Dear Fathers and Brethren in Christ:
Grace be unto you and peace from God, our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner Stone.” So says the Holy Ghost, Eph. 2,20. By the apostles and prophets is meant the holy Scriptures, the Word of God, both New and Old Testaments, The apostles and prophets, through their writings, inspired by God, are the infallible teachers of Christendom until the end of time.
The Church is brought into being by the Word of the apostles and prophets. This Word also includes the Sacrament or Holy Baptism, which, as the apostles teach, is the washing of regeneration by which men are justified and saved in that it brings unto them the forgiveness of sins won for them by Christ Jesus has ordered it so that disciples shall be made of all nations by baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost and by teaching them to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded.
Likewise, the church is sustained and kept by the Word of the apostles and prophets. And this includes also the Sacrament of the Altar which is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.
The Church is built upon the Word of God. Remove the Word and the Church falls.
This foundation of the apostles and prophets includes the Cornerstone which is Christ. He is the center of the whole Scriptures. He is the One to whom the Old Testament Scriptures point forward and the New Testament. Scriptures point back as the Rock of our salvation and the hope of mankind against sin, death and hell. “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” Acts 10,43. And the Apostle Paul preached at Antioch in Pisidia, saying: “Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Acts 13, 38.39. The Gospel preaches unto us peace, peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says that Christ came and preached peace both to Gentile and Jew. There is peace with God for all through the redemption which He procured for all.
To be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, then, means to be built upon Christ. It means to trust in the grace of God alone for salvation.
The Church cannot be built nor can it be sustained by any doctrine that is not that of the apostles and prophets.
Is it not an error commonly heard among people that “It doesn’t make any difference what one believes, just so one is sincere in what he believes”? And again: “Aren’t all working toward the same place anyhow”?
These errors are contradicted by the word that tells us the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Cornerstone. To be saved one must be a member of the Church, the Communion of saints. Now, it is not just any and every faith that makes one a member of the church, but the faith taught by the apostles and prophets, the faith in Jesus Christ. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must he saved.” Acts 4,12.
And as regards the saying that all are working toward the same place, it may be true indeed that there are many who have the expectation of coming to heaven and mean it very sincerely that they are moving toward heaven. But there are many who deceive themselves in thinking they are on the way to heaven when they are not. Jesus says: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the mast of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and He shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are.. Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence, and Thou has taught in our streets. But He shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” Luke 13,24–28. There is only one way unto heaven, and that way is Christ. Those who do not go that way will not reach heaven, though they may think they will. A person may be ever so sincere in his desire to reach Minneapolis when he travels out of Mankato; but unless he goes the right direction he will not reach there, If a certain party is driving south-west out of Mankato, and upon asking him where he is going, you receive the reply that he is going to Minneapolis would you not tell him: “You will never reach Minneapolis going in this direction; you must turn around and go the other way?” A thing as simple as this is clearly understood when it is of earthly things; but when spiritual things are under consideration, then any way is supposed to be the way to heaven. God speaks differently.
And this same Word of the apostles and prophets warns us against common worship and spiritual work together with those who depart from the word in any point. God’s Word forbids unionism. Here Romans 16,17, and many other passages might be quoted.
Therefore, we understand that we are not to belong to a church body that confesses false doctrine, or allows error an equal place alongside of the truth. It should also be easy for us to see that such a thing as a baccalaureate service for a public school is not right. On the one hand, it is a unionistic affair. The pastors and people who are to take part are of various faiths, and yet they are to unite in common worship, And all the other hand, it is mixing church and state, which neither the Word of God nor the Constitution of the U. S. countenances. Religion is not to be brought into state affairs. One of our precious American principles is that of separation of church and state. No civic organization should have any religious test for membership.
Since it is faith in Christ that makes one a member of the church, we see that the church is a fellowship in Christ. And this faith is an invisible thing. Therefore, the true church is invisible. We know where the church is found, namely, where the Word and Sacraments are preached and administered. But who they are at that place, who from the heart believe in Christ, we cannot tell. Each one should know concerning himself whether he repents and believes, but he cannot know concerning the other person. The only thing we can go by is the confession that is made and the kind of life that is lived.
There is only one church. All the believers have one Lord, one faith, one hope, and together make one spiritual body with Christ as the head.
And there is no salvation outside of the one holy Christian Church. It cannot be said of any visible organization or church denomination that there is no salvation outside of it. But it is true concerning the invisible church. Our Lutheran Church by no means teaches, as some falsely assert that we teach, that there is no salvation outside of the Lutheran Church. But our Lutheran Church does teach that outside of faith in Jesus Christ there is no salvation. We believe that there are children of God wherever the Word of God has been preached so that men may come to a knowledge of their sins and to faith in Christ as the only Savior from sin.
And the Church possesses glory. “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. This glory belongs to the Church already now by reason of the forgiveness of sins, And this glory, not evident in this life, will become evident on that great day when the Church shall stand before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, singing their hymn of victory, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” Rev. 7,10.
Despised and scorned, they sojourned here;
But now, how glorious they appear!
Those martyrs stand, a priestly band,
God’s throne forever near.
So oft, in troubled days gone by,
In anguish they would weep and sigh.
At home above the God of love
For aye their tears shall dry.
They now enjoy their Sabbath rest,
The paschal banquet of the blest;
The Lamb, their Lord, at festal board
Himself is host and guest.
O fathers, brethren and friends in the Norwegian Synod, may we continue to build upon the foundation of the apostles and. prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner Stone. Unto Him be glory in the Church now and forever more. Amen.