The thing that enabled my generation (I was ordained exactly thirty years ago) to enter the preaching office – even after we’d had to bury in the battlefields of Flanders the religious philosophy which as students we had learned instead of genuine theology – was the conviction that we were to proclaim not our religion, but the simple word of the Bible, on which we had learned to depend and trust. What made Lutherans out of some of us – maybe even many of us – was the realisation that gradually dawned upon us as we studied the Bible and prepared our sermons that Christendom had never been given a purer, more profound exposition of Holy Scripture than in the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Hermann Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 14, On the Doctrine of Holy Scripture, (August 1950).
The thing that makes this quote so great is that Sasse doesn’t beat the drum for the Confessions as an end to themselves. He doesn’t forget that their doctrine is drawn from Scripture and is nothing more (and nothing less) than a correct, clear, and incidentally, beautiful exposition of Holy Scripture. I, too, have discovered what Sasse did — that there is no more penetrating, lapidary, or crystal-clear presentation of the teachings of Scripture than in the Lutheran Confessions. Hands down, no contest. Nothing else compares. I wish more people would pick up the Confessions for themselves (not just the Small Catechism when they’re made to in confirmation class) and experience what Sasse describes and I have felt for myself. By this point I’m not Lutheran because that’s the way I was raised, or because it’d be too much time and effort to change, or too alienating to friends and family; I am Lutheran because that’s who I am, to the depths of my soul. Right down to the bone. Real, genuine Lutheranism — not Lutheranism-lite, that sounds like every generic Protestant preacher in a polo shirt and that shies away from the things true Lutheranism prizes — has to be lived to be learned. It has to be caught as well as taught — taught by us frail, fragile human beings, and taught by the almighty Holy Spirit in the school of experience. Sometimes that fact gets lost in all the discussions you hear about improving the church. The church doesn’t need to be improved; it needs to distribute God’s best gifts for the spirit to His people so they can go be the kind of Christians He wants — salt and light. And Sasse nails down what the starting point is: the simple words of the Bible. They are the power of God that no man can contain, bend to his will, or misuse as he pleases — he can only use them piously and devoutly, or crookedly and in a way that hardens him. God grant that we all make use of His holy Word, make it our highest joy and delight — then our churches and our families will be strong and full of joy.