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Do We Still Have Joy in our Confession?

October 9th, 2012 26 comments

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[1] 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.

[1] 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

Categories: Hermann Sasse

The Pious Lie

June 13th, 2011 Comments off

 

“…there is in the church one particularly sweet piece of fruit on the broad canopy of the tree of lies… the greatest ethicist of our church (August Vilmar –MH) once spoke, warning the theologians of his and our time about the most grievous sin, the lie to God. The most fearful thing about the pious lie is that it will lie not only to men, but also to God in prayer, in confession, in the Holy Supper, in the sermon and in theology. The pious lie always has the propensity to become the edifying lie. It was once expelled from the church when it existed in the form of legends of the saints and the fraud of relics. Then in the full view of pious eyes, it returned in a new form, such as in the Luther legends, or in pietistic times in the form of almanacs and tracts containing the accounts of miraculous responses to prayer and equally miraculous conversions, which either never happened, or in which the kernel of historical truth was no longer discernible. This “edifying” lie even forces its way into the sphere of the church, which teaches revealed truths of revelation. After sufficient preparation it can obtain the status of “doctrinal maturity”. Thus it becomes the dogmatic lie.
We ask our Roman Catholic fellow Christians to believe that it is very difficult for us to use the word “lie” here, and we do not do so to offend them. We know that they affirm a dogma such as the Immaculate Conception of Mary out of deep conviction of faith, and they will accept the yet-awaited extension of Marian dogma from the hand of the ecclesiastical teaching office with the same sincerity. But this changes nothing of the fact that in these dogmas false doctrines are established, and that the Roman Church thus finds itself in a guilt-laden error…
When we speak of the dogmatic lie, we do not, however, have in mind only the celebrated dogmas pronounced by the Catholic Church, through which theories are elevated to the level of ecclesiastical dogma, and have no basis in Holy Scripture, and are not true. We include here also precisely the dogmas with which modern Protestantism has been at pains to correct, to complete, or to replace the doctrine of the evangelical church, such as the false doctrine of Pietism concerning the church, or of rationalism concerning the person of Jesus Christ. What a fearful thing it is indeed that things are taught in the church which are not true, under the guise of the eternal truth entrusted to her. No atheism, no Bolshevism can do as much damage and destruction as the pious lie, the lie in the church. In this lie the power of one is made evident whom Christ Himself calls a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).”

Extracted from Sasse’s essay ‘Union and Confession’ (written in Germany in 1936), trans. by Matthew C. Harrison, published by the Office of the President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1997.

–+–

Sasse reminds us of something that must never be forgotten if we are to remain true Evangelical Christians. As much as we are in conscience bound to protest the pious lies behind the false dogmas promulgated by the papacy, we must remain aware that no church body is above succumbing to a ‘pious lie’ and thus falling into the most grievous sin of lying to God in prayer and worship. Today, among the churches descended from the magisterial Reformation, we witness church body after church body succumbing to the great pious lie of our time: the ‘Gospel of radical inclusion’, which in practice calls evil ‘good’ and good ‘evil’, and does so with an air of superior piety that must sicken God’s heart, if not raise his ire. See previous posts on the ‘Church of Scotland’ and the ‘Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’. May God preserve us and our churches from such a sin and may he safely guide the faithful remnant in such church bodies to green pastures and still waters. ”

From Union and Confession (1936) [trans. Matthew.C. Harrison; published by the Office of the President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1997]

HT: Pr. Mark Henderson

Categories: Hermann Sasse

What is the Purpose of the Book of Concord in the Lutheran Church

March 26th, 2011 1 comment

The true church is gathered not around Scripture, but around the rightly understood, the purely and correctly interpreted Bible. It is the task of the church’s confession to express the right understanding of Scripture which the Church has reached. Thus pastors are helped to proclaim only the pure doctrine, and congregations are protected against the whims of the preacher and the misinterpretation of Scripture. In this sense the church’s confession is servant of the Word.

From Church and Confession (1941), English translation by Norman Nagel in We Confess: Jesus Christ (Concordia Publishing House, 1984) p. 84. Thanks for Pastor Mark Henderson for posting this.

Categories: Hermann Sasse

Woe to the church, which seeks a way other than confessing Christ to gain the world’s attention.

January 28th, 2011 Comments off

“Since the time when the church entered the stream of history, it has appeared to the world as a complicated enigma, a riddle without a solution. Here are some of the questions. What is the distinct character of the church of Jesus Christ? What place does it occupy in history? How can the church’s claims be rationalized and what are proper responses to them? At what point can the question of what the church is be broached? Government officials in every country and state where the church is found have to face the question of what the church is. We are not the first ones to ask these questions. Since the time of Justin [ca. 100-ca.165] and Clement [ca. 100], of Celsus[1] [d. ca. 200] and Porphyrus[2] [ca. 232-ca. 303], philosophers have had to face them. Various modern scholarly disciplines, including historical research, psychology, sociology and the scientific study of religion [Religionswissenschaft], have examined the phenomena associated with the church in an attempt to provide a definition. So far no government has found an answer to the question of what the church is and it seems unlikely that any scientific discipline will have more success. “Their conclusions in defining the church conflict with each other.” What is the reason for their failure to come up with an answer? The answer obviously lies in the simple fact that there are no real analogous organizations which can serve as a standard or norm to which the church can be compared. Since comparisons are necessary in making definitions, it is impossible to define the church. The discipline of comparative religions, as the name indicates, compares the church with other religions. Its claims for revelation can be placed along side the beliefs and teachings of the other great world religions. The methods used in the history of religions and sociology can be used in placing the earliest forms of Christianity along side of Hellenistic Gnostic cults. This can be expanded to make other comparisons. A Catholic Church in its development can be compared with the “people” of Islam. The same comparison can be made between the social forms which have appeared in Christian history and the corresponding Asiatic world religions which appeared at that time. Recognizable parallels are easy to come by. It takes a bit of daring to take standards of the school of the history of religions, which are so obviously human conceptions, and then to use them in examining the phenomena associated with the church. At first glance such a scholarly approach holds out the promise of providing a definition of the church and what its essence is. This approach promises to deliver more than it actually does and soon proves to be deceptive. While for some phenomena connected with Christianity, some parallels can be found, for others there is neither an explanation nor a comparison. In what is beyond explanation, where there are no parallels in the history of religion (comparative religions) or in how religious associations are structured, the mystery of the church’s essence is hidden. One way out of the dilemma of explaining why the unique phenomena of the church are beyond explanation is to take refuge in the Latin axiom: “Individuum est ineffabile [What is distinctive or unique is beyond definition].” Unique individuality is not uncommon to history. This still leaves the problem of finding an answer for an historical definition, since the unique individuality of something living – like the church – cannot be so easily explained. Florenski[3] once said that the inability to come to a definition of what the church is demonstrates its living character. Looking for the answer of what makes the church the church simply goes beyond the limits of the scientific study of the history of religions and examining the structure of other human organizations. It must be conceded from the start that if the church is constituted by what its members believe, its rituals and its organizational structure, then the church should be studied along with other religious organizations which also have statements of what they believe and which have rituals. This approach leads to only one conclusion: the church’s essence is then not really distinctive. In this case the Christian church is only a peculiar or idiosyncratic historical phenomenon, as defined by the history of religions. But another such phenomenon resembling the church simply does not exist. The church has no parallels. There are no Jewish, Parsee (followers of Zoroaster), Manichean, Mohammedan or Buddhist churches. There is no church of Mithra. For the church is the body of Christ. She is not only called, but really is the body of Christ. She is the people of God in the same way that she is temple of the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as the body of Mohammed or of Buddha, or a body of Serpis or Mithra. Only under the presupposition that Jesus Christ is really the Son of God, who for the sake of us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was really made man,[4] can the church be the church. The church is church only because what the ancient creed says about the person of Jesus Christ, his birth, his death, his resurrection and his ascension, is really true. If all these things were not true, to drag up an old saying, these things are no more or less significant than any other good story. In this case the church, as we understand it, simply does not exist. The church has no other response for explaining the reason for the world’s failure to understand what she really is than by pointing out that the world does not believe in Christ. What the church believes about herself is dependent on what she believes about Jesus. If non-Christians know nothing of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, how could they possibly recognize his actual and personal presence in the world through the church? Does the church have a way of proclaiming the mystery of her existence in the world other than by proclaiming the presence of her exalted Lord? What the church is can only be shown by confessing Christ. Woe to the church, which seeks a way other than confessing Christ to gain the world’s attention. Ecumenical Council for Practical Christianity.”

Law and Gospel (December 1936). Hermann Sasse, Erlangen. Translated by David P. Scaer

[1] Celsus was a second century pagan philosopher. His attack on Christianity is the oldest of which portions survive. It is known to us from “Contra Celsum” by Origen which is a third century work which preserves 90% of Celsus’ original work, “Alaqh~ Logo~” or “True Word.” ODCC p. 311. MH

[2] Neoplatonist philosopher, perhaps once a Christian by definitely no longer so by the persecution of Decius in 250. Studied philosophy at Athens and was convinced of Neoplatonism by Plotinus, whom he met in Rome in 262. Studied popular religion and took a particularly negative attitude toward Christianity. He pointed out alleged inconsistencies in the Gospels and attacked the O.T. Refutations were presented by St. Methodius of Olympus, Eusebius of Ceasarea, Apollinarius of Laodicia, and others. ODCC p. 1309. MH

[3] George Florovsky 1893-1979, Russian theologian. From 1926 professor of Patristics at the Orthodox Theological Institute of St. Sergius in Paris and later Professor of Dogmatics. Came to the U.S. in 1948, professor and dean at St. Vladimier’s Seminary (1948-1955) and Professor of Eastern Church History at Harvard Divinity School (1956-1964), and Visiting Professor at Princeton from 1964. Played a leading part in the ecumenical movement from 1937 serving regularly as a delegate at assemblies of the Faith and Order movement and of the World Council of Churches. ODCC p. 620. MH

[4] Reference to the second article of the Nicene Creed. MH

“Gesetz und Evangelium.” Oekumenischen Rat Fuer Praktisches Christentum. Forschungsabteilung. Vertraulich Kirch, Dezember 1936. Unpublished paper. Feuerhahn Bibliography no. 36-02. This paper was written in preparation for the upcoming Faith and Order Conference at Edinburgh (1937). Sasse was at this time under prohibition of travel, as he had been when he attended a Faith and Order committee meeting in London at Archbishop Temple’s residence earlier in the year. He was also deeply involved into the open schism in the Confessing Church. The pressures he was facing at the time of this publication were enormous. The entire article will appear soon in “The Lonely Way” vol. 3, from C.P.H. MH

Categories: Hermann Sasse

Seeking the Holy Spirit Where He Can Not Be Found

August 14th, 2010 2 comments

The Means of Grace Window, at Grace Lutheran Church, Clarksville, TN

“We modern Christians seek the Holy Spirit where He is not to be found. In doing this we are, however, certainly not the first. This is a danger which has always been there since the days of the apostles, and ever and again there have been Christians, indeed whole churches, that have fallen victim to it. In the second century there was Montanism. The question which then deeply troubled Christianity and divided it was whether it was actually the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who was re­vealing Himself in the new prophesyings. We may recall the spiritualistic Franciscans in the Middle Ages, the Enthusiast movements of the Schwarmer against whom Luther had to battle, and in our day the various Pentecostal movements. Earnest Christians have often felt com­pelled to admit what leading men in the Fellowship Movement, who once acknowledged the Pentecostal Movement’s speaking in tongues, which had gone on since 1905, came to recognize: It was not the Holy Spirit.

“We are now not speaking of this danger, but of the frivolous manner in which we in the modern world speak of the experience of the Holy Spirit. The roots of this are in the English Enthusiasm of the 17th century and in the Pietism and Methodism of the 18th century. When at the Berlin Kirchentag of 1853, in a profoundly untruthful declaration, the participants declared themselves loyal to the Augsburg Confession “with heart and mouth,” but also with the reservation that the unity of the confession they were making was not to be injured by the differing views on its Article X [on the Sacrament of the Altar] that were held by the Lutherans, the Reformed, and those from Union churches, this uniting of Evangelical Germany was regarded by many as a work of the Holy Spirit. It has become almost customary at great church gatherings, and also at the big ecu­menical gatherings, to perceive and solemnly proclaim the blowing of the Holy Spirit. A sort of new Pentecost is experienced in the singing of great hymns in many languages. We need to consider the mass psy­chology which is going on in such big gatherings, especially at a time when the world’s techniques for manipulating a crowd and its modern communications media are penetrating the church.

“What is said here is not spoken against getting things organized as such, nor against the way news can now go round the world, nor against the means of communication provided by modern technology. Of such things Vilmar already observed that they are there not only for the children of this world, but are also to be brought into the service of Christ’s church. But we are asking whether we are always aware that there can be mass psychoses also in the church. When the church does take for its use the techniques which can control or lead a crowd of people, then there is the most urgent need to pray for that great gift of grace, the discerning and the testing of the spirits.

“We seek the Holy Spirit where He is not to be found when we take it as self-evident that the way our church is developing is altogether due to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is not only Rome’s great error; it is an error found also in other churches. The “Message” of the Lambeth Conference of 1958 begins with the statement that the bishops there assembled wished to share with all members of their church in the world the experience “which has come to us, in a fresh and wonderful way, by the power of God’s Spirit among us.” “We ourselves have been knit together by the Holy Spirit in mutual understanding and trust.” “Because we ourselves have been thus drawn together, God has given us a message of reconciliation for the Church and the world.” This mes­sage then begins with the statement: “A divided Church cannot heal the wounds of a divided world.” Then God is thanked “that in Asia and Africa, as well as in Britain and America, Christian Churches are ac­tively moving towards a greater measure of unity” (Report, pp. 1, 29). There is then nothing to wonder at in the answer given at a press conference by an Anglican bishop. He was asked why the Lambeth Conference, which had previously rejected birth control, had now ap­proved it. He answered that it was by the guidance of the Holy Spirit! At Lambeth, then, the Holy Spirit is said to have confirmed the Anglican understanding of the church as well as the unionism in India and Amer­ica. What has happened here to the Biblical: “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …” [Acts 15:28]? The same miracle is said to have occurred at the Barmen synod in 1934, where Karl Barth’s Be­kenntnisunion was approved, and the Lutherans, the Reformed, and those of the Union churches declared that “they sought a common mes­sage for the need and temptation of the church in our day. With gratitude to God they surely believe that a common message has been put into their mouth” (Schmidt II, 92; Cochrane, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, p. 237).[1] What has happened here to “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9; cf. Deuteronomy 18:18)?

“What Luther has to say about all this may be found in the Smalcald Articles: All this is the old devil and the old serpent who made enthusiasts of Adam and Eve. He led them from the external Word of God to spiritualizing and to their own imaginations, and he did this through other external words…. In short, enthusiasm clings to Adam and his des­cendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength,. and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammedanism” (SA III, VIII, 5 and 9).

Hermann Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors 51; Translated by Matthew C. Harrison

Categories: Hermann Sasse

The Confessional Conscience of the Lutheran Church

August 12th, 2010 Comments off

“Nowhere is the secularization of the Lutheran Church more visible than in the loss of her confessional conscience. In these letters we have often recounted that and why the Lutheran Church is a confessional church kat exochen. The confession means for her more than it does for the Reformed, indeed, in many respect even more than for the [Roman] Catholics. The Reformed Churches can survive if the confession is relativized, when it is stated: “We do not know precisely whether next Sunday we will continue to interpret Scripture in the way we do today.” Catholicism actually celebrates a triumph when a dogma is proclaimed by the pope, the correctness of which is doubted by many of the best Catholics and which they then in worthy obedience accept, though they themselves know that the proof of tradition is defective and therefore doubtful. Both these groups [Reformed and Roman] lack that ultimate seriousness regarding the question of truth, which was the proprium of the Lutheran Reformation. We Lutherans are quite happy to boast about this virtue, but perhaps no longer with justification, just as the Swiss still boast of the bravery which their fathers showed on the battle fields of Europe centuries ago. Indeed, the church does not live on from the faith of the fathers. The confession can have a purely historical significance like the flags and uniforms of Hannover. If it is correct that the confessio, the confession of the faith, is indissolubly connected with confessio in the sense of the confession of sin and of the praise of God, is not then our lack of repentance and our lack of joyful praise of God in newer hymns a notable parallel to the regression of the dogmatic confession [of the faith]?”

— Hermann Sasee, From The De-Confessionalisation of Lutheranism?
Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 22, New Year 1952
Translation by Rev Matthew Harrison graciously made available to ‘Confessional Lutherans Australia’. Available on-line here: http://www.clai.org.au/articles/sasse/deconfes.htm

Compiler’s Note, from Rev. Mark Henderson – Take note of what Dr. Sasse writes about the confession of the faith being indissolubly linked with the confession of sin and doxology. Could it be that the declining sense of sin and the consequent lukewarm praise of God among Lutherans today are intimately connected with the decline of confessionalism? Yes! Whereever the hardened conscience is broken open by the law and the praise of God flows with tears from the forgiven heart, there the Lutheran confessions and their witness to the pure, saving Gospel will never dare be relativised.

Categories: Hermann Sasse

Why are We Lutherans?

August 11th, 2010 6 comments

“It so happens that the people who lived in the Age of the Reformation knew and understood certain truths which were later forgotten and had to be learned from them again. The loyalty of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is accounted for by these experiences. We are faithful to this church, not because it is the church of our Fathers, but because it is the church of the Gospel; not because it is the church of Luther, but because it is the church of Jesus Christ. If it became something else, if its teaching were something other than a correct exposition of the plain Word of God, it would no longer be our church.

“It is not the Lutheran liturgy that matters. The church can get along without it if it must. It is not the Symbolic Books that count. If it should ever be demonstrated that they contain essential errors, we would be the first ones to cast them into the fire, for our norma normans, the standard by which we judge doctrines, is the Bible alone. Nor is it the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as a separate church in Christendom, that matters. The moment it becomes anything else than the stand on which is put the lamp which alone is a light upon our path, it becomes a sect and must disappear. We would not be Lutherans if we did not believe this!”

From Here We Stand, Nature & Character of the Lutheran Faith (E.T. Theodore Tappert, rights assigned to Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, 1979)

Every Attempt to Create an Ideal Church Produces Only a Church of Pharisees

July 27th, 2010 3 comments

Ubi Christus, ibi ecclesia, “Where Christ is, there is the church”. With this saying one of the oldest church fathers spoke of the mystery of the church. The saying also sums up Luther’s faith* in the church. It is not the power of our faith, nor the holiness of our life that constitutes the church, but rather that “Where Christ is, there is the church”. When the church is called a holy people, a communion of saints, it is not to be understood in the way it has often been understood in the history of the church: “the church should be a holy people, therefore only the holy shall belong to her. Away with all the unholy! The honour of Christ demands it!” When the worst of sinners must be excluded from the fellowship, one must then begin to classify sins in order to determine which ones lead to exclusion. How often has not that been attempted, both in the past and more recently. How imposing was the strictness of the ancient church, when people sought to create a holy and pure church (as also happens now). Or consider the Donatists, who demanded that at least the clergy should be free of mortal sin. Whenever the attempt has been made to create an ideal church, the end result has always been bitter diappointment. The community of saints turns into a community of Pharisees.”

— Hermann Sasse

*”Faith” in the sense that the church is an article of faith; see the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII & VIII – M.H.

Categories: Hermann Sasse

The Illness that Threatens the Lutheran Church

July 26th, 2010 2 comments

“A single illness threatens the Lutheran Churches of the world. It is the very secularization of the church itself. If 25 years ago the secularization of culture was recognized as the great illness of the time, then it is soberly to be asserted today that secularism is now the illness of the church. It is gripping to see that, in order to fulfill the missiological goal of calling the peoples of the west back to the Christian faith, the church itself must first be turned back to this faith. “Sweden’s people are God’ people.” That was the solution a generation ago. Today the question is to what extent the Church of Sweden is still the church of God? And so it is in all nations. Great missionary endeavors and evangelization efforts will still be carried out, but it is precisely the most serious evangelists who are coming to the conviction that the gospel preaching church must be the first object of their evangelization. This understanding was already once given as a gift to German evangelical churchdom. The consequence of the theology of Karl Barth in the time of his great influence in the first half of the 1930′s was based upon this recognition. That was the meaning of his struggle against Dibelius and his “Century of the Church.” That was the most profound power of the “Confessing Churches” of all persuasions in Germany, however they may have differed from each other as Lutherans, Reformed, or United [Churches]. That was really the renewal of the Reformation; for Reformation is indeed the repentance of the church.”

From The De-Confessionalization of Lutheranism?
Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 22, New Year 1952
Trans. by Rev. Matthew Harrison
Available on-line here.
Thanks to the blog “What Sasse Says” for this quote.

Note – Sasse wrote these words almost half a century ago. What would he say today when almost everywhere the Lutheran Church has lost its inner spiritual power and in some places has imported secular methodologies into its mission and evangelism ‘programs’? The call to repentance is perhaps more relevant and urgent now than when Sasse urged it upon the church of the 1950s.

Categories: Hermann Sasse

The Only Task of Christian Theology

July 21st, 2010 1 comment

Kyrios Jesous Christos, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” This is the original confession of the church. With it the Christian faith once entered world history. To understand the sense of this confession ever more deeply is the great, yes, basically the only task of all Christian theology. To repeat this confession, to speak it in ever new forms, to translate it into the language of all times and peoples, to protect it against misunderstandings and reinterpretations, and to understand its meaning for all areas of life—that is the task of all confession building within Christendom. No later confession of the church can and wants to be anything else than a renewal of the original confession to Jesus as Christ and Lord. This is true of the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the confessional writings of the reformation, and any confession in which the Christendom of the future may want to speak its faith. As this confession stood at the beginning of the church’s history, so it will stand at its end. Then will be fulfilled that great word of the apostle: “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10f).

–Herman Sasse, “Jesus Christ Is Lord: The Church’s Original Confession” in We Confess Jesus Christ

Categories: Hermann Sasse

The Little Flock that Hears the Voice of Its Shepherd

July 18th, 2010 Comments off

“In contrast to all the learned speculation about the church, Luther set this simple sentence: “A child of seven knows what the church is, namely holy believers and the little flock which hears the voice of its shepherd.” …the church is the holy Christian people in which Christ works, rules and lives. This people of God, Christendom as Luther called it, is the work of God created by his will, in which every day great wonders happen, like the forgiveness of sins, the defeat of death, the bestowing of righteousness and eternal life – things seen only by faith.”

From a talk by Hermann Sasse, given in Erlangen, Germany, 8th August 1943.

Categories: Hermann Sasse

Listening to a Sermon Fruitfully

July 11th, 2010 3 comments

“Isn’t it the case that we all – and I include myself here – complain so often about the sermon without ever asking whether the real basis for our discontent doesn’t perhaps lie within ourselves? When a hearer gets nothing from a sermon it is not always the sermon or the preacher that is to blame. Listening to sermons is like work, or better yet an art that one must learn. Fruitful listening requires a measure of Christian formation and spiritual receptivity that few seem to possess anymore (in fact, I dare say that I have only seen it today in ‘simple’ people, in farmers and labourers in country areas). The lack of this formation cannot be compensated for by the thundering rhetoric or the emotional eloquence which most people seem to expect nowadays from preachers if they are to stay alert.”

From Hermann Sasse, ‘Concerning the Hearing of God’s Word’, a sermon preached in Erlangen, Germany on Rogate Sunday, 18th May, 1941 (Text: James 1:22-27)[trans. M.A. Henderson].

Categories: Hermann Sasse

Selling the Gospel

July 10th, 2010 7 comments

“The optimism and synergism prevalent in America have made such inroads into American Lutheranism that the Augsburg Confession’s ‘where and when it pleases God’ has for practical purposes been given up. Evidence of this is the uncritical taking over of ideas and programs of stewardship and evangelism from such groups as the Seventh Day Adventists. The pastor schools the people so that with the right kind of pious talk they will then be equipped to win other people for the church. In place of the office of preaching reconciliation comes the training of ‘soul-winners,’ teaching them just the right way of talking with people, to make maximum use of the techniques of psychological manipulation. The system admittedly derives from the methods of American business. Thus people are to be brought into the church, made to feel at home there, led to a decision, and then all together are to carry on their building of the kingdom of God. What the Word of God is no longer trusted to do is achieved with the psychological techniques of modern evangelization. There is of course talk of the Holy Spirit, but one no longer knows who He is. It seems He can be measured and quantified. Such evangelism produces results. Thousands are won for church membership. On the other hand we may recall the failure of the Biblical prophets and of our Lord Himself. When one considers the latter, one begins to understand the full earnestness of ‘where and when it pleases God.’ Jesus said: ‘…so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again and be forgiven’(Mark 4:12; cf. Is.6:9-10). Whoever is not awed by what is hidden deep in these words will never truly know the Holy Spirit.”

- Hermann Sasse, “On the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 51 July/August 1960 in “We Confess the Church,” translated by Norman Nagel (St Louis: CPH, 1986)

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Which Error is Worse? Romanism or Modern Protestantism?

July 9th, 2010 3 comments
“Which error is worse, that of Rome or that of modern Protestantism? However we answer, one thing is clear: Rome can interpret but not revoke one of its doctrines; they are “irreformable” and must abide until the Last Judgment. But what of Protestantism? A Church of the Reformation is, or ought to be, a repenting church. Can our churches still repent? Or is their day for repentance forever past? Thank God, if they will “hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”, they can yet return, by His grace, to the Word of God.” — Hermann Sasse

From The Inspiration of Holy Scripture, an article published in the American Evangelical magazine Christianity Today, March 16, 1962.

Categories: Hermann Sasse

How the Authority of the Scriptures Collapses

July 5th, 2010 3 comments

“The Protestantism of those days* was not a negative protest against Roman errors. Rather, it was a positive witness to the authority of Holy Scripture as the only source and rule of all doctrines of the Church. To these Protestants Holy Scripture was the Word of God. We must recognize that the Sola Scriptura of the Reformation depends on the firm belief that the Bible is the Word of God. Where this belief is shaken or even abandoned, the authority of Scripture collapses. This is the tragedy of modern Protestantism. We can not deal here with the process of this collapse. We only note that first the theologians and then one after another of the churches severed Scripture from the Word in their official statements of faith. They were satisfied with the assumption that this Word is only contained somewhere in the Scriptures, or that the Scriptures are only a record of a past revelation in the mighty acts of God which were the true Word of God. Or we hear that under certain circumstances the Bible can become the Word of God.”

*Sasse is referring to the time of the Reformation and the period of theological orthodoxy which followed in the 17th century.

From The Inspiration of Holy Scripture, an article published in the American Evangelical magazine Christianity Today, March 16, 1962.

Categories: Hermann Sasse