Full Text for The Law Gospel Debate in the Missouri Synod (Text)

',T,'-, . ..>.,, ( I I,.. _ .. ->-,, . ; > .. - > .. :I< .- , .. . . .,. ..-.,.<, ,- ,, " .*.;.-. .... $, .. . ,.. . , ,;-... .; . ..J'-;.. ; ' , -' . .. ;<..-.. ,,* ' - I$ ., ,.:-a ', , ,- ~ The Law Gospel Debate in the Missouri Synod I N THE LAST TIYELVE MONTHS or so a controversy of con- siderable proportioils over the Law-Gospel theme has arisen in Thc Lutheran Church-&4issouri Synod. Gross coxfusion has been caused because of the profusion of articles circulateci throughout the Synod. The controversy between two basically opposed sides, sim- mering in the Missouri Synotl since the end of the 1940's and the early 1950's, came to public attention when the pot began to boil over in 197 1. Dr, Robert Schultz is right in his observation that, Since the Altenburg clebnte, no controvers)! has been of such significance as the current discussion in the Lutheran CI~urch-Rlissouri Synod about its understanding of the Scripturc. It is safe to assume that the opponents in the matter would have continued to engage in snlall skirmishes, as they had been doing for the last t1i7ent)r years, if Dr. J. A. 0. Preus had not relecased The Report of the Synodical President. With The Report, the gauntlet was thrown down anti both sides began to gather themselves in battle formation for the final conflict. In the fray of battle it has been lnorc difficult to identify the issues than the combatants. Both sides in an attempt to rally forces to their respective sides have raised the sarnc standards (at cliflering levels, however) in an attempt to gajn additional troops fro111 the uncommitted or the peren- nial political fence sitters who are waiting to see which tvay the wind will blow before they jump. Thcre is always sadness tilhen the church engages in contro- versy, but there is a refreshing note in that the h4issouri Synod is finally being honest with itself. Dr. Leigh Jordahl has pointed out that, before the election of Dr. Preus, Missouri Synod leaders were issuing statements affirining that Rlissouri had not cha~~ged when in fact it had. 130th sides arc claiming to be the true "Zion on the R4ississippi." Perhaps a word to those who have pastoral concerns about church controversy, esl~ecially about the present controversy, would be in order. First of all, the church of Jesus Christ will never live without this kind of controversy, at least not on this side of eternity. Jesus gave warnings about the coming of false teachers and spoke of the necessity of offenscs. This is a kind of negative prophecy. The New Testanlent arose in part because the apostles had to speak to doctrinal troubles in the church. We are never to be exempt from these kind of trials. Secondly, in church controversies bath 1. "Reflections on the Current Controversy $ The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: An Attempt to Express Pastoral Concern, Cresset (October 1972)' p. 3. sides explicit loyalty to God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. \17hich church coinbatants ever appeared on the field of battle as explicit apostates? Thirdly, and this is a psychological side affect, there is something healthy about talking man-to-man on the issues. There is something sick about pretending there is nothing rvrong when mlly secretly feel that tllcre are somc real diffic~~lties. After it is all over and the dust settles, rvc might have a more robust church and mentally healthier clergy. In the opinion of this writer., there was something absurcl about always nvoiding the contemporary issues and instead fighting theological battles in the pages of thc 17th century dogmaticians. At least those unjustly maligned tlleologians faced their contemporary situation with a contemporary thcology! Let it be said that if one side allegedly is only representation, the other side has gladly galloped back to the 17th century to (70 battle. A perfect case in point is Paul G. Brctscher's, " 'The Log in Your Own Eye"' Concordin Theological Month.ly, XEIII (November 1 9 7 2) pp. 64 5-686. Dr. Bretscller, who writes to the present Law-Gospel controversy, refers to the 17th century Lutheran Orthodox thcology via Dr. Robert Preus's The Theology of Post-Reformation Luthern~z- ism in 18 out of 32 footnotes! This has not helpecl the situation because the center of controversy becoines Quenstedt's theology and not the cfrurch's present problems. Yes, the church stands on the past. Rut maybe the AIissouri Synod will again be able to stand on her own two feet in facing thc present. The Lutheran Confessions do not usually illalte it a point to name opponents in a controversy; ho~vever sincc this article does not aspire to such pretentious status, it might be not only permissible but helpful to see where the lines are beginning to emerge, especially IY~~T.~~~sx~I~~~II~s~~.~YF = #. jdeuflfLSS. tbe~:sel~~, uLLl. .,,.,,,, ,,, ,,,, past. Rut may le the lssouri Synoci will again be able to stand on her own t!:o ?cet i _ facing thc present. The Lutheran Confessions do not usually ilialte it a point to name opponents in a controversy; however sincc this article does not aspire to such lxetentious status, it might be not only permissible but helpful to see where the lines are beginning to emerge, especially when the combatants have identified themselves. Dr. 1. 14. 0. Preus, his fact finding committee, the five dis- senting professors fro111 St. Louis, certain members of the Springfield facultjl, and Dr. Horace Hun~mel, all share a certain comlnon ground. The majority of the St. Louis faculty, including its president, Dr. John Tietjen, are the rallying point for the opl3osing position. To unravel the situation in its totality now simply is not possible, be- cause the job of con.ciincing and recruiting is still furiously going on. The position of Dr. Preus is The Fact Finding Report. The other side speaks through the Concordia Theological Monthly, Lz,ltltcran Furum and the Cresset. (Do not let the reader get the idea that this writer intends to turn every stone over. This is sinlply inlpossible. In the heat of battle, who can write a history of the whole war.) The position opposing Dr. Preus could be called the "Valparaiso Theol- ogyU3 because many of its original and major proponents in the Missouri Synod have been associated with that university. Thus Dr. CA.,,,,A C,L-,,,l,- .,,, :c,- ,C "T AT,, r', ,.., 1 D,A..,b:,,:,., ;, +L#, History of the LCMS",' was formerly chairman of the delx-irtment of theology at Valparaiso Unirlersity. Dr. I'aul C;. ~retschk, writer of " 'The Log in Your Own E!T'," held that position before Dr. Schroeder did and is now pastor of a congregation tl~cre. Dr. nobert C. Schultz wrote his doctoral dissertation on thc I-aw-Gospel the~ne in 19th centurv German Lutheran theologfJ and is now menlber of the theolog),'tlcpartment. Ile has contributed two articles recentl! to the C'ucs~et'~ on tlic matter. Thcse men tend to clepend - upon - each other as authorities. IVhat exactly is the nature of the controversy of the Law- Gospel in the Missouri S>,nod todav? The position of Dr. Preus is that the Sacred Scriptures are the source of ill doctrines to be taught in the church. Thcse teachings if used according to the principles laid down in the Bible itself will convict the sinner of his sin (the Law) and will lead him to a knowledge of Jesus Christ as his personal Savior from sin (the Gospel). The "Valparaiso Theology" holds that Gospel, as the preached good news about Jesus Christ and the for- giveness of sins, is the basis of theological work. It also holds that the Scriptures when used by themselves can lead to conflicting opinions and thus the Gospel as the presupposition of faith must be used in approaching the Scriptures.' In dcscribing, sucli a sensitivc controversy and to do justice to both positions it n~ght bc bcst to cite Dr. Bretscher's article. The first quotation is Dr. l'reus's ancl the sccontl Dr. Bretscher's, which sum- nlarizcs his own stancc.' Orlee again, li7hich of the fol101~jing caytz~res the 77zi~zd of ollr Co~zfes.sio~~s? "Hc ?rho /:no?17s the Scriptzlre has n deville- U~JIIILUI1.S tlllCl LIILLS LllC UU>lICl dS LllC ~IlL>Llflf~W>IL1WII UL Lreus's position : (1) Scriptures, written, spolten, preached or paraphrased, tell me about sin (Lam) and lend me to faith in Christ (Gospel). Dr. I'reus certainly ~vould not deny but obviously believes that faith leads one baclt to Scripture in accord with the command of Christ as Dr. Bretscher also holds by pointing to 1,ulce 24 : 3 6-4 5. Dr. Brescher's opsition : (2) He who has faith in Christ or a divinely given ~visdom will k~low the Scripture. Faith in thc Gospel precedes any coi~l- mitment to the Scriptures or any form of them, e.g., a para- phrase.!' It is a circlc that can be joined at anv point. The position of Dr. Prcus is that the Scriptures are the cognitive principle in theology, i.e., they tell us about Christ. Therefore every- thi~g ,tau&t i-n- tix-ch-urch glu_yt-b-g derived fcocl t$e-Script~~jes anti 1tno.c~ the Script,ll*~. Faith in tllc Gospcl precedes rny coi~l- mitrnc,~t. to thc Scrip ~--.:s or any form of ihem, e.g., a para- phrase." It is a circlc that can be joined at anv point. The position of Dr. Prcus is that the Scriptures are the cognitive principle in theology, i.e., they tell us about Christ. Therefore every- thing taught in the church nust be derived from the Scriptures and ulti~nately serve Jesus Christ. Thc position of Drs. Bretscher, Schroccier, and Schultz is that the Gospel is the basis of theclogy and whatever is not cor~trary to the Gospel is pcrinissible in the church. The firts position has been labeled legalistic and Calvinistic and the second, GospeI rcductioni~m'~ In practice, as experience shows, nothing is found contrary to the Gospel. An example of how this procedure tvorl.was_-Eig-ri, the deriving thc contents from the cxpcriencc of the rcgeneratcd Christian. This was all illusion, as Frarlli's system clenrly proves." With only, slight adjustment, this assess- ment might ;~lso apply to thc "Valparaiso Theology. Dr. Picpcr calls attention to the "rcgcner:~te I" on thc first pagc of his dogmatics. Christian Dogmntics, Vol, I, p.3. 17. Translated by Etlward H. Schrocder (Philadelphia: Fortress Prcss, 1967). The influcncc of Wcrncr Elert on current Mlssouri Synoct theology cannot 1)c ovcresti- mated. Perhaps a slight historical reconsfruction is possible herc. Dr. F. E. Mayer and others mct with the German theolog~ans in the late 1940's. There contact was made with Elert. As Dr. Scllultz graduated from St. Louis in 1952, it can be assumed that he cntcrcd Concordra ,Seminary there, in 1947. Thus he was at the seminary during the vcry years that Dr. Mayer was In contact with Elcrt. Mayer might have been a dccisive infltlence in Dr. Schultz's going to Erlangen to study under Elert. Elert died in 1955 beforc Sch111tz con~pleted his doctor's degree in thc year 1956 nnder Paul Althaus, who was not as conservatively Lutheran as was Elert, in the opinion of this writer. It seems that Ro1)crt Schultz's doctoral disscrtation was sug- gested Iby Elert to s~lpport what he had writtcn on pages 1 and 2 of his Law ~nd Gospel. In other .rvords Elcrt had an idea for which he wanted historical rescarch from the 19th century. This Schultz did. Dr. Schultz also brought Althaus's theologv to America by translating his The Theology of Mnrttn Luther and ?'he Ethics of ~n; tin Luther. The task of translating Elert's Law and Gospel fell to Dr. Edward H. Schroeder, who had been at Valparaiso University since the late 1950's. In a com- pletely unrelated way, Dr. Xorman Nagel, then at Cambridge, translated another worl; by Elert, published as Eucharist and Chzrrch Fellowship (CPH, 1966) an es- cellent \vork which is not received by a wide aud~ence. It is basic reading for fellow- ship discussions. Ncrc Elert has becn regretfully ovcrloolted. In addition Concordia Publishing HOLISC in 1962 published Structure of Lutheranism. The forward was contributed 1)y Jaroslav f'clikan and a 1)iographical cssay by Dr. Schultz. Dr. Schroeder also translatetl a kook on death by Prof. Thieliclce, another participant at I3nd Boll. Thus beginnlnc with Dr. Mayer, Elert along with others at Bad Boll has had a strong influcnce in thc Missouri Synod, howcvcr a careful analysis of his theology for our pastors is still to I)c written. Wittingly or unwittingly, Elert q~rcstioncd the Third.Use of the Law as being out of harmony with Luther's theology, though it is stated lil the Formula of Concord VI. As a reaction to Barth, who saw that the Gospel prepares someonc to keep the Law, Elert held that the Law comes first aftcr which a person enjoys Gospel freedom. In the 1950's it became customary for many to lecture against the Third Use of the Law. In my opinion Elert did not have a developed theology on this point because of ?'he 1,nu~ Gospel Debate - - -- - . - -- - 163 tional use of the Scril2tures and IJuthernl* Elert like Barth had a Scripture divorcetl from history. Elert was in fact a "Lutheran Barthian." His "Lau--GospelH principle hung suspended in theo- logical thin air, almost in the same fashion as the Erlangen theology a century before.'" Rgayer was undoubtedly impressed that German Lutheran theology could he Lutheran, and confessionaI at that, while at the same time it could warn about the Calvinistic "dictation theory." R4ayer also seems to have to assented to the German concept that the Scriptures must be approached first from a Christocentric view- point and secondarily from inerrancy. This is also the opinion of Dr. Schroeder in "l.,aw-Gospel Reductionism," pp. 243-246. As previous- ly inentioncd, neither of alternatives, as stated, are really aprioris in a cold approach to the Scriptures. R4ayer had all the parts of Nlissouri's theology; he arranged then1 differently and thus changed it perhaps. Just what is a "Lutheran Barthian"?Isa A "Lutheran Barthian" is a theologian who accepts Lutheran theology simply because it is Lutheran without insisting that such a theology be connected with an authentically validated worcl of God, i.e., the Scripture~.?~ The one outstanding characteristic of Barthanisnl is that it performs theology without confronting the historical questions. It immerses itself in the "\f7ord" and pretends that hard questions of history are not there. Not even the most profound forms of 19th century liberal- ism did that. 18. Onc exarnplc of thc historical approach of Elcrt was that thc German thcologians playe; >u!tcr against the Lutheran Confessions. Dr. Mayer writcs: "Dr. Elert main- , . ,, ., ,,. . ..- ...-, r --LL_-. _L._>1^^ ^^-__:-,,.. A,._._ %" ZP,_-, -rT-,, 1 -.... oneLbutstanding characteristic of Barthanisnl is that it performs tileology w;:hout confronting the historical questions. 1t immerses itseif in the " ,"ord" and pretends that hard questions of history are not there, -.Got even the most profound forms of 19th century liberal- ism did that. 18. Onc examplc of thc historical approach of Elcrt was that thc German thcologialls played Luthcr against the Lutheran Confessions. Dr. Mayer writcs: "Dr. Elert main- tained f~rrthcrmorc that the rcccnt Luthcr studies, especially those of Iel. ';he parting of 'xe Sca at the ',xodus was a 're:'emptive' activity. It became 'Gospel' - - - -7 ~vhel: oses told the people that it was for tCre71z. ;\?eryt:,ing in our J_ord's lifc, not only: Elis crucifixion, was God's redemptive activity. Thus the second' articles of both the Apostles and I 'icene Crecds describe God's redemptive activity in Jesus Christ, hut these events cnter thc realm of the Gospel ~vhcn God states that he did this for me. Reden~ptive activities of God may be the substance of both 1,a.i~ and Gospcl preaching. FC -. states that the cross is the greatest nlanifestation of God's wrath, i.e., the Law. 'There is nothing per se illcgitinlatc in preaching the redemptive activities in this way. Paul says that those who receive the Sacrament mockingly offend against the bocly and bloocl of the Lord. Petcr reminds his hearers that they have crucified Jesus. The preaching of God's redemptive activity bcconles a preaching of thc Law of condemnation when the hearer refuses to believe. To summarize, the preaching of God's moral denlands as Itno~rn by nature or special revelation is al~oays the foundation of the preaching of the Law. The redemptive activities serve as the substance of Gospel preaching, but can be used as the substance of a preaching of the Law. . . The Konlan Catholic ..-- Church at the time of the Reformation sciences, the hearers rvould not know that God had acted redeml7tive- ly for them. The redemptive activities of God were preached in such a way that they were used as clubs to force the people to proper behavior. This resulted in Phariseeism, the belief that people could be saved by doing the Law, or in despair, that awareness that they could never fulfill God's deinands. Here the Gospel was put before the Law as even the Calvinists do. And I suspect this is also a basic ingredient in "l,~~theran Barthianism." Do the Gospel or else! The Law and Gospel are not doctrir~es along side other cloc- trines, e.g., incarnation, atonement, resurrection, but they are ways or categories into which God's creative and reclelnptive acts are placed in proclamation. 1'0 repeat, God's creative acts serve as the basis of the L,atv preaching alone. God's redemptive acts have their primary (but not sole j purpose in serving the Gospel message. 1,Ilhen the Gospel message is rejected (which is not God's intention), it be- colnes the sharpest preaching of the Law. Where the redemptive activities are preachcd with the intention of controlling peolde's behavior or condeml-iing them, the Gospel is perverted into I,a~v. It is basic to Christian theology to understand that God has acted both in redemptive deeds and in the Gospel, but differently. This distinction must bc ltept. The Gospel is not a redemptive his- torical act as our Lord's life and death are. Christ livecl to fulfill the Law's requirements for human life and died to fulfill the punish- ment demanded bjr God through the Law. These are totally self- sufficient activities of God. God would have been totally just if He had accepted Christ's work and that was the end of it. "God was in C'hrict rnrnnt.ilinn tho xx7nrlJ ~~ntn Uin~cnlF" r,n.rr,lJ rtonrl -Lrr itrnlF torical act as our Lord's life and death are. Christ livecl to fulfill the Law's requirements for human life and died to fulfill the punish- ment demanded bjr God through the Law. These are totally self- sufficient activities of God. God would have been totally j,l.st if :Te had accepted Christ's work and that was the end of it. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Hinlself" could stand by itself. According to His mercy, He appointed first His apostles and then all Christians to declare this. This preaching is the Gospel. "The word of reconciliation", which was committed first to Paul and then to us, is the Gospel. The Gospel is not the only doctrine as might be implied by the phrase solurn evangeliu~n. Rather the Gospel is first the endorsement of the Law, both natural and moral, and all of Christ's redeinptive activities. The Gospel never becomes the norm to decide what may or may not be believed; the Gospel is God's message of approval on all His previous activities. The Gospel is not a principle of reduction but a principle of inclusion. There is no occurrence in the life of our Lord which He did not do for me. He was born of the virgin for me. He walked on the water for me. He instituted the sacranlent for me. (What a beautiful job Luther did in explaining the benefit of the Sacrament in the Small Catechism in his exposition of "given and shed for you for the remission of sin!") He rose from the dead for me! Behind every redemptive deed that God did in Christ is a "FOR ME." for mc" or that "God f'orgives me my sins." 'l'hc pi:optev Christu~lz, on account of Christ, is basic to the Gospel ~~roclanlation, iiugustana IV. Induded in the propteu Christulu is c\-crything which the four Gospels states thnt He did. It is sumn~nri~eci in the Apostles and Nicene Creed, Lutherans and Catholics did not clisagrce in the that as evidence that at Augsburg the Catholics accepted .Augustana I and 111. As Jaroslav Pelilirin aptly states the 1,utherans from the be- ginning were Oh?(-!ic~~t l?eh~>ls.'~ The hlissouri Synod today is engaged in 3 co~ttroversv over the that. Dr. Schroeder clai~ns that IYalther came dotvxl on the side of the for and that Pieper straddlecl both for and that, but leaned to the latter." Dr. Bretscher calls the th.at, "the log in the eye", which has to be removecl before the Missouri Synod can (10 theology again. If thc thnt, i.e., a11 events and occurrences in Christ's life, and for nlatter Israel's life hegillni~~g with the caII of Abraham, are removed, then we will not bnve anv theology at all. The for in tlleology rests on tile fact that God did s'mnethiitg. If "Lutheran Uarthianism" gains tlie field, the for us will also 'be lost. Thc llistory of Barthianism validates the type of theological don~jno thcor!,. ''Ar~tl the rains ca~~ie . . . anti great was the fall of that ~IOLIS~.'"~ A good cxanlple of Gospcl ilsed as a doctrinal norm or sta~ldard (pi-in- cipizim CO~~?OSCCYZL~~) is given by Dr. Robert W. Jenson in his articlc "Lutheran Conditions for Conlmunion in Holy Things" which appeared in the same issuc of' thc CTh4 \vith Dr. Bretschcr's " 'The Log in Your Own Eye.' " On tllc l~asis of his understanding of the word "Gospel" in Augustana VII, Dr. Jcnson of Gettysburg argues that there is sufficient basis for fcllo.c?:ship between Luthcrnns and Enisconalians. Tenson maior argument is that wherc! ther~ ic A good cxanlplc of Gospcl used as a doctrinal norm or standard (pi-iu?- cipizinz CO~I~OSCCYZL~~) is given by Dr. Robert W. Jenson in his articlc "Lutheran Conditions for Com~nunion in Holy Things" which appeared in the same issuc of' thc C':M wit11 Dr. Brctschcr's " 'The Log in Your Own Eye.' " On tlic l~asis of his understanding of the word “Gospel" in Augustana VII, Dr. Jcnson of Gettysburg argues that thcre is sufficient basis for fcllo.c?;ship between Lutherans 2nd Episcopalians. Jenson major argument is that where there is agrccnlent on thc "Gospel') thcre can bc nevertheless different theologies. All this becomes of some interest, since Augustana VII was widely used in the iflissouri Synod to establish fellowship with The American Lutheran Church in 1969. The argument for church fellowship based on Augustana VII is that where tllcrc. is a ministry of word and sacrament, church fellowship is possible. Other doctrinal concerns are secondary and do not affect the basic fcllonrship of thc Gosl3cl. With such a wide definition, some thought that the Missouri Synod co~~ld ctcclarc fellowship not only with the ALC hut with any organiza- tion that engaged in Gospel proclamation and sacramental distribution. Dr. 29. Obcdicrzt 1lcbel.s: CathoIic Substance and Protestant l'rinciple in Luther's Refornlation (Ncw Yorl~: Harper, 1964). The subtitlc to Dr. Schultz's essay "Weflection on the Current Col~troversy in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod" is curio:~sly revealing "An Attcn~pt to Exprcss l'astoral Coricern." Thc term "pastoral concern" appeared in news rclcase from a June 28, 1972 meeting of Lutheran theologians. As Dr. Schultz iluotcs, t11c relc;~sc illso said that thc controversy is to be commended to the Gospel. Thc use of "Gospcl" and "Pastoral Concern" indicates the very area of conflict. One group, of which Dr. Schrlltz is representative, wants to settle thc difficulties by speak- ing tllc Gospcl to one anothcr. This Gospel circa In Dr. Schultz's theology scems to bc suspended abovc the Scripturcs and basically inlmulle from historical investigation. This type of thinking leads us to use the phrase "Luthcrau. Ilarff~ianisnl." Dr. Preus The Laiv Gospel Debate 171 Jenson llroves that such fcars were not unfounded at all. The use of Augustana VII in ecumenical discussion is only of recent vintage. Dr. Nelson suggests the 1950's (op. cit., p. 166). My Lz~thcrcin World Fedcration Today (CPH, 1971, pp. 23-26) showed that Augustana VII is improperly uscd in matters of establishing church fellowship. This article speaks of the zina sancta which is present wherever tIlc good ncws of Jesus is preached and the sacraments administered. The entire Eook of Concord, includiilg the Augustana, speaks mightily against the theory that fellorvship can be established on the basis of the "Gospel." If Jenson's understanding of Augustana VII is correct, then Luther and all the reformers flagrantly brolte thcir own principle or were ignorant of it! The Lutherans never dcnictl that the church was present among the Roman Catholics as the Gospel uras preached and the sacraments were being admin- istered; still fello\vship mias denied Rome, Geneva, and later even the Church of England, something ~vhich Jcnson wants to allow now on the basis of the same document(s). If the writers of the Lutheran Confessions refused felIow- ship on their understanding of their own writings, it seems inappropriate that a 20th century understanding should supersede the understanding of the original writers.