1959 – A Call for Decision……………………………………………p. 4
Another Memorial…………………………………………………….p. 6
A Report in Questions and Answers………………………………….p. 8
Before, During, and After……………………………………………p. 11
Christmas Devotion………………………………………………….p. 16
Short History of Our Synod…………………………………………p. 19
From the Bookshelves……………………………………………….p. 26
Fifty years ago, in 1959, the Wisconsin Synod convention was held to which the memorial, “A Call for Decision,” signed by 30 individuals, was submitted. This important document we reprint here from the proceedings, pp. 209-211. The floor committee’s report that was adopted by the convention included this: “Resolved, That the synod disavow the serious and repeated charges made in ‘A Call for Decision’ ….” After this convention, there were additional withdrawals from the synod.
Of the eight similar memorials printed on pp. 180-93 of the proceedings, including one from St. Paul’s of Austin, Minn. (L.W. Schierenbeck pastor) we also reprint the one that also has 30 signatures.
The document appearing on pp. 8-10 was prepared for his congregation in Nicollet, Minn., under date of Aug. 21, 1959, by Pastor Egbert Schaller. A copy was kindly provided to us from the archives of the Church of the Lutheran Confession by the former archivist; permission to reprint it in these pages was kindly granted by the current archivist. We are most deeply appreciative of these actions, which enable us to present to our readers two generations later this fine summary of the state of affairs after the 1959 WELS convention.
May the reminder of the stand taken by our fathers serve to create in us renewed dedication to God’s saving truth, for Jesus’ sake. RW
The current staff of this bimonthly publication of the RLC is R.E. Wehrwein (editor), Derek Wehrwein, and Shannon Steensma. Subscriptions are $10 per year, payable to the Reformation Lutheran Conference. The editor’s addresses are 1121 S. Jefferson St., New Ulm, MN 56073; email@example.com
Under date of June 27, 1958, a letter signed by the members of the Protest Committee, Wisconsin Synod, was addressed to “The Protesting Brethren of the Ev. Luth. Joint Synod of Wisconsin and Other States.”
The letter was in large part based upon, and contained an endorsement of, a document which accompanied it and which was subsequently sent to all pastors and teachers of our synod under the title, A Report to the Protest Committee.
The latter document, under Section II, third paragraph, page four in our copy, the following sentence appeared: “Termination of church fellowship is called for when you have reached the conviction that admonition is of no further avail and that the erring brother or church body demands recognition for their error.”
This statement is basic to the entire issue which called forth the document. We hold that it is false and unscriptural, and that the argument based upon it is rationalistic and untenable. We ask the synod to disavow it.
For the purpose of clarifying our objection, we submit the following as a true and correct statement of the doctrinal issue involved: Termination of church fellowship is called for when scriptural correction has been offered and rejected and the erring brother or church body have continued in their error despite admonition. This is the persistence which distinguishes an errorist (Rom. 16:17-18) from an erring brother (Gal. 2:11-14).
We reject as unscriptural any interpretation or application of Rom. 16:17-18 which expressly or by implication equates the action required by this passage with that enjoined in Mt 18:17; I Cor. 5:11-13, or any other passage of Holy Writ dealing with excommunication. The persistence implicitly defined in Rom. 16:17 is not to be measured by the impenitence of those who persist, but by the fact of their persisting; and the word “avoid” is not identical in meaning, scope, or direction with the term “excommunicate.” It is manifest that one cannot excommunicate an entire church body, or declare it to be impenitent.
In consequence, we also reject the principle which accords to human judgment the task of determining when Rom. 16:17-18 applies “conclusively” to an individual or a church body, and requires “a conviction that admonition is of no further avail.” No such provision is to be found in the text. It is imported from passages dealing with the gaining of an impenitent sinner and is utterly irrelevant here. To adduce it is in violation of accepted principles of Bible interpretation. In Rom. 16:17-18 the sole responsibility of human reason is to recognize the fact that the erring one continues in his error while rejecting previous admonition.
We reject the notion that the action required by Rom. 16:17 depends upon clairvoyance, namely the ability to determine the future fate of admonition. One who persistently causes divisions and offenses is marked, not when we are convinced “that admonition is of no further avail,” but when the evidence shows that despite admonition the erring has persisted and does persist in holding to his error. The text demands Christian awareness, not divination. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
We affirm that a rejection of admonition is the equivalent of a demand for recognition of error. We disavow as sophistry any effort to restrict the concept of persistence to an instance where a formal demand for acceptance of error is made. The text speaks of cases where, scriptural admonition having been disallowed, the error continues to be propounded and practiced.
We herewith implore our synod to recognize both the scriptural validity of this our confession and the untenable nature of the “termination of fellowship” thesis advanced by the synod’s Protest Committee. We affirm that the document entitled A Report to the Protest Committee is in its nature and content divisive, despite its conciliatory tone, because it does violence to clear Scripture. In its historical presentation, the Report distorts plain, documented facts relative to the action of the Saginaw convention of 1955. We consider this distortion of historical facts to be a lesser offense, however, than the abuse of Scripture upon which it is based. Against this we are bound to contend for the truth.
“To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Is. 66:2). God’s Word requires nothing less than implicit obedience.
It was love for the truth of God’s Word and love for the erring brethren that moved our synod to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod “with all longsuffering and doctrine,” for departing from the scriptural position it shared with us for years. This admonition continued for many years. Our synod properly employed Rom. 16:17-18, stating in unmistakable words that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had “created divisions and offenses not in accord with Scripture,” and continues to do so. The Saginaw indictment of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is as clear as language can make it, and no subsequent interpretations of the resolution that followed can affect it.
Synod, however, failed to follow through with the injunction to “avoid,” even after having declared in 1953 that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had “by its persistent adherence to unionistic practices … brought about the present break in relations” (Proc. 1953, p. 104). Our synod failed in 1955, after declaring that “The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had by its official resolution[s?], policies, and practices created divisions and offenses” (Proc. 1955, p. 85). Also in 1957, our synod failed to follow through with the injunction of Scripture to “avoid,” when it spoke of “… the continuation of offenses, with which we have charged the sister synod, Rom. 16:17-18,” the appended “Note” to the contrary notwithstanding (Proc. 1957, p. 144). Three successive times, therefore, synod chose to go the way human policy dictated – not God’s way.
For the sake of the unity in the Wisconsin Synod on the basis of the Word of God, we, the undersigned, therefore, plead that synod recognize that further discussion in the Joint Union Committee constitutes a denial of the truth in view of the fact that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod continues in the offenses and has never acknowledged that the issues are divisive. Discussion under these circumstances cannot be termed admonition but at best negotiation. Such negotiating on a fellowship basis is nothing less than disobedience to God’s Word.
We further plead that, in obedience to God’s Word, synod sever fellowship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri synod as required under the circumstances by Rom. 16:17-18. Our failure to do so in the past has had this twofold effect: The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has been encouraged to continue in the offenses, and we have grievous dissension in our own midst. This dissension can only become more serious unless we implicitly obey the Word of God.
It is our fervent hope and prayer that our Wisconsin Synod will speedily return to a firm scriptural stand, where all of us will again speak the same thing, where there will be no divisions among us, and where we will be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. I Cor. 1:10.
We take for granted that our synodical representatives be ready to discuss these issues with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as soon as it recognizes them as divisive, in the hope of re-establishing unity in doctrine and practice.
Finally, we wish to have it known that we subscribe to the doctrinal statement on this issue that is being submitted in another memorial, viz., “Termination of church fellowship is called for when scriptural correction has been offered and rejected and the erring brother or church body have continued in their error despite admonition. This is the persistence which distinguishes an errorist (Rom. 16:17-18) from an erring brother (Gal. 2:11-14).”
Quotations of interest
From still another memorial (1959 convention proceedings, p.183): “To this end we plead that there be no limitation of discussion which is to the point, and that in regard to statements that are misleading or that are contrary to Scriptures or contrary to facts, made in essays or on the floor of the convention, permission be granted immediately to correct such statements.”
“From another direction it has been argued, rather naively, that synod could not have intended to find Missouri guilty in the sense of Rom. 16:17 as of then because, had that been the meaning, synod would have sinned in deferring suitable action. Naturally this begs the question. … The hidden premise that synod could not have sinned is pre-sumptuous.” (Booklet #3 of The Writings of Prof. Egbert Schaller (“The ‘Status Controversiae’ Within the Synodical Conference,” 1958), p. 35)
Question 1: What did the Wisconsin Synod, at its recent convention in Saginaw, Mich., decide about its relations with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?
Answer: The synod decided, by majority vote, to continue in fellowship relations with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and to continue the discussions being carried on by a committee of each synod concerning the issues that divide us, “until agreement on doctrine and practice has been reached.” (No time limit was set.)
Question 2: Does this action of the synod mean that the unscriptural policies and practices of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (against which our synod has protested during the past 20 years) have been put aside and discontinued?
Answer: No, it does not mean that. For the convention also admitted that “many offenses of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which have brought about the troubled conditions in the Synodical Conference, have not been removed and have been aggravated by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s reaffirmation of their position on Scouting ….”
Question 3: Is Scouting the only offense of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod which is continuing and has been aggravated (made worse)?
Answer: No. At its San Francisco convention in June the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod not only reaffirmed its wrong position on Scouting, but also its false doctrine of Antichrist. It also declared that the Common Confession is to be one of the confessional statements of the church that must guide its pastors and teachers in their teaching and preaching. And by encouraging the work of its Armed Services Commission, it reaffirmed its offensive Chaplaincy practice.
Question 4: Why, then, did our synod determine to continue in fellowship relations with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and what reasons did it give to justify such continuance?
Answer: The reasons given were that “the Missouri Synod Doctrinal Unity Committee has shown a receptive attitude toward our testimony”; that the Missouri committee has with our committee approved a correct statement on Holy Scripture and one on the doctrine of Antichrist; and that disciplinary action has been taken against certain professors in the Missouri Synod accused of teaching error.
Question 5: Are these things really so, and are they good?
Answer: We may believe them to be true, and find in them cause for thanksgiving. We can and should rejoice whenever any Christian church body does or says something that is in accord with the truth.
But it must be noted, for instance, that a correct doctrinal statement on Antichrist was accepted only by the doctrinal committee, and not acted upon by the synod. Instead, the convention at San Francisco reaffirmed the false doctrine of Antichrist adopted three years ago.
Doctrinal discipline may be in action against certain false teachers within the Missouri Synod. But we have seen no public correction or retraction, thus far, of their errors.
It should also be remembered that our synod has never raised public charges against the errors of individuals within the Missouri Synod. Our synod has only protested public offenses against pure doctrine and practice caused by the Missouri Synod itself, and approved by it. Which of these has been admitted, corrected, or set aside?
Question 6: Do the good things that are listed, insofar as they have really taken place, justify our synod in continuing in fellowship relations with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?
Answer: Again we must repeat what our synod itself said at its convention, namely, that “many offenses of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod … have not been removed and have been aggravated ….”
Because of these same offenses, our Standing Committee on Church Union told the convention of our synod, held four years ago, in 1955: “In our dealings with our sister synod (Missouri) we have been earnestly endeavoring to heed the scriptural exhortations to patience and forbearance in love. We have, however, arrived at the firm conviction that, because of the divisions and offenses that have been caused, and which have until now not been removed, further postponement of a decision would be a violation of the apostolic injunction of Rom. 16:17 (I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them).”
This statement of our Committee on Church Union, made in 1955, was true and correct. It was scriptural. However, the convention of 1955 refused to follow that direction; and the synod has refused to follow it ever since.
Question 7: What has been done about this?
Answer: In the past four years, many members of synod have tried in every way to admonish the synod to obey the clear Word of God that deals with this matter. More than 50 pastors, teachers, and professors of synod, including your own pastor, as well as some congregations and laymen, had again written to the leaders and delegates at the convention this year, pleading that the synod return to the principles of Scripture and sever fellowship relations with the synod that is causing divisions and offenses. But these urgings were not heeded by the majority.
Question 8: How was the convention able to resist such requests?
Answer: The official representatives of synod had voiced a different rule in regard to fellowship relations with other church bodies. Their position can be summed up in their own words: “Termination of church fellowship is called for when you have reached the conviction that admonition is of no further avail and that the erring brother or church body demands recognition for their error.” This principle the convention adopted. It is false and unscriptural.
Question 9: Why is it false and unscriptural?
Answer: Because in teaching us when to avoid erring church bodies, Scripture says nothing about “reaching the conviction that admonition is of no further avail.” Therefore also the Standing Committee in 1955, as above shown, did not mention that, but declared that when divisions and offenses continue after the erring has been admonished, it is time to avoid. It is not our business to reach a conviction about whether more admonition would be profitable or might accomplish the purpose. Nor is it our business to stop admonishing after we have terminated fellowship relations. But it is our duty to terminate fellowship when the erring has been corrected and does not stop giving offense with his error.
Question 10: Was all this brought to the attention of the convention?
Answer: It was, in writing and by word of mouth. It has been repeatedly explained through the years since 1955. But the synod, under its present leadership, did not heed it. Indeed, there is evidence that many were impatient and resentful of scriptural correction and made no effort to give it a full hearing.
Question 11: What is the result?
Answer: The result is that the synod, by continuing in fellowship with a persistently erring church body, in spite of admonition, has itself become guilty of persisting in causing divisions and offenses contrary to the truth.
BEFORE To remind ourselves of the atmosphere of Wisconsin Synod z conventions in the 1950s, here are excerpts from reports in the Northwestern Lutheran, beginning with the 1953 convention in Watertown, Wis.
“As word had been passed around previously that the committee would report, the auditorium of the gym was crowded with visitors, and the atmosphere was tense. … The committee’s recommendations were debated heatedly for the next three and one-half sessions, including an evening session. Judging from the general tenor of the remarks made, one would say that there was virtual agreement that Missouri had indeed brought friendly relations between the synods to the breaking point by her liberalism. … After a day and a half of discussion a motion prevailed to refer the question of church union to a special convention this fall.” (Sept. 6, 1953; pp. 280-81)
At the special convention in Milwaukee on Oct. 8-9, 1953, the synod resolved to declare “that the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod … has brought about the present break in relations that is threatening the existence of the Synodical Conference and the continuance of our affiliation with the sister synod.” The accompanying explanation of this and other resolutions provided by E.E. Kowalke and E. Reim includes this: “By resolution the synod approved the protest of our representatives made after the 1952 convention of the Synodical Conference. It also said that during this period of waiting ‘we remain in a state of confession.’” (Nov. 1, 1953; p. 344. Some information about this state of confession, including a document by E. Schaller proposing taking the action described in II Thess. 3:6-15, is contained in the 1996-4 issue of the LCCF Newsletter. See p. 25 below for a brief excerpt.)
The 1955 convention in Saginaw, Mich., deferred action on termination until 1956. “The convention’s floor committee of 22 members studied all pertinent reports and memorials. It held open hearings at which all interested persons could offer suggestions and state viewpoints. At one such hearing 183 people were in attendance. After seven days and nights of work the floor committee presented its report consisting of a historical summary, a preamble, and a set of resolutions. Before floor debate began, delegates were given an evening to weigh the report in private deliberation and informal discussion. For a full morning and afternoon the convention considered the matter. When finally the list of speakers was fully covered, the major item of the report … [deferring until 1956 action on a resolution to terminate fellowship with Missouri] was adopted by a vote of 94 to 47.
“The saddest minutes of the convention came when, following this vote, some 40 delegates and visitors recorded their dissent, among them certain influential men in synod. Those in dissent protested against the time lapse before action on terminating fellowship and voiced their conviction that such action should be taken immediately. A similar dissent had been registered by seven members of the floor committee. Such disagreement in a matter of major importance cannot but grieve all members of synod. That was already obvious from the serious and sad tones in which the dissents were voiced and from the heavy hearts and depressed spirits with which they were received.” (Sept. 4, 1955; pp. 277-78)
The 1956 recessed convention held in abeyance until 1957 the 1955 judgment that divisions and offenses caused by Missouri necessitated termination of fellowship. “In addition to district resolutions and majority and minority reports a from the Standing Committee on Matters of Church Union, the Watertown [Wis.] convention had at hand numerous communications, memorials, and protests dealing with the problem it was considering. These materials were reviewed by a floor committee of 22 members in a lengthy open hearing and frequent executive sessions. On the third and last day of the meeting shortly before the noon recess, this committee’s report was presented. It was discussed a full afternoon and evening. At midnight a vote by roll call was taken. The amended report was adopted by a vote of 108 to 19, with 38 delegates either absent or abstaining and with several advisory delegates recording their dissent.” One of the resolutions was that “our fellowship with The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod be one of vigorously protesting fellowship to be practiced, where necessary, in the light of II Thess. 3:14-15.” (Sept. 16, 1956; p. 294)
1957: “The delegates’ interest in the open meeting of floor committee no. 2, which was appointed to present a report on the matter of church union to the convention, indicated the degree of their concern with the problem. The large meeting room was crowded, and other delegates gathered in the hall outside the room to hear the discussion.
“By Monday hundreds of visitors had reached New Ulm [Minn.]. At the close of the evening session, the long-awaited report of the floor committee reached the convention floor. As the chairman, Pastor Walter Pankow of New London, Wis., read the report in calm, measured tones, there was an intent silence in the hall. When the reading was finished, there was a hush as each listener weighed the committee recommendation – a break with The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
“Part of Tuesday morning was devoted to a discussion of the report. The discussion was resumed during the Wednesday morning session; throughout the afternoon and evening there was a lively debate on the committee recommendation. At the afternoon recess there was a waiting list of 24 speakers, even though the five-minute limit had been imposed on each speaker prior to this time. Several hours later there were still 24 waiting for their opportunity to express their views to the convention. After supper a two-minute limit was put into effect. Yet the succession of speakers moving over to the microphones continued until 10 o’clock. Then the convention felt that the matter had been thoroughly discussed. No one was requesting a chance to be heard. The convention had talked itself out.
“When the standing vote of the delegates had been taken, the count showed 61 in favor of a break with the Missouri Synod at this time; 77 opposed it. There were eight who abstained from voting. …
“During the next two years our fellowship with the Missouri Synod is, by resolution of the convention, to remain one of vigorous protest ….” (Sept. 1, 1957; pp. 284-85)
The report in 1959 no longer conveys the same sense of crisis. The action is summarized as follows: “Thus our relationship to The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod remains what it has been the past few years: a fellowship in the Synodical Conference but on a vigorously protesting basis.” (Sept. 13, 1959; p. 300) Even in E.C. Fredrichs’ The Wisconsin Synod Lutherans and Mark Braun’s A Tale of Two Synods, there is quite little about the 1959 convention. (The former, by the way, in its account of the 1955 convention, reports that “some 50 convention delegates formally protested the vote postponement to a special convention to be held in 1956 after Missouri’s had met,” p. 204.)
DURING “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark those who, contrary z to the doctrine which you learned, cause divisions and offenses ….” Is Rom. 16:17 perhaps to be translated and understood in that way? So some have argued, often proceeding to limit in some way the divisions and offenses whose causers are to be avoided.
That the answer to this is no is demonstrated in detail in a magnificent 32-page booklet that provides us with a model of careful and penetrating grammatical analysis and that received wide distribution in the Synodical Conference around the middle of the previous century. Written by Prof. Robert G. Hoerber, it is entitled “A Grammatical Study of Romans 16:17” (first edition, 1947; second printing, 1963; published by the Lutheran Synod Book Company, Mankato, Minn.). After showing that the phrase beginning with “contrary” is to be linked, not with the causing (which would make it an adverbial phrase), but with the divisions and offenses (which makes it an adjectival phrase), Hoerber writes in his conclusion (p. 31): “St. Paul is admonishing the Christians at Rome to avoid, not all who cause divisions and offenses, but those who cause the divisions and offenses contrary to the teaching – not contrary to any teaching, but to the teaching which they learned from him and the other apostles.”
That this booklet is still known in some quarters is evident from the reference made to it in footnote 39 of a 1999 Missouri Synod document on admission to the Lord’s Supper. And we have heard of Lutherans in Australia who have given it close attention. But we have also encountered a case or two suggesting that familiarity with it is not as widespread anymore as might be wished. It is truly a gem; if you should ever run across a copy, by all means snap it up.
AFTER A study of subsequent interactions between the CLC and
z the WELS and ELS would doubtless be a worthwhile undertaking. Possibly further comment on them can eventually be offered in these pages. At the moment we will simply mention that Prof. em. John Lau, for many years writer, managing editor, and then editor-in-chief of the CLC’s Journal of Theology, has published a collection of his writings in a book titled Apologia (undated). Included are the numerous articles he wrote on the difference between the CLC and WELS, including those written during and after the series of meetings from 1987-1990 between representatives of the CLC and the WELS and ELS. Another book of interest, expected to be available in 2010, is a history of the CLC by Prof. em. David Lau. We learned of this from p. 11 of the 2009-1 issue of the Journal of Theology, a CLC publication that is offering introductory chapters of that work in this year’s issues.
Along with mention of those two books, we offer two quotations of special interest from WELS sources. The first, a candid admission of lack of unity, is from an essay by Forward in Christ editor, John Braun, that was published in the 2006-2 issue of the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly (p. 109): “We have a tension created by differences of opinion concerning these matters and we have a tension involved with the discussion and resolution of these issues. I sense two opposing forces marshalling for some future showdown.”
In further illustration of this situation, we have the unmistakable and well-aimed finger-pointing in the following remarks at the conclusion of Pastor James Langebartels’ introduction to his translation of Heinrich Schmid’s History of Pietism, published by NPH in 2007. “In the 1570s, the hidden Reformed roots had to be concealed, for as soon as they were exposed, the controversy was at an end; hence Crypto-Calvinism. Much less concealment was practiced in the case of Pietism. Reformed books and practices were openly recommended. Today we have advanced to such an extent that we can use Reformed materials, principles, and practices without harming our Lutheranism – or so we think. We think we can ‘spoil the Egyptians’ of their useful practices while retaining a Lutheran emphasis on ‘using the gospel.’ Hence this study of Pietism is necessary and useful and practical also today.”
In these quotations is striking evidence of what the heart of the problem has been in WELS for half a century: They did not have to separate from error.
Also of special interest is the following remark in an article by Pastor Daniel Fleischer currently on the website of the CLC congregation in Corpus Christi, Texas, that gives an overview of dealings between the CLC and WELS: “The CLC encourages and works with members [emphasis added] to help them out of the ‘faith-based’ organization that Thrivent claims it is. The WELS does not.”
The afternoon sun shines gray upon the shallow spot in the Jordan where the road fords the river before dividing into two branches. Mary’s eyes follow the curving path as it leaves the main Jerusalem route to turn southward, bypassing the great city. In all likelihood this would be the way that Joseph chose. Not through the swarming streets of Jerusalem, not through its teeming markets and busy gates, but along the forbidding valley of Jehoshaphat beneath the eastern walls of the city the Virgin rides upon her patient beast. She is not well, and Bethlehem lies seven long miles beyond. She seeks no public acclaim; her search is for journey’s end, for rest and seclusion.
The night has fallen now, and Joseph knocks at the door of the inn. Candle light gleams through the shutters, and in the opened door there is a voice – an impatient, uninterested voice. No room! Back to Jerusalem, then? No. Better the warm stable, the straw and hay, for the hour is come. It is the greatest hour the Church has known, in which her King comes to her. As the life of the world rumbles faintly by outside, the Light of the world is born. And the only publicity accorded the event comes from the sweet spirits of a heavenly chorus and from the astonished lips of simple shepherds who later “made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” Rather poor, inexpert publicity – but eventually the news got around quite well, didn’t it?
Many years later there was a young man of note living in Nazareth. Since He was “the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power,” His mother might have felt justified in planning to call in the representatives
*Under the heading, “From a Wider Field,” this article by Egbert Schaller, reserved for this year-end issue as explained on p. 2 of our 2009-1 issue, appeared in the Dec. 18, 1949, issue of the Northwestern Lutheran. We are profoundly grateful for the kind permission of Northwestern Publishing House to reprint this, as well as the articles by Schaller that follow it in this issue.
of church and world for an interview. But again there is only a solitary voice – “of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” God chose His herald to announce the redeeming ministry of His Son, and He would have no other. The men of the world were not asked for a testimonial, nor did the Most High request free advertising. The Person and Message of God’s Son must make their own way. Nobody thought of offering publicity, either, until Pilate one Friday morning hung a sign on the Cross. He did it disdainfully, spitefully.
And then came Resurrection Day. The world had its reporters on hand in the person of soldiers guarding the tomb, who promptly went into a huddle with the chief priests and came up with a sort of press release which said: “His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept.” That was the extent of the world’s bulletin service on the second supreme event of the century; and of course it was a garbled, false report. It did not require or deserve a counter-communique.
As usual, God addressed the world only through the mouth of faithful witnesses who could not help “but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” So “they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the Word with signs following. Amen.” (Mark 16:20) The wholesome growth of the Church resulted; in a world otherwise totally uninformed and undisturbed by any ecclesiastical press-agentry, the true Church grew, and thus it will continue to grow today.
When we review the written evidence upon which our knowledge of New Testament history rests, we are startled to find that the writings of the Apostles and Evangelists, namely the Holy Scriptures, are the only real sources of information we possess regarding the historic facts and deeds of God’s work of redemption. So far as we know, not even a real effort was made by worldly writers of the first century to record the beginnings of the Christian Church or its meaning to the world. Nor was any effort needed.
Dr. W. Arndt, in his New Testament history, puts it thus: “We see that Christ and His apostles did not have startling publicity when the Church was founded. No pamphlets were written by famous publicists and spread far and wide in the whole civilized world announcing that now a new era had begun and the great work of redemption had just been performed. And when the world could no longer afford to ignore the Christian religion, its remarks about were largely contemptuous sneers and ridicule. The Gospel, it is important to remember, made its way through the power of God, which is inherent in it.” That is indeed well said, and often too poorly remembered and applied in our day.
The Kingdom of God in its greatest era never had the kind of publicity which in some circles is today mistakenly regarded as essential to the work and welfare of the Church. Modern publicity campaigns of religious groups which enlist the high-pressure facilities and cooperation of the world seem designed chiefly to maintain public interest in a certain church body, rather than in the Church. And shouting of that kind may reflect an inner weakness.
If we have an impulse to shout, let us harness our voice to the glad tidings of God, the hidden wisdom of Christ, the blessed Gospel. Our command is to preach from the housetops. The advertising modeled after the world’s garish tastes tends only to glorify men and breeds notoriety; the advertising done by preaching the Gospel simply and without fanfare produces Christians and populates the Church, which is so designed that it develops in inconspicuous silence, even as the Savior Himself declared, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” Mt. 13:33.
The finest Church promotion campaign on earth is both defined and instituted by the words of the General Prayer in our Order of Morning Service: “We beseech Thee, O Lord, to preserve and extend Thy kingdom of grace and to grant unto Thy holy Church throughout the world purity of doctrine and faithful pastors, who shall preach Thy Word with power; and help all who hear rightly to understand and truly to believe it.”
THE FIRST BEGINNINGS They were missionaries three who came z to America to preach the Gospel; and none of them remained here very long after they had founded the Wisconsin Synod. The first perished at sea in 1858; the second died in Milwaukee in 1867; and the third shortly returned to his native Germany. But in the years of our Lord 1849 and 1850 they joined hands and congregations, creating the new church body which today publishes this centennial issue to commemorate its first beginnings. And this is how it was:
At Barmen, one of the many missionary institutes which flourished in Germany at the time, Johann Weinmann was doing post-graduate work; and Candidate of Theology W. Wrede of Magdeburg, having completed his training, was serving a congregation in Pomerania, when the Langenburg Mission Society for the Germans in America decided to send a detachment of three missionaries abroad. Weinmann and Wrede were persuaded to accept such a commission and left from the docks of Bremen on July 9, 1846.
A dispatch from Barmen, meanwhile, had advised Johann Muehlhaeuser, a considerably older and more experienced Barmen worker in New York, of the imminent arrival of the new missionary contingent. Muehlhaeuser met the voyagers and provided for them. But soon duty separated the three. Wrede accepted a call to Callicoon, New York, while Weinmann, in answer to a pleading letter, came to the territory of Wisconsin. Here, at Oakwood near Milwaukee, a Lutheran congregation had been left without a shepherd after their pastor had disgraced his office by a shameful life. The group of 300 souls happily
*Under this heading, six articles appear in the May 21, 1950, issue of the Northwestern Lutheran. In addition to the three (the first, second, and fifth of the six) by Egbert Schaller that appear here as tying in, because of their historical content and concluding ringing appeal for steadfastness, with this issues’s material on 1959, there are also: “Great Difficulties,” “The Mission Zeal of the Fathers,” and “1850: The Organization of Our Synod 1850: The Setting, The Heritage.”
welcomed Weinmann as a gift of God, and he settled down as overseer of this flock, which later held the distinction of being the oldest congregation of the Wisconsin Synod.
Then came Muehlhaeuser. Weinmann prevailed upon his new friend to leave New York State and resume his calling as a traveling missionary in the Milwaukee area, where, beginning in the summer of 1848, he went about with Bibles and tracts until illness forbade further strenuous travel. Encouraged by two English sectarian clergymen, a Presbyterian and a Congregationalist, Muehlhaeuser began to serve the Germans in a section of Milwaukee. A hall was rented, and a new Lutheran congregation established in October of 1848. Incorporated in the following year, it was called, and still is known today as, the “Gnadengemeinde,” or Grace Church, of the Wisconsin synod.
The reader will now be waiting for the third man to appear on the scene; and the wish is herewith gratified. Pastor Wrede arrived from Callicoon, New York, in 1849 and accepted the pastorate of an established congregation at Granville, five miles north of Milwaukee.
The three friends were neighbors, drawn together by their common origin and the needs of men laboring with the Gospel in a pioneer age and area. What was more natural than that they should work together, consolidate their strength, and seek to rivet their congregations in the same bond which united them? The meeting which they finally arranged at Grace Church on Dec. 8, 1849, was certainly an event that seemed of very little importance either to the world or to the Church; yet it was on that day, in that place, that the Wisconsin Synod was born. In its organization the manpower supply became totally exhausted: Muehlhaeuser was elected president, Weinmann secretary, Wrede treasurer. This little synod planned for its full and formal organization by arranging a convention for May 27th of the coming year at Granville.
In the ensuing five months, a Pastor Paul Meiss of Schlesingerville, with seven congregations in his parish, and Kaspar Pluess of Sheboygan with four congregations, sought admission to the synod. Meanwhile, Muehlhaeuser was serving a second small congregation, Weinmann also, and Wrede had three. So that, when the brethren came to Granville, five pastors and 18 congregations were represented in the adoption of the constitution which Pastor Muehlhaeuser had prepared. As President Bading would say, 25 years later: “In humble unpretentiousness this work originated, through difficult and dangerous times it had to pass; yet it is established among us unto this day.”
STRIVING FOR In the year that found the young synod DOCTRINAL PURITY mourning the death of its most cherished zzz founding father Muehlhaeuser, the con-vention of 1868 heard its president, John Bading, address the delegates in serious words which set forth as in a summary the record of our synod’s early striving toward the full light of a purity in doctrine and practice which was not hers at the beginning. President Bading said:
“For years we suffered the accusations of strict confessional Lutherans who, because of our connection with friends of the Union (united church in Germany), charged us with harboring a unionistic attitude. Our confessional faithfulness was questioned, our synod was designated as unLutheran, and everything was done to challenge our right of existence as a Lutheran body.
“Let us openly and frankly confess that, while many of the reproaches heaped upon us were extreme, unjust, hateful, and not according to the love which edifies, some were undeniably justified. It is true that for some time our position was a vacillating one. On the one hand, there was our declaration of unqualified adherence to all the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church, as expressed by synod almost annually; on the other hand, there was our connection with associations which operated within the United Church and which regard that body as a good thing …. Especially did the sense of obligation for help received (from those German mission associations) prevent the synod from giving adequate public expression of her inner confessional fidelity and from refuting charges of unionistic inclinations by unequivocal testimony against all unionism in doctrine and practice. These inconsistencies, worthy brethren of the ministry and of faith, must come to an end.”
This call to confessional stability suggests the inner struggles which gripped the young synod in its infant years. The founders had been men trained in Germany, where in those days Lutheranism suffered under the blight of the Union by which people of Reformed and Lutheran convictions were compelled to worship together and to tolerate one another’s doctrines.
Taught to regard the rationalistic unbelief and the ever militant Roman Catholicism as the dangerous enemies of the truth, men like Muehlhaeuser and his companions failed to recognize the seriousness of the errors of the Reformed Churches and did not hesitate to cooperate with Methodists, Congregationalists, and others in church work or to recognize them as brethren. This weakness in confessionalism, then, naturally became the weakness also of the synod which they founded. Though it professed adherence to the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions, in practice it departed from them and tolerated fellowship with errorists. As a result, the sound, orthodox Lutherans of that day, chiefly those of the Missouri Synod, refused to accept our synod as a true Lutheran body.
But by God’s gracious guidance and intervention, the testimony of sound doctrine and practice became ever more loud and insistent within the growing synod. When Pastor Weinmann, who had meanwhile been called to Baltimore, addressed the synod by letter in 1854, he asked some pointed questions and requested the body to decide them. May a Lutheran pastor, in charge of a congregation of his own, administer the Lord’s Supper to a Methodist congregation? Is it right for him to lecture occasionally to such a congregation and thus to identify himself doctrinally with it?
These questions indicate in some measure how seriously the sin of unionism was impairing the spiritual health and undermining the Lutheranism of synod; but they also show that men were searching and groping toward confessional purity. And while in 1854 the synod could still not agree on the proper answers to Weinmann’s questions, while indeed the majority still held to a unionistic position, a ferment was in process which drove men to a re-appraisal of their position in the light of Scripture and Confessions.
As the synod grew numerically, it gained into membership a group of men who labored with ever increasing determination for the cause of sound Lutheranism; and their influence through the Word of God gradually became dominant. It was not an easy or a painless advance. There were bitter controversies and sad separations. But it is only so, by the surgery of discipline and the conviction of gainsayers, that the cancer of unionism can be rooted out and the church enjoy a healthy growth. Eventually, as President Bading insisted they must, “those inconsistencies” came to an end. But let us be mindful of the pain and labor by which our fathers in Christ wrought for us the goodly heritage of confessional purity which we today enjoy, and against the loss of which we owe the dedication of our best energies and earnest prayers.
OUR SYNOD TODAY From small beginnings and through many zzzz adversities, the Wisconsin Synod has grown to its present stature under the gracious care of its Master. With 297,922 souls listed in its records as of Jan. 1, 1949, when the latest statistics were compiled, synod carries on its work through the support of 211,030 communicant members who are assembled in 833 congregations and served by 620 pastors. As of last year, within 14 states of the union, Canada, and Germany, synod was maintaining 239 mission parishes and 155 missionaries. Approximately 6½ million dollars a year are contributed by our Christians for all church purposes.
A consistent interest of synod in the work of Christian education has resulted through the years in the present system of educational facilities by which the faith of many hearts has been and is being established upon a firm foundation. Within our body, 444 teachers are now serving the 14,928 children enrolled in 204 day schools. Christian high schools are available to our youth in a number of areas. Expansion programs now underway are designed to increase the flow of trained teachers as well as pastors into the Lord’s service. Dr. Martin Luther College of New Ulm, Minn., will house over 400 students next year, many of whom will devote themselves to the teaching and preaching ministry. Ours is the only synod of the Synodical Conference maintaining an institution where the full college course is available; graduates of Northwestern College, Watertown, Wis., receive a B.A. degree. Within two years the Normal Department at New Ulm will offer a four-year course and a degree of B.E. to the graduate.
The constantly expanding field of synod’s mission endeavor is an indication of spiritual health. Today, more than ever, synod is engaged in enlarging its borders, both at home and abroad. Foreign missions, it is true, are still limited largely to the work being done in Nigeria and to the picking up of the threads of the former Poland field among the displaced persons in Germany. The modest size of synod as compared with that of other bodies indicates the reason for its restricted program of foreign work. Yet new African and Mexican mission projects are under discussion and our missionaries are beginning to appear in states heretofore not touched by our efforts.
It is difficult to rid the human mind of the superstition that size is the measure of greatness; and thus, to many, our synod is an unimpressive body which at its hundredth anniversary merits less than a passing glance. We, however, think of our synod in different terms and measure it by a different standard. Though there be many defects and sins, both of omission and of commission, in the record of its past, though its present spirit of devotion leaves much to be desired because of fleshly weakness, yes, because of attacks of pride and lovelessness, though it has not always dealt in consistent faithfulness with its Lord or its brethren, synod stands with penitent heart in the Word and accepts with uncompromising firmness the grace by which it has been entrusted with the unchangeable truth of the Gospel.
For to this our synod, unworthy though it be, has been called and led. In an age of utmost apostasy, of blatant indifference toward purity of doctrine and hostility toward those who hold to an inflexible form of sound words, the Wisconsin Synod lifts its voice with the Formula of Concord and declares, saying: “We have no intention of yielding ought of the eternal, immutable truth of God for the sake of temporal peace, tranquility, and unity.” This, as we are well aware, is an invitation to conflict; for the eternal truth of God is ever an embattled citadel to be defended at enormous cost. But it is also the way of true peace. Our synod realizes that the truth is not of her making; it belongs to Christ the Redeemer, in whose service we stand. But to continue in it with unfailing, even reckless, devotion is to preserve the quietness of conscience which makes our service in this vale of tears a privilege of priceless worth.
To whom much is given, of him will much be required. We confess our wealth, and our responsibility. Synod, in view of its doctrinal position, stands committed to a twofold trust. First of all, it must face the compelling responsibility of lifting its voice with ever increasing power in the testimony of the everlasting Gospel which it confesses with unadulterated purity. Preaching is synod’s first concern, witnessing its most joyful duty; and in that campaign to win and save souls there is no discharge. Secondarily, however, the pure Gospel must be defended against all gainsayers; and error must be refuted with consistent and implacable determination. The temptation to yield the slightest ground must be met with the answer of consciences so bound in Scripture and the Confessions that they will defer to no man, no group of men, no pressure, to no proposal of outward peace and amity at the cost of compromising one jot or tittle of the precious truth. For only in such steadfastness can our synod, as handmaiden of the Gospel, find and hold its place under the approving eyes of God in a world swiftly declining toward the darkness of the end.
On II Thess. 3:6-15
“There comes a time, in dealing with those who hold to false doctrine and practice, when we must declare to them a severance of fraternal relations, refuse them fellowship at the Lord’s Table, and yet thereafter continue to admonish the erring as brethren. This order of dealing seems impossible to some; yet the Apostle Paul requires it.”
“Then I say: If God regarded even such a social misdemeanor as so serious that it must be dealt with by withdrawal, must not Missouri’s sins demand such action even more emphatically? That is a real status confessionis. Here is a scriptural basis for it. And if we had announced ourselves thus, it would have signified an advance commensurate with what has happened.”
(From two documents by Egbert Schaller on this passage dating from the early 1950s. As explained in the introductory material to Booklet #3 in The Writings of Prof. Egbert Schaller (containing his 1958 paper on the point at issue in the Synodical Conference), the first of these documents was published in the 1988-3 issue of the LCCF Newsletter, and the second in the 1996-4 issue of the same publication.)
Near the end of his explanation of the Third Article in his Large Catechism, Luther writes: “For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation.” (Triglot, p. 697, par. 66)
This passage in our Confessions became the focus of a great deal of attention in the wake of participation by David Benke, president of the Atlantic District of the Missouri Synod, in the Yankee Stadium service on September 23, 2001. It was argued by some that Luther in this passage affirms that one does not need to be a Christian to have and worship the one true God. This argument is dealt with and thoroughly refuted by Edward Engelbrecht in a splendid little book published by CPH in 2007: One True God – Understanding Large Catechism II.66. Engelbrecht shows that Luther made frequent use of concessive clauses in which he proceeds on the supposition that something is true, even though he himself does not regard it as true. An example is a comment on John 1:16 that Martin Bertram translated as follows: “But even if we were to concede that they were full of grace, they would still be unable to impart any of it to me.” A very familiar example is the line in Hymn 262: “Though devils all the world should fill.”
The conclusion is that the translation of the new edition of the Book of Concord, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (2005) is correct: “Even if we were to concede that everyone outside Christianity – whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites – believe in and worship only one true God, it would still be true that they do not know what His mind toward them is and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him. Therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation.”
The author and publishing house have rendered a great service in producing this book.
Vol. VII of Selected Sermons of E. Schaller is now available. The cost is $8 plus postage. Order from Paul R. Koch, 3425 Morgan Ave., Eau Claire, Wis. 54701-7023; firstname.lastname@example.org