This article is a reproduction of what, I believe, was a presidential address to a convention of the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) about 25 or so years ago. It is reproduced here as it was written; hence the date. It seems apropos considering the circumstances in the church and world today. There is nothing new under the sun as the Preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9. The wisdom of Solomon strikes one as the Lord moved him to write the inspired Word which described Solomon’s own experience, as well as historical reality: “Is there anything about which you can say, ‘Look, this is new?’ It has been there already long before us. Nothing in the past is remembered, and also in the future nothing will be remembered by those who come later” (vv. 10-11- Beck: An American Translation).
By Daniel Fleischer
In 1995, the Church of the Lutheran Confession will, by the grace of God, have existed for 35 years. By the same grace, there are many members of the church body who can still lay claim to something somewhat unique–they either were involved in, or at the very least observed the formation of a church body. As adults or youth, they were charter members of a church body born of the Spirit, and compelled by conscience, bound by the word of God.
As an active pastor in the pastoral ministry of the church, I feel both nostalgia as well as frustration. With a feeling of nostalgia, I recount the early days of the Church of the Lutheran Confession from the perspective of a seminary student. None of those who began in the seminary in the early days in Mankato at Immanuel Church can forget the walls covered with bookshelves, the drafty north windows in what had been an old coal bin, so drafty that on cold winter days the gas space heater worked overtime, not always successfully. Many were the times students studied with coats on, and even occasionally, if memory serves, with gloves.
It was a glorious time, because there was an understanding of the circumstances that brought us there, and an appreciation of the fellowship which the Spirit had created in and around His precious word. Before us sat professors who, being the first to acknowledge their own weaknesses and laying claim to no personal merit, nevertheless had been compelled by conscience to take their stand upon the word. They, together with all our fathers, would shrink from the reference, yet we who serve in the church today are here because they “endure[d] hardship as [a] good soldier[s] of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2: 3). They would be the first to say it was the Lord who energized and supported them. Nevertheless it was they who, as many others did, testified to the truth and who bore the heat of the day. They faithfully committed their knowledge of scripture, as well as their experiences in the field, to their students. Those of us who sat at their feet, whether in classroom or church pew, as well as all since, need to examine ourselves continually to see whether we be “the faithful men who [are] able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2: 2). I love to tell the history of our church because it reminds me of a time that those of us who have been here from the beginning remember with fondness, in spite of the difficulties, some which we experienced and others which we observed.
The beginning of the CLC was most certainly a testimony to the grace of God, without whom nothing is possible. To Him be glory, and honor, and praise!
I am sure that many lay people of the Church of the Lutheran Confession, who remember the history, can recall the reasons for the stand they took, and can further remember the fervor and commitment that characterized the beginning of the new church body. But herein also lies a source of frustration. As I teach, I realize that I am teaching children, some of whose parents were infants when the Church of the Lutheran Confession was begun. It is so difficult, at least for this pastor, to instill in those parents and children an understanding of the history, an appreciation for the stand that was taken, and the passionate resolve and commitment, under God, that moved the hearts of pastors, teachers, and lay people to do what had to be done under and for the truth, and the witness of our Lord Jesus Christ. We wish that we could re-create that passion and resolve without the attending circumstances that necessitated it.
Then the realization strikes. One cannot recapture the past. We must deal with matters as they are today. The fact is that in these days when “evil men and impostors [will] grow worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3: 13) and when every conceivable evil is being advanced in the name of religion and even Christianity, God has preserved in the world in general, and among us specifically, the blessed gospel. With no merit or worthiness in us, our gracious Father has preserved to us the gospel of reconciliation. It can be said among us yet at this late date, that the sinner, troubled and burdened by his load of sin, can still enter into any one of our churches, and be comforted with the blessed words of absolution through the word of the everlasting gospel of which Jesus Christ, our Savior, is the heart and life. Such an one can find the comfort of forgiveness, hear the promise of life eternal from our pulpits, and receive the same in the sacraments. Through the proclamation of the gospel, we know that the present is ours, and so is the future. “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Phil. 1: 21).
Our Lord Jesus Christ is our life. He sums up all that we are. He is the life of our souls. As Christ is our life, then to die is gain. “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11: 25, 26). Only the gospel can speak something so meaningful, though to the unregenerate it remains a riddle. Only they who are in the gospel can, by the Spirit, believe what is otherwise so profound. By the power of the gospel, frustration is overcome, and in the preaching of the gospel lies the power for a forward-looking ministry of the Church, as well as for a confident hope for the future, both here in time and hereafter.
However, if we are to continue to enjoy the blessings of the gospel, it behooves us to continue to preach the whole counsel of God, and specifically the gospel, pure and unadulterated. For only when the gospel captures the heart will there be the understanding and love for it, as well as passion and fervor to defend it, at whatever cost. We cannot live in the past, but our reason to exist may well be meaningless and our future questionable if we forget the past. Our future is worthwhile, not for the perpetuation of the Church of the Lutheran Confession for its own sake, but only as God is pleased to bless us and others through the gospel entrusted to us, as we preach it for the reason He has given and preserved it, namely, for the winning of lost hearts for salvation.
Charles Porterfield Krauth, in his Conservative Reformation (page 20), helps us to understand the importance of not forgetting the past: . . . “The evils of which the Reformation was the occasion have passed away. We must go to the page of history to know what they were. The blessings of which the Reformation was the cause, abide; we feel them in our homes, in the Church, in the State; they are enwoven with the life of our life. Once feeling them, we know that this would be no world to live in without them. And how instructive is this to us in the struggle of our day for the perpetuation of the truth restored by the Reformation. Not alone by Rome, but also by heretical or fanatical Pseudo-Protestants, is it still assailed–and when we see the guilty passions, the violence and odious spirit of misrepresentation excited, and feel them directed upon ourselves, we may be tempted to give up the struggle. But we are untrue to the lessons of the Reformation, if we thus yield.”
Our witness and cause is not as broad as that which came by the Reformation. But, under God, it is as noble, for our witness is witness to the word of God in a day when among the “Pseudo-Protestants” are numbered elements of those who, though they deny fundamental Lutheran teachings drawn from Scripture, still identify themselves by the name “Lutheran.“
In the spirit of self-examination, as well as in recognition of the necessity to remind ourselves who we are and why we are, with prayer that there will be rekindled among us the flame of love for the Truth and recommitment to the declaration of that Truth, we have chosen as the theme of this convention: “A CALL TO RECOMMITMENT. “
In keeping with this call, one of the assigned essays is an encouragement to RECOMMIT OURSELVES TO REMEMBERING THE PAST. We ourselves, as well as the generation to follow, need to know what gave us birth, lest the gospel so wonderfully preserved to us, not without cost or heartache to our fathers, be lost to later generations by reason of a lack of will to stand as they stood.
Remembering the past serves a purpose if it increases our resolve to RECOMMIT OURSELVES TO HOLD FAST TO SOUND DOCTRINE. Paul told Timothy, “Guard what was committed to your trust . . . “ (1 Tim. 6: 20). That charge is no less necessary today. We will not ever want to shrink from being known as a “doctrinal” church, remembering that the doctrine of the apostles and prophets with Christ at its center is the message of salvation, and further remembering that, for life to be right and good, doctrine must be preached, “for life is fathered and fashioned by doctrine” (What Luther Says, Vol. 1, p. 417, 1229).