself in agreement with others (most of today’s LC-MS?) in criticizing and judging Walther.  These other judges of Walther are not proclaiming the pure Gospel that Walther uncovered and so are not properly distinguishing it from the Law.  I cautioned you previously about that but you have not responded and I have nowhere found that you even recognize the heart of Walther.  It appears you would rather see the false teaching of Prof. Pless and Wilhelm Loehe as your truth...
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Note to the reader:
Pastor Baseley did not respond to my earlier post pointing out the heart of Walther to him, that it was Walther who restored the pure Gospel of UOJ.  And so I must put Pastor Joel Baseley in the questionable category, not for his translation work, but for his own doctrinal judgments:
  1. Because he seems to be part of those who would put Walther “in a bottle”, because he ignores Walther’s teaching on Justification… even while translating some of his works.
  2. Because he now openly admits to disagreeing with Walther’s doctrine concerning “voters assemblies”, even while admitting “the article [in Der Lutheraner] rightly places the matter under the banner of 'Christian Freedom'".
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To Pastor Baseley: maybe you now think your efforts would be better spent translating the works of Wilhelm Loehe?  Maybe Prof. John T. Pless has convinced you of the “weaknesses” of Walther?  But may I suggest that instead of listening to Prof. Pless, that you rather study your own translation of Walther's "Address to Synod from 1848", you know, from your book From Our Master's Table, pgs 243-248 , or from Pastor Cascione's website here (Brosamen pgs 517-527).  There you will learn true theology, how to properly distinguish in doctrinal matters relating to the authority of the local congregation (Distinguendem Est).  – And one more thing Pastor Baseley, perhaps you should consult with that Australian pastor you know of, the one who is a faithful follower of old Missouri... in Australia... who listens to Walther and Pieper ... and teaches his sheep properly with their theology?
Jan. 7, 2015: Walther directly answers Baseley's objection in a letter to his nephew in 1863 – see Walther Speaks to the Church: Selected Letters, letter # 59, pgs 76-77.  He indeed favored "exclusive use of private confession and absolution" according to A.C. XI, but left the authority with the congregation, calling again on the Confessions in 2 other places.
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Dear reader, if you want the better doctrinal judgment, then read Walther's sermons and essays in Baseley’s translations, then read George Stoeckhardt’s essays, but be especially discerning when reading the theological judgments from Pastor Joel Baseley's current writing.  And if Pastor Baseley should continue to ignore the heart of Walther, then I suggest the reader put Baseley's own theological judgments “in a Bottle”.

This post ends my series highlighting the dear Prof. George Stoeckhardt and his essay that so wonderfully equips one to discern the true theology of the Bible, the theology of the old (German) Missouri Synod.  Although I have not put Stoeckhardt in my masthead, his theological judgment (since coming to America and teaching under C.F.W. Walther) is the better teaching than virtually all of the writers in today's LC-MS... since the day Franz Pieper died in 1931.

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