Thursday, March 24, 2011

John Schaller gives advice on distinctively Lutheran practice

John Schaller, WELS Theologian
Of the theologians of the WELS through its history, Professor John Schaller (d. 1920) is considered among the most important. Influenced considerably by LCMS theologian Georg Stöckhardt (d. 1913), he, along with John Koehler and August Pieper, is credited with reintroducing the method of exegetical theology to Lutheranism in America, and distinguishing WELS as home of this so-called "Wauwatosa Theology". A good general history of these men and their times, written in 1975 by Professor Armin Schuetze, can be found here.

As one may imagine, Schaller had plenty to say about distinctively Lutheran liturgy, hymnody, and doctrinal preaching, as well. A brief compilation of quotes entitled, Wisdom from the Fathers Pertaining to the Establishment of Lutheran Home Mission Congregations, includes the following advice from Schaller:
    The first care, then, of all who work in the field of English Mission, pastors and laymen alike, ought ever to be that they steadfastly adhere to the biblical doctrine in all its parts. Lutheran hymns, Lutheran liturgies, Lutheran prayers, above all Lutheran sermons ought to be heard wherever our missionary work is carried on. True Lutheranism need not fear any criticism. It has stood the test of centuries, and no modern weapon of offense will subvert it. It is an impregnable fortress. Be not afraid, then, to show its beauties to all who come to hear. They expect to be treated to something new in our churches, and they ought not be disappointed. To follow the example set by sectarian clergymen, to sermonize on anything else rather than upon questions of doctrine, or to fill the hearers’ ears with weak generalizations and pasture them on fine, poetic language alone, would be worse than folly. To make a good impression, to effect some real, living good, solid meat must be offered, which alone can satisfy the soul’s desires. Emphasize doctrine, if you would accomplish your aim. Else why should we expend money and labor, only to do what others may do as well? (John Schaller, “Danger Ahead!”, Lutheran Witness, Vol. 10, No. 8 [Sept. 21, 1891], pp. 57-58)
There are several things worth noticing in this brief quote. First, note that, for a Lutheran pastor, "steadfast adherence to biblical doctrine in all its parts" is equivalent to using "Lutheran hymns, Lutheran liturgies, Lutheran prayers, and Lutheran sermons." This is rather quaint, isn't it? How odd it must be for some Lutherans to hear someone speak in such a way about distinctively Lutheran practice, as if it is uniquely representative of biblical doctrine... But not for the Lutheran confessor, who is convinced as a matter of Christian conscience that his body of doctrine, apart from all others, carries the pure and unalloyed truth of God's Word.

Second, note that in no sense is "fear of criticism" for being overtly Lutheran – whether from the sects, the unregenerate or anyone else – grounds for even partially abandoning the pursuit of overt Lutheran character in our public practice, for "true Lutheranism is an impregnable fortress." An impregnable fortress? Really? Again, how quaint. How odd it must be for today's Lutheran to hear a person speak with such confidence regarding their Confession! Back in the old days, maybe... back when folks were simple and ignorant. But no one really has any right to be so confident these days. Do they? Well, as a matter of fact, not only do Lutheran confessors have the right to express themselves with such confidence, but they bear the obligation to do so – first to themselves (that is, if they confess according to their conscience), and second, to those with whom they stand united under common confession.

Third, note that he makes very plain how ridiculous it is to mimic the sects – after all, how does mimicking the sectarians represent to anyone the distinction and beauty of our doctrine? We Lutherans, consistent with our unity under common confession, and with our consequent separation from the heterodox, ought also to present in our practice something recognizably distinct from what the sectarians offer. What makes Lutheran practice distinct? The beauty and unique character of our hymns, our liturgies, our prayers, and especially our preaching. But notice that he goes on to describe specifically what, about Lutheran preaching, is distinctive: its doctrinal content. Rather than harp on works as the sectarians do, rather than allowing 'relevant application' oriented 'third-use-of-the-law' preaching on 'Christian living' themes to dominate the Lutheran sermon, Schaller specifically advises the Lutheran preacher to "emphasize doctrine." But how is it safe to "emphasize doctrine"? Isn't he forgetting about Law and Gospel? Recall the commentary following yesterday's post, C.F.W. Walther: Filching from sectarian worship resources equals "soul murder", and recall also our post from last October, Law and Gospel: What do they teach? -- Part 1 in which we concluded:
    There is no teaching of Lutheran Doctrine – that is, of true Christian doctrine – that can be taught apart from also teaching Justification. And only the message of Law and Gospel teaches Justification. Thus, Law and Gospel, properly divided and properly used and applied, is not only central to all Lutheran preaching and teaching, it is necessary to all Lutheran preaching and teaching.
By emphasizing doctrine, the Lutheran preacher cannot avoid what is central to all of our doctrines – the saving message of the Doctrine of Justification. Moreover, in order to preach and teach Justification, he must preach Law and Gospel. Period.

When the Lutheran preacher takes the sectarian's advice regarding what is 'relevant', and strays from an emphasis on preaching doctrine into an emphasis on preaching 'application', three things simultaneously happen: the distinction of our body of doctrine fails to be confessed in his practice, while, instead, his practice displays harmony with the heterodox; but most importantly, "real, living good" fails to "be accomplished", as the "solid meat" of Justification is overshadowed by Sanctification and the saving message does not get the emphasis it should. Thus, the "soul's desires" fail to be "satisfied."

If it's all the same anyway, why should anyone be "Lutheran"? If it isn't all the same, then why pretend that it is?

1 comment:

Samuel Thrace said...

Any news about the "big meeting" which was held this week?

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