As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we take a brief look at the lives of some of the most influential and important Lutheran theologians.
HEROES OF THE FAITH (FIFTH IN A SERIES)
“Whoever hears these sayings
of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did
not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24b-25).
…what Lutheranism needs today? Steadfast voices that stand on the foundation of Christ and broadcast the truth!
Jesus says that a person who hears and lives His teachings is like a house made strong by the foundation upon which it stands. Valentin Ernst Loescher (1673-1749), the last great Lutheran theologian of the 1700s, was one who built on the Rock of Christ. He was also a calm and compassionate voice in the storm, calling out to others so that they might join him on the one sure foundation.
Loescher was born into a Christian home about 150 years after Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses. His father first served as a Lutheran pastor, and then as professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg.
Upon completing his education, Valentin followed in his father’s footsteps. After serving as superintendent in Juterbog and Delitzch, Germany (nine years), Valentin was appointed professor of theology at Wittenberg
(two years). Finally, he served as pastor of the Kreuzkirche (“Church of the Cross”) and superintendent in Dresden. He resided in that city for the rest of his life.
Loescher’s lifetime falls squarely into the period which historians call The Enlightenment. During this period, European thinking changed considerably. This period was so significant that one could say that Western civilization as we know it was born from The Enlightenment. Essentially, The Enlightenment sought to solve all human problems by elevating reason as
ruler over all.
Throughout his life, Loescher rigorously defended the pure teachings of the Lutheran church as Enlightenment ideas bled into religious thinking. Notably, he established the first theological magazine to broadcast the truth. But most of all, Valentin Loescher is remembered
for his stand against Pietism.
Pietism looked at the church of its day and saw a cold, rational religion: “We’ve got all our facts straight, but we don’t really live out what we claim to believe.”
In response, Pietism taught the opposite extreme:
“We really want to live Christian lives, but as for a list of teachings the Bible lays out, we’re not so concerned about that.” Pietists emphasized an “inner light” that would guide them, dismissing the light of divine revelation that God had already given them in Scripture. As a result, they deviated from the solid biblical teachings that
had been rediscovered in the Reformation.
Loescher wrote against Pietism in Der Timotheus Verinus, which was translated into English and published in 1998. One reviewer states, “Loescher’s remarkably insightful analysis of Pietism captures the key elements of the movement. . . . Beyond a mere description, . . . Loescher reaches into the depths of Pietist thought
and shows the essential manner in which it compromises biblical Christianity.” (Concordia Theological
Loescher was not an angry theologian throwing
rocks at everyone who didn’t agree with his position.
He listened to Pietist arguments, accepted some of their suggestions, and arranged to meet with his opponents for meaningful dialog. He conducted himself with moderation, hoping to win his opponents over to
Isn’t this what Lutheranism needs today? Steadfast voices that stand on the foundation of Christ and broadcast the truth? We are not a church that is so concentrated on true teaching that we lose doing. Nor are we a church that is so much about doing that we lose true teaching.
Loescher inscribed a motto in his book for the Pietists. It reads: “Pietas et Veritas.” The phrase means “Piety AND truth.”
Caleb Schaller is associate pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.