A Tale of Two Synods Chap 5 Part 2

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Yet, during the 1950s, Concordia experienced a quiet, unheralded “revolution,” as some professors investigated and embraced methods of biblical interpretation practiced for decades at many other seminaries but previously unknown at St. Louis.

footnote: According to one researcher, “Nearly all the evidence points to the fact that throughout the 1940s the historical-grammatical method was accepted and taught at St. Louis.” One Wisconsin Synod pastor who attended Concordia during the 1943–44 school year said he was “not exposed to or taught any form of the historical-critical method” and remembered Walter Maier as “one of the harshest critics of the historical-critical method.” end footnote

Lewis Spitz, professor of church history, believed the changes began when professors Arthur Repp and Alfred Fuerbringer “instigated the movement to ‘open up’ the faculty to more ‘scholarly’ conclusions.” Spitz reported overhearing Repp and Fuerbringer, as they walked home from classes one evening, discussing how “something was going to have to be done to ‘modernize’ the faculty.” John Tietjen saw the change as occurring still earlier: “I learned the historical-critical method in the classrooms of the now sainted William Arndt, Paul Bretscher, Martin Franzmann, and George Schick,” before Repp and Fuerbringer assumed leadership positions. Edgar Krentz, Norman Habel, Horace Hummel, Fred Danker, Ralph Klein, Arlis Ehlen, Robert Smith, and Holland “Casey” Jones also received mention, as did Wisconsin Synod imports Alfred von Rohr Sauer and Walter Wegner.

footnote: Tietjen was the only man to mention Franzmann as the initiator of historical criticism. What Tietjen regarded as Franzmann’s historical criticism may more rightly reflect the emphasis on direct study of the biblical text and rejection of dogmatism, espoused by Wisconsin professors J. P. Koehler and August Pieper. Martin Marty called Franzmann “the great leader of conservatisms who transcended all and inspired all and held us all together.” Leigh Jordahl wrote in 1973 that both sides in Missouri’s civil war appealed to Franzmann but that he “could not possibly [have felt] at home on either side.” His support of the Brief Statement in 1959 would have put him on the conservatives’ side, yet “his whole way of doing theology was so dramatically different than that of the Missouri traditionalists that he was distinctly ‘new breed.’” In a presentation to Missouri’s 1975 convention at Anaheim, Franzmann maintained that “historical-critical tools, as used by Lutheran Church Missouri Synod theologians with Lutheran presuppositions” could be “useful” for biblical interpretation. Franzmann called the alternative “frightening,” fearing that Missouri would “lapse into a history-less and undiscerning view of the Holy Scriptures.” Franzmann urged that “in any way we approach the Scripture, there must be complete submission to the Scripture”—which seemed to argue more for scriptural authority than for inerrancy, as reaction to his comments suggested. end footnote

Kurt Marquart considered it more than coincidental that unrest at Concordia concerning verbal inspiration came to a head during the 1953–54 school year, as student questions centered on “the extent to which the Scriptures themselves and the Confessions of the Church teach a doctrine of Verbal Inspiration.” The student magazine The Seminarian over the next few years was “in the hands of a self-perpetuating clique of propagandists for neo-orthodoxy.” In 1955, in an attempt at editorial fairness, The Seminarian began to print articles emphasizing the orthodox teaching on Scripture—“but in a kind of conservative ghetto under the quarantine-flag, ‘Another Voice’!”

“Scripture itself does not say that it is inerrant”

Synodical Conference Lutherans had almost succeeded in uniting or reuniting with the Ohio, Iowa, and Buffalo synods during the 1920s. After these three synods merged into the American Lutheran Church in 1930, there still appeared to be much the new American Lutheran Church and the Synodical Conference agreed upon. Indeed, much of the debate centered on the degree to which variant viewpoints on nonfundamental doctrines could affect the realization and declaration of church fellowship.

Yet a persistent concern was whether the constituent synods of the American Lutheran Church endorsed the same doctrine regarding Scripture as did the Synodical Conference. Michael Reu of the Iowa Synod opposed the use of the word inerrant in 1926 in a draft of a doctrinal statement for the proposed new church body. While Reu did not believe that the Scriptures contained error, he resisted inerrant in the church’s constitution. “Scripture itself does not say that it is inerrant,” Reu argued, when it talks about matters not directly related to faith and life.

But as the merger approached, Ohio Synod leaders stood firm on inerrancy. Iowa Synod president C. G. Prottengeier was forced to address the accusation “that since the Fundamentalist society of the Twin Cities has put the word ‘inerrant’ on its standard, we dare not fall short of them, but must do likewise.” Though Prottengeier did not welcome his synod’s being coerced by non- Lutheran pressure, he did want his church absolved of “the infamous suspicion and contemptible insinuation that she has modernist views.” Ultimately the Iowa Synod capitulated.

The constitution of the new American Lutheran Church referred in 1930 to the Old and New Testament Scriptures as “the inspired Word of God and only infallible authority in all matters of faith and life.” An appendix to the constitution said the new synod believed that all the canonical books “as a whole and in all their parts” were “the inspired and inerrant Word of God.” When the American Lutheran Church agreed in 1938 to accept Missouri’s Brief Statement “in the light of” its own Declaration (the Sandusky Resolutions), American Lutheran Church theologians wrote that “the separate books of the Bible constitute an organic whole without contradiction and error.”

Michael Reu’s essay “What Is Scripture?” published in 1940 under the title In the Interest of Lutheran Unity, confused the concepts of revelation and inspiration, according to George Lillegard of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. “All those who deny or question the inspiration of every part of Scripture invariably confuse [revelation and inspiration] and base their objections to the inspiration of certain parts of the Bible on that confusion.” If, for example, a part of Scripture “does not have direct religious value,” but deals only with “historical, geographical, and other secular matters,” readers such as Reu “do not see why [such a passage] should have to be accepted as the inerrant, inspired Word of God at all.” Reu criticized those who regarded “all doctrinal statements on the same level, like the paragraphs of a code of laws, so that one could dive into [Scripture] at random, pick out a truth in the form of a Scripture passage and apply it to the given case.” Lillegard remarked that after reading Reu’s “involved argument,” he could understand why the American Lutheran Church “was not satisfied to accept the Missouri Synod’s Brief Statement on the Holy Scripture without adding qualifying paragraphs of their own.”

Meanwhile, the American Lutheran Church was also seeking agreement on the doctrine of Scripture with the United Lutheran Church of America. In its Baltimore Declaration in 1938, the United Lutheran Church of America confessed “the whole body of the Scriptures” to be “in all its parts” the Word of God and that the Scriptures were “the infallible truth of God in all matters that pertain to His revelation and our salvation.” The Pittsburgh Agreement of 1939, endorsed by United Lutheran Church of America and American Lutheran Church representatives, said the Holy Spirit supplied the Bible’s writers with “content and fitting word,” and so “the separate books of the Bible are related to one another, and, taken together, constitute a complete errorless, unbreakable whole of which Christ is the center.”

This Pittsburgh Agreement was hailed by the American Lutheran’s Otto Geiseman as “a much clearer and much stronger statement” than the Baltimore Declaration had been. Geiseman found it “particularly encouraging” that this statement reflected “a general trend toward a more conservative Christianity” and an evidence that “both Christ and the Bible are again becoming more meaningful.” The Christian Century had criticized the “extremely conservative character” of the Pittsburgh Agreement, even insisting that “the Lutherans are rendering more remote their union with non-Lutheran bodies and are imposing difficulties in the way even of cooperation with them.” Geiseman countered, “What liberal theologians regard as bad news conservative Lutheran Bible theologians regard as good news.”

For Lillegard, however, approval of the Pittsburgh Agreement created “this strange situation” in which the American Lutheran Church professed agreement with the United Lutheran Church of America on the doctrine of Scripture while at the same time claiming to agree with Missouri. Yet the United Lutheran Church of America did not agree with Missouri. “By all the laws of logic, the United Lutheran Church and the Missouri Synod ought to be officially agreed on the doc- trine of Scripture, but as a matter of historical fact they are not; and yet the American Lutheran Church agrees with both!”

In the 1940s, according to Robert Preus, “there would have been good reason to assume” that in the American Lutheran Church and the American Lutheran Conference, “the absolute authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Scriptures was taught and believed.” Still there were exceptions. The editor of the Lutheran Free Church’s Folkebladet charged in 1945 that the differences between Missouri and other Lutherans displayed “a basically different attitude toward Scripture.” Rejecting the insistence that every word of the Bible was inerrant, the editor allowed that “there may well be errors in certain portions of Scripture, where purely unessential things are concerned, without having your faith in the revelation weakened thereby.”

Noting variations on inspiration in an article in United Lutheran Church of America’s January 9th, 1946, issue of The Lutheran, Carl Gullerud remarked:

It should be evident that we are not agreed with the United Lutheran Church. on inspiration and that the Pittsburgh Agreement, hailed by the American Lutheran Conference members as a satisfactory settlement, has not proved to be a settlement of the question. How can Missouri Synod members join with the United Lutheran Church men in conducting so- called “Lutheran” seminars when this question, for one thing, hangs in the balance?

Gullerud wondered whether anyone else had noticed that nearly all the Missouri participants at such seminars were signers of the Statement of the 44.

The American Lutheran Church’s Lutheran Standard for February 21, 1953, said that the imprecatory psalms (such as Psalms 59, 69, and 109) were “out of line with the Spirit of Christ.” Old Testament believers, in the author’s view, possessed “only a limited revelation of God,” which also made for “a limited morality.” To “children of the New Testament,” the imprecatory psalms “must remain foreign in spirit. Here Jesus is our pattern.” Missouri’s Theodore Engelder had already addressed such objections in Scripture Cannot Be Broken. “Because we believe in Verbal Inspiration,” Engelder wrote, “we know that those sentiments express the mind of God.” Though some expressions seem harsh to modern readers, “we bridle our thoughts.” Every expression in these psalms “is in full accord with the eternal Holiness.

The Doctrinal Affirmation and the Common Confession

Following the 1940 Synodical Conference convention declaration that three documents would not constitute a reliable basis for church union, Missouri’s 1941 convention resolved to make “every possible effort” to prepare a single document of agreement between the American Lutheran Church and the Missouri Synod that Wisconsin and other constituent bodies could accept. The resulting document, the Doctrinal Affirmation, appeared in 1944. Edmund Reim called the Affirmation “a fruitless attempt” to unite Missouri’s Brief Statement and the American Lutheran Church’s Declaration into one document. Missouri’s John Buenger called it “the most farcical of all union efforts” between the synods because “there was too much of the controversial truth in it to please the American Lutheran Church, and not enough of the truth to satisfy the consciences of true Lutherans.”

footnote: In spite of these negative assessments, Fredrich said the Affirmation “could not have been as totally bad as the oblivion to which it has been assigned seems to suggest.” Missouri didn’t like it because “it sounded too much like Ohio-Iowa talk while the American Lutheran Church didn’t like it because it was too close to the Brief Statement.” end footnote

The key question regarding the Affirmation was whether it actually settled past differences between the Lutheran bodies. Reim was pleased to see the Affirmation left many articles of the Brief Statement unchanged, particularly the doctrine of conversion, where the Brief Statement presentation was augmented by an additional statement rejecting the Calvinistic teaching of irresistible grace. The Affirmation article on justification retained Brief Statement wording verbatim, and the section on election included the Brief Statement’s rejection of intuitu fidei. For Wisconsin and for those in Missouri who regarded the Brief Statement as the standard to be achieved, these were hopeful signs.

Chief cause for concern came in the Affirmation’s treatment of Scripture. The Affirmation omitted an entire paragraph from the Brief Statement article “Of the Holy Scriptures,” which credited the Scriptures with containing “no errors or contradictions,” even “in those matters that treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters,” but that the Scriptures “are in all their parts and words the infallible truth.” This omission, in the viewpoint of the Confessional Lutheran’s Paul Burgdorf, demonstrated “an unmistakable false deference to ‘science’” within the American Lutheran Church. As additional testimony Burgdorf quoted Michael Reu’s statement in his Lutheran Dogmatics that “the Christian believer does not quarrel with science when it builds up theories explaining the formation of the world.”

Regarding the American Lutheran Church’s view of the “organic whole” of Scripture, Burgdorf called the term “an invention of modernists,” who used it “to teach and defend false doctrine” and “to escape the confession of every word of Scripture.” Missouri’s doctrine of inspiration insisted that “the Bible is the Word of God” in the sense that “every one of its words is the Word of God,” without contradiction or error. The Affirmation clothed the teaching on Scripture in “weasel words” that “no true and wary Lutheran” would want to accept. John Buenger, also in the Confessional Lutheran, wrote:

It is exactly the characteristic of unionistic platforms that they leave room in some way for two contradictory opinions. Modernists within the American Lutheran Church are not troubled by our rejection of their theory of inspiration as long as we do it on paper only but render this rejection futile by again leaving room for their view also, and by actually fraternizing with them. Now the Affirmation is meant as a basis for church fellowship with the American Lutheran Church, a church body of which, as we all know, modernists form a considerable contingent. Hence this would be the situation if union would be consummated on the basis of the Doctrinal Affirmation. In that case we would condemn modernism on paper, but fraternize with modernists in fact. . . .

The American Lutheran Church cannot accept the Brief Statement without reservations. To offer them an altered Brief Statement with some of their reservations inserted is not the proper way to settle differences.

End Chapter 5 part 2