II. A Note on Lutheran Union

FIRST, observe that this production is a “plea for a united Lutheranism in America.” To say it as graciously as we know how, it does not seem to us to be a “plea.” It is rather a powerful argument for all Lutherans in America to adopt the Missouri platform; a polemic (in the good sense) rather than a plea. Of course, if the presentation were convincing to all of us, all would be very easy ; we would simply go over to Missouri. We want it understood that we are not saying this with the least degree of sarcasm. However, we in the General Synod might put up a strong argument for our confessional position, and then invite all other Lutherans to come and unite with us. If we did that, we would not call our polemic a “plea,” but would give it its proper title. Both the Disciples and the Episcopalians are making the same kind of a proposition to all the Protestant Churches: “Come over to our position, and then we shall all be lovingly united.”

To be perfectly candid, we are persuaded that there is little hope of Lutheran unity until the various Lutheran bodies are willing to grant some liberty of opinion on those great and abstruse questions about which there is, always has been, and always will be, a difference among good and spiritually minded Lutherans. Dr. Pieper and his fellow-churchmen all declare that there is an insoluble mystery about God’s eternal decree of election. If so, why make it a source of division among us? Why make it a shibboleth? Why exclude other Lutherans who accept the Scriptures just as heartily and hold just as tenaciously to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, even though they may have a somewhat different understanding of what occurred in the mind of God away back in eternity? Really if we all accept the Bible, the Augustana, justification by faith alone, salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), the universal and serious offer of salvation (universalis gratia), together with the Lutheran doctrines of the person of Christ, the atonement, the sacraments, etc., does it matter so much about our particularistic ideas of God’s eternal sovereignty and decrees? And we all do accept the above named precious doctrines, every one of them, as we shall show in a later chapter.

After reading Dr. Pieper’s booklet, we read over again, for perhaps the fifth time, Dr. Jacobs’ excellent discussion of the subject of predestination in his book, “A Summary of the Christian Faith.” What a pleasure it has been to read and compare the views of these two expert and sincere Lutheran theologians ! Both of them are thoroughly Biblical, appealing to and interpreting the same passages of Scripture ; both of them are stalwart Lutherans, accepting confessionally the whole Book of Concord ; both of them quote liberally from the same articles of the Formula of Concord ; both of them are intensely in earnest, and possessed of great scholarship; both of them are equally cogent and sincere advocates of sola gratia and universalis gratia; both of them with like vigor repudiate Synergism and Calvinism; and yet Dr. Pieper pointedly rejects the doctrine of election intuitu fidei, while Dr. Jacobs accepts and strongly de- fends it! Surely in such a case, this mooted doctrine ought not to be made the ground of ecclesiastical strife and mutual exclusion. Surely there are some doctrines that the dogmaticians may leave in the sphere of Lutheran liberty, without endangering “die reine Lehre” or the welfare of our Lutheran Zion.

It is our purpose to dwell at some length on the question of Lutheran unity in our last chapter, and so we will not develop that subject any further at this time. However, it is pertinent here to make a confession. We have passed through a strenuous mental wrestling match before venturing to submit this work for publication. The question over which we have struggled for weeks has been, “Shall we, or shall we not?” It was by no means an easy question to decide.

First, it would be so much easier, so much more comfortable, to go along quietly, make no disturbance, stir no criticism and no further debate, and just let matters ecclesiastical and doctrinal go their own way. Why challenge Dr. Pieper’s work? Would it not be just as well to let it have free course among our Lutheran people ?

Then, there is the question of Lutheran comity and good will, with some prospect of organic union by and by. And Lutheran unity is a consummation so devoutly to be wished that we may truly say it has been a “hobby” with us for many years. And now here is an irenic and kindly presentation of Missouri’s view-point that has charmed many people of the Lutheran Church, and that seems on the surface to be a real plea and overture for Lutheran unification. Some quite favorable reviews and editorials on the production have appeared in several Lutheran periodicals that have hitherto been rather stoutly and frankly opposed to Missouri’s doctrinal position. It really appears, on the surface, at least, as if the book might be adapted to promote the glorious cause of Lutheran union. Might not a criticism of Dr. Pieper’s book just at this critical time simply stir more debate, unsettle the minds of some who have been almost won over, and thus postpone the day of Lutheran con- ciliation and peace? In the face of these considerations, we have more than once been tempted to put the lid on our typewriter, refuse to write another line, and con- sign the manuscript already prepared to the quiet security of the waste-basket.

And yet! There is always that ”and yet.” When- ever the temptation came to hold our peace, and the desire for a comfortable time allured us, our conscience started up and gave us disquietude. This statement may create a smile, even a smile of condescension ; nevertheless, it is the truth. And why? Because in reading and studying Dr. Pieper’s book, we became more and more convinced of certain serious faults and weaknesses in the author’s method of citing the Scriptures, in some of the premises assumed, and in the conclusions drawn therefrom. Largely the charm of the book is its kind and gentle spirit. Besides, the author has an ingenious way of citing proof-texts, and collating and assembling them, so that readers who do not examine them carefully in the light of their contextual settings and relations, will be inclined to think the argument conclusive. His logic, too, is often ordered in such a way as to carry conviction. And when he assumes a premise, he pushes on relentlessly to the conclusion. Still more, there is much display of erudition in the work; many people, there- fore, will be disposed to think that a man who has command of such large stores of learning must be able to say the final word. All these elements make the book fascinating and all but convincing to persons who read, but do not stop to analyze, sift and investigate for themselves.

And yet, spite of it all, we cannot bring ourselves to believe that the author’s main propositions are well taken, or that his conclusions are correctly drawn, either from a Biblical or a Lutheran view-point. Indeed, we think the errors of the book are quite serious, as we shall try to show. So the question that rose in our mind, and would not down, was this: What a pity it would be — indeed, what a misfortune — if some of the great branches of our Lutheran Church should be drawn into a union on a wrong basis, or, at least, a basis that should after- wards be found to be far from satisfactory! Are any of us, who have hitherto had a different conception of conversion and election, ready to go into a union on the Missouri basis? Have we given the subject sufficient study? We think not; the subject needs still more discussion. A union on the proposed basis at this time would be hasty, premature. The other side should be fully presented, and in a new form, at this strategic point. We are persuaded that a union effected on the Missouri basis would not be lasting. The mistake would soon be detected, for you cannot keep men from thinking and investigating.

All the more necessary does it seem to be to present the other side, from the fact that some men appear to think that Dr. Pieper has said the final word; that the question is now a closed one, and that no further discussion is needed. This, we are convinced by our investigations, is a mistake. While we are extremely anxious for peace, we do not want peace on a wrong basis ; nor are we willing that all the concessions should have to be made by one side — the side, too, which, we are sincerely convinced, has the stronger Biblical teaching in its favor.

If any one should accuse us of stirring up feeling, we would reply that Dr. Pieper did not spare the feelings of his opponents. Of course, as we have said, he showed a comparatively gentle and irenic spirit; yet he did not recede one hair’s breadth from the rigid Missouri position. He demands that all the yielding be done by those who differ with him and his Synod. Nor is that all. He again and again accuses his opponents of Synergism, which is a term of reproach in the Lutheran Church. If you want to blacken a man’s good name theologically, just call him a Synergist. Worse yet. Dr. Pieper calls his theological opponents Pelagians, which is a very opprobrious term in the Lutheran Church. At the same time he demands that the charge of Calvinism against Missouri be withdrawn. To call a Missourian a Calvinist is also regarded a serious blot on his reputation. How- ever, our friend does not seem to realize that it hurts others just as much to be called Synergists and Pelagians as it does our Missouri brethren to be called Calvinists. You see, all through this polemic there is not one iota of yielding on the Missouri side, but every concession is to be made by those who differ from her.

Still more, Dr. Pieper from beginning to end charges his opponents with teaching human merit and work- righteousness. This indictment must by all means be disclaimed and disproved. It would stultify the rest of us as Lutherans to let it go unchallenged. Every true Lutheran knows that he discards such a doctrine with all his might. If Lutheran concord is to be effected, as we hope and pray it may, the charge of Synergism and human merit must be withdrawn, just as the accusation of Calvinism against Missouri must be withdrawn.

In view of the voluminous replies that have been made to the Missouri contentions, it may seem superfluous to add another polemic on the subject. There is Dr. Stellhorn’s great work in German, which we regret to say we have not been able to read. However, we have had the privilege of reading the large book (802 octavo pages) edited by Dr. E. L. S. Tressel, entitled,”The Error of Missouri.” (According to the title page, it was edited by Dr. Schodde; perhaps Dr. Tressel stood sponsor for its publication.) This work is in English, and contains the powerful argument of Drs. Stellhorn and Schmidt and of Revs. Allwardt and Ernst. There is also Dr. Jacobs’ compact and lucid chapter on the divine purpose in his work, “A Summary of the Christian Faith.” Besides, many magazine articles have appeared setting forth the anti-Missouri views. These can be secured and examined by those who are interested in the whole controversy.

Still, we do not think everything has been said on the subject. This little work, we venture to think, will give the arguments in succinct form. In many respects, too, they are put in a different way, perhaps in simpler language and in shorter and more simply constructed sentences. There are several points which, in our humble judgment, have not been made sufficiently clear by the opponents of the Missouri dogmatics : namely, the importance and organic relation of the Call and Illumination in the Order of Salvation; the ethical and psychical character of conversion ; the real nature of a free will ; the Holy Spirit’s movements in creating and implanting spiritual life in the soul, and thus enabling freedom and faith ; the danger of misunderstanding the formula, “election in view of faith.” Moreover, the books above mentioned, having been issued some years ago, could not anticipate all the arguments of Dr. Pieper in his last work. (At this writing (or rather proof-reading) the English edition of this brochure by Dr. Schuette and his committee, issued for the Joint Synod of Ohio, has not yet appeared, and therefore we cannot say how fully all the points have been developed. There is little doubt, however, that the reply is masterly.)

The foregoing are our reasons for composing this thesis. In the closing chapter we shall try to outline a broader and more satisfactory platform for fraternal fellowship and co-operation in the Lutheran Church of America. On the basis there proposed we believe all true Lutherans can unite and work, until the time comes when, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we may be able to adjust our confessional and doctrinal differences ; and then organic union may be in sight. We shall now proceed to review Dr. Pieper’s book with as much candor, fairness, courtesy and thoroughness as we can command.