Lutheran Help in our Problems Concerning the Bible

Information and advice of someone who has traversed an unfamiliar road can be extremely helpful to those who follow. At one point in our last summer’s vacation we left the highway near the summit of Colorado’s La Veta Pass and despite threatening weather drove many miles over a back road unmarked on many of the maps. We would never have ventured onto that back road to the Royal Gorge and we would have missed some exciting scenery if we had not met a traveler the night before who had driven that route and told us about it.

Reports of travelers who have been over the road ahead of us can give the same kind help in many other areas of our lives which are much more important than the routes we choose for our vacation trips. Today we, like many other traditionally Bible-believing churches, are being troubled and confused by questions concerning the Bible. We may find much important and needed help toward getting out of these troubles and removing the confusion if we will listen to and read what some of our Missouri Lutheran brethren are saying and writing as a result of their controversy about these matters.

Dr. Robert Preus’ Lecture

Last October 20 a number of us had the opportunity to get such first-hand information and help when the Reformed Fellowship arranged for Dr. Robert Preus to speak at the Oakdale Park Church (Grand Rapids).

Robert Preus is the younger brother of the by now well-known conservative president of the Missouri Synod denomination, Dr. J. O. A. Preus. Robert taught for a number of years at Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, during the time when the Liberals (the self-styled “Moderates”) were taking over that 800-student school. When 40 professors and most of the student body staged a mass walk-out to protest against the conservative effort to clean the Liberalism out of the school, Robert Preus was one of the few professors who remained, becamc its president and is now president of the denomination‘s other Concordia Theological Seminary at Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Kurt Marquart’s recent book about that struggle, Anatomy of an Explosion, calls him “the major figure among Missouri’s valiant defenders of the faith . . . whose 1955 vindication of The Inspiration of Scripture had done much to rally the demoralized conservatives” (p. 111).

Out of his long familiarity with the variety and details of the Liberal-Conservative controversy Dr. Preus spoke clearly and simply about: “The Infallibility of Scripture.” (He (1) directed attention to some biblical rules for properly reading the Bible, then (2) showed how modern historical criticism at every point violates these biblical rules of interpretation, and concluded with some observations on (3) how the Missouri Synod has struggled with this matter.

The Bible Teaches Us How to Read the Bible

Following the Reformation‘s principle of not only speaking about the Bible, but of grounding his own position upon it, Dr. Preus began by showing the rules for Bible study which the Bible lays down in its own most complete statement about itself, II Timothy 3:15–17. There the Apostle Paul urged Timothy and other pastors to remain with what he had taught them of Christ and salvation, claiming for his teaching the same Divi ne authority which he acknowledged in the Old Testament Scriptures. The gospel of the Old and New Testament is one and the same. This first principle (of the unity and analogy of Scripture) the modem interpreters deny as they speak of different, contrasting “theologies.”

This inspired Bible is “able” (or “powerful”; the Greek word is also the root of our word “dynamite”) “to make wise to salvation.” It does this “through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Bible is able to do this because it is “inspired” or “God-breathed.” Recall Isaiah‘s expression, “The mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” Coming from God’s mouth it is “profitable for doctrine,” for “reproof,” for “correction” where there is error, and “for instruction in righteousness,” for teaching us everything that pertains to right living. (The common slogan “Not doctrine but life” is ridiculous because “doctrine” is teaching for life.) God‘s Word, the Bible. is the only authority for our teaching.

The Conflict about Interpretation and the Missouri Experience

The “Historical Critical Method” Much of the present confusion and controversy in various churches has arisen regarding the interpreting of the Bible. Many who profess to believe in the Divine authority of the Bible are denying this in the way in which they interpret it. The ”historical critical method” which they use rejects every biblical principle of interpretation, ignoring the Bible’s unity, declaring its prophecies impossible, really denying it to be the Word of God. It began about 200 years ago in the days of the “Enlightenment” and spread throughout Europe before it came to this continent.

Its Inroads in the Missouri Synod

The Missouri Synod‘s history parallels that of our own (Christian Reformed) churches. Coming from immigrant origins, both denominations were organized in the same year. They long tried to keep their old language, and they established and maintained their own schools. Doctrinal deviation came to Missouri in the 40’s. When 20 years ago conflict arose at St. Louis regarding the Bible’s inerrancy the Synod rebuked those who erred, but this did not settle the matter. The incoming historical critical approach insists that the Bible must be read like any other book and especially in the Biblical Theology department of the seminary scholars accepted this principle and largely abandoned the doctrine of the Bible’s inerrancy.

The Church Gets Back on Course

When enough people, especially laymen, throughout the denomination became aware of what was happening they took corrective action, compelled the synod to reverse its course and to begin investigation of the St. Louis seminary, especially regarding the views being held and taught on the authority of the Bible. When 40 out of 45 faculty members, resenting that investigation, walked out to begin their independent seminary, the “historical critical method” was the central issue which occasioned that break.

Effect of the Controversy

Although the (2.8 million member) denomination through the controversy has lost perhaps a hundred liberal pastors, it continues to show numerical growth. The St. Louis seminary whose enrollment had dropped to about 160 students has returned to over 400 and the Ft. Wayne Seminary now has 450 students. The real importance of the development has been that the denomination, in the grace and inscrutable Providence of God, has returned to renewed loyalty to the Bible as God’s Word and to it’s Reformed confessions. In God‘s economy this is bound to be a blessing to those churches and perhaps to others, including ours, also.

Marquart’s Book, “Anatomy of an Explosion”

A more detailed acquaintance with this large denomination‘s remarkable return to Biblical and confessional orthodoxy is now available to any interested reader i n the 150-page paperback book by Kurt Marquart, Anatomy of an Explosion, Missouri in Lutheran Perspective. (It can be obtained from the Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, at the unbelievably low price of $1.00!) Dr. Hobert Preus in his Foreword observes that the writer, who held a long pastorate in Australia when the controversy was going on (although he now teaches at Ft. Wayne), could describe the events more objectively than some more intimately involved might be able to do. Professor Marquart’s occasionally expressed traditional Lutheran hostility toward Calvinists need not hinder us from reading his book with keen interest and profit.

The Denomination‘s History

To understand the recent Missouri history one needs to take some account of its historic stand against a government enforced church union in Germany and the common rationalistic attack on the Scriptures. Unsparingly the writer shows how the churches here developed a narrow legalistic provincialism which might even go to the length of forbidding a pastor to pray with missionaries of another denomination. It was in reaction to this kind of narrowness that the denomination moved into ecumenical alliances with other Lutheran churches, and it was by that ecumenical route that confessional indifference and biblical criticism moved in to take over its leadership.

Karl Barth‘s Influence

Very significant in this development was the influence of Karl Barth. While Barth reacted against the old liberalism he too accepted higher criticism of the Bible and so really rejected its authority. The author compares the Barthian position with “‘being half-way down an inclined plane on roller-skates.” It is “one in which no one could stay permanently” (p. 104).

Error Promoted by Compromise

Some of Marquart’s most illuminating observations deal with the way in which Liberalism moved into the Missouri Synod by way of promoting compromise regarding the Bible rather than frontal attack on it. In Missouri circles the suggestion was common “that historical criticism was more wild-eyed and ‘extreme’ in the last century than now, and that therefore early Missouri’s condemnations of critical scholarship do not apply to today’s ‘milder’ variety.”

Some European wouldbe evangelicals “tried to compromise or ‘mediate’ between the old doctrine, and the prevailing historical-critical approach. Verbal inspiration was given up in the delusion that in this way one could gain the upper hand over the newer criticism.” In this situation “the main targets of Missouri’s opposition to historical criticism” came to be “not the outright liberals but those would-be conservatives with their divided, halfbelieving and hal£critical attitude to Holy Scripture” (pp. 38, 39). (Isn’t this “Moderate” compromise policy the one that we in Christian Reformed circles are being urged to follow!)

An Issue that Cannot be Compromised

The author shows the impossibility of holding such a compromise policy on this issue. The “historical critical method” does not involve only certain techniques of study but it takes a radically different approach to the Bible. It “differs from traditional biblical scholarship in that it insists on treating the Bible not as unquestioned authority, but as one ancient book among others. All biblical statements are therefore open to challenge before the court of sovereign human reason. Historical criticism understands itself simply as the general scientific method applied to past events, namely history. This means that the critic and his reason are judge and jury, while the Bible like all other ancient documents, is on trial whether as defendant or as witness; for even as a witness its credibility depends entirely on the findings of the critical ‘court.’ This situation, of course, represents a complete reversal of the classic roles of reason and Scripture in Lutheran theology. Under the new, critical regime, reason is master and Scripture is servant, whereas formerly it was the other way around. For this reason … ‘using the historical. critical method with Lutheran presuppositions is as futile and absurd.” “It is important to see that the uncompromising supremacy of ‘scientific’ human reason is not an excess or an abuse which can somehow be tempered. On the contrary, it is of the essence of the method; indeed it is its basic point” (pp. 113, 114).

“Contrary to the tiresome caricature, orthodoxy insists not on the Bible but on Jesus as the crucial watershed for faith” (p. 128). However, “once a man confesses Jesus as Lord, he cannot in principle reject what Jesus Himself teaches about the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” (p. 129).

An Example of Marquart’s Help in Our Problem

This book can be extremely useful to help us understand and deal with the liberal fallacies which had long become commonplace among these Lutherans but which are newer at least in their tolerated public expression in many of our church circles. One thinks, for example, of the article printed in the February 24 Banner under the title “I Had a Struggle.”

In the churches’ official paper a writer without even having to divulge his name was permitted to caricature and hold up to ridicule the churches’ historic faith in creation, to promote the whole evolutionary view as supposed by “much scientific evidence” and as just as honoring to God as “the ‘flash’ method of creation,” and to interpret away the details of the Fall, while still claiming that with this “hermeneutic” he “honors the Bible as God’s holy, infallible Word” with “new light and understanding” and still believes the Bible’s doctrine of “sin and the promise of the Redeemer . . . Jesus Christ the same—yesterday, today and forever.”

Using a similar Lutheran example Marquart calls attention to the obvious nonsense of this argument: “How does one ‘hear and take seriously as God’s Word’ what one has just called a mistake?” (p. 132).

He highlights the groundlessness of this surrender to Evolution and its destructive effects in the churches:

Perhaps the most scandalous instance of uncritical deference being paid to secular superstitions was the craven cringe to evolution. This rather un· holy sacred cow, now totally bereft of respectable intellectual foundation, has been passionately embraced as a mark of intellectual respectability and good taste in many if not most Lutheran institutions of higher learning. The cost was rarely considered, but has been apaulingly high. Loetscher‘s The Broadening Church. describing the Presbyterian experience, does not exaggerate the impact of evolution:

Of course, the most radical implications of evolution were not immediately drawn, nor were they everywhere accepted, but the disquieting and unsettling effects of the new doctrine were soon felt even in the most conservative circles. Evolution‘s challenge to the creation narrative of Genesis was direct and immediate. The stimulus it gave to naturalistic developmental views of the Bible was soon apparent. Its implications for the traditional doctrines of the fall and sin and redemption were unmistakable. Was the Person of Christ to be excepted from the naturalistic processes of development? . . . Most ultimate of all was the threat of evolution to reduce the concepts of reality and truth themselves to sheer relativity.

With evolution came the historical-critical destruction of biblical authority, which in tum promotes what Sasse has called “the decay of the doctrinal substance which can be observed in all denominations of Christendom.”

Marquart further quotes H. Sasse as he observed that “The faith of the fathers is dying and is being replaced by philosophical speculations or sociopolitical ideologies.” “. . . The New Hermeneutics which destroys the Word of God—We have lost the Word of God and cannot find it again: as the leader of a Congregational College said—all this is indicative of a process of disintegration that is going on in all Christendom and leads not only to numberless personal tragedies, mental breakdowns and moral conflicts, but also to the dissolution of the churches.”

Finally, still ,quoting Sasse, Marquart notes the strange deception by which men (like the anonymous Banner writer) are persuaded to accept and promote this destructive heresy under the illusion that it is exciting new light:

Like most of the great tragedies in the history of mankind, it is accompanied by a strange euphoria (“sense of well-being and buoyancy,” Webster) which accompanies certain lethal diseases. What actually may be the ruin of the Church is regarded as a wonderful renewal, an unheard of resurgence of the Church and its mission to the entire world (pp. 136, 137).

An Encouraging Victory

The book offers many more insights into the arguments between those who were promoting and those who were opposing compromise of this basic biblical doctrine of the Bible. The author observes that “the unsung heroes of those years of liberal take-over were the rank-and-file pastors and people who kept the faith despite the official vacillations and shenanigans,” mentioning also some of the theologians and officials who provided them with leadership and encouragement (p. 111). “Without such men, and many others like them, who refused to be cowed by any self-proclaimed ‘wave of the future,’ the Synod as an institution would have been lost to the Lutheran Church. Humanly speaking, things already seemed hopeless when God in His mercy relieved and delivered His Zion on the Mississippi!” (p. 112). May the way the Lord has led many of our Lutheran brethren to victories for the Word of God and its faith help us to see more clearly, and act more effectively in the same enterprise.