Sunday, November 9, 2014

Leipzig and the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that came to symbolize the rapid, peaceful downfall of Communism in East Germany. In today's Chicago Tribune German Kanzlerin Angela  Merkel, who grew up in that Communist-bloc country, where her father was a Lutheran pastor and where she became a research scientist in physics, remarked that the fall of the wall, the result of peaceful, popular protests, would be remembered as a triumph of the human spirit. "The fall of the Berlin Wall showed us that dreams can come true--and that nothing has to stay the way it is, no matter how high the hurdles might seem to be... It showed that we have the power to shape our destiny and make things better... It was a victory of freedom over bondage and it's a message of faith for today's, and future, generations that can tear down the walls--the walls of dictators, violence and ideologies." (To read the rest of her comments, click here.) 

Given Germany's twentieth-century past, the fall of the wall offers contemporary Germans an historical turning point that can rightly be celebrated and shown to the world as a positive example of peaceful change.

A few years ago I remarked here on my blog that I have long been interested in the roles that Christians in East Germany played in the 1989 Revolution. 

Something that has not been widely reported in today's news media, at least not here in the U.S., is the fact that that peaceful revolution did not begin in Berlin. Its origins can be partly traced to regular Monday prayer meetings at the Nikolaikirche [St. Nicholas Lutheran Church] in Leipzig. 

Those Monday prayer meetings became the center for what followed in the fall of the 1989. Someone closely connected to the events of those days later observed: "There was no head of the revolution. The head was the Nicholas Church and the body, the center of the city. There was only one leadership: Monday, 5 pm, St. Nicholas Church." The goal: to pray for peace in a world gone wild with weapons and hate.

Part of the 70,000+ protesters in Leipzig, Oct  9, 1989

One of the pastors at St. Nicholas, Pr. Fuehrer, had this to say about those days:

"Nikolaikirche - open to all" became a reality in the autumn of 1989 and surprised us all. After all, it united people from the whole of the former GDR [German Democratic Republic, otherwise known as East Germany]: those who wanted to leave the country and those who were curious, regime critics and Stasi [State Security Police] personnel, church staff and SED members [members of the German Socialist Party], Christians and Non-Christians beneath the outspread arms of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. In view of the political reality between 1949 and 1989, this defies all imagination. It became reality. Exactly 450 years after the introduction of the Reformation in Leipzig, 176 years after the Battle of Nations in Leipzig. Now it was Leipzig once more. From 8 May 1989, the driveways to the church were blocked by the police. Later the driveways and motorway exits were subject to large-scale checks or even closed during the prayers-for-peace period. The state authorities exerted greater pressure on us to cancel the peace prayers or at least to transfer them to the city limits. Monday after Monday there were arrests or "temporary detentions" in connection with the peace prayers. Even so, the number of visitors flocking to the church continued to grow to a point where the 2.000 seats were no longer sufficient. Then came the all-deciding 9 October 1989. And what a day it was!
There was a hideous show of force by soldiers, industrial militia, police and plain-clothes officers. But the opening scene had taken place two days before on 7 October, the 40th anniversary of the GDR, which entered into GDR history as Remembrance Day. On this day, for 10 long hours, uniformed police battered defenseless people who made no attempt to fight back and took them away in trucks. Hundreds of them were locked up in stables in Markkleeberg. In due course, an article was published in the press saying that it was high time to put an end to what they called "counter-revolution, if necessary by armed forces". That was what the situation was like on 9 October 1989.
Moreover, some 1.000 SED party members had been ordered to go to the St. Nicholas Church. 600 of them had already filled up the church nave by 2 p.m. They had a job to perform like the numerous Stasi personnel who were on hand regularly at the peace prayers. What has not been considered was the fact, that these people were exposed to the word, the gospel and its impact! I always appreciated that the Stasi members heard the Beatitudes from the Sermon from the Mount every Monday. Where else would they hear these?
Thus, these people and Stasi members heard Jesus Christ's gospel which they didn't know, in a church they could not do anything with. They heard from Jesus who said: "Blessed are the poor!" And not: Wealthy people are happy.
Jesus said: "Love your enemies!" And not: Down with your opponent.
Jesus said: "Many who now are first will be last!" And not: Everything stays the same.
Jesus said: "For whoever will save his life shall lose it and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it!" And not: Take great care.
Jesus said: "You are the salt!" And not: You are the cream.
Thus, the prayers for peace took place in unbelievable calm and concentration. Shortly before the end, before the bishop gave his blessing, appeals by Professor Masur, chief conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and others who supported our call for non-violence, were read out. The solidarity between church and art, music and the gospel was of importance in the threatening situation of those days.
The prayers for peace ended with the bishop's blessing and the urgent call for non-violence. More than 2.000 people leaving the church were welcomed by ten thousands waiting outside with candles in their hands - an unforgettable moment. Two hands are necessary to carry a candle and to protect it from extinguishing so that you can not carry stones or clubs at the same time. The miracle occurred.
Jesus' spirit of non-violence seized the masses and became a material, peaceful power. Troops, (military) brigade groups and the police were drawn in, became engaged in conversations, then withdrew. It was an evening in the spirit of our Lord Jesus for there were no winners and no defeated, nobody triumphed over the other, nobody lost his face. There was just a tremendous feeling of relief.
This non-violent movement only lasted a few weeks. But it caused the party and ideological dictatorship to collapse.
"He dethrones the mighty ones and enthrones the weak ones." - "You will succeed, not by military power or by your own strength, but by my spirit, says the Lord", is what we experienced. There were thousands in the churches. Hundreds of thousands in the streets around the city center. But: Not a single shattered shop window. This was the incredible experience of the power of non-violence.
Horst Sindermann, who was a member of the Central Committee of the GDR, said before his death: "We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers."
The prayers for peace continue. An initiative for the unemployed developed at the St. Nicholas Church.
Thus, the St. Nicholas Church remains what it was: A house of Jesus, a house of hope, a place and a source for a new beginning.

What began in Leipzig came to fruition in Berlin. Eventually, the wall came down.

BTW, Paul Doellinger, who is an LCMS pastor in Monmouth, Oregon, reminded me today that his son, David Doellinger, has recently re-worked and published his doctoral dissertation on "religious-based activism and its challenge to state power in Socialist Slovakia and East Germany prior to 1989." The book is Turning Prayers into Protests (Central European University Press, 2013). David is a professor at Western Oregon University. He's also a Valpo alumnus! 

The exterior of St. Nicholas Church, Leipzig
The outside pillar, shown here, is identical to the pillars on the inside. It represents the thousands of people who were unable to enter the church during the evening protests, since the church was filled to its capacity, but who shared and manifested the same spirit of protest of those praying and speaking inside.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bach to Luther

One rarely comes across references to Martin Luther in the pages of the New Yorker magazine, let alone references that are positive and accurate. (One of the last times I recall seeing his name in that setting occurred in connection with an article on the alleged marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The author asserted, wrongly, that Luther was one who supported that view. For criticism of this claim, go here.) But this week's edition (Oct 27, 2014) contains a moving review of a recent set of performances of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" by the Berlin Philharmonic (conducted by Simon Rattle) and the Rundfunkchor Berlin (directed by Simon Halsey), all staged by Peter Sellar. Based on the review by Alex Ross, which you can read online here, I wish I could have accompanied him.

Ross: "Martin Luther, in a treatise on the Crucifixion in 1519, had grim tidings for those of his followers who wished to lay the blame for Christ's death entirely on the Jews..."

Ross is right to point out the probable connection between Luther's 1519 sermon (not a "treatise"), delivered on Good Friday that year, and Bach's "St. Matthew Passion," which was probably first performed on Good Friday, 1727. Ross is also right to note how both Luther and Bach, at least in that Good Friday setting, did not blame "others" (e.g., "the Jews") for the death of Jesus or make outsiders into contemporary scapegoats, as frequently happened in medieval passion plays (almost always leading to persecution of local Jews), but placed the real blame on those who heard the sermon and the Passion.

According to that same 1519 sermon by Luther: "Those who reflect upon the sufferings of Christ in a way that they become angry at the Jews..., just like by habit they complain about other people and condemn and spend their time on their enemies," is the wrong way to contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus. Instead of blaming others for the death of Jesus, one should blame oneself: Believe and never doubt in the least "that you are the one who thus martyred Christ. For your sins most surely did it. Thus St. Peter struck and terrified the Jews as with a thunderbolt in Acts 2.36-37, when he spoke to them all in common: 'Him you crucified,' so that three thousand were terror-stricken the same day and trembling cried to the apostles: 'O beloved brothers, what shall we do?' Therefore, when you view the nails piercing through his hands, firmly believe it is your work. Do you behold his crown of thorns? Believe the thorns are your wicked thoughts, etc." (Taken from Martin Luther, "Sermon on How to Contemplate the Sufferings of Christ," in The Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983], II:183ff. [translation slightly modified]).

When I teach the St. Matthew Passion, which I will do again next year in the context of my course, "Luther and Bach," I like to point out how the libretto by Christian Friedrich Henrici ("Picander"), which was itself likely based on eight passion sermons by the Rostock Lutheran theologian Heinrich Mueller (1631-75), and then modified/used by Bach, makes the same move as Luther's Good Friday sermon. When Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him, they wonder, "Is it I?" And then Bach inserts the following chorale (representative of the entire congregation):

"It is I, I should atone,
bound hand and foot in hell.
The scourges and the bonds
and what you endured,
my soul has earned."

Later, in the Garden of Gethsemene scene, both choirs connect the suffering of Christ with the current listeners: "What is the cause of all this trouble?"... "Alas! My sins have struck you down... I, alas, Lord Jesus, have earned this, that you endure."

The aria and choir (I) then respond:
"My death is atoned for by his soul's anguish;
His sorrow makes me full of joy.
 - Therefore his deserved suffering
must be truly bitter and yet sweet to us."

And then once again, at the very end of the Passion, when Jesus is placed in the tomb, both choirs, singing back and forth, acknowledge:

"See, how I weep over you with repentance and regret,
since my fall has brought such anguish upon you!"

It is not too strong to state that both Luther and Bach "existentialized" and "contemporatized" the suffering ("passion") of Jesus so that the real aim of the preaching of the cross was directed at the congregation. (Note well: The setting of Luther's sermon and Bach's St. Matt. Passion was a congregation of baptized Christians.) One finds this same dynamic in all of Luther's sermons, as well as in the other great passion of Bach, "The St. John": "I, I and my sins... they are what brought Jesus to the cross..."

(The connection between Mueller and Picander/Bach has been nicely demonstrated through the research of Elke Axmacher. See her book, Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben [Stuttgart: Haenssler, 1984].)

Unlike the recent performances of the St. Matthew Passion in New York, which likely ended with much applause and joyful noise from the audience (Ross likened it to a "mountain top" experience), when the Matthew Passion was first executed in the context of the 1727 Good Friday Divine Service at St. Thomas Lutheran Church, Leipzig, the congregants afterward silently filed out of the nave and went home. (They probably wondered what the heck they had just experienced, since Bach literally pulled out all the stops: two choirs, two orchestras, polyphonic sound like they had never heard before, etc.) Whatever joyful celebration those Leipziger Lutherans would have done back then (and we might include even their counterparts today), would have had to wait until the following Sunday.

For other positive reviews of Sellar's staging of the St. Matthew Passion, see:

Wall Street Journal's Review

New York Times' Review

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Further Word in Defense of Werner Elert (Part Two)

In part one, I noted an online post about Elert by Dr. Michael Root. He drew attention to an essay by his former colleague, Professor David Yeago: “Gnosticism, Antinomianism, and Reformation Theology: Reflections on the Cost of a Construal,” Pro Ecclesia 2 (1993): 37–49. Dr. Yeago, who has also left the ELCA and is now a member of the North American Lutheran Church, explicitly blames Elert for articulating an understanding of law and gospel that has “contributed significantly to the gnostic and antinomian devolution of contemporary Protestantism” (38).

While one could respond critically to several aspects of this essay, I will merely point out those places where I think he has misunderstood and misrepresented Elert’s theology.

According to Yeago, the “antithesis of law and gospel cannot be mediated or contextualized in any way; it can only be terminated by the gospel’s negation of the law, by the victory of the one word over the other. The law is sheer oppression, the gospel sheer liberation, and this total opposition can only be ended by the negation of the law” (40; emphasis original).

“Since the law/gospel distinction is placed in no wider context, but is itself the context into which everything else in theology must be integrated, the grounds for the oppressiveness of the law must be sought in the law itself. If the grounds for the oppressiveness of the law lay outside the law, say in our disobedience, then the law would have to be placed in some wider context. Its oppressiveness and its antithesis to the gospel would then not be a primitive datum, and the law/gospel distinction would not be the last horizon. So it becomes necessary to say that the law oppresses because it is law, that is, because it is an ordered demand, a requirement, a command. The law oppresses because of the kind of word it is, not because of the situation in which we encounter it” (Yeago, 40-1). [At this point there is a footnote: “Cf. Elert, Structure of Lutheranism, 35-43; Gerhard Ebeling, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought (Fortress, 1970), 119-121.]

1. Unfortunately, Dr. Yeago’s essay provides zero indication that its author had actually read Dr. Elert’s principal writings beyond the errant English translation of the first volume of the Morphologie des Luthertums. No other work by Elert is cited by Yeago, except the ET of the Morphologie.

2. A careful examination of the original German text of the pages cited (“The Law and the Wrath of God”), as well as the relevant pages on “the law” in Elert’s dogmatics and his book on the Christian ethos, indicates that at no point does Elert ever suggest that “the law is sheer oppression, the gospel sheer liberation” or that “this total opposition [between the law and the gospel] can only be ended by the negation of the law.” Rather, Elert consistently taught that the law of God oppresses only sinners. While the hope of Christian faith is that indeed the gospel silences the accusations of the law, the law continues to speak powerfully to the Christian, especially since the Christian remains a sinner in this life unto death.

While the law of God is experienced by sinners as the revelation of the wrath of God against sin and sinners, the law of God does in fact “give instruction concerning God’s will” (Morph., 1.36). “The law surely reveals the ‘moral world order’ [sittliche Weltordnung], and the conscience can surely not avoid acknowledging its validity. … The law can by no means neutralize the personal call of God which the human being hears in the conscience. Neither can it suggest moral freedom to the human being. Rather it convinces him of his lack of freedom. He is unfree both because the law has been given to him and also because he is not able to keep it” (1.38). The law of God is oppressive—but not merely oppressive—precisely because of who we are as sinful creatures of God and because of the situation in which the law of God addresses us concretely. This is true even for those sinners who believe in Christ. Missing entirely from Yeago’s presentation is any analysis of Elert’s understandings of the concrete, creaturely-historical-ethical, fateful, overlapping, conflicting “orders” in which God’s law and gospel address us and call us to repentance, faith, and responsible ethical action. (The section on “orders” in Elert’s dogmatics is sufficient to demonstrate that his theology was both anti-Gnostic and anti-antinomian. See also “two-fold use of the law” and “the natural orders” in the Christian Ethos.)

3. At no point does Elert ever assert that “the gospel will liberate us from the situation of having to hear commandment [sic] at all, from having to reckon with any word whatsoever which has the formal character of ordered demand” (Yeago, 41). Missing here is any attention to the dozens and dozens of pages in Elert’s principal works that explicate what the new life in Christ looks like under the gospel and how it faithfully responds in obedience to evangelical exhortations (“gospel exhortations,” we might say), which are indeed “commands,” but ones that flow forth from the gospel and are a joy to heed in the obedience of faith.

4. Elert would never write (and never did write!) that “the law oppresses because it proposes a determinate ordering of our existence and calls for a specified response” or that “the gospel liberates because it delivers from determinate order and specified response” or that “salvation is liberation from form and order and the law’s cruel demand for them” (Yeago, 41; cf. p. 44). Following the evangelical-Lutheran doctrines of creation and the new obedience of faith, Elert described the character of obedience to Christ as faith that is active in love. “It is not enough to observe isolated commands. We must fit ourselves into the law of life of him who is the measure of all things. That requires faith, unconditional confidence in his person and his divine authorization” (Christliche Ethos, 325). For this description it is necessary to explicate how and why the individual believer in Christ lives under the law and under the gospel at all times and in all places—unto death. Both words of God speak truthfully and very specifically to the concrete existence of the repenting/believing sinner (the sinning penitent/believer) who cannot escape the conditions and orderings of his/her creaturely life before his or her final day. “Only sinners belong to the Lutheran Church; not willful sinners, to be sure, but penitent sinners—yet always only sinners, who in this life can never be anything else” (Morph. 1.317). Yeago opines: “Elert’s sinners are supposedly penitent, but this apparently makes no necessary difference to their moral behavior” (Yeago, 42). Not so! Clearly, Yeago had not read Elert’s description of objective Christian ethics, which forms the final part of The Christian Ethos. (Maybe he has read it since 1993, but there's no indication he had done so at that time.) The Christian life occurs within both the natural orders (family, state, etc.) and the order of the church, within which the Christian is influenced by the preaching of law and gospel, the administration of the sacraments, evangelical exhortations to live in Christ, and the positive influence of Christian mores within the corporate community of Christians. The Christian ethos is both subjective (the individual repenting/believing sinner) and objective (the word and sacraments; the church’s liturgy—all objectively prior to and influential upon the individual; the totality of individuals “in Christ” within the Christian corporate community; the order of Christian love and forgiveness in the acts of the church; the collective church as a force within history; etc.). Again, Elert certainly did not contrast “form” and “freedom” in the life of the Christian or the corporate Christian community.

5. Contrary to Yeago’s assertion that “the doctrine of the Trinity” posed “a terrific problem with which [Elert] labors mightily and somewhat inconclusively” (p. 43, referring again only to one small section of the first volume of the Morph.), Elert believed, taught, and confessed the orthodox dogmas that are taught in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Chalcedonian Definition. For Elert, dogma must define “the mandatory content of the church’s proclamation of law and gospel.” The church can proclaim nothing else. See Elert’s lengthy section on “God in se” in his dogmatics (Part III). The explication of the Trinitarian confession is itself the explication of law (“You shall have no other gods before me…” etc.) and the gospel (“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh…”; “God was in Christ…”; the Paraklete who speaks of Him who sends Him, who "makes the earthly Christ present in the future era after the latter has shattered the earthly era…"; etc.). The compelling motive for the doctrine of the Trinity inheres in the relationship of the Son/Logos to the Father and the relationship of the incarnate Word to the work of the Spirit (see esp. sec. 35 in the dogmatics). The doctrine of the Trinity is not some Aufhebung of the law/gospel dialectic, but is itself the concrete teaching of dogma in service to the gospel. Dogma is, in fact, fully admissible and necessary in a theology structured by law and gospel. Elert, too, could have said, “The church’s dogma is, after all, her confessing response to the self-giving and self-identification of God in Jesus Christ. The church formulates dogma, one might say, in order to acknowledge the concrete form of God’s self-giving in Christ” (Yeago, 43). For Elert the “decree” of N-C fits fully within the confession of the gospel. To confess the orthodox dogma of the Trinity is to speak the gospel, this basic testimony of the gospel about Christ. For Elert, “the dogma of the Trinity wants to contain no more than what God’s gospel testifies of him. For the gospel reveals precisely that relationship of God to us, his creatures, which alone permits us to speak of him.”

6. Following Luther, who was merely following the explicit teaching of the apostles Paul and John, Elert taught that if you want to escape sin, the wrath of God, and death—and be saved—then trust in no other god than the Son of Man. “The gospel is the narrative of this self-identification and self-giving, the story of Jesus of Nazareth recounted as the story of God’s ‘taking form’ concretely pro nobis in the midst of the world” (Yeago, 47). Elert would totally agree! One cannot lay the blame for American Gnosticism (however Yeago would define this) at the feet of Elert. His writings, if considered in their totality, have not left us “easy prey for the Gnostic virus” (Yeago, 45). Rather, they provide a healthy antidote to such a threat!

Elert, too, hoped that the Christian future would in fact belong "to a theology and a church both catholic and evangelical that will not flinch from the radical affirmations of the gospel" (Yeago, 49).

A Further Word in Defense of Werner Elert (Part One)

Several weeks ago my friend Ed Schroeder, a “retired” Lutheran professor of systematic theology--who once taught at Valpo and Concordia Seminary/Christ Seminary-Seminex--alerted me to the Facebook page of Pr. Martin Yee, one of Ed’s former students, who now serves in Singapore. On his blog site Pr. Yee had drawn attention to one of my blog posts about Werner Elert, who taught theology at Erlangen University from the early 1920s until the early 1950s. In that post, which you can read here, I suggested reasons for why we cannot blame Elert for whatever theological and ethical errors might be harming the ELCA today. If anything, a strong case can be made that Elert’s critical investigations into the history of doctrine, together with his own summaries of Christian dogmatics and the Christian ethos, might actually be beneficial resources for renewing contemporary evangelical theology and ethics.

Later, unbeknownst to me, Ed forwarded my original post to several other theologians. These included Ted Jungkuntz (who also taught at Valpo many moons ago), Carl Braaten (with whom I was privileged to study theology back in the late 1980s and who has recently written an important essay on Martin Kaehler that will appear in an upcoming book I am editing on nineteenth-century theologians), and Paul Hinlicky (who has become a friend and theological “sparring partner” in recent years). Ed then shared with me email replies that some of these individuals had shared with each other. So I was brought into that “circle” only after some of them had commented on my post among themselves. Nevertheless, I was pleased to see that the three theologians named above  more or less agreed with the main point I had made in that post: We cannot blame Elert for whatever theological and ethical problems plague contemporary American Lutheranism.

Here is Professor Braaten’s reply.

“To whom it may concern:

“I taught theology for quite a few years in an ELCA seminary (LSTC), and I knew most of the theologians teaching at other ELCA seminaries. I know of not a single one who promoted the theology of Werner Elert, except for the few who were deployed from Seminex. Matt Becker's observations about LSTC are accurate. Bob Bertram was the only one at LSTC who gave voice to Elert's theology, and that was pretty much confined to a small circle of disciples. At that time Bertram was more interested in having his students read Bonhoeffer. One of his disciples, Richard Bliese, wrote a fine doctoral dissertation on the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which I was pleased to supervise.

“It seems rather odd that Matt Becker feels the need to exonerate Elert from what's been going on in the ELCA from its inception. The only possible connection that I can see is the role that the AELC played not only in the formation of the ELCA but also through a good number of graduates of Seminex who became prominent bishops in various synods of the ELCA.  Perhaps Matt Becker knows how much influence Elert had on these AELC Seminex-educated pastors and bishops. I do not know much about that.

“What I do know is that in making a theological argument to support the inclusion of gays to the ordained ministry [people] appealed to theologians who rejected the third use of the law. Elert was one of them.  But so was Gerhard Forde. Yet Forde himself denied that his rejection of the third use of the law could be used to favor the ELCA's decision to ordain gays. I do not know what Elert would have thought about this. It probably never crossed his mind as a possibility. What he writes about marriage in his book on ethics (The Christian Ethos) does not address the matter of marriage between two persons of the same gender. Lazareth also was not a solid advocate of the third use of the law, but he was vigorously opposed to the ELCA's policy on the ordination of gay clergy. 

“Becker is correct. Elert did not have much influence on the teaching theologians of the ELCA. But Becker does not deal with the role that Elert might have played in the thinking of the Missouri exiles who came into the ELCA via the AELC. Greg Fryer has written extensively on this.  It would be interesting to learn what he would add to this exchange. Pax, Carl E. Braaten”

Dr. Braaten thinks it odd that I “feel the need to exonerate Elert from what’s been going on in the ELCA from its inception.” And yet several ELCA theologians have in fact blamed Elert for what has been ailing the ELCA. See, for example, the 2010 online comment by Dr. Michael Root—who was then an ELCA theologian but who has subsequently become a Roman Catholic:

Be sure to read all the way to the end of that online thread. The final two posts in it are exactly on target. BTW, I don’t know who “Vindicating Elert” is/was, but whoever that person is/was, has a far more accurate understanding of Elert’s theology than Prof. Root! [Update on 9/29/14: I do in fact now know who "Vindicating Elert" is, as he saw this post and sent me an email to let me know who he is.] Ed Schroeder’s online responses to Root’s post and other writings that are critical of Elert (e.g., Bob Benne, Greg Fryer) are also instructive. See:

In part two, which you can read here, I criticize an important essay that misrepresents Elert's understanding of law and gospel.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mission at Nuremberg

Shortly after World War II, there was only a handful of Lutheran pastors in the United States whose names would have been recognized across the country and beyond their own church body. In the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod two such individuals come quickly to mind: Walter A. Maier, speaker of the radio program, the Lutheran Hour, and Henry Gerecke, chaplain to the twenty-one major Nazi war criminals who were tried in Nuremberg in late 1945 and 1946.

Quite a lot has been written about Dr. Maier. Of special note is the biography that his son, Paul, wrote: A Man Spoke, A World Listened (MacGraw-Hill, 1963). But Chaplain Gerecke's life and work have not received as much attention. Indeed, while Maier's name is still recognized by many in the LCMS today, a large number of pastors and laity have probably never heard of Pr. Gerecke (whose family name rhymes with "Cherokee"). Thankfully, a new book about him has recently been published, which should help to make him more well known among people who should know of him and his ministerial work.

Tim Townsend's Mission at Nuremberg (William Morrow, 2014) tells Gerecke's story. The initial chapter begins with a vignette of the day that this Lutheran army chaplain had to accompany General Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel to his death. Earlier the two had prayed together on their knees and Gerecke had blessed him. Still earlier Gerecke had regularly preached to him and administered the Sacrament. "On his knees and under deep emotional stress, [Keitel] received the Body and Blood of our Savior," Gerecke wrote later. "With tears in his voice, he said, 'You have helped me more than you know. May Christ, my Savior, stand by me all the way. I shall need him so much'" (11). 

Chaplain Henry Gerecke
From this scene Townsend takes the reader back several years to when Pr. Gerecke joined the army (serving at the same time as two of his three sons). He had been prepared for this service through private instruction from a Lutheran pastor in St. Louis and from several faculty at Concordia Seminary. Never actually attending classes at the seminary, he still was able eventually to pass his exams and graduate. He was then called to serve a local congregation. He later served another congregation in St. Louis and became the leader of City Mission, a social ministry organization. (The Lutheran Deaconess Association--now based at Valparaiso University---provided this mission with its first full-time nurse to help with its visits to Robert Koch Hospital.) At that time Gerecke managed about 85 student volunteers throughout the city and another 65 from area Lutheran congregations. “Your City Mission business is God’s big business in St. Louis,” Gerecke wrote.

The chapters that describe Gerecke’s early life and family, along with one brief chapter on the history of military chaplains in the US, help to set the stage for his chaplaincy in the army (first in England, and then in Germany, and specifically at Nuremberg). The book turns theological at several points, most notably in sections that address questions about the nature of sin and repentance, the Christian understanding of divine grace and forgiveness, and the calling of a pastor to minister God’s love and mercy to those who do not deserve them. (After the war Gerecke also served as a chaplain at a large penitentiary, a period that Townsend also analyzes.)

The center of the book is devoted to literary evidence that gives insight into the spiritual condition of the war criminals Gerecke served and how he pastored them. Within a short time he had won their trust and friendship, despite his limitations with the German language. At one point, when the US Army was going to return him to the states (he had been away from his wife for nearly three years), one of the prisoners, Fritzsche, wrote a letter to Mrs. Gerecke, which was signed by all 21 war criminals. In this letter they asked that she “put off” her wish that her husband come home. “Please consider that we cannot miss your husband now. During the past months he has shown us uncompromising friendliness of such a kind, that he has become indispensable for us in an otherwise prejudiced environment which is filled with cold disdain or hatred…” (224). Gerecke remained until all the executions had taken place.

A fair amount of the central part of the book is devoted to Gerecke’s relationship with Hermann Goering, who committed suicide rather than being subject to his sentence of death by hanging. In addition to leaving behind a note for his wife, Goering directed a last note to Gerecke: “Forgive me but I had to do it this way for political reasons… I have prayed for a long time to God and feel that I am acting correctly. Would that I might be shot. Please console my wife and tell her that mine was no ordinary suicide and that she should be certain that God will take me into his grace … God bless you, dear Pastor” (269). Gerecke had become close to Goering’s wife and daughter—he ministered to them and the family members of several of the other prisoners—and after the war sent them care packages from the US, but he was also convinced that Goering himself was merely “Gottglaeubig,” one who believed in a kind of rationalistic Deism but who denied most of the central articles of the Christian faith. Thus, Gerecke refused to commune Goering, despite the latter’s request to receive the Sacrament before he died. “I cannot with a clear conscience commune you because you deny the very Christ who instituted the sacrament.” “Herr Goering, your little girl said she wants to meet you in heaven.” “’Yes,’ Goering said slowly. ‘She believes in your savior. But I don’t. I’ll just take my chances, my own way.’ … Defeated, Gerecke left the cell and moved on” (265). Apparently, these were the last words that Goering spoke to anyone. Later that evening, he changed into his pajamas and broke with his teeth a glass vial of potassium cyanide that he had placed in his mouth.

Gerecke’s pastoral encounters and conversations with several others of these criminals—especially Keitel, Ribbentrop, Sauckel, Speer, Fritzsche, and Schirach—are quite revealing and help to augment the psychological analyses that Gerecke’s roommate at the time, the army psychologist G. M. Gilbert, provided in his book, Nuremberg Diary  (Farrer, Straus & Giroux, 1947). (Reading these books in tandem shows significant differences of perspective between the secular-minded Gilbert and the spiritually-minded Gerecke.) 

Townsend’s book is ultimately about the nature of Christian forgiveness: “Christians like Gerecke and O’Connor [the Roman Catholic military chaplain at Nuremberg] would argue that they had to act toward the Nazis in their flocks, and their families, in ways that honored their deepest understanding of humanity, and its relationship to God. The chaplains believed that their duties toward the Nazis and their families revolved around how to return them to the good” (287).

But there is one overstatement that Townsend makes at just this point in his narrative. After summarizing the Lutheran view that spiritual consolation is indeed to be offered to people who commit evil against others, Townsend writes: [Luther] would have seen no principal difference between a criminal and an innocent. He would not have divided people into children of light and children of darkness. No one is innocent—neither a Gerecke nor a Kaltenbrunner [one of the Nazi mass murderers]—but everyone, Christians believe, is saved” (287).

While Lutherans have historically taught the universality of God’s grace, i.e., that God in Jesus Christ is indeed merciful and forgiving toward all—they have historically refrained from making the bold claim that therefore “everyone is saved.” Rather, Lutherans tend to stress that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Repentance and faith go together in response to the death of Christ Jesus and the message of his cross. Otherwise, grace becomes “cheap,” to use the Kierkegaardian/Bonhoefferian expression. Moreover, there is the tricky issue of divine election/predestination and the fact of the persistence of some to reject the freely-offered grace of God. Very few Christians actually teach that “everyone is saved” (even if many secretly hold out such a hope). Luther certainly did not teach this!

Nor did Gerecke. At the end of the many speeches about his war-time experiences, which he gave to large audiences after the war, he offered this prayer (which also ended his radio show, Moments of Comfort):

“Lord, lay some soul upon my heart and love that soul through me. And may I nobly do my part, to win that soul for thee. And when I come to the beautiful city, and the saved all around me appear, I want to hear somebody tell me: It was you who invited me here.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Markingsmass

Today marks the 109th birthday of Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-61), Swedish statesman and the second secretary-general of the United Nations (1953-61). After teaching at Stockholm University, he was secretary of the Bank of Sweden (1935) and later its chairman (1941-8). He then served as the Swedish foreign minister (1951-3). Given how matters have deteriorated in Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East, it is worth remembering that Hammarskjöld helped to set up the Emergency Force in Sinai and Gaza in 1956 and worked tirelessly for reconciliation in the Middle East. He died in an airplane crash in Rhodesia (Zambia), while on a mission to resolve a crisis in the Congo. He was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

After his death, a book containing his personal reflections was discovered in his house in New York. It was published as Markings in 1963. The reflections date from 1925, when he was 20 years old. The final entries are from the year of his death. The title in the original Swedish refers to “waymarks,” guideposts or cairns which hikers use to mark their routes. The book thus marks the spiritual journey of this extraordinary individual. It contains poems (many of them in the style of haiku), prayers, quotations, maxims, jottings and other musings. The book has been described as "the noblest self-disclosure of spiritual struggle and triumph, perhaps the greatest testament of personal faith written… in the heat of professional life and amidst the most exacting responsibilities for world peace and order" (Henry P. Van Dusen). In his foreword to Markings, W. H. Auden quotes Hammarskjöld: "In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action."  In his 2013 biography, Hammarskjold: a Life, Roger Lipsey describes the relationship between his subject’s vocation as a peacemaker and his understanding of being a disciple of Jesus as “engaged spirituality.”

For more information, see 

Earlier this year, an LCMS pastor who is serving in Berkeley, California, sent me a liturgy he has written that makes use of Hammarskjöld’s "markings." The pastor, Robert O’Sullivan, wrote, “After looking at your blog, I thought this would interest you.” It did and still does.

Pr. O’Sullivan has been a part time pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran in Berkeley for twenty years, while also being a high-school English and Social Studies teacher in Oakland most of those years. He completed his undergraduate and theological education in the 1960’s, but found himself working as a radio/tv journalist (in the U.S. and Nigeria), legislative aide in the California Assembly, political consultant, press representative, speech and humor writer, and a researcher/editor at the University of California, Berkeley for the next twenty plus years. In his mid-forties, he decided to become a high-school teacher and soon thereafter BLC called him to be its “bi-vocational pastor.”

According to Pr. O’Sullivan:

Markingsmass brings together Hammarskjöld’s words in dialogue with the liturgy of the Western mass, the basic communion service familiar to Roman Catholics, Episcopalians/Anglicans and Lutherans. Although he did not have words in response to all the basic elements of the mass, those that fit have been placed together here in the usual order in this liturgy. In one case, the Song of Praise is not a traditional Gloria but, we think, clearly praises a One who brings beauty, peace and joy, while calling us to follow Him.

It should be noted that the liturgy, like the book, uses the archaic English terms “thee, thy, thine and thou.” So does Markings, one of whose translators (the one who did not know Swedish!) was the British poet, W.H. Auden, a friend of the diplomat. These archaic English forms, familiar still to those who know King James and Shakespearean English, are akin to the Swedish and German intimate second person familiar, which does not exist in modern English. This usage here is most appropriate, because the diarist, an accomplished linguist who was fluent in four languages, had a fondness for older beautiful expressions (he often had a 1762 Anglican Book of Common Prayer, noted for its elegantly eloquent translation of the Book of Psalms, with him, as well as an archaic French version of St. Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ). At the time of his death he was working on a translation of Martin Buber’s, I and Thou. The “thou” cognates suggest an intimacy and reverence which cannot be equaled by “you” usages.

Although one of the 20th century’s most prominent Christian mystics, Hammarskjöld had no formal training in theology. His earned degrees were in linguistics, literature, history, economics, and law. His doctorate was in political economics. He was a member of the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature. A broadly cultured man, he wrote brilliantly on subjects as diverse as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the needs of the developing world, and hiking in northern Sweden.

He came from a distinguished family, his father having been Prime Minister of Sweden and a key figure in the development of international law. His mother came from a family of clergy and academics. She introduced him to devotional literature, such as The Imitation of Christ, which she gave to him at the time of his confirmation. Even during very hectic days of international crises he took time to reflect upon the Bible and the liturgy, as well as the works of medieval mystics, especially Meister Eckhart and St. Thomas a Kempis. 

The suggested hymns are fittingly Scandinavian or Nordic. “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” is Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” which Beethoven used in his Ninth Symphony, which was performed at Hammarskjöld’s two inaugurations as Secretary General and at his memorial service. 

The Markingsmass may be used on or near September 18, Hammarskjöld’s date of death and the day that many Lutheran churches commemorate his life as a renewer of society, or on July 29, his birthday. This mass could also be used on December 28, Holy Innocents’ Day; Memorial Day; Veterans’ Day; October 24, UN Day; New Year’s Day, or on other appropriate occasions. It can of course be adapted according to the traditions of the assembly using the material.


PRELUDE:  Suggested:  Sibelius, “Finlandia” (contains “Be Still, My Soul” melody)

HYMN: Children of the Heavenly Father

All: The longest journey is the journey inwards.
L: So once again we chose for ourselves - and opened the doors to chaos, the chaos we became whenever God's hand does not rest upon our heads.
C: Whoever has once been under God's hand has lost innocence: only we feel the full explosive force of destruction which is released by a moment's surrender to temptation.
L: But when our attention is directed beyond and above, how strong we are, with the strength of God who is within because God is God. Strong and free because ourselves no longer exist.
C: Almighty...forgive our doubt, our anger, our pride. By Thy mercy, abase us; by Thy strictness, raise us up.

L: Forgiveness is the answer to a child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean. The dream explains why we need to be forgiven, and why we must forgive.
C: In the presence of God, nothing stands between God and us...we are forgiven. But we cannot feel His presence if anything is allowed to stand between ourselves and others. Amen.

L:  We come before Thee, Father
C:  in righteousness and humility 
L:  With Thee, Brother.
C:  in faith and courage
L:  In Thee, Spirit
C:  in stillness.

HYMN: Be Still, My Soul

INTROIT/PSALMODY   (to be developed)

C: Have mercy upon us. Have mercy upon our efforts, that we, before Thee, in love and in faith, righteousness and humility, may follow Thee, with self-denial, steadfastness and courage, and meet Thee in the silence.

L: Thou takest the pen
C: and the lines dance.
L: Thou takest the flute
C: and the notes shimmer.
L: Thou takest the brush
C: and the colors sing.
L: So all things have meaning and beauty in that space, where Thou art.
C: How then, can we hold back anything from Thee?

Affirmations of faith.  (Note:  DH never attempted to write a personal creed, per se, but Markings includes many personal statements of faith, “yeses” to God.  The following are excerpts which can be used as appropriate.  Perhaps they are best read by the worship leader for the reflection of the assembly.)

At some moment I did answer Yes…and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, in self-surrender, had a goal.
As I continued along the Way, I learned, step by step, word by word, that behind every sentence spoken by the hero of the Gospels, stands one man and one man’s experience.
To be free, to be able to stand up and leave everything behind—without looking back.  To say Yes—
To say Yes to life is at one and the same time to say Yes to oneself.  Yes—even to that element in one which is most unwilling to let itself be transformed from a temptation into a strength.
You dare your Yes—and experience a meaning.
You repeat your Yes—and all things acquire a meaning.
When everything has a meaning, how can you live anything but a Yes?
Yes to God: yes to Fate:  yes to yourself.  This reality can wound the soul, but has the power to heal her.
Thine—for Thy will is my destiny,
Dedicated—for my destiny is to be used and used up according to Thy will.
Through me there flashes this vision of a magnetic field in the soul, created in a timeless present by unknown multitudes, living in holy obedience, whose words and actions are a timeless prayer.
—“The Communion of Saints”—and—within it—an eternal life.
For all that has been—Thanks!  To all that shall be—Yes!

Suggested: Traditional creed  (e.g., Apostles’ or Nicene) according to the heritage of assembly.

Isaiah 2:4(b); 11:1-10; 55:8-13; Amos 5:21-24;
Micah 6:8; Revelations 21:1-5; 22:1-3; Matthew 5:3-12

HYMN:     Words: Robert O’Sullivan;    Tune: Wachet Auf 
Wake, Awake, Creation’s groaning,
The children of the world are moaning
Give birth, O mother earth at last! 
Midnight hears the jubilation 
The people of the revelation 
Mid songs of peace and love, at last! 
The travail and the pain
By joy have lost their reign: Alleluia! 
God's children by the Spir't revealed
The spheres with freedom's music pealed.

Wake, Awake, Death's forces scorning -
All hateful rage mocks Easter's morning! 
Reveal yourselves, ye saints, at last!
Fear and hatred's days are numbered
Love, justice are now unencumbered
When peace breaks through in human hearts.
Like mighty flowing streams
Revive historic dreams: Alleluia!
Where lambs will mute the lion's roar 
With songs their Maker to adore.

Wake, Awake, the hungry call us.
The sick, imprison'd, as Christ befall us. 
With hope, ye saints, go forth at last.
Thirsty, naked and the stranger
Need hope and love against all danger. 
You're called to give yourself at last.
Emboldened by his words,
Make plowshares out of swords; Alleluia!
May nations put to end their rage 
And peace endure from age to age.


HYMN: Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee  

L: May we be offered to that in the offering which will be offered. 
C: God took the form of humanity in the victim who chose to be sacrificed.
L: Denied any outlet, the heat transmitted the coal into diamonds.
C: Beauty, goodness in the wonder’s here and now became suddenly real.



Thou who art over us,
Thou who art one of us, 
Thou who art also within us,
May all see Thee in us also.
May we prepare the way for Thee,
May we thank Thee for all that should fall to our lot. 
May we also not forget the needs of others.
Keep us in Thy love as Thou wouldst 
that all should be kept in ours.
May everything in our beings be directed to Thy glory 
and may we never despair. 
For we are under Thy hand, 
and in Thee is all power and goodness.
Give us a pure heart - that we may see Thee,
A humble heart - that we may hear Thee,
A heart of love - that we may serve Thee,
A heart of faith - that we may abide in Thee. Amen.

L:   Our Father
C:  Who art in heaven
L:   Hallowed be thy name:
C:  Not mine
L:  Thy Kingdom Come
C:  Not mine
L:  Thy will be done;
C:  Not mine
L:  Give us peace with Thee
C:  Peace with All
L:  Peace with ourselves
C:  And free us from all fear
L:  Lead us not into temptation
C:  But deliver us from evil
L:  Let all that is in us serve Thee.
C:  And thus free us from all fear. 


L:  Beneath the hush a whisper from long ago promising peace of mind and a burden shared
C:  No Peace which is not peace for all
L:  No rest until all has been fulfilled
C:  From injustice – never justice
L:  From justice – never injustice

SUGGESTED MUSIC:  J.S. Bach, Sheep May Safely Graze

You wake from dreams of doom and—for a moment—you know:  beyond all the noise and the gestures, the only real thing, love’s calm unwavering flame in the half-light of an early dawn. 
In a dream I walked with God through the deep places of creation;  past walls that receded and gates that opened, through hall after hall of silence, darkness and refreshment—the dwelling place of souls acquainted with light and warmth—until, around me, was an infinity into which all flowed together and lived anew, like the rings made by raindrops falling upon wide expanses  of calm dark waters.


Suggested:  Communion/Eucharistic celebration according to the tradition of assembly.

L:[Be filled] with the love of Him who knows all, with the patience of Him whose now is eternal, with the righteousness of Him who has never failed, with the humility of Him who has suffered all the possibilities of betrayal. Amen.

L: In our era the road of holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.
C: So shall the world be created each morning anew. Forgiven in Thee, by Thee.
ALL:  Lord—Thine the day—And I the day’s!

HYMN: How Great Thou Art

"God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason." Markings

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

An Arbitrary Confessional Basis in the LCMS (Pt. 3)

What about the CCM’s response to Pres. Harrison’s second question?

The “opinion” of the CCM to this question further underscores that the synod is infallible: “Since ‘A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles’ (1973) was adopted by the Synod (1973 Res. 3-01) ‘to be Scriptural and in accord with the Lutheran Confessions,’ it expresses the doctrinal position of the Synod. It derives its doctrinal authority not from the vote of the convention but from the Word of God, which it sets forth. Public contradiction to ‘A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles is, therefore, in essence a violation of Scripture and thus Articles II and VI 1 of the Synod’s Constitution.’”

In other words: The synod adopted “A Statement.” “A Statement” sets forth the word of God. To be critical of “A Statement” is to violate Scripture and undermine the confessional basis of the synod.

Nevertheless, the CCM (again, rather grudgingly) acknowledges: “With the adoption of ‘A Statement,’ the Synod required ‘that those who disagree with these formulations in part or in whole be held to present their objections formally to those who have immediate supervision of their doctrine’ (1971 Res 5-24). Any dissent from the stated theological position of the Synod is to be brought to the Commission on Theology and Church Relations in accord with Bylaw 1.8.”

And that is what I have done. I met with a committee of the CTCR and shared my critique of “A Statement” with it. I’m not alone. Several hundred delegates to the 1973 synod convention registered their dissent from “A Statement,” as did several hundred (thousand?) more in subsequent weeks.

And the CCM’s opinion regarding Pres. Harrison’s third question?

“While the filing of dissent does not constitute a case for removal, the member is required to teach and practice in accord with Synod’s stated confessional position during the dissent process. If the member fails to honor and uphold the stated confessional position of Synod during the dissent process, the member becomes subject to disciplinary action due both to the violation of the doctrinal position of Synod and the offense against the other members of Synod created by such failure (Constitution Art. XIII 1). In such case it is incumbent upon the ecclesiastical supervisor of the member to exercise disciplinary action against the member who fails to teach and act within Synod’s stated confessional position, whether apart from or during the dissent process (Bylaws 2.14.4; 2.15.4; 2.16.4).  The dissent process only allows a person to bring forth a contrary view to the stated position of Synod which the dissenter believes is supported by the Word of God (Bylaw 1.8.2). Those expressing dissent ‘are expected as part of the life together within the fellowship of the Synod to honor and uphold the resolutions of the Synod’ (Bylaw 1.8.1) and ‘to honor and uphold publicly the [doctrinal] statement[s] as the position of the Synod…’ (Bylaw 1.6.2 [b] [10]). The CTCR and ultimately the Synod in convention shall consider the dissent and shall render final judgment as to whether or not the doctrinal statement is in accord with the Word of God. While the dissent is being considered by the CTCR or the Synod in convention, ‘the consciences of others, as well as the collective will of the Synod, shall also be respected’ by the dissenter (Bylaw 1.8.2). The individual member does not have the freedom to decide what of Synod’s stated confessional position is to be honored and upheld and what is not. Once the dissent process has been concluded and if the stated confessional position of the Synod is not changed by the Synod in convention, the member is bound to teach and practice in accord with the stated confessional position of the Synod. If the member expressing dissent cannot or will not teach and practice according to the confessional position of the Synod, the only recourse left to the member is to resign from the Synod. Continuing to teach and practice in conflict with the position of Synod subjects the member to ecclesiastical discipline and finally expulsion from Synod.”

Out of the smaller corner of its mouth the CCM rather grudgingly acknowledges that the synod isn't infallible. But out of the much larger side of its mouth, the CCM speaks strongly against any kind of public dissent from the synod's majority decisions. Can't the CCM see the obvious contradiction at the center of its opinion? 

If a member of the synod is convinced that some resolutions and statements of the synod need to be annulled or at least rethought and reformed, how could a member of the synod ever legitimately attempt to convince the synod to do so, if the CCM has now opined that any persistent public disagreement with a synod's resolution or statement is a violation of the confessional basis of the Synod? 

While the CCM rather grudgingly acknowledges that dissent is allowed in the synod, it views dissent as an evil, since the decisions that the synod has made are the infallible Scriptural position. "The synod's resolutions and statements are the Scriptural position. They are to be obeyed unconditionally because they are the Scriptural position." Any attempt at convincing synodical members to rethink a theological issue or set of issues (that is, any attempt to follow the dissent process, as the synod allows, at least in principle), is now to be interpreted as a violation of the synod's confessional basis and an attack on Article II. An attack on the synod's resolutions and statements is an attack on Scripture itself.

Despite what the CCM opines here, this is merely a further example of how leaders in the synod view the infallible authority of the synod itself. This strikes me as idolatry.

Even if members of the synod disagree with me on the two issues of my dissent, I would think a large number (a majority?) of members would be troubled by these three opinions of the CCM. Do they not amount to a significant change to the nature of confessional subscription, one that is now quite arbitrary and subject to change? Do they not contribute to the idolization of the synod?

An Arbitrary Confessional Basis in the LCMS (Pt. 2)

Interestingly, the CCM acknowledges that “doctrinal resolutions and statements both have binding force on all congregational and individual members of Synod until it can be shown that such are not in keeping with the Word of God or the Lutheran Confessions, not as an individual judgment but when the Synod in convention by overture is convinced from the Word of God to overturn or amend them (1959 Res. 3-09; 1962 Res. 3-17; 1973 Res. 2-12 and 3-01; 1977 Res 3-07).” The CCM also rather grudgingly acknowledges that “the Synod is not infallible and has established a formal dissent process for doctrinal statements when challenge arises (Bylaw section 1.8).”

But the CCM immediately qualifies the above by stressing: “Such formal dissent, however, cannot be used as a substitute for the Synod’s stated confessional position and does not permit a member to teach or practice contrary to the position of the Synod. It does not free one from the responsibility to ‘honor and uphold’ doctrinal resolutions or ‘to abide by, act, and teach in accordance with’ doctrinal statements until such time as Synod ‘amends or repeals them’ (Bylaw 1.6.2). This also includes doctrinal positions adopted by the Synod prior to 1977 (cf. CCM Opinion 13-2677). The burden of proof lies upon the dissenter to convince the Synod in convention that it has erred and that a statement is in violation of Synod’s own confessional position. The Bylaws maintain the right of the Synod to interpret its own confessional article (Bylaw 1.6.2 [b]).”

But I ask: how can a dissenter “convince the synod… that it has erred and that a statement is in violation of synod’s own confessional position,” if a member of the synod is not permitted “to teach or practice contrary to the position of the synod”? My online essay about “A Statement” is meant to show that it “does not keep with the word of God and the Lutheran Confessions” and to convince the synod to overturn or amend that document. It is a seriously flawed document, to say the least.

The CCM bends over backwards to state, “Doctrinal resolutions and statements, including positions adopted prior to 1977, do not alter the Synod’s confessional position nor do they add new confessions which must be subscribed. Rather, they elaborate, clarify, set forth in greater detail, and apply that confessional position. As has been true throughout its history, controversy and challenge sharpen the pen for the Synod to clarify its theological position without altering the confessional article of its constitution.”

But in reality the synod has acted in conventions (starting in 1959) to alter the confessional article of its constitution by insisting that members “abide by, act, and teach in accord” with the doctrinal resolutions and statements of the synod. The synod had tried to do so with Pieper’s “Brief Statement” in 1959, but thankfully the synod realized its error in 1962 and clearly stated then that the “Brief Statement” was not a part of the synod’s doctrinal basis.

Lost to the current CCM and, frankly, to synod conventions over the past forty years, are the key words from Article VIII of the LCMS Constitution:

All matters of doctrine and of conscience shall be decided only by the Word of God. All other matters shall be decided by a majority vote. In case of a tie vote the President may cast the deciding vote.

Please read that Article three more times before turning to the CCM’s response to Pres. Harrison’s three questions below.

The CCM “opinion” to the first question is quite revealing. According to the CCM, “open and repeated advocacy of theological positions contrary to the Synod’s stated theological positions is ultimately a challenge to and a violation of the very confessional basis of Synod expressed in Articles II and VI 1 of the Synod’s Constitution, as are all teachings and practices which contradict Scripture and the Confessions. Doctrinal resolutions and statements, including those adopted prior to 1977, have binding force on individual as well as congregational members of Synod. Members of the Synod are required to honor and uphold the stated theological position of Synod, which is defined by the confessional articles of the Constitution and any doctrinal positions adopted by the Synod to amplify, clarify, and apply its theological position in time of question, challenge, and conflict (Bylaw 1.6.2 [a] and [b]). Acting or teaching contrary to such is therefore a rejection of the stated confessional position of the Synod and ultimately of Article II itself. This does not mean that doctrinal resolutions and statements, including those adopted prior to 1977, are equal to, or that members of the Synod are required to subscribe to them in addition to, the Scriptures and Confessions. Rather, they are adopted because they are in harmony with Scripture and the Confessions (Bylaw 1.6.2 [b] [7]).”

If you read this first “opinion” carefully, the implication is clear: the synod cannot err. Advocacy of theological positions against the synod’s stated theological positions is an attack on “the very confessional basis of the synod.” There can be no question that the synod’s position is “the scriptural and confessional position.” Whatever the synod decides in convention is the scriptural and confessional position. To raise critical questions against a decision of the synod is tantamount to questioning the scriptures and confessions themselves!

The CCM simply assumes that when a synod convention approves a doctrinal resolution or statement (by majority vote, it needs to be stressed, which is the only way for a convention to approve anything) it has confessional standing because it is in conformity with the word of God. Why else would the synod approve it?! No discussion is allowed as to whether or not the word of God actually supports the resolution or statement, because such a discussion or debate is predicated on the assumption that the synod's position is not always correct when, by the CCM’s circular reasoning, it has to be, because the synod has found it to be in accord with the word of God. As a retired LCMS pastor recently wrote to me, the CCM’s “concessive statement that the synod's doctrinal positions are not infallible is patently false, given the CCM’s reasoning as expressed in this opinion.” 

This pastor went on to write: “Tragically, this is not a new position. It is more formally, officially stated in this opinion, but is the same old Missouri arrogance which Jack Preus reinstated as the synod's guiding spirit after the brief period of gospel ascendancy in the mid-20th century. This is what a seminary professor said at Walther's funeral in 1887: ‘Because of Walther, [the Synod] was in possession of the truth -- the entire, unvarnished truth,’ and that ‘as certain as Holy Scripture is God's Word -- which it is -- so certain is it that our doctrinal position is correct. . . . Whoever contests our doctrinal position contends against the divine truth.’”

Bottom line: This CCM opinion in fact gives confessional status to doctrinal resolutions and statements adopted by synod conventions. The synod’s decision in 1962 regarding the “Brief Statement” is null and void.