I did a continuing education class last week on Herman Sasse, taught by the amazing John Pless. It was wonderful. The pure word of God, raining down on me for a whole week with practically no interruptions. I never realized how very much Sasse did suffer for the faith, nor how very badly he was treated by our own beloved LCMS (I knew it was bad. I didn’t know it was that bad). That he was still willing to work with pastors in our synod is testimony to his magnanimous nature.
He was calling the St. Louis seminary to repentance already in the late 1940’s. He saw, at least a decade before anyone in our synod, how they were enamored of the German critics of scripture – even some of the “Old Missouri” crowd. Of course, his cries went unheeded. He said we would suffer. We said, “We’re the LCMS. Zion on the Mississippi. Such could never happen to us.” He saw it, we ignored him. We paid dearly. We still pay. The reaction of many to the liberalism of the day was to flee to fundamentalism. And so the New Measures snuck into the synod in the 1980’s, courtesy of our new evangelicalism-focused friends. We still struggle with that. Oh, he predicted that, too.
Truly a great man, who is only now, some forty years after he died, receiving the honor due him. In “Letters to Lutheran Pastors”, the front is filled with letters in praise of him. Many of those who knew him say, basically, I didn’t really appreciate him back then, and ignored what he was saying. Boy was I wrong.
And yet, his writing never descends into bitterness. His is a theology that began and ended with Christ and his cross. And Herman Sasse lived that cross-centered theology in his life. Truly Blessed. (But, if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to be a little less blessed than that.)
And professor Pless seems to understand him better than just about anyone alive (except perhaps President Harrison, who has made it his life’s endeavor to bring him to the attention of the church).
Among the letters of praise mentioned above, most of whom speak to how great a theologian he was and how we should not have ignored him then, Pless alone sees the continuing value of his writings for our own crises today.
Vatican II, with its assertion that “liturgy is the work of the people” swept through much of Lutheranism, turning Gottesdienst into human, cultic activity. The liturgical innovators were unwilling to heed Sasse, and we are reaping the results. In the present state of liturgical confusion which has engulfed American Lutheranism, the time is ripe for a fresh hearing of Sasse.
A great theologian taught to us by a great theologian. You can’t ask for more than that.