Thursday, August 11, 2005

Charles Porterfield Krauth on the Progress of Error in the Church

One of my favorite Lutheran reads is the magisterial tome The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, published in 1872 by one of America’s great Lutheran apologists, Charles Porterfield Krauth, D.D. (see photo and biography). Originally an avid proponent of the "Americanizing" school in Lutheranism that aimed to compromise with the Reformed, Dr. Krauth after beginning his ministry was converted to the confessional school and for the rest of his life was the foremost defender in the English language of confessional principles in Lutheranism. Unfortunately Dr. Krauth’s work is voluminous (like me, he tends a bit to the prolix) and almost entirely out of print. Here below I reproduce a passage that is (or at any rate should be) famous, on the progress of error in the church. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus who abandoned the LCMS for the Roman Catholic church has abbreviated the following passage to the pithy aphorism "Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed." Even though he presumed in 1997 to call it "Neuhaus’s law," the original thought is Dr. Krauth’s.

But the practical result of this principle [of the church tolerating within her bosom those who claim she is teaching error] is one on which there is no need of speculating; it works in one unvarying way. When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of others. The church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we ask only for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions. Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them. From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating, it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate that faith, and poistion is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skilful in combating it. (From The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1872, pp. 195-96.)

More from The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology:
On Anglican Difficulties
On Christian Ecumenism
"Perplexed but not in Despair"
"Our church . . . is the Evangelical Church"
"More as witnesses than thinkers" (on patristics)