Wednesday, November 19, 2008

To Pastor and Layman Alike

Here’s what Dr. Walther had to say in 1885 about a previous time in Church history. While he bemoans the time of rationalism in the Church, in many ways, our time of postmodern thought is similar:


During the last quarter of the eighteenth century, Rationalism rushed in upon the so-called Protestant Church with the force of a spring-tide. In the lecture halls of universities it was held up as a new and great light to young theologians, who afterwards preached it to the common people as true Christianity – Christianity purified. Thus Rationalism gradually became the dominant type of religion. The inevitable consequence was that the conviction that it is not a matter of indifference whether a person is a Lutheran or a Reformed or a Catholic vanished completely. The small remnant of sincere Christians who still believed and confessed with their mouths that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, that man is justified before God by faith in Christ alone, – these few Christians extended to each other the right hand of brotherly fellowship, like persons saved from a great shipwreck, who, having seen most of their fellow-passengers go down to a watery grave, now embrace each other with tears of joy though they had been perfect strangers before. In this state of affairs the thought had to arise in all hearts that the time had come for putting an end to the abominable church quarrels (that is what doctrinal controversies were called) and to let down the bars that divided the churches from one another. Especially the confessions, it was held, must be removed, because, like toll-gates along a highway, they hindered progress, and to sum up, a great universal union of the churches, at least of the Protestant churches, must at last be instituted.

But, lo! what happened? [sic] In the year 1817, when this plan was to be executed, Claus Harms, in whom there was still some Lutheran blood flowing, wrote ninety-five theses against Rationalism and the union of churches, which he intended as a counterpart to the Ninety-five Theses of Luther. In these theses he said to the advocates of church union: “You purpose to make the poor handmaid, the Lutheran Church, rich by a marriage. Do not perform the act over Luther’s grave. Life will come into his bones, and then – woe to you!” This glorious prediction was fulfilled. When the union of churches was actually put into effect in Prussia, multitudes of Lutherans suddenly awoke from their spiritual sleep, remembered that they belonged to the Lutheran Church, and declared that they would never forsake the faith of their fathers. In fact, they chose to see themselves evicted from their homes, imprisoned, and expatriated rather than consent to a union of truth with error, of the Word of God with man’s word, of the true Church with a false Church.

In our day, the light from the lamp of Confessional Lutheranism grows faint. As Reformed theology is pouring in over the gunwales, and district officials confess that our Lutheran Confessions are no longer relevant, truth is sacrificed on the altar of pragmatism.

The first two of Pastor Harms’ 95 Theses read

1. When our Master and Lord Jesus Christ says: "Repent!", he wants that men conform to his doctrine; he, however, does not conform his doctrine to men, as is done now, according to the changed spirit of the times, 2 Tim. 4:3.

2. Doctrine in relation to faith and life is now construed in such a way so as to accomodate [sic] men. This is why now protest and reform have to be repeated.

There are times when the church militant must arm for battle, and speak the words of a reformer: “By God’s help, we will retain this Confession to our last breath.” This is one of those times. As Paul urged Timothy, so must we urge our pastors throughout the land:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. 1 Timothy 1:3-7

As Paul confronted Peter when he erred, so we must urge our pastors throughout the land to confront their ecclesiastical supervisors and fellow pastors when they err:

But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" Galatians 2:14

As Pastor Harms urged his readers, so must we urge our pastors and laymen throughout the land:

63. One is to teach the Christians not to put blind faith into the preachers but to see to it themselves as well and to search the scripture like the Berreans [sic], Acts 17:11, to see whether it is so.

64. One is to teach the Christians that they have the right not to tolerate what is un-Christian and un-Lutheran from the pulpits and in books in church and school.

In closing, here are Dr. Martin Luther’s lyrics, quoted from The Lutheran Hymnal:

1. O Lord, look down from heav’n, behold
And let Thy pity waken:
How few are we within Thy fold,
Thy saints by men forsaken!
True faith seems quenched on ev’ry hand,
Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
Dark times have us o'ertaken.

2. With fraud which they themselves invent
Thy truth they have confounded;
Their hearts are not with one consent
On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
While they parade with outward show,
They lead the people to and fro,
In error's maze astounded.

3. May God root out all heresy
And of false teachers rid us
Who proudly say: "Now, where is he
That shall our speech forbid us?
By right or might we shall prevail;
What we determine cannot fail;
We own no lord and master."

4. Therefore saith God, "I must arise,
The poor My help are needing;
To Me ascend My people's cries,
And I have heard their pleading.
For them My saving Word shall fight
And fearlessly and sharply smite,
The poor with might defending."

5. As silver tried by fire is pure
From all adulteration,
So through God's Word shall men endure
Each trial and temptation.
Its light beams brighter thro’ the cross,
And, purified from human dross,
It shines through every nation.

6. Defend Thy truth, O God, and stay
This evil generation;
And from the error of its way
Keep Thine own congregation.
The wicked everywhere abound
And would Thy little flock confound;
But Thou art our Salvation.

Walther quote: C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, (St. Louis: CPH, 1986) 332-333.

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