Friday, November 19, 2010

Bronze Age Lutherans

The term was coined, I am told, by Dr. John Pless, and it is intended as an insult.
Bronze age as opposed to golden age.

I have become convinced that the sole figure view of history is a myth.
It was not Luther but Luther and Melanchthon, for example. And thus,
the LCMS founding was not the work of Walther. It was the work of
Walther, Wyneken, Ernst, Silher, and Craemer. Especially, it was the
work of Wyneken and Walther. Wyneken was a fiery missionary pastor.
And he was a firebrand by nature. He was astute theologically, but not
really a professional theologian. Only recently have we had any of
Wyneken available to us in English. And what we see is a man militantly
committed to confessional Lutheranism, but who doesn't speak with the
great precision of the professional theologian. The best theologian
available to the followers of J.K. Wilhelm Loehe in America was
Friedrich August Craemer. But he arrived just in time to be a charter
member of synod. He was later president of the Fort Wayne Seminary. In
the mean time however, at the urging of Ernst, they reached out to Walther
and his cohorts in Missouri. They had read Walther's work in Der
Lutheraner. They saw that he was the careful theologian that they needed.

Wyneken was uncompromisingly opposed to anything "protestant". He saw
this as a way to kill the church, not build it. He promoted things like
private confession and every Sunday communion. As president for 14 of
the first 17 years of the synod, he had a profound influence on that
generation. But Wyneken published little. He preached from outlines,
so few sermons survive. Thus his influence was limited to that first
generation. Further, the difficult conditions of the frontier, made
much of what he promoted difficult to carry out in practice. For
example, it is difficult to have every Sunday communion when the pastor
only comes once a month.

Walther, on the other hand, did write, and his influence lived on.
Further, Walther wrote in such a way that future generations could
redefine his work. Amplifying this problem was the transition from German
to English which was largely accomplished by WWII, even though
individual congregations often still worshiped in German. Now, an
increasing number of laymen and pastors could not read what Walther
wrote and were dependent upon others to tell them. Further, many of those translating Walther had their own theological agenda, other than faithfully reproducing what Walther actually said.

Missouri's Bronze Age (1930-1960). You could perhaps extend this back
to 1920. After the turn of the century, Missouri began to turn away
from the sturdy confessional Lutheranism of the Founders. Franz Pieper was
a major force in holding onto our confessional roots. But even he was
starting to pull away from the founders on some points. Pieper died in
1931. Pieper was a Pomeranian, born and educated in Germany. But after
1931, almost all our professors were trained in house. This would start
to change about 1960 as men began to seek accredited academic degrees.
Missouri at this time become bitterly anti Catholic. In the founding
generation more literature was written against the Methodists and other
Lutherans than against Rome. Now little was written about the dangers
of Methodist work righteousness. The liturgy was less important.
Sacramental theology was not taught or preached. The big names here
would John T. Mueller, Walter A. Maier, Sr. and Edward Koehler. It has
been noted that Maier, on the Lutheran Hour, never once mentioned
Baptism. Richard Shuta's recent article about Maier points out he often
asked people to make a decision for Christ, much like Billy Graham.
Needless to say, Wyneken would have been appalled.

The Bronze agers were very strongly committed to the authority of
Scripture. In this sense they equipped the synod well for the battles
with liberal theology that were to come. However, much of liberal
theology was a reaction against errors of the Bronzies. It was the
wrong reaction, but it was a reaction nonetheless.

In the wake of the walkout in 1974, and the partial purge of the
liberals that followed, the Bronzies tried to reassert themselves, and
had some initial success in St. Louis. But a non LCMS trained pastor
began to turn the synod in a new direction. His name was Robert Preus.
He was president of the Sprinfield, later Fort Wayne, seminary. He
brought in a number of young professors, like David Scaer and Kurt
Marquart. These men understood that in a sense both sides had been
wrong. The solution is what I term a dynamic or living confessionalism,
with strong sacramental theology, which these men taught. It eventually
became standard for both seminaries.

(It should be noted that Rev. Norman Nagel was instrumental in bringing true confessionalism to our seminary in St. Louis. He also is non LCMS trained. He's an Australian and a disciple of the German theologian Herman Sasse.)

Why do we call this group from 1930-1960 the Bronze Agers? Many, in the
wake of Seminex began to call this Missouri's golden age. Maier,
Mueller and Koehler became almost god like. It was the period when
Missouri experienced its greatest growth since the founding generation and
became the largest it had ever been. Yet, many theologically gifted
pastors dreaded the thought of returning to this theology. They understood
that the leaders of this period were lesser theologians and in some
cases only marginally Lutheran. Thus, as a slap to those who thought of
this as Missouri's golden age, it was termed Missouri's Bronze Age.

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