This Scriptural Position We Still Hold
A PLEA TO ALL OUR FORMER BRETHREN
and TO ALL WHO LOVE THE TRUTH
(Regarding Church and Ministry)
In this document, our Concordia Lutheran Conference presents the results of its intensive study, over the past years, of the doctrine of the Church and Ministry, under the caption:
This Scriptural Position We Still Hold.
We were urged to make this study especially because the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Church of the Lutheran Confession have each, as of 1962, by means of theses on the doctrine of the Church and Ministry publicly and officially adopted a position which is a clear departure from the Scripture doctrine professed by our orthodox fathers in the Book of Concord; individually by Luther, Walther, Hoenecke, Koren, and F. Pieper; and by the Synodical Conference of former days, which included the Missouri Synod, the Wisconsin Synod, the Norwegian Synod, and the Slovak Synod. The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (Norwegian Synod), by its continued fellowship with the WELS also appears to have accepted the new doctrinal position of that church body.
We were compelled to separate from the Missouri Synod as early as 1951 in obedience to God’s Word (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10) because of its progressive deterioration in doctrine and practice, in which it persisted in spite of much patient admonition. We were all hopeful that after the above mentioned bodies (WELS, ELS, CoLC) had later on also separated from the heterodox Missouri Synod, we might in a God-pleasing manner reunite with these our former brethren of the once orthodox Synodical Conference. However, by their official theses, the Wisconsin Synod and the Church of the Lutheran Confession have erected a serious doctrinal barrier which is serving effectively to keep us separated. This we sincerely deplore!
It is our earnest hope and prayer that these our dear former brethren may yet reconsider their newly conceived position on the doctrine of the Church and Ministry and return to the true foundation of God’s Word. To that end we offer our theses, which are the result of our prayerful study in the Scriptures and of our trust in the Lord’s promise: “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32.)
May all who in these last evil days wish to remain loyal to the full truth of God’s saving Word accept and confess with us the true doctrine of the Church and Ministry as it has come down to us from the Holy Scriptures through our orthodox fathers, and as it is here presented in these theses. May all our former brethren who have departed from it return to it again. And may we of the Concordia Lutheran Conference, with renewed steadfastness, humbly continue in it. By the grace of God, This Scriptural Position We Still Hold.
Please note that we will be happy to meet with representatives of the church bodies comprised of our former brethren who desire to discuss with us these theses in the interest of true Lutheran unity.
This Scriptural Position We Still Hold
Preface: In Scripture, the word “church” (ekkleesia) is used in two different basic religious senses. On the one hand, it is used to designate the one congregation of believers, the invisible Church, the Communion of Saints. On the other hand, the word “church” is used also to designate local congregations.
1. In Scripture, the word “Church” in referring to the Communion of Saints, is used to denote all and only those people who, having been called by the efficacious means of grace, truly believe the Gospel, that is, God’s gracious message that, by grace, for the sake of Christ’s vicarious atonement, they have, through faith in that Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life and salvation. (John 3:16; Acts 2:44-47; 5:14; 13:48; 16:31.) (Compare also: 2 Tim. 2:19; Gal. 3:26; 1 Pet. 2:9; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Cor.3:9; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:22-23; John 11:52; Matt. 16:18; and note the various terms by which the Church in this sense is designated.)
2. Because the Church (Communion of Saints) consists of all and only true believers, it is invisible to the eyes of men but not so to the sight of God. (Luke 17:20-21; 2 Tim. 2:19; 1 Kings 19:8 -18.) NOTE: The expression “visible side of the invisible Church” is simply an absurdity because the terms are contradictory. The Gospel and Sacraments are called the “marks of the Church” inasmuch as the Church is never found where these means are not in use; yet these means are not a “part of the Church,” but only the means by which the Church is created, is preserved, and does the work committed to it. (Is.55:10ff.; Rom. 10:17; Mk. 16:15-16.)
3. In Scripture, the word “church” is used also to denote local churches in their real or proper sense, as God sees them, and also in an improper sense, as men see them. According to Scripture, local churches, in the proper sense of the term (as God sees them), consist only of the true believers there who are regularly and consistently gathered together in one locality, for executing publicly, in its various functions, the Office of the Keys; and; when hypocrites manifest themselves as such in this congregation of believers, Christ distinctly commands that they should be put out of the congregation since they are not really members of the Church. (1 Cor. 1:2; 5:6-13; Matt.18:15-17; Rev. 2:9,14-16,18-23; 3:9) NOTE, therefore: Local churches (in the sight of God) and the invisible Church (the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints) are not two different kinds of churches but are one, the local churches or congregations (in the proper sense) being a part of the whole. It is for this reason that Scripture designates them Churches—not because of the Christians in them, but because they are the Christians.
4. Scripture also uses the word “church” to designate local congregations as men see them, (improper sense), that is, consisting of true believers and possibly hypocrites; even as it uses synonymous expressions such as “the kingdom of God,” “the Kingdom of Heaven,” etc., to designate the whole body of professing Christians (so-called visible church), among whom are believers and hypocrites. (Matt. 18:17; Acts 20:28; Matt. 13:47-50; 22:2,11,13-14; 25:1-2; Rev.1-3.) In this sense of the term, Scripture designates local congregations as churches because of the Christians in them.
5. According to Scripture, it is God’s will and ordinance that Christians should establish and maintain local churches, because without them the following Christian obligations cannot be performed:
a) The regular hearing and learning of God’s Word as it is proclaimed by the divinely called ministers who are to feed the flock over which God has placed them. (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:5; Eph. 4:10-12; 1 Pet. 5:2-3; Acts 2:42-47; 14:23.)
b) The regular celebration of Holy Communion under the loving and careful watchfulness of the divinely called shepherd. (1 Cor. 11:23-29; 10:17; Acts 20:28.)
c) The continuous exercise of the duties of Christian fellowship and love. (1 Cor. 11:33; 1:10; Col. 3:15-16; 1 Cor. 9:7-14; Gal. 6:6-7; Heb.10:23-25; Eph. 4:3-6; Acts 6:1-6.)
d) The careful, evangelical exercise of church discipline as commanded by the Lord in Matt. 18:15-17. (Compare: 1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Cor.2:6-8,10.)
NOTE: Therefore the “church” in the local sense is, Scripturally, not any chance gathering of Christians, nor a gathering of varying groups of Christians at different places (e.g., synodical conventions and similar groups representing congregations), nor a mere gathering of Christians without the specific and consistent public function of the Keys, but it is the local Christian congregation, the only divinely ordained external fellowship.
Note also that the “two or three” in Matthew 18:20 do not comprise the whole congregation in Matthew 18:17. While only two or three believers might comprise a local Christian congregation if they are regularly and consistently gathered together for the public administration of the Keys, that is not the reference here in verse 20; for the Savior tells the two or three individuals to “tell it UNTO the church.”
Note also that it is not usually practical for only two or three to “organize themselves” as a separate congregation and call their own pastor, since, among other considerations, they are usually not able to fulfill the normal duties of a congregation. (Compare: Luther’s advice, Pastoral Theology, J. H. C. Fritz, p.41, CPH, 1945; p.36, 1932 Edition.)
6. The word “church” (except in the purely secular sense of a nonreligious assembly, Acts 19:32,41) is not used in Scripture to designate anything else than the invisible company of all believers (Communion of Saints) and the local congregations (in the proper and improper sense). NOTE, therefore: All other uses of the word “church” are of purely human origin and usage, such as the designation of a church-building, a religious denomination, a synod, a conference, a non-Christian cult, etc., by the word “church.” A synod is, therefore, not a super-church (that is, supreme over the congregations) or a church at all in Scriptural usage, but rather a humanly devised organization of churches (local congregations), established not by God’s ordinance but by the churches themselves acting in their Christian liberty for the purpose of joint or cooperative endeavors. (Compare the Constitution of the Concordia Lutheran Conference, Article III.) NOTE: Acts 15 does not speak of any organized or permanent church-body, as though it described the “first synod,” “first conference,” etc.
7. According to Scripture, the Church consists always and only of people, that is, human beings. (Compare 1 Cor. 3:9; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; and all passages on the Doctrine of the Church.) Since, therefore, the Church cannot exist apart from people, it is contrary to the very concept of the Church in Scripture to speak of the Church as a mere confession written down on paper.”The Evangelical Lutheran Church” is not the Lutheran Confessions comprising the Book of Concord of 1580. It is the people who truly adhere to these confessions.
8. The pastoral office of the local congregation is the only divinely ordained office in the Church. When the Holy Spirit has made the minister an overseer of all the flock, He has made him overseer also of the work of any of the officers whom the congregation may elect, of the various societies in the congregation, and of their officers, of the Sunday School, Day-school, Bible Class, and their teachers, as well as assistant pastors, All other offices in the Church, besides that of pastor, are auxiliary, or offices of help, to the Office of the Ministry. (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Acts 6:1-6.) Especially in view of this high responsibility, pastors are cautioned in Scripture not to lord it over God’s heritage (1 Pet. 5:3; 4:10; Acts 6:1-6). There is no difference between pastor and laymen in rank, but in office (Matt. 23:8-10; 1 Tim. 3:1).
9. Antithesis: Since it is a clear teaching of Holy Scripture that the Holy Spirit operates in the hearts of men only and alone through the means of grace (the Word and Sacraments), we hold that, when it is said,
“It is the Holy Spirit who through the gift of their common faith leads the believers to establish the adequate and wholesome forms which fit every circumstance, situation, and need”
such statement indicates a trend away from this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture toward the unscriptural position of “Enthusiasts” (namely, religious teachers who claim that their Christian spirit does not need the Word of God, who construct doctrine from their own thoughts, and then explain Scripture accordingly. – See Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, I, p. 147). The Holy Spirit works through the Word, not through the common faith of believers. Is. 8:20; Jer. 23:16; John 6:63; 8:31-32; 14:26; Rom. 10:17; 2 Cor. 10:5. (See the article “The Church and Ministry,” Northwestern Lutheran, April 8, 1962, page 104.)
10. The Scriptural position we have here set forth was held also by our Lutheran fathers, to wit:
Luther, (1483 – 1546):
Luther remarks with reference to Titus 1:5,
“Every one who believes that the Spirit of Christ here speaks and decrees through Paul must surely realize that it is a divine institution and ordinance that in every city there should be many bishops or at least one.” (St. Louis Edition, XIX, 1093.)
“The office of preaching the Gospel is the highest of all, for it is the true apostolic office which lays the foundation for all other offices, which should all be built on it, such as the offices of the teachers, the prophets, the administrators, those who have the gifts of tongues and healing, as St. Paul enumerates them, 1 Cor. 12:8f.” (St. Louis Edition, X, 1592.)
Book of Concord, 1580 :
“Likewise Christ gives supreme and final jurisdiction to the Church, when He says: ‘Tell it unto the Church‘” (Smalcald Articles, Triglotta, page 511.)
“In our Confession and the Apology we have in general recounted what we have had to say concerning ecclesiastical power. For the Gospel assigns to those who preside over churches the command to teach the Gospel, to remit sins, to administer the Sacraments, and besides jurisdiction, namely, the command to excommunicate those whose crimes are known, and again to absolve those who repent.
“And by the confession of all, even of the adversaries, it is clear that this power by divine right is common to all who preside over churches, whether they are called pastors, or elders, or bishops. And accordingly Jerome openly teaches in the apostolic letters that all who preside over churches are both bishops and elders, and cites from Titus 1, 5f.: ‘For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest ordain elders in every city.”‘ (Triglotta page 521.)
“For the ministry is the highest office in the church. … in our churches all the sermons are occupied with such topics as these: of repentance; of the fear of God; of faith in Christ, of the righteousness of faith, of the consolation of consciences by faith…. 11 (Triglotta page 327.)
Proceedings of the Synodical Conference, 1873 :
“I. The public ministry is not a human, but a divine arrangement (1 Cor. 12:28-30) and indeed, an ordering for the edification of the body of Christ or the Church for all time until the Last Day (Eph. 4:11-13); it is therefore God’s will that every Christian make use of this public ministry (1 Cor. 16:15-16; 1 Thess. 5:12-13), as indeed the Third Commandment enjoins.” (page 20.) To Thesis I: “The word ‘ministry’ (Predigtamt) is here taken in the narrower sense and thus as synonymous with ‘pastoral office’ (Pfaaramt).” (page 24.)
Dr. C. Walther, (1811 – 1877; first President of the Missouri Synod and of the Synodical Conference):
“The ministry of preaching is conferred by God through the congregation, as holder of all church power, or of the keys, and by its call, as prescribed by God.” (Walther and the Church, page 74.)
“All the rights which an Evangelical Lutheran local congregation possesses are included in the keys of the kingdom of heaven, which the Lord has originally and immediately given to His entire Church, and in such manner that they belong to each congregation, the smallest as well as the largest, in like measure, Matt. 18:17-20 (‘Tell it unto the church…. Whatsoever ye shall ‘Loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven‘); Matt. 16:19; John 20:22,23.” “Nor does the local church derive its authority and rights from the Church at large. It is not dependent on any super-church, any larger church-body, any other congregation. The congregation of God of every place and every time is a sovereign body.” (Walther and the Church, page 90.)
Dr. A. L. Graebner, (1849 – 1904; Professor, Wisconsin Synod and Missouri Synod):
“The ministerial office is conferred upon its incumbents by God, by the Holy Spirit, by Christ, the Head and Archbishop of His Church, through the congregations, which, by the call extended through them, delegate or transfer upon the men thus called the public exercise of those functions of the priesthood of all believers which, by virtue of such call, the ministers of Christ and of the Church perform in the name of the congregation and of Christ, who mediately called them through the congregation.” (Doctrinal Theology, Dr. A. L. Graebner, page 213.)
Dr. Adolf Hoenecke, (1835 – 1908; Professor, Wisconsin Synod):
“The congregation as church has from God originally and in itself the right and the duty to call. Therefore the mediate calling through the Congregation is in the fullest sense a divine calling. The final basis of this is that God has given the church the power of the keys and the mandate to call. In the prime sense both of these lie, self- evidently, only with the Church in the strict sense, for only believers are the royal priesthood and possess all gifts, while unbelievers have nothing neither gifts nor rights. However, as a specific visible congregation, which includes the ungodly who are not yet revealed and excluded, is yet and is rightly named a church, so the exercise of the power, which is given only to the believers, belongs to it. This Matthew 18,17 teaches. Here the power of the keys is given to the specific visible congregation, for when ‘Tell it to the church’ is enjoined, I am not directed to the invisible Church.” (Ev.-Luth. Dogmatik, Vol. IV, page 186.)
Dr. Ulrik Vilhelm Koren, (1826 – 1910; President, Norwegian Synod):
“And thus it is still wherever there are souls that have received ‘the same precious faith? ‘which was once delivered unto the saints.” They must and they will join together and precisely about the word and Sacraments. How do they do this? By establishing the office of the word in their midst and calling a minister of the word.
“But could they not dispense with that? If the Christians are a people of kings and priests’ and have the spiritual priesthood, why should it then be necessary to establish the preaching office and call pastors? Is it not, at least, a matter of liberty which they can arrange for themselves as they please? No, it is not a human ordinance. God wants it to be so.” (Passages cited: 1 Cor. 12:27ff.; Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11ff.; Matt. 9:38.) (Taken from: “Faith of Our Fathers,” Evangelical Lutheran Synod Centennial Volume.)
Dr. F. Pieper, (1852 – 1931; Professor, Missouri Synod):
“We maintain that the formation of Christian congregations, and membership in them, is not a human but a divine mandate. On the other hand, the union of congregations into larger church bodies, such as conferences, synods, etc., has not been ordained by God. The command ‘Tell it unto the church,’ according to the context pertains to the local church, or congregation, and it must be restricted to the local church.” (Christian Dogmatics Vol. III, page 421.)
BRIEF STATEMENT OF 1932
“By the public ministry we mean the office by which the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are administered by order and in the name of a Christian congregation. Concerning this office we teach that it is a divine ordinance; that is, the Christians of a certain locality must apply the means of grace not only privately and within the circle of their families nor merely in their common intercourse with fellow-Christians, John 5,39; Eph. 6,4; Col. 3,16, but they are also required, by the divine order, to make provision that the Word of God be publicly preached in their midst, and the Sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, by persons qualified for such work, whose qualifications and official functions are exactly defined in Scripture, Titus 1,5; Acts 14,23;20,28; 2 Tim. 2,2.
LUTHER ON THE CHURCH
“In order that this article [of the holy Christian Church] might be understood more clearly, the reader must be reminded that Scripture speaks of the church in a twofold way. On the one hand, it calls ‘church’ all those who publicly confess the same doctrine and use the same sacraments, with whom, however, there are mixed many hypocrites and wicked persons, as Christ teaches Matt. 12: 11ff ;13:24ff; 20:16; 22:11-14; Mark 16:16. . . Nevertheless in this promiscuous assembly there are always some elect, that is, such as accept the Word in true faith and receive the Holy Spirit; for the ministry of the Word is never wanting in fruit. This true part Scripture also calls ‘church’ and to it the designation ‘holy’ properly belongs.” (Exposition of the Prophet Joel, chap. 3, vv. 17ff. , VI, 23-98f.; SL VI, 1628f.)