Do We Still Have Joy in our Confession?
I have served, in various capacities, in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s national structure, now for twenty-five years, beginning as an instructor of systematic theology at one of our seminaries, as a parish pastor, as a Synodical district communications director, as a member of one of district adjudication boards, as assistant to two of our church body presidents, as a director at our Synod’s historical institute, as president and chief executive of our Synods’ publishing house, and now, in my present position, as the publisher at Concordia Publishing House. My roots in this church body go back to my childhood. I am the son of two devoted Lutheran day school teachers, serving in Warrington, Florida in the Synod’s Southern District, for many, many years, going on eventually, in the case of my father, to serve as a pastor in our Synod, and now most recently, my mother, who after many decades of service as a teacher, in her retirement has taken classes at our seminary in Fort Wayne and will be graduating as a deaconess on May 20 of this year. Indeed, if anyone would be termed a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I’m a Pharisee of the Pharisees, so to speak.
One thing that has continually, frankly, angered me, is the way that lifelong Missouri Synod Lutherans, and sadly, most often, Lutherans in positions of leadership in this church body, have enjoyed making snide and nasty remarks about The LCMS, in an attempt to be funny, but actually, behind these kinds of passive-aggressive remarks is actually an indication that these people do not really love, anymore, what has always made The LCMS so great: her determination to cling to the Lutheran Confessions, and the joy that such confession brings. I saw this joy, always and often, in my parents and in the various places I served and in the great men I served beside: Dr. Robert Preus, Dr. Kurt Marquart and all the other find faculty at CTS Fort Wayne. I saw it in Dr. Alvin Barry and Dr. Robert Kuhn, the two presidents I served with, and in the host of wonderful men and women I have served with since, to this day. I am more than sick and tired of the truly stupid remarks made that The LCMS is “German” or that The LCMS has never really cared about outreach. That is simply not true and such comments always remind me of the stuff I scraped off my shoes after visiting my congregant’s dairy cattle milking barns on my early morning visits around the parish.
Hermann Sasse lays out a wonderful challenge to us all, that I’d like to share with you. He already in the fifties put his finger on a problem in the Missouri Synod, taking for granted the Lutheran Confessions and regarding them simply as merely doctrinal assertions. Where is the joy, he asks? Indeed, friends, where is the joy that should characterize our confession as Lutherans? Thanks to Pastor Harrison, President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod for sharing this great quote from Sasse:
The great rediscovery of the Confession of the church, which was the most joyous experience of the German Lutherans in the years between the two world wars, was not shared by our American brethren in the faith. For this reason even where, as is the case in Missouri, the unshakable authority of the Confession is held in complete earnest, there is nevertheless lacking in the affirmation of the Confession the great joy which should accompany genuine confessional loyalty. To confess, exhomologeisthai, confiteri always includes praise to God. Therefore Luther rightly counted the “Te Deum laudamus, te Dominum confitemur . . .” [in Kurzes Bekenntnis vom … Sakrament 1545; WA 54.141-167; LW 38.279; Aland no. 661] among the Confessions.
Are we mistaken if we miss this joy with our brethren in the Missouri Synod when they speak of the Confession? Are we mistaken in believing that their understanding of the doctrine is wholly orthodox, but only in the sense of correct doctrine, while real orthodoxy includes a joyous praise to God? In the case of the old Missouri of Walther it is still plainly noticeable that here even as in the classical time of Orthodoxy, dogma and liturgy belong together—how greatly St. Louis formerly influenced liturgy in America! If it were still so today would not then orthodox Lutheranism in particular have something of importance to say to the liturgical movement in America? Christian America, more than many Lutherans sense, waits today for a word from Lutheranism. Members of the Protestant churches in the United States sense the fact that the surrender of the confession of the fathers which has taken place in all these churches during the past century, constitutes an irreparable loss of something that is essential for church and for Christianity. The so-called new orthodoxy (neo orthodoxy) of Reinhold Niebuhr and of the American adherents of Barth is only a weak substitute for what has been lost. But Lutheranism keeps silence. It appears about to follow the Reformed Churches on the way to confessionless-ness and with this step to lose its mission to all of Christendom, even as European Lutheranism missed every great opportunity during its history.
Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors 20, Confession and Theology in the Missouri Synod.
 Reinhold Niebuhr 1892-1971, born in Wright City, Missouri. Attended Eden Theological Seminary, Webster Groves (St. Louis), professor at Union Theological Seminary, N.Y.C. 1928-1960, lectured and wrote on ethics, political liberalism, dialectical theology. LC p. 577. MH