Thursday, October 3, 2019

A Methodology for Evangelical Lutheran Casuistry

LCMS Winkel casuistry sessions often suffer from amnesia. In order to draw on the wisdom of the past as well as of your contemporaries, consider these guidelines when you are confronted by cases of conscience.
1. List the commandments and other biblical precepts that could have a bearing on the question.
  • Commandments.
  • Other biblical precepts (moral Law, not OT ceremonial or civil law).
  • Biblical examples (from narratives) that have God’s judgment expressed with them.
  • Necessary deductions from biblical principles.
  • Natural Law.

2. If necessary, research the state of the question. For example, if it is a question that touches on law or medicine, you should consult experts in these areas.
3. Research the wisdom of the past. Read pastoral theologies and trustworthy casuistry works to see what arguments they bring from Scripture and Natural Law. For example:
  • C. F. W. Walther, American Lutheran Pastoral Theology (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017).
  • Wilhelm Loehe, The Pastor, ed. Charles P. Schaum (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2015).
  • Ewald M. Plass, ed., What Luther Says (Saint Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1959). (But don’t treat Luther as equal to the Bible. He has to prove his opinions, just like anyone else.)
  • Martin Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel, ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955).
  • Fritz, John H. C. Pastoral Theology: A Handbook of Scriptural Principles Written Especially for Pastors of the Lutheran Church (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1932).
  • Norbert H. Mueller and George Kraus, Pastoral Theology (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1990) (sometimes lax and permissive).
  • CTCR documents, (sometimes lax and permissive; remember to examine their arguments; do not simply accept their judgments as authorities).
  • “The Doctrinal Resolutions of the National Conventions of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod 1847–2004,” available from .
  • Indices of LCMS seminary journals (e.g.,

German and Latin:
  • Ernst Eckhardt, Homiletisches Reallexikon nebst Index Rerum (St. Louis: Success Printing Co., 1907–17). This is an index to all the theological literature of the early Missouri Synod.
  • Conrad Porta, Pastorale Lutheri, das ist: nützlicher und nötiger Unterricht, von den fürnemsten Stücken zum heiligen Ministerio gehörig (Leipzig : In Verlegung Henningi Grossen, 1586; reprint, Nördlingen: C.H. Beck, 1842). This is one of the first Lutheran casuistry works, drawn from Luther’s writings.
  • Georg Dedekenn and J. E. Gerhard, eds., Thesaurus consiliorum et decisionum, 2nd ed., 4 vols. (Hamburg: Hertel, 1671). This is arguably the greatest work of Lutheran casuistry. For more information, see Benjamin T. G. Mayes, Counsel and Conscience: Lutheran Casuistry and Moral Reasoning after the Reformation (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).
  • Friedrich Balduin, Tractatus . . . de . . . casibus . . . conscientiae (Wittenberg: Helwig, 1628). One of the first single-author Lutheran casuistries.
  • Consilia theologica witebergensia (Frankfurt am Mäyn: Balthasar Christoph Wust, 1664). A large collection of Wittenberg opinions, with valuable source material on the intra-Lutheran syncretistic controversy.

4. Discuss your findings with peers. Hear their counsel and evaluate it.
5. Make the decision that is least likely to be sinful, that is, safest from externally violating God’s moral Law. I.e., instead of asking how far one might be able to go without violating God’s moral Law, ask how God’s moral Law can most safely be honored and kept. Distinguish between what is objectively right and wrong, realizing that people sometimes do right actions for bad purposes, but wrong actions cannot be done for good purposes.
6. Record the case, the decision, and the arguments that support the decision.
7. Have peace of conscience! Luther: “If such a thoroughly doubtful and rare case occurs, whether in this or other articles and matters, which cannot be decided on the basis of any Scripture or book, then one should have a good pious man or two give advice and speak to the matter; and after they have given advice and spoken, [one should] also remain with their decision and advice without any wavering or doubt. For even if they do not exactly hit the pinnacle of what is right in such obscure matters, yet such a small mistake does not hurt anything, and it is better finally to have peace and calm with disadvantage and less correctness than continuously to seek the most pointed and strictest correctness—which one will never find anyway—with indefinite discord and unrest” (Walther, Pastoral Theology, 300; WA 30/3:222, cf. AE 46:287–88).

Benjamin T. G. Mayes
All Saints’ Day
Nov. 1, 2016 A+D

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