Tuesday, March 22, 2011

C.P. Krauth explains how orthodox Lutheran Synods descend into heterodoxy

Charles Porterfield KrauthThe name Charles Porterfield Krauth (d. 1883) may be unfamiliar to most WELS Lutherans. Perhaps this is because he was not WELS. Regardless of the reason, this unfamiliarity is most unfortunate, for Krauth was, in fact, a leading figure of the confessional Lutheran movement in 19th Century America, and his contributions to confessionalism remain vitally important. He was a Lutheran of the early Eastern synods and a student of Samuel Schmucker (d. 1873) – who taught that the Augsburg Confession was rife with error, envisioned a future for American Lutheranism which espoused union with Reformed and Methodist Christians, advocated a theological formula for doing so, and even founded an organization to advance these ideas. Krauth grew to oppose Schmucker, his former teacher, eventually retiring from parish ministry to combat unionism full-time and to work toward establishing confessional unity among Lutherans in America under the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. To this end, and under Krauth's leadership, the General Council was formed in 1867, serving as a significant and positive force for the advancement of Lutheran confessionalism. That work still being "relevant", portions of the General Council's output has even appeared on Intrepid Lutherans in the past – the Explanation of the Common Service being published on this blog last July (which is now available in book form from Emmanuel Press, should the reader desire a personal copy). Regarding Krauth and his significance, Rev. David Jay Webber (ELS), in his fine essay Charles Porterfield Krauth: The American Chemnitz, quotes a figure who should be familiar to WELS Lutherans – C.F.W. Walther:
    Krauth was... the most eminent man in the English Lutheran Church of this country, a man of rare learning, at home no less in the old than in modern theology, and, what is of greatest import, whole-heartedly devoted to the pure doctrine of our Church, as he had learned to understand it, a noble man and without guile.
Being in a position to witness firsthand the decline of confessional unity among Lutherans, and to observe and analyze its causes from both doctrinal and practical standpoints, Krauth can be regarded as an authority when he explains the process by which the leaven of heterodoxy is introduced to orthodox Lutheran church bodies and eventually comes to dominate their teaching:
    When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages in its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: 'You need not be afraid of us; we are few and weak; let us alone, we shall not disturb the faith of others. The Church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions.' Indulged in for this time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the Church. Truth and error are two coordinate powers, and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their repudiation is that they repudiate that faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it.

    Krauth, C.P. (1871). The Conservative Reformation and its Theology. Philadelphia: Lippincott. (pp. 195-196).
Has the leaven of heterodoxy entered the doctrine and practice of the WELS? If so, to which one of Krauth's stages might that leaven have progressed? Recall the recent Intrepid Lutheran blog post Lutheran Martyr: The story of Dr. Robert Barnes as a lesson in the realities of “Political Unity” – understanding, of course, that this post was as much about the travails of "political compromise" within the church as it was about Dr. Barnes. Is the concept of "political compromise" included in Krauth's explanation, above? How might continued compromise exacerbate, rather than alleviate, the problem of heterodoxy?


Anonymous said...

It's almost like Krauth sat down with his coffee this very morning and wrote that regarding the WELS.

Christian Schulz

Scott E. Jungen said...

At the risk of being called a "disturber of the peace of the Church" I'm willing to go out on a limb here. I would say we are at the end of "assert equal rights" and very quickly moving to "assert supremacy". The fact that (as far as I know) Pastors Jeske and Ski are still in the WELS ministrium is without a doubt "assert(ing) equal rights". Since many defend and enable these men, were are also in "assert(ing) supremacy".

Scott E. Jungen

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