Full Text for Walther and Loehe: On the Church (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER December 1971 Volume 35, Number 3 Walther and Loehe: On the Church 0 SE OF THE 1IOS-T disrupting occurrcnccb in tIi~s Iiistor\ gf the Lutheran church of the ninctecnth ccntiil-v nil\ thc parting of the great churchmen \\'ilhclm I-oehc and ~crciin,lnd \\-ill ther " - - after the vest llissouri Srnod lcadcr hod h;,d SLILII ;t pron~isi~lg meeting wlth loehe in Seucndettclsau in 1 55 1. It is not important that neither of these men tvas able to cst~~blisl~ ;l rcliltionship \\it11 the Erlange~l school. For despite the importi111c~ 11.11ic.h its thc.oIoz\- L. - mav have had and despite the human .~ntI scientific grcatncss of its representatives, its theology posscsscd f;\ults ~\.hicIl rcnclcrcd it inlpcrs- sible for it to be tile source of lasting rencn.;~l for tlie 1.uthcran church. This theolog- had not been able to keel' itsclf frcc from thc seducti1.e poison of Schlricrnmacher's subjccti\-ism. T.\.cr\ scriol~s at- tempt to hold fast to the objective truths of Scriyturc ;\as dmiilccl to fail when the lncthodology that began with Sch1eicr~n;tthcr bccarnc a hermeneutical principle. If nlv subjcctivc self bccomcs t11c proper object of my theologizing, then no earthly pon-cr ran prci,cnt thcology from becoming thc sciei~cc of human piety. .\nothcr fault of thc ErIangen thcolog~ \\-as its restriction to the narrow hordcrs of officicil Gennan ILuthcranism. In comparison, Loehc rmcl \\'nltIlc.r ~-ic\\.cd the problems of n-orld-\~ide Lutheranism as oppowcl to thc ccc-lcsi- astical bureaucrat!., 3 bureaucracy protectccl ;~nd dircrtcd b! the Gcrnlan srinruri episcopi.' \17ho ~vould havc gucsscd th~t out of tIlc troubled congregations then being organizccl on thc burdcr of ci\.iIiza- tion would onc dav come the grcat church in ~vliosc~ hanc?s tht. fate of Lutheranisnl rests toclay, as far as it rests in thc hands of aicn. Srither could anvone foresee n.hat thc' break bct\vccn \\*nlthcr and Loehe, between $lissourj and fo~va, I\-ould mcan for the future. \lrc* sec its significance today and must ansn-cr the question, 11-hcthcr or not the unification ~vhich failed then is possible to&!-. it ccIltury later. 2 It was by no means only the question of the rel;ttionship bct~vccn the church and the pastoral office that separated Loehc ancl l\*nlthcr Professor Hernrun Sasse disrlrsses the relationjkil, of tlie pistor to tl~c cvngregatioir against the historical bnckgroztnd of the controrrrsy bcfu-ten C'. F. \V. IValtkcr LIR~ WiIhelm Loelre. It nmy be safely said that each tnrzrt 11-rrs rr girrtrt of Confessionai Lutheranism, R'alther in American and Loehe in C;ermat~y. Rotk nzfn ih.ere agreed thot church organization belonged to the class of adirrphora, tl~ ingr tvlricl~ irre direct1 com- manded by God; but, as Professor Sasse contend*, I?oth INCII failed to apply tkeir own principles. IValther insisting upon the primacy of the congregntio~~ rrnd Loehc tJre primacy of the pastoral office. This is also a footnote to the history of the senzinar?. ns Loehe urns its founder and later WaIther one of its presidents. Dr. Sasse is the former professor of theology at the Cniversity of Erlangen and the Imma?~zlrl Llithern~ Sewrinary. He is now professor emeritus of Luther Seminary of the Lnthern~t Chtt~ch of AustraLa. From trme to time he has been guest lecturer and professor af Concordia TJzeqIogical Seminary. The seminary awarded him an honorary doctor of dirinitv depce for 111s con- tributions to Lutherarrism. 071 the Church - - - - .- - --- - - -- - - - - -- 177 and lcrl to the cleit\.agc between 3'lissouri and Iowa, but this question hat1 cspc'ciallv yrc'tt significance. It separated not only these rnen ant1 thcir churchis I~ut Lutheranism in general. The widespread di~isions causctl I)!- this cluc'stion may at first be surprising. The Lutheran church has r~l\\.a\-s rcgarded church po1ic)- as adiaphora or ritzrs azlt rw-rrr~orrinc nb ir6~nirzibtrs irrrtitntae, because Christ is not the Legis- lator of a huillan rrIigious community and the Gospel contains no law concerning church polity. The i~nplications of this position nlust be clcarlv ullclr.rstootl. Evcry other church recognizes, in Calvin's familiar \vorcls, iill ordo, quo Dolizirz tcs ecrlesiarti gubernnri ~?oIzlit (an order, h\- \I-hich the Lord wants His Church to be governed).'This holds trLe for '111 catholic churches. eastern and n-estenl rites, as \re11 ;is for thc. Iiet'orincd churches. The differences of opinion con- cern th~lnsel\-~s onl\- with the nature of this ordo, whether it is to to bc the u~li\-crsal ~nonarch~ of thr. papacy, the episcopal-syndicd go\.crn~ncnt of thc ;li~glicrlns and tht~ Eastern Orthodox, the direction of the c~hurch through a senate of presbyters all of whom must be cclual, or thc congregational-autonomy of the Congregationalists and Baptists, ro mc,lltion only a few of the types of church polity allegedly prcscribccl in thcb Ten- Testament. Luther's greatness and the bold- ness of his basic thcological principle of the differentiation of Law and Gospel bccomc clear when one sees how he goes his own lonely \vay outside' of tllese possibilities: Christ never gave His church a Ia\v rle r-o~rstit~icizdn ecclesia. Everv tvpe of church polity is possible as long as tllc purc administration-of'the means of grace is not hin- clererl. 'To be sure, the Lord has given His Church something which does not belong to her bcize esse but to her esse. In order that we may obtain the faith that justifies, the Gospel must be preached and the Si~cranlcnts must be administered, and for this purpose God has ordtiincd the Ilinistrv, through which this comes to pass. \\'herever thc 111e;lns of grace arc rightly administered, there is. according to the divine pronlisc that thc word shall not return void, the Church, the conlnlunion of saints, of justified sinners. There are just a few/ prescriptions concerning the nature of congregtional as there ard concerning the form which the ?ai?risterinr?z ecclesiasticzorr assumes.j The apostles came to the realization that it \vould be helpful in; fulfilling the duties of the spiritual office if they were freed froIri the tasks of caring for the poor and of financial administration. This was the origin of the auxiliarv office of the deacons. Nevertheless the church was the church even before the creation of this office. The church is al~vavs free to create specific offices out of necessity, for example, the bishopric or the office of superintendent. All thew offices retain thcir right to exist, however, only as long as they serve the one great office of the preaching of the Gospel and the administra- tion of the Sacraments. If there is agreement in the entire Lutheran church on this pint, hob- do we explain the divergence of opinion concerning the pastora1 office and thc congregation and therefore concerning church polity which has time and again divided our church since Loehe and \\ialther first tlisaolit ;lccol-tl ins to thc command of Christ," it \\.as dangerous for our ch;ircll on lxi- part to want to entcr the fray. hval as thcv wcrc to the I~i~tlli.~-,~n con- fession, neither \\'alther nor ~oehr a\:oidccl thi.; pi tfal I. to nlcll tion just their names, This situation is ana1oc.o~~ to thc tinlc ok ol-tht~~clor\., ? when Lutherans often allo\r~cd Cal~inlsts or C;ltllolics to ask tllc questions without recognizing that the questions \\-cre 11ot \slid ill 1 themselves. Here, as in other points, the old orth~xlosy \\:IS much too dependent on her opponents. r4lthough the thco1ogi;ins of thc. ninc- ; teenth centur!, accepted orthoclos dogmatics, the!. \\ere l-iyht \\-hen 1 they believed that Christendon1 11-ould be led to a cleepcr ul~tlcr~ta~~cl- ing of the Church in the midst of the inimensc pojitical :lnd social ! i catastrophes in their time and in thc near future. Thc earl\. Church i had aIready known ci-crrthing confessed in the Siccnc ~~rcccl, but it was the titanic strugle ~rith ancient paganism that cnahlcd tllr church fully to recogn~ze the importance of the true di\-init\- and the true hu~banity of Jesus Christ and to articulatc ~llc cloctrinc of thc honrmrrsitr. If \ve are to speak of progress in tho confession of faith, it must be understood in the sense of the church ~nec~tin~ nu\\- situa- tions and in no other. The parting of tllc t\\-o grcnt sullools of Lutheranisln in the last centurv is without doubt relntcd to the fnilurt. of the Lutheran church to conic to final clarity co~lcerning the impli- cations for church life of the ecclesiastical articlcs of the :iugshurg Confession. And so it happened that the great Luthcrans of tiic prc- vious century, and more specifically those who \vcrt conccrnccl not only with the theoretical but also had to build churches, ha\-e Ieft us n legacy, far fro111 unexhausted. The task which thcrcforc f~tccs our generation cannot be to repeat the formulations and pick up thc discussion where it stopped onc hundred years ago. lhthcr, 11-e must, on the basis of the experience of the church in thc past ccnrur\. anct with perhaps greater insight into thc teaching of Holy Scripture. once more think through \\-hat has, since that time, rcn~ained an ur~soIvcd problem. It is worth noting hoiv modern historical rescarch into the beginnings of church polity has confirmed Luther's decp cst.getica1 insight: The Sen- ~estament recognizes no fixed church order nlld was therefore unable to canonize my such order. The histor)- of church polity is similar to the history of the liturgy. The beginning of each was marked by diversitv rather than unity. Therefore it was possible to read the most varied forms of church*polit). into thc Scw Testament and to find them there again with satisfaction. So one who considers the Biblical statements will readily presume today to find a complete and aln-ays binding form of dlurch polity in the from one another, nor can there be an): diff'crc1~~tintioli I>cst\\.ccn tllcm with respect to significance. Xone of t1ic.m can bc co~isidc~~:cd to bc the only proper one. When Jesus gives thc T~vrli-c thc t,isk of l>rcach- ing the Gospel to ever!. creature ant1 making tliscil~1c.s of id1 11;itions bv means of Baptism, when He commands thcni nt the, I.;~st Supper, his do in remembrance of Me."--who arc thc Tic1 l-lrc, 31.1 the first holders of ecclesiastical officc. Froin then? proccctls thc nzinisteriu~)r doce~ldi et~arrgelii et yorrigerzcli sncr-rz rtlr rltrr. 1;u t the\ arc at the same time certainly the Church, the ecclcsia. thc rel>rcs;mta- tives of the new eschatological people of God. T~LIS it is l~I;iinl\, i111110s- sible to separate the pastoral office and the coi~gr~gdtion ill iistornl office and vice versa. The pastoral officc tloes lint stand al)o\.c tlrc congregation but always in its midst. Hoi\. docs thc ~ongr~gation at Antiach (Acts 13) happen to scnct I'aiil 311~1 E;it-~~i~h;l~ out 011 ~ilission work': They had already been sent by thc Lord long bcfol-c~. \\'lr'tt could the laying on of hands bv the congregation give I'n~ll in ;~tltli- tion to that which he already' had through a co~irnricsion dircctl! given by the exalted L,ord Hinlself? Sel-ertheless, commissioni~lg and laying on of hands are consciously rcpeatcd hcrc. Thc ~~astol-;lI office and the congregation belong inseparably toget11c.r. Cllui~11 history confirms this. There is a living congregation onlv \\.hurt tlic~rc is a living pastoral office, exercising thc full authorit; of it3 conl- mission. And there is a living pastoral office onlv where thcrc is 3 Living congregation. Among all Lutheran churches t11r.r~ is probnbIy none that respects the office of the ministry as n1u~h ;is thc 3lissouri Synod, in which the individual congregations stand so nluch in thC center of dl church thought. The pastoral office and the congrcgation are like reciprocal conduits; the life of the one is the life of the other. The congregation stands or falls with thc pastoral office. ~HILI trice versa. This argument is sufFicient to demonstrate that thc 19th century alternative, pastoral office or congregation, ivas falscl\- lwscd. At that time no one had the resources to draw thc col1sc.qucncc.s from this relationship, and Loehe and IVaZther cach misunderstood the moti~es of the other's doctrine. SIundingcr has sho~vn in his penetrating study concerning the constitution of the llissonri Synod that this constitution had nothing to do with the deniocratic indina- tions of Americans. Walther and his followers were rlcfinitely 311 anti-democrats! And Hebart has shown that in Loehe's case, at least, no conservative poIiticd thoughts specified the form of thc church. Instead, both sides overemphasized in support of their positio~l par- ticular Biblical truths to the detriment of others. These truths really belong together in the New Testament. This overempllasis occurred because each elevated one aspect of the Xew Testament statements as if it were the only proper pronouncement, to which thc other was to be subordinated. 7 This problem becomes clearer when one asks ha\%- the conferral of the spiritual o&ce occurs. There is a t~ocntio inmldintn, in which Goci ijuitc. alonc and ivithout human mediation inakes the call 'This is truc in tfic c.izc of thc apwtles. prophets, and teachers, 4.e 1 do not 11c.r~ coi1si~lc.r tliosc. ~vith healing gifts and other special charis- m;ita. On[\- Cht-i>t crui makt a man an apsde. In the calling of a substiturc. iur Tuda~ Hc ilocs it through the lot. God has resenrd for Hiolsclt thc callins of Inen to be prophets. Seither in the Old nor in the 5~11- Tcstanlcnt can a human cooperate in this work. Those oifict.3 ti1;it ;trc crcatcd through the ~'ocatio itrittiediatn beIong to the entirc. C hut-cf~ . I11 addition there is a ~wcntio ~irediatn for the offices of an jndi\-itlunl congregation. The Lord Christ confers these offices dso. hut Hc docs it through men. According to Philippians 1 there 11-crc aIrc;icl\. in the Pauline congregations brshops md deacons who were chosci br the congregation. There \\-ere evidently congregations with c.piscr,l~ai-diacc~niil poli~ and congregations with presbyterial it 1';iul did not consider it important to eliminate this dirersitr, nhid, first bcqins to gron- into unity in the Pastoral Epistles. 4othitlg is nlorc sbs&tl than to in~pose the standards of modern political cotlstitutiolls ontv the polity of the Sew Testa~nent Church, Thc rcclesirr is nor 3 L~C'IIIUC~~CV ;n our sense of the word. It is not a pile of indii-itluals c~ch of whom possesses the same rights as the other. Sor can it bc characterized as an aristocracy. It rather is 3 jointed bodr n-ith grrtcfatio~ls in structure and rights. Acceptance into the and officcs of the congregation generalh; foIlo\~s from the laying on of hnds accompanied by prayer. And again, it can be an individual. for csample, the Apostle Paul (I1 Timothy 1: 6) 15-ho pcrfor~ns the laying on of hands, or the presbytery (I Timoth!- 4 : 13), or, as in the case of Timothy, both, or a whole congregation through its representi~tivcs (~1c.t~ 13: 1). It is indeed God, it is the Lord Christ, it is the Holv Ghost, Who finally acts through Inen, through an individual. through a group, or through the entire congregation. or \Yho son~ctimcs estrn ordi~ze~~i gives His gifts directly, and with them an office. Therefore it is impossible, as the Lutheran fathers corrcc tly understood , to make an essential differentiation between vocation and orclination. It is even more impossible to let this differ- c.ntiation beconlc a diiisi~e conflict in the church. God issues the call into His service, and as a rule He docs so through men. But it is not the manner that is decisi\-e. It makes no difference whether it is done throagh an individual, through a group, or through the entire church. assembled for the service of God. It all happens in the name of the church, the 1vhoIe church, which is the bod?. of Christ. and therefore it happens in the power of the Holy Spirit. \\'hen one becomes aware of this, the differences between the theological theories of the 19th centuq become quite small. Then one begins to understand the magnificent freedom of the Lutheran church. which knor~s no law de constittrendis ~ninistris because Jesus Christ has given no such law, neither directly nor indirectly. Then the ~rti~~isteriurn eccbsiasticum, standing not dore but rather in the congregation, beconles quite importai2t, for then ;111 of tllc slress is no longer placed on the question, 1ioiv did tho oftice C'OIIIC illto being, but rather on the question, \vIlat is its co11tc'l)t. Its apostolicitx is then no longer dependent on its more or less cluestion:~blc i!l~ostolic origin, but rather on its apostolic content. The ministry 11;1s IJrcc iscl\. and only that task to do n.hich was laid upon thc irpo\tlcs. II;IIII~I~. to proclaim the pure Gospel, to administer thosc Sact-;~mcnts \\.liicll were instituted by Christ, and nothing more. Onl\ fro111 this ~lccl~ understanding can the spiritual office be renc~vcd. )Ian\ tlli11p 11;1\.i. become attached to the spiritual officc through thc 111oclc1-11 over- organization of the Church, even down to the c.cclcsiastic,~l-l~olitic~l tomfoolery with which ~ndcrn bishops squantler their o1l.n i1nt1 other people's time. These amount to no marc, th:~n cc.c,lcsinsticnl she\\-s with no substance. Ever!. scrmon, c\.cn thosc prcarllccl in tho small parishes, has more worth than thc confcrenc.c.\ in ~\hicIl yrcat ecclesiastical resolutions about the federal constitutio~~ (11- the. atom bomb or Goethe's 200th birthday arc discussctl. .\ntl .)I\\-a\->, taking the pastoral office scriouslv can onlv 1c;ld to t;lkInS thc Chris- tian congrcg:ttion seriously. hen-there is i;o Ionycr possible tlli~t nlii- understanding under which our German statc churchcs so clcepl~ suffer- the misunderstanding which views each ii tr prccirlr t ilr it' i't were rl congregation in the he\\- Testament scilsc, \\.hich onc 11eccl onlv to activate through a few lilodern mcthocls of Scc.lsu~-go. This wokld spell the end to tile misunderstand in^ which \,icas thc c.lc\cr. oh, all too clever, administrative activities of thc ccntral c.c.clesi;~sticnl authorities as the church government of the Luthcraii confes~ions. A11 these must and will fall to pieces just as the church go\.crnnnc.nt of the princelv slr~ritrii episcoyi fell apart overnight. IIon-cvcr, the office that preaches reconcilia tion and the congregation of belie\-ing sinners justified in faith will remain-in forms with I\-hich n-c are are not vet familiar but which the Lord of the Church is preparing amidst the thousand griefs of the Church todar. He is the Saviour of His Bodv even where we see onlv ruin. ~uthci's great ~vord conccrn- ing the activitr of God in histor\- still holds true: "Occide~lrlo ~.il,i/i- cat.'' "In killing He makes alive.'' This faith 111 thc ilctil-it1 of God in histor\. does not, to be sure, frce us from, but rather IloIcls us to, the re~~onsibilitv of renouncing everything tha t n-ould destroy the genuine pastoral office established by Christ and the gc~luine cungre- gation established bv Christ, everything which makes that which Christ has established a for the human lust for l>o\~er, whether clerical or congregahonal. The pastor is not lord 01-cr thc congregation (I1 Corinthians 1 :24). The congregation is not lord over the pastor (Galatians 7 1. Both hnvc rather over them the one Lord in Whorn thev are one. These are only o fen- thoughts about the Church and the pastoral office that may help you read with nen- attention that which God's IVord says to us on this matter.