We Propose to Form a Society
by Paul Hensel
Faith-Life 2.13 [Oct. 1, 1929], 3–4
We already are that in a way. The Lord has thrown us together into one group. The recent upheavals in Synod have ground us together into one lump. We are a product of the church. We did not plan to be that. We happened together, and naturally began to function as a separate body before we could think of consolidating ourselves.
After we have been formed by an unseen hand, it is quite natural and proper that we form ourselves. Our work has thus far been done in a hit-and-miss fashion, with vague and conflicting ideas as to policy and purpose. This is natural and need not be looked upon as an evil omen. Healthy and virile movements grope their way through cloud and confusion to the light of day. It certainly would be unhealthy for us to be content with and to remain ‘without form and void.’ The waters under our heaven must now ‘be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.’
God planned our salvation. He was very definite about the formation, proclamation, and realization of that plan. Likewise do we observe that the plan which He puts into execution through the medium of His Church on earth is very definite. Again He has arranged it so that individuals and groups within the Church have a particular and peculiar mission to perform, which in nature and scope is distinct from the duties of other bodies. God has blessed His Church with a diversity of gifts. For the conscientious employment of these He offers diverse opportunities. And we have ours. So when we now take steps to put our house in order, we need not hold ourselves in suspicion as though we now were taking one foot off from the firm foundation of faith and placing it on the sands of human organization for a better footing. Faith always moves in forms and thus serves God.
We seem to be agreed on this, that our purpose is not to found missions everywhere, nor to slice away at the Old Synod, and cut into old congregations, gather up the fragments and form new congregations and eventually organize a new synod, which is to compete and strive with the present Lutheran bodies, and be a wholesome thorn in their side.
No! Our purpose is to preserve the heritage of the Wauwatosa Gospel; to popularize, unfold, and apply the ideals of the Old Quartalschrift. That is the doctrine which has uncovered and brought to light our spiritual poverty, has unmasked Synod, and raised this present storm. It does not fit into the scheme of things due to its sober, honest, matter-of-fact, and incorruptible character. The Wisconsin Synod has practically disavowed these views and is shedding them like a tree sheds its leaves. Synod will therefore not preserve its own heritage. It remains to be seen whether the Protes’tants have absorbed and understood these ideals sufficiently well to preserve them. The truth which has been handed down to us cannot be kept intact merely by intellectually subscribing to it. This truth must become part of our flesh and blood, our life. We therefore intend to carry on our work, on paper: by writing and publishing timely and pointed articles on subjects which are or should be under discussion; in the pulpit: by means of Biblical sermons; in the pew: by cultivating the choice and classical hymns of the Old Lutheran Church; in the parsonage and parish: by a close application to that Gospel which places our conversation in heaven; in the schools: by instilling the fear of God into the young, which is the beginning of wisdom; among ourselves: by practicing an unflinching criticism which knows neither fear nor favor; over against Synod and the church at large: by uncovering cant and corruption and freely discussing those touchy questions which Synod for the sake of self-preservation, and actuated by fear of disintegration, has hushed up.
Our Lutheran publications, as we know them, lack the punch and pungency of the Apostles and Prophets because they instinctively (though not as a result of cold calculation) were pressed into the service of the visible church corporation, and identified its interests with the Church Invisible, and therefore fell into the habit of painting the rugged truth with an inoffensive coat of piety. That is the style which breeds orthodoxy and pietism. And insofar as its influence is of this nature, it is detrimental to the spiritual welfare of the Church. Our plan need not conflict with the work of the ‘Verstaendigungskomitee’ [Reconciliation Committee]. Even though an understanding should come about at some time or other, there will always be a place for a paper of the character of Faith-Life.
To this end we propose to form a society of all those pastors, teachers, and laymen who are in harmony with and have an understanding for the above-mentioned venture, regardless of whether they are affiliated with established synods, or already belong to the suspended parties. We ask no one to leave his church. We are not proselyting. We do not propose to approach those men and women, even of our own congregations, of whom we know beforehand, that they are not interested, or have no appreciation or understanding of our business, though they may be good and devout Christians otherwise. We do not wish to coax or beg anyone to join us. This is to be a society, within the church, of volunteers who come to us with the foreknowledge that they are joining themselves to the troubles of the Church.
We are anxious to get on a good financial footing. We cannot operate otherwise. We cannot afford to be dependent on the free-will offerings of our congregations, of which we never know how large they will be, nor when they are forthcoming. They, of course, will be accepted as before. But above and outside of these offerings, we wish to secure pledges, which insure us of a steady income, not subject to fluctuations, so that we at all times know how our books balance, and can arrange our work accordingly. We are not going to make debts, on faith in the hazy future, but pay debts by faith in our Lord. Repentance means for us to be keen on and sensitive about fulfilling our financial obligations promptly. Our contributions are to be remitted at regular, stated intervals, annually, quarterly, or monthly, as you wish. The treasurer is to send a statement to those that are in arrears. We shall not feel insulted at the receipt of such a statement. Everyone is to be the sole judge of what he is to contribute. The names and addresses together with the figures pledged are to be on record with the treasurer, to be used according to the wishes of the signers. An income equivalent to the first year’s income will be sufficient to take care of the present budget and wipe out the present deficit. Twenty-five pledges at the Burr Oak conference already guarantee an annual contribution of more than $1,500.00.
We can make substantial sacrifices for the Church. But this requires strict economy on our part. The sin of our age is to consider and call the comforts and luxuries of modern civilization necessities. We Protes’tants are living in that sin. We now must learn to sell the oats, eat the straw, and chew the crib. That is what some of our brothers with their wives and children have been doing since they were ousted. They had to. We also can deny ourselves of many comforts, and can do so with a mixture of pain and pleasure then when there is an incentive to urge us on and a concrete purpose to work for.
The economic life of a family generally revolves around the bank-account, the insurance policy, the new car, the mortgage, and the like. These are the disciplinarians and often the tyrants under which people slave. We need a disciplinarian. We need to discipline ourselves. Let our economy center around Faith-Life. We do that by pledging ourselves to the limit. We will, of course, take our wives and children into our confidence and train all the spokes to revolve around one hub.
In economizing along the lines suggested we will not only keep Faith-Life above water, but incidentally our moderate and temperate style of living will be a hint to this materialistic world of ours that there are treasures in heaven, which moths and rust do not corrupt, treasures which we are acquainted with and laying up for ourselves against a rainy day.
[This article was brought the editor’s attention by Robert W. Christman, in connection with a discussion regarding Faith-Life Policy and Purpose.]