C.M. Gullerud, Geo. O. Lillegard, and T.N. Teigen
1946 Synod Convention Essay
Introductory remarks: Our Synod has by formal resolution asked the brethren of the Missouri Synod to rescind the resolutions in the matter of doctrinal agreement with the American Lutheran Church adopted in the year 1938, and that because of certain errors appearing in the documents. The Synodical Conference by special resolution asked the Missouri Synod to consider seriously the formulation of one document of agreement to be adopted in place of the confusing series of documents adopted in 1938. At the general convention of the Missouri Synod in 1944 the Missouri Synod acceded to this latter request in so far that the official committee on doctrinal unity presented the so-called Doctrinal Affirmation, which if adopted by the Missouri Synod and the American Lutheran Church would “supersede” the documents of 1938. The Doctrinal Affirmation is now before the pastors and pastoral conferences of the Missouri Synod for discussion and criticism, and it will be rejected or adopted at the general convention in 1947. In the meantime this document is the concern also of the sister synods in the Synodical Conference. The official committee of the Norwegian Synod has studied the document and discussed it with similar official committees of the synods of the Synodical Conference. Our committee has brought its criticism of the document to this convention as printed below. The president of the Synod, Rev. Madson, then asked three pastors of the Synod to prepare papers for this convention, each discussing a special part of the committee report. The paper of Rev. Gullerud deals with the introductory part of the report; that of Rev. Lillegard with the sections on The Inspiration of the Scriptures, Conversion, The Lord’s Supper, The Church; that of Rev. T.N. Teigen with the sections on Unionism, The Election of Grace, The Last Things. The report of the Committee as well as the papers were discussed by the Synod in session and this material is published in this official report of the convention as the position of the Synod in its attitude to the Doctrinal Affirmation.
Characteristics Of a Truly Lutheran Confessional Writing
“The life of a Church may be largely read in its controversies. As the glory or shame of a nation is read upon its battle-fields which tell for what it periled the lives of its sons, so may the glory or shame of a Church be determined when we know what it fought for and what it fought against; how much it valued, what it believed to be truth; what was the truth it valued; how much it did, and how much it suffered to maintain that truth, and what was the issue of its struggles and sacrifices.” (1)
No man needs be in doubt concerning what the Lutheran Church fought and still fights for, and what it fought and still fights against. For the Lutheran Church, true to its standard, has even been a confessional church ready at all times to give an account of its faith, making a clear statement of its doctrine by exposing and rejecting every departure from Holy Scripture. From the beginning, when it became necessary for the confessors of the true doctrine to separate from the Roman Catholic Church which had departed from the moorings of God’s Word, down to the period following the Interim when controversies broke out among the Lutherans themselves, the faithful contenders for the faith in the early Lutheran Church did not hesitate to declare to the world where it stood and where it intended to stand. As early as 1530 at the Diet of Augsburg, the Lutherans presented in writing a confession which on the one hand set forth doctrinal articles they held over against the errors and heresies of the Roman Catholic Church and on the other hand presented a defense against false accusations that had been leveled against them. This confession, known to us as the Augsburg Confession, has stood as a touchstone of sound Lutheranism down through the years. The confessional writings which followed emphasized the fact that they were in no case to be understood as replacing or superseding the one Unaltered Augsburg Confession. Confessional writings that followed the Augsburg Confession, in particular the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Formula of Concord, were not new or revised confessional writings, but merely explained the first confession and amplified it by taking into careful account the controversies which troubled the church at the time of writing. Thus the Introduction of the Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, states: “Now although the Christian doctrine of this Confession (Augsburg Confession) has in great part remained unchallenged (save what has been done by the Papists), yet it cannot he denied that some theologians have departed from some great and important articles of the said Confession, and either have not attained to their true meaning, or at any rate have not continued steadfastly therein, and occasionally have even undertaken to attach to it a foreign meaning, while at the same time they wished to be regarded as adherents of the Augsburg Confession, and to avail themselves and make their boast of it. From this, grievous and injurious dissensions have arisen in the pure evangelical churches … Necessity, therefore, requires us to explain these controverted articles according to God’s Word and approved writings —” (2) It is well to note that of the confessions which necessity thus called into being none in any way permitted a restricted or qualified subscription to any previous confessional writing. Each of them was so carefully written, so carefully examined by those who subscribed to it, and was so generally accepted as completely Scriptural by orthodox Christians that with one consent its adherents were ready to stand before the judgment seat of God and answer for it and were, even as our pastors on the day of ordination, ready to declare that they would suffer death rather than depart from the teachings therein confessed.
Any writing of today that will assume confessional status in the church ought likewise to he of such a nature that its subscribers are ready to stand by it, refuse to deviate from it or to tolerate deviations from it. It should be of such a nature that a restricted or qualified subscription to it shall be judged unacceptable. It should be such a document that its subscribers will be willing to let it stand untouched and unsullied as a public testimony to those now living and to future generations as regards their judgment and understanding of articles in controversy.
In recent times a number of documents have been composed for the purpose of uniting Lutherans in America, some with a view to the establishment of fellowship and others with a view to effecting organic union. Do these documents bear the characteristic marks of our Lutheran Confessions which served the purpose for which they were intended at the time of writing and have well served the church ever since? A consideration of this question may well serve on the one hand to reveal the weaknesses and defects, or the strength and adequacy, of documents now extant and, on the other hand, to provide guidelines for the future writings of documents of a similar confessional nature. To be able to determine the characteristic marks of a truly Lutheran confessional writing, it will be necessary to analyze the Lutheran Confessions both as to structure and content. In studying the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the Formula of Concord, we find that they were written for the purpose of bringing about a Godpleasing settlement of differences which had caused divisions and offenses in the church. We note the following features:
I. The treatment of each controverted subject proceeds from the exact point of controversy.
II. The points of controversy are treated in theses and antitheses resting on sound Scriptural foundation.
III. The language used is clear, unambiguous and forthright.
— I —
The writers of the Confessions and those who subscribed to them in name and heart had the avowed and sincere purpose of doing a way with dissension, by God’s help, and of bringing all together in “one true accordant religion.” It was not their purpose indeed to end the strife by discounting, minimizing, avoiding, or evading the differences which had brought about external and internal separations. A careful study of the history of the controversies makes it clear that there were real differences to be dealt with. The Introduction to the Formula of Concord, (Thorough Declaration) stated: “The controversies which have occurred are not, as some would regard them, mere misunderstandings or disputes concerning words, one side not having sufficiently grasped the meaning of the other, and the difficulty lying thus in a few words which are not of great moment; but here the subjects of controversy are important and great, and of such a nature that the opinion of the party in error cannot be tolerated in the Church of God, much less be excused and defended.” (3) The differences were not mere differences in terminology or forms of expression, but doctrinal matters were involved, the one part teaching one doctrine as truth, and the other part teaching a contrary doctrine as truth, or at least tolerating it. The confessional writings, then, do not concern themselves with mere misunderstandings or disputes about words, which matters can easily he adjusted where the spirit is the same, but they concern themselves with real, and not imagined, doctrinal differences. These differences were not submerged or declared to be non-divisive. Nor was it ever stated that it was neither necessary nor possible to agree on this or that doctrine. On the other hand the differences were brought out into the open. They were clearly and definitely stated so that all might know the point at issue and that all discussion might proceed from that point. This was important, for thereby the discussion was centered on the controverted point, and a safeguard was provided against the introduction of matter which had no bearing on the subject. Thus in one of the articles of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession it is said: “And this is the issue of the case of which our readers are to be admonished, as Aeschines admonished the judges, that just as boxers contend with one another for their position, so they should strive with their adversary concerning the controverted point, and not permit him to wander beyond the case. In the same manner our adversaries ought to be here compelled to speak on the subject presented. And when the controverted point has been thoroughly understood, a decision concerning the arguments on both sides will he very easy.” (4)
In the Formula of Concord, Epitome, a very fine example is given of how the discussion of each controverted point is introduced by a clear statement of the question involved: The IV Article treats “Of the Third Use of the Law.” The first paragraph of this article is headed: “Status Controversiae. The Principle Question in This Controversy” and reads: “Since the Law was given to men for three reasons: first, that thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men; secondly that men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins; thirdly, that after they are regenerated and the flesh notwithstanding cleaves to them, they might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life, a dissension has occurred among some few theologians concerning the third use of the law, namely, whether it is to he urged or not upon regenerate Christians. The one side has said, Yea; the other, Nay.” (5) The issue having thus been clearly stated, the article goes on to present, on the one hand, “Affirmative: The true Christian Doctrine concerning this Controversy.” and, on the other hand, “Negative: False Contrary Doctrine.” While this particular form is not observed in every article of our confessional writings, it may well be said that in each case the controverted question is clearly set forth and the discussion proceeds from that point and centers on it.
It has happened in recent times that articles drawn up for the settlement of controversy have either disregarded certain existing differences entirely or have stated them in such involved, unclear and uncertain language that it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine wherein the difference to he treated consists. Then again, because of a neglect to proceed from the exact point of controversy, it is found that irrelevant material has been introduced which confuses the issue and makes the whole matter unclear and uncertain.
It is important in the settlement of any controversy that the points of difference be frankly admitted, that the issue be clearly stated, and that the treatment of the matter be centered upon the question under consideration with all unrelated material ruled out.
— II —
With the point of controversy clearly stated, it becomes possible to treat the matter as it needs to be treated for the correction of those who have departed from sound doctrine as well as for the preservation of the orthodox Christians who are exposed to, and threatened by, the false teachings of others. Thus it is stated in the Preface to the Christian Book of Concord, “When some godly men, lovers of peace and harmony, besides also learned theologians, had noticed all these things, they judged that these slanders and the dissensions in religion which were constantly increasing more and more, could not be better met than if the controverted articles would be thoroughly and accurately set forth and explained from the Word of God, the false teachings would be rejected and condemned, and on the other hand, the truth, divinely delivered, be clearly and lucidly presented; because they were convinced that by this method both silence could be imposed upon the adversaries, and the more simple and godly be shown a sure way and plan as to how they should act in these dissensions, and, aided by divine grace, could also in the future avoid corruptions of doctrine.” (6) When the point at issue is clearly understood, then indeed it can be stated what is the true Christian doctrine which is believed, taught, and confessed at this point, and what is the contrary doctrine to be rejected and condemned. In the Comprehensive Summary of the Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, the purpose of the framers of that document is declared to he as follows: “To state and declare plainly, purely, and clearly our faith and confession concerning each and every one of these, in thesis and antithesis, i.e. the true doctrine and its opposite, in order that the foundation of divine truth might be manifest in all articles, and that all unlawful, doubtful, suspicious, and condemned doctrines, wherever and in whatever books they may be found, and whoever may have written them, or even now may be disposed to defend them, might be exposed, so that every one may be faithfully warned against the errors, which are spread here and there in the writings of some theologians, and no one be misled in this matter by the reputation of any man.” (7)
On the one hand it was necessary to make a positive statement of doctrine in order that men everywhere might know what was taught by the confessors on the controverted points in their churches and schools, and what they intended to teach and contend for in the future. Whatever false accusations had been raised against them were thus silenced. For it was made clear that in doctrine they showed uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part might he ashamed, having no evil to speak of them. (Tit. 2,7.8.) In no case were the writings of men used as proofs for the correctness of doctrines set forth, but merely as witnesses and testimonies. Thus in the Introduction to the Epitome these words appear: “We believe teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament alone, as it is written Ps. 119,105: ‘Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path!’ And St. Paul: ‘Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed,’ Gal. 1,8. Other writings, however, of ancient and modern teachers, whatever name they bear, must not be regarded as equal to the Holy Scriptures, but all of them together be subjected to them, and should not be received otherwise or further than as witnesses, in what manner after the time of the apostles, and at what places, this doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved.” (8) Indeed, throughout the confessional writings it is made clear that the only true standard, source, and rule of doctrine is the Holy Bible. Accordingly the statements of doctrine are everywhere supported by Scripture passages which are either quoted in full or referred to by chapter and verse. The confessions previously accepted are used and reaffirmed because they are founded firmly and well in the Word of God.
Any confessional writing, to be true to the traditional Lutheran position which places the Scripture where it belongs as the fountainhead of Israel, must therefore bring clear Scripture proof for the doctrine presented. References to ancient or modern teachers may be made only as witnesses, to show how the Scriptural doctrines have been preserved by them but in no case as a support. Faithful and respected teachers in the Church, recognizing the fact that their writings might be misunderstood and misinterpreted by those who seek their support for a false position, have ever warned against an unwarranted use of their expressions. A valid test to determine whether or not the writings of the fathers are given their proper place in a confessional writing may well be made by asking the question: Is the presentation of the doctrine so amply supported by Scripture proofs that any reference made to the writings of the fathers could he dropped without weakening the case or leaving the question in doubt? The Lutheran Confessions of the 16th century stand this test, but not so many of the documents on union which have been produced in our day as instruments of concord.
In order that it might be clear to all that the confessors repudiated, rejected, and condemned the errors propagated by the contrary part and could have no fellowship with them as long as they continued therein, the confessors not only set forth the pure doctrine as taught by them, but added antitheses in which they clearly set forth their rejection of the contrary false doctrine. The confessors thereby made it clear that they were not looking for a false, unionistic peace in which errorists might agree to a certain presentation of doctrine, but at the same time reserve for themselves the right to teach, to believe, or to hold a contrary doctrine. The possibility of such a settlement was ruled out by a forthright rejection of all the views known to be held by the adversaries contrary to the true Christian doctrine presented in the theses. Thus in the introductory section of the Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, it is stated: “For the preservation of pure doctrine and for thorough, permanent, godly unity in the Church it is necessary, not only that the pure, wholesome doctrine be rightly presented, but also that the opponents who teach otherwise be reproved, I Tim. 3 (2 Tim. 3,16); Tit. 1,9, — for faithful shepherds, as Luther says, should do both, namely, feed or nourish the lambs and resist the wolves, so that the sheep may flee from strange voices, John 10,12, and may separate the precious from the vile, Jer. 15,19 —” (9) Antitheses are added in order that “all unlawful, doubtful, suspicious, and condemned doctrines, wherever and in whatever book they may be found, whoever may have written them, or even now may be disposed to defend them, might be exposed.” (10) The addition of antitheses, then, had a double purpose, namely, to reprove the opponents and to warn men against their errors that they might resist them and flee from them. This indeed is a necessary and soundly Scriptural procedure. It is a serious and alarming defect when such antitheses are lacking or omitted from articles of concord which are to treat doctrines that are or have been in controversy. It is alarming, furthermore, when opponents serve notice that they make their own reservations regarding certain rejected teachings. This can only be looked upon as a sign of unwillingness to accept the Christian doctrine itself which is to be safeguarded by the antitheses.
In concluding our consideration of the thetical and antithetical presentation of the controverted points in our Lutheran Confessions, may it be said that such a thoroughgoing and sound presentation as is there made would not have been possible if the framers had not been agreed among themselves. They were, indeed, men who were joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” They were men who “spoke the same thing.” They were men among whom there were no divisions. (I Cor. 1,10) Those who had caused divisions and were known to be maintaining them were not among the framers of the articles of concord. The confessors knew, indeed, what it meant to avoid those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine of the prophets and apostles. (Rom. 16,17.) and therefore they would not join in drawing up articles of concord with those with whom they were doctrinally disagreed.
— III —
If a writing is to serve the purpose of conveying to the reader a definite and clear concept, it is of the greatest importance that the language be lucid, intelligible, and decisive. Terms that are open to misunderstanding, phrases that have commonly been used to express false doctrines, expressions that are capable of being explained in one way by one side and in another way by another side should be avoided in any writing that is composed for the purpose of setting forth doctrine and rejecting error. For it is important that neither the orthodox nor the false teachers be in doubt concerning the exact sense of what has been written. Unionistic formulas of union have often used such general terms and such vague expressions that contending parties have been able to subscribe to them, while at the same time holding widely divergent views on the very doctrines being treated. Nothing is gained by way of attaining harmony in this way.
Indeed, if the case be clear and the judgment be evident and conclusive, then it does not take many words, difficult expressions, or involved constructions to state it. In the presentation of the Third Article of the Apology it is well said: “In shaky matters many explanations are needed, but in a good matter one or two thorough-going explanations dissolve all objections which men think they can raise. Ambiguous and dangerous cases produce many and various solutions. For the judgment of the ancient poet is true: ‘An unjust cause, being in itself sick, requires skilfully applied remedies.’ But in just and sure cases one or two explanations derived from the sources correct all things that seem to offend.” (11) It has not been entirely without reason that laymen in reading certain articles of union have been so confused by the foreign expressions and involved constructions that they have said that the whole matter is only a strife among theologians. This is most unfortunate. For writings that are to assume a confessional status in the church should be so composed that also the average Christian man and woman may be able to determine whether or not it is the voice of the shepherd or the wolf. The writers of the confessions wished to write in such a way that the articles might be understood and judged not only by theologians but also by laymen, as they say: “That everyone who has Christian understanding can notice which opinion concerning the matters in controversy accords with God’s Word and the Christian Augsburg Confession, and which does not. And sincere Christians who have the truth at heart may guard and protect themselves against the errors and corruptions that have arisen.” (12) That great care was taken in choosing words which were familiar and quickly understood, is shown from the Preface of the Apology where it is said: “It has always been my custom in these controversies to retain, so far as I was at all able, the form of the customarily received doctrine, in order that at some time concord could be reached the more readily.” (13) And again in the Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, in the article on Original Sin, we read: “As regards terms and expressions, it is best and safest to use and retain the form of sound words employed concerning this article in the Holy Scriptures and the above mentioned books (referring to the other confessional writings).” (14) In the same connection it is stated that, in order to avoid strife about words and expressions which are applied and used in various meanings, these should be carefully and distinctly explained. How well the confessors succeeded in writing so that the average Christian might read and understand what was confessed and what was rejected, to this we have the testimony of many a God-fearing layman who has read and digested the precious confessional writings.
From a careful study of the characteristics of the Confessional writings it should become evident that in these we have a model for any writing which is intended as a formula of concord also in our day, as well as a guide for evaluating the Lutheran character of writings now in existence. Even as it has been said of the Formula of Concord, so it should be possible to say of each one of them: “It confesses the doctrines which Christians everywhere will finally admit as true and divine, indeed which they all in their hearts believe even now, if not explicitly and consciously, at least implicitly and in principle.” (15).
May we close this study with the concluding words of the Introduction to the Apology of the Augsburg Confession: “We shall commend our cause, therefore, to Christ, who some time will judge these controversies, and we beseech Him to look upon the afflicted and scattered churches, and to bring them back to godly and perpetual concord. (Therefore, if the known and clear truth is trodden under foot, we will resign this cause to God and Christ in heaven, who is the Father of orphans and the Judge of widows and of all the forsaken, who — as we certainly know — will and pass sentence upon this cause aright. Lord Jesus Christ, it Thy holy Gospel, it is thy cause; look Thou upon the many troubled hearts and consciences, and maintain and strengthen in Thy truth Thy churches and little flocks, who suffer anxiety and distress from the devil. Confound all hypocrisy and lies, and grant peace and unity, so that thy glory may advance, and Thy kingdom, strong against all the gates of hell, may continually grow and increase.)” (16)
The Inspiration of Scripture
The Bible is on the face of it a collection of books written by various prophets and apostles over a period of about 1500 years. This is an obvious fact which requires no particular emphasis for anyone who has made any acquaintance with the Bible. But this Bible makes remarkable claims for itself, which we need to know about and understand thoroughly, if we are to appreciate its importance for our faith and life and profit by it to the fullest extent. It claims to be the Word of God as a whole and in all its parts and all its words down to the last jot and tittle. It not only contains words which God gave directly to men, such as the Ten Commandments and the many other parts of Scripture which are introduced by a “Thus saith the Lord;” but it is throughout the Word of God, because (as our Catechism Explanation puts it) “the Spirit of God in a miraculous manner gave to them (the men who wrote it) what they should speak and write, and the very words which they should use.” This is taught plainly in such passages as II Tim. 3,16, II Pet. 1,21, I Cor. 2,13, John 10,35, and Rom. 3,2.
The Brief Statement presents this teaching of the Bible clearly and adequately. But the Doctrinal Affirmation inserts, allegedly as “additional truths and clarifications”, two sentences which stress the “human element” in Scripture and that the separate books of the Bible constitute an “organic whole.” It also adds another paragraph emphasizing the fact that”the specific purpose of the Bible is to make man wise unto salvation.”
Now when we read these additions to the Brief Statement, we may be satisfied that they are correct in themselves. For it is true that “inspiration was not a mechanical process, as the so-called dictation theory holds, for the writers were living, thinking personalities, each endowed by the Creator with an individuality of his own and each having his peculiar style, his own manner of presentation, using at times even various sources at hand.” But if we stop to ask who in the history of the church ever taught this “so-called dictation theory,” we will find that no conservative theologian ever taught anything like that which is here described, reducing inspiration to a “mechanical process” or presenting a “dictation theory” of the manner in which the Bible was produced. All true Bible theologians have made it clear that inspiration was a “miraculous act of God,” which it would he impossible for man to understand fully or to describe by any kind of “theory.” Thus this addition to the Brief Statement contains, to say the least, an historical error and a false charge against unnamed teachers in the church, and such things have no place in an official document of the church. If any reference is to be made to this “dictation theory” at all, it should be in some such language as this: “Some have falsely charged that the orthodox Bible teaching concerning inspiration made of it a mere mechanical process” — etc. For it is actually the true Bible teaching which has been described in this way by Modernists and others who questioned the inspiration of the whole Bible, in order to ridicule it.
The inclusion of this statement in the Doctrinal Affirmation becomes a more serious matter, however, when we know that one of its original authors, Dr. M. Reu, repeatedly charged orthodox Lutherans with teaching a mechanical theory of inspiration and did so in such a way that he laid himself open to the charge of having been infected by the Modernistic spirit of doubt with regard to the Bible. For his criticisms of the orthodox teaching were based on just such misconceptions and misinterpretations of the Bible as Modernists come with to the confusion of all who listen to them. Thus in his essay on “What is Scripture,” sent out to most Lutheran pastors in 1940, he confused “inspiration” to a large extent with “revelation”; spoke like an evolutionist of “a gradual development, as in creation, so also in God’s self-disclosure to man,” and called “Scripture the history of this His gradual revelation or self-disclosure”; condoned the criticisms of the orthodox position on inspiration by such heterodox theologians as Hofmann; charged the believers in early Old Testament times with having only “the hope for a worldly Messianic reign”; asserted that we have “the right to speak of a co-operation of the divine and human factors in the formation of the Old Testament Scripture”; accorded Scripture the authority and ability to “provide answers only for religious problems, because the religious field alone is its province; other problems may be solved by science;” and makes various other statements that are very questionable. We cannot review all these here, (it was done in a series of articles published in Lutheran Sentinel and in the Wisconsin Synod’s Quartalschrift in 1941) but point to them merely to emphasize the fact that the words of the Doctrinal Affirmation with regard to the “dictation theory” become definitely objectionable when we view them in the light of such writings as those of Dr. Reu. It is no use for us to insist on that they can be understood aright, when we know that others will understand them as a justification of the attacks on, or doubts concerning, the orthodox doctrine of the divine authorship of Scripture.
Furthermore, it is a mistake to emphasize the human element in the Scriptures or to speak of a “co-operation of the divine and the human factors in the formation of Scripture.” What we need to emphasize continually in the face of all the doubts that arise in our own hearts and of the attacks that are made on Scripture by its enemies is the fact that the Bible is nothing but God’s word, that without Him there would have been no Bible, and that we are to look upon the Bible as in every respect the Word of God, not the words of Moses or Isaiah or Paul or John, etc:, but the very words of God. He made use of men, indeed, to bring His Word to men, as He does to this day. But they are not therefore to be regarded as co-responsible for the Word. Nor are we to try to distinguish between the human and the divine factors in it, with the result that we ascribe less authority or inspiration to the one than to the other, as so many are inclined to do with the historical and scientific matters mentioned in Scripture. In a doctrinal statement such as this, it would accordingly he best to leave out all references to the human element in Scripture. It is not a part of our Christian faith to assert that there is a human element in Scripture; that is something any unbeliever also can assert. But it is a part of that faith to assert the divine origin and character of Scripture.
The second sentence inserted in the Brief Statement reads: “Nevertheless by virtue of inspiration, i.e. the unique operation of the Holy Spirit, 2 Tim. 3,16; 2 Pet. 1,21, by which he supplied to the holy writers content and fitting word, I Cor. 2,12–13, the separate books constitute an organic whole, are without contradiction and error, John 10.35, and are rightly called the Word of God.” Besides bringing a new definition of inspiration — to say the least, an unnecessary repetition — this statement adds the thought that “the separate books constitute an organic whole,” and as such “are without contradiction and error.” This takes the place of a much better sentence in the Brief Statement, reading: “Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters, John 10,35.” There is a considerable difference between affirming that the separate books of the Bible are without contradiction and error and confessing that the Holy Scriptures are in all their parts and words the infallible truth. Many would subscribe to the former who would not assent to the latter, which is the orthodox statement. The whole section regarding inspiration has been definitely weakened by the elimination of any statement to the effect that the Scriptures are “in all their words the infallible truth.” That belongs to any proper definition of what the inspired Scriptures are. And when we know that there are theologians in other Lutheran churches who deny that the Scriptures are infallible truth when they deal with “historical, geographical and other secular matters,” we should be the more insistent on including in our doctrinal confession some such statement as that which is in the Brief Statement, but not in the Doctrinal Affirmation.
As for the phrase “an organic whole,” — this can be understood aright as referring to the fact that the Bible is a living unit. But this phrase has often been used to convey the idea that the doctrines of Scripture form a logical system, which system or “totality of Scriptures” then becomes the norm or rule by which Scripture is to be interpreted and all teachings are to be judged. But it is only the passages which deal with a certain doctrine which shall determine what that doctrine is, not any imaginary “organic whole of Scripture.” This is stated, indeed, in the Doctrinal Affirmation in the next paragraph. But when an error and the truth are placed side by side, it is the error which crowds out the truth, not vice versa, since the truth is by its very nature compromised by any recognition of error. Lest we find the story of “Opgjoer” being repeated in this case, it would he best accordingly to strike out this reference to the Bible as an organic whole, especially since there are those who still operate with the false principle that Scripture as an organic whole is to be the norm of Christian doctrine.
The third addition to the Brief Statement reads: “Since the Bible is the Word of God, His permanent revelation, aside from which until Christ’s return in glory no other is to be expected, it remains for all time not only the sole source, rule, and norm for faith and life, but also the ever fresh and inexhaustible fountain of all comfort, strength, wisdom, and guidance, John 5,39; Rom. 1,16, its specific purpose being to make man wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus, 2 Tim. 3,15.” This is all very true. Rut many theologians argue from the premise that the specific purpose of the Bible is to make man wise unto salvation to the false conclusion that it does not intend to teach us history, or science, or other secular matters at all. But the Bible does teach history, — the only thoroughly reliable and truthful history in existence. It does teach many facts in the field of science. geography, etc., and has its definite purpose with doing so. Therefore St. Paul says: “All Scripture is — profitable, etc.”, and no theologian has the right to say, as Dr. Reu e.g. does, that certain passages cannot he called “profitable” at all. Some of the little touches in the Bible accounts that seem so trivial to us may be just the elements needed, e.g. to prove the authenticity and historical accuracy of the Bible writings. What to some people, or the people of one age, may seem to be of no profit may be just what another people or age needs to be told. We should give no room, accordingly, for any emphasis on the “specific purpose” of the Bible which either explicitly or implicitly would encourage the idea that the “secular” matters in the Bible are no important or essential part of it. If this paragraph is to stand, written as it was originally by a man who asserted that the Scriptures “provide answers only for religious problems, because the religious field alone is its province; other problems may be solved by science,” (Dr. Reu in “What is Scripture”), some such clause as this should he added: “This does not mean that it is not the purpose also of Scripture to give us reliable information with regard to other matters, such as the historical and scientific fields, on which it touches.” The last paragraph on “Inspiration” covers this matter so far as the inerrancy of the “secular portions” of Scripture is concerned, but it does not guard against the false notions with regard to the purpose of Scripture, discussed above.
The paragraphs on the doctrine of Conversion in the Doctrinal Affirmation are the same as those in the Brief Statement, except for the addition of the words: “We therefore reject also the Calvinistic teaching that grace works irresistibly.” This addition would seem to be unnecessary, since the fact that man can resist the gracious work of the Holy Spirit is stated no less than four times in other places. But it is worse than useless to insert such a statement here since there are theologians who have used the term “irresistible grace” to cover up the notion that God cannot convert certain persons because they offer a wilful resistance to His grace, while He can convert those who offer a mere “natural resistance.” When orthodox theologians teach that God’s grace works with effective power on the hearts of men so as to overcome even the most stubborn and wilful resistance, as e.g. in the conversion of St. Paul, they are accused of teaching an “irresistible grace” and are called Calvinists. Under these circumstances, we have a right to object to the addition of this apparently innocent sentence. The phrase “grace does not work irresistibly” should be avoided, because of its history, the truth in it being expressed rather by some such statement as this: “Man can resist the grace of God.” For when we speak of God’s grace, we are to think of it as a mighty, miracle-working power which, without compelling the will of man, yet miraculously draws and changes it so that it turns even the most unwilling heart into a willing one. We emphasize in this connection the fact that there is a mystery here which no amount of speculation regarding the how and why of the salvation of some and the damnation of others can solve. The Bible not only gives us no answer, no clue, by which to solve this mystery; but it expressly forbids us to pry into it, (Rom. 9,20, etc.), and tells us that we are to accept the fact that “many are called, but few chosen” as a part of “the great mystery of godliness,” (1 Tim. 3,16) which we find God’s plan of salvation to be from beginning to end. We must hold fast at the same time to two statements which, according to our human reason, contradict one another: God who “doeth according to His will,” (Dan. 4,35) wants all men to be saved; yet all men are not saved. His grace is a miracle-working, life-giving power, raising up the spiritually dead to a new life; yet weak, spiritually dead man can resist it. If we are not satisfied to let this remain a mystery but insist on harmonizing these apparently contradictory statements, we will land in Calvinism or in Synergism, no matter to how fine an edge we may shave the entering wedge of error. When we know that there are Lutheran theologians who emphasize this statement, that God’s grace does not work irresistibly, in such a way that they grant Him the power to overcome only ordinary, “natural” resistance, and not wilful resistance, we need to be careful about admitting such statements into an official confession of faith.
The Object of the Lord’s Supper
In the paragraph regarding the object of the Lord’s Supper, the Doctrinal Affirmation has stricken the words “none other than” from the sentence in the Brief Statement reading: “Likewise the object of the Lord’s Supper, that is, of the ministration of the body and blood of Christ, is none other than the communication and sealing· of the forgiveness of sins.” Here is a good example of the manner in which a significant omission has been made, leaving the statement entirely correct in itself, yet with a door wide open to errors which are no longer excluded. For the American Lutheran Church has insisted, according to the Union Committee’s Report to the Missouri Synod in 1941, that “benefits belonging to the realm of sanctification should not he excluded” from the object of the Lord’s Supper. There are also those who would make room for a “possible physical effect of the Lord’s Supper.”
Now it is true that there are many benefits in the realm of sanctification which are the result or effect of partaking of the Lord’s Supper, since he who knows and believes that his sins are forgiven gains thereby the strength to walk in newness of life. But the object or purpose of the Lord’s Supper is stated in the words: “Given, and shed for you for the remission of sins,” and we should not go beyond these words of Scripture when defining the object for which the Lord’s Supper was given. There is a considerable difference between “object” and “effect”, and to confuse the one with the other may lead to many un-Lutheran errors.
As for the “physical effect” of the Lord ‘s Supper, it is sufficient to say that there is no basis in Scripture for the notion that communing at the Lord’s Table has any effect upon the body, except in the indirect manner in which Christian faith, hope and love may affect also the physical life of the believer. The Brief Statement’s words, “none other than”, are needed, then, to guard against various errors taught by Romanists, the Reformed and Synergistic Lutherans. They should be retained accordingly.
“The Visible Side of the Church.”
The Doctrinal Affirmation accepts most of the Brief Statement’s sentences concerning the doctrine of the Church, but has made one significant change. It omits the clause: “In our day some Lutherans speak of two sides of the Church, taking the means of grace to be its ‘visible side’.” And the next two sentences are changed to read: “But while the Church itself is invisible, it is created and preserved through visible means, the means of grace. The means of grace, therefore, are closely related to the Church, and their use is essential to its very existence here on earth.” This last sentence replaces the Brief Statement’s: “It is true, the means of grace are necessarily related to the Church, seeing that the Church is created and preserved through them.” Thus we have no longer a clear rejection of the error that the Church has in the means of grace a “visible side”, but instead thereof a clause which makes room for the false notion that the means of grace belong to a definition of the Christian Church when defining its essence. For “their use is essential” could easily be understood or interpreted to mean just this. But the tendency to emphasize the “visible side” of the church lies at the very root of many dangerous errors in the teaching and practice of the Church, such as the temptation to externalize the church and forget its true spiritual character; to practice unionism with all who use the means of grace outwardly; and to ascribe too much importance to visible church organizations and their officials. These Romanizing trends are present in many American Lutheran churches and cannot be resisted unless we hold fast to the Biblical doctrine of the true Christian Church as the body of Christ, an invisible organism of which Christ is the invisible head.
The means of grace have been called by orthodox theologians the “marks” of the church; they indicate where the invisible church may be found; but they do not make the invisible church visible. To use a homely illustration: The cork on a fish-line shows by its bobbing when there is a fish on the line in the dark waters; but it does not make the fish visible, nor is the cork a “visible side” of the invisible fish. So the fact that the means of grace are the “marks” of the Church does not make them a part of the church which is always and only made up of the individuals who believe in Christ.
Here, then, is again a place where the correct and careful wording of the Brief Statement has been replaced by less clear and definite language in the Doctrinal Affirmation.
In the first place, we note that the statement of the Brief Statement, “all Christians are required by God to discriminate between orthodox and heterodox church bodies”, has been taken into the Affirmation, but the Scripture reference, Matt. 7,15 (“Beware of false prophets”) has been dropped. The only reason we can suppose for its omission is that it is considered inapplicable. We believe that in that place our Lord has warned us to discriminate between those who teach true and those who teach false doctrine.
In the second place, we note that the Brief Statement’s sentence: “All Christians are required by God to have church fellowship only with orthodox church bodies, and, in case they have strayed into heterodox church bodies, to leave them” has been taken over into the Affirmation, but its reference to Rom. 16,17 (“Mark them that cause divisions etc. … and avoid them.”) has been omitted. Again, the only reason we can suppose for the omission is a concession that the passage does not apply. But we believe and teach that when the passage in question tolls us to “avoid” those who teach contrary to Scripture doctrine, it does not mean to tell us that we are to unite with them, to stay with them, but to withdraw from them.
Most significant, however, is the extension introduced into the Affirmation to the Brief Statement’s definition of Unionism. The Brief Statement defines Unionism thus: “We repudiate Unionism, that is, church fellowship with the adherents of false doctrine, as disobedience to God’s command, as causing divisions in the church, Rom. 16,17; 2 John 9,10, and as involving the constant danger of losing the Word of God entirely, 2 Tim. 2,17–21.”
Other Synodical Conference literature thru the years defines unionism with characteristic definiteness and simplicity: thus Th. Graebner (OTM, Aug. 1931, p. 580): “Unionism is Church-fellowship without doctrinal unity. Under church-fellowship we, of course, have in view the external factors which may be summarized as joint work and worship. In its concrete form it is accordingly the participation of congregations and church-bodies, of ministers and church officials in spiritual work and religious worship together with those of differing belief and profession.”
Concordia Cyclopedia (1927) on UNIONISM, p. 774: “Religious unionism consists in join worship and work of those not united in doctrine.”
Pastoral Theology, (Fritz,-1932) on UNIONISM, p. 219: “Joining in religious worship or in religious work or in both by such as are not in doctrinal agreement is religious unionism.”
Similar definitions could he multiplied indefinitely.
The Affirmation, however, says: “ We repudiate unionism, that is, church fellowship with the adherents of false doctrine, or, in other words, joint work and worship by which the truth is either denied or the appearance of denial or at least of indifferentism is given, as disobedience to God’s command, as causing divisions in the Church, Rom. 16,17, and as involving the constant danger of losing the Word of God entirely, 2 Tim. 2,17–21; Gal. 5,9; cp. also 2 John 9.10.” It will be readily seen that this definition with its addition to the simple definition of the Brief Statement makes everything indefinite. No great effort is required to show that this definition makes room for a sphere of joint worship and work with the adherents of false doctrine by which the truth is not denied or an appearance of denial or at least of indifference given. We could have found little fault, had the definition read: “We repudiate unionism, that is, joint work and worship with adherents of false doctrine, because by such joint work and worship the truth is either denied or the appearance of denial or at least of indifference is given.” But it does not so read, and we get the definite impression of a side-stepping of an issue, to say nothing of a concession to an un-Scriptural view-point. The Affirmation’s definition of unionism leaves the door open for occasional fellowship with Catholics, heterodox Protestants and Jews. It has lost the Brief Statement’s clear testimony over toward the most common outcroppings of the unionistic spirit.
The Election of Grace
The section of the Affirmation under the heading· “Election of Grace” is made up of six paragraphs. The first paragraph, number 36, giving the definition of election, has been taken over from the Brief Statement without any change. Paragraph 40 also has been taken over from the Brief Statement without any change. The other paragraphs of the section on Election have a number of additions to the Brief Statement, and we shall have to record, too, that there is one place where the Affirmation omits one significant clause of the Brief Statement.
One of the additions deals with the term “Election in view of faith.” Members of the Norwegian Synod will remember that that was one of the things dealt with in the “Opgjoer”, it being referred to there as a correct definition of the doctrine of election. We objected to that, of course, because when that term is used according to the proper meaning of the words in referring to the doctrine of election, it conveys a false and synergistic idea. When the term is used in a right sense it is not a definition of the Scripture doctrine of election at all. In the “Opgjoer” the so-called intuitu fidei form is placed parallel to the doctrine of election taught in the Scriptures and presented in the 11th article of the Formula of Concord. We are interested, then, in seeing what is done with the “intuitu fidei” in the Affirmation, especially since some parties in the ALC whose confession the Affirmation is intended to be, have in the past taught “election in view of faith.”
After stating among other things that the Holy Scriptures do not know of any election “by foreseen faith”, the Affirmation has the following addition to the Brief Statement concerning the “intuitu fidei”: “It is true, if the term ‘election in view of persevering faith (INTUITU FIDEI FINALIS)’ is interpreted in this manner only, that God has decreed from eternity to give on Judgment Day, for the sake of the merits of Christ imputed to them, the crown of glory to those whom He Himself by His grace has brought to faith and has kept in faith unto the end, then such an interpretation expresses indeed a truth clearly revealed in Scripture. It is also true that the Scripture doctrine of election includes as the final step the glorification of the elect. But Scripture and the Confessions do not say that the eternal election, or predestination unto the adoption of children, took place IN VIEW OF FAITH. Hence, for the sake of clarity in doctrinal presentation this terminology should he avoided.” This leaves much to be desired. Evidently the term “intuitu fidei” has been discarded. But we could wish that the Affirmation would directly say that “election in view of persevering faith” thus explained is not the Scripture doctrine of election, and that the term “election in view of faith” can not he used in presenting the Scripture doctrine of election. A glance at the words quoted will reveal that this is not done. Things that do not belong together are here put together in such a way that any one who wishes to think of the doctrine of justification as the doctrine of election may so think.
The Universal Will of Grace and Particular Election
Those who are acquainted with the teaching of the Iowa Synod are aware that it was characteristic of its teachers to identify the universal will of grace with the election of grace. This is seen, for example, from the words of one of its teachers, Dr. S. Fritschel: “The Iowa Synod also teaches the particularism of predestination, but maintains with the Confessions that it nevertheless is the same gracious will as the universal. According to the latter, God will have all men to be saved, yet not unconditionally, but in the order of faith. Now, since He knows from eternity how many there are that, within this order, let themselves be saved, the universal will to save all believers becomes the will to save just this certain number. The universal will thus becomes particular without suffering any alterations, but simply by passing under the aspect of the divine foreknowledge.” (Unterscheidungslehren, p. 64). Such identification does away with the Scripture doctrine of election, for there is a doctrine of the universal will of grace and a doctrine of election, two different things, as Dr. Bente correctly pointed out: “The will of grace and the election of grace are, according to Missouri, not two different words for the same thing, but two different things. The will of grace and the election of grace are according to Scripture, the Confessions, and Missouri doctrine neither identical nor synonymous. A person can never put one in the place of the other without changing the idea itself” (Lehre & Wehre, 50, 355).
Examining the section of the Brief Statement which deals with the doctrine of the Election of Grace, we find that it has a paragraph whose purpose it is to make a clear distinction between the universal will of grace and the election of grace. By a series of changes from the Brief Statement, including several omissions and several additions, the parallel paragraph (no. 39) of the Affirmation has succeeded in taking the accent away from the clear distinction between the two truths and putting it on their relation to each other. (Read the two paragraphs). Note especially the change: “The election of grace attains its end with all whom it embraces” (Brief Statement) to: “The universal will of grace does attain its end in all those embraced in the election of grace.” (Affirmation).
We see in all this an attempt to harmonize things which to reason seem to be contradictory, but which the Scriptures clearly teach without trying to harmonize.
Under this heading, the following new material has been introduced into the Affirmation: “Concerning the Last Things we believe that the following Scripture truths are fundamental: a) That as Christians we must at all times be ready for the return of Christ to Judgment. b) That as Christians we are bound, until the return of Christ to Judgment, to the use of the means of grace and to the way of salvation revealed in the Gospel. c) That the Church on earth, until the return of Christ to Judgment, will continue to be a kingdom of the cross.” The statement, the “following Scripture truths are fundamental,” is reminiscent of the statement made by the 1938 Convention of the ALC in Sandusky, to wit: “We are firmly convinced that it is neither necessary nor possible to agree in all non-fundamental doctrines.” (CTM, Jan. ’39, p. 59). According to the sections of the Affirmation quoted above, three doctrines in Last Things are fundamental. There may be other Scripture doctrines under the heading which are not to be regarded as fundamental, and on which therefore, it is not necessary to have agreement.
That this is not a stretched interpretation of the Affirmation is indicated by the fact that the Affirmation is careful to limit the definition of Millennialism that is to be rejected. The Brief Statement says: “We reject every type of Millennialism.” The Affirmations says: “ We reject every type of Millennialism which teaches that etc.” In the list of things millennialistic, the Brief Statement refers to the teaching “that before the end of the world a universal conversion of the Jewish nation (of Israel according to the flesh) will take place.” The Affirmation drops that. The Brief Statement also says: “According to these clear passages of Scripture we reject the whole of Millennialism, since it not only contradicts Scripture, but also engenders a false conception of the kingdom of Christ, turns the hope of Christians upon earthly goals, 1 Cor. 15,19; Col. 3,2, and leads them to look upon the Bible as an obscure book.” The Affirmation drops that. The Brief Statement says: “There will be but one resurrection of the dead.” The Affirmation says: “There will be but one general resurrection of the dead.” Thus it leaves room for a teaching that there may be a physical ressurection of some before the Judgment Day, namely the martyrs. It says: “In view of Matt. 27,52.53, we do not deny church fellowship to those who find prophesied in Rev. 20,4 a physical resurrection, before the Last Day, of martyrs who are to reign with Christ in heaven, as long as no chiliastic notions are attached to such an assumption.” There is no connection between the passages referred to. In Matt. 27,52.53 we are told of the people who came out of their graves and walked in Jerusalem after Jesus’ resurrection. In Rev. 20,4 John simply says that, in a vision, he saw “the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God,” and speaks of no physical resurrection. Outside of the fact that some false teaching is allowed in this section of the Affirmation, we have here a concession to some very loose principles of exegesis.
The Thousand Years
The Affirmation allows several interpretations of the Thousand Years of Revelation 20 provided that there are no “chiliastic associations.” But we have seen that the conception of Chiliasm found in the Brief Statement is different from that of the Affirmation.
The Brief Statement definitely says that “the prophecies of the Holy Scriptures concerning the Antichrist, 2 Thess. 2,3–12; 1 John 2,18, have been fulfilled in the Pope of Rome and his dominion.” The Affirmation believes that the prophecies “have found a fulfillment in the Pope of Rome and his dominion.” While it subscribes to the Statement of the Smalcald Articles that the Pope is “the very Antichrist”, it calls that an “historical judgment “, meaning possibly that it might be a mistaken judgment and concedes that the Antichristian power may unfold itself in someone else than the Pope of Rome.
It will have to be said of the Affirmation that with its additions it has not made anything clearer, but has introduced ambiguous terms and statements which leave room for varying interpretations of important doctrines of Scripture.
(1) The Conservative Reformation. By Charles P. Krauth. p. 147
(2) Concordia Triglotta, pp. 847. 849
(3) Concordia Triglotta, p. 849.
(4) Concordia Triglotta, p. 387.
(5) Concordia Triglotta, p. 805.
(6) Concordia Triglotta, p. 11.
(7) Concordia Triglotta, p. 857.
(8) Concordia Triglotta, p. 777.
(9) Concordia Triglotta, p. 855.
(10) Concordia Triglotta, p. 857.
(11) Concordia Triglotta, p. 173.
(12) Concordia Triglotta, p. 849.
(13) Concordia Triglotta, p. 101.
(14) Concordia Triglotta, p. 875
(15) Concordia Triglotta, Historical Introduction, p. 256.
(16) Concordia Triglotta, p. 103.