Sermons and Papers

Doctrinal Essay

WHEN DO WE USE THE DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH PROPERLY?

By Professor Theo. Hoyer


Note Ė This essay was given June 15-19, 1942, at the 41st Convention of the Minnesota District of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Missouri, Ohio and Other States at St. Paul, Minnesota.


When reading, remember this essay was given six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United Statesí involvement in World War II. This essay is taken from the convention minutes.

"The Church is one" ó this statement will hardly meet with dissent among those who call themselves Christians. There are two ways, however, in which people respond to the doctrine of the Church. Some say: Since the Church is one and you find members of this Church in all the visible organizations, it makes no difference which one of them you join; in fact, there is a legitimate reason for the diversity and in the end it is the will of God that it should be so. Others say, (and this is most prevalent in our day), since the Church is one, and you admit there are members of this Church in all Christian denominations, letís forget our differences, unite, and form a common front against all those who are enemies of the Church; then we shall not waste our strength in opposing each other; we can on the contrary, assist each other in the battle with the common enemy.

It seems to me that every great crisis in world affairs has brought along with it an increased urge for church unity within the Christian nations. We speak of the medieval ideal: A united church in a united empire. In reality that ideal antedates the Middle Ages; nor has it died out with the Middle Ages. Constantine the Great came to the conviction that his predecessors Decius and Diocletian had make a mistake in allying themselves with the decadent pagan religion in the effort to uphold the old tottering Roman empire; he would ally himself with this new Christian religion which had shown such marvelous vitality. And then he found that Christianity itself was divided by the Arian controversy. So he called the Council of Nicea. God brought good out of this move: The Nicene Creed; but the intention was to unite the Church, so that it might become a strong prop for the empire. The inroads of the Turks in the Eastern Empire brought a number of attempts to reunite the eastern and western church, all instigated by the emperor; the object again was political. In the Reformation period political aims prompted union efforts; union of the Lutheran and the Swiss reform settlements for defense against the Catholics, the Colloquy of Marburg; union of Lutherans and Catholics for the strengthening of the empire, all the union conferences promoted by Charles V., down to the calling of the Council of Trent.

Since the Peace of Westphalia, religious wars have ceased. Since that time efforts aiming at religious union have followed such crisis which brought about political union, the argument being: Should not the church unite in order to strengthen the government. In the Wars of Liberation the coalition of German princes saved Germany from Napoleon; and with Prussia in the lead there followed the attempt to unite Lutheran and Reformed churches in most parts of Germany. After our own Civil War came reunions of churches separated on the issues underlying the war, and unions of those who had been separate before. The First World War produced that gigantic move for union of all churches, the Interchurch World Movement. Iím not trying to prophesy; but I think there are indications to show that the present need of national unity leads some to think that religious union would be an effective factor in promoting this national unity. The very fact that in other lands, State control of church is used for that purpose, leads some to that conclusion: Letís forget our differences and unite to fight for religious freedom.

All of this always leads to unionism; and the reason for it lies in a false conception of the doctrine of the Church, or in a false application of the doctrine of the Church. It should be clear to us that it is not merely

an academic question that we have before us this year; it is of immense practical value that we for our mutual strengthening once again consider the question Ė When do we use the doctrine of the Church properly? - There is a life that is worse than death; and there is a peace that is worse than war; and there is a religious union that is worse than religious division. To help keep us from unionism, the danger of the times, the pitfall which has time and again proved the ruin of churches Ė that is the special viewpoint from which we shall consider the question: When do we use the doctrine of the Church properly?

I. THESIS

When We Take Heed to Be and Remain Members of the Invisible Church
By Sincere Faith in the Redeemer

To understand the proper use of this doctrine we must briefly restate what this doctrine is. The Church is "the communion of saints," so we confess in the Apostlesí Creed. "The Christian Church," so Dr. Pieper explains in his Dogmatik, III, 459, "consists of all those and only those who by the working of the Holy Spirit believe that, because of Christís vicarious satisfaction they have forgiveness of sins." The Church is not an external organization, not an institution, as some like to call it. The Church consists of people. It is the totality of those, and those only, who trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. In other respects they may be far from perfect; they may be weak in knowledge, and in this or that doctrine depart from the truth; they may be weak in life; they may even be members of an unorthodox church; but if they have this essential quality, faith in the Savior, they are children of God and true members of the Church. By this faith they are justified before God; they have forgiveness of all their sins, including any weakness of faith and knowledge and life; hence, the Church is holy, a communion of saints.

At the same time, all true members of the Church strive to lead a holy life. Since it is this one thing only that makes men members of the Church, the Church is only one, the totality of those who believe in Christ. This Church is universal; it is not limited to any land or to any denomination. But it is invisible, i.e. while we can see people; we do not know which of them are truly members of the Church by faith in Christ. Since we, however, know that there is only one way in which the Holy Spirit works faith in Christ, by the Gospel, therefore we know where the Church is and where it is not. Wherever the essentials of the Gospel are preached, there is the Church; where there is no Gospel, there is no Church. That, very briefly is the Scripture doctrine of the Church, a doctrine so simple, that to speak with Luther every seven-year old child among us, praise God, knows it.

We all know it; every Lutheran knows it; if he does not he has forgotten what once upon a time he has learned. That is the trouble that many, instead of keeping what they have and following simple and plain Scripture truth, follow their own thoughts and ideas. They allow other interests to intervene and to change their actions and their attitudes to serve human, perhaps even selfish and evil purposes with which the honest application of this Scripture doctrine would interfere.

This, then, is the subject of our considerations in these days: When do we rightly apply this doctrine? And the first part of our answer is: When we take heed to be and remain members of the invisible Church by sincere faith in the Redeemer.

To recall to our mind how all-important this is, it is best to approach it from the negative side. So many people think, or at least act as though they think: Normally, all men are all right and in no danger; some, of course, through force of conditions and circumstances of their life, or because of some twist in their nature, have gone astray, and these need help; they must be brought back to the right way or they will be lost; thatís why we support missions, build churches, open Sunday schools, etc. Ė This is the picture you must get: All men are by nature under the wrath of God. Since Adam ate the forbidden fruit, all men are normally on the straight road to hell. Get that clear: Not only criminals, murderers, thieves, adulterers, not only those who lead a selfish life and think of no oneís welfare but their own and are ready to sacrifice anything and anybody to their own interests, but all men are normally on the way to perdition, because they are children of Adam and because they do not, and cannot come up to that divine standard: "You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy," (Lev. 19:2).

But though this is the normal condition of man, the fact is that some people escape the terrible doom. They, too, are sinners in no way intrinsically better than any of the others; yet they are not under the wrath of God, but under His grace. And because they are under the grace of God, they are not subject to damnation, but are heirs of eternal life. They are those who in faith accept Christ as their Savior. God can look upon them in favor because by faith the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to them, their own sins are covered up; Christís work has undone the harm that sin has wrought and for His sake they again stand in the same relation to God as Adam and Eve before the fall; and their feet now again walk on the way to that goal which God had originally set before them.

These are the members of the true, invisible Church. They are the only exception to the awful rule that is universal among men born into this world, "The soul that sins, it shall die," (Ezek. 18:20). All men not included in their number remain on the way that leads to eternal destruction. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus Ė outside of the Church no salvation. Why not? Because without faith in Christ no man can be saved; John 3:18, 36: "He that believes on Him is not condemned; but he that does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. . . . He that believes has everlasting life, but he that does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

The question that confronts us therefore is not: What must I avoid in order not to fall under the wrath of God? No, you are already under the wrath of God, normally, naturally under the wrath of God; and the question is: What must I do to escape the wrath of God? The answer is: Whoever would escape the wrath of God and eternal death, the just punishment of his sins, and obtain the grace of God and eternal life which the incarnate Son of God has earned for him, must see to it that he belongs to that blessed class of people which the hand of God has taken out of that great mass of men who are marching straightway to their destruction and has set them on the way of life. And the first use we must make of the doctrine of the Church is that we ask ourselves: Do I find in myself that which makes a person a member of the Church? Do I believe that for the sake of Christís vicarious work I have the forgiveness of all my sins?

It should be evident to us that this is not a little thing, a mere side issue in life; it is the most important thing in life. It would not be so serious a matter if it were not an absolute "either-or," if there could be a neutral state. But there are only two spiritual realms: The kingdom of Christians on earth, that is the Church; to this Church belong all those and only those who sincerely believe in Christ the Savior. All who do not believe in Christ are not members of the Church, and they all are in the kingdom of Satan, for that is the only other realm there is. There are many other differences among them, not only in civil life, but also in their ethics, etc. But as far as their spiritual condition is concerned, these are differences in degree only; in the one essential they are all alike: they do not accept Christ as their only Savior, hence, they are not members of His Church, hence they are members of the kingdom of Satan; there is no middle way, no neutral state of existence. Apol. VII, VIII, 17 (Trig. P. 231): "The Church is the kingdom of Christ, distinguished from the kingdom of the devil. It is certain, however, that the wicked are in the power of the devil, and members of the kingdom of the devil, as Paul teaches (Eph. 2:2) when he says that Ďthe devil now works in the children of disobedienceí Ė in incredulis Ė in den Kindern des Unglaubens, apeitheia Ė obstinate opposition to the divine will; but the Fatherís will is Ďthat everyone which sees the Son and believes on Him may have everlasting lifeí (John 6:40).

Now, we could let it go at that and conclude our first part here; but because it is so serious a matter, moreover, a matter in which it is so easy to deceive ourselves, and so fatal if we do deceive ourselves, it is well that in our self-examination we look at some of the details of the picture. The Church is not a ship, so that you can pay your fare, step on board, and then stop worrying, it will take you to your destination. Let no one think he is sure of salvation because he belongs to the same association with true Christians. Hypocrites do not belong to the true Church.

This is really so self-evident that it needs no further proof. It is evident from the very nature of the Church: Only true believers in Christ belong to it, only true children of God who have and hold in faith the righteousness earned by Christ; so Ė it is self-evident that no hypocrite can belong to it. But because so many people deceive themselves Scripture plainly says so and goes to great length to demonstrate it, so that no one may misunderstand. The Lord Himself makes it the subject of a number of His parables. In the parable of the net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind: Matt. 13:47-50; in the parable of the virgins who went forth to meet the bridegroom, five of whom were wise and five were foolish (Matt. 25:1ff.), the Lord shows how the Church appears to the eye; while it is here on earth it presents a mixture of believers and unbelievers.

But the day is coming when that will be changed; when the net is full they draw it to shore and sit down and gather the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. "So shall it be at the end of the world: The angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." When it becomes evident that the foolish virgins have no oil in their lamps, no true faith to fill and to back up the profession of their lips, the door will be shut against them; and when they nevertheless plead for admittance the Lord will say, "Verily, I say unto you, I know you not." The parable of the tares among the wheat (Matt. 13:24ff.), is addressed directly to those who take offense at this condition in the visible Church, who answer every invitation to come to church with a more or less polite version of "I have no use for the Church; too many hypocrites in the Church." The Lord would say, "Thatís not the Churchís fault; there is an enemy behind that who has brought all imperfection into the world, into everything in the world, from a wheat field up to the Church. But you know that the weeds are only mixed with the wheat, and in the harvest they will be taken out; so the hypocrites are not part of the Church; when the day of harvest comes they will be taken out and burned." Matt. 7:3, the Lord says of those who merely say, "Lord, Lord": "I will profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, you that work iniquity"; and they shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Rom. 9:6, St. Paul says, "They are not all Israel, which are of Israel." Hence our Confessions say (Apol. VII, VIII; Trig. P. 231): "Although, therefore, hypocrites and wicked men are members of this true Church according to outward rites, (titles and offices), yet when the Church is defined, it is necessary to define that which is the living body of Christ, and which is in name and in fact the Church, (which is the body of Christ, and has fellowship not alone in outward signs, but has gifts in the heart, namely, the Holy Ghost and faith). And for this there are many reasons. For it is necessary to understand what it is that principally makes us members, and that, living members, of the Church. If we will define the Church only as an outward policy of the good and wicked, men will not understand that the kingdom of Christ is righteousness of heart and the gift of the Holy Ghost, (that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, as nevertheless it is; that therein Christ inwardly rules, strengthens, and comforts hearts, and imparts the Holy Ghost and various spiritual gifts), but they will judge that it is only the outward observance of certain forms of worship and rites."

To come back to our point: If the Church is the community of believers in Christ, then, the first and self-evident consequence is this that every one who hears or reads this definition examine himself whether he finds in himself that which makes a person a member of the Church: Faith, Trust in the forgiveness of his sins for Christís sake. Whoever has not that faith is not a member of the Church, but is still in the kingdom of Satan, "even though," Dr. Pieper says (Del. Syn. 93, 38), "they have the correct intellectual knowledge of all the parts of Christian truth, though they are officials, even summus episcopus of the Church."

And finally: Mere outward membership in the Church will not only not benefit a man; it will directly harm him. A particularly hard punishment will fall on the "servant which knew his lordís will, and did not prepare himself, neither did according his will"; he "shall be beaten with many stripes." (Luke 12:47). Dr. Walther stresses this emphatically in a sermon on the Gospel of the 20th Sunday after Trinity, the parable of the marriage of the kingís son. On the Lordís question to the man "which did not have on a wedding garment": "Friend, how did you get in without a wedding garment?" he says:

"You note that God will demand an account from these sham Christians why they, despite so many sermons which they have heard, despite so many admonitions, warnings and chastenings which they have received, despite so much drawing and awakening of the Holy Spirit which they have experienced, and despite the Christian communion in which they have lived, yet have never really and with all their heart been converted, have never had true faith and a new heart. What will these sham Christians then answer? Christ tells us; He says: ĎHe was speechless.í They will know of no excuse. Their own heart will convince them; their own conscience will condemn them; they will fear that their own faithful fellow Christians who have had the same means, and perhaps less than they have had, will arise as witnesses against them if they try to voice an excuse. They will blush with shame and grow pale with terror, shake and tremble and remain speechless. Ė But will the Lord let it go at that, that they are ashamed? Nay; Christ proceeds; ĎThen said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.í A terrible sentence! The sham Christian will be bound hand and foot; his day of grace will be cut off when he might still have done good and walked the way to heaven. He will be cast out of heaven where God and the Lamb shine as the sun, out into eternal darkness where no light of comfort will arise for him, where his hypocritical lips can no longer sing the praises of God, but weeping and gnashing of teeth Ė intolerable burning heat, intolerable horrible cold will torment him. No true Christian who here called him brother will be about him, but only the damned and the devils Ė and that without end; no star of hope of a future redemption will brighten their dark night; they know they must suffer their torment Ė not a hundred, not a thousand years, but eternally" (Bros. P. 203). The question, Do I believe in the Savior, must occupy us day and night until we are certain of that fact. Nor have we unlimited time to make sure; we must be warned before it is too late. God will not be mocked!

This should be reflected in our preaching, too. We do, of course, warn against hypocrisy, but it seems to me we lack that conviction of the danger that threatens our hearers from that sin which animates such sermons as that of Dr. Walther cited before. Is then, the danger less today? Can we close our eyes to the fact that there is still much faith in rites and ceremonies among the members of the visible church? Pulpit, baptismal font, altar are the idols of many who bear the Christian name. The church building is the place where the means of grace are distributed; and so many gather in the church like heathen in their temples around their idols. Sounds shocking, I know; but isnít it true? They associate with Christians, they are members of a Christian congregation, of an orthodox Synod, and they go along in all they do; they are baptized, confirmed, they may even go farther than that; they send their children to the Lutheran school and Sunday school; they pay heavily for church and synodical purposes; they defend the teaching and practices of this church zealously wherever they have opportunity. And in this outward performance of what one expects of Lutheran Christians they rest securely and Ė sleep! Yes, it is possible that with all this they are soundly sleeping like the foolish virgins, their lamps empty of the oil of faith and totally unprepared for the bridegroomís coming.

What shall we do to arouse them from their dream? Show they the true definition of the Church and apply this doctrine to them personally; and their hearts must be filled with terror at the outlook for their future. The Christian Church cannot suffer, not tolerate that her members rest satisfied with a mere external membership, with worship of rites and ceremonies. They are members merely by an outward association of works; and even though the works are such as must be found in every Christian and member of the Church, mere works are and remain external and exclude from the true Church and from salvation. The true Church is an inner communion of saints; the bond that connects them is sincere and absolute faith and trust in the Savior.

On the other hand, we know that there is much objection to the statement: Outside of this true Church of Christ, there is no salvation. The alarming thing is that such objections comes not only from the outside; we expect that; but from people who want to be, and are, members of the Church; they look at their neighbors, good and helpful, perhaps, (a shame to say it!), more so than the Lutheran neighbor on the other side; they look at the community, fine, respectable people, leaders in civic affairs who have done much good; they look into history, great men, leaders of culture and progress; and it goes against the grain with them to concede: they will all be lost and damned unless they share our faith. They ask, Why?

Well, God says so. "He that does not believe shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). "He that does not believe, is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18); and vs. 36: "He that does not believe the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him." And, though God is under no obligation to tell us why He makes this stipulation that the only entrance into heaven is by way of faith in His Son, yet He does tell us: Because He it is who has removed from us the wrath of God which for their sin rests on all men. God in His divine wisdom found a way to solve that problem which no created mind could solve: How He, being righteous, could punish sin adequately, and yet in His love forgive it and deal with us in His mercy: He made His Son our Substitute, laid on Him the iniquities of all, punished Him for our guilt, and then proclaimed to all men: You are reconciled with God; now take what I offer in the Gospel; accept in faith what He has earned for you, forgiveness of your sins, life and salvation; he that believes not the Son, but spurns this way that God has prepared, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.

Now we know very well that men object to this, "Blood-and-Wounds Theology" as too cruel and bloody a doctrine for our age, as unworthy of God, etc. Could not God have found another way of saving man than that of sacrificing His own Son? And is it reasonable that God Himself had to die in order to reconcile the world with Himself? Ė and so forth: Itís in reality the eternal pride of man that wants some part in saving himself and not owe everything to Godís grace. And our old Adam, too, objects; he wants to be saved, yea; but he wants God to save him in his own way, not in Godís way. What do we say? Only this: If a flood should come over your town, and you were caught in it, and you saw the water rising to your neck, to your chin, to your mouth Ė and somebody threw you a rope; would you say, I donít like the color of that rope, or, I do not think a rope is the right way to save me; Iím rather noble and high-born, and theyíll have to send a boat to save me? Ė Down on your knees and thank God that He has provided any way at all to save you from you sins and their just punishment, and donít criticize, or as sure as God is the truth, it will cost you your soulís salvation.

"Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves. Donít you know your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you Ė except you be reprobates?" (2 Cor. 13:5). Let us pray with David, Psalm 139:23-24: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

II. THESIS

We Use the Doctrine of the Church Properly When We Adhere to the Church
Which Teaches the Word of God in All Its Purity

The Church is invisible. That, of course, does not mean that we cannot see the members of the Church, but we cannot see that which makes them members of the Church, faith. So it follows naturally from the doctrine of the Church. It is true, Christians confess their faith in word and life; but the trouble is that appearances may deceive; not all who profess the Christian faith and live an outwardly Christian life are therefore really Christians; there are, as we have heard, hypocrites. So we cannot in certainty state who is a member of the Church. We can sometimes say, So-and-so is not a Christian, despite his confession; no Christian can live such a life. But of the opposite we cannot be sure. In charity we believe, and should believe, that all those who profess the true faith and do not deny their profession with their life are members of the Church; yet we know they may not be.

There is only one person in the world of whom I can know with certainty whether he is a member of Christís true Church, that is myself; of no one else. That is Scriptureís doctrine. Then the Pharisees asked Christ when the kingdom of God should come (Luke 17:20-21), Christ answered, "The kingdom of God comes not with observation; neither shall they say, Lo, here! or lo there! for behold the kingdom of God is within you." The kingdom of Christ does not come in such a way that you can see it coming, in pompous procession with brass bands. Nor is it a kingdom that you can point out on a map, bounded by this, that or the other country. Visible the Church will become only then when all believing will be changed to seeing.

And yet we know that there is, and always will be, to the end of the world, a Church of Christ on earth. Elijah thought it had disappeared from the earth; he alone was left, and they sought his life; so he said, "It is enough; O Lord, now take away my life." But God still knew of 7000 who had not bowed their knees to Baal. "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Christ said; so there will be true disciples of Christ, among whom Christ dwells, to the end of the world. And Christ promised that on the great truth that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, He will build His Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

We cannot with certainty say who belongs to this Church; but we can know and say, The Church is in this place. We can tell where the Church is, because it has certain unfailing marks. Not confession of faith and holy life; true Christians do confess their faith and embody their faith in their life; but confession and works are never unfailing marks of the Church; sham Christians may be so marked. There is only one unfailing mark of the Church: The divine Word, the audible and visible Word or Word and Sacrament. Only where the Word is can there be faith, for it is the only means by which the Spirit works and preserves faith. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." (Rom. 10:17). And always, where the Word is, there is faith; "for as the rain comes down and the snow from heaven, and does not return there, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Is. 55:10-11). Wherever the divine Word is proclaimed, let ever so many reject it and perish, there will be some who hear and believe and are saved. It cannot be otherwise; the Word will bring forth fruit. So, wherever the audible and visible Word, there is a number of true believers, there is the true Church. The Church, then, is not a utopian kingdom of ideas, a Platonic ideal, a mere creation of fantasy. It is an actual existence that can be localized. Though we cannot with certainty say who belongs to this Church, we can know and say Ė The Church is in this place.

Is it important that we know where this Church is? Yes, because God wants us to become outwardly associated with other Christians. When a person has become a Christian he is not to turn hermit and segregate himself from his fellowmen, living in solitary seclusion. He is to seek the association of other Christians in the local churches. They exist not outside of the universal Church, but these local churches or congregations are the Church in that locality. These local churches, together with the individual souls who are cut off from association with other Christians, make up the universal Church. These local churches or congregations are Christís own institution. To "the church of God which is at Corinth" St. Paul said (1 Cor. 3:9): "You are Godís field, you are Godís building." These churches Christ has endowed with all spiritual gifts and rights. Read Matt. 18:17-20, where Christ gives to "the church" the power of the keys; that passage cannot refer to the universal Church, for there Christ says that the final hearing and admonition of an impenitent sinner is to take place before the assembled church; the universal Church could never be gathered for such a hearing; it refers to the local congregation, as Christ furthermore indicates by adding, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." This is, as Dr. Stoeckhardt says, (Cent. í95, 24), the divine article of incorporation, (die Stiftungsurkunde), of the local church.

So Scripture speaks of work that the congregation is to do and which therefore necessitates the forming of such local churches; here is church discipline, to which the apostle again refers in 1 Cor. 5:13: "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person;" also chap. 6:1-6, where he admonishes Christians not to go to law (court) when one of them has a matter against another, but to take it "before the saints." Then there is the work which every Christian is to do, which, however, can best be done by an organization of many, by the congregation, and for which accordingly we have apostolic example; Christian charity (Acts 6:1-3); mission work ( Acts 11:19-23). The very existence of the ministry depends on the existence of congregations. You canít have a pastor without a church that calls him into his office. As Dr. Walther says, (Bros. 267): "From the moment that the Lord instituted the ministry, no man who wants to be saved has the liberty to hold his services for himself alone." Note, too, that the apostle quite generally gives to the individual congregations the same name that designates the universal Church: e.g. to the congregation in Ephesus, (Acts 20:28); "to feed the church of Godquot; (ecclesia) "unto the churches in Galatia" (Gal. 1:2); "unto the church of the Thessalonians" (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1); and similar titles 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2. There is no difference between the universal Church and the local church, except that the local church is part of the universal Church.

From all this follows that every Christian should, if possible, join such a local church. You will find people who draw this conclusion: It is only faith in Christ that saves me, no rites and ceremonies, nothing external, nothing I do; therefore Iíll have nothing to do the visible organization of church and congregation. To convince them that they are all wrong, it should be sufficient to ask them: Is it the will of God that there should be local churches? If so, who shall form them? Of whom shall they consist? It is clear; it is the will of God that Christians join a local church.

It is true, you cannot say: Whoever does not join a congregation is no Christian. Membership in such a visible church is not absolutely necessary, not necessary for salvation; to claim that, is to deny the central doctrine of Holy Writ, the doctrine of justification by faith; for thereby you could say, Not by grace through faith alone, but in part through membership in a visible church are men saved. That was one of the original errors of the papacy, that the pope binds salvation to membership in his church. That was the awful conclusion which some of the Grabau faction drew from their teaching of the Church, that they maintained the unconditional necessity of membership in the true visible church. At the Buffalo Colloquy Dr. Walther asked one of them, "If I have been rightly informed, you were a member of the Evangelical, (Unierte), Church and came to faith in Christ in that church?" The man affirmed that. "Then," said Walther, "if you had died at that time, surely you would have been saved?" He answered, "No!" Ė Absolutely necessary for salvation is only membership in the invisible Church. Membership in the visible church is not necessary for salvation, as though faith becomes true faith only by joining a congregation. Sometimes that is not even possible. Suppose a man is converted on his deathbed and it is not possible for him to join a congregation; that will not affect his salvation. Or a Christian lives in a place where the Christian church is not represented by other members and the law of love keeps him from moving. A prisoner may be in the same situation.

No, you cannot say, Whoever is not a member of a Christian congregation is no Christian. But you can say, Whoever does not join a Christian congregation, if he could do so, is not doing what a Christian ought to do, what God wants him to do. The Epistle to the Hebrews admonishes: "Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some; but exhorting one another." (Heb. 10:24-25). That refers to a local church. The apostles always gathered Christians who were converted by their preaching to congregations; in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1); in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2); in Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1); in Asia (1 Cor. 16:19). In praise it is said of the 3000 who were baptized on Pentecost Day and were added to the number of the disciples that they "continued steadfastly in the apostlesí doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). St. Peter (1 Pet. 2:5) calls Christians "living stones;" but he does not continue, just remain scattered around all over the world, but: "you also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house." Back in 1876, (Ill. í76), Prof. Grosse put it this way: "On the last day Christ will ask you: Are you my sheep? You will answer, We are. Then He will say; To which flock do you belong? And if your say, To none, He will answer: Nice sheep you are! " Sheep live and move in flocks; when you see one alone you can be pretty sure that it is astray. This is the will of God that Christians unite in congregations. And while no man should in a legalistic way be forced to join a church, and no Christian should take legalistic pride in being a member of the church as though that guaranteed him special favor with God, this should be sufficient for every Christian to know: It is Godís will; it pleases God. - On the other hand, a Christian opposes the will of God and sins if he refuses to do so; and under conditions, after long admonition, the time may come when he must be told: Your faith is pretense. Such a refusal may show unbelief as plainly as drinking and adultery.

But now, there are churches and churches, all calling themselves Christian. Which one should a Christian join, or in which one, if he is a member, should he remain a member. When we now speak of differences it should be noted: As we do not speak of all the distinctions between Christians and the world, and therefore such organizations who hold no religion at all, so we shall not speak at all of so-called churches which teach nothing of the Gospel of Christ. Unitarians, e.g., deny the Holy Trinity, therefore the deity of Christ; they have no Savior. In fact, they want no Savior; they deny sin in its real Scriptural sense; so there is no room in their teaching for the atonement, for the vicarious life, suffering, and death of Christ. They are neither Christian nor a Church; no one can be saved by their teaching. The same is true, in even higher degree, of the Christian Scientists, who are neither Christian nor scientists. We shall speak only of churches which accept the essentials of Christís teaching, that the Bible is Godís revelation to man, that Christ is the Savior and that man must be saved by faith in Him. Even so there is a great number of them. What shall a Christian do?

Here again, we shall be safe only if we follow the direction of the divine Word. Doing that, we note in the first place that this diversity does not exist by divine will. God wants only one church. It is not true that by this diversity God wants to bring into evidence various phases of truth for mutual instruction, to encourage zeal and diligence in promoting Christian knowledge, to keep the Church from becoming a stale and stagnant pool, gradually sinking into total decayóand whatever else men may advance to excuse the situation, as fine as these assertions may appear at first glance. God wants only one church; all Christians are to have only one faith. 1 Cor. 1:10 St. Paul says, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."

There are, and must be, many differences among Christians; but in one thing there should be no difference, be they white or colored, be they wise or ignorant, that is in their faith, in their teaching. Eph. 4:3-6 St. Paul says, "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." And vs. 11ff., "And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."

God wants only one church on earth, that which teaches men all things whatsoever He has commanded us (Matt. 28:20). God has given us the Bible, and revealed all His truth to us that we should receive it in faith; He has threatened wrath and punishment to all who add to it or subtract from it. Orthodoxy is Godís will, and only an orthodox church exists by the will of God. All other churches exist only by Godís permission. There is His command to the ministry to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). By the prophet Jeremiah God says, "The prophet that has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that has my word, let him speak my word faithfully." (Jer. 23:28). St. Paul cites it in praise of himself and his co-workers that they "are not as many, which corrupt the word of God" (2 Cor. 2:17). There is Christís warning against false teachers (Matt. 7:15): "Beware of false prophets;" (2 John 10): "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that bids him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds."

In the Old Testament false teachers had to be stoned, even though they were close relatives of people concerned (Deut. 13: 6ff). This is abrogated in the New Testament; but there is an analogy in St. Paulís words (Gal. 1:8-9): "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so I say now again, If any man preach any other Gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed." Though God now reserves the punishment of such false teachers for Himself, He has not changed His mind since He said to Jeremiah (23:31-32): "Behold, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He said. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, said the Lord, and to tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all, said the Lord." His true disciples Christ Himself describes as His sheep who hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27); whoever departs from Christís Word, insofar departs from Christ and denies Him. And note the names given to the true church; 1 Tim. 3:15: "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." The house of God, where God is head of the house; whoever teaches another doctrine than the Word of God deposes God as head of the house. It is Christís kingdom (John 18:36); the bride of Christ (Ps. 45:11-12; 2 Cor. 11:2-3); if she listens to another she is unfaithful.

Citizens of different countries obey different laws: Americans have American laws; Chinese have Chinese laws. But in the kingdom of Christ there is only one law for all citizens, be they Americans or Chinese, since there is only one kingdom. God had given only one doctrine; He commands all Christians to adopt and accept this one doctrine; He prohibits all straying from this doctrine; hence it cannot be the will God that there are unorthodox churches. He merely permits their existence. That there are children of God in these churches does not change the situation in the least; God makes the best of conditions and saves some by the remnants of His Word which still remain in their teaching.

But why, if it is not His will that they exist, why does God permit such unorthodox churches which in some particulars depart from the Word of God? It is, of course, not lack of knowledge; God knows. He has even prophesied that they would arise. To the elders at Ephesus St. Paul said, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:28-29). And to the Corinthians he writes (1 Cor. 11:19): "For there must be also heresies among you." But why? Not because God wants it so; not because He likes some variety in the garden of His Church, so that Christians may pick the flowers that happen to appeal to their taste, but "that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." God never leaves us uninformed when itís good for us to know. So His Word plainly tells us why He allows false churches to molest us: To test His Christians whether they are honest in their confession of His Word and willing to remain faithful to it, even when alluring attempts are made to lead them away. Confess, isnít it a temptation when sects and cults round about you have magnificent church buildings, wonderful musical programs, when membership in such a church would give you a chance to hob-nob with the great and mighty of city and state, a chance to display your own attainments and perhaps advance your own fortunes? Iíll speak to the preachers: Is it agreeable to see other churches putting on great advertising campaigns, and you have to be satisfied with a free notice on the religious page which few read? To see others played up with pictures and interviews while you and your church are ignored? Does it get under the skin of your old Adam to see and hear that ever-recurring note: At this or that unionistic affair everybody was represented ó except those narrow-minded medieval Lutherans? But you are a better Christian, a better witness for Christ for having stood the test and obeyed your God: "You shall not harken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proves you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 13:3). Christians are on trial when false prophets come to them; will they be obedient to their God, or follow the false shepherd? But the will of God is not that they go astray; they are to be purged and purified like gold in the furnace. And they are; whatís left is the purer for the fire.

Since there is to be only one church according to Godís will, it cannot be immaterial which church we join. Many think so, and act accordingly; they join any church that happens to be handy. You will find people who have successively been members of half a dozen different denominations. Now this is not surprising in the case of some sects who do not even pretend to be sure of the truth of their teaching; but there are Lutherans who act as though they had never been taught better. That could not be censured if God made no difference; but God condemns unorthodox churches; it is His will that we adhere to the church which teaches His Word in all its purity. "If you continue in my Word," Christ says, "then are you my disciples indeed" (John 8:31), Not: A part of my Word ó all of it! This, then, makes it the duty of every Christian to ask before he joins a church; Is it orthodox? That is the criterion: What do they teach? Not that the preacher is a fine pious man; not that they speak much of the Bible, that they have large Bible classes; not that they are active in promoting social welfare; not even signs and miracles should decide us; plainly the Lord warns us that there will be false prophets who "show great signs and wonders" (Matt. 24:24); and in 2 Thess. 2 this is noted as one of the marks of Antichrist. The question is: Do they teach all things whatsoever Christ has commanded us? Luther: "You believe true or false at your own peril. On the last day no one will be able to excuse himself and say, This or that teacher or preacher has seduced me. Christ will answer, I have commanded you to test teachers by my Word. Why did you not do that? By your own fault you were seduced."

Can Christians distinguish between the different churches? Yes; not only preachers; God has revealed His truth so plainly that everybody can understand it. "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple," David says (Ps. 19:7). I do not say that every Christian is able to understand all that is revealed in the Bible; there are some divine truths which no human mind can fathom. But all the truths of Christian faith are somewhere in the Bible stated so plainly that none but willful misunderstanding is possible. Of course, you must study the Bible to be able to know the truth. Luther closes his introduction to the Small Catechism with a serious admonition to pastors: "Therefore look to it, you pastors and preachers; our office is a different thing now from what it was under the pope; it has now become earnest and salutatory." What he has previously stressed is that our office has now become a teaching profession; no pastor can carry his flock to heaven; what he must do is to teach them the way to heaven which they must walk. But teachers are a drug on the market if there are no students. Teaching pastors are of no use if laymen do not learn. So this word of Luther, which preachers should indeed take to heart, strikes laymen as well. And while that is one reason why we organize and maintain synods to be able to train able pastors, this is not the end; in the end you must judge, and you must know how to judge. And you can become able. Any Christians who knows his Catechism with the proof texts from the Bible well can safely judge the teaching of any church. That Christians do become confused in one or the other point is because they disregard the plain Word and let their reason talk.

III. THESIS

We Use the Doctrine of the Church Properly When We
Do All in Our Power to Maintain, Promote, and Extend the Church
by Prayer, Personal Service and Financial Support

We closed the previous section of our consideration with the assertion that not only preachers, but all Christians can distinguish between the different churches and establish where they are sure to find the true Church; all they need is the knowledge which the Word of God imparts. Now we might turn that around and say, to become ever better able to distinguish true from false, Christians need the service which the Church renders. Therefore, if for no other reason, Christians should be willing to do all in their power to maintain that church, which they have recognized as the church of the pure Word.

The focus of this Thesis, then is: Action. We might put at the head of it that word of St. James (1:22): "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." We have become Christians by the grace and power of God alone. By the divine Word the Holy Spirit has worked faith in heart. Now we are ready for heaven. But God does not at once take us to heaven. Sometimes, when we have to live through days like these, we are tempted to wish that He would do so; but He has His reasons for refusing us that boon, cf. which we shall speak later. As it is, for most of us Christians, there is a long way between the first prayer we send up to the throne on high and our last prayer, "Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit." A long way, and not a peaceful way; we are beset with enemies of our salvation on all sides. Now, God does not withdraw His mighty help and protection; He is with us always unto the end; but He has given us, to employ the means He has provided for our preservation in the faith. And that leads us to the point: Knowing the doctrine of the Church, that only then can we be saved if we remain members of this Church to the end, must lead us to do all in our power to maintain this Church on earth.

Now, the Church is where the Word is; and wherever the Word is there is the Church. Our first care, then, if we are to maintain the Church, is to see to it that we have and use the Word of God. It is well to note that in this respect our first duty is to ourselves. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." St. Paul says (Phil. 2:12); and the Lord Himself (Matt. 6:33): "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." Every one of us must first of all say with the jailer of Philippi, "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30): and make his own calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10). No one will in the last judgment be able to excuse himself by charging his pastor that he did not do his duty in teaching and admonishing, etc. Be sure that a pastor will have his own responsibility, but the first responsibility for your soul rests on you yourself. Nor is it selfish, but in perfect harmony with Christian charity that we care for others. Both, then, we shall keep in mind as we now go on to details.

Our first care must be that we retain and use the Word of God. "Receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your soul," says St. James 1:21. There are chiefly two ways in which we may use the Word: by reading and hearing it. It is surely not without intention in the choice of his words that the apostle says (Col. 3:16): "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." Dwell in us; it is not to be a stranger to us, nor merely a guest who visits us for a few hours or for a weekend once or twice a year; it is to have a home with us, always be with us and never leave us. Moreover, it should not be a mere ornament, but a familiar companion, a member of the family, with whom we seek loving help and cooperation in all we strive to do, -- in other words: We should not read the Bible merely as fine literature, or because of its historical information; we should search it in order to find in it eternal life. What a contradiction if we who have the bread of eternal life should now despite that let our souls starve. If the Word dwells among us we will also use it in the family circle, in family devotion. And perhaps it is well here to remind ourselves that Jesus says, "Search the Scriptures." He does not say, Read something about the Scriptures. Reading of devotional material, explanations of Bible messages and their application to life is well and good; that, too, has its place; but let us not get away from reading the holy text itself.

It surely has not escaped you, however, that for every admonition to read the Bible we find several which urge us to hear the Word. Surely there is a reason for that. In his Large Catechism, in the explanation of the First Commandment, Luther says: "No people has ever been so reprobate as not to institute and observe some divine worship." And explorers since that time have only corroborated that; no nation; no tribe has ever been found that does not have some manner of public worship. Evidently that is written into manís heart by his Creator. Surely there is a reason for that. God does not want man to keep his religion all for himself; nor does He want us to be satisfied with private devotions in our homes. Why not? It is true that men can be saved by reading the Bible. When Christians are scattered by persecution and no other but private family worship can be held, Godís blessing will rest on such devotion. But these are rare exceptions. Experience shows that where public services can be held the neglect of such services leads to apostasy; faith becomes weaker and gradually dies out. The old analogy of the embers is still most appropriate: One coal alone, be it ever so bright and hot, will grow cold; but rake a number of them together and they will flame up with new energy. Our faith needs the encouragement that lies in association with other Christians. So God has ordered Christians to gather in congregations, to hold public worship, and diligently to attend them. Since God has so ordered, it is, of course, not left to our choice; but it should be noted that this is not an arbitrary command of God; none of His commands are arbitrary; there is always a good reason for them. The reason here is that refusal to attend public services will kill all spiritual life. Remember that when someone tries to excuse his non-attendance by saying, I read my Bible at home. You can answer him, That is not true. The exceptions are so desperately rare as not to come into consideration at all.

Hence, if we truly believe the doctrine of the Church we must see to it that the Word is preached, and we must go to hear it. What a contradiction, to build a church, to call and salary a preacher, and then not attend his preaching! But much worse that that! Very definitely Christ says, "He that is of God hears Godís words" (John 8:47). Mary, sitting at Jesusí feet and hearing His Word, has chosen the good part; and that is the great example for all Christians. They cannot despise preaching and His Word, but will gladly hear and learn it.

So should we all were it not for the devil and old Adam. But by the devilís seduction and the deceit of our flesh, laxity will creep in; we are surfeited (satiated), and not only laxity, but actual aversion takes hold of many. Luther in his day had to say, "Many think, if they have heard the Word once or read it, they need no more and know it all" (Luth. 44:11). And back in 1872, when they celebrated the 25th anniversary of our synod, a bitter complaint was voiced that there was an increasing spiritual satiety, chiefly in the old churches (15. Gen. Syn. P. 71). Is it better today when we are preparing for the centennial of our Synod? We cannot deny that it is worse. The materialistic, worldly spirit of the times is more and more invading the hearts even of those who still sing with the Church, "What is the world to me with all its vaunted pleasure when You and You alone, Lord Jesus are my treasure!" They lust after the husks of the world, they loathe the heavenly manna and deem it light bread. The result cannot fail: Spiritual life is stunted and gradually dies out. And unless there is repentance and a definite turn, the story of the church in Sardis is repeated: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." -dead despite all knowledge, dead despite assumed membership in the Church.

Never forget: Neglect, contempt of divine services is a contagious disease; it is apt to attack us all. As we love the salvation of our souls, we must fight it. Itís a mildew that stifles all the growth in the garden of God. And mildew spread; neglect of divine services will affect our entire life. If we stop hearing the Word weíll also stop reading it; and without the Word no one can remain a Christian. Itís a matter for serious thought for any one who sees himself drifting into carelessness in the matter of hearing the Word regularly that Jesus tells His disciples (John 15:3): "Now are you clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you." Nothing is so essential to us as the pardoning grace of God; we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment. Is it without significance that Jesus in the prayer which He has taught us places the 4th and 5th Petitions together? Forgiveness of sins is as essential to the soul as daily bread to the body. But, Jesus says, you are clean through the Word. The pardoning grace of God is extended to us only through the Word. It is necessary to Christians as air, as food and drink to the body; without it they starve. We must continually take from the Word, or we will lose what we have.

That really covers everything that this Thesis implies: Diligent and faithful hearing and reading of the Word; all else will follow. But let us look at some of the things that are necessary if the Church is to be maintained, promoted, and extended. This field is so large that I shall not pretend to name all of them.

If the Word is to be preached we must have preachers; the ministry must be established and maintained. It is true, again, that under abnormal conditions men can be saved and the Church be maintained without special ministry, for a time. But the Lord Himself has established the ministry, has in His Word laid down the duties of ministers and our duties toward them, and has so told us that that is the way in which He wants His Church maintained, promoted, and extended, because that is the only way in which this can effectively be done.

Hence we must establish the ministry of the Word, and call pastors who are able and willing to preach the Word. The pure Word; if anywhere the warning of the Scriptures applies to beware of false prophets, surely it is here. It is not only right, but duty, that a congregation makes as sure as humanly possible that the man who is to serve as pastor is orthodox. It is right they bind him to the Scriptures and to the Confessions of the church. We owe this to ourselves and to all who may come under his ministration that we exact that promise from him.

And then we must watch him that he keeps his promise. A church that has the pure Word must not think that now it has crossed all rivers. Such a church is a thorn in the flesh to Satan. He will try to rob them of the truth, or to corrupt it to such a degree that no one will be saved. We must see to it that we as a Church continue in the truth. We, the members of the Church have that duty. For any false doctrine that creeps in the members are responsible. They cannot say, "Our pastor preaches false doctrine; he is responsible; thatís none of our business."

To be sure, the pastor must take heed unto himself and to all the flock that they be fed rightly, that no grievous wolves enter in among them not sparing the flock (Acts 20:28). Thatís his official duty for which he has been called. But we hearers, too, have our duty in this respect, to watch that the pastor performs his duty. If a church has a thousand dollars and entrusts them to the care of one of the members, how they will watch him, put him under bond lest he abuse his trust. And ten thousand dollars is dirt compared with the treasures which a church entrusts to a pastor, the best and highest that men can possess, that which is able to save their souls eternally. We must see to it that he uses them rightly. If Christians had always done this, there never could have been a papacy; there could be no sects today.

So vital is this duty that the apostles make it a matter of special instruction. St. Paul admonishes the Roman church to "mark them that cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which they have learned and to avoid them" (Rom. 16:17). St. John urges, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). And to the Colossian congregations St. Paul writes, "Say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you fulfill it" (Col. 4:17).

Note, God does not thereby mean to train His Christians to regard their pastor with constant suspicion of unfaithfulness. Nothing is farther from His intention; there should be confidence, not suspicion. On the other hand, they are not relieved of the duty of watchfulness; they must be on their guard lest their pastor preach doctrine that is contrary to the Word of God. The Christians at Berea are praised because they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and yet daily searched the Scriptures, whether those things were so (Acts 7:11). It is, of course, self-evident, yet it is specially emphasized in this text, that hearers must examine the preacherís word in accordance with Scriptures. There are Scriptural doctrines which our flesh does not like; and when pastors preach them, certain hearers who feel themselves struck are at once ready to cryófalse doctrine! We must not judge by the flesh, but by Scripture.

There is another side to this. We take it as self-evident that our pastor admonishes and encourages us to remain faithful. Does the thought ever strike us to encourage our pastors, to cheer them up, to admonish them not to let their flesh, nor afflictions or temptations hinder them in the performance of their duties? Particularly pastors who stand isolated and alone, rarely see brother pastors, -- we ask them to give, give, give; how rarely do they receive anything in the line of admonition, encouragement and strengthening.

And then obey them when they speak the Word of God to us. Makes no difference whether the pastor is young or old; when he speaks the Word of God to us, God speaks through him. He who despises him despises Christ and God, and will give an account for it. Christ Himself takes His stand squarely behind every pastor who speaks His Word, and He will not tolerate it that we despise him (Luke 10:16). He who opposes his pastor when he speaks Godís Word and so causes him grief is doing something which will not be profitable for him, the hearer, in the sight of God (Hebr. 13:17).

Then, stand by the pastor and back him up when he does his duty. When a captain leads his company of soldiers his men follow. No one says, Iíll let the captain go on ahead and see; if he gets through safely Iíll follow. Our pastor is our spiritual leader; when he goes ahead on the way lined out for us by God we must not desert him; shoulder to shoulder we must back him up. And this chiefly when he is attacked because of faithfulness in his trust. It is a severe fault of many Christians that they do not defend their pastor against slander.

Itís sadly true that men will rather believe evil than good of their fellowmen; and I need not go to any length to prove that pastors are even more than others the victims of that propensity; and there are only too many church members who think, when a pastor is slandered: Where there is so much smoke there is bound to be some fire. Untold harm is done the Church by that sort of cowardly action. Let no Christian be ashamed of his pastor when people throw filth and spit poison, and the newspapers drag his name in the dirt, because he testifies against lodges, or against prevalent sins, or refuses to bury everything thatís dead. Let us back up our pastor under such conditions; and share his dishonor, which is an honor to him and to his backers in Godís sight.

Moreover, we should honor our pastors, and that the more highly the more conscientious and unflinching they are fulfilling the requirements of their office. And here may be a good place to state that what is said of pastors applies in their particular field also to the auxiliary office of the ministry, the teachers. The Scriptures warn all Christians not to be "desirous of vain glory" (Gal. 5:26). Browsing through old Synodical essays we find oft repeated warnings against "Ehrgeiz," vainglory, ambitiousness, on the part of ministers. Our fathers had vividly in mind the picture of the church in the lands of their ancestry, with ministers striving after worldly and political honors. While the warning still stands we must surely state, with thanks to God, that this danger has never been great in our church. Far greater is the other, that we fail to give the ministry that love and honor and appreciation which God demands.

Hearers should esteem their pastors very highly in love for their workís sake (1 Thess. 5:18). And 2 Cor. 3:1-3, St. Paul says that ministers need not praise themselves; the people who through their world have come to faith are their letter of recommendation. Should we not honor them who are still writing such letters for themselves? We honor good public officials, mayors, governors, presidents; did ever any one of them do for us what can be compared to the service a simple pastor or teacher renders us and our children? Under present conditions, do even father and mother render us a greater service than a god-fearing teacher who day after day instructs our children in the truth that saves their souls? And we leave the care of father and mother when we grow up; we lose it entirely when they die; the ministry does not die; one pastor takes the place of the other till we die. Can you imagine what would happen to our land and people if God should inflict so dire a punishment upon us as to take away these humble tools of the Gospel?

One special point the apostles mentions 1 Thess. 5:13. When he there says, "Be at peace among yourselves," this according to the context applies chiefly to the relation between hearers and pastors. There are people who think they must always criticize and oppose pastor and teacher, lest they get too proud. And there are those who slander them before the world ó Luther says: "Die in den Bierhaeusern pestilenzen und veitstanzen." Reflect what untold damage such people do to the Church and its work! This does not mean that pastors and teachers are above criticism. When their faults are sinful they must be taken to task, but according to Christís own rule (Matt.18), and the apostleís directions (1 Tim. 5:19): "Against an elder (pastor) receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses." Letís not believe every tattler and slanderer who has something against pastor or teacher. If they have certain weaknesses ó and we all have them ó we should bear them. That does not mean that we may not in love try to correct them. But if we would only, before we talk about our pastorís faults, count up our own which he must overlook, I venture to say we would hesitate. Our own faults, those of our friends and relatives, we do not publish or broadcast them; why do we so often talk about a pastorís faults?

And pray for themóthat God gives them strength and ability and patience. They need it bitterly that we invoke divine help for them. When things go wrong in the congregation, in the various meetings, do we ever beat our breast and say, Iím to blame for it, because I did not help my pastor on my knees. And let them know that you are doing this.

Everyone will realize that the duties outlined so far require well-informed Christians. That is one reason why every Christian should strive to improve his knowledge. You try to become more efficient in your earthly calling; if you take your heavenly calling seriously you will not rest content with what you are and what you have. You will study the Word and not allow your earthly work to interfere with that. You will read your Bible and not neglect the Confessions of the Church; when you strike a snag you will ask those who are better informed, your pastor and teacher. You will read your church periodicals in which questions of the times and of daily life are judged by the divine Word. The more you do that the better you will understand what your duties are, and how best to perform them; the better you will be able to judge teaching and life in the Church, not by your own thoughts, but by Godís standard.

If the Church is to be maintained you must see to it that well-informed Christians do not disappear from the earth when you die; you must provide the best possible religious instruction for the children of the Church. Parents will, of course, be motivated first of all by their love to their children to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; but here we are speaking of our duty to maintain and improve the Church; and under that head it becomes the duty of all members of the Church to provide the best possible religious instruction for the children of the Church. Even if we had not the experience of a full century to teach us, the plain use of logic would lead us to see that our Christian day school is the best method for that purpose; only where it is not possible to establish that, and for those who cannot be brought into that school can we speak of providing other methods and improving them to the utmost. Just in passing let us note that even the best school does not release parents from the duty to train their children at home, to drill the Catechism, to accustom them to family devotion, to encourage them to sing our Christian hymns, to establish the habit of going to church when services are held.

But our duty goes father than merely to maintain the Church in its present state: we should work to extend the Church. Actually this is necessary if we want to maintain the Church; any organism, when it ceases to grow, is beginning to die. That is true of the Church. History shows that the missionary church is the strong flourishing church. But beyond that we have the Lordís direct command (Matt. 28:19): "You go therefore, and teach all nations." And lest any one think that this command is given to the apostles only He adds (v. 20): "And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." This work is to be carried out to the end of the world. The apostles did not live beyond the span of a human life; but the Church will stand while the earth stands; and the members of the Church are to continue this work. As soon as a man becomes a Christian the Lord enrolls him as a missionary. Every one of us should "show forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). Note that there can be no possible exception to the rule.

That requires two things. In the first place personal mission workóone of the most neglected fields of Christian duty. We are so slow to believe that the Lord meant just what He said when He gave the command, "You go, therefore, and teach all nations;" that this command goes out to every one who applies that promise to himself, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." It is one of the sorest spots in our Christian life. That is really the one reason for which the Lord leaves us in the world after we have become Christians: Our business is to save the souls of others by bringing them into the Church. Thatís our only excuse for living; if we are not working at that we are a failure, and the Lord might well remove us as fruitless trees to make room for better trees. Yet, how many of us can say that we have a good conscience in this respect!

All excuses that are offered are just that: excuses, alibis, which show consciousness of guilt, but do not remove it. No opportunity? Why, we canít leave our front door without finding opportunity to do personal mission work. Children can ask their playmates to come to their school and Sunday school, Young people can for a moment stop discussing parties and movies, women the vagaries of fashion or the exploits of their children, men the all-absorbing topics of politics and baseball (sports), and speak of the really serious purpose of life: Providing for eternity. If anyone can honestly say that in his community there is no opportunity to win souls for Christ he had better move; he is wasted in that locality. Sometimes the Lord Himself takes a stand and moves His Christians. After the stoning of Stephen Christians were scattered abroad by persecution; and St. Luke tells us, that they were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word (Acts 8:4). And that was the Lordís object; not the scattering in itself; He scatters for a purpose. He wanted to have His good seed broadcast; if they did not go afield willingly He made use of the rough hand of persecution. I wonder if Christians of our day will remember their real work, before the Lord again takes a hand in their affairs and scatters the Church by persecution; the future does not look any too promising.

The second part of our duty is to send out men to do mission work in those sections of the earth where we cannot go. This is quite an order; not all can go out to do the actual fishing; some have to stay home and build the boats and weave the nets. Only let us remember again: The Lordís command makes every Christian personally responsible; if you cannot go yourself you must send your proxy; never mind what the other fellow is doing. If it is your honest intention to extend the Church, then you must do your part in mission work.

To carry out this mission work, men and money are required. But that leads us to another section of our consideration of which this is only a part.

Much of the work of which we have spoken, though the duty of every individual Christian, cannot well be carried out by each Christian alone. To do this business of the Church which all members have in common we have what is called the voting membership of the Church. Now there is no divine command that we must carry on the business of the church is just this manner; but our God does want us to do all things decently and in order; and long experience has convinced us that this is the most efficient way of practically doing what every Christian is commanded to do. Voting membership is fundamentally nothing else but that each man says: I promise to do my part of the common work, and pledge myself that I will carry my part of the responsibility. There can be only one reason why men who are able to do so do not become voting members: Lack of interest in the Church and her work. And that, to say it again, was the cause of the papacy. Because the laity lost interest in the affairs of the Church, the control of these affairs fell into the hands of the bishops; and the logical apex of the hierarchical pyramid that developed was the pope. And this story is bound to repeat itself; itís the peopleís lack of interest in common affairs that creates dictators.

Now no one will try to deny that if we are true members of the Church we must be interested in all the work that the Church is doing. And in that case we cannot be satisfied with just running along as guests; but will join as voting members. Itís a poor sign of gratitude and of esteem of the spiritual priesthood of Christians if we do not value the right to take part in the control of the business of the Church. We will attend the meeting of the members. What a contradiction if Christians to whom God has entrusted the affairs of His kingdom now would not do so, but allow their secular affairs to interfere with their Fatherís business.

It may not be out of place to adduce here Dr. Waltherís seven reasons why members should attend congregation meetings:

  1. If every one should fail to attend, the congregation would be ruined.

  2. It is unfair to let others work for you, if you share their obligations.

  3. Every one has received his gifts to use them for the common welfare.

  4. The neglect of some members to attend at least delays the congregationís progress toward improvement when such steps are contemplated.

  5. It violates conscience to consent to the resolutions of others without examination.

  6. By such neglect the liberty of the congregation is endangered, because the governing of the congregation must so fall into the hands of a few.

  7. Such withdrawing from their meetings will offend the brethren. (Luth. IV, 113).

We speak of the duty of members to attend these meeting; in fact, they should regard it as a privilege and joy, not a burden. Nor should it spoil their joy if at times things occur that are not pleasant. All Christians still have old flesh, and at times that will crop out. But that does not offend the others, since they know they are all patients in the same hospital; so they help each other in meekness, being spiritual. They will take part in the discussions. They will be ready to serve with their gifts, even if that requires hard work and self-denial, because they seek the welfare of the Church. If they are asked to take an office, they will take it as an honor; but not merely as an honor, but a solemn duty, and will perform their duties faithfully with the gifts which God has given. I find a few more reminders in an essay by Prof. Pardieck (Ill.í98, 97):

"Speak worthy of your calling; do not bluster, nor seek to run the church. Do not insist of your own opinion. Do not quarrel. Do not forget that others are spiritual priests, too. In indifferent things submit to the majority (1 Cor. 11:16). Leave the meeting conscious of the fact that you are a spiritual priest. Muttering after meetings is unworthy of a man, much more of a Christian. A man with a bloated head is, according to the apostle, not the photograph of a spiritual priest. Watch your words. If you have complaints, present them to the meeting in orderly fashion. Do not betray your church to the world. God will call you to account for the damage you do with loose talking (Luke 11:23)."

But now there is work to do in the Church which goes beyond the powers even of the congregation. You have pastors now who serve you and your children at the present time. But if the Church is to be preserved there must be pastors and teachers when you are no more and your children are as old as you are now. Moreover, the Church is to be extended; the Gospel is to be carried to those who have it not. We must have men to do that, men who are able to do that; and since God does not let them rain down from heaven, they must be trained for the work by means which we provide. Let us establish right here that a pastor cannot be too well educated if he puts all his faculties into the service of Christ. Believe it or not, there still are people who question this, who think it were better if pastors had less training. To make their point they abuse the story of Peterís re-instatement (John 21:15ff.); love of Jesus, they say, is the only requirement the Lord demands. Now, love to the Savior is altogether the fundamental requirement in a pastor, as it is fundamental in every Christianís life. Let us also admit that in cases of necessity it is the only requirement. Those Christians who were scattered abroad by persecution had no special learning; yet they preached the Word successfully. The Herrnhuter missionaries were men of burning love to Jesus and little else in the matter of equipment, and their success was phenomenal.

Often, when these advocates of non-education are driven into a corner they cry: Moody. Now God did use Moody; the Omnipotent can use even poorer instruments that Moody. But there is only one Moody in a generation; and it would be asking too much to expect the Lord to furnish a Moody for every mission station. Yet note that all these men got their training ó the hard way, by experience. We still hear the argument: The Lordís disciples were ignorant fishermen. Yes, but His most successful apostle was a man who could match his learning with any one on Mars Hill in Athens. And those ignorant fishermen went to school for three years with the Son of God Himself as teacher; and in the end He gave them the gift of speaking in foreign languages ó six years of preparatory school training in a moment; and they were more efficient by far than our Primaner (those who finished two years of college) when they come to the Seminary in St. Louis.

Letís set it down: Under normal conditions the Lord wants His workers in the ministry well educated. The degree will, of course, differ as times and circumstances change. For the training of pastors, teachers, and missionaries colleges and seminaries are necessary. To establish and maintain them goes beyond the powers of individuals and congregations; a number of them will have to combine for this work; hence the organization of synods or similar bodies. Again, to carry on missions, especially in foreign lands, effectively, such organizations are almost imperative. Hence, though a synod is a human institution, yet it is difficult to imagine how the work which the Lord expects of us could be done without such an institution. And, beside all that, should not Christians rejoice in the opportunity of uniting with so many fellow-Christians, to march like a mighty army to carry on the glorious work of our Lord.

Most of the reasons, therefore, cited for the duty of a Christian to become a voting member, would apply here. We should work toward the end that our congregation joins Synod. And then we should take part in the work of Synod. We must send the best delegates possible to the conventions, and both, congregation and delegates, should regard this, not as a burden, but a privilege. Delegates should feel: We represent the Church of God, a great number of spiritual priests. Let no one and nothing rob you of that privilege if you are elected as delegate, and then watch that Synod does Godís work. On the other hand, watch, too, that Synod does not go too far, does not become a consistory and enslave the Churches and rob them of their rights and privileges.

To carry on all the work of the Church which we have discussed, properly, we must do two more things; Give and pray. Letís talk about money first, not because it is most important, but for the opposite reason. God could, of course, maintain, promote, and extend His Church without our money. Not so rarely He brings it home to us, too, that money in itself is of little value in the work of the Church. He does, however, make use of our money, chiefly so that we might have the blessing that comes to us through giving. Not what we give, but that we give is important. So we shall talk not so much about the money, but about our giving.

(By Godís own order this work of building His Church on earth is done is such a way that our gifts will help. Intrinsically, money gifts stand very low in value. When others, our fellow-priests, sacrifice conveniences and necessities, leave home and country, work in danger of life among Jews, Turks and pagans, sacrifice their health, spend their whole life in mission work, is it a great thing that we, having the same obligations, assist with our money? And do we not, if we are Christians, give ourselves to Christ? Shall we, then, leave our possessions behind?)

God has so ordered it that the work of the ministry (and that should be understood as including all the Church work in the congregation, mission work at home and abroad, maintenance of preparatory institutions, etc.), is done, not by angels, but by men who need earthly means for their subsistence; and He has made it our duty to supply them. 1 Cor. 9:14: "Even so has the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel." Gal. 6:6-7: "Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teaches in all good things. Be not deceived: God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap." Note, that the apostle wants only those who are taught in the Word to give, nobody else; but all of them. It is very evident from the context that when he says: God is not mocked, he means to say: Whoever, being able to communicate, and does not do so, is mocking God; and God will not be mocked; He will regard a refusal to communicate as a personal insult to Himself; and He will punish.

How much shall we give? Luke 10:7: Jesus says to the disciples whom He sent out to preach: "Eating and drinking such things as they give;" Lutherís translation is much more exact: "Was sie haben" ó such things as they have: ta parí autoon; "eating and drinking the meat and drink which belong to them, as if they were your own" (Exp. Greek Test.). Preachers and teachers should have what the hearers have, no more, no less. And on the other side: Hearers should give what they have, the one more, the other less. It is wrong to tax all alike. It is just as wrong merely to ask: How much do we have? How much can we give? So minister and teacher should receive the average of what the members have. Are they poor, the ministry will gladly share their poverty. Are they prosperous, so should their pastors be. Can they lay aside savings for a rainy day, they should make this possible for pastor and teacher.

And this is not charity, not alms; it is duty. "The laborer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7); so Jesus says directly of those who are sent out to preach. They have earned it with their work. And if it is robbery to keep back or shorten the wages of a worker (James 5:4; Deut. 19:13), it is robbery if we hold the salary of pastors and teachers down to the utmost minimum. There used to be an old proverb: "Mission ist Gottes Bettlerin" ó Missions are Godís beggars. What anomaly! If Church work is Godís work, then it should not be a beggar. Letís remember it when next the salary lists in our church are revised, when Synodís budget for missions, educational institutions, etc., is to be raised!

Let me quote another forceful paragraph from Prof. Pardieckís essay:

"Do your duty in the line of giving. Do not let is spoil your appetite for the whole week when you hear that word Ďgive.í Forget it not: That is part of a priestís sacrifice. Give, not a little, but as much as you can. Giving, with due regard to possessions, is a thermometer showing how warm is your inside. It is sinful to let others bear the burden and you do not raise a finger. No, put your shoulder to the wheel, and if God has given you broad shoulders, strain them. You know what I mean! Raise the means that are needed in a way worthy of Christians. It is unworthy of Christians to claim spiritual priesthood, and yet lack the love to God and His Word to give freely and gratefully for His cause, but go begging to the world which on all other occasions we condemn with all their life and conduct; try to raise the needed money from the world and flesh of Christians with questionable or even sinful amusements. Elijah did not collect from the priests of Baal before he slew them. The Magi did not ask Herod and Caiaphas for a donation for the poor Christchild. Nor did they raffle off old socks and nightcaps which the daughters of Bethlehem had donated. No, they opened their treasures. And when Christians refuse to do that they announce their spiritual bankruptcy; then it is poor boasting that they are priests and kings before God. No, be no sleepyhead (Schlafmutze) in the church. Remember, you do not serve as a slave at the work of others, perhaps under the whip of a pastor ó you, together with other priests, are carrying on the work that God has given to you. We are put to shame by poor Christians, e.g. under the pope, who do not even have the full Gospel, and havenít the faintest idea of this spiritual priesthood" (Ill. í98, 98).

And now prayer. It should be the easiest, yet is I fear, the most neglected way of helping to maintain, to promote, and to extend the Church. Ours is a materialistic age. Men have delved so deeply into the secrets of the material world and have found natural causes for so many phenomena that used to be regarded as miraculous or even black magic, that they are inclined to look for a natural, material cause for everything, or to look at it from the other side, if they aim at a certain result they look for something material that will produce it. If you want to sell breakfast food ó hence, the raw materials, a factory equipped with the requisite machinery, skilled labor, etc.; but to sell it, what you need most of all is advertising; radio, newspaper, magazine, billboard advertising; donít spare money on that, and the result will be a successful sales campaign. They apply that to Church work. Get an eloquent preacher, the output of a good machine shop, with fair education, and good mixer; give him a good working plan, a church, a hall with a stage and footlights, a kitchen and dining room, a secretary and a mimeograph, and then plenty of church publicity; the results cannot fail: You will sell the church to many.

Thank God, the bulk of our Christians are not of that stripe; they know that the value of a church does not lie in such externals, and the appeal of a church to those on the outside must not be based on them; the church must have something better to offer to supply the need of the human soul. And yet they, too, may be affected by the materialistic atmosphere surrounding them to such a degree that they forget the superhuman element that is necessary if the Church shall be maintained, promoted and extended. They forget: "not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts." And God wants to be asked for His help. So pray for your Church; in the morning when you get up, asking God for opportunities to do His work and for the ability to take advantage of them; in the evening, asking Godís blessing on all that has been done on that day in all the world; while you are at work, spend a stray thought on prayer for your Church. Is there anything in your life more important than your Church? Then carry it in a praying heart. Do not use this as a cloak for laziness or stinginess; no, work and give to capacity for your Church; but do it with the constant accompaniment of prayer.

We like to think and talk about our rights. Especially in a democratic church like ours we are very much on our guard that our rights are not interfered with. And they are precious rights and privileges that the Lord has given to us as members of His Church; possession of the greatest treasures on earth, the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which is really the right to proclaim the Gospel. Nothing else on earth can at all compare with this. But there are no rights without duties. Both in the State and in the Church, rights and duties are inseparable. Now, theoretically we all admit that; practically it is more difficult to realize it. We like to be reminded of our rights; but when we are told of our duties, we are hard of hearing, our memory is defective, and the hand canít find its way into the pocket. Itís sometimes very sad! And then we preachers, being only flesh and blood are tempted to forget all about rights and only talk duties! And thatís all wrong! Christians are made willing to serve God and to overcome the flesh by being reminded of their glorious Christians privileges. But they must be reminded again and again.

Letís not grow tired of repeating it year after year. It is not abnormal that this should be necessary; we still have the old flesh and that is incorrigible to the grave. So let us not grow lax in teaching and admonition; but let it be evangelical; legalistic urging closes heart and hand. And let us hearers, on the other hand, not grow tired of hearing and practicing. And let any one who it tempted to grow tired look into his own heartóhow much ingratitude there! "And the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make us perfect in every good work to do His will, working in us that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Heb. 13:20-21).

IV. THESIS

We Use the Doctrine of the Church Properly When We
Avoid All False Churches and All Organizations That Profess a False Religion

Let us again hark back to what was said in the first part, the first part of our previous thesis. We have a double spiritual duty while we live in this world: To save our own souls, and to save the souls of others. Our first object, while we live, must be to care for our own soul. We have considered the positive side of this duty: We must do all in our power to maintain the Church, so that we, through the means entrusted to the Church may be kept steadfast in the faith and to be finally saved. Now we look at the negative side. Just as important as using the means by which faith may be preserved in our hearts is this that we carefully avoid everything that might prove dangerous to our faith. Perhaps, in one way, this is even more important. It strikes the eye that God has given most of the Ten Commandments in the negative form; so obvious is this that some have said, they should be called "The Ten Prohibitions." This is, of course, not right; Godís real object is to induce us to do good; but since the fall there is in our hearts that constant inclination to do evil; this must be combated first, before anything good can be produced; yet this remains the true purpose. Over in Holland a great part of the fertile farmland is wrested from the sea; huge dikes are thrown up to keep the sea out. And yet that is not the real object, to keep the sea out; that is only a means to an end; the real purpose is to make it possible to till the land, to produce food. Yet that negative object of keeping the floods from the destroying the handiwork of man must be met first before any farming can be done. So there is the flood of all that is evil which is forever threatening to sweep over our heart; and this must be kept out first before anything good can result.

That has its application to the matter under consideration here. Perhaps another example will make clear what I have in mind. Christ says of the disciples, "You are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world" (John 15:19). When we become Christians, Christ takes us out of the world, separates us from the world; all bridges are broken that connect us with the world; our faith is the victory that overcomes the world. And now we Christians must not try to rebuild what has once been broken; Church and world are a total contrast; and Christians must avoid all pandering to the world, everything that might tend to restore the bridges that used to connect them with world that still surrounds them and is towards destruction. To this day the Church must bear the ensign, "They think it strange that you do not run with them to the same excess of dissipation" (1 Pet. 4:4); and that means, positively stated, "Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19). The result will be that Christians are strangers and pilgrims in a strange land; but so it should be. Our conversation is in heaven, not here.

The same holds true in the matter which we are considering, that of doctrine. We have heard that Christians should join a church of the pure Word, none other. That is plainly the will of God. God Himself has broken the bridges that might still unite us with all who corrupt the Word of God. And now Christians must not try to rebuild the bridges that God has broken, but entering into any kind of religious fellowship with such whose churches we cannot join. That is the meaning of this Thesis. It really follows as a logical conclusion of the second Thesis; but it is well to give it a little special emphasis. It is our natural inclination, even though we join the true church, not to break altogether with others; just as it is our natural inclination, though we want to be Christians, to keep on flirting with the world on the other side. The trouble is again that our heart is evil and always opposes the divine will and Word. Given the choice between divine truth and any false teaching, it never inclines toward the truth, it is never even neutral and open to logical argument; it always inclines toward falsehood. So we need this special reminder.

Moreover, this total separation is disagreeable; yes it hurts. We have friends, relatives in one of the other churches; families may be split, one going to this, the other to that church. We love them, yet cannot regard them as brothers and sisters in faith. And then, the reputation we get! How people talk about us! The names they call us! You see, this requirement goes squarely against the spirit of the times. This is one of total indifference in religious matters. They call it toleration; in fact, it is much more than that. The medieval church was intolerant; it insisted: Only one church, and that is ours, has the right to exist on earth, and all others must be exterminated from the earth by government action. Hence, persecution of all who were not of that church down into the 18th century; in fact, that church still takes the same position.

Since the Reformation the spirit of toleration has been spreading in the world, the spirit which Christ preached in His parables: Let wheat and tares grow together in this world until the harvest; then God will send them all through His fanning mill. But men are always pendulum fashion, from one extreme to the other. So today the common attitude is one of the widest indifference; all religions are only a matter of opinion; there is no absolute truth, hence no real error; hence you should acknowledge the other manís religious opinions as of equal value with your own. If you do not, they resent it, and blame you with assuming a holier-than-thou attitude, with being narrow-minded and bigoted. And that is not pleasant. And some of us say, Why can we not unite with them in many things; hold union thanksgiving services; union mission services and divide the proceeds pro rata; organize union tract societies, Bible societies; make common front against the common foe, unbelief, atheism, communism, etc.?

In setting ourselves in opposition to this common attitude we must be sure to talk plainly. It is not right to tell people, especially our young people: You must not do that, because you are Lutheran, and Lutheran do not do such things! We must state plainly the reason why we must have no religious fellowship with those who teach false doctrines. Which is that reason? It is two-fold: Godís command, and your own soulís welfare. The wording of our Thesis is taken from Rom. 16:17: "Now I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them." The apostle is evidently not speaking of open enemies of the Gospel, but of men who claim to be members of the Church of Christ, and then teach doctrine at variance with the revealed Word of God. Keep your eye on them, he says, and avoid them. The word which he uses here means to lean away from them, to turn away from them; that is, do not make common cause with them ó We should not only reject the false doctrine, but also turn away from, separate from the false teachers.

That is the Lordís will that we must remain separate from those who teach anything contrary to Godís Word. The apostle here only repeats the Lordís own warning, Matt. 7:15: "Beware of false prophets," and he reiterates the warning to the elder of Ephesus (Acts 20:30-31). An interesting passage, because it shows that the apostles already had to contend with evils which still molest us, is 2 John verse 11: "If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, do not receive him into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that bids him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." You know men and women of that stripe today, who some how, get the list of your congregation members and then go from one to the other, trying to make them doubt their own creed and to sell them books filled with their false teachings. St. John says, Donít take them into your house; do not wish them God speed. Godís help and blessing; they are false prophets and ravening wolves. Finally St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, 2 Cor. 6:14-17: "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has he that believes with an infidel? and What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, and do not touch the unclean thing." When we quote this passage the objection is usually made at once: The apostle here speaks of unbelievers; so it does not apply here; we are speaking of false church, those who, it is true, teach some false doctrine, but still have the Gospel of Christ. I cannot do better than to give Dr. Pieperís answer to that (South. í89, 29):

"In so far as they teach falsely they are unbelievers; they are unbelievers with respect to many Bible passages. And beyond that they commit the sin of establishing separatistic organizations within the Church, divide the Church, and wage war against the true Church. Word for word, 2 Cor. 6 fits such unorthodox churches, in so far as they are such. We read: ĎWhat fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness?í To teach and to believe false doctrine is the greatest possible unrighteousness: it is a sin against the First Commandment. Frequently Luther states that emphatically; repeatedly he says, ĎFalse doctrine is sin against the First Commandment.í Whoever sets the Word of God aside, twists and turns it, injects his own meaning into it, rejects God as his God and acts unrighteously. Often God says in His Word, ĎYou shall not steal.í But just as clearly and much more frequently the Scriptures say, ĎYou shall not believe false doctrine, you shall not preach false doctrine, you shall not fear false doctrine.í He who steals, unmindful of the command of God, is unrighteous; so above all he is unrighteous who, unmindful of the equally command of God, preaches, hears, or furthers false doctrine. Quantity makes no difference. When God says we shall not steal, we must not steal even the least little bit. So, too, in hearing and preaching false doctrine. We are guilty of unrighteousness if we spread and promote only one false doctrine. The first requisite of Christian righteousness and Christian life is faithful acceptance of the entire Word of God. Again we read, ĎWhat communion has light with darkness?í But false teaching is darkness as the true revealed doctrine is the light in this world. ĎWhat concord has Christ with Belial?í All false doctrine is work of the devil. It is a lie in spiritual things against God. The true father of this lie is the devil. All who further false teaching are doing the devilís work. ĎWhat agreement has the temple of God with idols?í The Church is the temple of God for this reason that the Word of God is heard there. In so far as human teaching, error is taught in the church, worship of another god, than the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture, is taught there. In so far as another doctrine than the Word of God is proclaimed in the Church, Godís house is truly turned into an idolís temple."

So, then God commands that we avoid false prophets and not hear them; by attending false church we hear them; we do the exact contrary of what God has commanded. It is a vicious distinction in this connection, when the issue is false doctrine, to talk about essentials and non-essentials. You know the old slogan: "In all essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity." When the question is: Can people be saved in this or that church? it makes a difference whether the essential truths of the Gospel are still taught, those that are absolutely necessary for salvation. But when the question is, Which is truth and which is falsehood? there is no choice; all that is clearly taught and revealed in Scripture is essential, because it is the Word of God. And then who is to decide which is essential? Among those who demand that distinction are some who maintain that the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible is non-essential; and break down the very foundation of all Christian faith. Furthermore, you cannot separate the teachings of the Word; one error is bound to affect other doctrines. Even if St. Paul had not clearly said so, 1 Cor. 5:6: "Donít you know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" the history of all false churches would prove that; they begin with one error; then they fall from one error into the other. Remember only the development of the papacy. "Their word will eat as a canker eats," says St. Paul of false teachers (2 Tim. 2:17).

It happens in our own circles that people move to places where the orthodox church is not represented, and join an errorist church. We cannot say that they have fallen away from the truth and lost the faith; but they surely have forgotten their fundamentals, the difference between true and false churches and Godís will in this respect: By joining a false church they commit sin.

And they endanger their souls. That is our second point. In the first place, all who have fellowship with false churches commit sin. All false doctrine is taking the name of God in vain; it is lying and deceiving by Godís name, as we have learned in our confirmation instruction. Cursing and swearing are gross sins; even the respectable world shies at these vices. But using Godís name for false teaching is worse, because of the effects. Cursing and swearing harm the man who commits the sin; false teaching may also harm him who listens by leading him astray. That applies not only to gross error; every error is false doctrine and sinful, "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven"(Matt. 5:19). "I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Rev. 22:18-19). Yes, there may be true children of God in such churches. Some, especially in the throes of death, forget about everything else that is taught in their church and cling to the Gospel which they have heard, and they are saved. But all that does not change the case. Holding fellowship with a false church is sinful; and surely, any association with entangles me in sin is not safe for my soul.

Next: The Psalmist says, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Ps. 119:105). The old poet said, "Wenn dein Wort nicht mehr soll gelten, Worauf soll der Glaude ruhín? Mir istís nicht um tausend Welten, Sondern um dein Wort zu tun." ó It is absolutely essential that to the Christians the Word of God stands solid and firm. His prayer is, "Stablish Thy Word to Thy servant, who is devoted to Thy fear" (Ps. 19:38). When affliction and death come upon him, when the waters of Belial surround him, when the evil one shall accuse him with the thought: You are a lost and condemned sinner and there is nothing waiting for you but the bottomless pit, the just retribution for your deedsóthen there is only one help for him: In the Word, "The blood of Jesus Christ, Godís Son, cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7); "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 John 1:15). If he can accept these words as they read and can believe with full confidence that they are true and sure, then he is safe; he will find comfort in death; nothing can move his heart.

But in every unorthodox church the divine Word is rendered uncertain. To support their false teaching they must corrupt the Word. Let us look at a few examples. Those who deny that Baptism is a means of grace must cross out Acts 2:38: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins"; Gal. 3:27: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ"; Tit. 3:5: "He saved us by the washing of regeneration." Those who deny the real presence of Christís body and blood in the Lordís Supper must manufacture a new interpretation ó (and they produce a dozen of them) ó of the words of institution, repeatedly found in Gospels and Epistles. Those who teach that man must in any way help is his own conversion must directly cancel hundreds of Bible verses; all those which speak of manís spiritual death, the total depravity of his nature, his enmity against God, Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13; Gen. 8:21; John 3:5; Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14; all those asserting that faith is worked by the grace of God alone, Eph. 1:19-20; Phil. 1:3-5, 29; all those which state that we are justified by faith, Rom. 3:24, 28; Gal. 2:16, 24; that we are preserved by the grace of God, 1 Pet. 1:5; Phil. 1:6, and many others.

Thus, to support their false teaching, they must constantly corrupt the Word of God. Some one has rightly said, "To support one lie nine lies are required." Whoever allows the taking of such liberties with the Word of God, must he not fear that in the hour when he was to rest on a sure Word and promise of God his heart will tell him: Perhaps that Word does not mean what is says either. Every liberty taken with the Word of God undermines the very foundation of our faith. An errorist church is a dangerous place for a Christian. The 200 men out of Jerusalem who went with Absolom in their simplicity and didnít know anything (2 Sam. 15:11), had to share his danger. The churches of whom we are speaking consistently call into question the truthfulness of Godís Word; Christians who go with them, many in their simplicity, must share the danger that in the hour when they want to lean on the Lordís rod and staff it may seem to them ó it never is ó but it may seem to then, a broken reed.

Add to this point that has been mentioned before: The close connection between all doctrines of the Bible. Throw doubt upon one, and it will at once affect others; one error will lead to others. Zwingliís first error was the denial of the Real presence; to support that he had to deny the omnipresence of Christís humanity; therefore, the communication of attributes; therefore, the true personal union of the two natures in Christ; and if that is denied, then who died for us on the Cross? Only the man Jesus? Then can we still say, "The blood of Jesus Christ, Godís Son, cleanses us from all sin"? Then do we still have a Savior? If you hold one error, logically the whole Bible will fall. I do not say that all who hold one or a few errors draw all these conclusions; by the grace of God there is a fortunate inconsistency among the simple Christians among their number, so that they do not deny all the truth. But in the unhappy times, when you need a strong comforting word of God, bitterly the devil may draw those conclusions for you! Read Luther on Gal. 5:9: "A little leaven leavens the whole lump" (but in German, the English translation omits all references to the sacrament, which emasculates the whole section). Dr. Pieper comments on this:

"These are precious and noteworthy words for our days too. People take offense because we too stubbornly hold to pure doctrine; they call it obstinacy, love of strife and quarrelling, but our conscience is bound by the Word of God. We hold 1) the prime requirement of faithfulness to God is simple, humble adherence to Godís Word; 2) Every departure from Godís Word, every error is a danger to the soul. There is a fearful, a diabolical power in every error. Every error is a work of the devil, and by associating with error a Christian comes under the influence of the devil. Human reason is powerless in this. You can recognize its errors by the light of reason; yet reason is no safeguard; many learned, wise men are bound with the fetters of the papacy and cannot free themselves. Only the hand of God can saveóBeware lest in uniting with errorists we carelessly launch into danger and lose our salvation."

One last point, on which we surely need not spend much time. If all this is true with regard to churches which corrupt Word of God only in part, it must absolutely exclude the possibility of our associating with organizations which are wholly or in part religious, whose religion, however, is not Christian. Under this head belong such organizations as Unitarians, Universalists, Swedenborgians, etc.; and then all the organizations which usually are of a fraternal order, but teach a religion besides. Freemasons, Odd Fellows, etc. Whatever other differences there may be, they agree in this that their religion excludes and makes impossible a confession of faith in the Holy Trinity, and they teach the purely pagan religion of work righteousness. Need we further proof that no Christian must have any religious fellowship with them? They are idolaters and heathen.

It has already been stated what it means to "avoid" false churches. To enter into any church fellowship, religious fellowship with them. This is nothing to do with purely business or social life; though even here we should keep our eyes open that the daily association with those of other faith may not blunt our conception of the Truth. Nor does it mean that we may not speak to them of religious truth and duty; on the contrary, 1 Pet. 3:15 still stands: "Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." Be ready to bear witness of the truth to any one who is willing to listen. But barred is any religious association which may imply a denial of the truth, an approval of any falsehood, above all, anything that may further the maintenance and spreading of error. Just a few examples. We must not become members of heterodox churches; under no condition. It there is no orthodox church in our locality and we cannot move, we must be satisfied with home services; God has made no exceptions to Rom. 16:17. We must not take active part in any service that involves a denial of the truth or a sanction of error, e.g. union services, funeral services; habitual attendance alone furthers and strengthens their work. We must not be sponsors for children baptized in such churches. We must not call on their pastors to perform official acts for us ó baptisms, funerals, sick calls, marriage, etc. We must not send our children to their Sunday schools. Yes, they may learn some divine truth there; and they may learn error there that may poison their soul. Do not think as an excuse that you can counteract the possible error by correction at home; keep in mind the peculiar psychological fact that to children of that age what the teacher says usually has more weight than what father and mother say; at best, it will raise a conflict in the childís mind. We must not give money for their religious work; and when we are asked for contributions we should tell honestly why we cannot comply; not say I have no money, but frankly, though, in a friendly way, confess our conviction that this would be helping to spread what we hold is error and falsehood, and that with a good conscience we cannot do so. Yes, they will probably resent it; is that worse than loading our conscience with a sin?

There can be no valid reasons for making common cause with errorists. "Some of the excuses (again to use the words of Dr. Pieper, South. í39, 49) sound very pious; but in the light of Scriptures they are always invalid; at times they bear the stamp of their origin, the old flesh. Take the worst first: Business considerations. That is making faith a business; that is subordinating the question: What must I do to be saved? to the question, What shall we eat? What shall we drink? With what shall we be clothed? ó against the Lordís direct warning. Thatís pagan! And it is pagan when people say, It isnít faith that matters, but deeds, life. Faith matters so much that he that believes on the Son is not condemned; but he that does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18). And if works are considered which please God, works which are produced by faith, then the prime good work is this that we continue in Christís Word and so adhere to the Church of the pure Word."

We still subscribe to the statement of Luther in the Smalcald Articles (Trigl. 517): "To dissent from the agreement of so many nations and to be called schismatics is a gave matter. But divine authority commands all not to be allies and defenders of impiety and unjust cruelty. On this account our consciences are sufficiently excused." ó By trying to distinguish so exactly between truth and error, we are told, and refusing to unite with other churches, you keep the Church in perpetual disturbance and harm rather than profit the Church. ó But the Lord should know best what will harm and what will profit the Church; and He has said, "Avoid them." Then this presupposes a false conception of the nature of the Church. If the Church were, as the Apology says merely an outward polity, then we would have to avoid everything that disturbs the peace, and perhaps buy peace even at the cost of some false doctrine. Such is the case in a State; internal peace is paramount, and statesmen sometimes have to compromise to keep the peace. But the Church is not merely an outward polity; it is the communion of saints, of believers. The Church, therefore, profits when that is preached which works faith, the pure truth of God, and that is avoided which harms faith, false teaching.

It is very sad, too, that this split sometimes goes through families and relationships; and we can understand it why people are led to say, My relatives belong to another church; I love them; and to prevent disagreement and division of the family I go with them. ó But Jesus has thought of that eventuality, too, and decided it for us; Matt 10:37-38: "He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that does not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me." Yes, it is really the cross of Christ that such confessors are bearing; the Lord is testing them whether they love Him more than their earthly dearest and best. But, after all, true love requires that we confess the truth to them, so that they see the light and depart from error. Godís will is not that we join them, but that they join us. If they cannot be convinced, then we must bear the cross and dispense with the blessing of having a religiously united family.

But, someone says, I need not accept their errors; I can feed my soul on the truth they have and reject whatever is false. ó So speaks presumptuous flesh. Anyone who has tried to live a Christian life for any number of years must have learned by personal experience that we cannot trust ourselves too far. Error is not so harmless that we can play with it. We carry tinder in our hearts, even for gross errors. This very objection shows it: It proves that he who makes it has no real horror of false doctrine; to all intents and purposes he has already fallen halfway. Then, we cannot save our soul; God must do that. Now, He wants to protect us; He has promised to protect us, but only if we walk his ways, if we continue in His Word.

No, under no conditions may we with a good conscience join a false church. There may be conditions that prompt a person to remain a member of such a church for a while. If a member of an errorist church comes to the knowledge of the truth and recognizes the false doctrine taught there, he must testify to the truth. If his associates comply, well, if not, he may continue until it is clear that they do not want to give up their error; then he must leave. If he does not, he no longer defends the truth, but defends error. It is total blindness to imagine that you are a witness to the truth if you continue as an associate of errorists; thatís a bald contradiction: A witness of the truth, but an accomplice of falsehood. Luther here speaks rather sharply, but after all it is the truth; "You cannot stand in the same stall with those who teach and love false doctrine, or forever speak well to the devil and his supporters" (XVII:1477).

One last objection: You admit that there are true children of God in errorist churches; hence, by separation from such churches you separate also from the true Christians among them and condemn them. Wouldnít it be better to remain in communion with them and their churches? ó We answer, In the first place, we do not separate from them; we separate from the sects, and they separate these children of God from us. They hold these true believers (for all children of God are ready to believe the whole Word of God), in captivity, so that they support an evil cause, while in their heart they belong to us and would at once join us if they were better informed. We must absolutely maintain that not we are causing division by denying church fellowship to the heterodox; they cause divisions who teach contrary to the doctrine which we have learned, Rom. 16:17.

Sad to say, the devil has to often succeeded in confusing ideas and terms; those who disrupt the unity of the Church are so often regarded as the true unifiers and vice versa. But this is the situation according to Scripture: Whoever holds to false teachers and so supports their cause, works to divide the Church; whoever avoids them and their following and refuses fellowship to them helps to hinder division. Nor does it violate the law of love to avoid false church; it cannot be so, because God demands it. And if we only open our eyes we must see that the greatest love we can show them is to avoid them and tell them why. True love tries to lead men away from error to the truth. When I see someone walk a wrong and dangerous way, love does not require that I go with him, but that I convince him of his error, show him the better way, and if I cannot succeed, finally leave him. And so it cannot be better even for the children of God in such churches that we remain in communion with them. God has distinctly forbidden it, and it is better for them that we deny fellowship to the errorist church and thereby testify to them that they are in the wrong camp. Some are always moved by our testimony to seek their true associates; and to the others we at least have done our duty.

Let us close our consideration with a positive note. We have in our church the full treasure of the pure truth of God. Thatís not our doing, but purely the grace of God. But we have it. Let us thank God for it, chiefly by diligent study of His Word, loving work for the preservation and extension of His kingdom here on earth. And may He is His grace keep us steadfast in the faith, and bless our work in His Church.

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