How did Lutheranism go so far off the rails?
In the course of my research, I discovered that this wasn’t due to Martin Luther or his immediate successors who formulated and institutionalized the Lutheran Confessions. It was a development the earliest stirrings of which began several centuries later in the 18th and 19th centuries. Liberalism arrived from the time of Voltaire at the court of Frederick the Great, Immanuel Kant in Königsberg and especially in the early 19th century in the wake of Napoleon and the Grande Armée which swept across Central Europe and occupied what is now Germany.
Before we dive into all that and explore how Lutheranism was influenced by all these lesser known figures in the late 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, I want to recommend Adolf von Harless and his fascinating book A System of Christian Ethics.
The following excerpt comes from Eric W. Gritsch’s book A History of Lutheranism:
“Conservative Lutheran theology was represented by the Erlangen school. John K. Hoffmann (1810-1877) defended the traditional medieval and Reformation notion of “salvation history” (Heilgeschichte), asserting the biblical process of promise and fulfillment, a modern way of teaching old truths. Adolf von Harless (1806-1879) was the most prominent Erlangen theologian, defending the biblical truth he found summarized in the Lutheran Confessions; this truth was grounded in the church, not in individual insight. Harless distinguished between a divinely established saving order and a historically conditioned legal, institutional order. He is credited with the systematic exposition of the notion of the “orders of creation” (Schöpfungsordnungen) consisting of marriage, family, nation, race, economy and other “orders,” commanded by God for a moral Christian life.”
The following excerpt comes from Eric W. Gritsch’s book Toxic Spirituality: Four Enduring Temptations of Christian Faith:
“Some nineteenth-century German theologians, led by Adolf von Harless (1806-1879), taught a controversial doctrine of “orders of creation.” (Schöpfungsordnungen), asserting that Christians, like all other human beings, must abide by specific, unchanging ways of life, ordered by God before, and independent of, the revelation and salvation of , the revelation and salvation in Christ proclaimed by the Gospel. Nation, state, race, marriage, and economics are principal orders that cannot be changed. Such assertions caused debate, especially regarding specific views on sexuality (no homosexuality), war (no pacifism), and race (no mixing).”
Gritsch isn’t a fan of Adolf von Harless.