When I was a student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg some thirty years ago, a professor, Eric Gritsch, told us about a book of Lutheran satire, Little Journeys with Martin Luther, by William Nicholas Hardy (1916). In it, the statue of Luther at Luther Place, in Washington, DC, comes alive, and wanders American Lutheranism looking for a synod that is willing to admit him to the ministry.
In St. Louis, Luther interviewed with the Missouri Synod.
He was taken to the theological seminary, accompanied to several recitations, and, in short, all the treasures of Missouri were presented to his gaze, including those ever-to-be-revered relics, the desk of Dr. Walther and the long German tobacco-pipes, with which he made the atmosphere blue and redolent when he wrote sermons or composed those matchless specimens of polite literature, the essays on predestination (It is said that when one of the younger Missourians has the dogma of predestination to defend, he stealthily steals to the Walther Museum and takes a few whiffs from one of the old pipes. But this is doubtless an invention worthy to be classed with the “pious frauds” of yore. It is more likely that the orthodox practice in this respect is limited to using the same brand of smoking-tobacco).
Later, he went to Pennsylvania to interview with the Lutheran Council.
“Brother Martin,” broke in another, “what do you think of those men who wear little aprons and pour oil and wine on corner-stones?”
“They are odd fellows,” replied Luther.
“No, I didn’t mean the Odd Fellows, but it ‘s all the same. Where do you stand on the lodge question?”
Luther looked mystified, and the committee looked horrified.
“This question does not belong here,” said the lank examiner, rising to his feet.
“We are more concerned for the thing itself than we are about the proper place for it,” the pastor with the close-cropped mustache replied; “and, besides, it may have more to do with glorification than you are ready to concede. Brother Martin,” said he in a kind tone, turning to Luther, “a lodge is a secret society. This land teems with them. As a rule they are oath-bound, are made up — ”
“He who makes an unnecessary oath,” cut in LuTher, “commits sin.”
“Are made up of believers and unbelievers, and have a form of worship. What say —“
“Have a care,” exclaimed Luther, “have a care that you do not give this tomfoolery and pretense the glorious name of divine service!”
“What say you to this?” the large man concluded.
“They worship a god of their own invention.”
“That is a hard saying,” snapped the tiny examiner. “Some noble men belong to these organizations, and they have done some fine things.”
“Everything that is outside of Christ, be it as fine and great as it may,” replied Luther, “is nothing but idolatry.”
“Now,” queried the pastor who had raised the question, “what would you say if a preacher were a member of — ”
“Irrelevant now, entirely irrelevant,” piped my little Zacchaeus.
“Out of place here,” said the lank examiner.
“Not germane,” declared the chairman.
“What kind of theology is this?” Luther asked in a tone of indignation. “What kind of theology is this that will make no difference between the Word
and no Word, between light and darkness?”
“Irrelevant here, entirely irrelevant here,” the little man piped again.
“Let ‘s close with prayer,” said the chairman with unseemly haste.
Luther looked chagrined.
“This is not the time for such maneuvering!” he protested.
The chairman did not hear, or hearing, did not heed, and a prayer took the place of the rule of closure.