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American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente

OBJECTIONS TO GENERAL SYNOD.

92. Critique of So-called |Planentwurf.| -- The formation of a Lutheran General Synod, warmly advocated by the Synods of Pennsylvania and North Carolina, met with the earnest and zealous, though not in every respect judicious, opposition of the Tennessee Synod. Her Report of 1820 contains a criticism of the Planentwurf, which in 1819 had been proposed by the Pennsylvania Synod as a tentative constitution for the projected General Synod. Among the objections enumerated are the following: 1. Whosoever desired to be recognized as a pastor would be compelled to pursue his studies at the proposed seminary of the General Synod.2. Of those entitled to cast a vote there were two pastors to every lay delegate. |It would therefore be vain for a lay deputy to make the journey, except he desired the honor of being a servant of two masters.| 3. The General Synod arrogated to itself the exclusive right to introduce new books for public worship.4. Luther's Catechism also was to remain only until the Synod would introduce other books.5. According to the Planentwurf, the General Synod could reject all articles of faith or omit them entirely.6. Neither the Augsburg Confession nor the Bible was designated as the foundation of the General Synod, nor even so much as mentioned in the Planentwurf. (52 f.) 7. The General Synod was striving to establish a dominion over all Ministeriums, as appeared from the statement: |Until the permission or approval of the General Synod shall have been formally obtained, no newly established body shall be regarded as a Ministerium, nor shall an ordination conferred by them be considered valid.| |Accordingly,| they said, |one had as much liberty as the rope permitted.| (54 f.; 1822, 10.) 8. The General Synod claimed the right to specify the |ranks universally valid for the ministry.| |Catechist,| as the Report of 1820 has it, |candidate, dean, and pastor will no longer suffice; who knows but something higher will be required, such as bishop, archbishop, cardinal, or even pope!| 9. Pastors were granted the right to appeal from the decision of their synod to the General Synod. |Accordingly the case of a pastor, be he ever so bad, may drag on for years; and if, owing to extreme distances or other circumstances, the witnesses are not able to attend, he may finally even win it. This provision renders the matter similar to a temporal government, where appeals are commonly made from a lower to a higher court.| 10. |One cannot be sure that a spirit desiring as much power as appears to be granted by this Planentwurf will be able to rest and not seek further power.| 11. No one was able to guarantee that this Lutheran General Synod would not later on unite with the General Synods of the sects to form a National Synod, in which the majority would then determine all articles of faith and all church-customs.12. Such a National Synod would be able also to change the Constitution of the United States and compel every one to unite with this National Synod, impose taxes, etc. (50 f.) By resolution of Synod the reasons why some pastors in Ohio, influenced in their action by Paul Henkel, rejected the Planentwurf were also appended to the Report of 1820. Among them were: 1. The fear |of falling into the hands of a strong hierarchy| by accepting this Planentwurf, since they knew from church history that the Papacy had developed rapidly along similar lines. (64.) 2. The General Synod would soon become English, whereas, according to its ministerial order, the Ohio Synod |must remain a German-speaking ministerium.| (65.) 3. Every meeting of the General Synod would mean for them a traveling expense of [USD]168.4. As the Planentwurf was subject to change, union with the General Synod would be tantamount |'to buying the cat in the bag,' as the proverb has it.| These scruples reveal the fact that the Tennessee Synod viewed the General Synod as a body which was hierarchical in its polity and thoroughly un-Lutheran in its doctrinal position, an opinion well founded, even though the objections advanced are not equally valid.

93. General Synod's Constitution Criticized. -- The critique of the Planentwurf was not devoid of fruit in every respect. Due to the testimony of the Henkels, its hierarchical features were toned down considerably in the constitution finally adopted at Hagerstown, Md., 1820. Thus, e.g., the odious passage regarding the establishment of new ministeriums and the validity of their ordinations was omitted. Still Tennessee was far from being satisfied with the constitution as amended. Moreover, a committee was appointed to draw up their remaining objections, and the report submitted was appended to the minutes of 1821 and printed by order of Synod. It subjects the constitution to a severe examination, and makes a number of important strictures.1. The first objection was raised against the words of the Preamble: |Whereas Jesus Christ, the great Head of the Church, hath not given her any particular prescriptions how church-government should be regulated, she therefore enjoys the privilege in all her departments to make such regulations as may appear best, agreeably to situation and circumstances.| While recognizing that Christ has given no prescriptions |for the regulation of some things not essential to the Church,| they objected to the sweeping statement of the Preamble whereby the government of the Church would be left to a majority of votes. Tennessee maintained that Matt.18, 16 Christ prescribes to the Church how discipline is to be exercised; that 1 Cor.11, 4-11 sufficient rules with respect to public worship are prescribed; that 1 Tim.3, 1-3 the grades of ministers are described; that 1 Tim.5, 19-22 instructions are given how to receive an accusation against an elder; and that 2 Tim.2, 3-6 Paul shows that ministers should not be entangled with the things of this world. |From these and many more passages that might be quoted, it is evident that Christ and His inspired apostles have given the Church sufficient prescriptions of her government in all her various branches. They are general rules, and yet applicable to every particular case that may occur, so that they are also particular prescriptions. But that the constitution of the General Synod saith, Christ has not left such particular prescriptions, appears a strange, unwarranted, and arbitrary assertion.| (14 f.) 2. The second objection asserted that the General Synod was a yoke of commandments of men, hence could not serve the purpose of true peace. According to the constitution the purpose of the General Synod was |the exercise of brotherly love, the furtherance of Christian harmony, and the preservation of the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace.| But the Report maintained: |The attempt of the establishment of this General Synod has not produced any brotherly love, nor harmony, nor peace; but on the contrary, divisions, contentions, and confusion. This establishment is nothing but self-invented rules and traditions of men, and such as love Christian liberty cannot suffer themselves to be brought into bondage; hence the confusion. O ye watchmen of Zion, pity and spare the flock!| (17 f.) A |note| added by David Henkel, the |clerk of the committee,| explains: |That this institution of General Synod's promotes unity in spirit is contrary to constant experience. The Presbyterians, Methodists, and other churches are governed by General Synods, and have many human rules and regulations; but yet from time to time many disputes and factions have arisen among them, so that they are split into many sects and parties. The Lutheran Church never heretofore was governed by a General Synod, yet she never was divided until this novel system was introduced. . . . The first Lutheran ministers emigrated from Germany and Sweden. . . . Being few in number, no particular synods were formed for many years; yet they were united. The Augsburg Confession of Faith, containing the principal doctrines of the Holy Scriptures, was their standard of union. It was unalterable; they had no novel system, produced by a majority of votes, to expect. . . . Each of these synods, before the General Constitution was formed, were independent, and not amenable to any superior tribunal, except that of Christ. Differences in local and temporary regulations, the formation of new synods, etc., were not considered as divisions of the Church; their standard of unity was far more noble, and exalted: the pure Scriptural doctrines of the Augsburg Confession of Faith was their meridian sun, which they viewed with united eyes; and anything less, such as local and temporary regulations, never influenced their minds, even to think of divisions. The Church proceeded peaceably, until the unhappy and fatal period of 1819 arrived, when a meeting was called to Baltimore, consisting of some of the Synod of Pennsylvania and an individual from North Carolina, for the purpose of devising a plan for the establishment of the General Synod, etc. (17 f.) Article III, Sec. V, which provided that |the General Synod shall take good care not to burden the consciences of ministers with human traditions,| called forth the following comment: |The General Synod shall not burden the consciences of ministers with human traditions, yet at the same time the very institution of the General Synod is nothing but human laws and traditions! How vehemently our Savior upbraided the Pharisees for their human laws and the traditions they imposed upon the common people! By means of human laws and traditions popery was established. -- Why are preparations made now again to introduce that horrid beast? How careful individual synods should be not to impose human traditions upon the Church, but to remember that they do 'not assemble for the purpose of making laws for the Church, but only to devise means to execute those already made by Christ.| (B.1821, 26; R.1821, 28.29.) In an additional |note| David Henkel remarks: |The unity of the Lutheran Church doth not consist in any external forms or ceremonies, or government established by men. It is independent of any general head except Christ. The Seventh Article of the Augsburg Confession of Faith points out the true nature of her unity. . . . It is the same as if it had said: the Church of Christ is but one united body, consisting of innumerable members; but what unites them? All believers believe in one invisible Lord, by whom they are governed, for He is their King; they are anointed by the same Holy Ghost, for He is their Comforter and Guide. This is an invisible, godlike union, not discerned by the carnal eye, nor doth it imitate the unity of the kingdom of this world. Christ is its polar star, the Bible its charter, ministers who proclaim sweet words of peace, its heralds, Baptism and the Lord's Supper its seal, bond, token, and security. This union is independent of all human ceremonies, traditions, general synods, or anything of the kind, and has existed ever since the promulgation of the Gospel in all realms and climes. . . . A union which consists of human laws, ceremonies, and discipline may be termed a political union -- a union peculiar to civil government of this world. Now, even were it the case that all who call themselves Christians would be united in this manner, it would by no means prove their spiritual unity. For many may conform to one external rule, and yet be divided in heart, for they are not all Israelites that are of Israel. It is evident, because the General Synod is but the invention of men, that they make much more necessary to Christian unity than the pure preaching of the Gospel and the proper administration of the Sacraments, commanded by Christ. Thus, this establishment of the General Synod must be contrary to the Seventh Article of our Confession of Faith. True Christianity is thereby blended with human laws and policy -- the true lineaments of popery. . . . If no man is to judge Christians in respect to meat and drink or of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath-days, who, then, has a right to judge them in respect of forming books for the public use in churches, or in respect of meeting as a synod, without a formal permission, or in respect of performing ordinations? The General Synod have arrogated this right of judging and oppressing Christians in these respects. These are prerogatives they claim, contrary to the doctrines of the apostle.| (R.1821, 28.)

94. Criticism of Constitution Continued. -- 3. The third objection maintained that the General Synod was Lutheran in name only. Says the Report: |This body, indeed, may call itself Evangelical Lutheran, and yet not be such. The constitution does nowhere say that the Augsburg Confession of Faith, or Luther's Catechism, or the Bible shall be the foundation of doctrine and discipline of the General Synod. It is well known that they always have been the standard of the Lutheran Church. Why does the constitution not once name them?| |Had the framers of this constitution been zealous advocates of Lutheran doctrine, they would have been careful to insert a clause to compel the General Synod always to act according to our standard books. It is an easy thing to prove that some of the founders of this General Synod have openly denied some of the important doctrines of the Augsburg Confession of Faith and of Luther's Catechism.| (B.1821, 18; R.1821, 19.) 4. The fourth objection was based on the proposed membership of the new body, which, according to Article II, was to consist |of deputies of the different Evangelical Synodical and Ministerial Connections in the United States.| Tennessee commented: |This body [General Synod] may consist of deputies from the different evangelical connections. It is not said of the several Evangelical Lutheran connections. If this body may consist of the different connections, then it is evident that it may be composed of all denominations, such as Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, etc. These all denominate themselves Evangelical, and are even recognized as such by some who call themselves Lutherans. Thus it is manifest that all denominations who call themselves Evangelical may have seats and votes in this body, forasmuch as there is nothing to prohibit them from it.| (R.1821, 22.) The German version adds the following: |The constitution has opened a door where all manner of sects and parties may creep into the Lutheran Church and extirpate her doctrine.| (B.1821, 20.) These apprehensions of Tennessee were no mere products of their own imagination, for just such a union of all Evangelical denominations Shober and his compeers had been ardently advocating in the North Carolina Synod, especially since 1817.5. The fifth objection was that the General Synod proposed to curtail the exercise of Christian liberty in regard to ceremonies. Article III, Section II, provided that no synod or ministry in connection with the General Synod shall publish any new catechism, liturgy, compilation of hymns, or confession of faith |without having first handed a complete copy thereof to the General Synod, and having received their sentiments, or admonitions, or advice.| The Tennessee Synod held this to be against the Seventh Article of the Augsburg Confession and said: |Why shall individual societies be robbed of the liberty to introduce such books us suit them best, when our Confession of Faith grants every person liberty in this case?| (23.) 6. A further objection was raised against this article (III, 2) of the constitution because its language permitted the introduction of a new confession of faith. Tennessee remarked: |An opportunity is here given to introduce a new confession of faith. This appears a conclusive proof that the General Synod do not intend to be governed by (the Augsburg Confession of Faith, nor vindicate the Lutheran doctrines contained therein; for if they did, they would not by this clause have given liberty to form other confessions of faith. Perhaps this may be one of the reasons why they have nowhere promised in the constitution that Luther's Catechism, the Augsburg Confession of Faith, nor the Bible should be the guide of their body. They wish to have power to form a new confession; perhaps more popular, and suited to the newfangled opinions of this present age of infidelity. Were not the men such as Luther, Melanchthon, etc., who formed the Augsburg Confession of Faith, as a testimony against popery and other heresies, godly and enlightened men, and to whose instrumentality we owe our light of the Gospel? Will any of the votaries of the General Synod presume to say that this confession is erroneous, heretical, and wicked? Can they form a better one? If they answer in the affirmative, they are no Lutherans, as they call themselves. If they answer in the negative, why, then, have they not positively specified in the constitution that such should remain the standard of the Church? Why have they given an opportunity to introduce a new confession? It is known that all Lutheran ministers, when they are ordained, are solemnly pledged as by an oath to maintain the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession of Faith. But when there is an opportunity given to propose and introduce other confessions, perhaps the very reverse, what shall become of all the oaths made at the time of ordination?| (24.) The German Report argues: |The Evangelical Lutheran Church already has, for almost three hundred years, a confession of faith, to wit, the Augsburg Confession. To this confession all Lutheran ministers are pledged by an oath when they are ordained. Since the constitution nowhere states that the Augsburg Confession shall be retained, and other confessions of faith may be proposed, it is apparent that the General Synod has the power to abrogate the Augsburg Confession entirely, and to introduce a new and erroneous confession of faith, and consequently to set aside the oath of ordination.| (B.1821, 22.) 7. A further objection to the General Synod was based on Article III, Section V, which provided, among other things, that the General Synod shall take good care |not to oppress any person on account of differences in opinion.| After pointing out that this can only be understood as referring to doctrinal differences, Tennessee made the following arraignment: |What an opportunity is here given to introduce all manner of false doctrines! If no person is to be afflicted in respect to difference in opinion, then no person can be excommunicated for propagating any false or wicked doctrine. One might deny the Holy Trinity, and encourage any system of infidelity, and yet, agreeably to this constitution, no one could be rebuked nor suspended. One might plead this article in defense, and say the General Synod have no right to oppress me for my different opinion.| (R.1821, 30; B.1821, 25.) The German report concludes as follows: |This is nourishment for the lukewarm spirit, where men are indifferent whether true or false opinions are maintained.| (27.) That also these apprehensions were not purely imaginary appears from the fact that two delegates of the Ministerium of New York, then identifying itself with the rationalism of Quitman, were permitted to participate in the organization of the General Synod.8. Finally, Article III, Section VIII, provided that the General Synod should |be sedulously and incessantly regardful of the circumstances of the times, and of every casual rise and progress of unity of opinions among Christians in general, in order that the blessed opportunities to promote concord and unity, and the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom, may not pass by neglected and unavailing.| In this, too, Tennessee saw but |another opportunity to extirpate the Lutheran doctrine.| |For,| said they, |how is it possible that the opinions of Lutherans can ever become agreed with those of Calvinists and other parties so long as they do not deny their teachings?| (B.1821, 30.) The English Report merely states: |All that we can understand from this [Section VIII] is a desire to unite with all denominations.| (34.) Thus the Tennessee Synod, with the utmost candor, exposed and rebuked the un-Lutheran features of the constitution of the General Synod, which substituted external organization and union for true internal Christian unity in the Spirit. David Henkel remarked: |Is the General Synod a plant which has been planted by the heavenly Father? No. It was planted by a majority of votes. . . . It is too lamentable a fact that among the most denominations human laws, discipline, and ceremonies are made the rallying point of unity!| (R.1821, 30; 1832, 17.) It was in the spirit of truth and conscientiousness that Tennessee had made her objections to the constitution of the General Synod. |We conclude,| they say, |hoping that the friends of the General Synod will not view us as enemies. We would freely join in with them if we could do it with a good conscience . . .; it is much easier to swim with than against the current.| (34.)

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