Many in the LCMS are familiar with the name Hermann Sasse. Sadly, many know the name but have not read anything by him. Thanks to Concordia Publish House and many faithful translators like Norman Nagel, Ronald Feuerhahn, and Matthew Harrison, Herman Sasse speaks today; we would do well to listen.
My first exposure to Sasse was in the little paperback “We Confess” volumes published by CPH in the mid 80’s (now available together as an anthology). Here we read of Sasse’s clear confession of Christ, Sacraments, and Church. In the Translator’s Preface of Volume 1, Nagel writes, “Student, pastor, scholar, teacher, and confessor, Hermann Sasse (1895-1976) is recognized as one of the leading voices of confessional Lutheranism in the 20th century.”
Selected essays and letters were published in two volumes by CPH (2001, 2002) under the title “The Lonely Way,” with the promise of more to come. (One of my favorite essays is “Confessional Unrepentance?” I:247-264) Now, after more than a decade of waiting, a new Sasse volume has been published. “Letters to Lutheran Pastors, Volume I” was recently released by CPH, and whether you are a big Sasse fan or simply curious, this volume is in my humble opinion, a must read. If fact, the “Prelude to Letters to Lutheran Pastors” by Harrison is worth the cost of the volume in and of itself.
Here are a few gems from Sasse to help whet your appetite for more:
The American concept of the church basically avoids this question. It surrenders dogma and liturgy as something unessential- “trifling matters” as Goethe put it. For us, however, both of these belong to the essence of the church: the Word and the Sacraments, confession and liturgy… But we believe that the church posses in the Verbum Dei the eternal truth, over against all the relativism of human knowledge. And we believe that in the evangelically understood Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, that in the liturgical life of the church which is grounded on these things, the powers are present which are able to establish a new and real human fellowship, even in an age in which all human fellowships are unraveling. (lviii-lix)
I myself have indeed experienced the demise of a Lutheran faculty before my very eyes. But precisely in this situation your witness is necessary, just as for the sake of the great and the insignificant the witness of the prophets of the Old testament was necessary and has had its effect to our own time. You could not have prevented the pluralism, which today destroys the church and attacks the precious heritage of your fathers. You must also counter the forcing of women into the office of the of the ministry, which is according to God’s Word illegal, with the loud protest of a genuine confessor… In the great loneliness in which you now find yourself, you must consider that you are not alone. (lxviii)
What should we do, in this situation of our church? And that means all of us, dear brothers, every pastor, every teacher of theology, who knows about the responsibility which he bears. We must first free ourselves of the superstition that what is to be done must and will be done by others, as those who are called to do something. The bishops and the great church presidents will do nothing. None of them before Hanover (when the meeting is commenced) will stand up and state a simple and clear profession of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper of the Lutheran Confessions, or profess its ecclesiastical consequences. Not one. At the meetings of the old World Convention, such a thing could still happen. Today there is no longer a Hein or a Reu. Even the great theologians will, when it comes to this question, grow very quiet. The times in which the professors were confessors are gone… So we must all speak, and in advance! (427)
Hermann Sasse speaks, or rather confesses, still today. I pray we will heed his words of advice and encouragement and boldly confess with him.
Blessed Holy Week,
Rev. Clint K. Poppe