THE CHURCH OF THE LUTHERAN CONFESSION —
The delegates at the CLC’s synod convention 2000 will be taking special note of the fact that the synod they represent has reached the age of forty years. It would surely be well, we thought, that this official organ of the synod take note of this milestone in one way or another.
As we wondered “What could be done to mark the significance of this event?”, we went to our personal file under “CLC History” and found there are at least four different “histories” of the synod.
I. ‘A CENTURY OF JUDGMENT AND GRACE’ — 1964
The first was an essay delivered by the Rev. Winfred Schaller Jr. at the nationwide convention of the young synod in August 1964 at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. While the Church of the Lutheran Confession was in only the fourth year (officially) of its existence, this “history” is one of the longest of all.
How can that be? Pastor Schaller, a gifted writer as well as an astute observer of church history, reviewed and analyzed for the delegates the history and heritage which led to the “downfall” of the once staunchly Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. With uncommon insight the essayist described troubling theological trends which developed within the Missouri Synod, the Synodical Conference’s “big brother.” In the essay much is written of the profound influence–most of it good, but some of it, in a subtle way, bad–which Missouri’s founder, Dr. C. F. W. Walther (1811-1887), had on genuine Lutheranism during–and after–his day.
As the essay surveys the past from which the Church of the Lutheran Confession was to spring, it goes on to speak of the spiritual shot in the arm which the “Wauwatosa Theology” of the Wisconsin Synod Seminary faculty brought into a weakening Synodical Conference. While (as the essay asserts) Walther might be accused of a theological approach which was too dogmatic (too much “quoting-Luther-and-the-church-fathers”), the Wauwatosa faculty of August Pieper, J. P. Koehler, and John Schaller brought a more exegetical (“back to the Bible”) emphasis. “They were all students of Walther (schoolmates, in fact) and brought everything from Walther, and went on from Walther to a deeper and richer understanding of the Gospel. Speaking in terms of men, we have two great blessings: first, Walther, and then the Wauwatosa faculty of 1908-1920. He who can inherit these blessings from both has a rich heritage indeed.” (essay)
Since only the last five or so pages of A CENTURY OF JUDGMENT AND GRACE treat the CLC directly–and that largely from a theological perspective–one might choose to question how it can be called a “history” of the synod.
Yet, if there is any validity to the observation that “it is difficult to know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been,” this probing essay helped a fledgling synod–still wobbly afoot–stand more firmly and evangelically on its orthodox Lutheran feet.
And that–as far as any conscientious inquirer is concerned forty years later–would make A CENTURY OF JUDGMENT AND GRACE very informative and even “must” reading.
(*This fine essay of Rev. Winfred Schaller Jr.–the first editor of the Lutheran Spokesman, by the way–was condensed and serialized into five parts in volumes seven and eight of the Spokesman.)
II. ‘TEN YEARS OF GRACE’ — 1970
This essay, a more standard history of the CLC, was presented to the 1970 CLC Convention by Pastor Maynard J. Witt of Spokane, Washington. (A companion piece was delivered at the same convention by Pastor L. Dale Redlin entitled LOOKING FORWARD TO GRACE FOR GRACE.)
Pastor Witt’s essay is more standard in that it cites “names and places” bearing on the historical events leading up to and occurring the first ten years within the synod. It recounts briefly the history of Immanuel Lutheran College and speaks of the beginnings of the Journal of Theology and Lutheran Spokesman.
The Witt essay, even as the Schaller essay, acknowledges that telling the story of a church body antedates its formal date of organization: ” . . . To think of our history as comprising no more than ten years would be like starting the history of our country with the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Many important things happened before 1787 which made the Constitutional Convention possible. . . . Likewise the history of our church body did not really begin with the Constitution Convention of 1960 and 1961. Many events and experiences which preceded the years 1960 and 1961 are involved in our history.” (essay)
Reading this comparatively short history of the CLC will bring those salient events and experiences home to the reader.
III. ‘A HISTORY OF THE CLC’ — 1978
Without doubt the most exhaustive–and authoritative for its quotations from first-hand sources (meeting minutes etc.)–history of the synod is this 1978 writing of then ILC Professor and President C. M. Gullerud (d. 1995). From the essay’s introductory comments it appears that this paper was prepared for a CLC teachers’ conference (exact time and place we have been unable to determine).
The essay has two parts. Part One is ITS BIRTH AND EARLY HISTORY. Following a prologue which begins “Soli Deo Gloria–To God alone the glory,” the opening section details the “free conferences and interim conference meetings,” which occurred during the years 1957-1960 and gave birth to the synod. Under “Activities of the Interim Conference” Gullerud treats the mission endeavors of the new group, the early history of Immanuel Lutheran College, and the periodicals and publications the group used to communicate its message.
Part Two is DEVELOPMENT AND GROWTH OF THE C.L.C. In four parts the synod’s growth is detailed in the areas of: 1) in general; 2) Missions; 3) Education; 4) Publications.
While this history of the CLC is in many ways the most thorough and detailed, there is–the reader can’t help but notice–an omission of any personal names (copious places are mentioned, but no names whatever). This omission was obviously by intent. The professor desired all glory be given to God alone for what He was bringing to pass in the formation of this new church body.
IV. ‘OUR ANNIVERSARY MEMORIAL TO THE LORD’ – 1984
The Rev. Egbert Albrecht was essayist for the synod’s 16th Convention at Immanuel Lutheran College in 1984. That year the synod chose to mark the 25th anniversary of its pastor-teacher training school.
On the basis of Exodus 14:13,15 the essayist draws parallels between the Lord’s marvelous deliverance of the Israelites at the Red Sea and the remarkable history of the school. Remarkable indeed. The school–first established by one congregation, Immanuel Lutheran in Mankato, Minnesota–under the Lord’s guiding hand became the pastor-teacher training school of the new synod, which in turn relocated the campus to Eau Claire in 1963.
This essay has a story to tell which is proof that history is indeed God’s story.
Our personal file contains a few other pieces with historical interest.
In October 1978 Michael Buck, a professor at Immanuel Lutheran College, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, presented a shorter, more popular history of the synod’s origins to the joint Wisconsin Pastoral Conference and CLC Teachers’ Conference.
In September 1985 retired pastor Albert Sippert read a paper to the Minnesota Christian Education Institute meeting in session in Mankato, Minnesota. Titled “An Early History of the Church of the Lutheran Confession and of Immanuel Lutheran High School, College, and Seminary,” this writing gives a parish pastor’s “up close and personal” view of events which, for conscience reasons, led him with others to leave a former synod and form a new one.
In the 1980’s the synod’s Board of Education commissioned the writing of a booklet entitled “THIS IS YOUR CHURCH.” The foreword states: “This booklet adds a thin slice of history to the overall account of God’s preservation of the Truth. Its purpose is to provide our children with a history of the Church of the Lutheran Confession….” As we recollect, the primary author of this endeavor was the Rev. Gilbert Sydow.
A “hometown history” in a local newspaper was prefaced with the comment: “It’s difficult to know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been.” If that is true in the field of the secular, the mundane, the profane, how much more so is it the case in the field of the religious, the spiritual, the holy.
Our intention in this anniversary year of the Church of the Lutheran Confession is to share historical snippets of where we’ve been–that such historical review might, in turn, help direct us along the path the Lord of the Church would lead in the future.
To that end, beginning this month (see box) and in the months to come, watch for historical vignettes lifted from the above-listed essays.
Where Have We Been?
Where Are We Going?
” . . . And so now I ask you, members of the CLC, to join me in seeking the help of the Holy Spirit of God to view our heritage not only as a history of amazing gifts from a merciful God, but to see also the bad elements, the sins of the fathers, which are also a part of our heritage. To see that which has called forth the judgment of God and will call forth that judgment also on the CLC to the extent that we continue in the sins of the fathers. May we be made willing to recognize all weakness in Wisconsin which we carry, all weakness in Missouri which we share, all wrong emphases which the Norwegians had and transmitted to us, and do this without a partisan spirit, without prejudice. Since we no longer have a stake in being pro-Wisconsin, pro-Missouri, or pro-Norwegian, may we now learn to be pro-nothing, certainly not pro-CLC, but only pro-Jesus, our Savior. Nor in this work which we now undertake, to study a century of blessing and judgment, is it vital that we agree in each detail of historical evaluation. I can only speak of those things which seem most significant to me, and I will be more than content if we agree that it is essential to submit the body to regular clinical examination, that by daily contrition and repentance a new body may daily come forth, consecrated to the use of the Master.”
–from the 1964 essay ‘A CENTURY OF JUDGMENT AND GRACE’