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American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente


112. Fanatics Described. -- At the time of the organization of the Tennessee Synod the Lutheran Church of America generally was suffering with a threefold malady: Unionism, Reformedism, and Methodism. Methodism may be defined as a diseased condition of Christianity, causing Christians to base their assurance of salvation not on the gracious promises of God in the objective means of grace, the Word and Sacraments, but on feelings and experiences produced by their own efforts and according to their own methods. As the years rolled on, the early Lutheran Church in America became increasingly infected with this poison of subjectivism and enthusiasm, especially its English portions. Rev. Larros of Eaton, 0., said in a letter to Paul Henkel, dated August 2, 1821: |I remember when eighteen or twenty years ago many among the Germans in North Carolina were awakened as to their salvation, and we, in joyful hope, spared no trouble teaching and instructing, in order to make of them men for the kingdom of Jesus, preserving the Bible-religion, that even then one could notice how some were flushed and puffed up with pride. This was evident especially at the time of the great revival of the English Church, when, at the large meetings, their novices [|Neulinge,| young English preachers] admonished the people, and, to the detriment of the Church and the depreciation of the older ministers, by their bold and arrogant actions indicated, that they understood the business of converting the people better than the old preachers, and this without being called to order by their superiors. Since that time impudence and lust of ruling have greatly increased, so that the fruit of it appears at public synods.| (B.1821, 35.) The Methodistic doctrine of conversion, as related above, was a point of dispute also between the North Carolina and Tennessee Synods. The Tennessee Report of 1820 states this difference as follows: |Since our opponents [of the North Carolina Synod] refuse to admit that regeneration is wrought in the manner taught by our Church, we infer that they believe it must be effected in an altogether different way. For almost all religionists of this time teach most frequently and diligently and urge most earnestly that one must experience regeneration, or be eternally lost. We are also accused by many that we deny the doctrine of regeneration. Our answer is: We do not deny the doctrine of regeneration at all; moreover, we teach it as well as our opponents. But that regeneration is effected in the manner and by the means such as they teach and pretend, this we cannot believe, nor do we admit that it is possible in this way. Some of them teach and maintain that regeneration cannot be wrought in any other way than by fear and terror, when one, experiencing true contrition and sorrow of sin, is moved to pray and cry anxiously, beseeching the Holy Ghost to perform in him the work of regeneration. They hold that the Holy Ghost can operate this in such only as are previously brought into this state of fear and terror. As a natural birth cannot be effected without pain, in like manner, they argue, no one could be born anew without previously, through anguish and fear, having experienced pains of the soul, more or less. Such teachers, however, fail to observe that by this example they contradict themselves. For in a natural birth, as everybody knows, only the mother has pain, not the child, while according to their doctrine the child ought to have the pain. Who, therefore, does not see that their teaching is most absurd and questionable? Now, in order to bring about regeneration in the manner they teach, it is the rule to preach the Law and its curse. To produce the required pangs of the soul, the poor people are threatened with the devil, eternal death, and hell. The intention is to cause a sinner to pray earnestly in order, by such prayer, to receive the Holy Spirit. To produce this result, joint prayers are said to contribute the most, viz., when a number of people gather and strain every power of body and soul in crying and screaming to move the Holy Spirit, or even to force Him, to finish the work of regeneration. They imagine that, by their own exercises in prayer, and especially by their joint prayers, they have advanced the matter and earned and obtained the Holy Ghost, and that, He [the Holy Ghost] having united with their exercises and labor, the work of regeneration was finished through the combined operation of their prayers and the gifts of the Holy Spirit acquired by them. They mistake imaginations for divine revelations. And the sensation rising from such imaginations they regard as effects of the Holy Spirit. They apply to themselves what the Apostle Paul writes Rom.8, 16: 'The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.' They declare: We are born anew, and we know indeed that it is so, for the Spirit of God has given testimony to our spirit. But if one desires to learn how He had given this testimony, whether they had seen Him or heard Him, or in what manner or whereby He had given such assurance, they appeal to their imaginations and sensations, from which also something peculiar, like an apparition, may come to them; but whatever this is we do not know. One can be absolutely sure, however, that it is not the Holy Spirit. For as soon as you let them understand that you believe that they have been deceived and you endeavor to lead their attention to the testimonies of Holy Scripture in order to obtain from it reliable testimonies, immediately their anger begins to rise, their countenance becomes disfigured, and, alas, with some already a fist is clenching with which they strike the table or their knees and declare defiantly: 'I don't care anything for what you say; it is none of your business; I know that I am born of God, and will suffer it to be taken away from me by nobody, by no learned man, nor by any devil; what I know I do know.' There is a reason, why such a person will not suffer his opinion to be taken from him by anybody, and he need not fear that any devil will rob him of it, especially when he is ready to use his fist in defense of his opinion.| (B.1820, 32 ff.)

113. Sober Attitude of Tennessee Synod. -- In opposition to the subjectivism of the Methodistic enthusiasts within the Lutheran synods, Tennessee based the certainty of salvation on the objective means of grace, placing especial emphasis on the well-known comforting passages of Holy Writ concerning Baptism, such as John 3, 5; Eph.5, 23.25.26; Titus 3, 5; 1 Pet.3, 20.21; Rom.6, 3-5; Acts 2, 38; 22, 16; Gal.3, 26.27; Mark 16, 16. |These passages of the Bible,| they said, |show us that we are not to seek salvation in any work which we ourselves can create or perform, no matter whatever its nature may be, but only through faith on the Lord and Savior Christ, who alone has done everything for us, and through the grace which He bestows and confers on us in Holy Baptism, whereby we are regenerated.| (B.1820, 34.) Again: |From the passages here quoted the attentive reader is able to see and comprehend that regeneration is not effected in the manner as some teach.| It was evident from the Scriptures, they maintained, that Christ referred to Baptism when He declared that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he was born again of the water and the Spirit. They explained: Self-evidently it is not a natural power or effect of the water to wash away sin. |Yet we see that the washing and cleansing from sin is effected alone [?] [tr. note: sic!] through Baptism, and that by faith alone such grace is appropriated. Accordingly, whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved. Mark 16, 16.| (38.) In this passage, Mark 16, 16, Tennessee declared, |Christ in a few and clear words indicates the whole condition under which a man can be saved. It consists in this, that he believes that, for the sake of Christ and what He has done and suffered for us, God will forgive all our sins, and that by faith, in Baptism, he appropriates such promises of all the gifts of salvation which God imparts to man for Jesus' sake. This also shows us that man cannot be saved by his own work or merit, but alone by what God presents and imparts to him. He obtains faith through preaching, which is by th. Word of God, as Paul writes, Rom.10, 17. Baptism is administered by the command of Jesus Christ, Matt.28, 19, through the service of the minister of the Church. In this way God, through means, seeks man before man seeks Him. Accordingly, for having been translated into the state of salvation, man is to thank God and His ordinances alone, not himself, his merit, his own works, or his experiences.| |Because we understand and teach this matter in the manner indicated, we are said to despise prayer, declare it unnecessary, and teach men that it is sufficient for salvation if they are baptized and attend the Lord's Supper, and that nothing else is needed. To this we answer: Whoever is baptized and has true faith in Christ, is in need of nothing else in order to die a blessed death; if he should die thus, he would be saved, for whosoever believeth and is baptized shall be saved. And Paul writes to the Galatians: 'Ye are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus; for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.' However, if they are possessed of the true faith, they will also acknowledge the grace of God, for which they thank Him heartily. Whoever truly believes, loves his neighbor; indeed, he loves all men, he prays for all, being moved to do so by love and compassion toward all. Such a one will also experience many temptations and tribulations by the devil, the world, and his own flesh against which he will have to fight and strive daily. This will cause him trouble and teach him to pray of his own accord. Such people we advise to pray heartily, and give them instruction therein. And this we do for the reason that God in His Word promises to hear them, and that they may be strengthened in faith, to continue faithfully to the end, but not in order that thereby they may be born anew.| (36 f.) The question, |How does the Spirit give testimony?| was answered by David Henkel as follows: |When an evil-doer condemned to death receives a document with the name and seal of the Governor affixed, that his crime is pardoned, and that he shall be set free, then he is in possession of something upon which he may firmly rely. By it he cannot be deceived, as would be the case when such a thing merely appeared to him in his thoughts, or he had dreamt that he was set free. In like manner he cannot be deceived who firmly believes the assurances given him in the Word of God that God, for the sake of Christ, has forgiven all his sins. The Spirit is then giving him, through the Word, firm assurance of the forgiveness of his sins. And if he remains in faith, he always has this firm assurance in the Gospel which proclaims the forgiveness of sins. All men could have such an assurance if by faith they were obedient to the Gospel. The Romans had it, but only for the reason that, in accordance with the ordinance of Jesus Christ, they were baptized and believed in Him. That this text [Rom.8, 16] does not, though always misinterpreted in this way, prove that one must have been favored with a certain heavenly vision in order to know that one's sins are forgiven, every intelligent man will see without further explanation. The Prince of Darkness always endeavors to lead men away from the ordinances and promises of God, and causes them to rely on all manner of works and merits of their own, in order, finally, to make the poor creatures believe as all Deists do, viz., that Christianity is nothing but a nursery-tale. There is reason also to believe that wily Satan presents some illusion to such as, in an overwrought frame of mind, are in great expectations of seeing a vision, and that they regard it as sent from heaven, and build on it their assurance of the forgiveness of their sins.| (43.) In the letter, appended to the Report of 1821, from which we quoted above, Jacob Larros says: |If I can again, after falling from baptismal grace, appropriate to myself from Holy Scripture the blessed marks of a state of grace and of regeneration, then it truly is no new grace, produced by the storming of men; but it most assuredly is the same grace promised in Baptism which has been found once more. The grace secured by storm [die gestuermte Gnade] may also have its marks, drawn from the air or out of the head, not from the Bible, but from the majority of false voices.| (B.1821, 35.) Concerning the |new measures| (die |neuen Massregeln|) the Report of 1841 records the following: |Now the 'new measures' were taken under advisement [by Synod], and after a carefully considered discussion it was unanimously Resolved, That we disapprove most strongly of the 'new measures' which have been introduced into the Lutheran Church by modern enthusiasts, because we believe that they are in conflict with the Word of God, with the doctrine of the Augsburg Confession, with the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church, and with the usages of the Church in her best and purest era, and are calculated to arouse discord and contention between the members of the Church.| (B.1841, 10.) However, though strenuously opposed to Methodistic enthusiasm, Tennessee, at the same time, was very considerate of Christians who were pietistically inclined, and care fully avoided judging their hearts. In the Report of 1820 we read: |It is indeed true that some men of honest mind do err in this matter; they do not perceive the difference and seek in their own exercise and experience what in reality they have already received in Baptism. However, if they are but faithful, they will advance in holiness by the thing wherein they seek regeneration, and thus it cannot, harm their salvation. The harm, however, is this, that the Price of Darkness misleads many who are in such error to believe that, since they seek to be regenerated by their own works and doings, Baptism is unnecessary; and, remaining unbaptized themselves, they will not permit their children to be baptized.| (43.)

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