Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nuggets from Oktoberfest

I've just returned from Gottesdienst's annual Oktoberfest, where Dr. Lawrence Rast, president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, presented on the topic "Can anything good come from the nineteenth century?"

The answer: No! No, but . . . , Yes, but . . . , and Yes! He took us through them all. And the last answer was absolutely vacant.

There were real nuggets throughout, but the most salient came in Rast's discussion of Charles Porterfield Krauth's transformation from an American Lutheran to a Lutheran in America. Having learned from Samuel Simon Schmucker that the Lutheran Reformation was simply the overthrow of Roman error that didn't go far enough, Krauth, after drinking deeply from the wells of the Lutheran divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, responded with this:
The overthrow of error does not in itself establish truth. The Lutheran Reformation can not, therefore, simply be about overthrowing error. It is insufficient for discerning what the Lutheran Reformation was about to concentrate on what it overthrew. It must also, and more importantly, consider what it retained (paraphrase of Rast, paraphrasing Krauth).
What did the Lutherans retain? To answer that, according to Krauth, is to answer what the Reformation was about. And to know this is to know the Confessions. So study your Confessions (not that I have to tell any of you this).

A nugget closely related to this is how the American Lutherans (S. S. Schmucker, et al.) sought to establish their uniquely American version of Lutheranism: Get rid of the Confessions. And why? Because they were dogmatic, they taught baptismal regeneration and the bodily presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar, and they established and required a liturgical form in worship.

I find it interesting that all the opponents of Confessional Lutheranism in nineteenth-century America agreed that the Confessions established and required a liturgical form in worship. And because of this little factoid, S. S. Schmucker and gang had to dispense with the confessions. For you can't be fully Lutheran in America and hold to a liturgical form in worship. No. If you were to be an American Lutheran, worship must be a revival, focusing on the free will to decide to believe.

How is it that the heirs of the American Lutheran movement among the Lutherans in America today, that is, the contemporary worship crowd, aren't able to see the same thing? What happened? What changed? Why do they claim that the Confessions establish no such thing? How can this be?


  1. Krauth's great line on the liturgy is that the Lutheran Church possesses liturgical life without liturgical bondage. But he clearly saw that those who no longer hold to Lutheran doctrine MUST regard the Lutheran liturgy as something to be done away—for Lutheran liturgy is just the prayed and sung version of Lutheran doctrine. What is offensive about the Lutheran liturgy to "American Lutherans" finally isn't *how* it says something; it is rather *what* it says.

  2. Thank you, Father Weedon, for weighing in on this. And forgive my ignorance here, but could you help tease out your last statement for me because I'm unclear what you mean. What it is unclear to me is that the "how" and the "what", while perhaps distinguishable, appear ultimately not to indicate any substantive difference. For substance always has form. And thus, for the "American Lutherans," the form must be denied because the substance expressed by that form was offensive. So that the form itself was offensive. The two seem inextricably linked in my mind. And so what I understood from the Krauth v. S. Schmucker show down was that the substance of Confessional Lutheranism in fact has a definite liturgical form which is established by the Confessional Lutheran substance. Have I misunderstood you? Or have I simply overstated the case?


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