Why Not a Confession? Comments on the Harrison Paper, by Pr. Rossow

I assert that Matt Harrison’s recently published paper “It’s Time” is one of the most significant publications in the last ten years of Lutheranism. I would rank it right up there in terms of significance with Dr. Wohlrabe’s paper “How we Got Into this Mess,” “That They May be One” (TTMBO), Wally Schultz’s paper on the LCMS and even the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” even though I recommend no one sign on to that heterodox confession. Harrison’s paper is a little more parochial than JDDJ but it is nonetheless right up there. It is significant on the Lutheran landscape because it presents an approach to church that has been missing in action for the last generation. It calls us away from a bureaucratic approach to church and back to a doctrinal approach. This has become the exception and not the rule in this era of church growth sociological and psychological approaches to church.

By the way, as I recall, there are no great doctrinal works that come to mind that have been written by President Kieschnick. Maybe I am mistaken but the material that comes out of his office is about programs, leadership, and structure, not doctrine. The church of the Augsburg Confession, the church of the Scriptures for that matter, is a church of doctrine. Read Paul’s epistles and you can come to no other conclusion.

If I did offer a critique of Harrison’s wonderful article it is this: it falls just short of actually calling for a new confession. The mechanism that Harrison describes in his Koinonia Project (p. 11) will best serve us if it results in a new confession. Pastor Harrison tempts us with references to the formation of the Formula of Concord and the unity that it brought about. He takes us to the precipice looking out over a purer, tighter Lutheran horizon but then takes us back to the hazy landscape of disunity where no one has to actually sign on the bottom line. I believe there will be no true unity unless the pastors of our synod stand before their congregations and say, “I subscribe to…” I also believe that a carefully written confession can ‘reach across the aisle” and bring in confessing Lutherans of other acronyms.

I understand that it is a monumental thing to add to the confessions and that we do not want to do that lightly or be parochial in our actions. I also understand that no one individual wants to make such a bold call. The risk is that our brothers and sisters in the WELS, ELS, or other Lutheran denominations won’t join us and we thus become parochial– but then again, why wouldn’t they join us? And why shouldn’t they? If we really believe that the existing doctrinal statements and our subscription to them has not been able to keep us unified around God’s word then we need a confession that will sort out the affirmatives from the negatives and get us back to doctrinal unity. Harrison brilliantly speaks this way but he leaves us a baby step short of a true solution. There are brother and sister Lutherans all around the world who look to the LCMS as the great break wall against the crashing waves of heterodoxy. I say let’s go all the way and be that anchor and cornerstone of strength for Lutheranism with a new unifying confession.

A few weeks ago we published Dr. Frederick Baue’s Lutheran Manifesto. Neither he nor we believe it is the final form of a confession but it can be some sort of a precursor. Just as the Augsburg Confession had its Torgau Articles and the Tractate had its “Of the Papacy”, so too the confession for the early 21st century can have its Lutheran Manifesto. I have been using this document in Bible classes for the last 10 weeks and it has served quite well for sorting out the true and false confessions in the Lutheran church of the last fifty years. Check it out here and see what you think. Like Harrison’s paper, it takes some time to get all the way through it – but then, solving this problem is not going to come easily.

I suppose we are getting ahead of ourselves. It may be too early to call for a new common confession of Lutheranism for the modern world and the post modern world but Harrison’s paper inspires such thoughts. For now, we encourage you to read and mark carefully the Harrison paper and see if you think it ranks right up there with the most significant thinking of Lutheranism in the last ten years or so.

Pastor Rossow

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