There is much in the fight for the preservation of the kingdom of God among us which is discouraging and at times tempts to faint-heartedness. Only that which is great in the eyes of the world seems to win the attention and sympathy of the present times, and this inclination penetrates into our church work and does not make the work easier for us. Powerful enemies rise up against us, enemies which are both secret and public, and many people are tempted to say: It does no good to try to swim against the stream. At first glance this can appear to be a valid opinion, but if these difficulties drive us to seek our comfort and our help with Him who alone can help and who has promised to help, and if this leads us to despair of our own strength in the fight and to stronger faith in Him who has all power, then these circumstances in which we live will do us good, and bless, and not harm us.
The chief purpose of our church body is to preserve God’s Word as our only rule and guide for faith, doctrine and life, and to proclaim this Word to others. For our mutual encouragement and joy I want to remind you of what Jesus says about those who continue in His word. In the 8th chapter, verses 31 and 32 of John’s Gospel, Jesus says to the Jews who have believed in Him: “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Everyone who knows something of the history of the Reformation knows that the secret of Luther’s great victory was that he took a firm position on the foundation of the Word of God and did not let himself be swayed by anything to abandon that position. This, dear friends, we are to appropriate to ourselves in our fight and in our work for the furtherance of the kingdom of God. If we do it, we will never be overcome; and if we do not do it, then we will be defeated in the battle for the preservation of the truth. The Word of God which I read is one of the clear, positive Scripture passages which faithful Lutheran Christians never get tired of rejoicing over. The Catholic Church says that the Word of God and the traditions of the papal church are the highest authorities in matters of doctrine. The Reformed church says that the Word of God and reason are the rule and guide for faith, doctrine and life, but true Lutheran Christians say with Luther that the Word of God, interpreted by Scripture itself, is the only rule and guide for our faith, doctrine and life, because Jesus says: “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed.”
The Augsburg Confession which was read for the first time before Emperor Charles V at the Diet in Augsburg on June 25, 396 years ago, was built on this foundation. It is my hope that during this meeting, on Friday, the 25th of June, on the 396th anniversary, a portion of the session is used for considering God’s great benefit to the church in the fact that He let this confession be written by Luther and Melanchthon, and read for the whole of Christendom at the Diet.
Many people look upon June 25, 1926, as the birthday of the Lutheran Church. The Catholic Church avails itself of this and says: You can see from this then that the Lutheran Church is not the true Christian Church on earth, because we have both the historic and apostolic succession down through time, from the time of Jesus. If you want to belong to the kingdom of Christ, then you must join the Catholic Church. Outside of it there is no salvation. It is it which has the priesthood chosen by God, which has its call and its authority (genuineness) from Peter who was the vicar (vice-regent) of Jesus on earth, and the pope is his successor in an unbroken succession. Only such priests who have their call and ordination from the pope can lead men to Christ. The Word of God alone does not work salvation but only when it flows from the mouth of a properly ordained priest. Both the papal church and the Episcopal Church (the English church) teach that the church’s organization or constitution were first ordered by God and thus followed the Word of God as fruit of it. Not vice-versa, as we Lutherans teach, that the church is a fruit of the Word of Jesus Christ.
Now what does Jesus say about them who continue in His Word? He says of course: “You are my disciples, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
We find our apostolic succession in this passage of Scriptures, our answer to all the attacks which the papal church and others make against the genuineness or the divine right of the Lutheran Church. Through the Augsburg Confession the fathers of our church declared that they wanted to stand with the apostles and evangelists on the foundation of Jesus’ word, and in doing that they rejected all other foundations. They returned to the true apostolic foundation and thus became the true continuation of the true visible Christian Church on earth. Even though it can be said that the Lutheran Church, so far as its outward existence is concerned, was established by the adoption of the Augsburg Confession, yet it is, however, irrefutably true that it shows by this Confession that it is built on “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ep. 2:20).
Jesus does say: “If you continue in my word, then are my disciples indeed.” To be a disciple of Jesus is surely the greatest good which can befall a poor sinner on earth. Who now is such a disciple? He who continues in My Word, Jesus says. These are clear words. But now it can be asked: To which words does Jesus refer? Is it only the words which He had spoken to the Jews who came to faith in Him at that time? Naturally, that isn’t it; but all the words which He has spoken and which are found in the Bible. Is that all? No. Jesus Christ is true God. “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Ti. 3:16). Therefore the Bible is the Word of Christ. Going through the New Testament we find that the holy authors use the Word of God and the Word of Christ as a designation of one and the same thing. The Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, is the Word of Christ, both the Law and the Gospel. A disciple of Jesus Christ is a person who believes in Christ. Jesus said: “Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Mt. 28:19.20).
According to these words a disciple of Jesus is one who is baptized in the name of the Triune God, one who is united with Him by faith and who holds everything which Jesus has said to be divine truth. He acknowledges Jesus as his Teacher and Master and really wants to do everything which He has commanded. This does not apply only to them who lived at the time of Christ and followed Him in His visible presence but who were His disciples also after His ascension. Wherever the apostle worked with the Word and founded congregations, the believers were called disciples. How could this be? Surely Jesus says in His high-priestly prayer, John 17:14: “I have given them your word,” and in verse 17: “Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.”
Luke 10:16: “He that hears you hears me; and he that despises you despises me; and he that despises me despises him that sent me.” It follows from this that he who believed the apostle’s words — which were Christ’s words — became Christ’s disciples. The apostle Paul says, Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another.” And through the Word we also have become believers and disciples of Jesus Christ.
Hear now whom Jesus calls His disciples: “They who continue in his word,” hold to His Word, accept every word just as it reads.
A believer is a disciple, a student, Christ is the Teacher. But a disciple, a student, is not above his own teacher nor does he doubt the master’s word and elevate himself above his word. If the disciple does that he is no longer a disciple. He does not say: Even though the Master has said that, yet I do not, however, believe it, because I cannot comprehend it with my understanding. On the contrary he says: One is my Master, Christ. I will continue in His Word.
That was Luther’s position to the words of Jesus Christ. In spite of reason and the authority of the pope he continued in Christ’s word, and conquered.
Who now is the Master, Christ? He is the All-mighty, All-knowing God Himself. Do we then, poor dust, venture to take from or to add to His Word? If we do it then we do not continue in His Word and then we are not His disciples, then we are not Lutherans. Shall we not then thank God who has preserved us in an orthodox, evangelical Lutheran church body whose object is to bow before every word of Christ and to accept it as a word spoken by the Lord, because only in this way can Jesus say of us: “You are My disciples indeed.”
But Christ has not only said that they who continue in His Word are His disciples, but He says further: “You shall know the truth.” May God grant that we acknowledge this glorious privilege. What a glorious ad-vantage is not this in a time such as ours when doubt and unrest, uncertainty and groping prevail in all thought, thinking in that way to come to the knowledge of the truth, the absolute truth.
But are we certain that we have the truth when we continue in His Word? Yes, there is no doubt of it. How do we know that? Christ has said it. Take My Word, hear it, read it, cling to it in faith, and you shall know the truth. He does not say: Read it, and if you do not understand it, then reject whatever you do not understand. But He does say: “If you continue in my word, then you shall know the truth.”
Christ says of Himself: “I am the truth” (Jo. 14:6). He cannot err. As people regenerated by the power of the Holy Ghost through the washing of water in the Word, we have faith in Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In this light we see light from above. If we continue in His Word, we cannot err. To life’s great questions: What am I? Where have I come from? And where am I going? we have in Christ’s words the correct, truthful answer which never errs.
Are then all other answers to questions, which contradict Scripture, erroneous and false? To this Jesus’ disciples answer firmly, Yes. The truth from God is absolute and everything which contradicts it is falsehood. This is the position of the Lutheran Church to the words of Christ.
Modern theology and thought rage against such a position. In theology, the liberals speak with great deference. They say: This is how we understand this doctrine. It is our view: others can have just as much right to their opinions.
But is this proclaiming the truth of God? No. Such talk leads to doubt and uncertainty. Is this contending for the faith which was once delivered to the saints? Is this exalting Christ? No. He says: “Continue in my word, and you shall know the truth.” This is the one sure rule for coming to the knowledge of the truth according to the promises of God. That which is not truth is lie. But such a proclamation finds little support in our time. We are accused of being narrow-minded, reactionaries, when we take up such a position. All right then, we tolerate it, because in this we have a good following. Paul says: “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” (Ga. 1:8). No, dear friends, pure doctrine is not an empty phrase which can be despised or mocked. Pilate asked Christ in patronizing mockery: “What is truth?” (Jo. 18:38), as if no truth was to be found. But Christ has taught His disciples to pray: “Sanctify us in your truth: your word is truth” (Jo. 17:17). Such people continue in their Lord’s words and know the truth.
We believe that God is speaking truthfully when He says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Ti. 3:16) and that the holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Pe. 1:21). Here we want to remain. Holy Scripture is the Word of God.
If we test this, then we experience its truthfulness. God has said to us that the world was created by Him in six days which consisted of twenty four hours each. We believe this, and know the truth about the origin of the world and mankind much better than do those who have sought another answer throughout their entire lives.
Scripture says that “baptism saves us” (1 Pe. 3:21). Reason says: “How can water do such great things?” God says so, Jesus’ disciples answer, and that settles it. Christ says: “This is my body; this is my blood.” Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul corroborate this. Therefore in the Sacrament of the Altar we receive His holy body and blood in, with and under the bread and the wine. How can this be possible? reason asks. We don’t know, but Christ says it, and we remain standing on His Word and in that way we confess the truth here also.
We reject all false doctrine in other churches but we do not judge souls. We thank God that He has His children also in them, but these are born, not from their false views and theses but from the Word of God — the incorruptible seed which also in this is sown partially. Let us thank God who without any merit of ours has given us the truth which is in Jesus Christ.
But through continuing in the words of Christ we not only have the comfort and joy that we are His disciples and know the truth, but He says further: “And the truth shall make you free.” Freedom, it is the watchword of our time, as never before. In the name of freedom the cry in many lands is: Away with all existing order! Away with God! Away with religion which leads to the tyranny of capitalism! Away with laws and all government! Away with marriage and family life! When this happens, then human life will develop in freedom! This cry grips the hearts of those who do not know the freedom in Christ. Will this freedom ever be attained? Never! It is a will-o’-the-wisp, a dream which leads steadily further down into the morass of disorder, even deeper down into the tyranny of sin, Satan and damnation.
But is there then no hope or any possibility of attaining freedom for the soul of man? Yes, God be praised — Christ says: “The truth shall make you free.” Not through the much praised tolerance; not through constitutions and laws; not through knowledge swollen with pride; nor through the rejection of all law and order in the world, but through the truth, that is, through the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. In salvation is freedom. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed,” says Christ (Jo. 8:36). It is the freedom which Jesus, the Son of God, has earned for us through His suffering and through His death; and this freedom they possess who believe in Him. It is freedom from the dominion of sin, freedom from the devil’s accusation, freedom from eternal death and fear of it, and freedom from the eternal distress and torment of hell. And in this salvation we obtain freedom to do what we want; but then the will is fully purified so that we want what God wants.
The Christian uses this freedom in this way that he gives this answer when sin accuses him: “It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” (Ro. 8:33.34). If the Law threatens and terrifies him, he answers: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes” (Ro. 10:4). When the sorrows and cares of life weigh heavily upon him, he answers with the apostle’s words: “Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you” (1 Pe. 5:7). When death comes near with his cold terror and fright, the word of truth comes to him for com-fort and says: “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? … Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Co. 15:55.57).
This is the glorious freedom of which Christ speaks when He says: “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Is it then worth contending for preserving the words of Christ pure among us? Is it necessary to “contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Ju. 3)?
The watchword of the time is now tolerance, tolerance; do not be opinionated in your doctrine but be tolerant toward secret societies which deny Christ, with Catholics and with Protestants and Lutherans who believe otherwise. They are still doing much good in the world. Why should we oppose them? or separate from them and keep our distance from them? Our answer is: Because Christ has said: “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed.” We want to continue in the Word of Christ. We do not risk tolerating consciously even the least departure from His Word, because we are seeking the blessing and the great gifts which we have heard His promises promise them who continue in His Word. We were called to be His disciples. But that there is danger in being lenient and tolerant where the teaching of God’s Word is concerned, we shall consider more fully during this meeting during the discussion of the theme: “The Curse of Unionism in the Lutheran Church.”
May God lay His blessing upon our discussions. Amen.
George Albert Gullixson
Translated by J. Herbert Larson, 2004