You all, my friends, want to become servants of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Office of the Ministry. Therefore, picture in your mind what the Lutheran Church demands and expects of you. The Lutheran Church expects of you that you are moved to belong to the Church, not merely outwardly and by means of external circumstances, but from your heart. It expects of you that you serve the Church not merely half-heartedly, or even with a bad conscience, but that you serve in its midst with great joyfulness. The Church expects of you that you do not look upon the service in its midst as a burden, but as a joy. You should think of it that with it God has bestowed upon you a great privilege that you may conduct the Office of the Ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. It expects of you that if you had the choice between a small, poor Lutheran congregation which may only consist of manual labourers and meets in a barn-like building and between a big, rich, sectarian congregation which consists of nothing but people respected in this world and holds its religious meetings in a chapel made of marble and sparkling with other precious stones, that you would then without a second thought choose the service at the poor and small Lutheran congregation. Indeed, the Lutheran church expects of you that you would sooner part with life and limb than to become unfaithful to the service in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Lutheran Church expects you to be zealous for the Lutheran Church, but not with a carnal, fanatical, party-spirit breathing zeal, but with an eagerness which is founded on a true knowledge and which the Holy Spirit inspires (fans) and maintains in the heart.
That is what the Lutheran Church expects of you as the future servants of the same; and that you can achieve this must be your own singular, ardent desire, because only in this way will you serve God rightly in the Lutheran Church and be happy in the Office of the Lutheran Ministry. But you will accomplish this only if you are by God's grace convinced that the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as it is presently called, is the orthodox church, or, what is the same thing, the true, visible Church of God on earth. Therefore, we will occupy ourselves in these evening hours with the proof that the orthodox, or the true, visible Church of God on earth, is the Evangelical Lutheran Church. But we must first take care of a few preliminary questions.
Modern theology, which is unionistic through and through, holds in opposition to us that the above-mentioned conclusion is not at all convincing. It says: "The Lutheran Church may for all that be the orthodox church, but God also wanted to have other tendencies alongside it in the church; therefore it does not follow, that one must set one's heart so completely on the Evangelical Lutheran Church." In order to refute this objection I direct your attention above all to the truth that God wishes to have only one orthodox church on earth, that is, one such church as believes and confesses all the doctrines revealed in the Holy Scriptures; that, on the other hand, heterodox church bodies which in certain points depart from the truth revealed in God's Word, will only be tolerated by God, as is every other sin. I draw your attention to the following main reasons why Orthodoxy is the outward form of the church ordained by God:
In the first place, God commands all preachers, who mount the pulpit within His church, to preach His Word and only His Word; the preachers shall neither take away anything from His Word nor add anything to it. - When, before His ascension to heaven, the Lord Christ gave His Church the command: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), according to the statement of the Evangelist Matthew He then added very explicitly to it: "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt.28:20). God further commands: "He that hath My Word, let him speak My Word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?" (Jer. 23:28) [Luther: What has chaff in common with the wheat? Ed.]. With these words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah God forbids all preachers to proclaim together with God's Word at the same time also their own thoughts, thus the word of men. According to the Holy Scriptures, it is the greatest praise for a preacher if he preaches God's Word, as it is revealed, undiminished and unfalsified. The Apostle Paul thus speaks of himself (2 Cor. 2:17), "We are not as many, which corrupt the Word of God." And contrariwise, it is an offense before God if preachers take the liberty to corrupt the Word of God, that is, to take away from God's Word or to add something to it. Thus God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah (23:31,32): "Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, and do tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies, and by their lightness [Heb. proud boastings, Ed.]; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them." In Matt. 5:19 the Lord Christ Himself threatens all teachers: "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;" that means he will not even get into the kingdom of heaven. According to God's will, false teachers have so little right to exist in the church that God in the Old Testament, where He dealt more with bodily punishments, gave orders to kill the false teachers. Hence we read at the noteworthy place, Deuteronomy 13:6ff: "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die." (Deut.13:6-10). In the New Testament God does not deal with bodily punishments like that any more; indeed, He has specifically forbidden His Church to fight against the false teachers with physical punishments and with physical force in general. Through the Holy Spirit St. Paul must remind us: "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal" (2 Cor.10:4). But in the New Testament God has nevertheless very clearly described the business of the false teachers as the gravest sin, as a business upon which he lays His curse and threatens with temporal and eternal punishment. Thus writes the apostle
Paul through the Holy spirit in Galatians 1:8: "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!" But we must now say: Since God's Word commands all teachers that they should teach only the right thing in the Church; and since God has most severely forbidden all false teachings, which depart from God's Word, it is thereby proven that God wants to have only one orthodox church and not also a heterodox church as well. That there are heterodox churches is merely a matter of God's permission, just as God also permits other sins.
But further: That God wants to have only one orthodox Church follows not only from the command God has given to the preachers who have to teach in the Church, but it necessarily follows also from the command God has given to all Christians without exception. God commands all Christians without exception to hear only such preachers as preach God's Word undiminished and unadulterated. In John 10:27 the Lord Christ Himself says: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me." He says in John 8:31, "If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed." And it is said in praise of the congregation at Jerusalem in Acts 2:42, "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine." On the other hand, according to God's explicit and first commandment, the Christians should avoid such preachers as falsify God's Word. In John 10:5 the Lord says of the Christians: "And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him." He Himself commands in Matthew 7:15, "Beware of false prophets." He commands through the Apostle Paul, Romans 16:17, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to [alongside of, Ed.] the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." He commands through the Apostle John (2 John 10), "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine (namely, the teaching of Christ), receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed (namely, as your brother in faith)." In the Holy Scriptures it is very often impressed upon the Christians to bear with each other's weaknesses, but you can read through the entire Holy Scriptures from beginning to end and you will find no place, where God commands the Christians or even only allows them to bear with or tolerate false teachers; the Christians should turn away from false teachers, avoid them, flee from them, and have nothing to do with them. So if God expects all His Christians to listen only to the true teachers and to avoid all false teachers, then it is therewith proven again that God wants to have only one orthodox Church. Admittedly, since there are, in fact, many Christians even in the heterodox church bodies, there are, therefore, also many Christians who really do not follow the command of the Lord to avoid all false teachers. We Lutherans, we who claim that the Lutheran Church alone is the orthodox Church, admit with thanks to God and on the basis of God's Word that there are also true Christians in heterodox church bodies, true children of God, namely insofar as essential parts of God's Word are still proclaimed, even if mixed with errors. But in this we stand firm, that for all Christians, even for those Christians within heterodox church bodies, the command of God to avoid all false teachers remains in force. That Christians do not comply with this command is and remains a sin, which, of course, will be forgiven them, as long as they sin out of weakness and lack of the right knowledge.
Thirdly: All Christians, according to the Holy Scripture, should be completely united in the faith presented to them by God. There are many differences among Christians, and there must necessarily be many differences. Firstly in the natural sphere. According to skin colour there are black Christians, white Christians and yellow Christians; there are educated and uneducated Christians; there are Christians who live in republics and there are also Christians who live in monarchies. These and other differences we find among Christians in the natural sphere Then there is also a difference among Christians in the area relating to the church, namely in all matters that are not determined by God's Word, for example, in church ceremonies. These things the church of every locality and in every country may arrange as it seems best to them. So the church in America may have different ceremonies from the church in Germany, and the church in Germany may have different ceremonies from the church in Africa and in Asia. But in one point all Christians must be in agreement, whether they are white or black, educated or uneducated, whether they are Germans or Americans or Chinese or Indians - in one point they must all agree, and there cannot be the slightest difference among them: That is the faith, or the doctrine. Thus writes the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 1:10 in the well-known passage: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing (ἳνα τὸ αὐτο λέγητε πάντες), and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ νοῒ καὶ ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ γνώμῃ)" Therefore, in regard to the doctrine, Christians should use the same words and specifically in the same sense; that is, in the doctrine, or in the faith, they should be in agreement. If there are different opinions or divisions in the doctrine, then it is against the expressed will of God. In more recent times reference is made to the variety of gifts the different countries and individual teachers possess, as justification for the difference of belief in the church. Quite often one hears the expression that the special characteristics of countries and their teachers must necessarily also lead to a difference in faith. This is, however, a wisdom which is described by God's Word as folly. In Eph. 4, where the Apostle Paul deals with the varied gifts bestowed upon the church, he says that the different gifts were given to the church for the purpose that all Christians may come to the one faith and to the one knowledge of Jesus Christ (εἰς τὴν ἑνότητα τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς ἑπιγνώσεως τοῦ υἱοῦ του θεοῦ). Now we again draw the conclusion: If all Christians are indeed to have only the one faith revealed in God's Word, then God also wants to have only one orthodox Church. To speak of different directions with equal rights within the church is against the clear Word of God. According to the Scripture, only one direction is authorized, namely the direction that stays with God's Word in all points; all others, whether they depart from God's Word a great deal or a little, are forbidden in God's Word. All Christians should belong to the orthodox church; that is the will of God expressed in God's Word. Luther, the angel with the everlasting Gospel, the reformer of the church, the rebuilder of the orthodox church, has been sent, according to Revelation 14, to all who inhabit the earth and to all heathens and nations and languages and tongues.
And finally: That God wants to have only one orthodox church also follows from the various names that have been given to the Church in the Holy Scripture. I call to mind here only a few of them. The church is called the "house of God" in the Holy Scripture (1 Tim. 3). It is called the house of God because it belongs to God and God lives in it as a spiritual house. Just as in a household on earth, all is well only then when the word of the head of the house reigns, therefore, only then is all well in the Church, the House of God, when only the Word of God, the Head of the House, reigns. Insofar as the word of man is taught in the church, one deposes God, the head of the house, and the church is no longer God's house. -- The church is further called the "kingdom of Christ" (John 18), and in fact, it is called the kingdom of Christ because the truth revealed by Christ is preached in this kingdom; if, however, something other than Christ's truth is preached and believed in this kingdom, to that extent Christ will be deposed as the Lord of this kingdom. To that extent it is then not the kingdom of Christ anymore, but man's kingdom. -- Further: The church is often called the "kingdom of heaven" in the Holy Scripture. But the church is only called the kingdom of heaven here on earth because in the church God's Word is to be preached. When the Saviour Himself preached God's Word on earth, He said: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Here on earth we have only so much from God as we know of Him from His Word. God only approaches us here on earth in the veil of the Word, not directly. Where, therefore, God's Word is preached, there God comes to us, there is the kingdom of heaven on earth. Where the word of man is preached, however, to that extent there is not the kingdom of heaven, but a kingdom of the world, a kingdom of men.-- And finally: The church is often called the bride of Christ. The church is the bride of Christ in this way, that it hears, believes and follows only Christ's Word; insofar as the church turns its ear towards someone else and therewith also gives its heart to someone else, the church falls away from Christ and it becomes a spiritual adulteress. The apostle also warns the Corinthians to be on guard against all false teachers, for this reason, that he might preserve the Corinthian congregation as a pure bride for Christ. In short, we may look in Holy Scripture wherever we want; everywhere the truth confronts us, as one revealed in the Scripture: According to God's will there shall only be one orthodox church on earth. Luther writes on the words of 1 Peter 4:11, "'If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God":
That is a very necessary doctrine in the church. And if it had been maintained until now, the world would not have been filled with Antichrist's lies and deception.... For in Christendom affairs are not so conducted as in an earthly government, and in those things which concern external matters and goods. In the latter, men rule as they understand it, and as their reason teaches. They have the right to establish law and order and, in accordance with these, command, punish, receive and give. But in the church we are dealing with a spiritual government where consciences are bound by God. And what is spoken, taught, commanded or done there, must be carried out in such a way that you know that it is valid and stands in God's sight; yes, that it proceeds and moves before Him, so that you can say: God Himself has said and done that. For in this house, where He lives and rules, He should and will, also as the rightful Master, say and do everything Himself, even though He uses the mouth and hand of men to accomplish it. Therefore, first and above all things, both preachers and hearers must here see to it that in matters of doctrine there be clear and sure proof that everything is really in accordance with the true Word of God, revealed from heaven to the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, confirmed by Christ Himself, and commanded by Him to be preached. For it cannot by any means be tolerated that the doctrine is handled as each individual pleases, or to suit his own fancy and to harmonize it with his human reason and understanding, or to toy and juggle with Scripture and God's Word, so that it is explained, directed, stretched and patched at will for the sake of the people or for the sake of peace and unity. For in that case there would be no sure and abiding foundation on which the consciences could rest. (Luther SL XII,48-50,58; translation from "The Distinction Between Orthodox and Heterodox Churches" by Dr F. Pieper, found in The Faithful Word, 1976, XIII, 1-2)
If it had always been borne in mind that God wants to have nothing else but His Word taught in His church here on earth, then there would have been more opposition against the lies and deception of Antichrist. God has given man liberty concerning law making in the worldly realm. Therefore, a Christian too can submit to the many different regulations in the kingdoms of this world: If a Christian is here in America, then he observes the American laws; if he is in Germany, he observes German laws, which are of quite a different nature; if he is in China, he observes Chinese laws, which again are much different sounding. Here God has given no definite command. But it is different in the church, in the spiritual kingdom of Christ. Whether a Christian resides in America or in Germany or in China, he is always bound and ruled as a Christian by only one law: God's revealed Word. According to this law and testimony a Christian must believe and live wherever he may find himself on this earth. In His Church God uses sinful people as His "mouthpieces," but these spokesmen must be very careful that hey do not speak anything else in the Church of God than what God in His Word has commanded them. Not even one thought, not even the smallest part of a doctrine must they reserve for themselves, but in regard to every thought with which they come before God's people, they must be able to say: "thus says the Lord." This is contained in the words of 1 Peter 4:11, since it says precisely that: "If any man speak (in the Church of God), let him speak as the oracles of God." (εἲ τις λαλεῖ, ὡς λόγια θεοῦ).
If a preacher is still in doubt about it whether a thought he would like to express in a sermon is indeed based on God's Word, he should leave this thought unsaid for the time being. He should only have the courage to appear before the congregation with this thought after he has convinced himself: Yes, that is the divine truth. A preacher should preach no opinions, but only the absolute truth, namely, the truth revealed in God's Word.
That is also one of the meanings of the preacher's robe of office. For this reason we also retain the robe of office, the surplice (chorrock) or clerical gown (talar) of the preacher to show that the preacher when he stands in the pulpit, completely steps back as far as his own person is concerned and stands there only as a mouthpiece of God; he should only speak what God has instructed him. Personal opinions in the sermon are completely out of the question (lit. are not to be offered for sale). That is the same significance as when the judges of the Supreme Court of our land are clad in black robes. It signifies that the judges should not administer justice according to their subjective opinion, but only according to the written law. Their person is covered as an indication that they are not considered as private persons with their personal views, but as the mouthpiece of the law.
We call heterodox church bodies churches, insofar as in them there are still parts, essential parts of God's Word being preached; insofar as the heterodox church bodies depart from God's Word, they are sects. It makes no difference for a church body to say: "Here is the church, we are the church." For a church body to be considered the Church, the house of God, it has to prove it by this, that God's Word sounds in its midst.(Delivered on 1 November 1889.)