Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cyberbrethren and Conditional Subscriptions

Some time ago, Cyberbrethren posted a concise and helpful explanation of the differences between quia and quaetenus subscriptions to the Lutheran Confessions, about which I would like to comment. I would also like to address the issue of "a pious sounding conditional subscription to the Lutheran Confessions", because there are all sorts of "goats dressed up like sheep" on that issue.

Before I get to any of that, there is another matter that I would like to address. In setting up a particular example of "a pious sounding conditional subscription", Cyberbrethren constructed an argument from a logical fallacy called "the straw man"; it was an argument against a misrepresentation of someone else's position. (No, dear reader, you have not stumbled onto Bill Cwirla's blog; with you, I am eagerly anticipating the next installment in his logical fallacy series...) Where one might be tempted to offer charity in assuming that Cyberbrethren's comments were based on a misreading of "a certain blog site", there have been a string of posts from Cyberbrethren which - without naming this "certain Pastor" or his congregation or identifying the statuary in their building - seem rather aggressive towards them.

On his own blog, the "certain Pastor" had stated that he prefers the words and thoughts of church fathers such as St Leo more than his own words or thoughts. (I'm puzzled as to how this might constitute an "unhealthy regard for the Early Church Fathers".) He then went on to say,

"I tremble at the hubris of attempting to correct them [the fathers], cognizant of the fact that they are more knowledgable of the Scriptures, and holier in speech and conduct, than I" [emphasis mine].

In responding to such a post, a blogger should at least look at the context (in this case, an introduction to a paraphrase of something written by St Leo) and should respond to what the statement is actually saying: the "certain Pastor" wishes to exercise great care as *he* attempts to correct and paraphrase the words of such men as were undoubtedly "more knowledgable of the Scriptures" and "holier in speech and conduct" than himself. Construing this post (which never even mentions the Lutheran Confessions) into some sort of attempt to make a pious sounding conditional subscription to the Lutheran Confessions is really beneath Cyberbrethren. At best, such misrepresentations are annoying; at worst, they cause a blogger's reliability to be called into question.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Conditional subscriptions to the Lutheran Confessions

I’ve been revisiting my class notes from “Lutheran Church in America”. With a few notable exceptions along the way, American “Lutherans” have generally subscribed to the Lutheran Confessions conditionally. From the colonial days down to the present, where the Confessions are even acknowledged, the subscription has been typically rendered: "I subscribe insofar as (quaetenus) the Confessions agree with the teaching of the Scriptures" or "I subscribe to the ‘doctrinal articles’ or to the ‘fundamental doctrinal articles’ articulated in the Symbolical Books.” One notorious example of this type of confessor is Samuel Simon Schmucker, who rather purposefully took up such a subscription in 1826 when he became the President of the Gettysburg Seminary. According to my notes, it seems that Schmucker spent the rest of his life trying to work out exactly which of the “doctrinal articles” are “fundamental”, as can be seen especially in Schmucker’s “American Rescension of the Augsburg Confession” - “The Definite Synodical Platform” of 1855.

The norm of conditional subscriptions does have a few notable (and perhaps debatable) exceptions. The Synod formed by the Henkel family in Tennessee in 1820 produced a quia subscription to the unaltered Augsburg Confession but fell short of explicitly subscribing unconditionally to the entire Book of Concord. In 1845, some twenty-five years later, the followers of Grabau in the Buffalo Synod became the first in the U.S. to produce an unconditional subscription to the entire Book of Concord; they were followed two years later by the Missouri Synod, which was organized in 1847.