“Two Branches of One Tree: The Fellowship of Confession and Mission” by Martin Franzmann

The following article is posted on Concordia Theology.

The following op piece from one of our former professors could have been written yesterday. It was written in 1952. It seems like the either/or that we so often experience in our synodical fellowship today has been with us for a very long while. But Martin Franzmann has put his finger on the tragic result: our infighting has made us theomachoi–fighters against God. If our church is declining, it shouldn’t be a mystery. But let us listen once again to the inestimable Franzmann:


Professor Kinder coined this phrase to characterize a phenomenon common in present-day theology: the setting up of false alternatives. One is reminded of it when one surveys the thinking and feeling on the question of church fellowship within our Synod and within the Synodical Conference. We are in danger, it would seem, of making two trees of what God intended to be two branches of one tree. Two points of view, the confessional and exclusive emphasis, on the one hand, and the witness and outreach emphasis, on the other, tend to absolutize themselves; and two things, both good and holy and altogether laudable in themselves, are in danger of becoming exclusive and antithetical opposites, and each is therefore in danger of becoming a one-sided caricature of itself.

The confessional and exclusive outlook or emphasis operates by preference with passages like Romans 16: 17ff. and 2 John 9-11 and has in it an uncompromising zeal for the glory of God and the truth of His Word. It emphasizes the severity and the inescapability of the either/or which loyalty to the One Lord and His Word involves. It therefore emphasizes the authority and the infallibility of the Word. It is conscious, too, of the weight of history, of the burden which the past imposes on the present; it reminds us that history is with us and upon us and that we cannot shuffle it off by saying so, that we are all of us since Adam born into a given situation with which we must deal. That is the health and strength of this emphasis, and the Church should be everlastingly grateful to the voices that sound the confessional note for us, in season and out.

But a thing that is good is not necessarily in itself complete. Romans 16:17 ff. and 2 John 9-11 are not the whole of Scripture on fellowship; and we must in charity warn our brethren against incompleteness and one-sidedness; they dare not, for their own health’s sake and for the sake of the health of the Church, continue to bite on iron until they lose all taste for honey and the honeycomb. They dare not, in their emphasis on the authority of the Word, unconsciously grow distrustful of the power and efficacy of that Word; it overcomes and has its victories still in the twentieth century as well as in the sixteenth or the nineteenth. They dare not, in their zeal to learn history’s lessons and to be guided and instructed by history, let themselves be hag-ridden by history until they lapse into a mood not far removed from fatalism, a temper that is likely to confuse rigidity with strength and is inclined to see in the oversimple answer the only and honest answer. (St. Paul, for instance, found it necessary to give a long and rather complicated answer to the question, ” May a Christian eat meat offered to idols? “). Such is the strength, and the weakness, of the confessional exclusive emphasis.

The other, the witness and outreach emphasis, is also marked by a holy sense of responsibility; it hears the Lord’s words: “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me!”; it lives in fear of hiding that one talent which is death to hide, of becoming the light under a bushel and the salt turned saltless. Over against the Word it shows a glad and confident trust in the power and efficacy of God’s Word and in the continuity of the Spirit’s working: it looks toward the one new man as the goal and intention of the Lord of the Church at work in the Church through His Spirit. Over against history it emphasizes the ongoing character of history, the fact that no situation in history is forever static; each new day in history is, for it, a new opportunity for the Church, which the past cannot completely overshadow or destroy. Such is its strength, and a healthy Church will thank God for those who sound this note.

To read the rest of Franzmann’s article, click on: Two Branches.

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