Tuesday, September 7, 2010

At Home in the House of My Fathers

Tuesday after Pentecost 15
September 7, 2010

The Lord be with you

There is a book that I do not own, but want to buy. The following review of the book, published in Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology, Volume XIX, Number 3 (48) by Albert B. Collver, III of Saint Louis, Missouri, should give you all the information you need to understand why I want to have a copy. (This issue of Logia was published before our convention this past Summer.)

    At Home in the House of My Fathers: Presidential Sermons, Essays, Letters, and Addresses from the Missouri Synod’s Great Era of Unity and Growth. Compiled, translated, and annotated by Matthew C. Harrison. Fort Wayne, Indiana: Lutheran Legacy Press, 2009. $19.95

    Among the clamor of the emergent church movement with its makeover of Christianity and the boastful proclamation of pastors and church officials alike that “it’s not your grandfather’s church," a quiet movement has spread through the church. In the early years of the twenty-first century “the most vibrant and serious field of Christian study” is that of the church fathers (First Things, November 2006, 15). Anecdotal evidence suggests that this revival is happening along generational lines, with the younger generations rediscovering their heritage, as the Boomer generation, in particular, seeks something new. This church father study revival is not limited to those fathers of the first five centuries but has extended to cover the fathers of various confessional movements, including Lutherans. The most recent book in the Lutheran tradition from this rediscovery of the church father movement is Matthew C. Harrison’s At Home in the House of My Fathers.

    Harrison’s At Home in the House of My Fathers is a massive tome of more than eight hundred pages, containing nearly one hundred essays, addresses, or sermons. In many cases for the first time, translations of works primarily by the first five presidents of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod are made available to readers of English. The book also compiles many works from various sources that are difficult to obtain or are hidden away in the vaults of Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, Missouri. These works by C.F.W. Walther, Friedrich Wyneken, Heinrich Schwan, Francis Pieper, and Friedrich Pfotenhauer span ninety-one years of the Missouri Synod’s history. If this volume were produced for a jubilee celebration of the synod, a subtitle of the book might have read, “One hundred essays for Missouri’s first hundred years.” The sheer weight of the book, both literally and figuratively, is impressive. It is also surprising that a Synodical publishing house, seminary, or any other official entity did not produce this book. Rather the book is primarily the work of one individual and an independent press.

    An 800-page book can be intimidating to any reader, be it the scholar, interested churchgoer, or busy pastor. The physical layout of the book is very reader friendly. Despite its size, the volume is not cumbersome to hold. The type is clear and of sufficient size not to require a magnifying glass to read. There is a timeline at the front of the book showing when each author held office as Synodical president. Photographs of each president mark the beginning of each section. The approximately ninety-page report of the Walther and Wyneken trip to Germany is broken up with several period pictures and photographs to help illustrate pertinent items mentioned in the text. The book also contains helpful footnotes and annotations explaining or clarifying various items in the text. These refinements greatly increase the accessibility of this book to both the casual reader and the scholar alike.

    With nearly one hundred pieces by several different authors covering almost a century, something of interest can be found for all. Many of the pieces give the impression of having been written yesterday. Topics include many of the issues that have afflicted the Lord’s church since St. Paul worked with the congregation in Corinth, ranging from ecumenical concerns, lay preaching, clergy depression, divisions, confessional allegiance, worship and song, stewardship, and more. What is most helpful is not the discovery that the church in the past suffered from many of the same afflictions that she does today, but rather, the Scriptural, confessional, theological, and pastoral way in which men approached the problems. We would do well to follow in their path. Essays by C.F.W. Walther include “On Luther and Lay Preachers,” “Counsel to Remain in a Corrupt Church: Make Them Throw You Out!”, Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod,” “Methodist Hymns in a Lutheran Sunday School,” and “The Fruitful Reading of the Writings of Luther. In an essay titled “On the Spiritual Priesthood and the Office of the Ministry,” Friedrich Wyneken writes, “We will not tolerate it that the souls freed and purchased by the blood of Christ be brought again under the yoke of any little Lutheran pope.” Heinrich C. Schwan asks, “Are the best years of the Synod behind us?” Francis Pieper writes on “The Offense of Divisions in the Church.” Friedrich Pfotenhauer bids “Encouragement for Lonely Preachers and Teachers.” In our age of church growth Pfotenhauer addresses “How Did We Grow?” He also warns, “God’s Co-Workers Do Not Lust for Power.” With a synodical convention approaching for the Missouri Synod in 2010, one cannot get more prescient that Pfotenhauer’s Synodical address from 1923 on “Avoiding Political Factions in the Church.”

    All of these church fathers realized the peril and threats that the gospel faced in their day, and addressed these concerns both faithfully and pastorally. They were deeply aware that historically a church body was rarely blessed to retain the pure doctrine of the gospel for more than a generation or two. They sought to remain faithful individually and as a church body by repenting and believing the faith handed down to them by their fathers. When expounding 1 Thessalonians 5:20, “Do not despise prophecy,” C.F.W. Walther said, “Do not despise the writings of the old faithful church fathers. …. Otherwise you disobey the Holy Spirit” (Synodical Conference Essay, Cleveland, Ohio, August 1884). May we too be at home in the house of our fathers who handed us the faith
The editors of LOGIA describe their journal:

LOGIA is a journal of Lutheran theology. As such it publishes articles on exegetical, historical, systematic, and liturgical theology that promote the orthodox theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. We cling to God’s divinely instituted marks of the church: the gospel, preached purely in all its articles, and the sacraments, administered according to Christ’s institution. … LOGIA considers itself a free conference in print and is committed to providing an independent theological forum normed by the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. At the heart of our journal we want our readers to find a love for the sacred Scriptures as the very Word of God, not merely as rule and norm, but especially as Spirit, truth, and life that reveals Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – Jesus Christ our Lord …” (1). It comes out quarterly. A one year subscription is $30.00, two years is $56.00. To subscribe contact: LOGIA Business Office, P.O. Box 81, Northville, SC 57465 or logia2@nvc.net.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert

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