Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Texan with a German Accent

Pastor Matt Harrison, on his It’s Time website, has provided copies of a sermon and a statement of Rev. Johann Kilian’s which he translated from the original German, as well as a very interesting historical background piece. Pastor Kilian came from Prussia in Germany to escape the forced union of Lutheran and Reformed churches by the state, and was the framer of confessional Lutheranism in Texas. (Imagine a Texan with a German accent!) Pastor Kilian’s statement at the dedication of a church in Klitten, Germany in 1848 is especially prescient. In many ways, he might as well have been speaking to us today.

I highly recommend Pastor Harrison’s work. Here’s some of what Pastor Kilian had to say:
They say: “We regard you as a sect because you place Luther and the old Lutheran Confessions over the Bible and hold too much to the writings of men, who were certainly subject to error.”

But perhaps this perception, like the texts we preach, is a result of the Bible itself. Has anyone heard us preach something different from what is in the Gospels, Epistles, or other passages of Scripture? Don’t we demonstrate everything that we teach, above all, out of the Bible? Who can convince us that we get our doctrine out of any writings other than the Scriptures? So what we are accused of cannot be true. Our difference with others who also claim the Bible [for what they teach and confess] cannot be that we somehow revere the Bible any less than they do. No, we completely agree with those who believe and assert that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments should be the sole doctrinal basis for the Christian. But what happens when the most divergent of people claim that their views are in the Bible, and men of various differing views of the faith [Glaubensrichtungen] each proves his own presumptions from the Bible and adorns and arms himself against orthodox Christians with the Bible? What then? Is the Bible contradictory because each party drags something different out of it? No, that certainly is not and cannot be the case. The Bible does not contradict itself. The difference, the disunity, is not found in the Bible itself, but in those who explicate and explain the Bible. This difference has no other cause than that the Bible is explained according to differing principles of faith [Glaubensgrunde]. The one approach is new, the other accords with a certain faith which has been passed down. The new understanding, animated by a fraudulent spirit, views the very letters and words of the Bible in a different way than they are actually to be understood according to a sound understanding of human language. The other approach judges each passage with a healthy grasp of Holy Scripture, and with regard to its connection with the entire Bible. The controversy here is not whether Christian doctrine is to be taken from the Bible or not, but how and according to what [standard] the Holy Scriptures are to be explicated and which are the chief parts of the contents of the Bible.

…It is certainly true that there was a time when many Lutherans made mere inflated head knowledge [Wissen] out of the true faith and correct doctrine. In their often very fleshly zeal for correct doctrine, they had fallen into a hardness of heart. Love grew so cold that Lutheran and Reformed [theologians] wrote and fought against each other with terrible anger and hatred. In our time, we must be careful to avoid this terrible and incorrect path. But in our time, love is spoken of so much, and purity and certainty of faith and love are so little regarded, that nearly all opinions regarding faith are considered as equal. This is also a very dangerous and incorrect path. True, holy love is so constituted that it is as zealous for the correct faith as for pure life. True love bears witness against erring spirits, should they but teach against the Scriptures in one point, just as much as it also bears witness against immoral [persons] who steal, drink heavily, do wrong, or carry on in other sinful ways. For sin is everything that is contrary to God’s Word. It includes false, useless doctrine as much as useless living. It is as much a wrong relationship over against God as a wrong relationship over against men. But where in our time is a love for God that detests false doctrine as much as lazy and useless living? Where is the love which courageously says with Paul, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9)? Where is the love which delivered Hymenaeus over to Satan, as it is written in 2 Timothy 2:17–18, because he taught falsely regarding the resurrection (1 Timothy 1:20)? Where is the love which writes to Titus, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10–11). Where is the burning love of Paul in our time, which expresses not merely its own judgment but God’s judgment against godless doctrine just as much as over godless life? We are to love God above all things [Small Catechism, First Commandment], in order to rightly love the neighbor. From the first table of the Law of God precedes the second table. So for us, right faith and right doctrine (devotion toward God [Gottseligkeit]) are first, and the love of neighbor (devotion toward people [Leutseligkeit]) second. Only if it proceeds from faith will it be right before God. Here then, all love that is commanded and praised by men, even if it only denies and nullifies right faith and right doctrine in just one point, is a godless love. Therefore we should not enter into church fellowship [Kirchengemeinschaft] with those who teach falsely in various parts [of the faith]. We must rather bear witness against them so that they not be pacified in their sins, that they recognize their guilt, and so give God the honor!

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