Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 22
The Deconfessionalization of Lutheranism?
Remarks on the present situation of the Lutheran Churches.
Dear Brothers in the Office!
Three years have passed since the first of these letters came into your hands. That letter sought to depict, in brief strokes, the situation faced by the Lutheran Churches as it made note of the two-fold tendency in the most recent history of our church: a strong external ascendance of Lutheranism, which is accompanied by a threatening diminution of the dogmatic-confessional substance. Most of you will agree with me that the developments of the past three years have corroborated this viewpoint. It is to be feared that the meeting of the Lutheran World Federation in Hannover will not contradict this view. How pleased would we all be, all of us who are so very concerned for the future of our church, if this meeting would prove us wrong, if it shall have revealed something of an ascendancy of the inner spiritual life of the church, of a renewal of the old faithfulness to the confession of the eternal truth, which once found a home in Lower Saxony. But from what one reads in "Lutherischen Rundschau" of the preparations in Hanover it appears to be much like the massive marches and manipulating demonstrations which the evangelical churches of Germany inherited from the Third Reich, which satisfy a deep psychological need of modern masses. There is no doubt hat the Hannover session of the Lutheran World Federation will be just as beautiful and enchanting as the Berlin Kirchentag of the EkiD and as the great royal nuptial celebrations of Hannover in previous years. The very same men who in Berlin were so enthused over the unity of the Evangelical Church in German [EkiD] ("We are still brothers!"), will be enthused in Hannover over the Lutheran Church. And they will proudly allow the church banners to stream, among which also is the banner of the LWF with Luther's seal, just as at royal weddings the old Hannoverian flags suddenly fluttered again and the old uniforms of the Hannoverian army of 1866 experienced a remarkable resurrection. What a testimony of loyalty that was! Only it was forgotten that it was all merely a beautiful show. The princes no longer rule. The flag of a state was displayed which has long since gone under. The people passionately celebrated a loyalty, which had long since been violated. That is the genius loci of Hannover. Should it also rule the session of the Lutheran World Federation in August? If not, then it is time to exorcise it. We theologians in any case will remain sober and guard ourselves from the enthusiasm which in every form is the mortal enemy of the true faith. With Lutheran sobriety, which means for us at the same time with constant faith in the reality of the Church of God, we desire to seek to understand the situation of Lutheranism regarding a few essential points at the beginning of this fateful year.
The letters, which at Christmas time came from various areas of the Lutheran Church of Europe and America, from territorial and free churches, large and small churches, spoke without exception of the deep inner distress of the churches. They spoke of distressing matters scarcely found in the church papers, matters of which one can not speak publicly at all, or only in a very limited way. But all these voices give one who resides at a place on the earth outside Europe and America the impression that a single illness threatens the Lutheran Churches of the world. It is the very secularization of the church itself. If 25 years ago the secularization of culture was recognized as the great illness of the time, then it is soberly to be asserted today that secularism is now the illness of the church. It is gripping to see that, in order to fulfill the missiological goal of calling the peoples of the west back to the Christian faith, the church itself must first be turned back to this faith. "Sweden's people are God' people." That was the solution a generation ago. Today the question is to what extent the Church of Sweden is still the church of God? And so it is in all nations. Great missionary endeavors and evangelization efforts will still be carried out, but it is precisely the most serious evangelists who are coming to the conviction that the gospel preaching church must be the first object of their evangelization. This understanding was already once given as a gift to German evangelical churchdom. The consequence of the theology of Karl Barth in the time of his great influence in the first half of the 1930's was based upon this recognition. That was the meaning of his struggle against Dibelius and his "Century of the Church." That was the most profound power of the "Confessing Churches" of all persuasions in Germany, however they may have differed from each other as Lutherans, Reformed, or United [Churches]. That was really the renewal of the Reformation; for Reformation is indeed the repentance of the church. The end of this repentance meant the end of the "Confessing Church." What then followed was mere restoration. Every revolution ends with collapse and the convulsive efforts to restore everything to what it was before. That is an inborn propensity of natural man. From the far southern and eastern portion of the world, one has the impression that the Japanese people have been struck at the very core of their existence in a more profound way, and that there are more penitent men, men who have heard the New Testament summons to repentance, than among us Germans. One need simply glance at Lilje's "Sunday Paper" [Sonntagsblatt] or the propaganda paper broadcast throughout the world, "Christ and World" [Christ und Welt] with the following in mind: What remains here of the Stuttgart confession of guilt which was at least true in 1945? Where the church, however, loses and surrenders the authority to preach repentance, neither can she preach justification. There she loses the Gospel. There she does not experience that repentance which makes the church the church of Christ. There she can still proclaim a Christian worldview; she can train scholars and workers, doctors and philosophers, engineers and journalists at evangelical academies. There her theologians can still proclaim a theory of the forgiveness of sins, but she no longer has the authority to call sinners to repentance. Karl Holl once made an excellent statement regarding the sermons of Schleiermacher from the years after the collapse of Prussia: "One gets the impression that Schleiermacher too perceived the deepening of the understanding of sin in the sense of strict Christianity at that time as a certain hindrance to the necessary ascendance of the father land." (Ges Aufsatze [Umlaut over "a"] III, p. 357). That is Prussian Christianity, the Christianity of the "German Christians" and their kindred spirits in all nations of the earth: One reckons one's own sins against those of others, and quickly forgets his own. But God forgets not. He forgives, but only the truly repentant.
No where is the secularization of the Lutheran Church more visible than in the loss of her confessional conscience. In these letters we have often recounted that and why the Lutheran Church is a confessional church kat exochen. The confession means for her more than it does for the Reformed, indeed, in many respect even more than for the [Roman] Catholics. The Reformed Churches can survive if the confession is relativized, when it is stated: "We do not know precisely whether next Sunday we will continue to interpret Scripture in the way we do today." Catholicism actually celebrates a triumph when a dogma is proclaimed by the pope, the correctness of which is doubted by many of the best Catholics and which they then in worthy obedience accept, though they themselves know that the proof of tradition is defective and therefore doubtful. Both these groups [Reformed and Roman] lack that ultimate seriousness regarding the question of truth, which was the proprium of the Lutheran Reformation. We Lutherans are quite happy to boast about this virtue, but perhaps no longer with justification, just as the Swiss still boast of the bravery which their fathers showed on the battle fields of Europe centuries ago. Indeed, the church does not live on from the faith of the fathers. The confession can have a purely historical significance like the flags and uniforms of Hannover. If it is correct that the confessio, the confession of the faith, is indissoluably connected with confessio in the sense of the confession of sin and of the praise of God, is not then our lack of repentance and our lack of joyful praise of God in newer hymns a notable parallel to the regression of the dogmatic confession [of the faith]? Allow me to cite the following sentence from the Christmas letter of an American friend as an illustration of this state of affairs: "I am afraid we have come to a point in American Lutheranism where we no longer dare discuss controversial doctrines. There is a deep concern in all hearts for outward unity, but with that there often goes, as you know, doctrinal differences (read "indifference") and even compromise on truth. The concern for truth has lost its power in our country, not least because of the philosophy of goverment and the corruption in government that we have seen for the last two decades. It reaches all the way down into the church because the young people are educated into this kind of a philosophy. God help us to be fearless in our presentation of the truth and in our battle against falsehood." Thus the great secularization process, which is today passing through all churches, affects in Lutheranism a troubling regression of confessional consciousness and with this also of dogmatic substance.
And this judgement applies, even in view of the fact that the collapse in other churches is happening much more quickly and is more eminent than in the Lutheran Church. I will comment on this in what follows. But no reference to the great sickness of secularism already farther advanced in other communions of Christendom can release us from the duty of acknowledging the sickness in its entire gravity and of reminding ourselves of the means and path to healing to which the merciful patience of God points us.
Allow me to clarify the dogmatic-confessional problem of the Lutheran Church by noting one of the many ecumenical plans which in our day, especially on the mission field and in the great lands of immigration such as Australia, are supposed to solve the church's problem. The "World Council of Churches" indeed assures us that it does not desire to be a "super church," and that it also refused to be, as Dr. Leiper says, a "marriage beaurue" for churches. Thus in the theses of Toronto regarding the ecclesiological significance of the World Council of Churches, III.2, it states: "The task of the Council is not to facilitate union between churches. Such negotiations can only be carried out by the churches themselves at their own initiative. Its task is to bring the churches into a living perception of each other, and thus to promote study and the discussion of questions of church unification." (Translated from "The Ecumenical Revue" III, No. 1, Oct. 1950, p. 48). This thesis is explained by the following: "By its very existence and activity the Council bears witness to the necessity of a clear manifestation of the unity of the church of Christ. But it remains the right and duty of each individual church on the basis of its ecumenical experience to come to those conclusions which they themselves believe they must come to on the basis of their own convictions. No church, therefore, needs to fear that the Council will necessitate decisions from them regarding unification with other churches" (ibidem). It is stated thereby that the World Council is in fact something like a match-maker, where the partners are brought together and encouraged to express decisions regarding future marital agreements. The ecumenical movement, which a quarter century ago facilitated the encounter of the churches, the new ordering of their mutual relationships and their common consciousness of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church as confessed in the Nicaenum, has in large measure thereby become a union movement in which the tragedy of all such union movements is repeated: Instead of reducing the number of churches, the number is increased through the founding of new churches, just as after 1817 in Germany out of the Lutheran and Reformed [Churches] something like five union churches of various confession had been created. And the unification is not unification in faith, but rather unification in doubt, namely the famous "agree[ment] to disagree" [ Sasse's original states this in English. Trans.]. Just what such a church looks like is shown by the plan for a "Reunited Church" of Australia, which on the basis of the Union of South India and the plan for other union churches in the far east has been worked out by the "Commission for Faith and Order" with the "Australian Council of the World Council of Churches" and in fully official manner set before the ecumenical sessions of this year, especially the Faith and Order Conference in Lund, and commended to the churches of Australia
The "Reunited Church" is to consist of member churches which, to a certain extent, retain their independence, but mutually acknowledge each other's faith and the validity of their respective offices. Each particular church delegates certain powers to the larger church [Gesamtkirche]. This has already been realized in Germany in the EkiD, and this is why the EkiD enjoys such great favor through the ecumenical movement. It is exactly the same plan which is behind the new "National Council of Churches in Christ in America" (NCCCA), the continuation of the old Federal Council of 1908. According to the view of the present leader of the ecumenical movement this plan shall bring about the solution to the world-wide unification problem, especially on the mission field: Unity in diversity, maintenance of the heritage of the individual confessions while setting aside the old absolute dogmatic claims. This is the realization of the Masonic idea so dear to the western world - the "religion in which we all agree" [Sasse's original in English], making possible further development of the church toward a full realization of the Una Sancta "under the direction of the Holy Spirit." The creedal basis in the case of Australia is that which is held to be basic to the Christian faith: Apostolicum and Niceanum as expressions of faith in the Triune God. How one understands the assertions of these confessions on individual points is, accordingly, not asked. All questions which in these confessions are not answered, remain open, especially all the questions raised by the Reformation. Regarding the Holy Scriptures, for instance, the plan says that the churches accept the writings of the Old and New Testaments as "given by God, in order to give us the revelation of himself in many parts and many ways, which is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ." Not only does it remain an open question whether the Holy Scriptures are God's word, as the church of all times has believed, but also whether they are the only source and norm of doctrine, or whether there is a tradition also alongside them. New declarations of faith should certainly only be allowed provided "such statements are agreeable to the truths of the Christian religion which is revealed in Holy Scripture." This much of the sola scriptura of the Reformation yet remains. We find here the uniquely flawed position of the present day Anglican Church regarding the scriptures. When the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in previous years protested against the Dogma of the Assumptio Mariae it did not mean, as was understood by Lutherans, that they held that the dogma was false. All Anglo-catholics celebrate the 15th of August with the Roman liturgy of the day, thereby confessing their personal belief in the dogma, and thus declare publicly that they accept the Assumptio. No Anglican bishop denies them this right. What is contested is only that this doctrine must be believed by all Christians as binding dogma. The Church of England and world Anglicanism see an error not in the belief in the Marian dogmas of [Roman] Catholicism, rather only in the fact of the dogmatization itself. This limitation of the scriptural principle corresponds to the fact that the tradition [of the Assumption] again achieved a significance in Anglicanism which was denied it by the Reformation. We have elsewhere already once pointed out the pronouncement of the present Archbishop of Canterbury that the highest authority in questions of doctrine is the Holy Spirit, who speaks in the Holy Scriptures, in tradition, and in the present, living experience of the church. One may happily accept a tradition as an article of faith, only one must not ascribe to it general binding force. On the other hand, it is not stated that a binding dogma must be taken from the Scriptures, which is a basic principle of all churches of the Reformation. It just must not contradict Scripture; it must be reconcilable to the revealed truth in Scripture. These basic principles of modern Anglicanism have here been made a norm of faith in the "Reunited Church." Can the sola scriptura of the Reformation be taught within it? Yes, but only as a private opinion of individual Christians or groups of Christians! Can the Tridentine dogma of Scripture and tradition be taught within it? Once again, yes, but only as a private opinion! At first glance it appears to be a remarkable unification of Protestantism and Catholicism, and in this sense its advocates perceived the plan. But upon closer examination one notes that here precisely that is abandoned regarding which Luther, Calvin and Trent were actually in agreement, namely the recognition of the Bible as the Word of God! But it is precisely the same with all the doctrines of the confessional churches of Christianity. One may teach the sola scriptura or the Tridentine doctrine of justification, Calvin's predestination doctrine or Arminianism, but always and only as a private opinion. The Lutherans may retain the Book of Concord, the Reformed their confessions, the Catholics the Tridentinum, provided that they do not absolutize their their particular traditions. The sola fide of the Lutheran Reformation can be maintained as a private opinion, but it may no longer be asserted that it is the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae. The same applies to all the particular doctrines of all confessions.
The union-character of this church finds it expression, naturally, most especially in the sacraments. Both sacraments based in the gospel, Baptism and the Holy Supper, are essential for the church. Whether or not there are additional sacraments, remains an open question. Confirmation is regarded as the necessary fulfillment of Baptism. A bishop must administer it. "Baptism is sign and seal of the covenant of grace, the unification with Christ in his body, through which we die to sin and are reborn unto righteousness and through the reception of the Holy Spirit become children of God." Infant baptism and adult baptism are looked upon as having equal legitimacy. If parents do not desire to have their children baptized, the parents should make use a special ceremony to dedicate them to God. "Baptism should thus be imparted as publicly as possible where by the essence of the Sacrament is illustrated in appropriate fashion before the assembled congregation, so that the significance of baptism be quite clearly asserted." Children who die unbaptized should be given a Christian burial. Basing infant baptism upon its necessity for salvation is avoided. Bible passages are not cited, nor is the necessity of confirmation by a bishop [given scriptural basis]. Of what instruction regarding baptism is to consist is not said. It must contain language at which neither a Lutheran, nor a Baptist, nor an Anglo-catholic nor a disciple of the Salvation Army can take offense. The solution to the problem of the Supper is not so complicated. This sacrament, to be celebrated with bread and wine, with prayer and the words of institution, serves for the remembrance of the death of Christ, the proclamation of the sacrifice of Christ, and the reception of the benefits of the sacrament. Wherein these benefits consist, is not stated. The body and blood of Christ are in general not mentioned, which has the great advantage that no controversy regarding the meaning of the words of institution can transpire. The doctrine of the Supper is left to the private understanding of individuals. Should anyone think to ask the reunited church what is actually received in the sacrament of the Supper, the answer would have to be: "This the church does not know." It is not necessary here to enter into the stipulations regarding constitution, regarding the offices of the bishop, presbyter and deacon, how through a mutual laying on of hands a form of reciprocal acknowledgment of offices is to ensue as a replacement for re-ordination. What interests us is unfortunately the fact that here, under the blessing of the World Council of Churches, a fantastic union church is planned, in which the individual confessional churches are to find their higher unity, without giving up their own existence. No words would need to be wasted regarding the plan if the leading circles of Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregationalist Churches of Australia, also the Baptists - not all of them - the Salvation Army and a few other fellowships did not support it, and if this plan did not correspond precisely to what is planned for the great mission fields of the far east, and in part, has already been realized.
It is self evident - or should it perhaps already no longer be self-evident? - that the Lutheran Church can only speak a decisive "No" to this and similar plans. Nor can it allow itself to take part in an improvement of such plans. The only thing which the Church of the Augsburg Confession can do here is tell the other churches why such a "reunited church" must needs be the end of the Church of Christ. For it would in fact not be a "reunited" church. For such a church has never existed, not immediately previous to the Reformation or in ancient times. It is the fantasy dreamed up by churchmen who can think neither historically nor theologically. They would tolerate Protestants and Catholics but what kind of Protestants maintain that the sola scriptura and the sola fide are each a non-binding theologoumenon? What kind of Catholics confesses Tridentine dogma without condemning the doctrines of the Reformation? How could such a church attempt to carry out missions in a serious fashion? How can I call men to the faith if I can not tell them what the Christian faith is? How can I preach justification without mentioning what justification is? How can I exhort men to allow themselves to be baptized if I can not answer the question of what baptism gives or profits? How can I dispense the Holy Supper to men if either they or I are able to say what they receive in this sacrament? The objection that these questions were not yet answered in the first 1500 years of the church is perverted. The liturgies of the east as well as the west always stated very precisely what the sacraments give. And even if all these had been "open questions" before the Reformation, we still could not undo the fact that since the sixteenth century answers have been given, certain answers which contradict one another, answers which one can reject, but answers which one can not ignore. And indeed, if an unnerved Protestant Christianity no longer will venture to answer these questions, Rome will do it. And in spite of all its errors Rome will still have preserved several truths. Shall it actually come to the point that the Pope must say to the world that the Bible is the Word of God, that Christ through his death rendered full satisfaction for our sins, that we receive in the Sacrament of the Altar His true body and His true blood, that Baptism actually is the washing of regeneration and is necessary for salvation? Is it really too much to state that that "reunited church" would be the end of the Church of Christ? For without these truths of the Holy Scriptures the church can not live.
But if this is the case, if the Lutheran Church must say all of this to Christianity, then it must also say this to the World Council of Churches. This means it must protest in every way that such a union plan be propagandized and affected in the name of the World Council, or with its consent or indulgence. Should its protest find no hearing then it must break all connections to this ecumenical organization. It is false to say, "We Lutherans must be present, in order to influence developments, in order to avoid something worse." The author of this letter has paid attention to the ecumenical movement for 25 years, and not merely as an observer. He dedicated several years of his life to it, especially to the "Faith and Order" movement. He worked closely with its great leaders, from Charles Brent to William Temple. He still recalls with thankfulness the conferences where we came together, as Bishop Palmer of Bombay expressed it, not as negotiators, but as those who sought the truth. "Our conference is about the truth, not about reunification," thus this Anglican Bishop began his great address regarding the Office of the Ministry [geistliche Amt] at Lausanne 1927 (Die Weltkonferenz fur [*Umlaut over u] Glauben und Kirchenverfassung, Official German Report, p. 298; compare passages cited in the index (p. 631) under "Wahrheit und Einheit" ["truth and unity"][Sasse was editor of this work. Trans.]). But who today still seriously asks the question of truth? To be sure, serious theologians of all confessions, also in the World Council of Churches do this. But who listens to them? The type of "church leaders" who meanwhile have taken the rudder of the churches, the bishops and church presidents in Europe, the presidents of the great churches and synods of America, have entirely different concerns than the concern for the truth, for pure doctrine - aside from a few very out-moded men in remote churches, who are not taken seriously because they play no roll in world wide church politics. This also is part of the secularization of the church, which is apparently the unavoidable fate of Christianity. Where the cause for this development lays is an idle question, whether the failures of men destroy church government, or whether a false church government shatters men. Perhaps it is both. And so today in the history of the church there are no longer men such as Bezzel, Ihmels and Zoellner in Germany, Hein in America, Johannsson in Finnland, Charles Gore in England. Those familiar with Roman Catholicism maintain that a similar situation has, for the most part, also transpired there.
But if the "church leaders," because of wisdom or what they believe is wisdom, are silent, then others must speak. And it is time for such individuals in the Lutheran Churches of the world to finally study the reality of the World Council of Churches. How is it that the World Council, in spite of its express reserve in the question of actual union, in spite of its efforts not to injure the dogmatic substance of the churches, has become a sad tool of unionism? For its defenders will also grant this, that at least the champions of ecclesiastical indifference and undogmatic unionism make use of the World Council of Churches in order to carry out their plans. How is it that such a glaring contradiction exists between the carefully crafted theses of the declaration of Toronto 1950 regarding what the World Council is and what it is not, and the reality, at least at the organizational level, in individual countries? There are two reasons for this: its insufficient dogmatic foundation, and the fact that the World Council does not take seriously its dogmatic foundation. The theologically meaningless formula that the churches of the World Council confess Jesus Christ as God and Savior is completely inadequate. Why is not a clear confession of orthodox Christology, of the Nicaenum as explicated by the Chalcedonense demanded? Why has it surrendered that which in this regard already 25 years ago was achieved at Lausanne in the acknowledgement of the Nicaenum? Indeed, the reason is that the ancient confession of the church, which still actually expresses the common inheritance of the faith for all churches, was not taken seriously. This can be a sign of honorableness. It is certainly more honorable not to mention the Nicaenum if one believes neither the virgin birth of the Lord nor his bodily resurrection, just to mention these dogmas of the old Credo. But in what sense then is Christ's divinity confessed? The confessional formula of the constitution of the World Council of Churches has hitherto prevented no church from joining in which the denial of the divinity of the Lord is tolerated and allowed. The Evangelical Church of Switzerland, for instance, in which the affirmation and the denial of the Trinitarian and Christological Dogmas have equal right, was given the express assurance that it need express no objections regarding the confessional formula. But if churches are received which expressly declare that they have no official confession of the divinity of Christ, what sense does it make to maintain the formula? This means there will not and can not be any examination of the faith or heresy trial. It must be left to the individual member churches whether they are prepared to subscribe to the conditions of membership, and they must be free to interpret them as they see fit. But one must also be clear that the entire confessional basis is, for all practical purposes suspended when its interpretation is left completely free. This is a theology of the "as though," which Archbishop Fischer of Canterbury or Bishop Oxnam of the Methodist Episcopal Church in American can tolerate. But Lutheran churchmen may never go along with this. Indeed, one should expect protest against this from Presbyterians and other serious Reformed [Christians]. He who plays with the confession of the church plays with the Word of God, the explication of which the confession desires to be. Perhaps Bultmann's critique of the confessional basis of the World Council of Churches will provide the occasion for a thorough going re-evaluation of what alone can be the dogmatic basis for cooperative work of churches. According to the Lutheran confessions it can be nothing other than the consensus in "the high articles of the divine majesty," which according to the Schmalkald Articles form the point of departure for every dialogue between confessional churches. We once said this in vain during the preparation of the World Conference at Amsterdam (Bericht ueber [**Umlaut] Amsterdam Bd. I, The Universal Church in God's Design, 1948, p. 196f.). Perhaps the time will come when it will be understood. This is what the Lutheran Church must say to the World Council of Churches. No Church of the Augsburg Confession can with good conscience belong to the World Council before this demand is fulfilled. A true ecumenical movement can and will only exist after the confession of the Holy Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ has once again become a confession of the heart and not merely a confession of lips, after the truths of the Apostles' and Nicene confessions of the church are again confessed magno consensu. Without this faith, without this consensus the World Council of Churches is that which it de facto is today: An arena for power-hungry church politicians and for the thoughtless construction of an illusionary future church. And Lutherans ought keep their distance. They achieve nothing other by participation than that the public pronouncements are written more dubiously and circumspectly. And because they encumber themselves with the guilt of half-believing syncretism and unionism, they surrender the power to bear witness to the truth. They will slowly, but surely, if may say it, be "de-confessionalized."
De-confessionalization - That is the model which is taking place today in Lutheranism. For the price of de-confessionalization Reformed Christianity today is - as it has been for the most part since the sixteenth century - prepared to acknowledge the Lutheran Church. No one has anything against the Evangelical Lutheran Church taking up its residence in the great house of ecumenical Christianity. Within this house it may foster its own tradition, preserve its confession, nurse its liturgy, its tradition, and pass on its tradition and inheritance to the next generation. That is the position of Lutheranism within the ecumenical movement as represented by the World Council, the position of the Lutheran Churches of Germany within the EkiD, the position which the United Lutheran Church and the Augustana Synod accept within the "National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA," which according to the plans of Stanley Jones and others shall soon develop into an American super-EkiD. It is the position, which the Lutherans are to have in the building of conceived or planned union churches on the mission fields of the world or in the "Reunited Church" in Australia. One needs to understand the greatness of this view of the church in order to perceive the power which it has come to have over the souls of Protestant Christianity. We have experienced in the political life of the world, since the ninetieth century, the new type of the federation of states in the USA and its parallels (e.g. Brazil) in the British Commonwealth and in the Commonwealths of Australia, Canada and South Africa. This is also seen in the form the state has taken in Germany from German Federation, through the German Reich, to the Federal Republic, and perhaps eventually in a united West Europe. This is also the case in the east in the USSR and the new forms of the Russian Empire. So also Christianity, at least Protestant Christianity, has begun to develop forms of the church parallel [to these new forms of the state]. As the federated state so also the federated church solves the problem of how to bring into harmony with each other unity and diversity, ecumenicity and confessionalism. It is all so remarkably "obvious" that the advocates of this view of the church simply cannot conceive of anyone opposing it. They can see in an opposing view only the worst sort of reaction, the pointless attempt to repristinate the past. He who dares to swim against this stream appears in the eyes of the world, the Christian and even Lutheran world, as laughable. No publisher, no journal dares to print such an opposing view. Should anyone ever be of the opinion that this should still be discussed publicly, then "Lutheran" bishops are very anxious to censure such attempts so they do not occur. So let it at least be stated here: This view of the church is once again nothing other than the reflection and transference of secular thought [into the church]. Just because the world today seeks a form of communal life in which smaller communities are "united" or "federated," it need not be the will of God that the church also exist in this way. This is all the more so, if it appears that thereby motives are coming to bear other than the needs of communal life. It is a definite view of "Christendom" or of the "Christian religion" which is evidenced in this view of the church. The "confessions" [i.e. denominations] are understood as the great forms in which "Christendom" manifests itself. There is a Catholic and Protestant, Lutheran and Reformed, Methodist and Congregationalist "Christendom." Between these forms there are closer or more distant kinships. There are families and familial similarities. There is the family of the Lutheran Churches and the branch of the family of the Reformed Churches. Even Swedish theology, in spite of all the Luther scholarship retains so much residue of Ritschlianism and religio-scientific interpretation of the Christian faith, that it can not shake itself of this schema. Even a man such as Nygren thinks in these categories when he speaks of the position of Lutheranism among the confessions of Christianity. But one need only ask what Luther would say to this in order to grasp the untenableness of this treatment of the question of the various confessions. For Luther the Lutheran Church is not the social form of one of the great forms of the Christian religion, which was stamped by the religious experience of a gifted reformer, just as Roman Catholicism for him is not a more and less justifiable form of manifestation of Christendom. Of course, one can also seek to understand the Christian faith in a religio-scientific manner. But in so doing one does not come upon the essence of this faith, the essence of the confession of faith and the essence of the Church in general. Churches are not plants. Therefore there is no morphology of confessions. Neither are churches families, between which one may fix similarities and dissimilarities. The confession [Konfession] the confession of the faith [Bekenntnis des Glaubens] is not the expression of religious sentiment. Dogmas are not, as Schleiermacher thought (Glaubenslehre par. 15), "comprehensions of the pious Christian condition of the heart presented in language." The Lord Christ had no interest in the pious Christian heart of his apostles when he asked: "Who do you say that I am?" There are no true or false plants, no true and false families, and even the difference between the religious condition of the heart of a Hindu and a Mohammedan can not be expressed in the categories of "true" and "false." But there are true and false churches. There are Christian dogmas to which the predicate of truth is attached, such as the dogma of the ascension of Christ, and there are anti-Christian heresies, such as the heresy of the assumption of Mary.
This false view of the Christian faith as a religion, which arises in various forms, stands behind the modern idea that various churches [Konfessionen] complement each other. Every confession is thus a more or less perfect or imperfect attempt to present the true Christian religion, to realize the one Christendom which stands behind them all. Thus they all belong together and one must bring them together that they may compliment each other. Christ, so it is said, is so great that one single man, indeed, a single church can never completely understand him. As a mountain viewed from various vantagepoints presents completely diverse views, and as the scenes, which pass by the individual traveler on either side, are necessarily diverse, but not false, so it is with the Christian church. They should come together. Each shall keep its uniqueness, each render completely its particular contribution, all the while learning to understand its truth as one form of a truth which is multifaceted. Thus the various "values" are preserved, and nothing gets lost. Thus in the planned "Reunited Church of Australia" the value of infant baptism and the value of believer's baptism are preserved - one wonders just what "value" will come of the rejection of baptism by the Quakers. Behind this view stands - this may and must finally be stated calmly - the Masonic theory of the "religion in which we all agree" (Ben Franklin). In the Masonic lodges of Europe and America that religion was fostered which for the Deists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was behind the "positive religions." There were the religions of "true humanity," with their belief in God, the architect of the universe, and in human freedom and the immortality of the soul. This is that mystery religion regarding which one really can not speak in public ("Wise men are but of one religion, but what this is, wise men will never tell," as Shaftesbury said [original in English]). This is that religion cultivated in the secrecy of the lodge and principles of which FreeMasonry has advanced in the world. Just as the history of the German unions can not be understood without knowledge of the lodge and connections of the Protestant princely houses to the lodge, so also the modern ecumenical movement will not be understood without the participation of the English, and especially, the American lodges. One must know that the Archbishop of Canterbury and something like half the English bishops are members of the lodge, as well as the leading men of the free churches. The same applies in the case of the great Reformed Churches in America. The discussion regarding whether a bishop, who claims to be the successor of the apostles, can simultaneously belong to a organization which is the successor to the Gnostic sects, begun by a few serious Anglican theologians in the monthly "Theology" a short time ago, was not continued. It will have absolutely no practical consequence for the church. A corresponding motion at the Convocation of Canterbury not to allow the matter to be considered is as "bad in form and content" [orig. in English]. But it must finally be stated that lodgedom is one of the most powerful factors in the process of the dissolution of confessional consciousness, and indeed, not in that it is a form of conspiracy against the church, as was earlier thought. It is so rather because FreeMasonry, by means of its cultus and its communal, life has created an atmosphere in which men, who are well intentioned, have lost the sense for confession and dogma. It could be that the change which appears to have transpired in the confessional consciousness of American Lutherans is connected with the fact that the entire Lutheran Church has been brought up through the process of Americanization in the atmosphere of the lodges, and has appropriated their ideas completely unaware. Indeed, these ideas play a great roll in the youth organizations (Boy Scouts). America will never overcome the fact that the lodge stood in as "sponsor" at its founding and at the genesis of the formation of its culture [Volkstum].
With this the question is posed, which the Lutheran Churches have to answer in the year 1952. Shall the process of de-confessionalization, which world Lutheranism is currently undergoing, continue? Will it be stopped? Can it be stopped? What will the meeting of the Lutheran World Federation in Hanover mean for this? Is the importance of this question absolutely clear?
Many will not understand this question at all. We are Lutheran Churches, Churches of the Augsburg Confession. We hold fast to this. No other doctrine, such as that of the Variata,
is valid among us. No other catechism than Luther's shall be used for instruction. But precisely as Lutherans we desire to join with the other Protestant confessions and give expression through cooperative efforts to the great Christian and Protestant commonality which binds us together with other Christians. To be sure, we all know that the boundaries of our church are not the boundaries of the Una Sancta. The only thing which we desire to lay aside is the old exclusive confessionalism, which pronounced condemnation upon other churches, something only the odd confessional church did. What we desire is an "inclusive confessionalism," as Edmund Schlink has called the new view for which we strive. To this we counter: We also know that the [Lutheran] church does not coincide with the Una Sancta. [Sasse's original here, is certainly an unintentional error: We also know that the Church of Christ does not coincide with the Una Sancta. Trans.] We also confess the one holy, catholic church, which lives in, with and under the churches of the world [Konfessionskirchen]. Nor do we let fall the judgement of condemnation upon other Christians and other Churches. We testify with the fathers of the Formula of Concord that the condemnation formulas, the "damnant" ["they condemn"], the "improbant secus docentes" ["they reject those who teach"], do not mean "persons who err out of simplicity and do not blaspheme the truth of the divine word, but much less entire churches within or without the Holy Empire of the German Nation" (Forward to the F.C., Bek. Schr., Anniversary Edition, p. 756, Muller [**Umlaut], p. 16), rather the heresies and their stiff-necked advocates who force such matters in our churches. We too are prepared for every necessary cooperatio with other Christians so far as is possible without denial of the truth. There is one thing we cannot accept. We can under no circumstances view false doctrine, contrary to scripture, as of equal legitimacy with pure doctrine or tolerate it in the church only as a hypothetical possibility. For this reason we have, as has the orthodox church of every age, no communicatio in sacris cum haereticis. If this is called intolerance then we confess that we are intolerant people in the same sense the apostles were (I Tim. 6:20 f.; Tit. 4:10; I Jn. 4:1ff.) and as was Luther. But we assert that this "intolerance" which is an abomination to Deists of every age, because they know nothing nor can know anything of ultimate truth, because they do not know Jesus Christ as the truth in person, is of the essence of genuine Christian faith. Without this "intolerance" over against heresy there is no real Lutheranism. Without the condemnation formulas at the end of the individual articles the Augustana loses its meaning. Without the "they reject those who teach" [improbant secus docentes] there is no Lutheran doctrine of the Supper. Without serious discipline with regard to the Supper so that only those are allowed to come to the Lord's table who know what is received there and desire to receive it, there is no Sacrament of the Altar. This is not Luther's discovery. This was ever so in the church since the days of the apostles. The question to world Lutheranism today is whether these principles still obtain[gelten]. They do if the confession obtains. They are an element of the confession. It is certainly not left to our pleasure whether we would continue to allow them to obtain, for then we would have already fallen away from the confession.
That is the enormous seriousness of the decision which confronts the Lutheran Churches of the world this year. It is the ecclesiastico-historical decision of Hannover. The men who have convened the World Federation in Hannover need to be clear on just what accountability they bear, not only to their churches as they exist today, but rather to the orthodox church of all times. [They are bear an accountability] to the fathers who can no longer speak to us except through the confessions which they wrote, and to those as yet unborn who can not yet speak, but will finally speak at the last judgement. God grant that when they do speak it will not be as our accusers! Lutheranism desires to speak at this conference as "a responsible church" [orig. in English], a church which is conscious of its responsibility. May it only be conscious of this responsibility! Whether the session is a success or failure will not be decided by what is said by the contemporaries, or the world press, the other churches, the great publicity, the politicians, the citizens, the workers, or the church governments and synods, to whom the delegates will have to give account. Nor [will its success be determined by] what is said by the congregations and pastors, to whom they will report. [The success or failure of this conference will be determined] by what will be said at the last judgement.
The first thing, which Hanover owes to the Christian, and to the Lutheran world, is a clear, unmistakable statement regarding what a Church of the Lutheran Confession is. We repeat thereby a question, which we posed already last year (Letter 19: "World Lutheranism on the Way to Hanover"). The World Federation owes Christianity an interpretation of its articles regarding its confessional basis. Is a church a Lutheran Church according to the meaning of the constitution if in it there can be a teaching [enjoying the status of] publica doctrina other than the doctrine of the Invariata? Can a church, or a church federation (such as the Federacao Sinodal in Brazil) enjoy the full rights of membership and thereby render decisions on what is Lutheran and what not, if this fellowship is just beginning to, and has the intent over a given period of time, to establish the Lutheran Confession as the sole legal publica doctrina [with in it]? Can confirmation [of membership] be imparted on the basis of a confession to be established later? And if the case is made that, on the basis of pedagogical and missiological grounds, they must already be accepted, why then with the full rights [of membership]? If one desires to lead churches to the Lutheran confession, which is in fact a worthy and great task, to the accomplishment of which we would all readily lend a hand, why is there not a sort of catechumenate which precedes? Is the situation into which other churches are brought by this practice not clear? But even without reference to the case of the Brazilians the question must be posed as to what a Lutheran Church is and what it is not in the view of the World Federation. What does appeal to the Augustana mean, and what does it not mean.
The second thing which must be decided, and which must be answered in connection with the first question, is the relationship of the Lutheran World Federation to the union churches which claim to be Lutheran Churches in the sense of the Confessio Augustana and the constitution of the LWF, or to be included in the LWF. The entire problem of the union longs for a solution. It is very simple to determine whether a church's constitution grants it the legal character of a Lutheran or a united church. One hundred thousand Silesians with a few hundred pastors were taken into the Lutheran Church of Bavaria from the United Church of Silesia. In what sense are they now Lutherans? To be sure, they already had Luther's Catechism. But they interpreted it, and continue to interpret it today, in the sense of the union, [which grants] fellowship in the Supper with non-Lutherans. The Bavarian Church does not officially grant this. Since it now officially tolerates this - it finally even disclaimed this at the colloquium and even placed a member of the Breslau United Church government into a unique position of church administration - it has de facto changed its confession. There no longer is any Lutheran territorial church in Germany in which fellowship in the Supper is not practiced with non-Lutherans, and indeed, with the full knowledge of the church government. This is so even in Neuendettelsau. With what right does anyone demand of the Christian world that it respect the boundaries which are now only a juridical fiction? What a profound untruth it is to continue to maintain that fellowship in the supper is demanded by emergency circumstances. Was it an emergency that communion fellowship in the Christian student movement, without respect to differences, was brought about in all Evangelical student congregations, and made the firm custom of the entire society of young theologians, except for the free churches? The German Lutheran territorial churches have placed terrible guilt upon themselves through the profound untruthfulness with which they have dealt with the question of communion fellowship. May this guilt not become the curse also of the LWF. The Lutheran Churches of the world need a clear directive regarding what is asserted by the Lutheran confession regarding communion fellowship and its boundaries. It is a burning question for all Lutheran Churches.
The third thing, which must be decided this year, is the question whether the Lutheran Churches are ready to deal in a worthy manner with the doctrinal differences which obtain between them. There is no purpose in resigning ourselves to the illusion that there already is complete unity between the Christian churches which call themselves Lutheran, and that only a few intransigent, hyper-orthodox [churches] are destroying the peace, by making their private theology norm for the church and its doctrine. As one who has struggled for many years for the theological unification of Lutheranism, I can only express the conviction that serious and very deep differences of opinion regarding the meaning of the Lutheran Confessions make a complete unification of the Lutheran Churches impossible at the present time. This may be deplored (we all do deplore it), but nothing is helped when we shut our eyes to the reality of this problem. It is an unspeakable problem, a real tragedy that this Lutheranism, with the seventh article of the Augustana, steps before world Christianity and desires to instruct it regarding what truth unity of the church is, and that it is sufficient that the gospel be preached unanimously according to a pure understanding of it, and the sacraments be administered according to the institution of Christ. We must say this to the Christian world although we hear the answer: "Physician, heal thyself!" We must be clear regarding what lack of credibility we Lutherans give to our message regarding the unity of the church. Now, it is indeed the case that the Reformed Churches have no right to boast of a greater unity. Quite to the contrary! But they too indeed know nothing of the great "satis est" of C.A. VII. This distressing situation of Lutheranism, its splintering over doctrinal questions, exists in every part of the earth. Its consequence is that loveless manner of speaking of each other, that complaining of one church over against the other, which is a sickness which results from schism. This circumstance, however, will not be overcome simply by acting as though full unity already exists. The unity of American Lutheranism can be achieved, but only through serious doctrinal discussion - a point regarding which Dr. Behnken is doubtless correct over against his colleague of the ULC, Dr. Fry. To be sure, this doctrinal discussion can not simply be the repetition of discussions which, over the course of several generations, were conducted with the same arguments always with the same unfortunate outcome. Today we must move beyond theological schools discussing matters on the basis of the thoughts, categories and prejudices of the nineteenth century, to the doctrine of the Lutheran Reformation and the doctrine of the New Testament, which we in many regards - in no way every way - understand better than our fathers one hundred years ago. By so doing we will then by all means have to consider that in the church only that theology avails which is rooted in the life of the church, and is realized in the life of the church. Only the doctrine of the sacrament is correct and has the power of conviction which is the expression of the sacramental life of the parish. Thus doctrinal statements as such still mean nothing if they are in no way practiced in the life of the church. The theologians of the LWF must work on the basis of this insight. The commission's work on the theological document which will be placed before the full assembly indicates already fortuitous advancement. We repeat once more here what we pointed out already in Letter 19, when we made reference to the Faith and Order movement and to the Bad Boll discussions. The Lutheran Churches of the world need coordination of the many doctrinal discussions which today are occurring in many countries simultaneously, independent of each other, and under the difficult conditions of the times, often with insufficient personnel and practical means. It would take at least five years work in order to begin to deal with the most important differences separating Lutheran Churches. This would take new means and new viewpoints, so that the churches would come to a thorough understanding, or to a separation into two large groups, which is completely possible. But the unification conferences at which there are only speeches regarding the necessity of unification, and regarding the insignificance of doctrinal differences, are not worth the cost of travel. They would serve only toward the ever further advancement of the de-confessionalization of Lutheranism, and its dissolution into the broth of the substance-less "Reunited Church" of the future. Should it turn out that the theological commission of the LWF attain more than beautiful formulas, which only conceal differences, should it produce a document which finds the consensus of many Lutherans, then one might be able to expand it and make it a representative working commission over the span of many years, which is organized so that every Lutheran Church can take part with a good conscience. It would have to possess enough independence that it were not simply an instrument of church governments and have to work under their censure.
The fourth thing which must be clarified in Hanover, is the relationship between the LWF and the World Council of Churches. If the LWF is to be done away with then it should be made the Lutheran department of the WCC. If it is to be maintained then it should have complete organizational separation from the World Council. One must be clear that there are a series of Lutheran Churches which belong to the World Council, and there are others which under no circumstances will join it. If the Lutheran Churches are to be brought together into the LWF, then this bone of contention must be dealt with. The LWF as such can not become a department of the World Council of Churches. And it must never give the appearance that it is. A business connection may exist, and this will obtain in many practical matters. But it is unbearable that the LWF already is housed in the WCC building in Geneva, especially when this sharing of living quarters leads also to joint worship [Hausandachten]. Also, that the General Secretary of the LWF received his salary as an appointee of the WWC was intolerable. With the death of Dr. Michelfelder this will hopefully now cease. It would be best for the LWF to move its headquarters from Geneva to a country in which the Lutheran Church is not merely a foreigner, in spite of all the advantages Geneva affords for international authorities. It should be left to the individual churches as to how they relate to the World Council, and these developments should be left to them. Indeed, the World Council is today already a de facto agent of the Reformed and United Churches. For the fragments of the orthodox churches which have fled to the west do not really represent Orthodoxy. And the Church of Greece, which is the sole larger eastern church in the WCC, is connected to the World Council more through political interests than churchly interests.
The fifth matter which Hanover should bring about is a consideration of the individual Lutheran Churches regarding their connection to heterodox churches. The principle should apply that no Churches of the Augsburg Confession may enter into ties with other churches which would estrange them from their own [Lutheran] sister churches. This applies above all to the Scandinavian Churches, such as the Swedish Church in its relationship with the Church of England. We German Lutherans, who once experienced the comedy of the Prussian-English Bishopric of Jerusalem, and the attempt to introduce apostolic succession at the back door of Germany, have never taken seriously the attempt of Anglicanism to achieve church fellowship with the Nordic Lutherans. The entire matter, moreover, has a political taste to it like the connections between the churches and states of England and Greece. Apostolic succession has for a Lutheran Church such as that of Sweden, a completely different meaning than for the Anglicans. For Lutherans it is only one of the human arrangements in the church, and therefore belongs in the realm of adiaphora. We Lutherans can not take a position in the controversy regarding the validity of Anglican ordinations. Whether the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster, together with their respective bishops, are legitime successors of the apostles in England, we can not say. In all plausibility neither of these parties can make this claim. The true successors of the apostles in England are those who proclaim the pure doctrine of the apostles, who ever they may be. Neither can we grant our Anglican friends that if today one of the great Archbishops of Canterbury of the middle ages, such as Anselm, were to appear, that he would find and recognize his church in present day Canterbury. [We assert this], just as we would not admit that Luther, if he were to return today, would recognize Otto Dibelius, the current Bishop of Brandenburg, as his bishop, and go to communion in the City Church at Wittenberg. No Lutheran Church, which still takes its catechism seriously, can have fellowship in the Lord's Supper in any form, even only in special cases, with the Church of England. We can not send the members of our congregations to an altar (if an altar can be spoken of in the Anglican Church; for a real altar is indeed forbidden there) where every communicant must read in his "Book of Common Prayer" the words that the natural body and blood of Christ are in heaven and not here, and [where it is asserted] that the body of Christ would not be a true human body, if he were to be in more than one place at the same time. So long as this "black rubric" stands in the Anglican communion liturgy, there can be no communion fellowship between us and the Anglicans, not to mention all the other hindrances which make it impossible for us, despite all the great things which it has, to re-discover in the Church of England the church of the gospel.
The sixth and final matter which we request of Hanover is that Luther's first thesis not be forgotten. The Lutheran Church, the Church of the Reformation, is a church of repentance. She renders herself unbelievable when she speaks to the world and to Christianity, when she calls both to repentance, without considering that judgement begins in the house of God. The judgment of God has come upon the Lutheran Church. The millions of Lutherans driven from their native lands bear witness to this. The glorious churches, which lay in rubble and ashes, bear witness to this. Luther once answered the question why lightning had a predilection for striking church steeples. He explained that there is no place, not even a whorehouse, in which so much sin takes place through the transgression of the first and second commandments, and through impure doctrine which robs the Lord Christ of his honor. We will not recount here all the sins for which our church would have to repent, though it would perhaps be necessary. For the worst sign of divine judgement is perhaps the ease and glibness with which we superficialize the accusations which are raised against our church, which may at least bear a kernel of truth, even where we must rightly counter such accusations. In stead of the many attempts at self-justification and instead of the complaints against others, a serious self-evaluation might occur which could take place under the theme: "The great apostasy - our apostasy." A great and solemn divine service of repentance should not be missing among the arrangements at Hanover. It could be the very soul of the entire session, the beginning of a genuine renewal.
Finally, honored brothers, allow me to raise a question directed to us all. Who actually represents the Lutheran Churches of the world today? Who is it who speaks and acts in the name of the churches? Who ever it may be, there are two entities in our time which certainly do not do so. It is not the Christian congregation [Gemeinde]. And it is not the Pastoral Office. Neither will be represented in Hanover. Naturally the parishes of the Hanover area will flock to the capital and take part by the thousands in the mass events. But they will be represented as little as the many pastors who will come to Hanover for the decisive sessions of the World Federation. Indeed, that would be logistically completely impossible, even if it were the desire of all participants for the pastorate and church membership to take part as much as possible. And here we come up against an important phenomenon of more recent church history, which must be much more carefully noted than has been the case. The development of modern super-churches [Massenkirchen] and the application of technical means for bringing together, influencing and leading men, in regard to the church, has directly and strongly displaced two significant factors, which together, according to Lutheran doctrine, fulfill the proper life of the church: the congregatio sanctorum. These are the congregation [Gemeinde], and the ministerium ecclesiasticum, the Pastoral Office [Pfarramt]. Both no longer take part in the great ecclesiastical decisions of our time, at least in Europe. Any knowledge the congregations have obtained of the EKiD and the VELKD is from the ecclesiastical press. Most of the congregational members have no idea what these are. They were not asked. Neither were the pastors asked whether they approved of these decisions. And they were crucial decisions rendered regarding their Office and its obligations. They must be satisfied that everything has taken place in a lawful manner. The territorial synods [Landessynode] prepared a corresponding resolution. In Bavaria, this synod, if I am not mistaken, consists of some 70 to 80 elected members. These individuals represent well over a million church members. There is no court of appeal against this ecclesia repraesentativa. Perhaps there is no other possible way to govern such an enormous apparatus. But then one should not be amazed when the general priesthood of believers dies. Nor are the pastors questioned [regarding what takes place]. They are instructed, schooled, and if necessary, warned and punished. But a small group of men render decisions for the consciences of thousands of bearers of the Office. Is it an accident that in the more recent history of the church the Pastoral Office in no way plays the roll which was self-evident in previous centuries? There are still pastors in Europe: in Scotland, in Holland, in France, in Switzerland. These are men who are still responsible for ecclesiastical decisions, who still represent their churches. In Sweden, in Denmark and now also in Germany, the church is represented by Bishops and the other "church leaders." The individual pastor is nothing. He can obtain something only as part of a large group such as the pastoral conference [Pfarrerverrein]. When the bishop has won his pastoral conference for something, then everything is in order. But the pastoral conference has made no ordination vow, thus it can not break it. And the bishop? We were so proud in Germany when we again had bishops. An entire theology of the office of bishop has been developed. The enchantment with the title of bishop is so great that even the Lutheran Churches of America are playing with the idea of granting it to their presidents occupying chief offices. It has thus far broken down over the episcopal office as an essentially life long office. But one must be clear that the essence of the bishop's office encompasses the episcopal functions of ordination and visitation with his legitimate pastoral office. Even to the time of Augustine "bishop" was the title of the local pastor. The characteristic of the modern territorial bishop in Germany and, on a certain level, the office of a president of one of the churches in America which consist of many synods, is however, this: he exercises neither official pastoral nor episcopal functions or only does so in exceptional cases. In Bavaria the circuit deacons [Kreisdekane], and in Hanover the territorial superintendents are the real bishops. They ordain and visit. The bishop sweeps over the entire church and its affairs [Kirchentum] as "church leader." This was perhaps a necessary development. At any rate, such an organism must be governed. The real tragedy, however, is that this [development intended] as a support for the Spiritual Office, has actually served to bring about the broader secularization of the church.
One must have this tragic development before one's eyes in order to grasp what the duty of the Lutheran Pastor is. We must, honored brothers, seek to save the Office of the Lutheran Pastor which threatens to go under in modern ecclesial secularism, so far as this is humanly possible. The highest virtue of the pastor today appears to be silence, even in once so democratic America. The modern type of the Lutheran Pastor began in Germany in the First World War, when so many theologians became reserve officers. In America it began and in the Second World War, when so many pastors became chaplains in the military. Here they learned, along with the virtues of being an officer, also the virtue of silent obedience. But every virtue has its down side, and the down side of mute obedience can be that the pastor becomes a mute dog, that he become silent even where it is of his office, mandated by the Lord Christ, to speak. It appears that much of the difficulty, which has come upon the Lutheran Church, has its origin in this false silence. Let us in this fateful year of the Lutheran Church, in view of the threatening de-confessionalization of Lutheranism, fearlessly say what must be said also to the great and powerful in the church. We do not know for how long we will be able to continue to do so.
In the communion of the faith, I greet you for the New Year,
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