Friday, August 12, 2005

Perplexed but Not in Despair

Charles Porterfield Krauth also had to face discouraging times for our Lutheran Church. One of the great gifts of his magnificant book The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, is his firm confidence that by God's grace the Lutheran Church has a great future in America.

He knew all about difficulties whose resolution we take for granted because they were overcome: the difficulty of preserving Lutheranism when the Confessions were not in English, the conflicts and even riots between ethnic groups, and the doubt whether Lutheranism really was an American faith. Knowing all this, here he is writing about the Lutheran church in America in 1871:

That such a Church has a mission of extraordinary importance in this land in which exist such dangerous tendencies to sectarianism and radicalism, and whose greatest need is the cultivation of historical feeling, under the restraint of a wholesome conservatism, requires no argument. The Lutheran Church daily becomes better known through the translations of her literature, though most of them are very bad ones; but her work of good cannot be consummated till she renders her genius and life themselves into the idiom of the new nationality into which she is here passing. Protestant to the very heart, yet thoroughly historical, happy in her liberty of adaption to things indifferent, while she is fast anchored in the great doctrine of justification by faith and the doctrines which cluster around it, popular in her principles of church government, which, without running into Independency[i.e. congregationalism], accord such large powers to the congregation, principles free from the harshness of some systems, the hierarchical, aristocratic, autocratic tendencies of others, the fanaticism and looseness of others, possessing liturgical life without liturgical bondage, great in a history in which all mankind are interested, her children believe that she bears special treasures of good to bless the land of her adoption.

Immovable in her faith and the life it generates, our Church, the more heartily and intelligently, on this very account, accepts the great fact that God has established her in this western world under circumstances greatly different from those in which her past life has been nurtured. New forms of duty, new types of thought, new necessities of adaption, are here to tax all her strength, and to test how far she is able to maintain her vital power under necessary changes of form. The Lutheranism of this country cannot be a mere feeble echo of any nationalized species of Lutheranism. It cannot, in the national sense, be permanently German or Scandinavian, out of Germany and Scandinavia, but in America must be American. It must be conformed in accordance with its own principles to its new home, bringing hither its priceless experiences in the old world, to apply them to the living present in the new. Our Church must be pervaded by sympathy for this land; she must learn in order that she may teach. She must not cloister herself, but show in her freedom, and in her wise use of the opportunity of the present, that she knows how robust is her spiritual life, and how secure are her principles however novel or trying the tests to which they are subjected.

The catholicity of the range of our church among nations, in which she is entirely without parallel among Protestant Churches, does, indeed, make the problem of the fusion of her elements very difficult; but it is the very same problem which our nation has had to solve. . . . Though the descendants of Lutherans have often been lost to the Lutheran Church, she, on the other hand, embraces in her membership thousands not of Lutheran origin; and though in the nature of the case these gains are far from counterbalancing her losses, they show that the losses have not resulted from want of adaption to the genius of our times and of our land. The Lutheran Church, where she is understood, has proved herself a popular Church, a true church of the people.

She has a wonderful power of adaption, and of persistence, and of recuperation . . . Many of the difficulties of our Church were in their own nature, inevitable. So extraordinary have they been, that nothing but a vitality of the most positive kind could have saved her. A calm review of her history in this country up to this present hour, impresses us with a deeper conviction that she is a daughter of God, and destined to do much for His glory in this western world (pp. 159-161).

For previous posts on Charles Porterfield Krauth, see here, here, and here.

Originally posted at Here We Stand