“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” so the ancient saying goes. In this excerpt from a letter Hermann Sasse wrote to Lutheran pastors around the world, in 1954, he puts his finger precisely on the source of the Church’s greatest struggle and greatest danger: apostasy from the Christian faith. We have seen this apostasy growing ever stronger throughout liberal mainline protestantism of all stripes.
“The church is not dying from martyrdom, but from apostasy. How did it happen, that a small booklet, which appeared in 1848 under the title The Communist Manifesto , has gained such a power over minds? It began in the Christian countries. Karl Marx [1818-1883] was the son of a baptized Jew, but his closest collaborator, Friedrich Engels [1920-1895], came from a pietistic factory family in Wuppertal, from one of the many pious families which have always been such loyal supporters of missions. And they found their followers among Europe’s workers, Catholic and Protestant. And now, this small book, which became the catechism of Europe’s workers, has become the confession of uncounted millions throughout the entire world, perhaps the most-used textbook in contemporary humanity, the contents of which even illiterates learn. What does this mean? Does it indicate that the power of the Christian faith has been extinguished, or that the Christian message has lost its attractiveness for so many people? Simply compare the numbers of the missionary statistics for the Christian missionaries and the Islamic missionaries in Africa, and you will be shocked, even if you consider that the figures aren’t comparable. Consider Islam’s power, consider that our mission had its great successes among the primitive people, but that there has not yet been a break-through into one of the main high religions of Asia. We do not want to minimize in any way the rich harvest which God has, despite everything, still granted to our mission work. With nothing but thankfulness can we consider the sometimes superhuman work which our missionaries, and not only the Lutheran ones, perform under conditions of unspeakable difficulty. But the big question can’t be silenced, whether Christendom as a whole hasn’t lost something. It is not only the changed world situation, the awakening of various people-groups who now continue the nationalism of our nineteenth century and thence steer straight into communism, which makes our work so difficult. It must be a deep sickness, which has taken from Christendom of all denominations the power which it once had. Such a sickness once destroyed the churches of Africa and Asia, save for a small remnant, as many Christians could hardly wait until they became Muslims and could thereby escape the special tax which they had to pay. A similar sickness is passing through Europe’s churches today. It is useless to close one’s eyes to it. It doesn’t help, if [we renovate] the altar [and make it] higher and prettier, or if more and more clergymen march out in front of it in pompous robes. We have nothing against a good liturgy and a liturgical movement. But if that is supposed to be a substitute for the absent congregation and for the lost confession, then that is a sign that the church is terminally ill. It won’t help, either, if theology becomes more and more subtle, and whenever possible uses a language which an ordinary mortal can no longer understand. Even that can’t be a substitute for that from which the church lives. For this type of theology has nothing to do with the authentic theology from which the church lives. That is the theology which can be prayed, like the great theology of the Middle Ages and of old Lutheranism. That is the theology which is a confessing theology like the Nicene Creed [A.D. 385] or the Augsburg Confession . That is the theology which even children can already learn, like the Small Catechism . If we had such a theology, then the church would be helped in many respects. One need only to consider the repulsive vanity and glory-seeking of modern theologians of all denominations in order to remark that something here is wrong, that the secularization of the spiritual life is located in exactly that place from which the cure for it should come.”
Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors #35, September 1954