The Commemoration of Hermann Sasse

Dr. Hermann Sasse, to my mind the greatest Lutheran theologian of the last century, entered his heavenly rest in Jesus 35 years ago today.  Here’s what he had to say about the Confessions of the Lutheran Church.

It was the great error of Protestantism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that it thought it could pave the way for the modern world to Christianity by surrendering the church’s doctrine.  The only thing that it accomplished was that no one any longer took its proclamation seriously.  For who should take a church seriously which no longer knew itself what it believed, taught, and confessed?  Do we really believe that such a church could have been prepared to stand its ground in the gigantic battles to maintain the substance of Christianity in the once Christian peoples of the West?  Neither ought we believe that a contempt for the church’s confessions could enhance the authority of the Holy Scriptures.  It is a completely incontrovertible fact of church history that the authority of the Bible stands and falls with the authority of the confessions which interpret the Bible.  The greatest example of this was the Reformation itself.  Without the confession of the church with its “service to the Word,” with its respect for the Word, the Bible becomes the plaything of arbitrary, sectarian exposition.  Is there a deeper, more humble expression of the Holy Scriptures, more obedient to the Word than the confessional writings of our church?  No one asserts that they say everything there is to be said.  No one contests that there are truths of the Scriptures which must be still more deeply and better understood.  No one claims infallibility for their statements and formulizations.  But we do believe that the church can only be granted a new recognition and a deeper understanding of the Scriptures if it does not forget or despise the truth which was granted it in Luther’s Reformation once and for all time.

–Hermann Sasse, “Are We Still the Church of the Reformation?” The Lonely Way (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2002), 1:477