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American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente


102. Confession of Truth a Christian Duty. -- It appears from the procedure of the Tennessee Synod, as well as from the resolution of 1827, quoted in the preceding paragraph, that Tennessee felt justified in demanding a showdown on the part of the American Lutheran synods, which had persistently refused to reveal their colors. However, being unionists, indifferentists, and masked or open Calvinists, these false Lutherans resented such a demand as obtrusive, arrogant, and impudent. Hence their contemptuous silence. However, also in this matter Tennessee realized that they were only asking what, according to the Word of God, it was their solemn duty to demand. For to confess the faith which is in him is not only the privilege of a Christian, but also an obligation and a debt which he owes his brethren. Accordingly, when, in 1827, the committee reported how all efforts to induce the Carolina and Pennsylvania Synods to reveal their colors and to give testimony of their faith as to the doctrines of Baptism, the Lord's Supper, etc., had been rebuked with silent contempt, Tennessee passed the resolutions quoted in the preceding paragraph. They felt called upon publicly to justify their procedure; and this all the more so because a member of the North Carolina Synod had declared |that it was not only improper, but also sinful to argue publicly on religious subjects.| (R.1827, 36.) David Henkel, therefore, in a treatise appended to the Report of 1827, endeavored to show the propriety and the Scriptural grounds for the public debate proposed to the ministers of the North Carolina Synod. How Tennessee justified her actions appears from the following quotations culled from this treatise: |The members of the Lutheran Church,| says David Henkel, |are pledged by their confirmation vows to support and to adhere to her doctrines and discipline. Now as it is not a matter of little importance to break such vows, it is therefore highly interesting for every member to know who of the ministers and which of the synods have departed from the confession of faith they have vowed to maintain, as a connection with such would be a partaking of their errors.| (33.) |Because all Lutherans are pledged to maintain the doctrines of their confession of faith, it may therefore be legally required of any one to stand an examination, if it be believed that he has deviated from the same.| (36.) |The members of the Lutheran Church at the time of their confirmation declare that they believe the doctrines as held by the same, and every minister is solemnly pledged to maintain the Augustan Confession. Independently of Synods, the Augustan Confession of Faith is the point of union of all Lutherans, and by which they are distinguished from other denominations. As all bear the same name, and are pledged to maintain the same creed, they are viewed as one body. Therefore one member is accountable to another, and it is one minister's duty to watch the other's official conduct, as the doctrines taught by one are ascribed to the others, because they constitute one body. How does a man become partaker of another's guilt but by being in connection with him, and not reproving it? 1 Tim.5, 22.| (37.) |Now as one Lutheran minister's doctrine is ascribed to another, why should the one not have the right to bring the other to an account, provided he believes that he deviates from the confession they are both pledged to maintain? The ministers of the North Carolina Synod call themselves Lutherans, but as we believe that they propagate doctrines contrary to the Augustan Confession, we considered it necessary to require of them to stand an examination. It is necessary to correct a wrong opinion, which is, that Lutheran ministers are at liberty to deviate from the Augustan Confession whereinsoever they conceive it as erroneous. Some ministers have declared that they did not care what the Augustan Confession teaches, that they simply taught the doctrines of the Scriptures; further, that Luther was only a man, and was therefore liable to err. In answer to this, I observe that Lutheran ministers have no right to deviate from any article of this Confession because the whole of it is viewed by the Lutheran community as true and Scriptural. Let them remember their solemn vows! Such as think proper to deviate, infringe upon the rights of the community. It must, however, be admitted that if any one should discover that this confession is unscriptural, he would be justifiable in renouncing it. By doing so no one would be deceived. If there are errors in this confession, why should any man who has discovered them yet pretend to preach under its covert? Such as believe that this Confession contains errors practise a twofold fraud. The one is, that they cause Lutherans to think that they hold the same doctrines as they do themselves, when yet they do not. The other is (provided it be true what they affirm), that they encourage the people in those errors, because they pretend to support the very confession which contains them. That the Bible is the proper rule of doctrine must be confessed; yet the question is, Does the Augustan Confession contradict it? That Luther was a man, and therefore liable to err, is not denied; but that he did err with regard to the doctrines contained in the Augustan Confession remains to be proven. But if he erred, why do such as believe this call themselves Lutherans? Such practise a fraud by being called Lutherans, when they affirm that Luther taught erroneous doctrines; or else [they] must own that, by being called after him, they sanction such errors.| (37 f.)

103. Truth Always Seeks the Light. -- In his justification of the procedure of the Tennessee Synod, David Henkel continues as follows: |The intention of the public debate which was offered to the ministers of the North Carolina Synod was to afford them an opportunity of manifesting the doctrines we teach, and to prove them as erroneous. The same [opportunity] we would also had to have treated theirs in like manner. The propositions which were made were calculated to have brought all these things to light. They would not only have offered the hearers who might have been present the opportunity of knowing the difference, and arguments on each side, but the debates might also have been committed to paper and published, and thus the whole Lutheran community might have been judges in this controversy. When a doctrine is in dispute between two parties, how shall the public decide when they never heard the opposite arguments? Is it rational to condemn either party without a trial? Whilst the deeds of men are to be concealed, there are just grounds for believing that they are evil. Our blessed Savior says, 'For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.' John 3, 20.21. No man who is confident that he has the truth on his side will ever evade coming to the light; for he is not ashamed to profess and vindicate the truth; and though it should be scrutinized to the utmost, yet he knows that thereby, like gold passing through the fire, it shall become more brilliant. Even the man who is diffident with respect to his doctrines, yet having an honest disposition, never objects to be brought to the light; for he considers that no greater favor could be shown him than that his errors be overthrown, and he be led into the paths of truth. But the man who knows that he cannot defend his doctrines upon Scriptural grounds, and yet possesses too high an estimation of himself, hates to be brought to the light, for he knows that his errors will be unmasked; 'for every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.' Why do men make so many shifts to evade a public trial of the doctrines, but a consciousness of being in an error which their pride does not suffer to be publicly exposed? Many a man in a hasty ill humor condemns a doctrine merely because the man whom he considers his enemy vindicates it; and though he should afterwards be clearly convinced, yet he believes it to be beneath his dignity to make a recantation, and thus throughout all his days he is tormented with a guilty conscience. In the days of the Reformation public debates were highly conducive to manifest the errors of the papists. When Luther confronted his opponents in the presence of multitudes, it was that many souls got convinced of the truth, which before were kept in ignorance. Had he refused to appear, especially before the Diet at Worms, what would have been the result? Though he knew that his life was in danger, if he appeared, yet he also knew that the cause he had espoused would have suffered, provided he evaded a public test of his doctrines. The Papists having been taught by experience that the public debates with Luther proved injurious to their party, they avoided them as much as they could and employed various stratagems to destroy him and his cause. Luther says: 'The court of Rome most horribly fears, and shamefully flees from, a Christian council.' Had this principle been uniformly followed in the days of Luther that it is sinful to dispute on points of doctrine, the errors of the Papish Church could have been impregnable; and those who bear the name of Christian might perhaps yet groan under papal superstition and tyranny. . . . Thousands have joined churches with whose peculiar doctrines they are not acquainted, and even do not know whether their government is republican, aristocratical, or monarchical. They are satisfied with what they hear from their ministers, without even examining their creeds or forms of government. Such being ignorant, they are already prepared for a state of slavery. They who so easily submit to an ecclesiastical slavery may also by degrees, by the same means, be led to sacrifice their civil liberty. How is it possible that people can with any degree of safety be in connection with such ministers as are publicly impeached with erroneous doctrines, and yet are not willing to be brought to light? Ought not every person conclude: If such ministers believed that they had nothing but the truth on their side, they would freely embrace every opportunity of coming to the light, so that they might show that their works are wrought in God, and refute their opponents' calumnies? That a public debate would create animosity is no reason that it should be omitted. Would it offend real Christians? By no means. It indeed might offend false teachers and their votaries, who for the want of argument would substitute the ebullitions of their anger. But what Christian can imagine that no error should be exposed, lest the persons who are guilty might be offended?| (38 ff.)

104. Arguments Continued. -- David Henkel furthermore showed from Phil.2, 15; 1 Pet.2, 9; 1 Pet.3, 15.16, that it is the duty of Christians to shine as lights in the world, to instruct the ignorant, to give an answer to every man who asks them a reason of the hope that is in them, and then proceeds to the following conclusion: |Now if it be every Christian's duty to answer those who interrogate them respecting the grounds of their faith, how contrary to the Word of God do such synods and ministers act when they refuse answering some important theological questions either by writing or public interview! Do they refuse because they consider the persons who interrogate them too far beneath their notice? Does not this (if it be the case) indicate that they are possessed with the pride of the devil? What! poor sinful mortals, do they exalt themselves above their fellowmen? Or are they ashamed to let their sentiments be known? Are they sensible that they cannot rationally defend their doctrines if they were scrutinized? Or, indeed, have they the truth on their side, and yet fear to let it be known that they believe it, lest they should become unpopular? Alas! there are too many whose sentiments may be correct, yet through fear of getting the ill will of some others will not answer the most important questions. Let such men remember, that, whilst they wish to keep the truth in darkness, with a view to please opposite parties, that they are vile hypocrites; and let them tremble! St. Paul says: 'For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.' Gal.1, 10. We have asked the ministers of the North Carolina Synod for the reasons of the hope that is in them, or properly, for the proofs of their doctrines; and, agreeably to the last invitation given them, they might have had the opportunity of showing the reasonableness of their doctrines. Now as they have neglected to endeavor to convince us, why do they warn the people against us, especially since they are not willing to confront us in a public debate?| (42 f.) Henkel continues: |We, as it has been already said, are represented by the ministers of the North Carolina Synod as enemies of the promulgation of the Gospel. Particularly I am charged with teaching the most dangerous heresies, as may be seen from a scurrilous pamphlet written by their president, Mr. Shober. How is such a dangerous man to be treated by Christian pastors? Is he to be at liberty without reproof? Is he to be opposed behind his back, and defeated by arguments, or rather invectives, to which he has no opportunity of replying? No. For such treatment has rather a tendency to strengthen him in his errors, and cause such as are led by him to conclude that his doctrines are incontestable; otherwise the learned and pious clergy would confront him in a public interview. St. Paul describes the duty of a bishop in this respect: that he should 'hold fast the faithful Word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.' He adds: 'For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision, whose mouth must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake.' Titus 1, 9.11. As these show that it is the duty of a bishop to exhort and convince the gainsayer, and to stop his mouth, the question may be asked, How is this to be done? It cannot be done otherwise than to propose to the gainsayer an interview, and if he attend to it, to refute his arguments. But if he refuses to attend, the bishop has discharged his duty; for the gainsayer thereby shows that he is, already convinced, and his mouth stopped, because, if he believed that he could not be refuted, he would by no means avoid the light. Again, when the gainsayer in a public debate is closely pursued by the truth, he uses invectives instead of arguments, which is a plain indication of his mouth being stopped. A false teacher is said to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, which signifies to be under the covert of a servant of God. . . . Now, indeed is it possible that the ministers of the North Carolina Synod represent me as the most dangerous wolf, and yet can see me come among their congregations, and gain a goodly number of their people, without even being willing to confront me in a public debate, which would be calculated to show me in mine originality. Why do they flee? Do they not feel for their flocks? To pronounce them hirelings would seem uncharitable. How could I otherwise acquit them of such a charge, unless I would suppose that they in reality do not consider me as a false teacher? Otherwise they would not flee, but stand public test. But that they have called me a false teacher is perhaps owing to the violence of the old man in them, whom they have not yet crucified through the Spirit.| (44 ff.) Finally, in defending the propriety of the procedure of the Tennessee Synod, David Henkel refers to the example of Christ, who |answered the questions of the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and the devil. Now, as Christ debated with wicked men, yea, with the devil himself, with what face can any man say, It is wrong to dispute on doctrinal topics?| (45 f.) David Henkel concludes: |Whereas all Lutherans are pledged to their creed by a solemn vow, it must be a matter of great importance for every one to know the sentiments of the ministers under whose care he may be; for whosoever supports such as are inimical to the doctrines of the Church acts contrary to his vow. Every Lutheran ought to be certain, and able to prove by texts of Scripture, that his creed contains erroneous doctrine, before he adopts a contrary one, lest he incur the crime of perjury. The ministry of the North Carolina Synod are charged with denying the most important doctrine of the Lutheran Church, and have been requested to come to a reciprocal trial, which they have obstinately refused. Now, what is the duty of the people under their care? Ought they not to urge them to come to a reciprocal trial? How can they consider themselves safe under a ministry who are not willing to come to the light!| (47.)

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