Pastor Harrison recently posted this over on his blog, MercyJourney:
De-confessionalization—That is the model which is taking place today in Lutheranism. For the price of de-confessionalization Reformed Christianity today is—as it has been for the most part since the sixteenth century—prepared to acknowledge the Lutheran Church. No one has anything against the Evangelical Lutheran Church taking up its residence in the great house of ecumenical Christianity. Within this house it may foster its own tradition, preserve its confession, nurse its liturgy, its tradition, and pass on its tradition and inheritance to the next generation. That is the position of Lutheranism within the ecumenical movement as represented by the World Council, the position of the Lutheran Churches of Germany within the EkiD, the position which the United Lutheran Church and the Augustana Synod accept within the “National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA,” which according to the plans of Stanley Jones and others shall soon develop into an American super-EkiD. It is the position, which the Lutherans are to have in the building of conceived or planned union churches on the mission fields of the world or in the “Reunited Church” in Australia. One needs to understand the greatness of this view of the church in order to perceive the power which it has come to have over the souls of Protestant Christianity. We have experienced in the political life of the world, since the ninetieth century, the new type of the federation of states in the USA and its parallels (e.g. Brazil) in the British Commonwealth and in the Commonwealths of Australia, Canada and South Africa. This is also seen in the form the state has taken in Germany from German Federation, through the German Reich, to the Federal Republic, and perhaps eventually in a united West Europe. This is also the case in the east in the USSR and the new forms of the Russian Empire. So also Christianity, at least Protestant Christianity, has begun to develop forms of the church parallel [to these new forms of the state]. As the federated state so also the federated church solves the problem of how to bring into harmony with each other unity and diversity, ecumenicity and confessionalism. It is all so remarkably “obvious” that the advocates of this view of the church simply cannot conceive of anyone opposing it. They can see in an opposing view only the worst sort of reaction, the pointless attempt to repristinate the past. He who dares to swim against this stream appears in the eyes of the world, the Christian and even Lutheran world, as laughable. No publisher, no journal dares to print such an opposing view. Should anyone ever be of the opinion that this should still be discussed publicly, then “Lutheran” bishops are very anxious to censure such attempts so they do not occur. So let it at least be stated here: This view of the church is once again nothing other than the reflection and transference of secular thought [into the church]. Just because the world today seeks a form of communal life in which smaller communities are “united” or “federated,” it need not be the will of God that the church also exist in this way. This is all the more so, if it appears that thereby motives are coming to bear other than the needs of communal life. It is a definite view of “Christendom” or of the “Christian religion” which is evidenced in this view of the church. The “confessions” [i.e. denominations] are understood as the great forms in which “Christendom” manifests itself. There is a Catholic and Protestant, Lutheran and Reformed, Methodist and Congregationalist “Christendom.” Between these forms there are closer or more distant kinships. There are families and familial similarities. There is the family of the Lutheran Churches and the branch of the family of the Reformed Churches. Even Swedish theology, in spite of all the Luther scholarship retains so much residue of Ritschlianism and religio-scientific interpretation of the Christian faith, that it can not shake itself of this schema. Even a man such as [Anders] Nygren thinks in these categories when he speaks of the position of Lutheranism among the confessions of Christianity. But one need only ask what Luther would say to this in order to grasp the untenableness of this treatment of the question of the various confessions. For Luther the Lutheran Church is not the social form of one of the great forms of the Christian religion, which was stamped by the religious experience of a gifted reformer, just as Roman Catholicism for him is not a more and less justifiable form of manifestation of Christendom. Of course, one can also seek to understand the Christian faith in a religio-scientific manner. But in so doing one does not come upon the essence of this faith, the essence of the confession of faith and the essence of the Church in general. Churches are not plants. Therefore there is no morphology of confessions. Neither are churches families, between which one may fix similarities and dissimilarities. The confession [Konfession] the confession of the faith [Bekenntnis des Glaubens] is not the expression of religious sentiment. Dogmas are not, as Schleiermacher thought (Glaubenslehre par. 15), “comprehensions of the pious Christian condition of the heart presented in language.” The Lord Christ had no interest in the pious Christian heart of his apostles when he asked: “Who do you say that I am?” There are no true or false plants, no true and false families, and even the difference between the religious condition of the heart of a Hindu and a Mohammedan can not be expressed in the categories of “true” and “false.” But there are true and false churches. There are Christian dogmas to which the predicate of truth is attached, such as the dogma of the ascension of Christ, and there are anti-Christian heresies, such as the heresy of the assumption of Mary.
This false view of the Christian faith as a religion, which arises in various forms, stands behind the modern idea that various churches [Konfessionen] complement each other. Every confession is thus a more or less perfect or imperfect attempt to present the true Christian religion, to realize the one Christendom which stands behind them all. Thus they all belong together and one must bring them together that they may compliment each other. Christ, so it is said, is so great that one single man, indeed, a single church can never completely understand him. As a mountain viewed from various vantagepoints presents completely diverse views, and as the scenes, which pass by the individual traveler on either side, are necessarily diverse, but not false, so it is with the Christian church. They should come together. Each shall keep its uniqueness, each render completely its particular contribution, all the while learning to understand its truth as one form of a truth which is multifaceted. Thus the various “values” are preserved, and nothing gets lost. Thus in the planned “Reunited Church of Australia” the value of infant baptism and the value of believer’s baptism are preserved—one wonders just what “value” will come of the rejection of baptism by the Quakers. Behind this view stands—this may and must finally be stated calmly—the Masonic theory of the “religion in which we all agree” (Ben Franklin). In the Masonic lodges of Europe and America that religion was fostered which for the Deists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was behind the “positive religions.” There were the religions of “true humanity,” with their belief in God, the architect of the universe, and in human freedom and the immortality of the soul. This is that mystery religion regarding which one really can not speak in public (“Wise men are but of one religion, but what this is, wise men will never tell,” as Shaftesbury said [original in English]). This is that religion cultivated in the secrecy of the lodge and principles of which FreeMasonry has advanced in the world. Just as the history of the German unions can not be understood without knowledge of the lodge and connections of the Protestant princely houses to the lodge, so also the modern ecumenical movement will not be understood without the participation of the English, and especially, the American lodges. One must know that the Archbishop of Canterbury and something like half the English bishops are members of the lodge, as well as the leading men of the free churches. The same applies in the case of the great Reformed Churches in America. The discussion regarding whether a bishop, who claims to be the successor of the apostles, can simultaneously belong to a organization which is the successor to the Gnostic sects, begun by a few serious Anglican theologians in the monthly “Theology” a short time ago, was not continued. It will have absolutely no practical consequence for the church. A corresponding motion at the Convocation of Canterbury not to allow the matter to be considered is as “bad in form and content” [orig. in English]. But it must finally be stated that lodgedom is one of the most powerful factors in the process of the dissolution of confessional consciousness, and indeed, not in that it is a form of conspiracy against the church, as was earlier thought. It is so rather because FreeMasonry, by means of its cultus and its communal, life has created an atmosphere in which men, who are well intentioned, have lost the sense for confession and dogma. It could be that the change which appears to have transpired in the confessional consciousness of American Lutherans is connected with the fact that the entire Lutheran Church has been brought up through the process of Americanization in the atmosphere of the lodges, and has appropriated their ideas completely unaware. Indeed, these ideas play a great roll in the youth organizations (Boy Scouts). America will never overcome the fact that the lodge stood in as “sponsor” at its founding and at the genesis of the formation of its culture [Volkstum].
Hermann Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors XXII (1952), translated by M.C. Harrison