1918 Synod Convention Doctrinal Discussion
What is meant by the unity of the spirit?
We do not mean any and all agreements of mind by which people form a mutual church union according to their own natural idea and inclination. But we mean such a union by which a radical change takes place in natural man, in such a way, that he becomes a new creature, having the Spirit of Christ and living in such spiritual unity with God, that he, according to the new man, personally takes part in the divine nature and holiness. Being thus one spirit with Christ, grafted into Him, the true vine, he has entered into unity of spirit with all the others also, who are disciples and are led by the Spirit of Christ even as he himself.
To make this plain to our mind, the Lord compares it with and calls it many things that require divine power. Jesus says to Nicodemus: “Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Joh. 3,3. And by St. Paul He says: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” Gal. 6,15. “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Eph. 2, 1. And to the Romans, 8, 9: “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
Let us here note, that according to these plain declarations of the Lord, there must be brought forth in man a new being, that was not there before. It must be born, created, quickened etc., but nothing of the old material, not even the law, is available for the purpose.
This great blessing of God, our unity with Christ’s Spirit, the Holy Ghost, becomes more plain to us, when we ask this question, and listen to the answer of God’s word.
How is this wonderful thing, unity of the spirit, brought about?
Let us take heed that we do not consult our own carnal mind and then, like Nicodemus, reject this article of faith, because we cannot explain it to the satisfaction of human reason; but let us attentively listen to what the Lord answers and use our reason to grasp His words and, trusting Him as our Savior, believe all what He says, whether we fully understand it or not. We will then find that the unity of the Spirit is a wonderful work of God, just as well as the creation of light out of darkness.
Our Savior says: “Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Joh. 3,5.6. “Not by works of righteousness which we have clone, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Tit. 3,5.6. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12,13.
From these passages we see, that with our Lord there is no respect of persons, that all have the same access to His mercy and that baptism, not simply water, but the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s word, is a water of life, through which the Spirit of God operates to cleanse from all sin and to unite the new man with God, both in soul and body. From this unity innumerable blessings are derived by the believer. And if he should fall out of this covenant and unity with Christ, then the gospel and the Lord’s Supper are divine means to reestablish the sinner in his baptismal covenant and daily conversion and to strengthen him therein. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Rom. 8,9. “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Joh. 1,13. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.” James 1,18. “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the devine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” 2 Petr. 1,4. “For they (our fathers) verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Hebr. 12,10. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” 1 Petr. 1,23.
The gathering of all such regenerated persons is called the church or the communion of saints. Members of it are found wherever the word of God is taught.
If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: “I believe in the Holy Ghost?” you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. But whereby does he accomplish this? or what are His means and method to this end? Answer: The Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. For in the first place he has a peculiar congregation in the world, which is the mother that bears every Christian through the word of God, which he reveals and preaches, and through which he illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand and accept it, cling to it and persevere in it. (Luther’s Larger Catechism.)
And this article has been presented for a necessary reason. (The article of the Catholic or Universal Church, which is gathered together from every nation under the sun, is very comforting and highly necessary.) We see the terrible dangers which threaten the destruction of the church. In the church itself, vast is the multitude of the wicked who oppress it. There fore, in order that we may not despair, but may know that the church will, nevertheless, remain (until the end of the world), likewise that we may know that, however great the multitude of the wicked is, yet the church (which is Christ’s bride) exists, and that Christ bestows those gifts which He has promised to the church: to forgive sins, to hear prayer, to give the Holy Ghost. This article on the church presents us these consolations. And it says Catholic Church, in order that we may not understand the church to be an outward government of certain nations (that the church is like any other external polity, bound to this or that land, kingdom or nation, as the Pope of Rome will say), but rather men scattered throughout the whole world (here and there in the world from the rising to the setting of the sun), who agree concerning the gospel, and have the same Christ, the same Holy Ghost, and the same sacraments, even though they may have human traditions and ceremonies that are different. (Apol. Art. 4.)
What will a Christian observe in order to retain this blissful unity of the Spirit?
He will gladly listen to the teaching and warning of the Lord concerning this matter. Some of His words we will now remind one another of.
We must not forget that earnest Christians of the same faith will unite to form a local church or congregation for the purpose of glorifying God by having the pure gospel preached and the sacraments rightly administered. They will also in other ways profess their faith even if they should be only two or three families that could work harmoniously together. Where 2 or 3 are gathered in the Lord’s name, there He is in their midst.
Knowing the wiles of the devil the believers will always be on their guard against his efforts to lead them astray from the pure word of God. They will heed the earnest admonitions of their Lord to keep the unity of the Spirit.
St. Paul, Eph. 4,1.3, beseeches the Ephesians “that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Here the Lord teaches us, that it is a part of our calling to endeavor, that is, earnestly and diligently to strive to keep the unity of the Spirit. That part of their calling demands that they apply and exert themselves eagerly to keep it. They must be wide awake to keep, that is, to watch over the unity and guard against attacks of thieves and robbers. Satan, the liar and deceiver, is not asleep, but by all kinds of tricks always tries to lead us away from the right path and confession, or to plunge us into sinful deeds. On this account we must diligently guard against attack and fight him off. The unity of the Spirit must be kept “in the bond of peace,” this passage says. Peace is one of the fruits of faith like love or charity which Col. 3,14 is called the “bond of perfectness.” These two, peace and charity, are especially called bonds. They are essential fruits· of faith, by which the Savior and the believer stand united in one Spirit with love and peace as natural ties between the master and his disciple. It has already above been pointed out, how the spirit of man is united with and becomes one spirit with God’s Spirit. Here every such individual is besought to keep that unity with the Spirit of God. Thereby the unity of the spirit among them- selves is also kept. A unity of our spirits without the unity of the Spirit of God has nowhere any promise of salvation.
Luke 10,16: “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.” Thus, if we neglect or despise our brethren, preaching the gospel of Christ, we do not keep the unity of the Spirit. We despise Christ and the Father and the Spirit.
1 Cor. 1,10: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.” We notice how earnestly the Lord here beseeches the Corinthians, us as well, to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and also that they all speak the same thing. It is as plain as clay, then, that the Lord has no pleasure in a confession so loose, so loving and liberal that we do not strictly adhere to, nor demand that others should adhere strictly to the plain confession that we once agreed upon as the truth, with the same mind and understanding. The Lord forbids such divisions. If we are not satisfied with that, are we then in unity with God’s Spirit?
2 Tim. 1,8: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord; nor of me his prisoner,but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.” When Paul wrote this he was a prisoner in Rome, accused as a criminal for Christ’s sake. If Timothy then had been ashamed of Paul he would have been ashamed of the gospel. Therefore our confession and sympathy shall be with all those who have one faith with us. To neglect that is a serious thing, for “if we deny him, he also will deny us.” This shows that such a denial separates us from God and condemns us.
3 Joh. 10: “Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his (Diotrephes) deeds, which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words, and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbideth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.” See, how the apostle of love punishes this agitator!
How will a true Christian show that he really endeavors to keep the unity of the Spirit?
Because he stakes all his worth and fond hopes in life and death on this living connection with the Lord, also called unity of the Spirit, and since this Spirit is found nowhere else than in the scriptures, the word of God which alone is life and Spirit, the Christian has made up his mind to have no other lord or leader in spiritual matters than the word of God. He looks neither to the right nor the left for guidance here. He will not even consult his own reason nor use his or other people’s help in any other way than as a means to hear and see what the Lord has revealed to us. This revelation he implicitly believes. That this is the proper way to act in spiritual matters he knows for sure from the plain words of his Lord and from the examples of believers both in the Old and in the New Testament.
The Lord says, Deut. 28,1–3: “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth, and all these blessings shall come upon thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field.” And in verses 15 and 16 he says: “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command this day, that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field,” and so on through the whole chapter of 68 verses.
Jos. 1,8: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed.” Here and in many other places the Lord plainly tells us what to observe in order to prove that we are God’s children. We must be courageous and strong against all temptations to turn from His word to the right or the left, (7) and not be afraid or dismayed on account of the threats or allurements of the world and our own flesh.
But what must we do when we find ourselves or our brethren becoming lukewarm or inclined to go from the word of God?
Then we must listen to God’s warnings, given us in word and examples both in the Old and New Testament. The history of the people of Israel serves that purpose; it was written for our instruction. And we should follow the footsteps of our, Lord, John the Baptist, and the Apostles, who earnestly warned and punished the Pharisees and all who perverted the truth. And we must, as they did, show effective earnestness in our admonition and teaching. We must not tolerate or treat lightly any deviation from the truth, for it may sever us from our Savior and thus cost us our salvation. He says, Lev. 19,17: “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.” Rev. 3,16: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” Ezek. 33,8: “When I say unto the wicked, O, wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way; he shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.”
If they will not listen to the warning of the word of God, nor strive to obey it, then that proves that they no longer keep the unity of the Spirit, which speaks in the warning word of God. When such warnings have been repeated for some time in vain, we must prove to them the sinful and abominable stand that they take. This is to be done, according to the express command of the Lord, not only by word of mouth, but finally most emphatically in deed, by denying to such persons our Christian fellowship.
That this is the Lord’s will he tells us in many places. He says, Matt. 7,15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” These words show that they come pretending to be the best Christians They may teach many nice things and mix only a little poison into the cup.
Ps. 94,20: “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?” The throne of iniquity is the power of evil, which is able even so to distort a law of God that it shields or even promotes falsehood and other sins.
Tit. 3,10: “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition reject.” A heretic man is a party leader who causes division and strife among Christians, as Paul says to the Romans: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them.”
1 Tim. 6,1–5. In the first two verses the Apostle teaches the master and his bond-servant how they as believers shall consider each other and says: “These things teach and exhort.” In the next verse he says: “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, etc. and then commands: “from such withdraw thyself.” This doctrine of master and slave does not seem very important, but even this causes severance of fellowship. Even “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Gal. 5,9.
2 Cor. 6,14–18: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath 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 ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” “Touch not the unclean things,” says the Lord here. In our estimation it may be a small thing; but in God’s eye it is a great and important thing. We must not knowingly touch any thing unclean. False doctrine “will eat as doth canker.” 2 Tim. 2,17.
The Lord instructs every local church to enforce discipline against every sin. Matt. 18,15–17. He also says 2 Joh. 9–11: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. 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 biddeth him God speed, is partaker of his evil deeds.” These are plain words. If we are unwilling to act according to this instruction, is it possible that we then are in unity ·with the Spirit of Christ that inspired these words? No, we cannot deceive the Lord with knowledge and soft words only without corresponding deeds.
1) But is not such a position against love and other virtues? It is not against the love of Christ.
It is certainly against the love dwelling in the heart of the natural man that receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him. 1 Cor. 1,14. But if we believe that God is love, we cannot believe that His word and Spirit contradict His own essence. Whatever He speaks is certainly in accordance with divine love. The Apostle of love says: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.” 1 Joh. 5,2.3. We have just heard some of His commandments about false teaching and how we should treat it. Zech. 8,19: “therefore love the truth and peace.” Here the Lord commands us to love truth first of all, and peace with God especially. 1 Cor. 13,6: Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” False teaching is iniquity in which love does not rejoice. It rejects it, for it loves truth.
Matt. 10,37: “He that loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me,” says our Lord. According to this we must love Him more than father and mother. He speaks to us in the word, therefore we will love His word in like manner. When St. Paul, Gal. 4,16 says: “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth,” he shows them, that he admonished them from love of the truth and of them also. The same thing is also told us, Lev. 19,17: “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart, thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him.” The examples of the best servants of the Lord, the prophets and the apostles, show us how their true fear and love of God prompted them to admonish and very often to reprimand false teachers very severely.
2) Separation from false teachers is not pride.
We have seen, how the spirit of man becomes one spirit with the Lord, and how the regenerated and believing spirit of man earnestly and effectively endeavors to keep this unity of Spirit. This implies that our spirit recognizes, believes and loves all the things revealed in the Bible, because we find by actual experience that through the word and the sacraments the creating and mercifully guiding Spirit of God speaks and deals with us directly in a most kind and plain manner. A sincere Christian spirit does not look for, nor ask for any other authoritative explanation than that which is given in the Bible by the Spirit of God in His own words, which are amply sufficient and explain themselves. A believer is distrustful of all other explanations, and will receive none of them before he finds that they also in words conform strictly to the word of his Savior in the Bible. For he knows from this word of God, partly also from his own experience, that every man is a liar, that natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit for they are foolishness to him, and that even the spirit of the best Christian is apt to err and must be corrected and kept correct by the only infallible compass and standard of our heavenly voyage and warfare. That compass and standard is the Bible alone.
The daily conversion and sanctification consists in keeping far from all trespasses against the word, and in keeping close to, not his own thoughts nor the artful explanations of others, but solely to God’s written word. Thus we readily see that a Christian, endeavoring earnestly to keep the unity of the Spirit, is so firmly established, rooted and founded on the eternal rock of ages, Jesus Christ, that he will not and can not give up the least iota of the word of God, for it is all a gift from above, a precious treasure of his heart that supplies him with all that he needs in life and death. From love of God and his own salvation he must keep, enjoy and guard these indispensible treasures against all kinds of encroachments. This he also learns from many words and examples given him in the Bible.
Why should not poor sinners, such as we are, keep the word unchanged and even glory in the blissful statutes of the Lord, when powerful men, kings and conquerors like David, find nothing better to glory in? Ps. 119,99–100 says: “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.” Let us notice that David does not glory in his own wisdom or power, but in the testimonies and precepts of God that gave him understanding and insight into the glorious things in God’s word. Therefore he exclaims, Ps. 34,3.4: “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” Our Savior taught us to pray: “Hallowed be thy name.” We pray that the Lord’s name may be holy among us. And that is done, when the word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we as the children of God lead holy lives according to it. This grant us, dear father in heaven! But he that teaches and lives otherwise than the word of God teaches, profanes the name of God among us. From this preserve us, heavenly father!”
Jer. 9,23.24: “Thus saith the Lord, let not the wise man glory in his own wisdom or power, but in the testimonies and might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exerciseth loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” This is a kind of pride that is enjoined upon us and is an exhibition of faith and the happy enjoyment of God’s grace. This is essential and natural in the true unity of Spirit with God. It manifests itself also in such strong conviction as St. Paul professes in these words: “But though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” This declaration the apostle makes emphatic by repeating it twice to the Galatians against some that troubled them and would pervert the gospel of Christ. It is a fair sample of the spirit and confidence that should manifest itself in every believer, especially in every valiant confessor, defying angels and men in heaven and on earth, because he is standing at the side of the valiant one, who has entrusted to us the same two-edged sword, the written word of God, by which he, for our salvation and instruction, in the wilderness beat the devil off.
3) Separation from false or indifferent teaching is not divisions or undue strife.
When we stand immovable and firm on the doctrine of our church we are often accused of being stubborn and causing strife. Even passages of scripture are cited against us such as 1 Cor. 3,3: “For ye are yet carnal, for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” This word does certainly reprimand all carnal life in confession or deed. If any one could show us from scripture that we in our confession do not keep the unity of the Spirit, that is, adhere to the express word of the Lord, then we would plead guilty as charged. But that has not yet been done nor can it ever be done, because we abide by the word of scripture, without yielding to the cunning explanations of human reason.
It is a sad and deplorable fact that the church is divided into many different denominations. This seems to cause confusion and doubt in many minds. But who is to blame? The trouble-makers in the churches of the apostles were sent by the evil one. 2 Cor. 11,13–15. If these would let those alone who try to keep the unity of the Spirit revealed in scripture, there would be no division. However this evil is not stopped, but rather promoted by crying peace! Jer. 6; Ezek. 13. What truly believing Christian would not do all in his power to stop divisions and bring about the unity of Spirit that pleases God? But such a union of all the people must not be expected in this world. He who expects to accomplish it does not know the world nor the prince of the world. By sin the earth has become the kingdom of the devil.
All mankind was by the envy of the devil put under the yoke of darkness and unbelief. Now when our Savior rescues people from this slavery and establishes his kingdom in the midst of this sinful world, we must not be surprised, that the prince of the world becomes enraged at seeing some of his subjects snatched away from him and transferred from His kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of truth and light. The Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 1 Joh. 3,8. Then is fulfilled what our Lord said: “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” Luke 12,51–53. This happens when our Prince of Life, a stronger than the prince of darkness, shall come upon him and overcome him; He taketh away from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. Luke 11,22. To avoid this division by not taking sides with our Lord in this war, is to keep peace with evil against the Savior. All who do not wish to lose their life in the deceitful peace of the world will follow in the footsteps of the Prince of Life who saved us and brought life and immortality to light.
We follow His footsteps when we deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow Him, keeping and obeying all that He has spoken. Then, however, we must be prepared for trouble. For thus speaks the Lord: “When ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” 1 Cor. 11,18.19. This shows that trouble will come not only from the outside world, but also from unbelieving people within the congregation. But the Lord will turn even the worst calamities into good to them that fear God. One has truly said that heresies and other troubles are the grindstones of the church. The flesh of the believers, being a chip of the same block as the world, needs to be under the lash, in order not to slumber away and be eternally lost.
The following words of Luther should be taken to heart: (On Ps. 110, 2: “Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.”) “The rule of the Turk and the Pope is praised by the world as quiet and peaceful, for they rule in peace and obedience, feared and honored by their subjects. And heretofore we have often seen how a worthless priest or monk, with a scrap of paper no longer nor wider than a finger, could hem in and force all lords and governors, no matter how proud and powerful they otherwise might be, to do whatever he pleased; and no one dared to grumble publicly against him, nor hurt a hair of his head, lest he would be condemned to hell, removed from office and chased away from his country and people. That was certainly a fine and precious government for the world which could be served no better than when the Lord in this way punishes the one mean scoundrel by means of another.
“But now since the gospel has been brought to light and is advancing, everything is moving and stirring with enmity, just like the waves against the ship in which Christ was sailing, Matt. 8,24; and all the world complains of unrest, divisions, revolt and all kinds of trouble, putting the blame on no one else than the clear gospel in order that this doctrine may be made distasteful, mocked and hated by everybody, as if it alone caused all this misery never hitherto suffered. And the very princes, lords and masters who, besides getting liberty and all good things, who have got rid of the papal coercion, vexation and terror, and who have also become rich from the gospel, now all repay the Savior by persecuting and trying to destroy the preachers and the doctrine, that they may live and act as they please without the gospel and word of God.
“Well, what can be done about this? The gospel must suffer such things, for the prophet has plainly foretold that such things will happen to this King and His kingdom, that He shall rule in the midst of His enemies, and he makes this an earmark, that wheresoever this scepter or this message comes and is effective, there enmity and resistance will arise both from without and within, and thus Christ is, as the old sage, Simeon prophesied about this Child, a sign or token, that is spoken against. For, why is it, that people cry so reproachfully and say that wherever the gospel enters, there unrest, division and heresy arise? Who starts this but the devil and his associates? Why should this preaching be blamed, or how can it help that the devil and the world are so bad? What does it do on account of which anybody can rightfully hate and persecute it? Nothing at all, except that it wants to bring people out of their darkness and blindness unto the right knowledge of God; and it shows how they may actually get rid of sin, be saved from death, the wrath of God and all evil, and also be made righteous, called to life and be saved. It brings no suffering nor injury to body or property, but leaves all governments, offices and estates unhindered and unmolested, nay, it confirms and honors them; it also commands people to be obedient and keep peace, nay, even to suffer wrongs and oppression so that certainly no one should have reason to complain against this doctrine. What more besides this shall it do, since you will not tolerate it? Shall it be blamed for unrest and revolt, because you, without any cause or right, are tearing and raging against it as a crazy devil?” Erl. 40,98.99.)
4). Separation from false and indifferent teaching is not an hindrance to the Kingdom of God.
At the first glance it might seem as if the separation and exclusiveness, here advocated, would hinder the spread of the Lord’s kingdom. But let us remember, that Christ’s kingdom is not a kingdom of this world nor a visible association, such as the family or the civil government, but similar to these the church in its proper sense is the communion of saints, that is, an intimate union of the heart and mind of man with the triune God. As we have already seen, this union is not accomplished by gathering any number of people together, without being brought by the Holy Spirit into full fellowship and unity with the Lord. The kingdom of God is within us. It “cometh not with observation.” Luke 17,20. This invisible relationship with God, brought about by true conversion or regeneration, must be up, in order that we may be saved from spiritual and eternal death. There being no other means whereby to keep in union with the Lord than His word and sacraments, we must strictly and conscientiously listen to and use these means of grace. If we do not, we endanger our spiritual life or connection with the Savior. Thus it is evident, that we cannot neglect, much less reject any word of our Lord, no matter how insignificant its observation may appear to us.
Whether it seems to our mind to promote the kingdom of God or not, it still remains a fact, not only that He says: “Beware of false prophets,” “from such turn away,” “come out from among them and be ye separate, sayeth the Lord,” but also that He alone best knows how to promote His kingdom through us. In the Spirit of the Lord Jeremiah says: “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts. I sat not in the assembly of mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand: for thou hast filled me with indignation. Jer. 15,16.17. If it had been a question of being a numerous and strong outward organization, the prophet would not have been kept alone and filled with indignation against falsehood.
The Roman church is a big and strong organization, yet it does not keep the unity of the Spirit of God, for in many things it overrules and contradicts the word of the Spirit, and thereby proves its unity in the spirit of the very Anti-Christ, 2 Thes. 2,3–10. (See also Smalcald Articles, Art. 4.)
Not listening attentively to every word of the Lord, or not obeying it implicitly, very often brings down upon man damaging results, as countless words and examples in the Bible plainly teach us. The deed that plunged mankind into the greatest misery seemed so small and harmless. Just the eating of that fruit, that looked so beautiful and inviting to Eve, forever separated us from God and all true happiness. She disobeyed the word and warning of God and listened to the liar. The Lord’s will and dispensation is often against our will and feeling, especially when the just retribution for sin strikes us. Not fully understanding the horrible depths of sin and Satan, we think that the wages of sin are awfully cruel.
Through the prophet Samuel the Lord commanded Saul to “go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” But Saul spared the King Agag and the best of many things that he dedicated as a sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel admonished him and said: “The Lord sent thee on a journey, and said, go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalakites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the Lord, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the Lord? And Saul said unto Samuel, yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalakites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal. And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” 1 Sam. 15,3.18–23.
The full measure of sin was overflowing and crying to God for retribution on the heathen nations of Canaan. Punishment even utter extermination will in due time, as a harvest of ripened service and seeding in transgression and vice, overtake even the strongest nations, as the history of the powerful old people of olden times amply proves. Let us therefore take warning. Not the Lord’s, but the devil’s kingdom, is promoted by following the will of man against the will of God. We will humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” 1 Petr. 4,17–18.
True penitence or a living knowledge of our sin and guilt comprises also this acknowledgment that we have deserved even greater misery than what the bloody war is inflicting on nations today.
5). Exclusiveness and abstinence from false teaching is not against the holy universal church which is invisible.
In defence of unionism Joh. 10,16 is sometimes quoted against us: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” How any one in these words can find proof for a lax confession and liberal union between different creeds is impossible to see by any one who will listen to the Lord, and not put his own will and thoughts into God’s words. The Lord here plainly calls His followers and believers among the Jewish people the sheep of His fold. The other sheep, which are not of this fold, are evidently people of heathen nations, which He will also bring to His fold. There is nowhere the slightest indication of the thought, that any one should hear any other word, receive a different Spirit or have any other faith than what His own fold had received, for He says: “them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one and one shepherd.” The hearing of His word is the means by which also heathen hearts shall be made the temples of the triune God.
The example of God’s prophet Elijah warns us that, if we judge the kingdom of God by appearances, we are apt to make sad mistakes. The prophet was an enlightened and keen observer of what was done in Israel, and he accordingly believed that he was the only one that had not joined in the fashionable worship of Baal. But the Lord told him: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal.” 1 King. 19,18. This fact did not make it the less necessary to fight against idolatry. But, some will say, he did not leave the Jewish church, because most people worshiped Baal. Answer: No, why should he? The Jews had the oracles of the Lord, and a distinct form of worship, given them by Him. To this the prophet held firmly. He fought strenuously against all other worship, and admonished Israel to live and worship according to God’s statutes. Right teaching of the truth is the only thing that can correct sins and shortcomings in faith and deeds. Therefore the truth must always be taught plainly, that people shall not be kept in the dark.
Many church leaders and founders of new sects are just like Absalom, the son of king David. He got it into his head, by vanity and instigation of the devil, that he ought to be king instead of his father. Some plausible pretext he must have had, since many supported him in his revolt; but to many this sin against the anointed king of Israel was hidden, for it is stated that two hundred men out of Jerusalem went with him “in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.” 2 Sam. 15,11. They may have imagined that David had sent Absalom to gather an army. In their heart they were not rebels; but if they remained in the rebel army, they suffered defeat with it, for David’s army fought and overcame it. If the leaders of the rebels did not tell their followers that they were organizing against the regular government of God’s people, they were responsible also for the sins of the innocent followers. Ezek. 3,18. From this we see how important it is that all persons; especially teachers and leaders, always give correct and complete information, and that all receive and obey the truth in every particular. But if one has been sufficiently warned, and yet remains a member of a denomination suppressing or denying any part of God’s word, he commits a sin and endangers his life.
It is a most precious and consoling truth that the merciful Lord works faith and perseverance, and gathers sheep into His flock all over the world, wherever His word is taught. Even Samaritans and people of other nations were thus saved. But that does not prove that we need not be so strict in our confession. The truth alone can make people free indeed. To the Samaritan woman the Lord said: “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” Joh. 4,22. We see that it was the Savior’s teaching that kindled faith in the hearts of many Samaritans.
It would be a sad thought, that true believers are found only in the Lutheran church. God shows us that they are found all over the world, wherever so much of Scripture is heard or read that people learn to repent of their sins and to believe in Jesus Christ. We must see to it, however, that no one is lead astray by any uncertain or misleading guidance. This is our plain duty.
In a hospital for people suffering from smallpox or consumption there are apt to be some healthy people, but they are generally very careful to avoid contagion. Spiritual tuberculosis is more dangerous than that of the body. Those who think it is wrong not to have brotherly fellowship with those of other confessions, since we believe that there are true Christians among them also, must have fellowship with the catholics as well, because they belong to the Christian church, for the Lord says that antichrist, the pope of Rome, is sitting in the temple of God, that is the church. Among them also are believing Christians, but we cannot point them out. They are concealed from us as long as they stay in that church without rejecting the falsehood in it and professing the truth against it. “But the Lord knoweth them that are his.” 2 Tim. 2,19. With them we are united by the one true faith that He created in them even as in us.
6.) Separation from falsehood is not against the command to bear the weak.
We will gladly bear with the weak in Faith; for the Lord says: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye,” Rom. 14,1. “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not please ourselves.” Rom. 15,1. This is God’s will, and we wish to obey it conscientiously. But who is the weak in the faith? Certainly not the one that defends false doctrine and rejects admonition from the word of God. Such a person is strong in error. Nevertheless we shall show our love of him and our interest in his spiritual welfare. How? By trying earnestly and patiently to help him out of the false notions into which he has fallen. If a person declares that baptism cannot regenerate, that it is only a sign of adoption into the visible church, and he manifests cleverness in explaining away our Savior’s words to Nicodemus and proves that he will rather follow his own reason and ideas than to accept the words of Scripture, then he is strong in his false faith. If we would act and speak to him so that he got the impression that we did not consider his opinion dangerous but nearly as good as our faith, founded on God’s own revelation, then we would not help him out of the snares of falsehood, but rather confirm him in error. That would reveal a mind similar to that of Cain saying: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen. 4,9. For such a sin the Lord would call us to a strict account. If your friend fell overboard and were drowning, and you were so tenderhearted that you would not grasp his hair to pull him up, you would in common law be deemed an accessory to a crime, if he were drowned. To fall into error and be hardened in it, is more dangerous than to fall into water.
We find that Peter was so weak in his knowledge of our Savior’s office as redeemer, that he tried to hinder His suffering and said: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” But Jesus turned, and said unto Peter, “get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Matt. 16,22.23. If Peter had not accepted the correction and changed his mind, he would have been rejected as an apostle; but he repented, and was later on willing to die with the Lord. At another time Peter stumbled in his behavior. When there were no Jewish Christians present, Peter associated freely with the Gentile Christians, eating that which was forbidden the Jews, but when the Jews were present, he withdrew, thereby supporting or confirming the Jewish ceremonial law as binding on Christians. St. Paul reprimanded him publicly for this, and for our instruction he recorded it in his epistle to the Galatians, in which he says: “And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” Gal. 2,13.14. As a disciple of Christ, wishing to live and act according to the gospel truth, Peter accepted this correction.
At another time also Paul showed his love of the weak Christian Jews. When he once came to James in Jerusalem, and the elders of the church had heard Paul’s declaration of “what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry,” Acts 21,19, they glorified the Lord. They informed him that there were thousands of Jews in Jerusalem that believed the gospel, without believing the observance of the law as necessary to salvation, but that a report had circulated among them, that Paul was teaching the Jews even to forsake Moses, and had forbidden them to circumcise their children, and to walk after the customs of the fathers. The elders asked him to refute these false rumors by himself observing the old customs, though not as divine commands. They reminded him of the fact, that “as touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such things, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.” V. 25. The believing Jews, however, wished to retain their ancient customs. Paul understood the situation and consented to observe this order among the Jews in order not to be misunderstood by weak Christians. He did this in the same spirit that we observe lighting candles at the Lord’s Supper, and keeping as holydays Good Friday, Ascension Day, and the like, not as divine institutions, but because our fathers did so, and we can do the same for our edification, since there is no word of God against these things, when observed in a free Christian spirit. Paul wanted to be a Jew unto the Jews that he might gain the Jews. He says: “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” 1 Cor. 9,22. But when some people in Ephesus opposed the gospel, and spoke evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples. Acts 19.
This is the way our Lord wants us all to work wisely and carefully in His kingdom to save people and keep the unity of the Spirit.
In addition to what we have already considered we should remember too, that a lax confession and brotherly fellowship people of a different faith are gushing fountains, from which many things flow that are harmful and injurious to a strong spiritual life. Strong convictions are more necessary in our day than ever before. Human research has penetrated far into the shafts of treasures materially useful for this life, but without making the human heart less self-conceited or more humble toward its maker. On the contrary it has become rather more boastful of material progress and more trusting in the theory of evolution.
In such environments a strong conviction is needed. This conviction must be founded solely on the eternal and immovable rock of ages, Jesus Christ. He alone is the life and the truth in whom all the loving counsels of our salvation are revealed. This revelation has a complete and a perfect form. The grace of God is so given us that we shall see it and receive it by our mental organs, as it really is, a ready food for our spiritual life. It is not given us as the things of nature, which come to us as raw materials that must first be changed and prepared by us, accord- ing to our taste, before can fully digest and enjoy them. Not so the revealed truth that we are to keep and confess; it is prepared, ready, fit, perfect and needs no further preparation.
It is a sad fact that the exploded theory of evolution has long ago been foisted upon the church by false teachers, claiming that revealed truth also must be developed by the human reason. This is a smart trick of the devil who in that way has succeeded in developing spiritual light into darkness, turning out a destructive lie, just as he did in his parley with Eve.
a. —Only a few of the harmful things, brought about by this evolution of general fellowship with other creeds, can be pointed out here. One of the products that we must look out for, is, indifference towards the truth and consequent suppression of it. Jesus said to His disciples: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” The context shows that He warns against the false doctrines of those people. Matt. 16,6.12. We must not wait until the whole lump is soured. Neither must we beware only of big lumps of leaven. By the Spirit of Christ St. Paul says: “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Gal. 5,9. In the beginning it may be only a very small thing. Only one doctrine was affected in Galatia. Only one small drop of poison will penetrate and poison the whole cup of good medicine. “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” 1 Cor. 5,6. “And their word will eat as doth a canker.” 2 Tim. 2.17. What damage this will bring St. Peter tells us, 2 Petr. 2,1: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.” 2 Tim. 3,13.
b. —Even seeming neutrality or kind undecidedness is dangerous and brings destruction. The Lord says to the angel of the Laodiceans: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” Rev. 3,16. How would things look in the church now, if the believers in former times had been so lukewarm that they had left the field to the enemy without fighting against the foe to keep the treasures of our salvation? We can give up gold and silver, when bandits hold us up, but not the eternal truth.
c. —Indifference as to what we believe and confess fosters doubt and unbelief, robbing us of peace and happiness. Hebr. 13,9: “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart is established with grace.” Without this the heart and mind cannot taste and enjoy that peace of God that passeth all understanding. Nor can such a mind help others to become established in the truth, for it is wavering, and itself carried away by one notion today, and by another tomorrow. It will then soon care very little about any article of faith so long as a decent life is maintained. But who, or what is to decide what a decent life is? Something must decide, or somebody. If Scripture is not considered to be a perfectly reliable judge of what we are to believe and do, then it will be either the human reason or the pope. But they both lead astray.
In unionism false teaching has assumed a most fascinating and dangerous form. Indifferentism or unionism is the soft sheep’s clothing which invites to decide questions of doctrine and life by our own inclination. Many years ago the Prussian government enforced a union between the Lutheran and the Reformed church of Germany. The leaven in that movement has worked effectively, first by claiming for its theology the right to develop the Christian doctrine on the lines of the enlightened Christian mind; next came doubt and rejection of large parts of Scripture; and then finally denial of our Savior’s divine nature. That liberal Christianity, or as it in reality is, rank infidelity, fermented until it even took possession of the masses of the people. And when they thus took liberty to master God and His word, it is but natural that they imagined themselves called upon to rule also other nations and make them happy by that “Kultur” or self-accomplishment that they themselves admired and loved so much. But now we reap what has been sown in the flesh, namely, a repetition of old history. When gross sin, idolatry and other transgressions of God’s word had penetrated to and taken hold of the people of Israel, then severe calamities overtook them. That this would be their harvest was told them time and again by Moses and the prophets. Gen. 28.
This same thing repeats itself in the general destruction and dire calamity of Europe. Nations are reaping what they have sown and we have our share both in the sowing and the shocking harvest. We are also in the war, and suffering commensurately with our guilt. Do you ask, how that can be? Then please call this fact to mind that not only France, Belgium and England received and inculcated among their people the skepticism, infidelity, scientific pride and lofty self-conceit of the Germans and French, but that we also have admired them, run after them, copied and imitated them, the best we knew how. You will not deny that the just and jealous God visits the iniquity of the fathers unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him, nor do you believe that he inflicts punishment without good reason. We are certainly being chastised. Streams of our own blood have already been shed on the blasted fields of battle.
The leaven of this rationalistic Christianity bas also among us Norwegian Lutherans been fermenting for many years, until it is now quite bold and outspoken. Here as elsewhere it manifests itself in the form of indifference to pure doctrine and sound principles, even in doubts about plain things in Scripture and generally by appealing to this idea that good men hold a different view or explain the word differently, therefore you must not be so positive in your faith. The conviction is then soon gained that no one should be fully convinced on any point, before Scripture has been handled, kneaded and baked (if not burned up) by some authority until it conforms to human reason or will. Let us therefore take warning and cling strictly to the written word of God. We will in this follow Luther, leaving to the devil and his followers to wait for decisions of great men and church councils to tell us what to believe and do. The good Lord deals with us directly through His written word. What ever we ourselves find there plainly told us we will believe, nothing more, nothing less. Faith built on, or flowing from human reason and authority, is neither living nor saving faith.
If we will not now under the thunderclaps of hard punishment wake up and listen to God alone, who is telling us, and showing us object lessons of the consequences of spiritual lukewarmness, then we are lost forever. Let us beware even of a little leaven.
d. —Worldliness, lack of discipline and all kinds of self-chosen worship is fostered and nourished by this kind of lax Christianity. Against this we are warned by St. Paul, 1 Cor. 15,33.34: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. A wake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” False doctrines are, of course, evil communications; and these corrupt good manners, the Lord declares here. So a wicked life is a result of evil communications or false teaching. When people try to make us believe that it is not so much pure doctrine as a Christian life the Lord wants, then we should mark, that pure doctrine and Christian life must not be separated or opposed to each other here. The Lord demands the one as well as the other, and shows us that pure doctrine and right knowledge of God is the mainspring of the Christian life, and the wicked life the effect and result of evil communications or false doctrines. The tree must be good before it can bear good fruit. A rotten tree cannot bear good fruit. No matter how good a deed may look to our eyes the Lord says: “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.” Rom. 14,23. So our main object in all our labors should be to inculcate the word and knowledge of God, that faith may be kindled in the hearts, so that they can lead a truly Christian life. We therefore earnestly admonish those who sin by a false confession or by other sinful deeds. And those who will not listen to the admonition of the church, should be excluded from membership. The order of this discipline the Lord has given us, Matt. 18,15–17. And the apostles with their churches show us, how to practice church discipline, 1 Cor. 5. 2 Thess. 3, and in many other places. They were strict in separating from the wicked. Indifference in this is sometimes excused by misusing the parable of the tares among the wheat. The Lord, being asked by the servants, whether they should go and gather the tares up, answered: “Nay, lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let them grow together until the harvest.” Here the Lord does forbid to root up false teachers from the field, which here is not the church, but the world. They shall not be rooted out or removed from this world before the Lord does so Himself, not by self-appointed executioners, the pope or even civil government, but by the angels who are the harvesters. It would be a sin to construe this parable so that the Lord contradicted His own instruction, given the church, to enforce discipline by admonishing and rescuing by the word those who have fallen into snares of falsehood, as we have just seen.
And we must not grow slack in this work, because it is very unpopular in our days. This the Lord has prepared us for, and encouraged us against, by telling us, that in the last days there will be perilous times, for men shall be lovers of their own selves, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. “As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses so do these also resist the truth, men of corrupt minds reprobate concerning faith.” One of the great curses of lax and liberal Christianity of form without power to obey all the word of God, is that they are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This we learn from 2 Tim. 3,1–10.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” 2 Tim. 4,3–5. May the Lord in His mercy guide us all, and strengthen us to do. Amen.