The De-Confessionalization of Lutheranism

July 23rd, 2010
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In light of the LWF’s meeeting in Stuttgart this month, these thoughts from Hermann Sasse are eerily and dramatically prophetic:

Dear Brothers in the Office!

Three years have passed since the first of these letters came into your hands. That letter sought to depict, in brief strokes, the situation faced by the Lutheran Churches as it made note of the two-fold tendency in the most recent history of our church: a strong external ascendancy of “Lutheranism,” which is accompanied by a threatening diminution of the dogmatic-confessional substance. Most of you will agree with me that the developments of the past three years have corroborated this viewpoint. It is to be feared that the meeting of the Lutheran World Federation in Hannover will not contradict this view. How pleased would we all be, all of us who are so very concerned for the future of our church, if this meeting would prove us wrong, if it shall have revealed something of an ascendancy of the inner spiritual life of the church, of a renewal of the old faithfulness to the confession of the eternal truth, which once found a home in Lower Saxony. But from what one reads in Lutherischen Rundschau of the preparations in Hanover it appears to be much like the massive marches and manipulating demonstrations which the evangelical churches of Germany inherited from the Third Reich, which satisfy a deep psychological need of modern masses. There is no doubt hat the Hannover session of the Lutheran World Federation will be just as beautiful and enchanting as the Berlin Kirchentag of the EkiD and as the great royal nuptial celebrations of Hannover in previous years. The very same men who in Berlin were so enthused over the unity of the Evangelical Church in German [EkiD] (“We are still brothers!”), will be enthused in Hannover over the Lutheran Church. And they will proudly allow the church banners to stream, among which also is the banner of the LWF with Luther’s seal, just as at royal weddings the old Hannoverian flags suddenly fluttered again and the old uniforms of the Hannoverian army of 1866 experienced a remarkable resurrection. What a testimony of loyalty that was! Only it was forgotten that it was all merely a beautiful show [see note -compiler]. The princes no longer rule. The flag of a state was displayed which has long since gone under. The people passionately celebrated a loyalty, which had long since been violated. That is the genius loci of Hannover. Should it also rule the session of the Lutheran World Federation in August? If not, then it is time to exorcise it. We theologians in any case will remain sober and guard ourselves from the enthusiasm which in every form is the mortal enemy of the true faith. With Lutheran sobriety, which means for us at the same time with constant faith in the reality of the Church of God, we desire to seek to understand the situation of Lutheranism regarding a few essential points at the beginning of this fateful year.

— Hermann Sasse

From Letters to Lutheran pastors No. 22: ‘The De-Confessionalisation of Lutheranism?’(1952); trans. by Rev Matthew Harrison and available in full here: http://www.clai.org.au/articles/sasse/deconfes.htm

Compiler’s Note – Sasse must have had in mind the nuptial celebrations of 5th September, 1951, when Prince Ernest Augustus of the House of Hanover married Princess Ortrud of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg. The wedding was attended by many royal figures, including the heads of the houses of Saxony, Hesse, Mecklenburg, Oldenburg, and Baden, all of whom had long since been deposed from their thrones. The wedding was followed with a reception at Herrenhausen, the only part of Hanover’s former palace still intact in the aftermath of World War II. Sasse suggests that the essential meaninglessness of the pomp surrounding such celebrations is comparable to that which surrounds great ecumenical gatherings like the Berlin Kirchentag and LWF Assemblies. It is something which theologians have a responsibility to resist with ‘Lutheran sobriety’.

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  1. July 24th, 2010 at 05:41 | #1

    Yes, I (the compiler whose comment appears at the end of the quote) too thought this quote was particularly apropos, Pr McCain.
    Sasse was a prophet (with a small ‘p’!), which is one reason why his writing remains so relevant 50 years later.

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