Luther on Christ and Us

[Commenting on John 14:20:]

“By faith you also come to be in Me with your death, sin, and every trouble.  If you are sinful in yourselves, you are justified in Me; if you feel death in you, you have life in Me; if you have strife in you, you have peace in Me; if you stand condemned on your own account, you are blessed and saved in Me.”  For, my dear man, where am I if I am a Christian?  Nowhere else than where Christ is.  But where else is He but in heaven, in eternal life, joy, and bliss?  And He, of course, will not be condemned to death as a sinner any longer.  Since no sin can accuse Him, no devil can damn Him, no death can consume Him, no hell can devour Him, I must remain undamned and undevoured; for I am in Him.  “Consequently, sin, death, and every trouble in you are gone.  For all this I destroy in Myself.”  It cannot abide in Him, since He is and remains in the Father.  And it can have no power in us either, because we are in Him.

…Christ is in us, and…we are in Him.  The one points upward; the other, downward.  For we must first be in Him with all our being, with our sin, our death, and our weakness; we must know that we are liberated from these before God and are redeemed and pronounced blessed through this Christ. … We must be His own, being baptized in His name and then having taken the Sacrament.  Thereby sin, an evil conscience, death, and the devil vanish; and we can say: “I know of no death and no hell.  If there is death anywhere, let it first consume and kill my Christ.  If hell amounts to anything, let it devour the Savior.  If sin, the Law, and conscience can condemn, let them accuse the Son of God. … But since the Father and Christ remain alive, I , too, will remain alive; since He remains undefeated by sin and the devil, I, too, will remain undefeated.  For I know that just as Christ is in the Father, so I am in Christ.” …

Just as I am in Christ, so Christ, in turn, is in me. … Now He also manifests Himself in me and says, “Go forth, preach, comfort, baptize, serve your neighbor, be obedient, be patient.  I will be in you and will do all this.  Whatever you do will be done by Me.  Just be of good cheer, be bold, and trust in Me.” [AE 24:141-143]

Walther and Luther on Open Altars

“[The itinerant (e.g., Methodist) preacher] uses the holy Supper as bait, as a means of luring the people into the net of his fanaticism and sectarianism. But do not many so-called ‘Lutheran’ preachers follow a similar practice! We have sadly experienced that not a few of the preachers who call themselves Lutherans, when they have prepared the holy table for the Sacrament, invite to this means of grace anyone who wants to come and admit them without any examination of their faith and life (in the opinion that this is truly evangelical). It is to be feared that many act this way for impure reasons, to be considered really ‘nice, broad-minded’ men and to be praised… There is hardly anything in all pastoral care [lit. “care of souls”] that gives a faithful minister of the church more trouble than if he wants to act conscientiously in admitting people to the holy Supper. If an orthodox Lutheran pastor takes over a new congregation and wants to admit no member to the Lord’s Table until he has spoken to each individual and learned from his mouth that he knows what the holy Supper is; that he acknowledges that he is a miserable sinner; that he in his heart believes in God’s Word; that he desires grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s Blood; also that he earnestly intends to follow Christ in a holy life, unspotted by the world, and the like; what harsh resistance he usually meets right away! How many enemies he usually makes right away! How seldom it proceeds without divisions arising! How often he sees himself required to travel on right away and to hear it said that he wanted to lord it over the congregation” (Walther, Pastoral Theology, transl. John M. Drickamer [New Haven, Missouri: Lutheran News, Inc., 1995]), 108.

“Christendom should remain united, should have the same faith and doctrine. To assure this unity among Christians, these must not only congregate for the preaching service—in which they hear the same Word, whereby they are called to the same faith and all together adhere to the same Head—but they must also congregate at one table and eat and drink with one another. It may well happen that someone who is listening to my sermon is nevertheless my enemy at heart. Therefore although also the Gospel holds Christians together, the Lord’s Supper does so still more. By attending it every Christian confesses publicly and for himself what he believes. There those who have a different faith part ways, and those meet who have the same faith, whose hope and heart toward the Lord are one.

“This is also the reason why the Sacrament has been called Communio in Latin, a communion. And those who do not want to be of the same faith, doctrine, and life, as other Christians are, are called excommunicatis, people who are dissimilar in doctrine, words, understanding, and life. Therefore these should not be tolerated in the group that has the same understanding; they would divide it and split it up. The Holy Sacrament, then, serves as a means whereby Christ holds His little flock together” (What Luther Says 812:2521).

“It terrifies me to hear that in one and the same church or at one and the same altar both parties are to find and to receive one and the same Sacrament and one party is to believe that it receives nothing but bread and wine, while the other is to believe that it receives the true body and blood of Christ. And I often wonder whether it is credible that preacher or shepherd of souls can be so hardened and malicious as to say nothing about this and to let both parties go on in this way, receive one and the same Sacrament, everyone according to his own faith, etc. If such a person exists, he must have a heart harder than any stone, steel or adamant; he must, in fact, be an apostle of wrath….Whoever, therefore, has such preachers or suspects them to be such, let him be warned against them as against the devil incarnate himself” (WLS 813:2522).

For All the Saints (and Fathers)

Hermann Sasse on “Fathers of the Church”:

Patriarchs of sacred story
And the prophets there are found;
The apostles, too, in glory
On twelve seats are there enthroned
All the saints that have ascended
Age on age, through time extended,
There in blissful concert sing
Hallelujahs to their King.

Thus the old funeral hymn of our church speaks of the church of all the perfected in heaven (cf. Heb. 12:22-23).  And this thought of the fathers of the church who have preceded us into heaven rings through the centuries down to Wilhelm Loehe’s hymn on the Sacrament, where it says of heaven: “There the angel host stands inflamed in Your light, and my fathers gaze upon Your sight.”  All the saints from the beginning of the world who have died believing in the Redeemer, whether he was yet to come or had come in the flesh, all members of the people of God of all times to the present day–in this sense, all are fathers of the church.  Whether Christians have found themselves in the loneliness of a Siberian prison camp or the isolation of the diaspora or suffering inner alienation within the great secularized “churches” of our century, it has become ever more the consolation of those who have suffered for the sake of the church and whom God has led on a “lonely path” to know that they are not alone in the one church of God.  They who have been removed from every error and sin of the earthly church stand with us in the seamless fellowship of the body of Christ.  No one can understand the “comforting and highly necessary” article of faith regarding the church, as the Apology calls it, who does not know that the fellowship of the church is a fellowship with the saints of all the millennia.  There is not only a spatial but also a temporal catholicity of the church.  The Lutheran confession speaks of this everywhere it confesses the faith and the doctrine of the church of the fathers, the faith of the apostolic church and the doctrinal decisions of the ancient councils.  This consensus of the church not only binds together the living, but also the living generation with those who have believed and confessed before us. …

Bishops as such or pastors as such are not “fathers in Christ” unless they proclaim the pure Gospel. …

It is always a sign of a deep spiritual sickness when a church forgets its fathers.  It may criticize them.  It must measure their teaching by the Word of God and reject whatever errors they have made as fallible men.  But it must not forget them. …  It is always a certain sign of the decline of a church when it reviles the fathers and wants only to be a “young church.”  And it is, according to Luther, a sign of the true church and the real fathers when they must bear the cross. …

We sincerely rejoice over every sign of a new awakening of Lutheran theology, where ever it may be…  But there is one thing we long for from those who call themselves Lutheran.  We demand that they take the confession of our church just as seriously as it was taken by the fathers at the time of the Reformation, and by the fathers of the nineteenth century.  Where one departs from it, let it be demonstrated that it is not scriptural, that its interpretation of Scripture is false.  We will be the first to give up whatever does not accord with the Word of God.  But we cannot confess the church’s confession with our mouths and deny it with our deeds.  We have learned this from the fathers of our church.

[Hermann Sasse, “Fathers of the Church,” The Lonely Way, 2:223-236.]

Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.

And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.

But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day:
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His Way.  (LSB 677:4-7)

I think I’ll have the people at my funeral sing this hymn twice (and then Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart twice).  My favorite day in the Church calendar, after the Vigil of Easter, and this hymn has the clearest confession of the Resurrection of any in our hymnal.  There are very few hymns that go beyond “paradise the blest” to the “yet more glorious day.”  Whoever William How was, he had a better sense of the true hope of the Christian Faith than most American Christians today.  For all the saints, and for all the fathers, thanks be to God.


Come To A Common Decision About These External Matters

Now even though external rites and orders—such as masses, singing, reading, baptizing—add nothing to salvation, yet it is un-Christian to quarrel over such things and thereby to confuse the common people. We should consider the edification of the lay folk more important than our own ideas and opinions. Therefore, I pray all of you, my dear sirs, let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters, so that there will be one uniform practice throughout your district instead of disorder—one thing being done here and another there—lest the common people get confused and discouraged.
For even though from the viewpoint of faith, the external orders are free and can without scruples be changed by anyone at any time, yet from the viewpoint of love, you are not free to use this liberty, but bound to consider the edification of the common people, as St. Paul says, I Corinthians 14 [:40], “All things should be done to edify,” and I Corinthians 6 [:12], “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful,” and I Corinthians 8 [:1], “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Think also of what he says there about those who have a knowledge of faith and of freedom, but who do not know how to use it; for they use it not for the edification of the people but for their own vainglory.
Now when your people are confused and offended by your lack of uniform order, you cannot plead, “Externals are free. Here in my own place I am going to do as I please.” But you are bound to consider the effect of your attitude on others. By faith be free in your conscience toward God, but by love be bound to serve your neighbor’s edification, as also St. Paul says, Romans 14 [15:2], “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.” For we should not please ourselves, since Christ also pleased not himself, but us all.
But at the same time a preacher must watch and diligently instruct the people lest they take such uniform practices as divinely appointed and absolutely binding laws. He must explain that this is done for their own good so that the unity of Christian people may also find expression in externals which in themselves are irrelevant. Since the ceremonies or rites are not needed for the conscience or for salvation and yet are useful and necessary to govern the people externally, one must not enforce or have them accepted for any other reason except to maintain peace and unity between men. For between God and men it is faith that procures peace and unity.
This I said to the preachers so that they may consider love and their obligation toward the people, dealing with the people not in faith’s freedom but in love’s submission and service, preserving the freedom of faith before God. Therefore, when you hold mass, sing and read uniformly, according to a common order—the same in one place as in another—because you see that the people want and need it and you wish to edify rather than confuse them. For you are there for their edification, as St. Paul says, “We have received authority not to destroy but to build up” [II Cor. 10:8]. If for yourselves you have no need of such uniformity, thank God. But the people need it. And what are you but servants of the people, as St. Paul says, II Corinthians 2 [1:24], “We are not lords over your faith, but rather your servants for the sake of Jesus Christ.” [Luther, “A Christian Exhortation to the Livonians,” LW (AE) 53:47-48

Luther on Frequency of Eucharist

To the prudent and wise Lazarus Spengler at Nürnberg, etc. my friend and lord, who is so favorably inclined toward me

Grace and peace in Christ! Prudent, dear Lord and Friend! I received your letter, together with the document concerning the mass, and studied it diligently. Although I arrived at the conclusion that you do not need my counsel since God himself has provided you with such people in Nürnberg [who can advise you on this matter], yet at your request I shall willingly also add my voice.

First of all, it is proper and prudent not to compel anyone to come to or abstain from the sacrament, or to appoint particular times or places for it, thus trapping the consciences. Since St. Paul teaches, however, [in] I Corinthians 14 [:40, that] among Christians all things should be done in an orderly fashion, it seems good to me that the Provosts and ministers should get together and decide on a common and free procedure for this matter. The honorable city council should then see to it that this procedure is used, and thus preserve unity and uniformity. If I were asked for advice regarding such a procedure, I would suggest the following:

First, that all masses without communicants should be completely abolished; it is only right that they should be abolished, as their brief itself announces.

Second, that one or two masses should be celebrated on Sundays or on the days of the saints in the two parish churches, depending on whether there is a great or small number of communicants. If there were a need for it, or if it were considered desirable, the same could be done at the Spital.

Third, during the week mass could be celebrated on whatever day there is a need for it, that is, if there are some communicants present who ask for it and desire it. In this way no one would be forced to come to the sacrament, and yet everyone would be served [with the sacrament] in an orderly and sufficient way.

If the ministers complain about this, however, alleging that they are thus forced [to celebrate the Lord’s Supper], or lamenting that they are unworthy [to celebrate the Lord’s Supper], I would tell them that no one compels them except God himself through his call. For since they have the office, they are already obliged and compelled (on the basis of their calling and office) to administer the sacrament when it is requested of them; thus their excuses are void. This is the same as their obligation to preach, comfort, absolve, help the poor, and visit the sick, as often as these services are needed and demanded.

It also does not matter that someone may pretend to be unworthy because of his weak faith, shortcomings in his life, or coldness in devotion. He ought to look at his vocation and office, or even [better], at the Word of God which has called him. He may be impure and unworthy, yet the office and the call, or the Word, is sufficiently pure and worthy. And if he really believes he has been called, then he himself is, through this faith, worthy enough. For whoever believes he is called to the office of the church definitely also believes that his office and his work, and he himself in such an office, are acceptable and just before God; if he does not believe this, then it is also certain that he does not believe that his vocation and office are entrusted to him by God. …

Such an innovation may cause quite some commotion among the common people, but this is a risk which must be taken and put into the hands of God. But one must do everything to quiet any such commotion. This could be done in the following way: The undertaking of the visitation provides a good opportunity to admonish [the people] from the pulpit and to impress upon them that, as they themselves and the whole world well know, there have been many abuses in the worship, which we intend to correct.

Therefore they should be calm and not so outraged when some things are changed. Also in things which are of concern to all, no one should consider his own opinion to be the best. Rather all should devoutly help [and] pray to God, who does not wish anything in his church done according to man’s opinion, work, or word, but according to God’s Word and work (as St. Peter teaches), so that through His Spirit all things may be arranged in a blessed and good way. …

August 15, 1528

LW 49:205-210.

Notice that Luther assumes that the Sacrament will be celebrated at least weekly.


Luther On the True Preaching Office

But this is our consolation, I can boast to them: if it pleases God, good enough; if it does not please him, let it fall.  I wouldn’t risk a hair of my head to uphold my office.  But if it pleases God, I’d like to see the fellow who could knock it down. …

Therefore we preach something better [than the fanatics who only preach the Law to try and make people better]: the Spirit and the New Testament, which is that Jesus has come for your sake and taken your sins upon himself.  There you hear, not what you should do, but what God is doing through Christ, which means, of course, that he works faith and bestows the Holy Spirit.  But nobody who wants to make people good through laws is practicing this preaching.  That’s Moses’ and the hangman’s business.  Otherwise all people would long since have been good; for I preach daily that you should be good and not steal, but the more you hear it the worse you become; you remain the same rascals you were before.  Therefore it remains merely letter… We have the confidence to say that we preach rightly, that we are sufficient [2 Cor. 3:5] and the fruit follows, that our doctrine is true, and that our ministry is pleasing to God.  If we have these three things, then I who preach and you who hear have enough.  If the vulgar crowd departs, what is that to me?  I might well be angry on account of ingratitude and the fanatics, but I must let it be, as Paul did.  If it does not please the world, it is enough that it pleases God.  If it does not produce fruit in all, it is enough that it produces fruit in some.  If the doctrine be true, let those who preach falsely go.  There I can defend myself against spite and vexation.  But that I should wish to stop their mouths and persuade the people not to despise me and to be grateful, this confidence we must not have.  God is my Lord, the world is my enemy.  The fruit will come and the third [that my ministry should please God] will come too.  So in the fourth chapter [of 2 Cor.] also, Paul comforts himself and his followers, admonishing them not to be offended when it appears that our doctrine is lost, if only it please the One who is above. [LW (AE) 51:224, 226-227]


“The devil cannot be idle”

Whoever does not want to trust in God’s word and to take his stand on these or on similar passages, ‘What God says, he can do’ [Rom. 4:21], and ‘God cannot lie’ [Hebrews 6:18], I faithfully counsel him to leave Holy Scripture and the articles of the Christian faith alone.  For his interpretation constantly drags him deeper into error.  It would be better for him to remain a condemned heathen than that he should become a condemned Christian.

O dear man!  If someone does not want to believe the article of faith concerning the Lord’s Supper, how will he ever believe the article of faith concerning the humanity and divinity of Christ in one person?  If you have doubts about whether you are receiving the body of Christ orally when you eat the bread from the altar, likewise, that you are receiving the blood of Christ orally when you drink the wine in the Lord’s Supper, then you must surely have serious doubts (especially when the end of your life draws near) about how the infinite and incomprehensible Godhead, who is and must essentially be everywhere, can be bodily enclosed and included in the humanity and in the Virgin’s body, as St. Paul says in Colossians [2:9]: ‘In him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily.’ …

The devil cannot be idle.  Wherever he instigates one heresy, there he must instigate additional ones, and no error remains alone.  If the ring is broken at one point, it is no longer a perfect ring; it no longer holds together and constantly comes apart.     [Martin Luther, “Brief Confession Concerning the Holy Sacrament,” LW 38:306-307]


Walther’s 200th Birthday and the Festival of the Reformation

In his Reformation sermon of 1872, Walther wrote this:

Unfortunately, there are now many who are called Lutheran, who do not know what a great grace it is to be a member of the true church of God on earth.  They consider this such a minor thing that, even on a day like today, they do not consider it worth the effort of showing up in the house of the LORD along with their brothers to thank God for it…They only remain with the evangelical Lutheran Church because they were born into it or because their relatives or good friends are in it.  When they are tempted to leave the church they depart from it all too easily. …

Well then, my brothers, let us retain what we have, so that no one rob us of our crown.  Let us not be offended or angered that our evangelical Lutheran church stands before the world, small and insignificant.  That is exactly how a true church must look in an age of general apostasy, as in our time. [!]  Oh, let us not forsake the banner of the pure doctrine of the Gospel which God has raised upon the steeple of Zion for the redemption and the warning of souls in this terrifying age!  In these turbulent times the task confronting us is too great to be put into words.  Oh, as much as we value our salvation, let us not become unfaithful to her.  Let us not only reject and trample under foot every benefit we might gain by falling away from her, but let us also be prepared to suffer a thousand deaths rather than deny or surrender even one iota of the pure Gospel that has been entrusted to us Lutherans. (p. 16, 17-18, transl. Joel Baseley)

I, for my part, cannot understand why people who leave the Lutheran Church, who have denied and forsaken their confirmation vows, who hate everything she stands for, who would never darken a door of one of her congregations unless compelled by family, funeral, or wedding, who despise our “legalism” and our “arrogance,” still manage to huff and puff that we will not allow them to commune at Christ’s altar with us.  Go back, please, to your “open-minded,” “progressive,” “Gospel-motivated,” “open-hearts-and-open-arms” church, then.  We refuse to change; what’s the point of continually getting upset about it?  Go be happy in your “nice” churches, and leave us to our “meanness.”  Everyone wins, no?


Lutherans Unique?

I said to another pastor on Thursday night that it makes me uncomfortable when Lutherans argue or present the case for why Lutherans are unique.  There are indeed some things on which Lutherans tend to focus (in a similar way, I think, to how Roman Christians focus on Mary): for example, the distinction between Law and Gospel (not, by the way, a paradox or even, really, a dialectic), or the primacy of Justification in any discussion of the Church’s ultimate existence.  But every time someone writes or says that “such-and-such makes Lutherans unique,” the “such-and-such” is either not unique to Lutherans, or it shouldn’t be.  Focusing, or even emphasizing, the uniqueness of Lutherans tends toward either the sectarian or the consumeristic.  If we are really unique, in that word’s actual meaning (“one of a kind”), then we are a sect.  If we are trying to get people to join us by saying why we are better than some others, then we have bought the consumeristic lie that we are in competition with the rest of American Christianity for an increasingly dwindling market share. 

On Saturday, I picked up the new First Things and, to my pleasant surprise, there was a short essay by Gilbert Meilaender [subscription required, but well worth it] (pp. 27-30) making much the same argument as I had (though, of course, with much more breadth and depth than I can–breadth and depth are characteristic of Meilaender).  Perhaps one of the reasons I like Meilaender’s essay is that I find myself nodding when he writes,

Inertia has always been a powerful force in my life.  I have long known that what seems to have been Luther’s temperament is not mine, and had I been around in the early sixteenth century, it’s likely I would have remained a catholic of the Roman communion.  But I was not, and, hence, I have to think through what sort ot reasons I might have now for doing what I am termperamentally inclined to do–stay where I am.

What does it actually mean to be Lutheran?  Some see it as a reform movement within the Church catholic, and some, like First Things‘ founder, Richard John Neuhaus (whose essay, btw, “How I Became the Catholic I Was,” is referenced by Meilaender’s title), as a reform movement that has accomplished its purpose, thus necessitating a return to Rome.  But, as Meilaender puts it, “it does not make sense to me to think of Lutheranism, or the Church more generally, in ways that largely bypass what five centuries of history have produced.” 

Although we have developed a distinct indentity from Rome, Meilaender points out what some Lutherans seem to have forgotten: that we claim the catholic tradition for our own:

…its central Trinitarian and Christological teachings formulated before and at the fifth-century Council of Chalcedon; its belief in baptism as the sacrament of initiation and in the Eucharistic presence of Christ’s body and blood; its determination to care for the vulnerable and voiceless, including the unborn.

So, for example, the first articles of the Augsburg Confession of 1530 acknowledge and affirm received aspects of the catholic tradition–about the Triune God, original sin, and Christ as the Son of God–before the Confession ever turns to questions that were in dispute.  Being Lutheran is, therefore, one way of being catholic.  Lutherans exist primarily to do what the church catholic should seek to do in every time and place: shape the lives of Christian people in faithful obedience, and be the voice of Christ in and to the world.

 Lutherans should indeed recognize that Rome is of immense importance for all Christians because we are “parasitic upon it, and its achievements and contributions are immense.  If the Church as the body of Christ must, as Bonhoeffer put it, take up space in the world, then it is simply a fact that the Roman church takes up a great deal of space…Rome takes up far more space–and therefore embodies Christian faith and faithfulness in a manner harder to ignore–than does the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.”  On the other hand, the space that Rome takes up is not without problems, since it takes up space as both an ecclesial institution and a political entity–“a blurring of distinctions that suggests that not all of the old sixteenth-century arguments have lost their significance.” 

But the part of the essay that strikes me hardest, that rings most true, is this:

If we Lutherans ourselves were clearer that to be Lutheran is to claim the catholic tradition as ours, we would avoid some of the mistakes that have gone a long way to hollowing out Lutheranism in this country.  In particular, we could rid of the annoying tic that leads so many Lutherans to try–constantly–to articulate something distinctively Lutheran (a sure sign we are worried that our continued existence cannot be justified and, irony of ironies, we must seek to accomplish that justification ourselves). 

And Meilaender quotes Kirkegaard to this effect: “Taken by itself, as the whole of Christianity, the Lutheran corrective [to the medieval Roman church] produces the most subtle type of worldliness and paganism.”  This magnifying and absolutizing of the Lutheran corrective of Justification by grace through faith alone, as true and necessary as it is, is why Lutherans (including myself) struggle with Adolf Koeberle’s The Quest for Holiness (that’s assuming anyone still reads this book; to my mind, the absolute best articulation of Justification and Sanctification that has ever been written) or Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship.  We often, like Luther (who was compelled by his situation), wear blinders to anything but Justification or the forgiveness of sins by pure grace.  Which is, not incidentally, why we (unlike Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard, or Walther) have trouble preaching the Law as a good gift of God.  If the Gospel is good, and the Gospel always comes after the Law, our naturally antithetical ways lead us to perceive the Law as bad; reducing the message of the Scriptures to the Gospel (in its “narrow sense,” as Lutherans speak of it) necessarily and evidently leads to a form of antinomianism (as anyone surveying American Lutheranism can easily perceive).  “Though, of course,” as Meilaender parenthetically notes, “the antinomianism is never genuine.  The nomos [law] is simply taken over from the culture, and so, for example, condemnation of divorce or homosexuality is softened while insufficient commitment to ‘sustainability’ becomes a deadly sin.”

Moreover, once we Lutherans give up the obsessive search for something distinctively Lutheran–some teaching such as justification or the law/gospel distinction that must serve as the organizing principle of our entire theology–we will be free to recognize and augment the considerable contributions made by catholics of the Lutheran communion to the life of the one Church. … Many Lutherans of all stripes continue to search for distinctively Lutheran teachings taht offer a reason for our continued existence.  Indeed, quite often these days, whatever their differences, they alight on the same basic formula [bells and flashing lights should be going off! T.].  The distinction between law and gospel, so powerful for the care of souls, gets turned into the organizing principle of an entire theology–a distinctive theology, to be sure, but one that, as Kierkegaard saw, ‘produces the most subtle type of worldliness and paganism.’  We can do better, and, for the sake of the church catholic to whose tradition we lay claim, we should.

That last sentence is indicative of the whole thrust of the Lutheran Confessions (which is not actually the title.  They are not the “Lutheran” Confessions; they are the confessions of the Church catholic, and the confessors understood them this way, and this fact supports Meilaender’s thesis).  Lutherans exist, as always, to bear witness to, to confess, with all the saints the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ and its fruit in the lives of individual Christians and the whole Church, for the sake of the world.