Posted on January 2nd, 2013
Tonight we remember a man whose impact on American Lutheranism is both profound, and deeply under-appreciated. Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe lived in nineteenth-century Germany, serving as pastor in a Bavarian town called Neuendettelsau. Although he never visited the United States, he had a deep impact on the growth of orthodox Lutheranism here by training men who were sent as missionary pastors here (as well as to Brazil and Australia). Some of these pastors became the founding fathers of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. He financed a teachers college in Saginaw, Michigan, as well as a seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which today is called Concordia Theological Seminary, a school I’m proud to call my alma mater. Loehe was also deeply dedicated to works of mercy, establishing a training house for deaconesses, and homes for the aged.
The hymn we just sang was written by Pastor Loehe shows another side of him, in reflecting on how this Sacrament of the Altar joins us to Christ, each other, and the saints who have gone on before us. As we receive Christ’s gifts here, angels and our fathers in the faith rejoice together at our Lord’s table. “The cherubim, their faces veiled from light, While saints in wonder kneel, Sing praise to Him whose fact with glory bright No earthly masks conceal. This sacrament God gives us Binds us in unity, Joins earth with heav’n beyond us, Time with eternity!”
Loehe’s most well-known work among theologians today is his Three Books about the Church. But tonight I would like to share with you a few excerpts from his Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism written as a guide for Pastors and Teachers. It contains gems of Christian wisdom, spoken clearly and directly on the chief articles of the Christian Faith.
Thus his conclusion of the Ten Commandments contains these questions and answers:
Will you henceforth keep God’s Commandments better than in the past?
I am not able to. “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” Rom. vii. 18.
And have you then no hope of amendment?
Yes, I have. “God works in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Phil. ii. 13
Here we clearly see the proper method of a Bible teacher: he says nothing without support from the Word of God. Such a man was Blessed Wilhelm Loehe. In his introduction to the Creed, he nicely resolves the oft-posed problem between adherence to a Creed and the faith of the heart:
By which faith are we saved, the Creed or the belief of the heart?
By neither alone, but by both together. He who does not know what to believe is saved as little as he who does not believe what he ought. The Creed without faith helps not at all; and faith is impossible without a Creed.
In discussing the Lord’s Supper, Loehe correctly says that it is a memorial meal by which we show forth Christ’s “life and suffering and death for us.” But then in question 854 he asks and answers:
In it do we commemorate Him only?
No, He remembers us and our need much more, and in the Bread gives to us His Body for the remission of sins. We remember Him in receiving the bread, and He remembers us by giving us in, with and under the bread His Body, that we may become members of His Body, His flesh and blood; and He gives to us forgiveness of sins, that body and soul may rejoice in the Living God.
And in the final question, 903, of his explanation of the Catechism, Loehe takes up the question all of you, like me, have probably wrestled with: What about my doubts? Do they disqualify me? Loehe puts it this way:
What doubter is unworthy and unfit?
He who is willing to doubt. He who fights against doubt and tries in faith to overcome it, is one of the weary and heavy laden, to whom Christ says, Come unto me, and I will give you rest.
So, on this day when we remember this faithful pastor who played no little part in the orthodox Lutheran faith taking hold here in our country, let us who are weary and heavy laden approach our Lord’s gifts once again, rejoicing that He offers them to us for our rest, and here He remembers us and our need, that we might rejoice now, and at the last rejoice with the cherubim and saints in heaven.