Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pastor Stuckwisch on Löhe

Pastor Stuckwisch blogged at Four and Twenty Blackbirds on the Wilhelm Löhe Conference, which he attended last weekend. Löhe was a 19th century German pastor, theologian, and missionary. Though he was "banished" to a small parish in Bavaria for his troublesome insistence on standing on the Lutheran Confessions and pure doctrine, he had a great impact both at home and abroad in the mission field. The Gospel cannot be bound. Here are a few of Pastor Stuckwisch's thoughts, which he graciously allowed me to share with you:

Here was a man, staunchly conservative and confessional in his theology, renowned for his liturgical scholarship and practice, yet as zealous and proactive as anyone in the world has ever been in both evangelical missions and genuine works of mercy. For Löhe there was no conflict or competition in any of this, but the greatest and most natural harmony. The Church lives from the Liturgy into the world with the Gospel.
...One of the things that struck me throughout the conference, most especially in Professor John Pless's paper on Löhe's pastoral theology, but also in each of the other papers, was how similar Löhe's aims, emphases, efforts and tangible accomplishments were, in comparison to recent discussions of an evangelical "rule" or "canon" here on the Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds blog. I've previously noted Löhe's example in this regard, but to hear the descriptions and discussions of his work and his contributions solidified that point. He instructed and inspired; he organized, encouraged, supported and assisted; he learned from the past and wrote for the future; he lent his knowledge and energies to the good ordering of pastoral preparation and practice, liturgical administration and prayer, congregational formation and protocol, inner and outer missions. As the paper by Dr. Wolfgang Fenske demonstrated, Löhe did much to establish and foster forms in service and support of substance. He thus exemplified the benefit of an evangelical "rule" for prayer, pastoral care, and public profession of the faith.

There was one point in Dr. Fenske's presentation that I regretted somewhat. He emphasized the centrality of the Lord's Supper in Löhe's theology and practice; not only in his liturgical theology, but in all of his pastoral practice. Life for Wilhelm Löhe was lived to and from the Sacrament of the Altar; everything that he and his congregation did were offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the One who feeds His Church with His holy body and precious blood. This point I do not regret, but greatly admire and appreciate. In connection with that sacramental emphasis, it is also true, there was a shift in the liturgical practice that Löhe advocated and emulated, in which the sermon was no longer understood or undertaken as the dominating center and highest peak. Dr. Fenske described this as an intentional downplaying of preaching, and it was that point I regretted. It gives the wrong impression, in my opinion. Löhe's goal was not to downplay preaching, but to recover a truly evangelical and liturgical preaching that would bring the congregation in repentance and faith to the Sacrament. He viewed the sermon and the Sacrament as the two mountain heights of the Liturgy, the second of them higher, yes, but the two of them together fundamental to the Divine Service.

Another pastor at the conference posed the question: How was it that Wilhelm Löhe was able to accomplish so much within (and from) his Neuendettelsau congregation? How was he able, for example, to lead the people from the practice of having the Lord's Supper twice a year (once in the spring, and once in the fall) to having the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day, and then, finally, every day of every week? And how was he able to restore such a lively practice of Individual Confession and Absolution within his congregation? The answer given to these questions was a good one: patience and steady teaching. It took decades to accomplish these developments, and Löhe was always teaching, catechizing, writing. He used the means available to confess the faith, and he did so faithfully over the long haul of thirty-five years in his parish.

All of this is meet and right. However, I would make the case that Löhe's preaching was fundamental to everything else. Professor Pless made that point, for example, in noting that Löhe regarded preaching as the primary place of ordinary, ongoing pastoral care. So, too, the preaching is the primary place for ongoing catechesis. It was for his rich evangelical preaching that people flocked from miles around to hear Löhe, to receive the Gospel from him, to be cared for by such a good shepherd. I believe it was Dr. Detlev Schulz who shared the anecdote, at the beginning of his paper, that Löhe had once begun preaching at 1:00 p.m. and was still preaching when the people needed to light the lamps in the early evening. It is an example of what we Lutherans confess: nothing holds the people like the preaching of the Gospel. Nothing cares for them and enlivens them like the preaching of the Gospel. Nothing else will be possible or matter, finally, without that steady preaching of the Gospel.

It was Löhe's faithful and conscientious preaching, I maintain, that led his people in faith to the body and blood of Christ at the Altar; and his preaching that led the people in faith from the Altar out into the world, to Christ in their neighbors near and far. It will be such preaching by which we also are best able to serve and support the people of God entrusted to our pastoral care.


Anonymous said...

Loehe is very worth studying. The problem is that he was not the political winner in the early history of the Missouri Synod, so the victors wrote the history. Walther and Loehe both have weaknesses.

But we should study Loehe from his own writings and not simply from secondary sources that simply dump overly broad labels on him. Repristination Press and the CTS Fort Wayne bookstore have a few things available.

Loehe is an important part of Lutheran heritage in many respects.

Michael Paul 白霈德牧師 said...

Thank you for passing on this helpful analysis by Dr. Stuckwisch.

Peter said...

As a fellow Lutheran of Bavarian descent, I have found the articles I've read about Loehe to be quite edifying. I hoping to read his ,,3 Books about the Church" in the near future.

One aspect I admire from Loehe (besides the other nuggets that Stuckwisch mentioned)is that he was adamant that the pastor only perform his pastoral duties and not get all bogged down with other funtions and responsibilities that others want him to perform. He encouraged pastors to preach and teach, administer the Sacraments, hear confession and give absolution, and visit the sick. (I hope I didn't leave one out.)