Full Text for Notes on European Lutheranism (Text)

Notes on European Lutheranism During his recelzt sabbatical, Professor Nauman~z served on a visitation of European churches affiliated with and supported b y the Missouri Synod. In tlze last decade he has also participated in numerous "Bad Boll" confer- ences with European theologians. Prior to that he was pastor in Hamburg. From this rich background, he has recorded his impressions o f the theological scene in Germany today. D RIVING through the European countries, particularly on the old side-roads instead of on the new highways, one has time to meditate on the reason for the twists and turns in the road. At times there are turns and twists one can't explain escept perhaps by saying: "This was an old cowpath, later used by people, then by nien in vehicles . . . Nice big trees have grown to the left and to the right of it, and it would be a shamc to straighten out this road between Guggelhausen and Bebberdorf . . ." Studying the theological scene in Europe, especially in Gcr- many, we are faced with old and established traditions, customs, lingering confessional currents, national or local histories that dl have had their effect on the course taken, growing up along the church's historical path, so that a radical straightening out would mean the cutting down of many accepted and ancient traditions. We met this explanation-we won't say "excuse"--frequently when discussing the possibilities of a break with traditional state church customs: "Wir kii~znen aus unserer historische~z Situation nicht heraus!" We can't escape our historic situation . . . And it is true L that tradition and history play a much more weighty role in the churches of Europe than we, who know only the theological scene in America, can imagine. Even to describe in outline the various traditions would be impossible in less than a 300-page volume. There are now, after all, in Germany alone twenty-eight churches, United, Lutheran, and Reformed, who, according to their province or Land, have their own history and, to some extent, type of confession; and, of course, also their own constitution. All of them are well-organized. We find no disorder. There are many intelligent and highly trained leaders, theologians, pastors, and laymen active in these churches. In fact, the organization of these churches is that which, together with their institutions and buildings, appears as the church . . . To attempt to evaluate all these on the basis of a few contacts would be foolish. They, nevertheless, all have some similar charac- teristics. They partake to a great extent of the character of the state church, although the actual ties with the government are not the same as they were before World War I. They lean on the sup- port of the people who pay church dues in the form of church taxes, usually computed on the basis of the amount of income tax paid, e-g., eight to ten per cent of that amount is added to the income tax for church purposes. This is usually collected by the govern- ment. An increased income or higher standard of living increases the income of the church. The 'Wirthschaftszvzinder" of the post- war Germany has given the churches a lot more money than they have had for a long time. Since most of the people of a province belong to the church, all except those exempt from income tax pay church tax, which with some people amounts to just a few dollars annually, but in the case of a successful business may run into inany thousands per annum. Thus the churches still are at an advantage, at least financially, compared to the small Free churches completely independent of governmental help or control. But we are interested in the theological climate. To under- stand something of the background of the scene we meet we must summarize what has gone on in Germany during the 19th century. A Difficult Heritage Politically and ecclesiastically, the 19th century had to live with a rather difficult heritage. There was the unimaginable PO- litical separatism of the innumerable small states and, analogous to it and connected with it, the confessional divisions into a similar number of churches. (For example: there were 373 independent political areas-some so tiny, as for instance Guckenzell, which had to supply its ration of military men, figured percenhially at three and one-half infantrymen and one-third cavalryman. For the churches, this may illustrate: there was a state church consisting of one superintendant and one pastor.') Later, in Bismarck's Reich, there were only twenty-eight state- churches. Coilcornitant with the union in political areas (after the ---- * Cp. Karl Heussi, ABRISS D E ~ KIRCAENGESCAICHTR, 1957, Weimar. p. 172. Kotes on Ezzropean Ltctlzeranisrn 17 war for liberation-"Freiheitskriege") were the attempts to reform the relations between the Lutherans and the Reformed. The Festi- val of the Reformation 181 7 was to effect a Union. We are fa- miliar with the act of King Frederick Wilhelm 111. The union was enforced in Prussia but the other larger provinces did not concur. The result of this action was an increased attention to the Lutheran Confessions, especially, when a new Agenda was to be forced onto the churches. The complexities of the debates and interrelations be- tween churches who were truly "uniert" and those who agreed to be united with both the Lutheran and Reformed elements retain- ing their character, etc., can hardly be envisioned by our American churchmen used to rather simple organizations. The 19th century also saw the introduction of a synodical system. This took some t of the authority from the political rulers and gave it to the churches. 1 The events of 19 18 and 1945 changed things radically. No more "sunzmus episcopus" in the person of the ruler. Instead the 1 "Bishop" took whatever monarchical character the leaders of the I church had. The bitter battle between the part of the church dom- inated by the Nazis and the part of the opposition, the "Bekennende Kirche", lost some of its significance during the critical war years. 1945 brought the end of the "Third Reich" and Germany had to reorganize in every respect. Also the churches had to do this. At Treysa, 1945, the leaders of the churches met. The EKD ( E K I D ) with a council of twelve members was formed. f i It was at this time that our own church leaders contacted the German Lutheran leaders, and a series of conferences, known in our # ! Synodical Conference circles as "Bad Boll Conferences," took place, at which representatives of our church met literally hundreds of i Lutheran professors and pastors every summer in series of meetings. This was the first real and informative contact which the theo- I logians of the Missouri Synod had with Lutheranism in Germany. Not much of the modern German theological writings had been read in the United States since 19 14. The first real contacts with the theology of Germany not only made evident that two kinds of German were spoken, but also that two types of theological lan- guage were spoken. The German theology proved to be confusing to the American Lutherans. Why? Because we were not aware of the theological development in Europe in the past one hundred years. The type of theological German-American was welcome to the German pastors, few of whom could speak English. The type of theological language spoken by some of the German leaders was often hard to follow. In brief, American Lutherans had to learn to know and had to evaluate the situation in Europe. What had happened? About the beginning of the 19th cen- tury the great majority of church people, the Protestallt population of Europe in general, with the exception of some writers, were friendly to the church-the people of the lower estates more than the upper brackets. Even the rationalists were friendly to the church. There was an increase of respect for the church due to the French situation and the reaction of the romantics. Hegel pre- sented a friendly agreement between philosophy and religion. After Hegel, his followers divided into a left and right wing. On the left were men like David Friederich Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach, whose opinions by way of some popular writers of the same school reacted to the general public at the same time as materialism and socialism drove a wedge between the people and the church. Marx and Engels did their work at the same time, and the concept that "religion is an opiate for the people" militated against the churches. Positivism, a philosophy which either would make no statements on the existence of God or deny it categorically, with Danvinism, evo- lutionary philosophy, Haeckel's writings, etc.-all were attacks on the "simple-minded church members who still believed the Bible to be the Word of God. . . . Came Schopenhauer, Nietszsche; came new "ologies" like psychology, sociology, anthropology, phenomen- ology and, finally, existentialism. All these developments took place ~ r a c t i c a l l ~ in the church. Rlen, members of the church who served as philosophers, scientists, theologians, notwithstanding the vow of ordination, were not held by their church to teach, preach and coilfcss according to the Con- fessions of the Lutheran Church. Certainly the most blatant at- tacks on thc \Vord of God were answered now and then, but in gen- eral it was, and is today, a part of the hard-to-overcome tradition that doctrinal discipline cannot be practiced. As long as the church as an organization was not threatened and its leaders were obeyed, no disciplii~le was thought necessary. Accordingly, Bultmann, as an exan~ple, continues to teach. This is, of course, a very much wneralized sketch of conditions. It n1a)r be added that academic a and scientific theology is not much concerned with Seelsorge. That subject is not part of the university training. Notcs on European Lutheranism 19 C L - - - - - - ---- -- -- Tenor of Theological Thought Today One has the right to ask: "What about the many good things and excellent studies and books that come from Germany especially from the theological sector? What about the signs of a renewed interest in Luther and in the Confessions? Has the rationalistic past been successfully overcome? What is the tenor of theological thought today?" Among theologians today the question is not, "What does God say?" but, "What can man understand concerning God and His way of Salvation?" Higher criticism, never overcome, is so well established and entrenched that it is impossible to present one's theology if one still is so backward as to believe in inspiration, especially if this belief takes the form of faith in a plenary or verbal inspiration. One of the leading theologians declared emphatically at one of the conferences on The Lord's Supper that there was no point in talking together if the Missourians would insist on the use of the Bible as infallible source and guide. Naturally, the scientific attitude diminishes the value of the Lutheran Confessions. The first sentences of the Confessions to fall are the "condemnations" of the Confessions. From there this attitude forces the elimination of the Virgin Birth, The Lord's Supper, even the doctrine of Justifi- cation by Faith. The ministry of the Lutheran Evangelical Churches is, however, not uniform in its evaluation of the Scriptures or the Lutheran Confessions. We met men who almost fully share the orthodox position on the basis of the Word of God and we know some, on the other hand, who have only the vocabulary of Lutheran- ism. But it is at times hard to distinguish betweerl the two. They belong to the same churches, they worship in the same form, they attend the same conferences and belong to the same church federa- tions. They seem to follow a similar practice in the administration of The Lord's Supper. The subscription to the Confessional writ- ings is still demanded of all entering the service of the church. This, howevcr, is done largely to preserve the legal character of 1 the church as a "Lutheran" church. There are some other aspects of the situation in Europe. There is the renewed research in Luther. There is the fact that the liturgi- cal development of the German churches is advanced beyond any- thing we have. There is the effect of Barth's theolo