Article VIII. The Church as It Is




“Although the Church is properly a congregation of saints and true believers; yet, as in this life, many hypocrites and wicked men are mingled with them, it is lawful for us also to receive the sacraments, though administered by bad men, agreeably to the declaration of our Saviour, that ‘the Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,’ &c. And on account of the appointment and command of Christ, both the word and the sacraments are efficacious, even when administered by wicked men.”

“They condemn the Donatists and such like, who denied that it is lawful to make use of the ministry of wicked men in the Church, and who hold that the ministry of such is useless and without efficacy.”

To a correct understanding of the specific parts of any document, it is necessary to examine the occasion of its origin as a whole, and as to its several parts, and also its design, its contextual relations and its subject-matter. We will introduce specifically, how-ever, only two of these topics: whatever of the others is necessary to our object, will be introduced in connection with these.

The Contextual Relations Of The Augsburg Confession As A Whole, To The Seventh And Eighth Articles. 

From a careful examination of Arts. I, II, III, IV and XX; V and XVIII; IX, X, XII, XX and XXIV; VII and XII; XIV and XXVIII; and XXV, of the Confession, we have the following relation of dogmas — The Triune God, as creator and preserver of all things; man fallen, exposed to the eternal wrath of God; deliverance from this wrath, by the new birth; this new birth, wrought by the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit, operating through the means of grace; the means of grace, efficacious only through faith in Christ; this faith, produced by the use of the means of grace; these means of grace, intrusted to the guardianship of the Church; and the Church, exercising this guardianship through her ministry.

We may sum up this relation of dogmas still more briefly, thus — God, the agent in man’s salvation; man fallen, the subject of salvation; the word of God and the sacraments, the means of salvation; the Church, the instrumentality through which God renders these means efficacious to man’s salvation. In short, the Church is God’s chosen instrumentality through which alone he designs to render efficacious the means which he has ordained for man’s salvation. A divine revelation, with all its divinely appointed institutions, would avail little towards securing our salvation, unless they resulted in the organization of the Church; and then, not unless intrusted to the Church for self-improvement, for safe-keeping, for faithful administration, and for pure transmission.

Returning now to our relation of dogmas, we remark, that the last two are implied in the language of the Seventh and Eighth Articles, namely — “Among whom the gospel is preached in its purity, and the holy sacraments are administered, according to the gospel;” and “the sacraments and word are efficacious, on account of the institution and command of Christ, although they are administered by wicked men.”

The Special Design of the Seventh and Eighth Articles. 

In the New Testament we find two classes of texts descriptive of the Church, sometimes apparently in conflict with each other, and yet constituting a harmonious whole — the one being ideal, and embodying the elements of her essential nature, the other being empirical, and embodying the phenomena manifested in her progressive development. Of the former, we have Eph. v. 25-27, and i Thess. V. 23, 24. According to these texts, Christ gave himself for the Church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it, and 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; and St. Paul prays for the members of the Church, that God might sanctify them wholly, and that their whole spirit, and soul, and body, might be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of the latter, we have i Cor. i. 2, and iii. 1-23, and v. 1-13; Gal. i. 2, and i. 6, 7, and iii. 1-29. In these texts St. Paul represents the members of the Church at Corinth as being not spiritual but carnal, and babes in Christ, as not being able to bear strong meat, as tolerating among them envying, and strife, and divisions, and even fornication; and those of the churches of Galatia, as having already renounced the grace of Christ for another gospel, and as being bewitched so as not to obey the truth.

The adoption of either of these descriptions exclusive of the other, would give a very one-sided conception of the Church, and necessarily lead to many and fatal errors. Indeed, this would be the result, even when the two descriptions were not properly understood in their inseparable relations to one another. The exclusive adoption of the ideal must lead to the Donatistic fanaticism, or to indifference for all church organizations, whilst the empirical alone would encourage corruption and formalism.

The historico-empirical existence of the Church as an external, visible manifestation, and thus distinguished from its essential ideal, was the Roman Catholic conception of the Church. With this historico-empirical conception was soon connected the opinion that the unity of the Church was represented in the bishops, and that without submission to them no one could belong to this unity, or one Catholic Church. Upon this, again, was engrafted the supremacy of the bishops of Rome, and, finally, the supremacy of the Pope over all bishops, over all Councils and powers, spiritual and secular. Thus the Church was held to be the congregation of the faithful throughout the whole world, united under one invisible Head, Jesus Christ, but also under one visible head, the vicar of Christ, the pope of Rome. The visible head was then held as having full power to ordain laws, regulate all forms of worship, sit in judgment on the word of God, etc. Again, their idea of the faithful is absolute, implicit submission to the pope in all things; and that those who do not thus submit do not belong to the one universal Church.

This is strongly expressed in Bellarmine’s treatise on the Church: “We hold that the Church is only one, not two, and that this one and true Church is the body of men which is bound together by the profession of the same faith and the communion of the same sacraments, under the government of legitimate pastors, and especially of the one vicar of Christ upon earth, the Roman pontiff From this definition, it is easy to determine who belong to the Church, and who do not.”

After stating that this definition consists of three parts, and also what persons are excluded by the first and second, he adds: “By the third are excluded schismatics who have faith and the sacraments, but are not subject to the legitimate pastor, and who, therefore, profess faith and partake of the sacraments outside of the Church. But all others are included in this definition, although they are reprobates, wicked, and ungodly.”

Holding this conception of the Church, the Catholics denied the Reformers the right to be called a Church, because, in their opinion, they had separated themselves as a party from the bosom of the universal Church, and had thus departed from the idea of the Church as it was developed in her progressive history. To this exclusive empirical conception of the Church, the Reformers objected; and to show the injustice of this refusal, and to maintain their right to be called a Church, they took hold of the essential principle as found in the New Testament, and embodied in the Apostles’ Creed, namely, “the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints.” This they set forth in Article VII. of the Augsburg Confession. It opposes the Romish error, that the Church is only visible under the one vicar of Christ, the pope of Rome. It gives a definition of the ideal Church, the ecclesia stricte dicta: that is, as Christ her Head and his apostles delineated her and designed she should be in her complete development — a congregation of believers and saints, of holy persons, made such by faith, and who hold and dispense a pure gospel and pure sacraments, and who are all bound together in one inseparable communion throughout the world, and through all time, by this gospel and these sacraments, and not by the same ordinances of human appointment. But an organized society consisting exclusively of saints, has never existed in the world. The definition of the Church in the Seventh Article, so far as it relates to its essential element, does not, therefore, describe the Church as she has been at any time as an organized society, but what she is in her inner, essential nature, and what she must aim to become in her complete development. In short: it is the New Testament ideal of the Church — the inner essence and the outer manifestation in its organized form, in harmony with one another.

That the Confessors thus used the term. “Congregatio sanctorum” is evident from the fact, that in the German copy of the Confession they employ the phraseology, “die Versammlung allcr Glaubigen” and also, from the use of both terms, saints and believers, in both the German and Latin texts of the Eighth Article, and from their accompanying adjuncts, namely, “although the Church is properly nothing else than the congregation of saints and true believers, yet, since in this life there are many hypocrites and wicked persons mixed with them,” etc.

This definition of the Church in the Seventh Article, taken strictly, as consisting only of saints and true believers, would consequently exclude all religious societies from the Church, even the Confessors themselves. Therefore, to avoid a one-sidedness on their part, with its concomitant errors, and to show more fully also that they speak here of the ecclesia stricte dicta, or the ideal Church, and that they have a broader conception of the Church in her progressive development, they give us in the Eighth Article an empirical description of the Church — ecclesia late dicta. 

Our further discussion will be embraced in the following theses:

I. Thesis.

The Church consists Properly of True Believers or Saints; and as such is also an External, Visible Organization. 

The Augustana employ’s the terms, saints and believers, as equivalent. In Art. VII., the German text employs the term believers, whilst in the Latin, we have saints. In Art. VUL, the two terms are used in both texts.

Saints and believers imply each other, for saints are such by a true faith. This faith first procures our justification, and, secondly, through it, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The Holy Spirit, then, makes us saints through the medium of our faith. These saints, made such by the Holy Spirit, operating and communicating divine light and life through the word as the objective means, and through faith as the subjective means, are the living members of the true Church — they constitute the true Church in her inner essence — and as such, they are the congregation of saints or true believers. As these are scattered throughout the world, they constitute the Church Catholic. This Catholic Church is, again, “the communion of saints,” because all true saints stand in fellowship with Christ and one another. This Catholic Church, as the communion of saints, is also called the body of Christ, because it is united to Christ and receives spiritual life from him as its Head. It is once more designated the kingdom of Christ, and the kingdom of God, because the Church is the kingdom of God established by Christ on earth, and also, because Christ rules it by his word, and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is properly the true Church, in her internal, spiritual, invisible essence. In the Apology, it is described in the following language. The Church is a spiritual people, the true people of God, enlightened in their hearts, and born anew by the Holy Spirit. It consists mainly in the internal communion of heavenly gifts in the heart, as the Holy Spirit, faith, and the fear and love of God. It is the kingdom of Christ distinguished from the kingdom of Satan. Those in whom Christ effects nothing by his Spirit, are not members of the Church. The Church consists of all those, throughout the world, who truly know Christ and the gospel, who have the Holy Spirit, and who properly confess the truth.

But whilst this internal, spiritual essence properly constitutes the Church, and whilst, as such, it would be not merely invisible, but wholly supersensuous, it has, nevertheless, also an outer and sensuous side, a visible organization.

The following language in which the Apology refers to the Church, recognizes its external, visible organization. It is an outward government — the ungodly and hypocrites have fellowship with the true Church in external signs of name and office — the ungodly are in this life among true Christians, and in the Church as teachers and other officers.

Luther’s criteria of the Church also recognize its visible organization. These are the word of God and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, expounded, believed and observed; the exercise of the office of the keys; the calling and consecration of church officers, and the service of public worship.

Again: although the Seventh and Eighth Articles of the Confession present the inner, spiritual side, as the fundamental constituent of the Church, they, nevertheless, both also recognize her visible organization; for the Church has the gospel preached and the sacraments administered, and also observes ceremonies instituted by men.

The Roman Catholic Church starts with the outer, visible organization, and which she regards as the essence of the Church, to find her inner complement; the Lutheran, on the contrary, starts with the inner essence, and from it develops the outer organization.

That the Lutheran view, as set over against the Roman Catholic, is correct, may be thus argued. The Lutheran view harmonizes with all the works of God. The present universe was not first, and then from it the development of first principles; but the contrary. In the elementary atoms constituting the elementary substances which compose all bodies, we find the laws requisite and adequate to the development of the present order of things. Besides, in this development, the process always was from lower to higher forms, orders and faculties, commencing with inorganic matter and proceeding up through the vegetable and animal kingdoms, and all finally destined, as one coherent universe, to contribute to the elevation of man to his high moral destiny. Thus has God brought forth the earth and its inhabitants by commencing with elementary principles. The full-grown tree is not first — it is developed from a seed, which also contains its elementary and essential principles. The same is true of all nature. God’s procedure in regard to the Church is the same. Our first parents were the first church, constituted such after the fall, by faith in the gospel — the gospel in its true essence — promulgated by God himself in the first promise of the world’s Redeemer, the Destroyer of sin and Satan. There already, we see fallen man; there was the gospel; there was the Redeemer; there was faith; there was pardon; and there was the Church, in its essential essence first, and afterwards its external organization was gradually developed and completed.

II. Thesis. 

The Church, therefore, consists essentially and necessarily of Two Inseparable Constituents — the inner, spiritual, invisible Essence and the outer, visible Organisation, as her Empirical Development. 

The inner essence, as seen in thesis first, is the soul regenerated by the Holy Spirit through the truth, apprehended by faith, and thus brought into cheerful submission and willing obedience to Christ, and animated by the precious hopes of the gospel. This essence is spiritual, because it is seated in our rational and spiritual nature, and is begotten and nourished by spiritual agencies. It is invisible, not in its outward manifestation, but in its spiritual essence.

The outer manifestation is the organization of those who possess the inner, spiritual essence, into a society for the attainment of their mutual edification, and for their harmonious and efficient co-operation for the world’s conversion. It is visible because of its formal organization and its employment of sensible means for the attainment of its ends; and herein it must have a progressive development.

This constitutes its empirical character.

These two, the inner and the outer, are inseparable constituents. Hagenbach remarks: “As every manifestation which is the result of a life-power, has two sides, so also has the Church her outer or bodily, and her inner or spiritual side, and which cannot be separated from one another; nevertheless, up to a certain point these may be considered separately, and with the greater attention.” This same inner side, according to Luthardt, as the true, hidden Church, constitutes the germ of all individual, visible churches; and, again, the visible Church is the dispenser of the means of grace, is a necessary part of the Church on earth; and in it alone can we find and comprehend the Church in her essential nature. Again he says: the Church, including her two sides, is neither alone visible nor invisible, but is both at the same time.

Hollaz, speaking of the relation of the visible to the invisible Church, says; “We do not maintain that the visible and the invisible Church are two churches of different species, or of contrary opposition, but we call the visible and the invisible one and the same Church in different respects: visible, in respect of the called; invisible, in respect of the renewed — which must be regarded as different modes, neither constituting different species, nor causing contrary opposition, because the invisible body of the renewed are included in the visible body of the called.”

Guericke, on this point, says: “Hence the Church, in Luther’s Confession of Faith, is called the spiritual body of Christ. This spiritual essence, however, must, in order to view the complete Church, reveal itself in an outward, bodily form, in a common confession of faith, verbal and sacramental. ”

Melanchthon, in his Loci, says: “As often as we think of the Church, we contemplate the assembly of those who have been called, which is the visible church; nor do we dream that any of the elect are elsewhere than in this visible church, for God will not be invoked nor acknowledged otherwise than as he reveals himself, nor does he reveal himself, except in the visible church, in which alone the voice of the Gospel sounds, nor do we feign another church, invisible and silent.”

The truth is — all who constitute the inner, invisible essence of the Church, also constitute her true external complement, or organized congregation; and as thus organized, the Church can not be otherwise than visible.

That the Church consists necessarily of these two inseparable elements, may be argued from the means of her production and edification, and from her design. The former are the word of God, including the sacraments, and its whole system of doctrines, duties, and government, and faith uniting to Christ, and working by love. The former has been, and could be, received, guarded, faithfully transmitted, and properly administered, only by truly regenerated souls, and by them, only in an associated and organized capacity. The system of doctrines, etc., especially when considered in connection with the design of the Church, again, constrains all truly regenerated souls to consecrate themselves in organized co-operation with each other, for their mutual edification and for the world’s conversion. Here, then, we have the Church, consisting necessarily and essentially of her two inseparable elements — the inner and the outer, the invisible and the visible.

III. Thesis. 

The Church is the only Trustee and Steward of the Means of Grace. 

The Church has originally received the means of grace, and to her they have been intrusted as a sacred deposit for safe-keeping; and in this sense, she is, as forcibly expressed in German, “die Innhaberinn der Gnadenmittel.” Again: She is bound to dispense these means for the edification of all her members, and for the conversion of the outside world, and also to transmit them unadulterated to all coming ages. To express this, German theologians aptly employ, “die Tragerinn der Gnademnitted.”

To cover the ground of both these German technicalities, I employ, in this thesis, the terms Trustee and Steward.

Both the Seventh and Eighth Articles imply this thesis, in the words — “among whom the gospel is preached in its purity,” etc.; and also, “both the word and the sacraments are efficacious,” etc.

As the trustee and steward of the means of grace, the Church is, therefore, an institution, to receive, appropriate, guard, dispense, and transmit these means. If all this can be accomplished outside and independently of the Church, then was her Founder mistaken in regard to the necessity of her organization and perpetuity. The Church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.”

Luther, in his Larger Catechism, (Art. III., Apostles’ Creed,) teaches that the following things can be attained only in and through the Church — the operations of the Holy Spirit, as regeneration and sanctification, the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life; and that without the Church there can be no knowledge of Jesus, no forgiveness of sins, no works of grace by the Holy Spirit, but that man is under the dominion of the devil, and that, although he may have some knowledge of God, he can not obtain eternal life. He says: “The Holy Spirit accomplishes this sanctification through the following means, namely, the communion of saints, or the Christian Church, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life.” Again: “The Holy Ghost exerts his agency without intermission, until the last day, and for this purpose he has ordained a community or church upon earth, through which he speaks and performs all things.” “For before we had obtained this” — namely, membership in the Christian Church — “we were entirely the subjects of Satan, as those who knew nothing of God and Christ. Thus, until the last day. the Holy Ghost will remain, with this holy community or Christian Church, through which he persuades us, and which he uses for the purpose of promulgating and exercising the word.” “Out of the Christian Church, however, where the gospel does not exert its influence, there is no forgiveness of sin, and consequently there can be no holiness.”

The connection of the several parts of the third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, also implies the same thing. The Holy Ghost, as the author of the Church, occupies the first place; then follows the Church; to which succeeds the forgiveness of sins; thus indicating that through the agency of the Holy Spirit in the Church, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins. To the Church, then, and to her alone, are committed and intrusted, from Christ her Head, for safe-keeping, for efficient administration, and for faithful transmission to the end of time, the word, the sacraments, and the ministry. In other words: the Church is the only Innhaberinn and Tragerinn of the means of grace. Independent of the Church, there can be no means of grace, and, ordinarily, no operations of the Holy Spirit, no saving faith, no salvation.

From this thesis, arises the importance and duty of being in fellowship with the Church.

Since the Church is the only trustee and steward of the means of grace, and since the Holy Spirit works saving faith only through these means, it must follow, that alone through the instrumentality of the Church, can man be saved, Rom. x. 13-17. If any additional argument is necessary to establish this point, we will merely suppose that the Church with her means of grace, and with the knowledge of religious truth which she has diffused among the nations of the earth, and also the accompanying influence of the Holy Spirit, were all removed from the world, and then put the question, how now can anyone be saved? The world would be thrown back into heathendom, and left to the mere light of nature, without even the traditionary knowledge of the existence of God, coming from necessity originally only through a divine revelation. To suppose man capable of being saved independently of the Church, would be the same as to suppose him capable of salvation without a positive revelation of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, and without a saving faith wrought by the Holy Spirit. But union with Christ through faith is necessary to salvation. Acts iv. 12, and x. 43; Jno. xv. I. If, then, man cannot be saved independently of the Church’s instrumentality, can he be, outside of the Church?

There is a two-fold union with the Church — first, an inner soul-union, and which consists in being in fellowship with Christ by faith, and in a sincere choice and purpose of making a formal connection with the organized congregation of believers; and, secondly, an actual formal connection with the Church, through baptism, including a public profession of faith in Christ.

It is evident, that if saved without union with the Church by the first mode of connection, it Would be salvation without Christ, which is impossible. But as union with the Church by this mode includes a sincere choice and purpose of an actual formal connection with the organized congregation of believers, it is again evident that whoever refuses to form such a union, where it is possible, can not be in the Church even by the first mode of connection — that is, whoever, of his own choice, refuses to unite with the Church in her visible organization, cannot belong to her invisible and essential communion. Again: whoever voluntarily disregards an institution of Christ, or voluntarily disobeys any of his commands, cannot be in communion with him by faith; both of which are done by him who voluntarily refuses to unite with the congregation of God’s people, or the Church. It follows, then, that whoever is out of the visible Church from choice, does not belong to Christ, and therefore can not be saved. In the Church by the first mode of union, whilst one is outside of her by the second mode, can avail for our salvation only so long as the latter is impossible. It is thus evident how we must understand the phrase, “out of the Church there is no salvation.”

Whilst it is true that whoever is in union with Christ by faith, is in a state of justification, and therefore entitled to salvation, it is nevertheless equally true, that whoever voluntarily refuses connection with the Church’s visible organization, or whoever having once formed such connection, and again voluntarily dissolves it, does by such deliberate act of disobedience to Christ, make his justification and consequent salvation, impossible.

But there are other reasons besides our personal salvation, that show the importance and duty of being in fellowship with the visible Church. The mutual edification of believers depends on a visible church-organization. The gifts and graces of all are necessary to the fullest development of each. To show the importance of this mutual edification, St. Paul devotes to its elucidation no less than three chapters in his first epistle to the Corinthians, chaps. 12-14. I will give but two brief quotations. “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” “For ye may all prophesy, one by one, that all may learn, and that all may be comforted.” Christ says: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” To the Hebrews, St. Paul writes: “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhort one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching.”

The duty of bringing the outside world to a saving knowledge of Christ shows the importance of all believers being in union with the visible Church. We have been bought with the precious blood of the Son of God; therefore we are not our own, but are under the strongest possible obligations to devote ourselves to his service in such a way as will put us in a condition to accomplish the greatest amount of good. Our influence for Christ can be exerted to its fullest extent, only through the Church. If, then, we would make our talents and labors fully available for Christ and our fellow-men, we dare not stand aloof from the Church.

IV. Thesis. 

The Validity and Efficacy of the Word and Sacraments depend not on the Administrator, but on their own Nature, and on the Institution and Command of Christ. 

Article Eighth of the Confession (German copy) says: “The sacraments are nevertheless efficacious, although the ministers by whom they are dispensed are not pious.” The Latin text reads: “The sacraments and the word are efficacious on account of the appointment and command of Christ, although they are administered by wicked men.”

When the Confessors make the efficacy of the means of grace depend on the institution and command of Christ, they teach, by implication, that there is also an adaptation inherent in the means themselves to accomplish the design of their institution. This, in- deed, is true of all God’s works. In the physical and in the moral world, all things are related to each other as means and ends.

The efficacy of the means of grace depends, then, on their own nature, and on the institution and command of Christ.

The end to be attained by the means of grace is salvation — or, specifically, conviction of sin, repentance, faith, pardon and sanctification.

I need scarcely argue that there is an inherent adaptation in the law and the gospel, therefore, also, in the sacraments, to the attainment of these ends. The fact that these means do not attain these ends without the influence of the Holy Spirit is no argument against this natural adaptation as means to ends. If it were, then the Holy Spirit might as certainly and successfully accomplish his works of regeneration and sanctification without these means — indeed, without any means. Then, however, the whole plan of salvation would be a matter of mere arbitrary appointment, without any absolute and inherent necessity. But the Holy Spirit works through the word and sacraments because they are means adapted to the attainment of the ends designed; and he does not accomplish these ends in those who neglect these means, because they are the only appointed and recognized means that have this adaptation.

The gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” and the word preached did not profit the Israelites, “not being mixed with faith in them that heard it,” Rom. i. 16; Heb. iv. 2. This fact, that the word becomes efficacious only when received by faith, and fails of its efficacy when not believed, at once establishes its inherent adaptation to the attainment of the ends proposed.

The following texts also prove this inherent adaptation: Jer. xxiii. 28, 29; Heb. iv. 12; Isa. Iv. 10, 11.

The efficacy of the means of grace depends, secondly, on the institution and command of Christ.

A religion that has, or that is only believed to have, no higher than a human origin, has no power to reform or save mankind. Religion that has no divine authority to bind the conscience, will sink to a level with mere moral science. But let it come from God, or even be only believed to have a divine origin, and at once it brings the conscience under the strongest of all obligations and motives — the authority of God, and the interests of eternity. Without divine authority, the word and sacraments would then be mere human institutions; and as such, they could not possess even the power of the truths of natural religion to reform and save mankind. But whatever Christ has instituted and commanded, comes to us with divine authority — with this authority, therefore, we receive the word and sacraments of Christ, because instituted and commanded by him.

This natural adaptation to the ends proposed, and their divine authority thus established, give these means more than a mere logico-moral efficacy. They are, as St. Paul says, Rom, i. 16, “the power of God unto salvation.” 

It follows, then, that the validity and efficacy of the word and sacraments do not depend on the administrator. His goodness cannot increase their efficacy, neither can his wickedness nor his heterodoxy decrease it, or deprive them of it, because in neither case can he change their natural adaptation to the end proposed, nor their authority resulting from the institution and command of Christ.

V. Thesis. 

Neither the Heretical nor the Ungodly Character of the Minister can make it Sinful for the True Believer to hear the Word and receive the Sacraments administered by him. 

The Latin text of our Eighth Article reads: “Yet since in this life there are many hypocrites and wicked persons mixed with them, it is lawful to receive the sacraments which are administered by wicked men, agreeably to the word of Christ: ‘the Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.'” Also: “They condemn the Donatists and such like, who denied that it is lawful to make use of the ministry of wicked persons in the Church, and maintained that the ministry of wicked men is useless and without efficacy.” Whilst the sacraments alone are mentioned in these clauses, it is evident that the lawfulness of receiving them when administered by wicked men, refers also to the word preached by them in its broader sense. The sacraments are useful and efficacious only because they are means of grace, and they are means of grace because of the word of God accompanying them and symbolized by them. And the word, thus in the sacraments, is the very essence of the gospel. If, then, it is lawful to receive the essence of the word, when administered in the sacraments by wicked men, the same lawfulness must extend to the reception of the whole word preached by them. This is also plainly implied in the condemnatory clause, in the words: “lioere uti ministerio malorum” for this expresses the lawfulness of using the ministry of wicked men in its broadest sense. This lawfulness is evident, first, from the qualifications required to receive the sacraments with their promised blessings: namely, repentance and faith. As these qualifications refer exclusively to the recipient and the word, and in no sense to the administrator, the character of the latter cannot change the lawfulness of receiving them, because it cannot change the qualifications of the former to partake of them.

It is evident, secondly, from the elements constituting the validity or efficacy of the sacraments. These, as seen in thesis fourth, are their nature and the institution and command of Christ. It was there shown, that since the administrator, notwithstanding his heterodoxy and immorality, could destroy neither the nature of the sacraments, nor the institution and command of Christ, and as these involved their adaptation to attain the ends proposed, and their power supremely to bind the conscience, he, consequently, could not destroy their efficacy. But if the administrator cannot destroy their efficacy, then it follows that it is lawful for true believers to receive them at his hands, though he may be both heterodox and immoral.

This lawfulness is evident, thirdly, from the mode of their operation — that is, through the word and promise of God set forth by them, through our faith appropriating their promised blessings, and through the Holy Spirit operating through them. But, again, the heretical and immoral character of the administrator can deprive us of none of these; therefore, the Holy Spirit continues to do his appropriate work through our faith resting on the sacramental word and promise. Therefore again follows the lawfulness of receiving the word and sacraments administered by him.

We may, then, say with Christ and the Confession: “The Scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat; all, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do, but do not ye after their works, for they say and do not.”

But whilst the heterodoxy and immorality of the minister can neither destroy the efficacy of the means of grace, nor make it unlawful to receive them at his hands, this is no encouragement nor justification to the Church to be indifferent to the character and faith of her clergy; because their immorality and heterodoxy may, and often do, communicate themselves to the laity. This has in many cases led to such corruption in doctrine and life, as to make shipwreck of faith, contravene the operation of the Holy Spirit, and thus nullify the efficacy of the means of grace. The solemn trust confided to the Church, therefore, demands of her that she guard with the most scrupulous vigilance the faith and morals of her clergy. “But though we or an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel unto you than that we have preached, let him be accursed.” ” 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.” “Beware of false prophets.” Gal. i. 6-9; 2 John 10, 1 1; Matt. vii. 15.

The Apology says: “Yet we ought not to receive or hear false teachers, because they are not in Christ’s stead, but are antichrists.”

VI. Thesis. 

Around the external factor of the Church is gathered a Foreign Material, heterogeneous in its Elements, antagonistic in its Aims, and destructive in its Operations and Influences. 

The Confessors say: the people of God receive spiritual blessings, are enlightened, strengthened, and ruled by the Holy Spirit, and are, therefore, as the kingdom of Christ, distinguished from the kingdom of Satan. Therefore, the ungodly, as belonging to the kingdom of Satan, cannot be the Church — they are only among Christians, and in the Church, but they are not on this account a part of the kingdom of Christ. “Now, although the wicked and ungodly hypocrites have fellowship with the true Church in external signs, in name and office; yet when we would strictly define what the Church is, we must speak of the Church called the body of Christ. and having communion not only in external signs, but also holding faith and the Holy Spirit in its bosom.” Therefore the ungodly do not belong to the true body of Christ, to the internal essence of the Church, but only to its external organization, and to this even only in outward profession of name, office and worship.

This foreign material gathered around the external factor of the Church is, however, heterogeneous in its elements to those of the true Church. The elements of the one are, the depravity of our unrenewed nature, its enmity against God, and its being under the dominion of unbelief, sin, and the devil; the elements of the other are, the regeneration of the soul by the Holy Spirit, its reanimation by the love of God and the precious hopes of the Gospel, and its submission to the rule of Christ. Thus heterogeneous in their elements, the foreign material, especially when it becomes predominant, not unfrequently succeeds in introducing into the Church other elements in doctrine, government, cultus, and morals, congenial to its own nature. In the Romish Church the following are examples — salvation by works, papal infallibility, priestly absolution, implicit submission to the government of an ecclesiastical hierarchy, auricular confession, the worship of images, prayers to the saints, prayers for the dead, indulgences, etc. In the Protestant churches we may bring under this class the neglect of church discipline, its abuse to party and selfish purposes, the disregard of each others’ acts of discipline by different denominations, denominational exclusiveness on the ground of infallible orthodoxy, rationalism, the denial of plenary inspiration, etc.

As “the carnal mind is enmity against God,” so we may say of these foreign elements; they are at enmity with the elements and nature of the true Church.

Again: this foreign element is antagonistic in its aims to those of the true Church.

This antagonism is found, not between the two elements of the Church, its inner and its outer sides, but between this dual Church and the foreign and heterogeneous materials which have aggregated themselves around the Church’s visible organization. The antagonism itself is seated in their heterogeneous elements and in their conflicting aims. A soul ruled by the devil, and whose aim is the glory of self, must be antagonistic to the soul ruled by Christ, and whose aim is the welfare of man and the glory of God. This antagonism will be seen also in the heterogeneous elements in doctrine, government, cultus and morals, to which reference has already been made.

To this antagonism we may apply the following scripture language — “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” “No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” Amos iii. 3; Matt. vi. 24; 2 Cor. vi. 14-16; I John ii. 18, 19.

These heterogeneous elements and antagonistic aims are necessarily destructive of each other in their operations and influences. 

We have already seen how the foreign material often introduces into the church elements congenial to its own nature. Their heterogeneousness and antagonism are such that they can never harmonize. A temporary compromise may be, and often is effected; but in the end they must come into open conflict, and the one must destroy the other. It may be said with truth that here not unfrequently, “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”

The whole history of the Church, both Jewish and Christian, is a verification of this destructive tendency, especially the Romish Church before and in the Reformation. The one doctrine of justification by faith alone, shook the papal throne to its foundation, and has continued ever since in open conflict with its whole system. We may then aptly apply to this whole foreign element the words of Christ: “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”;

We have in our national history a sad example of two such elements. The Declaration of Independence asserts and maintains the equality of all men by creation, and their endowment by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Constitution of the United States, in the inauguration of the Federal Government, tolerated the holding of men bound to service — that is, tolerated human slavery. The antagonism of these two heterogeneous elements — human freedom and human slavery — came from necessity into open and final conflict. The salvation of the nation made emancipation a necessity.

In concluding this thesis, I maintain, therefore, the right and duty of the Church to remove from her visible organization as her inseparable external factor all those elements which endanger her existence or her purity, or impede her progress. The Church must always bear her earnest and clear testimony against heterodoxy and immorality. She dare not neglect the exercise of discipline against heretics and the openly immoral and ungodly. Neither can she be safe nor guiltless, and allow her liturgical service to usurp the place of a free and genuine spiritual worship. “If thy brother transgress against thee, go and tell him his fault,” etc. “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed,” etc. “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” “I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat,” “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you,” etc. Matt, xviii, 15-18; 2 John 10, 1 1; I Cor. v. 1 1-13; 2 Cor. vi. 14-18.

VII. Thesis. 

It is Implied in the Seventh and Eighth Articles of the Confession, that the Church has not yet attained her Ideal Perfection. 

In these two Articles the marks of the ideal Church are the following — it consists only of saints and true believers; in it the gospel is preached in its purity, and the sacraments are administered according to their true intent and meaning; and again, in it there is to be no schism, but all its parts are to be perfectly united under Christ its one and only Head, in one mind and in one judgment.

This is thus delineated in the New Testament. Christ is represented as loving the Church and giving himself for it, “that he might sanctify and cleanse it, * * * and 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.” St. Paul prays: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Again, he admonishes: “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.” Christ prays for believers: “that they all may be one, as thou Father art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” Eph. v. 25-27; i Thess. v. 23; i Cor. i. 10; John xvii. 20, 21.

In so far as the ideal perfection of the Church relates to her unity and a pure gospel and pure sacraments, it belongs to Article Seventh; but in so far as its membership should consist of only saints and true believers, it comes within the province of the Eighth Article. According to it, there are associated with the Church in this life many hypocrites and ungodly persons — that is, her empirical organization does not fully correspond with her internal and essential nature. She has not thus far attained her ideal perfection. This results mainly from the foreign elements that are associated with her external organization.

The Eighth Article seems to imply that this will continue to the end of the Christian dispensation. It says: “In this life there remain many false Christians and hypocrites, and also open sinners, among the pious.” The Apology admits that the ungodly may even predominate in the Church — that since the kingdom of Christ is not yet manifest, the ungodly are, in this life, among true believers, and in the Church — and that, as among a mass of fish there is a mixture of good and bad, so the Church here below is concealed among the great body and multitude of the ungodly.

This point is more directly stated in the last condemnatory clause of the Seventeenth Article, namely: “They also condemn others who now disseminate the Jewish notions, that before the resurrection of the dead the pious (German — “the holy and pious alone”) will hold the government of the world, and that the ungodly will be everywhere oppressed.” (German — “will be exterminated.”)

As the doctrine of the millennium belongs more properly to the Seventeenth Article, I will dismiss this thesis with one remark. That the ideal Church of Christ and his apostles, as also of the prophets of the Old Testament, includes, especially, the harmony and oneness of all believers, their purity, their devotion to religion, the preaching of the gospel to all nations, a general submission to Christ throughout the earth, and a high state of blissful enjoyment, is evident from the following texts. Is. xi. 9; xxxv. 8-10; Ixv. 16-25; 2 Pet. iii. 13; Matt, xxviii. 19, 20; Mark xvi. 16; Dan. vii. 18, 27.

VIII. Thesis. 

Whenever the Necessity exists, it is the duty of the Church to reform Herself — to introduce Such Changes in Doctrine, Cultus and Government, as will enable her to to attain most successfully her Ideal Perfection. 

Whenever the Church becomes so corrupt that instead of realizing more fully her ideal perfection, she is continually departing from that ideal, and is thus failing successfully to attain the design of her organization: namely, the edification of believers and the conversion of sinners, then her reformation becomes a necessity. This was the condition of the Romish Church at the time of the Reformation.

The right and duty of reformation grow out of its necessity and the sacred trust committed to the Church as the Innhaberinn and Tragerinn of the means of grace, according to thesis third. It follows also from theses fifth and sixth, in the latter of which was shown the duty of removing from the Church all those foreign elements which endanger her existence or purity, or impede her progress; and in the former, the same duty in regard to immoral and heretical teachers. But if the excommunication of unworthy and dangerous members, either of the laity or clergy, is a duty, then much more is it a duty to reform the Church in her doctrines, cultus, and government, when these themselves encourage or connive at heterodoxy or immorality. This was the ground of the Reformation of the sixteenth century.

In effecting such a reformation, the Church does not lose her right to the title of the Christian Church, but only the more fully establishes this right. If a corrupt church in returning to a pure gospel, pure sacraments, and an evangelical cultus and government, forfeits the right to the title of the Christian Church, then no Christian people ever possessed such right. For nothing else can establish such a claim; neither the antiquity of the Church, nor an apostolical succession, even if it could be satisfactorily proved, nor yet a perfect oneness in doctrine, cultus and government; because all these might exist, and yet the Church be corrupt and antagonistic to the institutions and commands of Christ. Against the claim of the pope, founded on the above grounds, that the Romish Church alone possessed the right to be called the true and only Church, and that the Lutherans had forfeited all such claim, the Confessors defended themselves in the Seventh and Eighth Articles of the Confession, and also in the Apology. In the latter, they say: “Hence we draw the conclusion, according to the Holy Scriptures, that the true Christian Church consists of all those throughout the world, who truly believe the gospel of Christ, and have the Holy Spirit.” Again: “The Church, as St. Paul says, i Tim. iii. 15, is properly the pillar and ground of the truth.”

Luther says: “The true Church is known from the false, in this — the true Church teaches that God forgives us our sins freely, and alone on account of his grace and mercy, for Christ’s sake, without our merits or works, when we are made sensible of our sins and confess them, and with the heart firmly believe in Christ; on the other hand, the false church attributes all this to our own merits and works, and teaches us to retain our doubts.”

The right of reformation in the Church being thus established, and also the right, when reformed, to the title of the true Christian Church, the question presents itself, would any particular Church, say the Lutheran, or any part of it, forfeit the right to retain her own name, if in order to attain more fully and more successfully the standard of the ideal Church, she would effect a reformation within herself, or more specifically, if she would believe it necessary to adopt her Confession merely as to fundamental correctness? If the title, “Evangelical Lutheran Church,” was designed to indicate, when it was assumed and accepted, that her true children in all coming ages must receive her confessions in the sense in which she then understood them, and in none other, or cease to be Evangelical Lutherans, then we must answer our question in the affirmative. But this would be claiming for the Reformers, either that they could not err, or did not err, in the preparation of our Confession. In either case, it virtually claims for them, either in that specific work, or at least, for that work, infallibility. It is also virtually saying to her own children: if you, in the exercise of your private judgment, in the interpretation of the Scriptures, and which we claim and exercise for ourselves, and which we also accord to you, should come to the settled conviction that any of the doctrines of our Confession are unscriptural, even in non-fundamentals, then you forfeit your right to be called Evangelical Lutheran — you must seek a home elsewhere: or, if you can find none of the same faith, you must set up for yourselves, or you must not avow or proclaim your convictions. But if the Reformation did nothing better than this for Christendom, then it is an abortion; then the name Evangelical Lutheran is a misnomer, and not worthy of being retained.

Luther desired simply to be called a Christian, an Evangelical Christian; and the Church of the Reformation, the Evangelical Church, — thus indicating that their faith was the pure faith of the gospel, the pure faith of the apostles, and that their Church was the true Christian Church.

The Evangelical Lutheran, then, claimed to be the true Christian Church, and she denied all human infallibility, and established for all time the right of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures. Add to this Luther’s description, already given, of a true and false church, and dare we deny the right to a qualified reception of our doctrines, and still retain the name of the true Christian Church, if in such qualification we continue firmly to teach, “that God forgives us our sins freely, and alone on account of his grace and mercy, for Christ’s sake, without our merits or works, when we are made sensible of our sins, and confess them, and with the heart firmly believe in Christ?” And, if thus entitled to the name of the true Christian Church, how can it involve a forfeiture of the name of Evangelical Lutheran?

But it may be said, if this conclusion is legitimate, then all orthodox Protestants might claim the title of Evangelical Lutheran — then we might as well all be one. I must unhesitatingly admit the inference; and I re-iterate it — we might as well all be one; and I will add, if we had enough of the spirit of our Master, so that we could in charity tolerate each other’s doctrinal differences, we might not only as well, but much better, be one.

A certain Lutheran divine, not of the General Synod, speaking , of the members of various Christian denominations, says: “Though they have not all the same forms of government, and the same ceremonies, yet have they one Lord. Though they have not even the same doctrines in all particulars, yet have they the one faith and the one baptism, if they be Christians at all. No diversities among them can break the oneness of the Lord’s body.”

Also: “All the baptized who, notwithstanding their faults, cling sincerely to their one Lord in the one faith, being thus daily cleansed from all their sins, are of the Church, the one body. Here there is unity and no schism.” Again: ” Whoever believes is in the unity of the Church, is a child of the Jerusalem that is above, the mother of us all. And he remains in this unity, notwithstanding his doctrinal or practical errors, so long as he continues to believe: for so long the Holy Spirit is not taken away.” Once more: “The Apostles’ Creed contains a summary of all the Christian doctrines, and whoever believes it, has the whole Christian faith.”

IX. Thesis. 

Are there any Circumstances under which it would be the Right and Duty of Protestant Christians to organize a new Church? 

The Church was organized to attain a specific end. We have seen that whenever she fails to attain that end, by constantly departing from her ideal perfection, instead of approaching more nearly to it, there exists a necessity for a reformation; and also, when such necessity exists, the right and duty of reformation also exist. If now, under such circumstances, the reformation of existing churches is impossible or impracticable, there is no choice left true Christians but to organize a new church, or rather, to reconstruct the Church itself in a separate and distinct organization. It is not only their right — the high and sacred trust committed to the Church makes it their bounden duty.

The right of the Churches of the Reformation to the title of true Christian Churches, depends wholly on this right of Christians, under the above circumstances, to form a new Church. “The Protestants could justify their separation from the Romish Church only by going back to the original difference between the inner communion and the outer organization, and by distinguishing between the kingdom of God as ideal, and its imperfect manifestation in each particular Church.”

But this right must not be unnecessarily exercised. The many sects into which professing Christians are divided, show that it has been abused. Christians have divided on the mode of baptism, on the number of immersions, on the question whether immersion should be performed forwards or backwards, on the cut of the coat, on the choice between buttons and hooks and eyes — then again on singing hymns and psalms, and even on Watts’ and Rouse’s version of the Psalms. Some have left the existing churches and set up for themselves, for no better reason, we fear, than that they could not carry out their own whims and fancies.

When now we consider the petition of Christ, John xvii. 20. 21, “Neither pray I for these alone,” etc.; and then, also, the admonition of St. Paul, I Cor. i. 10,” Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc.; we must conclude that there is guilt somewhere — to set aside such a prayer and such an admonition, without the most weighty, the most dire necessity, must bring upon the criminal guilt of no ordinary character.

But may not the origin of some of these sects be attributable to the then existing churches? A little more liberty in the faith outside of “ruin by the fall, redemption by Christ, and renovation by the Holy Spirit,” and insisting a little more on genuine conversion, holy living, and greater Christian activity, would no doubt in some instances have prevented these divisions — it would at least have left not even a pretence for them. The division and reunion of the Presbyterian Church is an illustration of this point. In short, the guilt rests partly with those separating from the Church and organizing for themselves, and partly with the churches from which they separated.

That there should be more toleration in the Lutheran Church, we think does not admit of a doubt.

Before concluding, I will give the views of Dr. F. V. Reinhard, bearing on this subject.

In an anniversary sermon on the Reformation, delivered in the year 181 2, a translation of which may be found in volume fifth of the Evangelical Review, pp. 352-365, he gives what he regards as “the invisible and sacred bonds by which our whole Church is united;” “bonds” which, he says, were “woven by the Reformation, and which will hold forever what they have bound together.”

The specific bonds of union which he discusses are thus stated: “Like zeal for freedom of conscience; a common subjection to the distinctive authority of Scripture; a bond of faith harmonizing in the great leading truths of the Gospel; reciprocal toleration in all the rest; and an earnest striving after every species of perfection.

In discussing the third bond — a faith harmonizing in the great leading truths of the Gospel — he presents these truths in detail, and which may be briefly summed up thus: one God, ruin by the fall, redemption by Christ, renovation by the Holy Spirit, genuine repentance, a living faith in Jesus, purifying the heart and life, fervent love towards God and men, and a promise of immortality and eternal life to those who believe, are baptized, confess Jesus publicly and at the Lord’s Supper, and remain faithful to the end of life.

Reinhard maintains that ” it is the living conviction of the chief truths of the Gospel” — and he refers to those just enumerated — which Lutherans hold in common, that has held us together. He then adds: ” Their conviction is rendered yet firmer and more inward by their reciprocal toleration of all the rest.

His just and judicious remarks under this head I cannot omit.

“That the Scripture, in addition to the main truths of the gospel, embraces much that may give occasion to conflicting opinions; that these fundamental truths themselves may be conceived of in different ways, when they are developed and unfolded completely; that the method in which Scripture is examined and explained; that the history of the Christian Church in all ages, the investigations and discoveries of the human understanding, the present position of the world, and the condition of the sciences; that all these in a Church like ours, where everything is examined, and every spring of knowledge freely searched, must exert the most varied influence on the religious opinions of its members, and must originate an incalculable diversity in their views and convictions — this fact lies clearly before us, and the experience of every day confirms it. But this diversity need excite no solicitude; it relates merely to minor matters, and cannot prejudice that unity of spirit in which we abide in the grand truths of the gospel. It even becomes a bond of peace, and contributes to the firmer union of the members of our church one with another. For every man feels that he would countenance an entrenchment on his own freedom, and expose it to an unrighteous restriction, if in things in which we can and may rightfully differ, he would attempt to prescribe and force upon others his own way of thinking. Should he not allow every one to partake in that freedom which with so much justice he claims for himself? Shall not the pressing need of fraternal forbearance and of complete freedom of conscience unite our members the more firmly in proportion as this privilege is with difficulty found elsewhere? Does not our Church become a firmer whole by this her peculiar forbearance, in proportion as she is incapable of being disturbed by controversies in lesser matters? That such controversies have arisen in abundance, is true. Even among us there have not been wanting at all times short-sighted zealots who confounded the non-essential with the essential; who neither possessed nor recognized the tolerant spirit of our church; men who would have been capable of forcing on the Church their views, which were often completely false. But however much this blind zeal at times disturbed the tranquillity of our church, it has never been able to dissolve her connection, and endanger her perpetuity; that reciprocal forbearance to which she pledged her members, has remained a sacred bond which rendered their connection indissoluble.”

Well had it been for our Evangelical Lutheran Church had these principles and sentiments always been heartily embraced and practically applied.

That Reinhard places the peculiar views of our Confession on the sacraments, as baptismal regeneration, and the real presence of Christ in the eucharist, among the truths concerning which the reciprocal toleration is allowed in the Lutheran Church, is evident from the above extracts, as also from his “Dogmatik.” Concerning fundamental and non-fundmental Articles, he holds that those alone are absolutely fundamental which constitute religion in distinction from theology. He says: “In regard to those propositions which belong to religion, nearly all the parties are in the main agreed. They differ, however, in the manner of representing these fundamental principles. Had it not been for the more definite and critical explanations of the simple propositions of religion, and then maintaining that these alone contain the truth, such divisions could not have originated. It is easy, however, to see that, in consequence of the activity of the human mind, such explanations were unavoidable, but, also, that they would result in no injury to Christianity, if the different parties would only tolerate each other in a brotherly spirit, which religion everywhere makes one of its first duties.”

If on our peculiarities on the sacraments and a few other points all Lutherans could only heartily consent to a full Reinhardian toleration — or, going back to an undisputed authority — to die von Luther gegen Melanchthon bewiesene Toleranz, how soon might our divisions be healed, and what a mighty power would we soon be in his land and in the world!