Monday, June 16, 2008

The Strict Lutherans

In his 1857 work, Lutheranism in America, W. J. Mann describes as “strict” those who were known as the Old Lutherans. While he notes that he does not approve of everything in which Walther and Grabau espouse, yet he speaks somewhat admiringly of them as we see in the following:

In doctrinal views, these brethren stand on the Confession of that faith which is contained in the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church, as far as they are comprehended as a whole, the several parts of which are explanatory and supplementary to each other. They regard the dogmatical system of Christianity, as contained in these books, as being the true interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. They do not esteem these writings because they emanated from Luther or from some of the other Fathers of the Lutheran Church or because they had once obtained authority in the Lutheran Church or are of importance in connection with its history, but because they cherish the conviction that a better and more correct comprehension of the principal doctrines of the sacred Scriptures has never been produced, nor can be.

They regard a Confession of Faith of absolute necessity to the Church for the Bible is equally in the hands of the Catholic, the Baptist, the Unitarian, and the Quaker. But they read it, each one with his own eyes. Each finds his own peculiar tenets in it. A Church destitute of a fixed interpretation of the sacred Scriptures which she regards as the true one and adopts as her own would be nothing but a confused mass of dogmatical and religious views of mere individuals.

. . . It is a well-known fact that during the last century, in Germany, the decline of the authority of the Symbolical Books of the Lutheran Church, and the rise of rationalistic tendency were simultaneous. At present, we find that in the same country, respect for the Symbolical Books is returning — and with it faith and piety.

Symbols are nothing else than what the original meaning of this word of Greek derivation signifies, namely, a compilation of the principal doctrines of the Creed; they either pronounce the true orthodox Faith, like, as for instance, the Apostles’ Creed, or they give a clear explanation of it, in accordance with the sacred Scriptures, refuting and rejecting the views of heretics, whenever they teach doctrines at variance with the Word of God. This is done with peculiar skill especially by the larger among the writings of the Symbolical Books.

It is easy to perceive what an anomaly it would be to call any modern religious society the Lutheran Church, except it, at the same time, regards that as the Confession of its Faith, which was regarded as such by the Lutheran Church from the beginning. The Lutheran Church certainly holds many doctrines in common with other denominations. But this by no means constitutes her the Lutheran Church; just as little as, on the other hand, a Unitarian can be called a Lutheran, because his ancestors may at one time have been Lutherans.

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