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American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente

INTRODUCTION.

1. Christianity the Only Real and True Religion. -- Religion is man's filial relation to, and union with, God. Natural religion is the concreated relation of Adam and Eve in their state of innocence toward their Creator. Fallen man, though he still lives, and moves, and has his being in God, is, in consequence of his sinful nature, atheos, without God, and hence without true and real religion. His attitude toward God is not that of a child to his father. Heathen religions are products of the futile efforts of men at reconciling God and restoring union with Him by their own penances and works. They are religions invented and made by men. As such they are counterfeit religions, because they persuade men to trust either in fictitious merits of their own or in God's alleged indifference toward sin. Christianity is the divine restoration of religion, i. e., of the true spiritual and filial relation of fallen man toward God. Essentially, Christianity is the divine trust and assurance that God, according to His own merciful promise in the Gospel, is, for the sake of Christ and His merits, my pardoning and loving Father. It is the religion of justification, restoration, and salvation, not by human efforts and works, but by divine grace only. Paganism believes in man and his capacity for self-redemption; Christianity believes in the God-man and in salvation by His name and none other. From Mohammedanism, Buddhism, and all other religions of the world Christianity differs essentially, just as Jehovah differs from idols, as divine grace differs from human works. Christianity is not one of many species of generic religion, but the only true and real religion. Nor is Christianity related to other religions as the highest stage of an evolutionary process is to its antecedent lower stages. Christianity is divine revelation from above, not human evolution from below. Based, as it is, on special divine interposition, revelation, and operation, Christianity is the supernatural religion. And for fallen man it is the only availing and saving religion, because it alone imparts real pardon, and engenders real and divine assurance of such pardon; because it alone really pacifies the conscience and fully satisfies the heart; and because it alone bestows new spiritual powers of sanctification. Christianity is absolute and final, it is the non plus ultra, the Alpha and Omega, of religion, because its God is the only true God, its Mediator is the only-begotten Son of God, its ransom is the blood of God, and its gift is perfect union with God. Compare John 8, 24; Acts 4, 12; John 14, 6; 3, 36; Gal.1, 8.9. Romanism, Rationalism, Arminianism, Synergism, etc., are heathen remnants within, and corruptions of, Christianity, elements absolutely foreign to, and per se subversive of, the religion of divine grace and revelation.

2. The Church and Its Manifestations. -- The Christian Church is the sum total of all Christians, all true believers in the Gospel of salvation by Christ and His merits alone. Faith always, and it alone, makes one a Christian, a member of the Church. Essentially, then, the Church, is invisible, because faith is a divine gift within the heart of man, hence beyond human observation. Dr. Walther: |The Church is invisible because we cannot see faith, the work of the Holy Spirit, which the members of this Church have in their hearts; for we can never with certainty distinguish the true Christians, who, properly, alone constitute the Church, from the hypocrites.| (Lutheraner, 1, 21.) Luther: |This part, 'I believe a holy Christian Church,' is an article of faith just as well as the others. Hence Reason, even when putting on ever so many spectacles, cannot know her. She wants to be known not by seeing, but by believing; faith, however, deals with things which are not seen. Heb.11, 1. A Christian may even be hidden from himself, so that he does not see his own holiness and virtue, but observes in himself only fault and unholiness.| (Luther's Works. St. Louis, XIV, 139.) In order to belong to the Church, it is essential to believe; but it is essential neither to faith nor to the Church consciously to know yourself that you believe. Nor would it render the Church essentially visible, if, by special revelation or otherwise, we infallibly knew of a man that he is a believer indeed. Even the Word and the Sacraments are infallible marks of the Church only because, according to God's promise, the preaching of the Gospel shall not return without fruit. Wherever and only where the Gospel is preached are we justified in assuming the existence of Christians. Yet the Church remains essentially invisible, because neither the external act of preaching nor the external act of hearing, but inward, invisible believing alone makes one a Christian, a member of the Church. Inasmuch, however, as faith manifests itself in the confession of the Christian truths and in outward works of love, the Church, in a way, becomes visible and subject to human observation. Yet we dare not infer that the Church is essentially visible because its effects are visible. The human soul, though its effects may be seen, remains essentially invisible. God is invisible, though the manifestations of His invisible power and wisdom can be observed in the world. Thus also faith and the Church remain essentially invisible, even where they manifest their reality in visible effects and works. Apart from the confession and proclamation of the Gospel and a corresponding Christian conversation, the chief visible effects and works of the Church are the foundation of local congregations, the calling of ministers, the organization of representative bodies, etc. And when these manifestations and visible works of the Church are also called churches, the effects receive the name of the cause, or the whole, the mixed body, is given the name which properly belongs to a part, the true believers, only. Visible congregations are called churches as quartz is called gold, and a field is called wheat.

3. Visible Churches, True and False. -- The objects for which Christians, in accordance with the will of God, unite, and should unite, in visible churches and local congregations, are mutual Christian acknowledgment and edification, common Christian confession and labor, and especially the establishment of the communal office of the public ministry of the pure Gospel. This object involves, as a divine norm of Christian organization, and fellowship, that such only be admitted as themselves believe and confess the divine truths of the Bible, and who are not advocates of doctrines contrary to the plain Word of God. Christian organizations and unions must not be in violation of the Christian unity of the Spirit. Organizations effected in harmony with the divine object and norm of Christian fellowship are true visible churches, i. e., visible unions as God would have them. They are churches of the pure Word and Sacrament, professing the Gospel and deviating from none of its doctrines. Christians have no right to embrace, teach, and champion error. They are called upon and bound to believe, teach, and confess all, and only, Christian truths. Nor may they lawfully organize on a doctrinally false basis. Organizations persistently deviating from the doctrines of the Bible and establishing a doctrinally false basis, are sects, i. e., false or impure visible Churches. Yet, though error never saves, moreover, when consistently developed, has the tendency of corrupting the whole lump, false Churches may be instrumental in saving souls, inasmuch as they retain essential parts of the Gospel-truths, and inasmuch as God's grace may neutralize the accompanying deadly error, or stay its leavening power. Indeed, individuals, by the grace of God, though errorists in their heads, may be truthists in their hearts; just as one who is orthodox in his head may, by his own fault, be heterodox in his heart. A Catholic may, by rote, call upon the saints with his lips, and yet, by the grace of God, in his heart, put his trust in Christ. And a Lutheran may confess Christ and the doctrine of grace with his lips, and yet in his heart rely on his own good character. False Churches as such, however, inasmuch as theirs is a banner of rebellion in the kingdom of Christ, do not exist by God's approval, but merely by His sufferance. It is their duty to reform on a basis of doctrinal purity and absolute conformity with the Word of God.

4. The Lutheran Church the True Visible Church. -- The Lutheran Church is the only known religious body which, in the Book of Concord of 1580, confesses the truths of the Gospel without admixture of any doctrines contrary to the Bible. Hence its organization is in perfect harmony with the divine object and norm of Christian union and fellowship. Its basis of union is the pure Word and Sacrament. Indeed, the Lutheran Church is not the universal or only Christian Church, for there are many believers belonging to other Christian bodies. Nor is it the only saving Church, because there are other Churches preaching Christian truths, which, by the grace of God, prove sufficient and powerful to save men. The Lutheran Church is the Church of the pure Word and the unadulterated Sacraments. It is the only Church proclaiming the alone-saving truth of the Gospel in its purity. It is the Church with a doctrinal basis which has the unqualified approval of the Scriptures, a basis which, materially, all Churches must accept if they would follow the lead of the Bible. And being doctrinally the pure Church, the Lutheran Church is the true visible Church of God on earth. While all sectarian churches corrupt God's Word and the Sacraments, it is the peculiar glory of the Lutheran Church that it proclaims the Gospel in its purity, and administers the Sacraments without adulteration. This holds good with regard to all Lutheran organizations that are Lutheran in truth and reality. True and faithful Lutherans, however, are such only as, being convinced by actual comparison that the Concordia of 1580 is in perfect agreement with the Holy Bible, subscribe to these symbols ex animo and without mental reservation or doctrinal limitation, and earnestly strive to conform to them in practise as well as in theory. Subscription only to the Augustana or to Luther's Small Catechism is a sufficient test of Lutheranism, provided that the limitation does not imply, and is not interpreted as, a rejection of the other Lutheran symbols or any of its doctrines. Lutheran churches or synods, however, deviating from, or doctrinally limiting their subscription to, this basis of 1580, or merely pro forma, professing, but not seriously and really living its principles and doctrines, are not truly Lutheran in the adequate sense of the term, though not by any means un-Lutheran in every sense of that term.

5. Bible and Book of Concord on Christian Union and Fellowship. -- Nothing is more frequently taught and stressed by the Bible than the truth that church-fellowship presupposes, and must be preceded by, unity in the spirit, in doctrine. Amos 3, 3: |How can two walk together except they be agreed?| According to the Bible the Word of God alone is to be taught, heard, and confessed in the Christian Church. Only true teachers are to preach, in the Church: Deut.13, 6 ff.; Jer.23, 28.31.32; Matt.5, 19; 28, 20; 2 Cor.2, 17; Gal.1, 8; 1 Tim.4, 16; 1 Pet.4, 11. Christians are to listen to true teachers only: Matt.7, 15; John 8, 31; 10, 27.5; Acts 2, 42; Rom.16, 17; 2 John 10; 1 Tim.6, 3-5; Eph.4, 14; Titus 3, 10; 2 Cor.6, 14-18. In the Church the true doctrine, and only the true doctrine, is to be confessed, and that unanimously by all of its members: 1 Cor.1, 10; Eph.4, 3-6.13; 1 Tim.5, 22; Matt.10, 32.33. Christian union and fellowship without the |same mind,| the |same judgment,| and the |same speech| with respect to the Christian truths is in direct conflict with the clear Scriptures. The unity of the Spirit demanded Eph.4, 3 requires that Christians be one in doctrine, one, not 50 or 75, but 100 per cent. With this attitude of the Bible toward Christian union and fellowship the Lutheran symbols agree. The Eleventh [tr. note: sic!] Article of the Augsburg Confession declares: |For this is sufficient to true unity of the Christian Church that the Gospel be preached unanimously according to the pure understanding, and that the Sacraments be administered in agreement with the divine Word. And it is not necessary to true unity of the Christian Church that uniform ceremonies, instituted by men, be observed everywhere, as St. Paul says, Eph.4, 4.5: 'One body, one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one Baptism.'| |Pure understanding of the Gospel| is here contrasted with |ceremonies instituted by men.| Accordingly, with respect to everything that God plainly teaches in the Bible unity is required, while liberty prevails only in such things as are instituted by men. In this sense the Lutheran Church understands the |Satis est| of the Augustana, as appears from the Tenth Article of the Formula of Concord: |We believe, teach, and confess also that no church should condemn another because one has less or more external ceremonies not commanded by God than the other, if otherwise there is agreement among them in doctrine and all its articles, as also in the right use of the Sacraments, according to the well-known saying: 'Disagreement in fasting does not destroy agreement in faith.'| (Mueller 553, 7.) It cannot, then, be maintained successfully that, according to the Lutheran symbols, some doctrines, though clearly taught in the Bible, are irrelevant and not necessary to church-fellowship. The Lutheran Confessions neither extend the requirements for Christian union to human teachings and institutions, nor do they limit them to merely a part of the divine doctrines of the Bible. They err neither in excessu nor in defectu. Accordingly, Lutherans, though not unmindful of the admonition to bear patiently with the weak, the weak also in doctrine and knowledge, dare not countenance any denial on principle of any of the Christian doctrines, nor sanction the unionistic attitude, which maintains that denial of minor Christian truths does not and must not, in any way, affect Christian union and fellowship. In the |Treatise on the Power of the Pope| the Book of Concord says: |It is a hard thing to want to separate from so many countries and people and maintain a separate doctrine. But here stands God's command that every one shall be separate from, and not be agreed with, those who teach falsely,| etc. (Sec.42.)

6. Misguided Efforts at Christian Union. -- Perhaps never before has Christendom been divided in as many sects as at present. Denominationalism, as advocated by Philip Schaff and many Unionists, defends this condition. It views the various sects as lawful specific developments of generic Christianity, or as different varieties of the same spiritual life of the Church, as regiments of the same army, marching separately, but attacking the same common foe. Judged in the light of the Bible, however, the numerous sects, organized on various aberrations from the plain Word of God, are, as such, not normal developments, but corruptions, abnormal formations, and diseased conditions of the Christian Church. Others, realizing the senseless waste of moneys and men, and feeling the shame of the scandalous controversies, the bitter conflicts, and the dishonorable competition of the disrupted Christian sects, develop a feverish activity in engineering and promoting external ecclesiastical unions, regardless of internal doctrinal dissensions. For centuries the Pope has been stretching out his arms to the Greek and Protestant Churches, even making concessions to the Ruthenians and other Uniates as to the language of the liturgy, the marriage of priests, the cup to be given to the laity, etc. In order to present a united political front to the Pope and the Emperor, Zwingli, in 1529, offered Luther the hand of fellowship in spite of doctrinal differences. In political interests, Frederick William III of Prussia, in 1817, forced a union without unity on the Lutherans and Reformed of his kingdom. In America this Prussian Union was advocated by the German Evangelical Synod of North America. The Church of England, in 1862, 1874, and 1914, endeavored to establish a union with the Old Catholics and the Russian Church even at the sacrifice of the Filioque. (The Lutherans, when, in 1559 and again in 1673 to 1681, negotiations were opened to bring about an understanding with the Greek Church, insisted on unity in the doctrines of Justification and of Free Will, to which Jeremiah II took exception.) Pierpont Morgan, a number of years ago, appropriated a quarter million dollars in order to bring the Churches of America under the leadership of the Protestant Episcopal Church, which demands as the only condition of union the recognition of their |historical episcopate,| a fiction, historical as well as doctrinal. In 1919 three Protestant Episcopal bishops crossed the seas seeking a conference with the Pope and the representatives of the Greek Orthodox churches in the interest of a League of Churches. The Evangelical Alliance, organized 1846 at London, aimed to unite all Protestants against Rome on a basis of nine general statements, from which the distinctive doctrines were eliminated. The Federal Council, embracing 30 Protestant denominations, was organized with the definite understanding that no Church, by joining, need sacrifice any of its peculiar doctrines. The unions effected between the Congregationalists and Methodists in Canada, and between the Calvinistic Northern Presbyterians and the Arminian Cumberland Presbyterians in our own country, were also unionistic. Since the beginning of the last century the Campbellites and kindred sects were zealous in uniting the Churches by urging them to drop their distinctive names and confessions, call themselves |Christians| or |Disciples,| and accept as their confession the Bible only. Indeed, the number of physicians seeking to heal the schisms of Christendom is legion. But their cure is worse than the disease. Unionistic henotics cannot but fail utterly, because their object is not unity in the Spirit of truth, but union in the spirit of diversity and error.

7. Lutherans Qualified to Head True Union Movement. -- Most of the union-efforts are failures ab initio. They seek outward union without inward unity. They proceed on a false diagnosis of the case. They observe the symptoms, and outlook or intentionally ignore the hidden cause, the deviations from the Word of God, which disturb the unity of the Spirit. And doctrinal discussions, which alone can bring about a real cure, are intentionally omitted and expressly declared taboo, as, e. g., by the Federal Council. The Church, suffering from blood-poisoning, is pronounced cured when the sores have been covered. They put a plaster over the gap in Zion's wall, which may hide, but does not heal, the breach. Universally, sectarian henotics have proved to be spiritual quacks with false aims, false methods, and false diagnosis. Nowhere among the sects a single serious effort to cure the malady from within and to restore to the Church of Christ real unity, unity in the true doctrine! Indeed, how could a genuine unity-union movement originate with the sects? Can the blind lead the blind? Can the beggar enrich the poor? Can the sects give to Christendom what they themselves are in need of? The Lutheran Church is the only denomination qualified to head a true unity-union movement, because she alone is in full possession of those unadulterated truths without which there can be neither true Christian unity nor God-pleasing Christian union. Accordingly, the Lutheran Church has the mission to lead the way in the efforts at healing the ruptures of Christendom. But in order to do so, the Lutheran Church must be loyal to herself, loyal to her principles, and true to her truths. The mere Lutheran name is unavailing. The American Lutheran synods, in order successfully to steer a unity-union movement, must purge themselves thoroughly from the leaven of error, of indifferentism and unionism. A complete and universal return to the Lutheran symbols is the urgent need of the hour. Only when united in undivided loyalty to the divine truths of God's Word, will the American Lutheran Church be able to measure up to its peculiar calling of restoring to Christendom the truths of the Gospel in their pristine purity, and in and with these truths the true unity of the Spirit and a fellowship and union, both beneficial to man and well-pleasing to God.

8. Lutheran Statistics. -- God has blessed the Lutheran Church in America abundantly, more than in any other country of the world. From a few scattered groups she has grown into a great people. In 1740 there were in America about 50 Lutheran congregations. In 1820 the Lutheran Church numbered 6 synods, with almost 900 congregations, 40,000 communicants, and 175 pastors. In 1867 about 1,750 pastors, 3,100 congregations, and 332,000 communicants. Twenty-five years later, 60 synods, with about 5,000 pastors, 8,390 congregations, and 1,187,000 communicants. In the jubilee year, 1917, the Lutheran Church in America embraced (besides about 200 independent congregations) 65 synods, 24 of which belonged to the General Synod (350,000 communicants), 13 to the General Council (500,000 communicants), 8 to the United Synod South (53,000 communicants), and 6 to the Synodical Conference (800,000 communicants). The entire Lutheran Church in America reported in 1917 about 9,700 pastors; 15,200 congregations; 2,450,000 communicants; 28 theological seminaries, with 112 professors and 1,170 students; 41 colleges, with 640 professors and 950 students; 59 academies, with 404 teachers and 6,700 pupils; 8 ladies' seminaries, with 72 instructors and 340 pupils; 64 orphanages, with 4,200 inmates; 12 home-finding and children's friend societies; 45 homes for the aged, with 1,650 inmates; 7 homes for defectives, with 430 inmates; 9 deaconess homes, with 370 sisters; 50 hospitals; 19 hospices; 17 immigrant homes and seamen's missions; and 10 miscellaneous institutions; a large number of periodicals of many kinds, printed in numerous Lutheran publishing houses, in English, German, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, Icelandic, Finnish, Slavonian, Lettish, Esthonian, Polish, Portuguese, Lithuanian, etc., etc.

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