A great deal of practical wisdom for the church today can be found in Wilhelm Löhe’s “Three Books about the Church.” In this first excerpt, Löhe considers the possibility that a communion might need pruning from time to time, especially as that communion experiences growth. Where is true koinonia to be found, how are we to proceed when differences arise, what impact will ignoring our differences have, and is numerical growth always a good thing?
“…it could happen—not only on the Roman side but also in the case of the Lutherans—that there are so many that the Lord will have to sift his little flock before he sets out for his final conquest, as he did in the days of Midian [Judg. 7:1—25], and will have to make it even smaller by means of the shibboleth of a pure confession. We are so little concerned about the proof derived from a majority that we would rather ask, “Who is superfluous, who is ruining the fellowship, who is hindering the work by his presence, who should flee from us, who should be driven away?” We should have so little concern for numbers that we could be happy if those who did not belong to us were to go away. It is sad to think of the souls who will be lost because they separate themselves from us, but it is also true that a thousand true confessors who are left out of the millions will have their spirits and lives so strengthened that they will be able to fulfill the calling of the true denomination more easily than could the millions. Among the millions the thousand could have neither power nor voice, for sin and wickedness more easily come to the fore and win the upper hand,” (124—125).
In this next excerpt, Löhe considers the role of scholarship in light of the fact that there are no new doctrines to be discovered.
“Nowadays there are some theologians who act as if there were a great deal that still needed to be investigated and done for sacred doctrine and who undertake investigations as if research into dogma could discover statements which have not been recognized or properly known and thus win many palms and victories. This we shall have to wait for! Yes, we shall be able to go to our graves in peace without missing anything. Unfortunately they have no thorough knowledge of what has been handed down by our predecessors and they miss seeing it in their desire to learn something new by their own independent research. This is precisely the pitiable thing—that when there is so much that could be learned to confirm the perfect doctrine they still want to discover something new and different. It has damaged us and still damages us when the church is treated again and again, even in dogmatics, as if it were a school, when we theorize, speak with the gibberish of scholars, act like pseudo-scientists, and are so childishly proud if we succeed in making a new shoe or in cutting and sewing a new garment for the old truth—or, often, for the old error. The church is a bearer of certain divine knowledge, a custodian of undying truth. Only when its children recognize and know what has been theirs since the beginning will they mature and become men. We need not fear that this will kill scholarship for scholarship does not always need to begin from scratch. It has enough to do, even when doctrine and confession are recognized as being complete. Here there is nothing to reform. In this respect the Reformation is completed,” (153—154).
Finally, Löhe warns the church against the dangers of re-defining/abandoning the true pastoral task in light of more “modern” concerns.
[The church] does not consider it an insult, nor is it eager to interpret it as an insult, when someone says, “This pastor thinks it is enough if he preaches, catechizes, administers the sacraments, hears confessions, and comforts the sick!” It knows that even the most faithful pastors do not do enough of this. It has little use for multiplying pastoral duties but treasures those which are commanded in the Scriptures and have been recognized since ancient times. To many people it is something novel that a man should not be a jack of many trades but a master of the few precious means, yet this is what the church has always thought. In a word, it accomplishes much through a few means.”
“…It is enough, and more than enough, if a man just carries out the ancient duties of a pastor. Superfluous and even a hindrance is the officiousness of modern pastors. Here the slogan should be, “Not many, but much.” The poverty of our fathers is richer than the wealth of their opponents. It is through alternating periods of withdrawal and public appearance, stillness and publicity, through persistent use of Word and sacrament, through giving of a quiet but full measure, through modesty and steadfastness that the Lutheran Church attains its goals,” (165—166).
All excerpts taken from “Three Books about the Church” by Wilhelm Loehe. Translated, edited, and with an Introduction by James L. Schaaf. Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1989.