1959 Synod Convention Essay
Man, in his search for knowledge, has uncovered some truly remarkable things. It been the privilege of most of us here to live in an age unprecedented in the annals of history. Truths in nature have been discovered that have brought about marvels that our fathers never even dream about for fear of being accused of virtual insanity. The development of steam power, of electricity, and now atomic power has been possible only by the unfolding and application of one truth in nature after another. Flight was limited to the fowl of the air less than a century ago, and now we have lived to witness not only super-sonic flight, but flight into outer space. Electronic developments have brought us not only the telegraph and the telephone, marvels of the last century, but radio, radar, and television, yes, even color television. Atomic power has been harnessed not only for instruments of destruction, but, and how thankful we should be for this, for useful and peaceful purposes as well.
Mankind is constantly searching for new truths in nature. Who would dare to say what our God will permit to be uncovered next and what its purpose will be? For all of these wonders in nature are subject to good and evil use. Our fervent prayer must be that God will keep these powers in the hands of responsible people for the welfare of all and prevent them from falling into the hands of irresponsible and selfish individuals who have no regard for the truth or the welfare of mankind.
That this progress should be made at a time in world history when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is also given course is not surprising. For the “academic freedom” to search for the truths of nature is an indirect result of that liberty which the Word of God brings. It is included in the “truth that makes us free” as John states, John 8,32: “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.” It is, of course, freedom from the curse and guilt of sin that our Lord Jesus means here. However, it is not wrong to think about this so-called “academic freedom” as a byproduct of the proclamation of the Gospel. What was it that hindered progress in years and centuries past, if it wasn’t the slavish fears and superstitions that bound men’s minds and souls?
Much of what we have seen develop in our generation is by many attributed to the discovery of the principle of relativity. In the “Adventures of Mind” series currently being published in the Saturday Evening Post, an article by James R. Newman, May 16, 1959, explained “Einstein’s Great Idea.” He writes: “Since the rise of science in the seventeenth century, only two other men, Newton and Darwin, have produced a comparable upheaval in thought.” We would have our grave doubts in according Darwin such a high position, although in scientific circles the statement would most likely remain true. “Einstein, as everyone knows, did something remarkable, but what exactly did he do? Even among educated men and women, few can answer. We are resigned to the importance of his theory but we do not comprehend it.” To quote just a bit more: “But relativity is radically new. It forces us to change deeply rooted habits of thought. It requires that we free ourselves from a provincial perspective. It demands that we relinquish convictions so long held that they are synonymous with common sense, that we abandon a picture of the world which seems as natural and as obvious as that the stars are overhead. It may be that in time Einstein’s ideas will seem easy; but our generation has the severe task of being the first to lay the old try the new. Anyone who seeks to understand the world of the twentieth century must make this effort.”
Now true science has no real argument with true religion. They both deal with the truth. But when we read headlines such as appeared in last Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal: “Soviet Union Old People Go To Church” and the reporter, a Mr. Robert Bjorklund who is currently touring Russia, quotes an inscription of a statement made by Lenin that says: “Science and religion are incompatible,” and reports: “On the streets you could meet persons like the 21 year old who practically sneered as she posed the question of how a person could believe in God in this atomic age;” then you can readily see the danger to the world, to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the Christian Church in the world when this type of searching for the truth is applied to things spiritual. For while we may admire and wonder at the results when but one little corner of the material truths that blanket our universe is lifted, as regards things spiritual natural man still remains in the dark; and what the Apostle Paul writes I Corinthians 2,14, remains true: “But 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.”
In reality this explains why Pontius Pilate — standing face to face with our Lord Jesus who in answer to his direct question, “Art thou a king then?” told him: “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice” — answered with the cynicism typical of the unbeliever: “What is truth?” Thus it is not hard to understand why the criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow says of the subject, truth: “None of us knows what the truth is. Truth is a chameleon. Just as you think you have sprinkled salt on its tail, it changes. We can never fully grasp it or settle it for all time.” (cf. Reader’s Digest, April 1959, p. 87).
But if such cynics wish to continue to grope in the dark and fail to recognize the Truth when it is revealed to them, they shall have to go their way.
Consider the contrast depicted by the poet Cowper who penned some of our well-beloved hymns as he contemplates this:
The Frenchman, first in literary fame,
(Mention him, if you please, Voltaire? The same,)
With spirit, genius, eloquence supplied,
Lived long, wrote much, laugh’d heartily and died;
The Scripture was his jest-book, whence he drew
Bon-mots to gall the Christian and the Jew;
An infidel in health, but what when sick?
Oh — then a text would touch him to the quick;
View him at Paris in his last career,
Surrounding throngs the demigod revere;
Exalted on his pedestal of pride,
And fumed with frankincense on every side,
He begs their flattery with his latest breath,
And smother’d in’t at last, is praised to death.
Yon cottager, who weaves at her own door,
Pillow and bobbins all her little store;
Content though mean, and cheerful if not gay,
Shuffling her threads about the livelong day,
Just earns a scanty pittance, and at night
Lies down secure, her heart and pocket light;
Has little understanding and no wit;
Receives no praise, but though her lot be such
(Toilsome and indigent,) she renders much;
Just knows and knows no more, her Bible true
A truth the brilliant Frenchman never knew;
And in that Charter reads, with sparkling eyes,
Her title to a treasure in the skies.”
“O happy peasant! O unhappy bard!” he goes on,
His the mere tinsel, hers the rich reward;
He praised perhaps for ages yet to come,
She never heard of half a mile from home:
He lost in errors his vain prefers,
She safe in the simplicity of hers.
How rich then the heritage that is ours to whom the Lord God has revealed His truth! Ours is no chameleon that changes with every new discovery in nature or whim of man. Ours is the truth of God, not just a corner of it, but all of it, full and free that brings blessing to all who will but accept and believe it. How highly our God regards it. He even identifies Himself with it Moses addresses Him as “a God of truth” Deut. 32,4; Jesus says of Himself, “I am the way, THE TRUTH, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me,” John 14,6. He tells us that the third person in the Godhead is the Spirit of Truth Who shall guide us into all truth, John 16,13. Thus we see He leads mankind into the truth that man cannot find of himself. He has set His truth as a touchstone for His Church.
What is a touchstone, you ask? The dictionary defines it as “a finegrained stone, as jasper, formerly used to test the fineness of gold by streak made by the metal on the stone.” The second definition given is “any standard of merit or value.” that we rightly understand our theme, “TRUTH, THE TOUCHSTONE OF THE CHURCH,” we mean by this simply that Truth, the Truth of God, is the standard of the Church by which we must judge the value of all things.
I. Truth Is Synonymous With the Word of God
Is there, really then, a standard by which we can know and be certain that what a church teaches is true or false? Contrary to the unionistic tendencies of our day which would minimize these matters, or regard them as mere misunderstandings or disputes about words, the truth is that we do have such an authority, such a touchstone. It is that standard through which our dear Lord Jesus in His high-priestly prayer prays His heavenly Father to make us holy. “Sanctify them through Thy truth, Thy word is truth.” John 17,17. Truth and the Word of God are then synonymous. They are one and the same thing.
One of the things that troubles many Christians is the many Church denominations. “Why are there so many Church denominations?” is a question asked in our Explanation. The answer is so simple yet so true that perhaps that is the reason many do not remember it and permit themselves to be unduly troubled. It is simply this: “There are so many Church denominations because not all Christians have remained true to the Word of God.” Yes, take this standard then, the Word of God, which is the truth, and apply it to the doctrines of the various denominations and you will soon see how true this is. The art of applying the Touchstone is called in theological terminology “Comparative Symbolics.” Actually we learned very early in our Explanation this fundamental truth when we learned the answer to the question: “How are we to use the Word of God as a light on our way?” “The Word of God is the only sure and perfect rule of our faith and life.” It is this because it is the Truth.
It was the discovery of this basic truth by the sainted Reformer Luther that restored the Bible to its rightful place in the Church. The far-reaching effect of that discovery is to this day a blessing in all the world. It sets our Lutheran Church in a class of its own. The Lutheran Church is the Bible Church. “The Holy Scriptures alone remain the only judge, rule, and standard, according to which, as the only test-stone, all dogmas shall and must be discerned and judged.” Formula of Concord. Ep. Sum. Con. 7.
The Catholic Churches supplement and supplant the authority of Scripture with the authority of the church. The liberal bodies have set up reason and science as the sole authority. Pleading the right of private judgment, they assume the right to reject so much of Scripture as does not accord with their sense of religion.
Our founding fathers adhered to the Scriptures, the touchstone of faith and life, implicitly. They were not fanatics. They were lovers of the TRUTH and all that that truth brings to this sin-cursed and sin-lost world. Thus when the first draft of the constitution was found to contain another seemingly harmless standard added to the source of doctrine that should guide the Norwegian Synod, namely the Grundtvigian error that the Apostle’s Creed was inspired and was to be regarded as “a Living Word” according to which the written word of Scripture must be interpreted, they rejected the same. When again in 1917 the two forms of the doctrine of election were placed on equal footing, and truth and error equated as in Article I of the Madison Agreement, our fathers showed their love for the truth, as being above every other consideration. Their confidence in the promises of God contained in that Book of Truth gave them the courage and zeal to reorganize and once again to build upon the old foundations. Thus we learn that this Truth, the Touchstone of the Church, reveals
II. The Lutheran Church as the True Visible Church on Earth.
In the measure that she uses the Truth of God as the only rule and norm of her faith and life, it is not idle boasting to make the above claim. She is not the universal Church, not the only saving Church, not the only Christian Church, but the true visible Church; that is to say, the Church of the pure Word and Sacraments. To quote “Popular Symbolics” (C.P.H. 1945, p. 6), “The invisible Church is built solely and exclusively upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2,20), and the visible Church may not forsake this foundation. The Christians, uniting for the common confession of their faith and the hearing and preaching of God’s Word must preach and confess the pure Word. It is the only form of the visible Church that conforms to God’s will. A union of any other kind is not countenanced by God. The disciples of Christ must continue in His Word (John 8,31), teach all things Christ has commanded them (Matt. 28,20), hold fast the form of sound words (II Tim. 1,13); et al. That is a true visible Church which ‘continues steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine’ (Acts 2,42). The Lutheran Church does so. Deriving all her doctrines from Scripture (formal principle) and coordinating them with the cardinal doctrine of Scripture, justification by faith (material principle), she confesses and teaches the full Christian truth. The life of the Lutheran Christians is far from perfect, but the DOCTRINE of the Lutheran Confessions is absolutely pure.”
III. Truth, the Touchstone of the Church is the Implacable Foe of Untruth
“Buy the truth and sell it not,” wrote Solomon in the Book of Proverbs. Satan, the father of lies has ever had as his chief goal the objective of seeking to rob man of the truth. He stoops to every trick in seeking to accomplish this, from creating doubt with his, “Yea hath God said?” to bold assertions: “Ye shall not surely die.” The history of God’s people is but the tale of the struggle of truth against falsehood. But truth and error, like oil and water do not mix. Truth cannot endure error. Error can. Hence the Church must ever be on its guard against all falsehood, whether from within or without. Scripture demands it. It is surprising how much the Scriptures have to say about the truth. The very first weapon Paul mentions in the “whole armour of God” which he exhorts the Christian to put on is “truth” — “Having your loins girded about with truth.” Isaiah describes the cause of Israel’s plight, the source of her iniquity in these words: “For truth is fallen in the street.” Our confessions are the story of the defense of this truth against all error. “The Church is originally a fellowship of faith and of the Holy Ghost in hearts, … which fellowship nevertheless has outward marks so that it can be recognized, the pure doctrine of the Gospel, and the administration of the Sacraments in accordance with the Gospel of Christ.” (Apology VII and VIII, 5).
“Church-fellowship without the fellowship of faith and confession is not expressive of the unity of the only holy Christian Church (Eph. 4,3–7), but a caricature of it, a sham. And it is a curse. Ignoring and condoning the error, it confirms the errorist in his delusion and blunts the unionist’s sense of truth. To belittle the denial of any truth is to belittle that very truth. And that breeds indifference to the whole body of truth (Gal. 5,9). The false teacher brings untold harm upon the Church, the unionist more.” (Pop. Sym., p. 17).
But in this point there is no lack of emphasis in our circles. It needs to be repeated again and again to be sure. Permit one further word from the pen of the venerable Dr. Walther who writes in is Epistle-postil, p. 77, “The unionistic bodies imperil the Church more than the worst sect; for the worst sect at least acknowledges that nothing but the pure doctrine ought to be preached in a Church; but unionism stands for the pernicious principle that man can never find and possess the pure truth and that, consequently, contending for the truth is wrong.” God preserve us from sinful unionism!
IV. With Truth as the Touchstone, the Church is not Only Polemic (Militant) But is Also Irenic (Peaceful), and Loves True Unity
We have the command of our Lord in Ephesians 4,3: Endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” There is a plan for healing the breach among churches. A God-pleasing plan. This plan does not gloss over error, but denounces it for what it is and presents the powerful truth of Scripture in the “not uncertain hope that … good and well-disposed men would be attracted by this renewed and repeated confession of ours.” (Book of Concord, Preface, Triglotta, pp. 11. 19).
Dr. Walther wrote (Lehre and Wehre, 14, 109): “The time for breaking off fraternal relations with those also who err in nonfundamental doctrines arrives then only when they stubbornly refuse to accept the convincing testimony of Scripture.” The whole purpose of the Formula of Concord was to iron out such serious difficulties as had arisen in the Church especially among the Lutherans after the death of Luther. We need to remember that “God, the discerner of all men’s hearts, is our witness that we do not delight and have no joy in this awful disunion.” (Conclusion of the Apology. Triglotta, p. 451 ). Our confessions also state: “We are prepared to confer amiably concerning all possible ways and means, in order that we may come together.” (A.C. Pref. 10. Formula of Concord. Thorough Declaration XI, 96).
The aim of war is peace. “Every simple Christian … can perceive what is right or wrong” when “not only the pure doctrine has been stated, but also the erroneous contrary doctrine has been repudiated and rejected, and thus the offensive divisions that have occurred are thoroughly settled.” (Form. of Con., Epitome. XI, 22).
Is not this purpose of the truth expressly stated by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians when he states: “And he gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Eph. 4,11–17.
And so we must also remember that
V. Truth, the Touchstone of the Church, is Not Only a Defensive Weapon, But Also an Offensive Weapon and Tool by Which We Build the Kingdom of God.
The prophet Zechariah through whom the Lord spoke and gave some of the most comforting promises encouraged Israel with these words that are in reality a picture of the New Testament Church (Ch. 8, v. 3–8): “Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for every age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvelous in Mine eyes? saith the Lord of hosts. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold I will save My people from the east country, and from the west country; And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.”
Through whom will He bring them, if not through those who possess this truth? You and me. What a joyful, inspiring task is ours! How beautifully the Lord sets forth this task of building through the example of Israel on her return to the promised land after the Babylonian captivity. With ridicule and the army of Samaria, Sanballat sought to prevent them from rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. But Nehemiah writes: “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his and so builded.” Nehemiah 4,17.18.
Let us then continue to fight with the sword of the Spirit, the eternal Word of Truth, but let us also build with that same Word of Truth which is “the power of God unto salvation unto everyone that believeth.” This is that very truth by which God operates on the stony hearts of men and gives them hearts of flesh. Perhaps we could think of the Truth of God in that sense, too. Mightier than the atomic power of our age is the power God has given into our hands in this Truth. “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” John 1,17. It is this truth that blesses. It is ours to give to all the world.
What a challenge to everyone of us here. To everyone at home. To our beloved Synod. May our contemplation of this most glorious possession inspire us to ever greater heights in spreading it from age to age. For sake. Amen.