January 29, 1907, in Lake City, Minnesota, Martin Hans Franzmann was born. He no doubt never knew that his life and work would have the tremendous impact it has on my own life and theological perspective.
At the memorial service held on the campus of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis on April 2, 1976, Professor William Schmelder offered the following reflection on the man whose birthday I commemorate today.
“For us who knew him as a teacher, he was one who opened for us the fullness and depths of the Biblical texts; who taught us as his students to emulate Moses when reading the word of God; whose posture as an interpreter was: take off your shoes, you are standing on holy ground. He was a man of culture, whose eloquence is noted in the hymns which appear in the Worship Supplement. If anyone had a way with words Martin Franzmann did, but always in the service of the Word. But I suppose most of all we shall remember him as a Christian gentleman, one whose teaching and preaching, whose life, whose being, whose poetry, whose elegance and eloquence had been given shape because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
His voice is one sorely needed today in the church. I offer the attachment below as but a small appetizer for anyone who wishes to nibble at the rich banquet of his literary output.
Photo credit: British Lutheran 14 no 8 (October 1969), 8.
Love is the beginning of heaven on earth: it is given with and by the Spirit who is the down-payment of our inheritance (Rom. 15:30; Eph. 1:14); that Spirit is the Spirit of agape; and it never faileth (1 Cor. 13:8). But it is the beginning only, and we must therefore in the Church on earth “forbear one another in love;” we must endure, put up with, must learn to “stand” our friends and brethren. The difficulty of that task can be measured by the manifold cleverness of the dodges by which we avoid it; there is in all of us, whether we care to admit it or not, something of the cynicism which inspired Cosimo di Medici’s remark: “You shall read… that we are commanded to forgive our enemies; but you never read that we are commanded to forgive our friends.” For we Christians, we new men with the old man ever whispering bland and Satan’s suggestions in our ears, are “never only a help, an assistance, and a delight for one another; we are also a burden, a hindrance, and a temptation for one another. Therefore communion, fellowship, is a constant labor which overcomes evil with the power of enduring and forgiving.” (Schlatter, ibid.)
The hard realism of this last admonition—“forbearing one another in love”—makes it very plain that we here have to do, not with ripe and aromatic sentiments which pious ladies of either sex may sigh over, but with the down-to-earth and difficult business of living and working together in the Church on earth, into which the hosts of Satan continually and ominously intrude. Every synod that has entered the Synodical Conference has brought in with it a collection of very active young devils wholly intent on destroying the Synodical Conference; very clever young devils they are, too, and remarkably pious, who teach Missouri to repent of Wisconsin’s sins and Wisconsin to repent of Missouri’s. (I confine myself to these two synods only because I have been a member of both and know this much of the satanic dodge from my own experience.) Let us renounce these devils and all their works and stubbornly draw the line that should run from the New Testament to ourselves till it touches us, and ask ourselves the question that will lead each one of us to repent of his own sins.
To begin at home: I know a tall, thin man with horn-rimmed glasses who taught Greek at a Wisconsin Synod school for ten years; forty-five miles away was a Missouri Synod school. In it were some other men with horn-rimmed glasses also teaching Greek. But our fine, tall, thin man never met them until he accepted a call into the Missouri Synod. In fact, about all he knew about the other school was that it had an annoyingly good basketball team. What right had that young man to go to Synodical Conference meetings and say, “Ja, wir sind Brueder”? Was he his brother’s slave, existing for him, forbearing him, loving him? How will he answer when God asks him, “Where is thy brother?”
And what of our pious zeal to beat each other to promising mission fields, what about all those intersynodical maneuvers that were so correct by the book without being right? Who was sowing the most seed on those disputed corners? What has been our attitude toward the Synodical Conference as an organization? Have we viewed it as a place where, or a means whereby, we could serve one another, exist for one another, help and sustain and, of course, forbear one another? Or have we been more concerned with the “rights” which our conveniently loose constitution guarantees us? One might even ask: Does not that constitution in a sense indict us? Ought we not to have grown closer together than this in our eighty common years? Have we, each of us, valued our “independence,” our “history,” our “tradition,” more highly than the oneness of the Spirit? What has happened to us? Our tragedy is not, at bottom, the fact that we have “differences”; the tragedy is that when we meet to discuss and remove our differences, our words fall in a hard and brittle atmosphere, in an air so tense and charged that no one speaks freely any more. It will not do for us to ask, “Whose fault is it?” We must each of us ask, “What is my share in the fault?” For if your experience is like mine, we shall find that in this one field, this field of nettles, we have achieved a remarkable degree of co-operation.
Martin Hans Franzmann, “The Forgiveness of Sin and the Unity of the Spirit,”in Proceedings of the Forty-Second Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, 1952, 39-40.