(This op-ed was originally published in March of 2005)
Don’t you just hate alliteration?
Bored between issues of the Motley Magpie? Well, for some additional entertainment surf the net to the Wisconsin Synod’s web site and click on its Q/A. The good news is that this represents well conventional WELS wisdom; the bad news is it represents well conventional WELS wisdom, at least of the official variety. The questions are answered largely by Seminary professors. At times they are good and informative, yet too often, incompetent, judgmental and wrong. While spilling tons of ink on issues such as the wedding kiss, masturbation, applause in church, erotic dreams and assorted other issues too often with the depth of the local Pennysaver, it responded to a petitioner who said he was struggling with the issue of objective justification, which he knew was the central teaching of our Church, by saying “The question requires a more detailed answer than can be given in the space available” and directed the petitioner to some books. (Uh, 1 John 2:2?)
Another distressed soul wrote that for a year or so he was grieved for he thought he had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. The professor assured the individual that Christ had indeed forgiven his sins, and then directed him to get some daily devotional booklets. Nowhere in the answer was the man directed to his or a pastor, to the confessional, to his baptism or to the Supper. Unfortunate, indeed, almost unforgivable.
The WELS seminary professors also seem to have a problem with its sister synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. One petitioner heard that the ELS’ Bethany College had a gay-friendly support group on campus, but rather than picking up the phone (as if there were even a question), he simply said he didn’t know. Another questioner asked about the required seminary studies of the WELS versus those of the ELS. The WELS requirements were proudly recited and again ignorance was the only answer about the ELS’s, as if we couldn’t figure that out. Perhaps one of our ELS friends can tell us what’s up. Perhaps that looming ELS ministry issue which a Q/A prof chimed in on by saying that the WELS is not pleased with some of the language the ELS uses might give us a clue.
But quite often one finds an answer that can only be described as, well, downright bizarre. No? Try this one. The question primarily dealt with lady lectors: The answer,
Reading the lessons in and of itself would not necessarily be contrary to the God-given role of man and woman. However, since in reading the Bible lessons a person is speaking directly to the whole congregation including the men, it would depend on how the woman read the readings. She could assume a stance or an inflection of voice that would signal that she is assuming authority over the audience. Thus, if it is done, it needs to be done with great care so that God's will is not violated.
Wha….? Now I suppose I will be accused of taking this out of context. I challenge you to put that in a context! So now we are to believe the authority of the word rests not with the word or person, but is vested in the “stance” and “inflection.” So, it’s all ok, but not if the gal so struts her stuff that she appears to be “assuming authority over the audience (sic)!” (Please draw your own mental picture.)
Also to be noted here is the wholehearted endorsement of lady lectors which has earlier been ok’ed with caution by a seminary professor with the unassailable logic that we let little girls recite the Christmas story in church. I was forwarded another missive by another WELS professor who ascertained that if a women read without inflection it would pass muster (something he assumed we would not want) but she wouldn’t be able to if she read with inflection because is this teaching and now she would be teaching men by this interpretation of the text, unless she read the lection with a pastorally approved inflection then it would be just fine and dandy. (And I know what you’re thinking. No, I don’t make this stuff up.)
Several years ago I loudly predicted that WELS would soon adopt the “she’s only doing it under the direction and authority of the bishop” as the out to get women in. Already, women offering the Sacrament to women AND men has been ushered in under this provision (with the proviso that she cannot be an usher if the task of gating the rail is given her). I also wondered aloud to all within ear shot, what prevents a woman in the WELS from doing everything currently now forbidden (which list is getting shorter) if she does so “under authority.” If I recall most at the bar ignored me, as they usually do.
An earlier Q/A used the same logic in ducking the “can women vote in the upcoming presidential election” question. This is a thorny issue for the WELS as it has concluded that women may not be in authority over men even outside of the Christologically iconic relationships centered in marriage and the church. The question was formerly and incredibly was answered in the negative in the WELS. A current seminary professor (by the way, their anonymity is well guarded) averred giving a “yes” or “no,” but conceded she might be able to vote in a national election with the right motivation – submission to men, all men. (For the record, my wife and three adult daughters vote and don’t even ask my permission! Or advice!)
And officialdom wonders why they are beginning to see a full scale estrogen uprising on this issue.
Way, Way Too Much Time
In our last issue, I opined on the “differences between Conservative and Confessional Lutherans.” That outburst was inspired by what I see in the right wing branches of the Lutheran church today, a lot of conservatism, and often shaky confessionalism. Since that article came out I have received a couple of additional and even more incisive submissions which I will pass along and one I learned about from a friend, one I suspected but had it confirmed, and that is, many conservatives have little sense of humor, and, it seems, loudly protest their confessionalism while undermining their allegiance to the same.
A friend tipped me off that a couple of my observations were being discussed on that perpetual internet argument called “Luther Quest,” sponsored, I believe, by Jack Cascione. On this site there is a non stop debate, filled with inanities, axe-grinding, anathema and slander hurling and all too often tedious Zitatentheologie, though, fortunately, a few wise souls mix in some solid confessional instruction. The Motley Magpie and her editors have been the object of discussion several times, most recently grave concern was expressed by some that perhaps we (Ed. Note, at the time two of the contributing editors were still rostered WELS.) breeched fellowship rules by providing the adult refreshments for the “Sabre of Boldness Award” ceremony, held by our big sister publication Gottesdienst which is edited by some LCMS confessionals. (Yes, these Questers have a wee bit too much time on their hands, well, I, too).
Anyway, a couple of my observed “differences” were cut and cast into this maelstrom. The first to be commented on was my number # 1 Difference:
Conservatives use the word “God” a lot.
Confessionals use the word “Jesus” a lot.
A staunchly conservative WELSman, whom I’ll call “Eric,” (well, because that’s what his parents called him) noted
I just pulled out my copy of The Crossway Comprehensive Concordance of the Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Use of the word "God" in the NT begins on page 409 and extends through page 414. There are about 95 entries per column in 13 full columns, plus an additional 42 in column 2 on page 409 and an additional one in column one on page 414. There are also 66 instances of "God's" in the NT shown on page 414, as well as one compound instance of "God-fearing". Thus, it appears that the NT uses the word "God" 1345 times. According to the totals for "Jesus" on page 528 and the possessive "Jesus'" on page 531, the NT uses the word "Jesus" 965 times. Should we conclude that the NT is merely conservative and also unconfessional, or should it be described as more conservative than it is confessional? Do the authors of The Motley Magpie look down upon the NT for using "God" over "Jesus" by a margin of 58.2 percent to 41.8 percent?
Ah, theology by concordance! Well, I’m convinced. But what I am to conclude when “law” easily trumps “gospel” in Holy Writ? (As our readers know the word “law” is not always law in the theological distinction of law/ Gospel.) Reminds one of those Baptists who say the Bible doesn’t say all that much about Baptism and those conservative Lutherans who say the Bible doesn’t talk all that much about the Sacraments.
Now, of course, I can hardly believe that this young man believes this is how we are to do and judge theology, nor that he believes that my observation is an either/or proposition, nor that he believes that the only mentions of our blessed Lord are noted under the name “Jesus” in his concordance, nor that a mention of God excludes Christ. But perhaps so and perhaps he simply missed the nuance of this “difference” because he has heard too many sermons on the sovereignty of God. Indeed, I have on file dozens and dozens of sermons preached from conservative WELS’ pulpits that do not “preach Christ crucified”, nor ever find him in the Old Testament which “testify” of him, sermons which make passing references to God but with woeful little or no mention of the love of God in Christ crucified. As Dr. David Scaer said so aptly, “All theology is Christology.”
But I suspect Eric’s gripe is elsewhere. Anyway and if not, I commend young Eric to the excellent article in our last issue entitled “Preach Christ.” I also re-commend my observation. There are a lot of gods and God talk out there, even Jesus-speak, but little Christ crucified. Let’s hope Eric finds a church where He is so preached.
Quatenus on Luther Quest and a Luther Campus
The other difference between Conservatives and Confessionals that I noted which caused the greatest concern/discussion/disagreement was # 2, a reaction I anticipated.
Conservatives believe that the Confessions are to be interpreted in the light of the Scriptures.
Confessionals believe that the Scriptures are to be interpreted in the light of the Confessions.
This one not only caused apoplexy for the latter day Waltherians on L-Quest but also in the halls of one Martin Luther College, the “WELS College of Ministry (sic),” A MLC prof when asked about this said that we believe in “Sola Scriptura, not Sola Confessiona.” Yuk, yuk.
What of it? Well, this is nothing other than our quia subscription, something I had hoped a MLC prof should know, but I understand why he didn’t, his is a mildly confessional synod. Now to be sure this sounds odd to those who confess that
Holy Scripture alone remains the only judge, rule, and guiding principle, according to which, as the only touchstone, all teachings should and must be recognized and judged, whether they are good or evil, correct or incorrect (FC Rule and Norm 7).
But what some “Lutherans” and Lutheran conservatives forget is that we confess that the Symbols of our church have passed that test and are
witnesses and explanations of the faith, which show how Holy Scripture has at various times been understood and interpreted in the church of God (FC Rule and Norm 8).
And so we subscribe the Symbols (The Creeds and Confessions) and do not depart one “finger’s breadth from the subjects” or from the “phrases” in them “because” (quia) they are a correct exposition of Scripture. This oath is required of all Lutheran ministers, and I had thought the teachers at MLC, too. The confessional “quia subscription” is the antithesis of the “quatenus” (insofar as) subscription.” Those who subscribe the Symbols of the Lutheran Church only “insofar as” (quatenus) they agree with Scripture may do so, but may not publicly teach or administer the Sacraments in the Lutheran Church, and may not legitimately call themselves a Lutheran. Perhaps this is why some Lutheran churches, even in the ultra conservative WELS, are dropping the name “Lutheran” from their title, if so, that would indeed be Good News! (insider joke here, there was a church in the Wisconsin Synod simply called “Good News!” – exclamation point and all – that billed itself as offering “Lutheran Lite.” No kidding.) As the esteemed theologian John Conrad Dannhauer said, one could subscribe the Koran in so far as (quatenus) it agrees with Scripture.
Now, the Scriptures are not the interpretation of the Confessions, but the Confessions are the interpretation of Holy Writ. To subject the Confessions, then, to your interpretation of Scripture puts your (you or even a group of yous) interpretation over against that of the Confessions or above it is a quatenus subscription.
There are many ways to hide a quatenus subscription. Best is to use the “cover” of a love for the Scriptures such as this criticism often offered within the WELS of some in the Missouri Synod, “We use the Scriptures, they use the Confessions,” or this one, “the Scriptures trump the Confessions.” This is nothing other than a pious way of saying the Confessions and Scriptures disagree. That’s fine, where? As Dr. Herman Sasse says, if the Lutheran Confessions are proved wrong then we must withdraw them and apologize for them. (On the subject read Sasse’s “Quatenus or Quia,” the exchange between the Evangelical pastor Höppl and Sasse, in The Lonely Way, Vol. 1, CPH). Also, those who maintain a “hypothetical quatenus” simply haven’t studied the Confessions.
Yes, it is true that we first approach the Confessions with a quatenus reservation, but once you have examined the Confessions you either agree that they are a correct interpretation of Scripture or you do not. If you desire to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments in the Lutheran Church, then she demands a quia. To allow our teachers to interpret the Confessions according to their understanding of Scripture subjects hearers to the vagaries of their interpretation and not to the interpretation of the Confessions. As one Dr. S.G. Wernsdorf noted
Prior to this the Zwinglians, and recently Heidegger in his Introductio in via concordiae Protestantis, offered to subscribe the Augsburg Confession, provided only they were permitted to interpret it according to the Scriptures. (Bericht von dem Indifferentismo der Religionem, Wittenberg, 1734), p. 860).
And this is the continuing charge of Baptists and other Protestants who belittle the Lutherans and other confessional churches as to their stand on their Creeds and Confessions - (“symbolatry” it is derisively called). However, the Lutheran has a higher view of Scripture than does the Baptist, the MLC prof, it seems, and some L-Questers. The Scriptures are perspicuous. After hearing, “thus saith the Lord,” we can say, “and this is what that means in the face of this” and must do so for, as Luther notes, all heretics commandeer Scripture for their own uses. Thus creeds and confessions are often born of heresy. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, therefore, binds her teachers to the interpretation of the Symbols, not to your interpretation of Scripture to which you wish to subject the Confessions.
The Confessions are a correct interpretation of Scripture and so – especially - if you claim to be a Lutheran, we will measure your interpretation of the Scriptures against the Confessions, which are not the judge of Scripture, nor the source of doctrine, but the correct interpretation of it. This judgment is a Scriptural judgment for the Symbols are a correct interpretation of the same. A study of the Confessions is a study of Scripture. Yes, the Scriptures are the true and only font of doctrine, the norma normans (the norming norm), but the Symbols are a correct exposition of the same, the norma normata (the norm that is normed) and to which we demand a quia.
Not convinced yet? Well if pedigree is important to you, this is precisely what Dr. C. F. W. Walther said. In a remarkable (for its day) essay delivered to the Western District of the Missouri Synod in 1858 Walther wrote
Consequently if the church conceded that its ministers would not be required to interpret the Scriptures according to the symbols but interpret the symbols according to the Scriptures, subscription would not give the church any guarantee that the pledged minister would understand and expound the Scriptures as it does but rather as he himself thinks right. Thus the church would actually set up the changing personal convictions of its ministers as the symbol to which it would obligate them (Translation from the official text from “The Conservative Posture.” A shorter version can be found in CTM XVIII).
Time to come clean, yes, I borrowed that “difference” from Walther, and purposely did not attribute him. What I have discovered is that when you rephrase “quia,” you often flush out quatenus subscribers to the Symbols who know enough to say quia but really mean quatenus. And flush I did. In this essay Dr. Walther exposes a number of conditional (quatenus) subscriptions and this one in particular,
A third kind of conditional acknowledgement of the symbols is to say that one subscribes them as one interprets them only according to the Scriptures or as one understands them correctly.
Walther goes on to note that “this is the condition under which even the Reformed have declared their readiness to subscribe to the unaltered Augsburg Confession,” and he later notes that
Such additions indicate that one cannot accept the confessions if they are understood as they read and that one therefore makes the reservation that a meaning can be put into the words of the symbols which are not really there but which one regards as correct and biblical.
Walther notes, again, by submitting the Confessions to our own understanding of Scripture we “would actually set up the changing personal convictions of its ministers as the symbol to which it would obligate them.” And we can substitute “ministers” with whole pastoral conferences, even synods.
I found this to be true among some in the conservative fellowship in which I formerly found myself, especially in regards to what we say about the consecration in the Lord’s Supper. We read our views into the Confessions and were delighted when we found them there. A WELS friend recently encountered the quatenus subscription in quia clothing when he presented a paper on private confession and absolution, which, of course, we confess to be a Sacrament of the Church which would be “wicked” for us to remove. Now he had the fortune/misfortune of presenting this in the most ultra conservative district of that synod, the Michigan District. One allegedly quia confessing pastor said that he didn’t know what it was, but he didn’t like it. Familiar to me. A WELS pastor whom I allowed to catechize two of my children in his parochial school corrected my children when they confessed that the Lutheran church has (at least) three sacraments. When informed of the appropriate confessional citation he averred that the definition they used at his church includes “an earthly element” and since Private Absolution has none, it is not. Of course, the definition he was using was out of the WELS’ New Blue catechism (Of course, what they added was balanced out by what they deleted - Luther’s injunction to make the sign of the Holy Cross when rising and going to bed. Hey, it all evens out!)
I encountered this same sort of squishy quia subscription at a pastoral conference as a couple lads took issue with Luther - (pause for some to say, “what’s wrong with that?”) - as he wrote in the Large Catechism! On another occasion one of my brothers once told me I could not exclude an impenitent member from the Sacrament (to whom he gave refuge and the Supper knowing she was impenitent) as this was tantamount to excommunication (not tantamount, is) and only the voters could do that. When I said that the Confessions say that pastor’s have this right he said “Show me in the Bible.” The circuit pastor when informed of all this chuckled. Recently when I informed the president of the district in which I was a member that the authority he had as district president was granted by human authority, his episcopally consecrated grace was greatly disturbed even as I pointed out this was straight out of the Tractatus. He also told me my practice of communing myself was contrary to the Confessions. Sigh.
I guess I’ll call all this “Quia-Lite” less filling, tastes great, well more palatable to some.
It’s all about Jesus
And one final objection filed on Luther Quest was in regards to # 3 of my differences.
Conservatives say that the Bible is inspired and infallible.
Confessionals say that the inspired and infallible Scriptures content is Christ.
A Reverend Mike said that
I would suggest that if one is not careful and if things are not clearly explained "Confessionals say that the inspired and infallible Scriptures content is Christ" could lead to "Gospel reductionism."
I thank my LCMS brother for his caution and direct this Lutheran gentleman in quest of Luther to Luther himself,
Thus all of Scripture, as already said, is pure Christ, God’s and Mary’s Son. Everything is focused on this Son, so that we might know him distinctively and in that way see the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally as one God. To him who has the Son Scripture is an open book; and the stronger his faith in Christ becomes, the more brightly will the light of Scripture shine for him (AE 15 p. 33).
Another LQ’er, Michael Anderson, said it far better than I could when he responded, “Or it could lead to the Gospel, Jesus Christ!” Did not our Lord say these Scriptures testify of him? And by the way, neither Luther nor Christ is a Gospel reductionist and this Quester’s caution may suggest a defective theology, that is, suggesting that Christ has nothing to do with the law is something with which a genuine Gospel reductionist would agree!
So anyway, thanks to all the conservatives on LQ, though not all are conservatives, thank God (see I can use the word “God”) for confirmation of what I wrote and the confessionals for support of what I wrote, well, with what Luther and Walther said, a plagiarism I prefer to call “research.” And thanks to whoever labeled these observations as plagiarisms from the “Hypo Euro Lutherans” which I guess wasn’t a compliment but which I took as one. Hey, ordination is a sacrament, isn’t it? Now here are a couple of the printable submissions we received.
As submitted by Rachel Frey
Conservatives exercise their faith by going to Bible class.
Confessionals live their faith by going to Mass.
As submitted by Kathy Gerstenberg
Conservatives store the reliquiae in the sacristy, and they may even keep the "bread" segregated from the unconsecrated wafers and pour the "wine" out onto the ground. Those of the crypto-Zwinglian subset mix consecrated and unconsecrated elements together and/or pour the "wine" down the sewer (or onto the trash heap, still shimmering in those disgusting plastic cups.) "Amazing stuff actually seen ...” but no longer by me ...
Confessionals consume what remains of the Most Holy Body of Christ and/or reserve it in a tabernacle on the altar. They consume the Most Precious Blood at the altar, rinse the vessels, and consume the rinse water. Prior to washing, individual *glass* cups (if still used) and purificators are carefully rinsed by a trained altar guild and the rinse water is poured into a sacrarium or onto the ground.
Now why didn’t I say that?
And Now In the Center Ring
Apparently the cutting edge Church and Change group of the WELS, who is sponsoring an alternative worship conference at St. Mark’s Church in DePere, is looking, for the occasion, WELS jugglers. That’s it, Desiderious, now you’ve got my juggler!
In our last issue I shared with you the tale of the now famous “Oatmeal” sermon. Preached at the above mentioned church, the sermon bore an incredible resemblance (whole lumps, word for word) of that preached by at least three others, a Methodist, a Disciples of Christ and a Unitarian preacher. It appeared the Ur-oatmeal sermon was found on a web site called Homiletics Online. Well, the same preacher struck again. Wholesale research, yet without attribution. The sermon was about rumors, false ones, and again whole chunks copied word for word. What was most delightful about this discovery is the byline of the Homiletics Online web site “For those who have too much integrity to preach someone else’s sermon.” Ouch.
A Brush with Antichrist
What is the spirit of Antichrist? Is it not assuming that which alone belongs to God? Is it not when church authorities refuse to answer questions or to be held accountable for what they do, say and write? The spirit of Antichrist is alive and well and just doesn’t glide down the halls of the Vatican with mitre and crosier, but also can appear in our midst in suit and tie with the unbridled power of, in effect, unchallengeable authority.
Father No More
Oh, one more. The WELS Q/A spanked the Roman church for addressing their Bishop “Holy Father.” While noting the appellation is granted out of respect for his office (and he is in the office) they slyly added this note “Compare this practice with Matthew 23:8-10.” Implication clear. “Father” is out as a title. Did the Seminary prof read the whole citation? He just indicted several thousand “teachers” in his synod, himself! Now, I am really in trouble because I can’t bring myself to call my sainted fath - er, uh, the guy who was married to my mother, “Norm.”
Bless the Prophet’s Sons
Speaking of my Male Parental Unit, in an October 29, 1967 edition of the Plymouth, Michigan “Observer,” he, the pastor of the local WELS franchise, used this illustration to describe the (then) four major divisions of the Lutheran Church, “[the LCA, ALC, and LCMS] are like the big three in the auto industry – we (the WELS) are the fourth largest – similar to American Motors.” Anyone looking for a used Pacer? §
Reverend Father John W. Berg is pastor and spiritual father of Hope Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Fremont, California (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod), and, it seems, is still battling other demons. At the time of the writing of this op-ed both he and his parish were Wisconsin Synod).