Lutheran Theological Review 32 (2020)

This is a fine tribute to Hermann Otto Sasse, born in Sonnenwalde on 17 July 1895. A colourful addition complementing the series Oberurseler Hefte, masterfully edited by the prolific Werner Klän: bilingual, international, scholarly, sometimes with literary flair and whiffs of genius, surprising detail, mostly with clear Lutheran bias. Just as you’d expect from this panel of twelve academics from three continents reflecting Sasse’s theological legacy, which continues to flourish. The writers go far to trace his ecumenical impact in the doctrinal disciplines of biblical studies, church history, systematics, and liturgics.
This homage hit the shelves in good time for the 125th birthday of »Mr Lutheran«, who discovered vital roots of the Lutheran Reformation outside his fatherland, starting off with the traumatic impact of the murderous battle of Passendale, until he got crucial orientation in the Lutheran Confessions by seminary studies in Hartford, CT, becoming more and more confessional an his way to the next big round of conflict. These confessional and ecumenical impulses continue to stretch Sasse way beyond the narrow confines of Prussia [1] and then Germany. This odyssey took time. In the end more than eight decades. Stolle talks about Fernwirkung [»long distance effect«]. After the far-reaching catastrophe of the 2nd World War. Sasse leaves a devastated homeland of the Reformation. This reaction is due at least partly to the final dissolution of confessional remnants in the formation of the Evangelische Kirche Deutschlands (1948): a progressive amalgamation without confessional integrity, despite elaborate ecclesial figments in theory and practice. This dominant churchly corporation at first curtailed and then smothered Lutheran remnants in previously Lutheran domains. Sasse’s protests are to no avail. He accepts a call Down Under in his ongoing pursuit for ecclesial unity in the truth worldwide, which he continues to promote vigorously until the untimely completion of his cosmopolitan pilgrimage in 1976.

1.    Hermann Sasse als Neutestamentler (Volker Stolle)
You’ve got to hand it to the Germans: they address the sticky issues head on and leave the sweet stuff for later. Jump in at the deep end – starting with chapter 1: »Sasse as exegete«. And they’ve got the right man to do it, because it takes one to know one. An academic and NT exegete well-positioned to address Sasse’s preliminary career in this field, Stolle goes to some length doing so. His critique is more than twice as long as any of the others and, in the end, you might just conclude: »Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.« Well, his task is daunting. Sasse does not list his NT studies when he draws up his biographical review. Neither does he conclude his ongoing studies concerning Holy Scriptures, nor does he leave a conceptualized hermeneutic or exegetical compendium for comparison. Sacra Scriptura was published posthumously and probably more to satisfy the hunger of the readers than to document the author’s conclusive dealings with this fragmentary enigma. [2] Perhaps trying to harmonize historical-critical methodology with church dogmatics was just too much of a strain. It appears as if Sasse gave up on this pursuit ad absurdum (fn. 82) – comparable to the vain quest for the historical Jesus in Schweitzer’s con-clusion of the »Leben Jesu Forschung« [3] – prompting the question whether this historical pursuit with the then predominant exegetical tool was like squaring a circle. Still, Stolle does not take the cue from Sasse or Schweitzer to let it be. Rather, he takes an the task of sifting Sasse’s writings, showing how he went about answering questions more and more from a dogmatic vantage point [4] and the confessional angle of a dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran than from conclusive exegetical logic. [5] (The confessional Lutheran reader might not find this a damning critique!) Thus, Stolle contends he ends up nowhere noteworthy – exegetically speaking – as he remained tied up in assumptions of his »theologiegeschichtliches Problembewusstsein« [historical-theological conception of the problem].
Sasse’s leading question, which Stolle takes up, »What shall I preach?«, is answered with prophetic gusto, but without textual grounding in the end. Thus, it remains unanswered in some speculative, hypothetical, and ideological void. Stolle reaches this his conclusion after going through Sasse’s exegetical travails starting off in his early days, [6] taking us through the discovery of the church confessions, [7] explaining his dogmatic view [8] and exegetical method, before confronting us with his conclusions on the conundrum of NT exegesis.
The Lord’s Supper is one of Sasse’s main undertakings and his monography bears witness to that. (Here Stolle is particularly critical of Sasse from a higher-critical exegetical viewpoint – a criticism that Sasse, in his new-found confessional Lutheranism, would not have found compelling.) Stolle contends that, investigating the personal subjectivity of our Lord and thus going beyond the Words of Institution, Sasse addresses a contemporary conflict not in the NT. That is why this quest remains exegetically unresolved. There is no key beyond the written words. Stolle argues that Sasse capitulates in the exegetical task [9] of understanding the Words of Institution by postulating their absurdity. Seeking refuge in the reformational confession as key, which serves to break the encoded NT – thus tipping Rom. 10:17 on its head – remains an exegetical no-go. Sasse does not bring new exegetical insights into the Lord’s Supper but gives a rehash of Luther instead, Stolle complains. Although he takes historical development for granted, Sasse argues with the vague postulate of »Gesamtzeugnis des NT« [the NT witness as a whole], which remains inconclusive exegetically. He deconstructs NT texts to form historical deductions from previously contradicting versions to overcome perceived absurdity, which in the final analysis remain historically unverifiable. Sasse, who sees the tragic moment in Harnack, Barth, and Bultmann, is a tragic figure himself in Stolle’s résumé as he recognizes the inherent troubles in the contemporary exegetical method, yet cannot free himself from its presuppositions and methods. Unable to perceive the linguistic aspects of his sources, he constructs false alternatives (object/subject) and falls to grasp their complementarity in the communicative process under the meaningful direction of divine sovereignty.
While his (foregoing) critique of Sasse’s exegetical methodology somewhat spoils the birthday party, Stolle nevertheless leaves us with exciting challenges:
1. Systematic elaboration of God being simultaneously the most subjective and the most objective as sovereign in the communicative process of (linguistic) revelation.
2. Re-reading Bultmann and demythologizing ideologies in the ongoing effort and obligation to translate the NT in various contexts. (His provocative contention that Sasse and Bultmann were much closer to each other even than Sasse thought, sounds promising, considering that existentialism is not mere subjectivity, but strives to address the fundamental question of beings in relation by reviewing the credal structure of theological statements.)
3. Recognition and evaluation of the ecumenical standard set by evangelical and catholic exegetes in the »Evangelisch Katholischer Kommentar zum NT«.
4. Developing a doctrine of Scripture, which is not just dogmatic thetically or repetitive, but rather a practical encouragement to read the Bible and hear God speak to us.

2. Volles Gotteswort und volles Menschenwort. Hermann Sasses Beitrag zu einem lutherischen Verständnis der Heiligen Schrift (Simon Volkmar)
In chapter 2 Volkmar is comparatively optimistic – at least compared to Stolle’s missive an Sasse’s »failed« exegetical endeavour. He is positive that Sasse still has a serious contribution to make for contemporaries concerning the doctrine of Scripture and the understanding of the Bible. After highlighting pitfalls in current society to grasp God’s good news for modern man, he highlights past critique of Sasse by Oesch, Marquart, and Harrison, showing that Sasse had a change of heart towards the end of his life (62). This led him to conclude that historical critical exegesis does not offer a viable alternative to the dogma of Lutheran orthodoxy. [10] In contrast to idols, God speaks in history. This He does in manifold ways of which the »christological incarnation« is paradigmatic and pivotal. Reflecting on this in the light of Luther’s theology of the cross, Volkmar sees it as the possible key to picture revelation. He recommends it as a metaphor for biblical revelation, seeing the two natures of Christ depicted in the divine and human forms of the Word – under the cross and not yet glorified. The revealed Word is the Word of God in human expression in »schlechthinniger Identität« [total identity] of divine and human forms (65). By pointing out the possibilities inherent in the »law of parallels« characteristic of divine revelation at micro- and macro-levels as Sasse displayed, Volkmar suggests adding the idea of similar »aspects« (Emma Brunner-Traut, 66) to complement that of diverging perspectives to accommodate even better the multiple expressions of one God to His people in many situations. In the end he invites readers to further reflect on Sasse’s suggestions concerning »aspects« in relation to moderate forms of reception aesthetics.

3. Sasse as Interpreter of the Lutheran Confessions (Thomas M. Winger)
Reading Winger on Sasse in chapter 3, I cannot help myself picturing the latter returning the compliment: »Well done, good and faithful servant!« Obviously, this flagship scholar has hereby not only mastered another academic task but has rendered a heartfelt tribute to one of our fathers in the faith in the last century. Reading Winger in English, you hear Sasse teach in German – and that’s quite a feat in translation by any standard, even more so if it’s a running commentary relating decades of an intense theological biography. Winger’s goal really is to encourage us to give ear to Sasse, read his letters, essays, and books, which are now so readily available, and to follow his sure lead as he points us to the clear confessions of the Church – the Book of Concord – as a true and faithful exposition of God’s Holy Word in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament for us and our salvation. Following Sasse’s cue, Winger takes us from the basic confession »Christ is Lord« in the early life of the Church, with its witness in proclamation, liturgy, creeds, and sacraments, as response to the triune God’s expose in Jesus of Nazareth in this world. He shows convincingly that it’s the Church’s nature to confess this truth faithfully, enduring in good and bad times, relating the many miracles and wonders of our God before princes and kings, in authentic integrity; rejecting errors, heresies and fallacies like any fraudulent union of some »as-if-church«; sticking rather to the fulness of the Lutheran witness, because it is the true exposition of the biblical revelation of God’s Holy Word, and not only insofar as it would seem opportune. The Augsburg Confession is that high standard of confessional reliability and verity as the Formula of Concord attests and Sasse reminds Behnken (85 n. 48).
Winger illustrates Sasse’s nascent hermeneutics of the Lutheran Confessions as exemplified in the successful engagement promoting confessional unity in Australia by pointing the reader to the ten »Theses of Agreement« (1952) and demonstrating how Sasse went about interpreting the Confessions by focussing an some of the main topics in Sasse’s work: 1. The office of the ministry (AC 5); 2. The real presence in the Lord’s Supper (AC 24 and FC 8); and 3. The Church (AC 7); before finally closing off with a most winsome invitation to become confessional Lutherans ourselves for the unity of the holy Christian Church, challenging readers with a Sasse quote »that we again study the Confessions, that we again and again compare them with the Holy Scripture, and that we constantly learn to gauge their interpretation of the Scriptures and their Scripture proofs more profoundly« (88).

4. Theologische Gegenwartsdeutung in »Weimarer Republik« und »Drittem Reich« (Christian Neddens)
Sasse is credited with prophetic vision in his lucid analysis of current affairs in Germany, but also worldwide. In chapter 4 Neddens takes a closer look and outlines Sasse’s theological evaluation of Nazi politics of just over ten years in 11 pithy pages. [11] It was Sasse’s job as pastor of communal affairs (Sozialpfarrer, perhaps »director of diakonia«?) [12] in greater Berlin to develop a social ethics from a Gospel perspective. Practically, this was to counteract the rapidly-expanding influence of communists and nationalists. As editor of the church annual he was further obligated to write on political and social developments in national matters. He saw the European rise of nationalism as a consequence of mass disorientation, growing discontent with modernity, and a continued class fragmentation of society. Rising fear of bolshevism and ongoing trauma of WWI added to this toxic mix. Secularity, which had progressed since the Enlightenment, put alternative worldviews on offer, and these functioned more or less like »secular churches« (Sasse) and were forerunners of the totalitarian state, which un-derstood itself as omnipotent and supreme, subject to no one nor anything. The Nazi party (NSDAP) instrumentalized religiosity politically for total control and brought about lawlessness. Churches free from this arbitrary rule and anchored firmly in confessional moorings were a real – and perhaps only – option against this total onslaught by a corrupt and demonically tainted state, which was illegitimately usurping absolute sovereignty in some revolutionary empire and thus persecuting, attacking, and trying to destroy any opposition. This confessional Opposition of churches against a degenerate state was the only way out, even if it entailed suffering martyrdom as it stuck to the 1st commandment. The totalitarian state will not accept any limitations, whereas the Church cannot accept another Lord than the triune God and therefore is bound to His divine Law and follows the »ethic of the decalogue« (Sasse) and not some pagan hallucinations of race, blood, and mother earth. This confessional church would be well positioned and divinely legitimized to keep the buckling state on track on a lawful, rightful course, not like the heretic club of »German Christians« , who were but a sectarian faction of the political NSDAP.
Neddens then goes through that violent decade before the war illustrating various highlights in Sasse’s cooperation with like-minded theologians. First the »Jacobi circle« (1932), then the »Bethel Confession« (1933) and »Barmen« (1934). After 1933 Sasse kept a low profile but agitated in the background, reaching as far as the United States (Ludwig Ernst Fürbringer 1936), [13] corresponding with church leaders to enlighten them about the true nature of the national socialists and the very real danger on the rise with them.
As in his early studies, where Sasse is convinced of the fundamental difference between the living God and speechless idols, so, like his colleague Eiert, he sees the incompatibility of Christ and modernity. Whereas the Church is bound by God’s Word, expresses itself in dogma, and is a vital part of society, modernity has an overly optimistic view of man (ignores original sin!), gets lost in subjectivism and cults of individuals and persons, tries to get by without God (secularity), and denies divine revelation. Taking up Jasper, he pinpoints the crisis of religion in the loss of faith and sees political forces using religion as a mask to act as if they were church, struggling for supreme sovereignty in an uncompromising fashion as if they were on a crusade and mission from God. Their total ideological onslaught affects all realms of life: law and order, schools and universities, arts and culture, faith and religion, as they go about promising life and salvation under their messianic leader. That is why Sasse understands the extreme provocation of this totalitarian state by the Christian creed. It remains a definite and permanent insult to the NS ideology, and if it remains true, cannot settle accommodatingly in this anti-Christian setup. The total state as such will continue to be at odds with the free proclamation of the Gospel. It will fight it and try to suppress and eradicate it. The two are incompatible. That is why the »Kirchenkampf« was inevitable, not just as an inner-church struggle, but one which had the state up in arms against the Church. As a party and leader, who saw themselves above the law, usurping divine status and absolute power, they were inherently and structurally godless, anti-church and evil.
Sasse differentiates power structures and various realms of authority in any given state as taught by the Augsburg Confession in articles 16 and 28. In the best case, this division of power grants a healthy interaction and balance with inherent checks and balances. The politicization of the church perverts both divine institutions and (conversely) the state, as such a church destroys both. Divine order is disrupted, and the rule of law becomes outlawed. Neddens sees a connection of Sasse’s thought processes to those reflected in »Revolt of Reason« (Horkheimer/Adorno), which could prove meaningful for research – just like the proposed »Ethic of the Decalogue«, which Sasse shares to some degree with Hans Joachim Iwand.

8. Hermann Sasse’s influence on Confessional Lutheranism in North America since 1945 (John R. Stephenson)
In chapter 8 John Stephenson tackles the thorny issue of Hermann Sasse’s influence on confessional Lutheranism in North America since 1945. To start off, he uses the analogy of Athanasius and the mixed, but mostly negative reception this church father suffered after Nicaea. Well, Sasse was a complex man, too – no easy fit to suit any outfitter. But – and Stephenson makes a strong case for this – Sasse was heard, trusted, and held in high esteem by an impressive list of luminary friends worldwide and in North America. However, and that’s another fact eloquently stressed, he was not unanimously admired in confessional circles, especially amongst the true heirs of the Synodical Conference. This is regrettable, but, judging by the situation in Missouri after the 2nd World War, plausible. Quoting Marquart’s analysis underscores his point: »sclerosis prior to haemorrhage« (138). The complicated doctrines on biblical veracity, [14] church concord, and the bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper [15] were under heavy fire – and Sasse’s early writings were not simply accommodated in the doctrinal framework of Lutheran Orthodoxy. Stephenson still sounds indignant that due to these controversies CPH did not publish the Festschrift Sasse so much deserved. He gives due credit to the sterling groundwork done by the highly esteemed Ronald R. Feuerhahn in the biographical dossier on Sasse published 25 years ago. He himself articulately outlines Sasse’s growing influence on confessional circles in North America during the last quarter century, accentuating the positive influence exerted by blessed forerunners Norman Nagel (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis) and Kurt Marquart (Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne) until these latter days of godsend president Matthew C. Harrison, »who has been at the forefront of making Sasse accessible in English.«
Throughout his strong vindication of Sasse, Stephenson endorses the idea of a comprehensive biography of Sasse. This outstanding debt is still due and, if done well, would surely be meet, right, and salutary far beyond the Americas. I think the growing churches in Africa and Asia would gather huge benefit from such a worthy endeavour. Stephenson concludes: »Should an English-language Sasse biography ever come to completion, its author will find abundant evidence of its subject’s deep personal meekness that persisted in, with, and under his forceful, unabashedly expressed testimony to the truth« (137). That surely is something to hold up as a saintly example of faithful Lutheran witness in our time – far beyond the United States and Canada. [17]

9.    Hermann Sasse’s View of the Office of the Ministry up to World War I (Matthew C. Harrison)
Chapter 9 is by Matthew C. Harrison on »Hermann Sasse’s View of the Office of the Ministry up to World War II«. Here’s a model of Lutheran re-search and teaching. The scope is limited and the procedure step by step – ten in total. Firstly, attention is focussed on the issue – the very heart of the Gospel (AC 4) and its delivery (AC 5) – and that threatened to get lost by historic fallacies à la Harnack [18] and Protestants taken captive in a cruel world with lots of activity [19], »and Romanists fixated erroneously on Marian dogma but missing sure realities of biblical salvation.« [20] Lutherans bear the burden of posing the question of truth and calling to repentance (149).
Harrison has lots of biographical anecdotes up his sleeve and uses them masterfully, keeping the reader engrossed, while not losing him to superfluous detail as he keeps the movie rolling. Nietzsche is symptomatic for modern man in his hopeless pursuit to storm the heavens on his own. Sasse stresses AC 5 as the only way to saving faith (AC 4), whereas modern man got lost in several heresies. [21] This confessional focus on AC 5 remains with Sasse throughout. In the remaining sections (5−9) Harrison takes the reader through various stages in Sasse’s studies on this topic to clarify more and more where he stands and what he holds of the »holy office of the ministry«.
In 1931 Sasse presents a paper at Soest, where some basic positions are clarified, like the presupposition that Luther is secondary to the Confes-sions, which remain primary (152); the Lutheran dogma on Church and ministry are as yet unfinished and in need of further experience (153); there is no sacred succession person to person, only one of true teaching (157).
Towards the end of WWII (1943−44) Sasse proposed a »Lutheran Doctrine of the office of the ministry«. Harrison knows that, at this stage of the war, he was still hopeful to re-create a constitution for the churches of Germany which honoured the Lutheran Confessions. Sasse takes the uniqueness of this »Amt« for granted. It’s not a direct replication of NT orders, for God leaves these issues of church government and constitution free. According to AC 7 these form part of the »bene esse, non esse«, as Word and sacraments do. [22] Sasse goes some distance in his definition of the church office basing his elaborations on AC 4, 5, 14, and 28. It is clear for him that this office is of divine origin and its purpose is to proclaim the Gospel; but for Sasse it is just as obvious that the Lutheran Confessions did not follow Luther’s (supposed) idea that the »ministerium ecclesiasticum« is the exercise of the general priesthood. [23]
Harrison points out that Sasse did not use »any of the traditional ›mandate‹ passages for the office of the ministry (i.e., John 20, Matthew 16; Matthew 28) … prior to 1943/44«, but »That’s it! Here is the key to understanding ordination, says Sasse« (162).
As a good teacher Harrison summarizes his analysis in the brief conclusion (163). Here are some titbits to whet the appetite for more: The office depends upon the Christological substance of the faith (AC 3) and delivers the Gospel (AC 4) by Word and Sacrament (AC 5).
- Conversely: The Church is where Christ is. Christ is in Word and Sacrament (AC 5)
- The office is not derived from the priesthood but from the apostolate (Löhe). The office is a divine institution.
- Pastors are bishops. Bishops are pastors. There is no one constitution (whether episcopal, synodical, presbyterial, congregational) that can be read into or out of the New Testament.
- Conversely: When the office is based on personality, the office is de-stroyed.
- Attempts to Christianize the world only secularize the church.
And finally, some homework. Harrison is convinced: »A study of Sasse’s post-World War II writings will reveal much more« (165). That’s an invitation to go deeper into this matter still.

11. Kirche, kirchliches Dienstamt und Ökumene.
Erwägungen im Anschluss an Hermann Sasse (Werner Klän)
If any chapter should be translated, Klän’s dogmatic outline following Sasse’s train of thought would be my first choice. In intense formulations he handles the intricate issues of the Church and her »serving office« [Dienstamt] in ecumenical responsibility. It is well structured under Latin headings and numbered lists. His dogmatic argument convinces as he goes from early foundations to appropriate applications in our times in three main parts after the introduction and before the summary – all in all just over 20 pages. He points out that Sasse as »confessional ecumenist« took an early stand against any theological union without confessional obligation, because an underlying hypocrisy and deep [24] untruthfulness on the part of the participants is displayed in such an ecclesial amalgamation.
In the first main part, he elaborates six fundamental principles determining the elaborate relation of Church, congregation, and its serving office. Wherever …
… Christ is, there too is the Church. [25]
… the Gospel is, there too is the mandate to preach it, administer the sacraments and remit sins. [26]
… God’s mandate is, there too the office serving with Word and Sacraments will be. [27]
… Word and Sacraments are served, there too will be servants. [28]
… Word and Sacraments are, there the Holy Spirit, there Christ Himself is present. [29]
… the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [30]
In the second main part, Klän expands an ecumenical responsibility from a SELK [31] perspective. Coming from a union church that was in confessional disarray and falling apart structurally [32], Sasse was seeking new orientation and new beginnings. He found these in AC 7 – which made him critical of »high church« ambitions, but hopeful and confident even with regards to the »lonely post« of the evangelical Lutheran Church in Prussia. Weak, it still had a daunting task to face and that to proclaim and confess the foundational unity carrying the Lutheran Church in the ecumenic concert. From this basic confidence, Klän deduces positive and even practical impulses for the positioning of the SELK:
• Fundamental unity of Christendom is a given.
• Bound by Holy Scripture and obligated to its true exposition in the ecumenical and Lutheran confessions, we are called to uncompromising unanimity in faith, doctrine, and confession.
• This scriptural and confessional foundation is not disposable, as the dogmatic decisions in the Book of Concord are true.
• Individuals are bound to these by self-obligation in ordination vows or even just contracts.
• This obligation goes hand in hand with the ongoing struggle to understand, lay out, and apply this biblical and confessional truth in daily life – even finding binding church formulations for them.
• The ongoing lament over disunity in the Church, due to the struggles for the truth and our own fallibility, failures, and sinfulness.
• There are options for joint witness and practical co-operation – even if full accord of faithful confession is still outstanding.
• The task of confessional positioning and the ecumenical horizon re-mains a vital part of church life in society, which the SELK has answered with the following:
    - Unification of SELK and the »Old Lutherans« (1990).
    - Membership in the ACK: the Working Community of Christian Churches (1991).
    - Signatory to the ecumenical charter: »Charta Oecumenica« (2003).
    - Founding member of the International Lutheran Council (1993).
In the third and concluding part Klän explains church fellowship from a confessional perspective bound faithfully to the Lutheran Book of Concord. As the Church is essentially constituted in pure Gospel witness, which entails the administration of our Lord’s sacraments according to His institution, its members are bound up in this eschatological responsibility before God and all men, to live faithfully by means of this divine gift as truly evangelical (in the sense of »evangelisch«), catholic, and orthodox Christians as implied in AC 1. Any substantial renewal and revival of this church will involve a return to the very Source of Life and Faith, and to His revelation and the churches’ faithful documentation thereof, just as happened in the Reformation and in the neo-Lutheran revival of the 19th century. This requires communication and verbalization of the great consensus in confessional integrity – not disregarding contextuality and continuity. It must also be scriptural, factual, traditional, and contemporaneous. In the past, such confessional resurgence crystallized around the Lord’s Supper. It was here that full church fellowship was expressed in closed communion of those in unanimity concerning what they believed, taught, and confessed.
This confessional ecclesiology is compressed in its »Magna Charta« (204): AC 7. The blessed saints (AC 8) are gathered and sustained by the holy things of the Holy Spirit Himself. They are the means of grace and the very signs of the Church, which is no platonic ideal, but a very real, if somewhat mixed bag (»corpus permixtum«), recognizable (visible!) in this world, wherever pure preaching and appropriate celebration of the sacraments happen. These are constitutive for the Church, distinguishable as true or false and discemible to human ears and eyes.
Because the Holy Spirit ties Himself to these means of grace, it is implied conversely that faith and, by further implication, the congregation of saints are tied to them, too – and specifically them being truthfully and faithfully carried to God’s people »purely«  and »rightfully« – publicly before God and His people, as the calling for this service goes.
Klän clarifies in a further step that the »satis est« (it is enough!) is not to be misunderstood in a reductionistic fashion – demanding but a minimal consensus. Rather, it requires the fundamental consensus in all things pertaining to man’s salvation and even touching an church constitution as implied in the larger doctrinal framework of the Book of Concord as Christian confession and normed norm of faithful living and truthful teaching – as the Augsburg Confession demonstrates with its connection to the ancient church in its opening paragraph. In its explication of the truth deduced from Holy Scriptures it strives to formulate the preliminary consensus of true faith, striving for unity in faith as it reaches out universally with the Gospel truth. Expressing the truth remains fundamental to the striving for unity. Therefore, consensus in doctrine remains a central motive in this mission. This truth needs to be recognized, accepted, applied, and formulated in language to communicate the precious gift of God’s promises in Word and Sacrament. To do this faithfully, true ecumenicity will strive for truth first. Doctrinal evaluation is required, and subsequently differentiation between truth and falsehood, and finally condemnation of the latter. Unity in the Church remains unity in truth – and biblical truth at that. To maintain these criteria the critical reading of the text remains crucial, because we believe that the words of Holy Scripture are clear, plausible, comprehensible, and communicable – besides being sufficient, effective, binding, and authoritative. Church life remains a reflection and confession of faith in God’s words. The great consensus is not the Gospel itself, but articulated faith and its human expression in the many languages of God’s people, communicating His promises, which again needs to be tried and tested against the original. Holy Scripture is the norm, the Confessions remain their true exposition as normed norm, and our faith is fruit and expression of these godly gifts, given, formed, and normed by the divine standard.
The differences in confessional realities can’t be plastered over in the desire for unity. Rather, they need to be addressed with the serious intent to reach consensus in the truth, that is, to be in line with the Gospel as expressed in the confession of the Church. This unanimity in the truth remains the precondition to actually attain, maintain, and celebrate church fellowship at the altar.

12. Sasse on the Sacrament of the Altar. Where Ecclesiology and Eschatology Meet (John T. Pless)
And lastly about the Last Things. In »Where Ecclesiology and Eschatology Meet« Pless goes into »Sasse on the Sacrament of the Altar« and in just 15 pages addresses the centrepiece of Sasses theological reflection – taking the reader into the very heart of the Church as she celebrates the living Lord in view of the Last Things. It’s very practical, dogmatic, and liturgical, this brilliant summary of faith and Christian life »sub aeternitate«.
Like most of the writers in this book, Pless goes back to biographical beginnings to show how Sasse becomes Lutheran on reading Löhe and thus coming to realize the centrality of the Incarnation and likewise the Real Presence in the Lord’ s Supper in spite of the ideological resistance from those who propose that the finite can’t contain the infinite.
Sasse faces many challenges against the Sacrament: von Harnack, Heitmüller, Lietzmann, Käsemann, Jeremias, Cullmann. He, however, concludes that the Lord’s Supper is no historical problem to be solved, but the testimony of God’s Son to be received in faith or rejected in unbelief. It’s the crux of the Gospel. Sasse never tires to repeat: the Sacrament is the Gospel. The Words of institution stand firm – and no pietistic or rationalistic agitation will tear them down. Instead, the »communio sanctorum« (participation of the saints in the holy things) will bless and keep the body of Christ through this age into the coming one.
Pless continues with critique of Heiler, Stählin, and Brunner, the latter having to appeal to some action of the participants, instead of sticking to the Real Presence as proclaimed in the Small Catechism. It is the Sacrament that preserves the Church in accordance with 1 Cor. 11:17−37. His conclusion:
A denial of the Sacrament deforms the church and threatens its very existence. It was this conviction that compelled Sasse to contend for the biblical and evangelical teaching of the Lord’s Supper against what he could only see as negotiated ecumenical compromises in the formation of the EKD, the Arnoldshain Theses, the Leuenberg Concord, as well as various discussions in North America and on the mission field. (224)
In the final analysis »each Eucharist celebration of the church is a repetition of the first supper and a prolepsis of the final supper« (225); It is the food for pilgrims – for those, who pray »Maranatha« – and the Church, who »can wait for him, because he is with her. «
Here is no dogmatic finality to the question »how« of the bodily resurrection or bodily benefit of the Sacrament; however, there is the confession: »As the final absolution in the Last Judgment is anticipated in the absolution, and our death and resurrection are anticipated in Baptism, so also an eschatological gift is received even now in the Lord’s Supper« (227). Quoting his teacher Kenneth Korby, Pless closes with a moving homage:
»Wilhelm Löhe had found in Sasse an apt pupil (and friendly critic); as was the case with Löhe, Sasse could be called one of the great witnesses in our time to the Sacrament of the Altar ... When he writes about the Sacrament of the Altar, he breathes the orthodoxy of one who has also used the Sacrament for his home away from home.« (228)

13. Biographische Annäherungen an Hermann Sasse (1895−1976) (Andrea Grünhagen)
The final chapter 13 is Grünhagen’s summary of Sasse’s lifespan, going beyond the biblical border of longevity. She approaches this biography evaluating its many ups and downs, stops, and turns in his career, assessing various theological cooperations, team efforts, addressing tensions and even conflicts, expressing the need for further elaborations of unresolved issues, and pointing out promising prospects for meaningful research and churchly edification. She notes, for example, the very encouraging work in tandem with Bonhoeffer, whose brief life shows remarkable similarities and divergencies to that of our protagonist (237; cf. Stolle concerning Wendland and Schmidt, 17 n. 24), and his complicated position within the Erlangen university in general and in the theological faculty specifically, focusing again on his unresolved and somewhat strained relationship with Elert (243). Thereby she echoes the double-pronged appeal of Klän, who in his preamble emphasizes the »preliminary character« (Zwischenstand) of these theological reflections, which grant but a »temporary perspective« (Zwischenbilanz), and defmitely open up space for further studies, more critical appreciation, and hopefully growing influence of Sasse’s theological and churchly heritage.
Together with Friedrich Wilhelm Hopf, Sasse continued to promote confessional Lutheranism way beyond the confines of their local church bodies, exerting influence in the Missouri Synod (Stephenson and Harrison) and throughout the realms of the Lutheran missions in Africa, Asia, and South America by a string of publications and extended correspondence reflected by Grünhagen, emphasizing the confessional dimension of the Lutheran faith in global context as Winger, Schild, and Klän show, too. The editor stresses the preliminary character of this volume, necessitating further study of Sasse’s theological heritage. This desideratum opens the perspective to have scholars from Africa, South America, and Asia join this exciting conversation, which Sasse & Co. had opened up with his ongoing reflections on church unity (e.g. India), and global missions within denominational frameworks like the World Council of Churches, Vatican II, and Lausanne. I’m sure that Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, is still the best place for Lutherans doing such progressive theologizing, taking up this Lutheran mission in exegetical, historic, and pastoral departments, even as most Lutheran seminaries worldwide strive to address the ongoing challenge, too. Can you imagine what would have happened if Sasse had not gone to Australia to help bridge those church divisions, but would instead have helped the Missourians to address theirs differently? Concordia, St. Louis, would have been a good place for him to start, that’s for sure!
Wilhelm Weber, Jr.

[1] In chapter 6: »Church political considerations concerning Hermann Sasse’s call to Erlangen« Stolle adds an excursion to his main objective but touches noteworthy characteristics of Sasse in the evaluation of contemporaries. Firstly, Sasse’s international connections and the trust he enjoys with the confessional fraternity especially in England, the USA, and Australia were significant. Secondly, Sasse’s influence amongst the younger generation was recognized as a pastoral and missionary force to be reckoned with. Lastly, Sasse’s presence in Prussia gave some Lutheran flavour and perhaps even exerted some positive influence in the Union there but having him move to Erlangen to work in tandem with Elert would diminish this, whilst strengthening the Lutheran side considerably.
[2] Volkmar points out (55) Sasse’s request to keep it from being published at all.
[3] Stolle highlights that Sasse’s standard question was not posed in the NT: Did Jesus see Himself as saviour of the world? He concludes that Sasse remained historically fixated in his methods and his quest to get a grip on Jesus historically and psychologically, although the NT does not give conclusive answers to these problems of modernity. There-fore, the most serious critique from Stolle is that Sasse did not take the given texts of the NT seriously enough as theological expressions, which is a prerequisite for such exegetical study. Decisive is not the subconscious reflection of Jesus, but the confrontation with the risen and living Lord, who calls and sends authoritatively into His mission. It’s no longer about following the historical Jesus to some part of the promised land but facing the risen Lord in daily life with the testimony of His witnesses, which God has con-firmed as faithful to His doings and reliable for us to follow.
[4] Expounding upon our Lord’s question posed in Mt. 16:15, Sasse’s re-formulation of the question remains unanswered according to Stolle, because, although he posits an objective answer inspired by the Holy Spirit, this »Urbekenntnis« [primitive confession] does not come in words, but »entzieht sich der Sprachlichkeit« [eludes linguistic expression]. Instead, Stolle claims, God’s revelation is in correlation with the proclamation of the Gospel, but not with the later confession, which results from the former. As Sasse himself discontinues this argument, it would seem as if he acknowledges that this exegesis is not verified and not »sustainable« (tragfähig).
[5] Stolle contends that this idea promoted as biblical is not really from the NT, but from Vilmar (29, fn. 94).
* Readers educated in the Anglosphere may find the rigid division between exegesis and dogmatics expressed here by Dr Stolle, and typical of German academia, to be perplexing and problematic – ed.
[6] Stolle investigates Sasse’s dealings wich Mir 6:45-52; :45-52; his comparison of biblical eschatology with that of Vergil going into the various issues of α??ν, ?????, καιρ?ς, χρ?νος, and introducing the idea of complementarity; and finally the complex tradition of the Paraclete, where Stolle notes the positive evaluation by Windisch (22), that Sasse made profound observations using questionable exegetical procedure.
[7] Sasse’s initial euphoria at the Lausanne Conference (1927), »Great moment!«, gives way to disillusionment, as it did not live up to his expectations of giving a faithful and reliable church witness, but instead fell back into sectarian ambiguity. This failed »Nicene moment« influenced his later view of Barmen decisively (23).
[8] Sasse, »Confessing Jesus as Lord« at the Wartburg Conference (1928), uses historical methodology to prove the uniqueness of Christendom and its foundational christological confession, which entails rudimentary Trinitarian elements from the start. This is no necessary truth of reason valid a priori, but rather a contingent truth in history valid a posteriori. Therefore, this is no ideal truth in the sense of antiquity, as the Greeks would have sought, but something uniquely different: »The historical Jesus is the divine Christ!« There is no genesis or evolution of this church confession, but rather a constant given from beginning to end, joining up 1 Cor. 8:6; Deut. 6:4, and even the Nicene Creed, connecting revelation and faithful response in confession, transcending the personal commitment of the confessor under christological lordship posing an opposition between subject and object. Yet, the Lord remains bigger than the confession. In Him the suffering, judged, and crucified servant nature is one with that of the risen and exalted Lord. Stolle contends: that confession is out of bounds for exegesis. Terminologically it cannot be deduced from the NT. With this confession – basically around 1930 – Sasse leaves the ground rules of the »Religionsgeschichtliche Schule« [history of religions school] and focusses instead on the church and its tradition – and lands in speculation beyond interpretation (28 fn. 89; 29, fn. 92). In Stolle’s words, Sasse leaves the language of Canaan to speak with Plato’s vocabulary.
[9] Reflecting on Sasse’s dealings with the office of the ministry, Stolle concludes that he did not allow the text to speak, but continued to postulate a constant objectivity behind the historic development (38).
[10] Volkmar takes note of Wachler’s critique that Sasse cites Orthodox Lutherans out of context and Kloha’s demonstration that those citations are often from Barth’s Church Dogmatics and with recognizable bias. Considering the studies of both Preus and Steiger, Sasse’s initial grasp of Lutheran Orthodoxy is untenable.
[11] Sommer writes a few pages (3) more than Neddens addressing the same topic, time, and theme in the subsequent chapter 5: »Hermann Sasse in the Kirchenkampf of the 3rd Reich«. He does not reach different conclusions than Neddens, even if he adds some detail to various stages of this struggle.
[12] Harrison calls him »welfare pastor« (149).
[13] Schild studies this informative letter in chapter 7 in more detail: »Truth and Tyranny. Hermann Sasse’s 1936 Missive to Ludwig Fürbringer«. It exemplifies the skills Sasse had as masterful writer of letters and demonstrates convincingly how he was able to keep the faith and address the truth in difficult times of political intimidation and persecution of the church, when authorities and powers (Eph. 6:12) hide and suppress the truth on a grand scale – and only a minority survives this total onslaught of faithlessness in the reigning cult of Caesar. Addressing small things, living people, current affairs, he keeps the big picture in mind and views global horizons from a profoundly theological perspective in »reflection and prediction« – not losing hope, because he trusts with the Church that God enlivens through cross, death, and grave. His plea to continue to pray for the Lutheran free churches of the Augsburg Confession is even more urgent now than then.
[14] Cf. Sacra Scriptura and »Letter 14 to Lutheran Pastors« (139).
[15] This Is My Body, Church and Lord’s Supper, Vom Sakrament des Altars (138); Corpus Christi (138); cf. »efficacious consecration« (141); »Closed Communion« (144). Stephenson admits: »The section in my Lord’s Supper on ›The Lord’s Supper as Sacrificial Banquet‹, was inspired by Sasse, and further airing and development of this motif has proved fruitful in the Canadian and international ecumenical conversations with the Roman Catholic church in recent years« (145).
[16] »Harrison’s leadership and governance of the Missouri Synod bear to some extent the marks of Sasse’s influence; directly and indirectly Sasse has served as the personal theologian of two heads of this prominent church body that professes unreserved subscription to the Book of Concord. Sasse’s influence on Harrison had marked effect in the latter’s clear-eyed and boldly expressed public response to the US Supreme Court’s unilateral alteration of the definition of marriage, in which he explicitly drew from Sasse« (143).
[17] Stephenson recognizes »a considerable segment of LCC’s ministerium by now regard him as a modern church father from whose writings and example they draw ongoing nurture« (143).
[18] Introduction (145).
[19] »compromise of the social gospel« 149.
[20] Cf. Vilmar’s Theologie der Tatsachen in 9.2 (149).
[21] Anglicans lost in social gospel, Germans in their »Christian« state, and Rome, which would »ecclesiasticize the world« in its own image. Cf. p. 152.
[22] Cf. FC Ep 10:3, 4.
[23] Harrison questions Sasse’s exegesis of 1 Pet. 2:9 and 1 Cor. 14:31.
[24] Probably unintended, possibly subconscious.
[25] Mt. 28:20: Apostolicity as »sameness of the Gospel«.
[26] »Office of the Keys“: This office is not to simply be identified with, nor differentiated from its bearers. This is no clericalism, nor functionalism either as bishops serve in apostolic mission within the congregation, not as lords from above.
[27] The office is one of serving – and is founded in God’s institution and call under His mandate and in His mission. Church order is best served where the office can implement optimal options to carry out its multiple furictions. Originally this office was not characterized by uniformity, but multiplicity.
[28] The office is given to the Church together with the obligation to propagate it with real, personal servants, who represent Christ and are those over and against the church. Still, they are in it and not above it.
[29] The servants of the Word are »leaders of the community« (KOLB-WENGERT, 637.10): »Vorsteher der Gemeinde«, representing Christ and His dealing with His people through them.
[30] This is »Christian liberty« even as the church practises its various and most appropriate options as subject to authority.
[31] Selbstständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche, i.e. »Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church«.
[32] Klän points out the similar church backgrounds of Bonhoeffer and Brunner.

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Der Theologe Hermann Sasse (1895–1976)

Einblicke in seine internationale Wirkung als Exeget, Kirchenhistoriker, Systematiker und Ökumeniker
Klän, Werner/Corzine, Jacob/Grünhagen, Andrea/Harrison, Matthew C./Neddens, Christian/Pless, John T./Schild, Maurice/Sommer, Wolfgang/Stephenson, John R./Stolle, Volker/Voigt, Hans-Jörg/Volkmar, Simon/Winger, Thomas M.

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