In Christ Jesus dearly beloved Fathers and Brethren:
The union of our congregations into a Synod has a most exalted and important purpose, namely, the up-building of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Synodical Constitution states, among other things, that the Synod shall guard over the purity and unity of doctrine in its midst as well as over the proper development of Christian life, shall establish and maintain Christian schools for the training of orthodox pastors and teachers, further the cause of missions both at home and abroad, and promote the use of the Scriptures and other orthodox Christian literature (Chapter IV). And all this has as its purpose that stated above—the up-building of the Kingdom of God on earth.
How extremely important this work of our congregations, pastors. teachers and Christians is! The Kingdom of God is very dear to the Lord. On account of it Christ died; for its up-building the Holy Ghost was outpoured and the Apostles were sent into all the world to preach the Gospel. On account of His Kingdom God gives special gifts to men with which to labor for its up-building; and for the sake of the Kingdom the world still stands. In keeping with His will of universal grace God wants to gather all men into His Kingdom, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of saints. We are members of the Church by faith in Christ. In the Church, God richly endows us with His treasures of grace. In comparison, with these treasures, all the treasures of the earth are as nothing. The Church is dear, not only to the Lord, but also to us, and its up-building is the real purpose of our life. To this work we dedicate all our possessions, yea, our body and life.
But, do we not call ourselves after the name of a man- Lutherans? Do we not acknowledge adherence to the Lutheran Church, and thus declare ourselves separate from other ecclesiastical denominations? Yes, we do, and we count it a special grace of God that we are privileged to be members of the Lutheran Church. Before the whole world, we declare it to be our purpose to build no other Church than this. For when we labor to build the true Lutheran Church, we are building the Christian Church. We have not chosen to be called by the name of a man — Luther. Our opponents have given us this name. We would rather be called simply Christians, evangelical Christians. We do not labor for the building of a schismatic party in the Church, but for the building of the Church itself. Let us hear Luther in this matter. He says: “I ask that they would not mention my name and call themselves Lutherans, but be called Christians. What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine. And I am not crucified for anyone. St. Paul, in 1 Cor. 3, 4.5, would not tolerate that the Christians called themselves after Paul or Apollos, but after Christ. How has it come about, then, they should call the children of the Lord by my unsalutary name? Let it not be so, dear friends, but let us purge out the party names, and be called Christians, according to the doctrine which we have. The papists rightfully have a party name, because they are not content with Christ’s doctrine and name, but would also be of the pope, who is their master. I am not, and will not be, the master of anyone. I have, together with the Church, the one common doctrine of Christ who alone is our Master. Matt. 23, 8.”
Our Church is not one that was established by Luther; but it is as old as the Apostolic Church, yea, as old as the world, though it has the name “Lutheran” only since Luther’s day. For our Lutheran Church teaches no new doctrine but the old Gospel of salvation through Christ. It was Luther, indeed, who, under God, put the light of the Gospel back in its place in the Church. And we call ourselves after him, not because we believe in him, but because we believe the Word of God together with him, and want to belong to the old Apostolic Church and to the Church which has been since the beginning. Luther emphatically disclaimed having invented any new doctrine.
And that our Lutheran Church has never regarded Luther as one who could establish for us any point of doctrine is evident from our Lutheran Confessions, where it is stated at the very beginning of the Formula of Concord: “We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with all teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone, as it is written Ps. 119, 105: ‘Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.’ And St. Paul: ‘Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed,’ Gal. 1, 8. Other writings, however, of ancient or modern teachers, whatever name they bear, must not be regarded as equal to the Holy Scriptures, but all of them together he subjected to them, and should not be received otherwise or further than as witnesses which are to show in what manner, after the time of the apostles, and at what places, this pure doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved.” Trig. p. 777.
The Lutheran Church constantly asks, “What is written? How readest thou ?” Therefore, she has the means by which the Church is built, which is the Word of our God. Isa. 55, 10.11.
And we are not ashamed of the name “Lutheran”, for here it is a matter of confessing truth over against error. Let us hear how Luther writes of this matter: “I see that admonition is necessary unto those whom Satan now begins to persecute, among whom there are some who think they would escape danger when they are attacked, by saying: ‘I do not hold with Luther, nor with anyone, but with the holy Gospel and with the holy or Roman Church’. Then they are left in peace and nevertheless maintain that they hold in their heart that my doctrine is evangelical and that they continue in it. Verily, such confession does not help and is as much as a denial of Christ. Therefore, I ask that these should take care. It is true that you should not say, I am of Luther, or of the pope; because neither of these died for you nor is your master, but Christ alone is your Master. Therefore, call yourselves Christians. But if you consider that Luther’s doctrine is evangelical and the pope’s unevangelical, then you must not reject Luther so entirely; otherwise you will also reject his doctrine which you regard as Christ’s doctrine. But thus you must speak: ‘Whether Luther is a sinner or a saint does not enter into consideration here; but his doctrine is not his, but Christ’s.’ For, you see that the tyrants are not out to slay Luther only, but they want to root out the doctrine; and on account of the doctrine they come to you and ask if you are Lutheran. Here indeed you must not be like a wavering reed, but freely confess Christ, no matter whether Luther; Claus or George has preached Him. Let the person go, but confess the doctrine. Thus Paul also writes to Timothy, 2 Epistle 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.’ If it had been enough for Timothy that he confessed the Gospel, Paul would not have commanded him that he should not be ashamed of him. Paul does not mean to exalt himself, but the Gospel on account, of which he was a prisoner. If Timothy now had said, ‘I do not hold with Paul nor with Peter, but with Christ, and he yet knew that Peter and Paul preached Christ, he would thereby have denied Christ Himself. For Christ says concerning those who preach Him, ‘He that heareth you heareth Me; and he that despiseth you despiseth Me.’ Luke 10,16. As they regard Jesus’ messenger, so do they also regard Him and His Word.” St. L., XX, 90.
May God grant us that we, for the truth’s sake, dearly love the name of our Church — the Lutheran Church.
And so, when we labor for the up-building of the Lutheran Church, we have a confident heart. Since we teach the doctrine of the prophets and apostles, we work at a work that has glorious promises connected with it; for when we abide with God’s Word, the fruit cannot fail, as God has promised.
While we thus do our work with a confident heart, yet we must confess that it is a difficult work. For, the devil is the enemy of the confession of the truth, and there are also opponents here on earth, even among those who go by the name of Lutheran. There are those who are even regarded as pillars in the Lutheran Church, who labor at, the undoing of the Lutheran Church. All is not Lutheran that goes by that name. Sound Lutheran doctrine and practice is hated even by some who are Lutheran in name.
And people who may not be well informed as to what, real Scriptural and Lutheran doctrine and practice are may easily be misled by a false Lutheranism that does not uphold Scriptural principles, but has sacrificed them on the altar of popularity and the gaining of a large outward following. This maybe counted success by the world; but before God it is failure.
Last year, we were instructed through the essay, “What Stands Between ?” concerning deviation from truth as it is found in the midst of Lutheranism. This year, one of our essays will fortify us against one of the most insidious attacks which the enemy is making today on the confession of the truth, when he tries to deceive orthodox Lutherans into common church work with heterodox Lutherans under the innocent name of “Cooperation in Externals.” May we be well informed concerning what real Lutheran doctrine and practice are! We shall also be instructed this year at our Convention concerning the important subject of “The Royal Priesthood of Believers.” God grant us His Spirit and blessing in all our deliberations and employ us in the up-building of His Kingdom on earth! Amen.