Lutherische Kultur im Exil, by Jonathan Townsend

In what almost seems like a former life now, I worked for a professor who wrote a book called Literarische Kultur im Exil : Gesammelte Beiträge zur Exilforschung. Literature and Culture in Exile : Collected Essays on the German-Speaking Emigration after 1933 (1989-1997).   The man’s name was Dr. Guy Stern and he was one heck of a story teller – and he had stories to tell. His family sent him to the States in the late 1930’s while they all died at the hands of the Nazis. He returned to his homeland as an American soldier, interrogating those who persecuted his people. He went on to become quite the literary expert, especially on the figures that became exiles from Germany during the Nazi period and their work. He is still a most distinguished professor and is the interim director the Holocaust Museum in Metro Detroit (last time I checked…)


One day while faxing copies of sections of his book to his editor for fact checking and “editing” he started to tell me a tale about Bertholt Brecht that was related to him by Lotte Lenya. For those of you who do not know, Brecht was a famous author and playwright who wrote The Threepenny Opera (“Mack the Knife” is the famous song from it) and Lotte Lenya was the singer/actress who performed in it and was also married to Kurt Weill who wrote the music for Brecht’s text. So now that you know some basic late Weimar Republic theatrical history, I can continue on with the story… Brecht was a good communist, (or maybe he really wasn’t, now discuss!). According to the story given to me which was given to Dr. Stern by Lotte Lenya, Brecht would regularly be seen with a copy of  Das Kapital by Karl Marx. This is pretty much the Communist Bible and Brecht wanted people to see him carrying it. But, Lotte Lenya knew a secret; Brecht would regularly wrap the book cover of his copy of Das Kapital around whatever novel he was currently engaged in reading.


Here is where I come clean – I am as bad as Brecht. I pretty much carry around a copy of the Book of Concord but I don’t read it too often. I gave my brother a copy as a Christmas gift and he had the Luther seal from one of the pages tattooed on his arm, but we don’t discuss its content as we should. I have a copy of The Treasury of Daily Prayer that is in my computer bag and goes everywhere with me, but I only manage to read and pray it when I travel for business. Other things always seem to crowd out what truly are the first things.


My own attempts to read for myself have fallen short of my intent, but I am now getting a weekly dose from our Confessions. During Lent, our Pastor started a Matins service on Thursdays at 6 am. We sing a brief portion of the Matins order from Christian Worship (the WELS hymnal for those who do not know it), Pastor reads a chapter from one of the Epistles and then he reads to us from the Book of Concord. As of late he has been reading to us from Luther’s Large Catechism. This has become our Confessions Reading Group in a way, only he is the one reading to us. This may be my inner, lazy self speaking, but I have found that hearing the Book of Concord between prayers, scripture, psalms and hymns is a near perfect way to digest it.


As the title of this article suggests, I believe that Lutheran culture is in a period of exile right now. There is little room for those who hold to traditional, liturgical, confessional Lutheranism within the realms of power and influence within Lutheranism. The blogs we frequent and interact within are examples of a literary exile from the public face of our Synods. Does one see the wonderful, deep, theological expositions of the Confessional Lutheran Blogosphere on official synodical websites or magazines? No. We are on the margins of the prevailing culture. We are Lutheran Culture in Exile.


Sometimes I feel the weight of this exile: When I hear a Christless, crossless sermon; when I read of church growth, when it just seems the proper distinction between law and gospel amongst the ordained is lost. The weight is being lifted however. The “mutual consolation of the brethren……and the prayers and the breaking of the bread”, these things lift the weight and make the concepts of culture and exile non factors. Not only have I gone to the early Matins service, but also to the chapel service for the children from our school. On the one Wednesday I attended, I found a rather-semi-famous-lutheran-internet type also there – and he has no children in the school. We sat together and listened to our Pastor preach to the children and to us and sang “Father We Praise You, Now the Night is Over (Christe Sanctorum)”.   We talked sometime afterwards and our common experience was one of peace; peace from hearing the Gospel and continuing our own catechesis through the liturgy and from the readings and preaching given to us by our Pastor.


It is important to create more opportunities like the Matins service I have been attending. Maybe only a few people show up, but it does strengthen the weary – and I must add – it just plain feels better than internet interaction. A few years back I had a chance to attend a weekly gathering at Zion in Detroit called “Catechesis in Liturgy”, when Fr. Fenton was still the pastor there (and still Lutheran). On Friday nights a few people gathered in Fr. Fenton’s living room and discussed theology and the liturgy. This was just pure fun for theology geeks. The Confessions Reading Groups that are promoted by the Brothers of John the Steadfast are also something that needs further encouragement and promulgation. The opportunity to return from exile exists in the real world “speaking and hearing” of God’s Word.


If one looks around at the Lutherans in North America it is clear that Lutheran liturgics, preaching, sacramental theology and hermeneutics are in exile. But, take heart. Gather together more than on Sunday morning, if possible. Hear God’s word with your fellow strangers here. Sing praise to our Triune God. Forget the internet and pray and listen together. The night will soon be over.




1. “Father We Praise You..”

Father, we praise thee, now the night is over;

active and watchful, stand we all before thee;

singing, we offer prayer and meditation;

thus we adore thee.


Monarch of all things, fit us for thy mansions;

banish our weakness, health and wholeness sending;

bring us to heaven, with thy saints united;

joy without ending.


All-holy Father, Son, and equal Spirit,

Trinity blessed, send us thy salvation;

thine is the glory, gleaming and resounding

through all creation.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Lutherische Kultur im Exil, by Jonathan Townsend — 8 Comments

  1. Great article! I feel bad that my primary response is: *you carry the treasury of daily prayer everywhere in your bag?!?!?!?*

  2. It is in my lap top bag and it goes around with me.

    Don’t feel bad. It is stupid. I know. Stupider even that I only use it 2 times a week.

  3. I agree with you that confessional Lutherans are in exile. The most important question is why?

    Perhaps the real reason is not due to Satan, human sin, church growth philosophy, contemporary worship, emergent ideas or poor leadership. Perhaps there is something “wrong” with Lutheranism at a fundamental level. As the old saying goes, where there are three Lutherans present there will be a split.

    Perhaps there is something wrong with some aspect of our theology. Confessional Lutherans argue that everyone else “got it wrong” in regards to interpreting Scripture. However, what if the authors of our confessions got something (or more than one thing) wrong? Why is this not on the table as a possibility? Why do we invest so much faith and confidence in a few men who interpreted the Scriptures in the 1500s? If we say, “well I have read the confessions and I believe they are a true interpretation of the Scriptures”, then we are just putting faith in our own private assessment. Our “truth” is then simply a subjective assessment.

    Perhaps the fact that the Lutheran movement was not successful in reforming Rome and has not been successful in organizing itself in the last 500 years means something.

    Yes, the ship is sinking. However, are we on the right ship in the first place? Is there a ship that has never sunk and is still floating today?

  4. Kathy,
    All the “protestant” groups our leadership is shoveling money at, to tell us how to grow the church, were declining and splintering over liberal “theology” more than 40 years before we got on their bandwagon!
    Orthodox Presbyterians told me in the 60’s what drove them out of their synod; it happened 20 years before that.

    The only thing wrong with the Lutheran faith is that most Lutherans have never learned what it is!
    And I’m afraid that Missouri, more than most, has put synod before God. Never did I hear “unser geliebte Synod” till I came to lcms. We should begin by dropping that idolatrous phrase, which I still hear, even from the lips of “confessional” Pastors!

    Christianity is still afloat and always will be, by Christ’s promise. He did not make that promise about “Missouri” or any other denomination. And as he told the rich young ruler, “To follow Me, be prepared to give up your load of “things”.”

  5. Thanks, Jon. Great article. I have two thoughts I’d like to share.

    1 – Kathy, at the fundamental level (to use your phrase), Lutheranism is simply about the Gospel. So, no, there is nothing wrong with Lutheranism at a fundamental level. I say this as someone not born into the Lutheran Church. And the goal of the “Lutheran movement” is simply to confess the truth and be faithful. So, the question by which it should properly be evaluated is not “Did they succeed in convincing Rome?” or “Did they maintain unity within their churches?” but “Are they right?”

    I have been to many churches and certainly have heard good, Biblical preaching in various denominations at times. Some of the best Law/Gospel I have heard was actually at an Anglican church in St. George’s, Grenada. The Spirit enlightens through the Word throughout Christendom.

    But a church, or “movement”, can only be fairly evaluated by what it confesses. And the Book of Concord indeed confesses the truth, regardless of how many many people subscribe to it. That there are many who walk away from the truth should not surprize us (John 6:66), nor should it cause us to question our faith.

    Regarding subjectivity, though, I think you have a point. We should be sure that we are upholding Lutheranism not out of a romantic spirit that revels in “Here I stand!” moments, but rather because we are people of the Word who cherish the Gospel and therefore keep it in truth and purity.

    2 – More quickly, Jon, I really appreciated your observations about day school chapel in your church. I have noticed that as we have become more confessional in our parish that more adults come to our day school chapel services. We should probably just start listing that service on the ELLC list along with our regular Divine Service. We tried offering an afternoon office a few years ago, and then an evening office after that on Wednesday nights. But people got too ‘busy’ and so those fell by the wayside. But I’m thinking we should start those up again – and, taking a cue from my resposne to Kathy above, avoid evaluating them on the basis of how many show up.

  6. But I’m thinking we should start those up again – and, taking a cue from my response to Kathy above, avoid evaluating them on the basis of how many show up.
    Please do! People who have to work on Sunday would bless you for it.
    Our Evening Prayer is only half an hour; the core attendance is people going to choir practice but the rest of us are welcome. I find myself singing bits through the evening.

  7. Kathy,

    It is important to know that Lutheranism isn’t really based on a few guys 500 years ago. It’s based on the totality of Sola Scriptura (which does include Church history and tradition as “tertiary” authorities – the Great Cloud of Witnesses.) I put my faith not in Luther, nor in the Book of Concord, but in the risen Christ both proclaim as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

    Reforming Rome? Vatican II?…I mean…I don’t exactly think they got it right, but it’s a long way from Trent.

    What’s wrong with Lutheranism? Wherever the Gospel threatens the world with purity in Christ alone, the devil won’t leave it alone.

  8. Kathy,

    I find your position an odd one. You suggest that the failure to reform all of Rome and the lack of unity are perhaps indicative of poor theology. You also direct us to consider a ship that has never sunk.

    The first part reminds me of the early church. For all of Jesus’ preaching and the work of the apostles Judaism was never successfully reformed to the religion God intended. The early church also had many divisions between those who claimed to follow Peter, Paul or Apollos. Jesus and Paul were both concerned about correct doctrine.

    Organizationally speaking the Catholic church has survived many a storm but within that church you still have charismatics, Vatican I followers, liberation theology, improper veneration of the saints and everything in between. Far from the ideal of doctrinal unity.

    If a strong organization and long history are somehow indicative of a better theology why not consider non-Christian religions. The main sects of Islam have lasted over a thousand years. Buddhism, Hinduism and the many varieties of animism also have long histories and have never sunk.

    Maybe there are problems with our doctrine, but if that is the case I think it is far better to argue specific points rather than create some vague link between doctrine and a history of successful organization. It doesn’t make much sense to argue the correctness of doctrine without addressing the doctrine. If there is a problem please help us by pointing it out and using scripture as the standard.

    Our doctrine is from the scriptures but our organization is from our own efforts. I think in regards to unity and successful reform some of the reasons you dismiss early on are quite relevant, in particular human sin and Satan. As good as our doctrine may be we are still sinners and will err every day. Pastors are no less sinful than anyone else. Satan does not need to work very hard on those he has already led away from God, but on Christians who follow Christ, he must make more of an effort. I would be very surprised if Satan makes no effort to hinder our synod as well as many other denominations and that those efforts would have no effect on our unity or organization.

    The concept that a correct doctrine would result in a well organized and united denomination may be true in a world without sin, but in our fallen world it seems more akin to the might makes right argument. Whoever wins a battle must be the one with a correct opinion. That may settle an argument but doesn’t prove one to actually be right, just tougher. In matters of the church if I have to choose between being right regarding my salvation or being able to organize people better than the other guy, I’d prefer to be right. It’s nice when the two go together but I don’t think that is always the case and the former should definitely be a higher priority otherwise the latter doesn’t really matter.

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