Rev. C.A. Moldstad
1927 Synod Convention Essay
The subject before us is very important and comprehensive, but our treatise must of necessity be limited, owing to the limited time at hand for preparation as well as the limited time allotted to hear and discuss the subject matter. We could not here present all the doctrines of the Church of God and compare all the doctrines of the Lutheran Church with those of all other churches, but we must be satisfied to outline the general principles followed in their confessions and teachings. Even then it will be possible, by the grace of God, to conclude that the Lutheran Church is the true visible church of God on earth.
The Church Proper is the Communion of Saints, or the assembly of all true believers in Christ all over the world. This church is invisible and shall always continue on earth to the end of time.
Our Lord and Savior said: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18,36), “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17,20–21), “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4,24), “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 7,31–32), “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16,16), “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16,31).
God’s kingdom here on earth is a kingdom of grace; a kingdom in which forgiveness of sins, holiness and righteousness are offered as a free gift for Jesus’ sake to every repenting sinner. Membership in the kingdom of God is not a matter of the body, not a visible material association, but it is a matter of the spirit, the heart and soul of man. All the members of God’s kingdom of grace, all the true believers in Jesus Christ, together constitute the church of God on earth and are so termed in the Bible.
In Eph. II,1–9 and 19–22 we read: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest, any man should boast. … Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone: In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
In this passage the Spirit of God has recorded the truth that we are all by nature the same sinful creatures — that we have become the children of God only by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and that all true believers are fellow citizens with the saints in the household of God. As such we are a part of an holy temple in the Lord, resting upon the word of God of which Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone.
It is of this same holy temple, made up of living Christians, that the apostle speaks when he says, “Christ is the head of the Church” (Eph. 5,23), “The church is subject unto Christ” (Eph. 5,24), “The church (which) is his body” (Eph. 1,22–23) and “We, being many, are one body in Christ” (Rom. 12,5). Of this same universal church Jesus speaks in Mathew 16, when in reply to Peter’s confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” he says: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Only the true believers in Jesus Christ constitute the one universal church. But as man can not look into the heart of man and determine who are true believers, we call this church invisible. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17,20–21). Since all true believers are sanctified and made holy by God, the church proper is also called holy, because it is an assembly or communion of saints. “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5,25–27). “Ye are a chosen generation, a, royal priesthood, an holy nation” (1 Peter 2,9).
This invisible communion of saints or true believers in Christ shall continue on earth to the end of time. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against my church” (Matt. 16,18). “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2,19). “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into 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” (Matt. 28,19–20).
Because it is the Lord God almighty Who has commanded to preach and has promised to be with His servants to the end of the world, and because He has said that His word shall not return void, therefore, we believe that even in the darkest days of history the Lord still had and will have His invisible church of true believers.
But the subject of our treatise pertains to the visible church. When treating of the visible church we must always bear in mind that Scripture does not speak of the visible church, and that in reality we have no visible church here on earth, because the church is always nothing else than the congregation of true believers, and as God alone knows those who truly believe, it is and always remains invisible to man.
Nevertheless, when rightly understood, we may speak of the visible church, knowing that it is only a figure of speech used by man for his convenience.
By the Visible Church we mean the aggregate of all those in the world who profess the Christian faith in the Triune God and use the Word of God and His sacraments. In this visible church will be found many shades and degrees of faithfulness, as well as hypocrisy and unbelief.
Here we would like to quote Dr. F. Pieper. He says, in “Distinctive Doctrines and Usages,” “The Scriptures not only speak of the one church (Matt. XVI,18; Eph. I,22,23), but frequently mention Churches in the plural, e.g., the churches of Asia, 1 Cor. XVI,19; the churches of Macedonia, 2 Cor. VIII,1; the Church of God which is at Corinth, I Cor. I,2; the Church which was at Jerusalem, Acts VIII,I; “Tell it unto the Church,” Matt. XVIII,17. It is, therefore, in accordance with Scripture that we speak of local or particular churches. But the relation existing between the particular churches and the una santa (universal church) ought to be rightly understood.
Men cannot, like God, look into the hearts, nor should they try to do so. We, therefore, have to consider all such to belong to the particular Church as unite with us in the profession of faith and do not contradict this profession by an ungodly life. It is in this regard that the particular churches are called visible churches. But we do not on this account set up two churches. For the visible particular Church is a Church and is called a Church and has the privileges of a church (“the power of the keys”) only on account of the true believers that are within it. The particular (i.e., local) churches, therefore, properly speaking, consist of true believers only, the hypocrites being intermingled with the Church through external fellowship solely, forming no part of the particular Church itself. This is evident from all the passages of Scripture in which the particular churches are described as the “Churches of God,” consisting of those “that are sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1,2; Rom. 1,7). So far Dr. Pieper.
Wherever enough of the word of God is read and preached so that true faith in Jesus Christ may be produced, there we also have the Church of God. God has commanded to preach His word in order to win disciples, and He has said that His word shall not return void.
But in all assemblies and associations where the gospel of Christ crucified is not preached and where the divinity of Christ is denied and the whole Bible is not accepted as God’s word, there we have no visible Church of God, even though they may call themselves a Christian church or congregation. Christ has commanded to baptize in the name of the Triune God (Matt. 28,19); “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father” (1 John 2,23); “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3,11); those then who erect a worship on some other foundation than Jesus Christ and God’s word and sacraments have no part in the church of God.
In the outward organization of the visible church which professes the Christian faith in the Triune God and uses the word of God and Bis sacraments, there will be found many shades and degrees of faithfulness, as well as hypocrisy and unbelief. But though gross error be preached, the fact remains that the Christian faith is professed, the word of God and His sacraments used, and therefore there will be some children of God even there in spite of the error. Therefore, such as have in part departed from the word of truth are in Scripture still called churches, because of the true believers who are still there.
Thus the apostle Paul addresses his epistle to the Galatians “unto the churches of Galatia” and then continues saying: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”
On this point Luther writes the following in his larger commentary on Gal. 1,2: “St. Jerome asks why St. Peter calls the Galatians a Christian congregation or church since they were not a Christian congregation or church, because St. Peter writes to the Galatians, who were fallen from Christ and grace and had again gone back to the law of Moses? To this I answer, that St Peter here speaks according to the figure of speech called Synekdoche, which is quite common in Scripture; just as he also writes to the Corinthians rejoicing with them in the grace of Christ that in everything they are enriched by Him in all utterance and in all knowledge, even though many of them had been led astray by the false apostles, and did not believe that there was a resurrection from the dead, etc. Just as we in our time call the Roman church and bishoprick holy, even though they have been led astray and their servants are ungodly. Our Lord Jesus Christ rules in the midst of his enemies (Ps. 110,2), and Antichrist sitteth in God’s temple (2 Thes. 2,4), and Satan is in the midst of God’s children (Job 1,6). Therefore, even if the church and Christendom are in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, as St. Paul says (Philippians 2,15), and though among wolves and murderers, that is in the midst of spiritual enemies and tyrants, still it is and remains a holy Christendom, a Christian congregation and church. Even though the city of Rome is worse than Sodom and Gomora, still we have there the holy baptism, sacrament, the word and text of the gospel, the holy Scriptures, Christ and God’s office and name. He who has it, he has it. He who has it not, is nevertheless not excused. The treasure is there at hand. Therefore the church of Rome is holy, because it has God’s holy name, the gospel and baptism, etc., and therefore, even though the Galatians had been misled, still baptism, God’s word and the name of Christ remained with them. And there are also some pious among them, who had not departed from the teachings of St. Paul. Therefore, the church is everywhere holy, even there where fanatics and party spirit rule, as long as they do not entirely deny and reject the word and sacrament. Those who altogether reject these things are no longer a church. But where the word and sacrament virtually remain, there a holy church also continues.” (Luther’s Commentary on Gal. 1,2. VIII 1588–92.)
However none must conclude that God finds pleasure in error. He does not. God is a God of truth. Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of truth. No one has been given license to preach error in the church of God, and no Christian is allowed by God to unite with or follow a teacher who in any way departs from the divine truth.
The True Visible Church of God on Earth is made up of all those Christians in the world who in their confessions and teachings are true and faithful to all the revealed word of God.
The church of God is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” The material which is to be shaped and fitted into this great building is nothing but sinful human beings. The means of grace or the tools used by the Spirit of God in shaping and fitting the material are the word of God and His sacraments. Therefore, only those who are true and faithful in the use of these means can really reflect the true church of God on earth. “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). “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4,11). Jesus said: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” (John 18,37.) Addressing the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, Peter says, that they are born again, not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (1 Pet. 3,23.)
The whole Bible is the word of God. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3,16). In the last chapter of the Bible we read: “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the word of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life.” (Rev. 22,18–19.) In the epistle to the Galatians St. Paul writes thus: “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.” (Gal. 1,8.) It must be clear, then, that the true visible church of God on earth is made up only of those Christians who in their confessions and teachings are true and faithful to all the revealed word of God.
The character and faithfulness of the visible church of God on earth can and must be judged wholly and only by the word of God.
This truth is self-evident from what is said in the previous chapter, and yet we find so many who judge the character and faithfulness of a church by everything else than the word of God.
How often do we hear the argument of members used to characterize a church pleasing to God. They say, there are so and so many ministers and so and so many congregations who confess and teach this or that, therefore it must be true. Behold all the rich and mighty and learned in that church — you surely would not say they all can be wrong.
Jesus, however, said: “Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7,13–14.) And St. Paul in 1 Cor. 1,26 writes: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in His presence.”
It is clear that the character and faithfulness of the visible church of God can not be judged by human numbers, human wisdom, power and riches; because then we would have to forsake Christ and the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace, and return to heathenism and the doctrine of salvation by man’s own efforts. There you will find the greatest numbers and the greatest show of man’s self exaltation.
Since it is the preaching of the word of God that is to spread the kingdom of God; since it is the acceptance of and continuance in the word that makes a child of God; since this word is everlasting truth and shall abide forever; and since Jesus says: “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12,48), therefore, the character and faithfulness of the visible church of God on earth can and must be judged wholly and only by the word of God.
By the Lutheran Church we mean the aggregate of all those who without reservation confess, teach and practice the doctrines brought to light again by Luther’s Reformation and recorded in the Unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1530 and later restated and developed in the other so called Lutheran symbols, as being the teachings of the word of God.
Because the Lutheran symbols and the teachings of Luther are drawn from and in complete harmony with the word of God, these same Lutheran confessions are true and unalterable.
The name Lutheran does not make one a Lutheran Christian any more than the name Christian makes one a Christian. But that which makes one a Lutheran is that he believes, teaches and practices the Lutheran doctrine which is based upon the word of God.
The True Lutheran Church in the world has been and is faithful and true in its confessions and teachings to all the revealed word of God, and is, therefore, the True Visible Church of God on Earth.
A. The True Lutheran Church accepts the written word of the Prophets, Evangelists and Apostles in the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as the verbally inspired word of God and therefore the only sure and perfect rule of faith and doctrine — not reason — not traditions — not new revelations.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3,16). “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1,21). “Not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (1 Cor. 2,13). Being the Word of God, “the Scripture cannot be broken,” as Christ said, John 10,35, but is without error. The Bible does not merely contain the word of God, but it is the very word of God.
“The holy Scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 3,15). “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119,105). “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” (Joh. 8,31–32). “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deut. 4,2). “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2,14). “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2,8). When the rich man asked that Lazarus be sent as a special revelation to his brethren the answer was: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” (Luke 16,29.)
B. The Lutheran Church believes and teaches with Luther that the Word of God is clear, that Scripture explains Scripture, and that, therefore, no individual, council or church body has authority to interpret Scripture apart from Scripture. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119,105). “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1,19–20).
C. The Lutheran Church believes and teaches that every doctrine revealed in Scripture is of importance and for some purpose. Therefore, no doctrine should be set aside or belittled. But we also believe and teach that there are certain fundamental doctrines which are absolutely necessary to salvation and that all other doctrines in Holy Writ are in harmony with these fundamental truths. See 2 Tim. 3,16–17, and Deut. 4,2.
Among such fundamental doctrines we place, according to Scripture, the doctrine concerning Christ or justification. In Article XXVI of the Augsburg Confession we read: “the doctrine of grace is obscured by it (namely by the commandments of men), and also the righteousness of faith, which is the principal part of the gospel, and which it behooves most of all to stand forth and to have the pre-eminence in the church, that the merit of Christ may be well known, and faith, which believes that sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, may be exalted far above works.”
In 1 Cor. 2,2 we read: “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15,3.)
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3,11). “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3,24). “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3,28). “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of your- selves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2,8–10).
If any doctrine is taught, which in any way contradicts or detracts from the pure gospel of Christ crucified, and justification of a sinner before God out of pure grace for Jesus’ sake, then such doctrine is not of God and is not in harmony with the Bible.
D. The Lutheran Church believes and teaches that in matters not commanded and specified in Scripture we have the right according to our Christian liberty to decide for ourselves what is best to do. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5,1). “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2,16–17).
Article VII of the Augsburg Confession: “and unto the true unity of the Church, it is sufficient to agree concerning the doctrine of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by men should be alike everywhere; as St. Paul says: “There is one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” (Eph. 4,5.)
E. The True Lutheran Church demands of its members and teachers a confession of faith in harmony with the Bible and the Lutheran symbols, and rejects all fraternal and church fellowship with those who reject the teachings of the Lutheran church as a whole or in part.
“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, hut that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1,10). “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4,11). “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” (2 Joh. 9–11). “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16,17–18).
F. The Lutheran Church uses the Word of God and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacred means of grace through which the Holy Ghost keeps and extends the church on earth. “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into 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.” (Matt. 28,19–20.)
When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper he said: “Take eat; this is my body, which is given for you — this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins.”
In Acts 2,41–42 we hear of the first Christians: “Then they that gladly received His word were baptized: and the same clay there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
From these general principles and teachings of the Lutheran Church we know that the true Lutheran Church has been and is faithful and true to all the revealed word of God and, therefore, has all the essential marks of being the True Visible Church of God on Earth. And any church or individual that continues in the word of God and is guided solely by the Spirit of God in the word have the promise that they shall know the truth and belong to Christ.
This can not be said of any other known church body. However, this does not preclude that there may be and are individuals and unknown smaller groups which are faithful to the word of God in all their confessions and teachings and therefore also belong to the true visible church of God on earth. But this cannot be said of either the Roman Catholic Church or of the Reformed Protestant churches which all err in many of the above mentioned principles and teachings of the Bible.