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Holding Firmly to the Principle that Church Fellowship is Altar Fellowship

January 10th, 2013
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531186Coming VERY soon to a Kindle near you. Herman Sasse “Letters to Pastors” … this the complete and total collection of all of Sasse’s absolute masterpieces. You would gain about at least a year’s worth of seminary doctrinal education carefully reading these and studying them. Unfortunately, you won’t be given credit by either seminary for doing so…but…you get my point. By the way, this is a first for CPH, releasing a book like this first as an eBook followed by the print version, in a few weeks. You can place an order now for the book and get in line to receive it when we get them in stock. I’ll post a notice when it goes live on Amazon in Kindle format. Here’s a bit more about this collection:

In this remarkable collection of letters . . .  we meet . . . a historian with a breadth of learning, a theologian of thorough biblical knowledge, a churchman of wisdom, and a pastor of caring words.
—from the Foreword by Ronald R. Feuerhahn

Hermann Sasse begins nearly thirty years of correspondence with Lutheran pastors in Australia, the United States, and around the world on topics as varied as the nature of the Sacraments or of the Church, as well as ecumenical issues. Each letter reflects Sasse’s passionate commitment to the building up of the Church of Christ on earth and to the Lutheran Confessions. Hermann Sasse (1895–1976) was trained at the University of Berlin under such well-known theologians as Harnack and Deissmann. During a study year in the United States, Sasse discovered the writings of Wilhelm Löhe and returned to Europe a convinced confessional Lutheran. In this faith he persisted, despite great difficulties, as a professor of theology at the University of Erlangen and at Immanuel Seminary (later renamed Luther Seminary), North Adelaide, Australia.

Here’s a great “teaser trailer” from Pastor Harrison, who is the general editor of this collection. By the way, when you read this it become crystal clear why a LCMS pastor must not and can not commune at the altar of an ELCA congregation, period. No matter what tear-jerking reasons might be offered up for this, the reality is that to commune at an altar of an ELCA congregation is a profound violation of the Biblical doctrine of church fellowship. Here’s the quote from Sasse:

“If we confessional Lutherans firmly hold to the old principle that church fellowship is altar fellowship, and that there can only be a common celebration of the Lord’s Supper where there is the “consensus on the doctrine of the gospel and on the administration of the sacraments” (the meaning of which for the present we have spoken in our Letter 25, “On the Unity of the Lutheran Churches”), then the question is immediately posed to us: “How do you then conceive of the relation of the churches to one another?” Should they exist as in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, every one claiming absolutely to have the pure doctrine, every church hurling the anathema against every other church? Each seeking to damage the others? Before we answer this question, we should perhaps point out that the Lutheran Church never declared itself to be the only true church of Christ. This it expressly declared in the Preface to the Book of Concord. The condemnations, that is “the rejections of godless doctrines, and especially of that which has arisen concerning the Lord’s Supper” should in no way mean “that hereby those men who err from a certain simplicity of mind, but are not blasphemers against the truth of the heavenly doctrine, much less, indeed, entire churches, which are either under the Roman Empire of the German nation or elsewhere; nay, rather has it been our intention and disposition in this manner openly to censure and condemn only the fanatical opinions and their obstinate and blasphemous teachers, (which we judge, should in no way be tolerated in our dominions, churches, and schools).” ([Preface to the Book of Concord;] BS p. 11; Trig. p. 19) The orthodox fathers constantly made reference to this authoritative explication of the condemnations. The Lutheran Church has never declared that all other churches are sects and no longer churches of Christ. This misunderstanding of the condemnation-formulas was constantly held before the enlightened eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which no longer understood the deep seriousness of the question of truth. This view was taken over by those during the church-struggle [at the time of Hitler] who attacked the Lutherans because the latter still took seriously the boundaries of the Supper. Hans Asmussen, for instance, wanted to inform us that according to the Reformation there can only be one church, either the church of Christ or satan’s church: “The word of God knows of no three-quarter church” (Abendmahlsgemeinschaft? Beiheft 3 zur Ev. Theologie, 1937, p. 19). Our Church has never denied that the church of Christ and thus true children of God are found also in other denominations where the means of grace are yet effective. Herein it followed the model of the ancient church which in the controversy over the validity of the baptism of heretics and in the Donatist controversy opposed Cyprian’s understanding of the “Outside of the church there is no salvation” [extra ecclesia nulla salus] (Epist. 73, 21; the order in which the four words stand expresses “If the baptism of public confession and blood [i.e. martyrdom] cannot help the heretic himself for salvation because there is no salvation outside the church, how much less will it benefit him if he has allowed himself to be sprinkled and polluted with impure water in secret and in a den of thieves . . . Thus it is impossible for us to have baptism in common with heretics”). If one asks which of the confessional churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in practice exercised the most tolerance, the answer must be the Lutheran Church. It was also the case with the Lutherans that a false teacher was not tolerated, and the “whose rule, his religion” [cuius regio eius religio] applied also for Lutheran territories, in the same way it applied for the Puritans in America. But there is in Lutheran lands no parallel to the bloody persecutions of the Protestants by French Catholicism or to the equally horrible persecution of the Catholics by the Anglican and Puritan state in England. It is comprehensible from a psychological standpoint that in those lands of the west the fanaticism of religious persecution changed to its complete opposite; a tolerant indifference toward all dogma, whether of religious or enlightenment complexion. But to charge the Lutheran Church with intolerance because it still took the question of truth seriously and thus rejected the union plans of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, means to fundamentally misunderstand the intention of the Lutheran Confessions. The problem of how the varying denominations should exist side by side and what their mutual relationship should be was not yet understood and thus could not yet be solved in the sixteenth and seventeen centuries. This is shown by the historical fact that for the first time only in the second half of the seventeenth century was there general conviction that the division of western Christianity was final. It was not until the time of Leibnitz[1]that the hope of the reunion of the separated confessional churches in the west was finally shattered. The problem of how Christian churches of various confession can and shall exist side by side has only been defined as such since that time.”

Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors 28, 1952; translated by Matthew C. Harrison

[1]Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz 1646-1716. MH

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