Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 53 - Other Confessional Lutheran Churches (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-053 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE RAST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> DAVID: Clearly, one distinction that characterized the LCMS was its bold confessional stance. But was the Missouri Synod the only confessional Lutheran Church in America at this time? If not, who were the other leaders among confessional Lutherans? What is the status of these churches now? >> DR. WILL SCHUMACHER: David, that's a great question. And the quick answer is: No, of course the Missouri Synod was not by any means the only Lutheran church body in the 19th century that was committed to the Lutheran confessions. There were other confessional leaders as well, even though there were also some disagreements among these confessional leaders about what the implications of such confessional commitment should be for America and American Lutheranism in their time. It�s important to remember that the Missouri Synod never demanded that churches or pastors join their synod, join the Missouri Synod in order to be considered truly Lutheran and confessionally sound. Membership in the Missouri Synod was never the litmus test for whether someone was orthodox or not. They were always very happy to recognize confessional Lutheran doctrine wherever they found it. So in the early days of the synod, the Pennsylvania Ministerium, which had already existed for a long time by that point, had withdrawn its membership from the General Synod because of the General Synod�s lack of confessional commitment. And the Missouri Synod applauded that in its official publications and said this is a very important move. We welcome this move by our Lutheran brothers and sisters in the Pennsylvania Ministerium. In the same way, they happily acknowledged that a group like the Tennessee Synod which had developed as a confessional body largely English speaking in the American south. They were very happy to find that they were a confessional body and didn't immediately require as a demonstration of confessional commitment these folks in the Tennessee Synod join Missouri or anything like that. They were happy to find and celebrate and to welcome a confessional Lutheran stance wherever it occurred. If you compare the picture, the overall picture, of the American scene, Lutheranism in America, at the end of the 19th century, with what that landscape looked like at the beginning of the 19th century, you'll find that virtually all church bodies that called themselves Lutheran, by the close of the 1800's, had become much more intentional and explicit about their allegiance to Lutheran doctrine and the Lutheran confessions than the bodies had been at the beginning of the 1800's. I mentioned the General Synod and its lack of any explicit commitment to the Lutheran confessions when it was organized in 1820. That really wasn't possible for a Lutheran group at the end of the 19th century. Every group virtually had to state its position about Lutheran doctrine and be much more intentional about what it meant to be a Lutheran. This is part of what we mean when we talk about the 19th century being a period of confessionalization because the confessions became much more important in general than they had been a century earlier. People became much more interested in studying and teaching about what it meant to be a Lutheran theologically. So in one way, all Lutherans in America were more confessional on average than they had been at the beginning of the 19th century. But of course, that doesn't mean that they were all agreed. We frequently use the word confessional Lutheran to indicate a really strong and unconditional subscription to the Lutheran confessions as our doctrinal standard. The fact is that even among Lutherans that took the confessions seriously in the 19th century, there were different views about how the confessions should really function in the life of Lutheran churches in their day. Charles Arand, in a book called Testing the Boundaries, outlines at least four different ways of looking at the Lutheran confessions. Maybe I'll just run through those four ways for you. First of all, there were Lutherans who said that they were committed to the Lutheran confessions because these documents from the 16th century gave us a statement of a Protestant consensus. This was essentially Samuel Schmucker's view. The Augsburg Confession was valuable, not because of its details or because of the specifics of how it confessed doctrine, but because it expressed a Protestant consensus over against Roman Catholicism. Obviously, this isn't a very strict or binding way of thinking about the confessions. But even Schmucker and those who followed him theologically understood the confessions as important in the life of the church, but important in a particular way. That is, because they distinguished us from Roman Catholicism. They were less interested in using the Lutheran confessions to distinguish us from other Protestants. The second stream of Lutheranism might be embodied in a figure like Charles Porterfield Krauth of the General Council. Krauth understood the confessions as primarily catechetical documents. That is, these documents were first and foremost to be used as teaching tools and not just the catechisms, but all the documents in the Book of Concord were important to teach each new generation the Lutheran faith. Now, of course, that's not wrong. We do use the confessions in that way as tools to teach the faith to subsequent generations. But Walther and the Missouri Synod and other Lutherans in the Synodical Conference took yet a stronger approach to the confessions. Not only were these tools for teaching, but they were also to be used as doctrinal norms. This meant that preachers and teachers in the church could actually be held accountable to their commitment to the Lutheran confessions. They could be held accountable for what they preached and taught measured against this doctrinal standard of the Lutheran confessions. And that use of the confessions also to exercise doctrinal discipline did distinguish Walther and the Synodical Conference Lutherans from the General Council Lutherans where the confessions were valued, but primarily as teaching tools. There was yet a fourth way of understanding the confessions. One of the main proponents of this view was Wilhelm Lohe who didn't come to America himself but influenced many Lutheran theologians in this country, particularly in the Iowa Synod and some also in the Missouri Synod. Lohe�s view was that the Lutheran confessions are important as historical decisions. That is, at a certain point in time in the 16th century, the church had to face and answer certain doctrinal questions and problems. And the confessions that we have in the Book of Concord represent the Church�s answer to those particular questions and problems. What that historical view of the confessions allowed Lohe to do was to suggest that there are other questions that might still have to be settled, that there might, in fact, be new doctrines that that the church would have to develop as it faced new situations. Now, Walther and the Missouri Synod and the rest of the Synodical Conference that wanted to use the confessions as doctrinal norms considered Lohe�s historical view and concluded that this made the confessions unusable, really, as a doctrinal standard because you could always argue that you wanted to answer a new question or a new situation, and that demanded a new doctrine. This allowed, in fact, the doctrine of the church to change over time, and that was unacceptable to Walther and the Missouri Synod. This is not to say that Lohe didn�t take the Lutheran confessions seriously. He certainly did as did Charles Krauth. The point is that even among Lutherans who took the confessions seriously, there could be, and in fact where, differences in how they read those confessions and how they felt those confessions should function in the life of the church. The Missouri Synod position was that Lutheran union, that is a bringing together of Lutheran church bodies, a merger or fellowship or cooperation, required true Lutheran unity. Union required unity as a prerequisite. Unity, genuine Lutheran unity, meant unity of doctrine. That unity of doctrine was always the primary goal of the Missouri Synod. That was why they sponsored and encouraged the free conferences as a free exchange of views about the Lutheran confessions. And that's why the Missouri Synod was never primarily interested in the institutional mechanics of mergers or external union. Those kinds of things might or might not result from genuine doctrinal unity. That was not really considered terribly important or an end to be pursued in and of itself. The main goal for the Missouri Synod was always genuine unity, not external union. That sort of drove their relationship with other Lutherans and especially with other Lutherans that definitely took the Lutheran confessions very seriously. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****