Our gracious Lord has left us with no small comfort for these sad days in which the Bible, His Word, is under attack. Such attacks—some vicious, others insidious, equally evil– are not unique to our generation. Praise the Lord for His grace for assuring us as He did our fathers: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Though the truth and the Church continue to be perpetual targets, the Holy Christian Church, like the Word, has endured, and will. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [“My church,” Jesus called it] (Matthew 16:18), that is, the Church built upon the doctrinal “foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).
One hundred and thirteen years after the Reformation, Johann Heermann wrote a hymn titled, “For times of persecution and distress of pious Christians.” Of the enemies of Christians, he wrote, “Their craft and pomp indeed are great, and of their power they boast and prate; our hope they scornfully deride and deem us nothing in their pride” (TLH-265). Nevertheless, confessional Lutherans still confidently sing Luther’s strong hymn (TLH-262), “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” in which Luther who fought the battle for the truth wrote, “The Word they still shall let remain.”
What is the Holy Christian Church? It is the whole number of believers in Christ. In it are no unbelievers or hypocrites. Where is the Holy Christian Church? It is found where the means of grace — the Gospel in Word and Sacrament (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) — are present. They, and only they, who through the ages have been called out of the darkness of unbelief by the Spirit of God, and who believe in Christ are members of His Body. They are members of the “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). The Holy Christian Church is not identified with any visible fellowship. The Lord alone knows and distinguishes between the believers and the hypocrites in the visible church.
Believers in Christ know and believe that in Christ – true God and true Man — they are redeemed from sin. The comfort of the forgiveness of sins is sealed to them each time they in faith receive the body and blood of the Lord Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. They find comfort in knowing that they are the Lord’s and that He knows them by name (Isaiah 43:1). Through faith they believe that where Jesus is, they will be at the Father’s call.
Since many who identify as Lutheran today are far removed from the soundness of Scripture truth set forth in the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord, we must ask the question: In view of the increasing deterioration of confessionalism, what does the Lutheran name mean to people today? The Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) must be ready to honestly engage in such introspection. In this apostate age will we who still believe, teach, and confess, the Bible as the very Word of God continue to stand upon the solid foundation of the Word? Will we pass on to the next generation our Lutheran heritage anchored in the Word that was recovered and set forth in the Reformation? Will we by word, example, and teaching, bequeath God’s Word and Luther’s doctrine pure to the next generation?
In “Out of Necessity,” a history of the CLC by Professor David Lau, the writer of this article wrote in a foreword: “In an increasingly unchristian, and even anti-Christian society and culture for which the compromising churches must also bear responsibility, the truth of God and faithful confessors will continue to be under attack. The temptations to your faith will be fierce. The siren call of compromise will become louder. We have God’s promise that His Word will endure. It is a fair question, however, when we ask, ‘Will it continue in the CLC, or will the passing of time take its toll on our church’”? Will we avoid the plague of indifference? Luther wrote:
“Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt. Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history. If we let it just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Turk. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year.” LW 45:352.
One year after the Diet of Augsburg, out of which came the Augsburg Confession, Luther said in a sermon: “After the death of the present pious and sincere pastors, others will appear who will preach and act according to the pleasure of the devil” (LW 23, 261-262). After his own death, such conditions necessitated the Formula of Concord, completed in 1577.
If we who claim to be confessional Lutherans become indifferent toward the Word and worship, if we neglect the education of the young in matters of faith, if we compromise any part of God’s Word, what is happening in much of Christendom today, including Lutheranism, will happen to us. Said Luther again: “Our church will not be endangered as greatly by the oppressive measures of tyrants as by the indifference of our own people” (WLS, Vol. II, p.870, para. 2714). Indifference spawns and is comfortable with false doctrine. Tyrants can rob us of our physical life. Indifference to the Word and truth risks the loss of the truth, if not eternal life!
Martin Luther wrote the catechisms because of the horrendous spiritual ignorance he found among the clergy and the people. Before the Small and Large Catechism were published in 1529, Luther had been teaching and preaching their substance, setting forth the fundamental truths of God’s holy Word. At the center of his preaching and teaching was the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus—alone.
Do we respect the Lord our God? Do we care about the truth? Do we care about our soul? Do we care whether the generation following will have a church that teaches and practices in accord with the whole and perfect Word of God? Do we care about the church and its confession before the dying world? Are we troubled by the questions?
To the questions, surely the answer of every faithful Christian is, “Yes.” Then pray the Lord for strength to “continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of…” (2 Timothy 3: 14). “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your soul(s)” (James 1:21). Look to your Savior, Jesus, “The author and finisher of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2), Who said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). We are to teach faithfully all that He has commanded us (Matthew 28:20), adding nothing to, or subtracting nothing from.
Bente, in his Historical Introduction to the Symbolical Books (Triglotta, p.74) wrote: “It was due to the neglect of Christian teaching that Christendom had fallen into decay.” Luther decried the ruination of the Church saying, “If ever it is to flourish again, one must begin by instructing the young.” In the Large Catechism, he exhorted that the young, “ought to be brought up in the Christian doctrine and understanding.”
If preceding generations are indifferent or neglectful of their responsibility to instill in the next generation appreciation of the gospel of our Lord, and understanding of Christian doctrine as confessed in the Apostolic Creed, as well as watchfulness to maintain true teaching, Israel’s fate will be repeated: “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done in Israel” (Judges 2:10). Might we learn from history?
Again, Luther in the Large Catechism (Triglotta 773:85): “For the old are now well-nigh done for, so that these and other things cannot be attained [learning and practicing what they learn], unless we train the people who are to come after us and succeed us in our office and work, in order that they may also bring up their children successfully, that the Word of God and the Christian Church may be preserved. Therefore let every father of a family know that it is his duty, by the command and injunction of God, to teach these things to his children, or have them learn what they ought to know.”
It is our responsibility to instruct God’s children faithfully in the Word of God so they know the message of salvation in Christ Jesus, their Savior. It is our responsibility to instruct the next generation “in the Christian doctrine and understanding,” so that they continue, by the grace of God, to stand uncompromisingly in the truth, and in appreciation of their Lutheran heritage based on that Word, so they can teach the generation after them. It is our responsibility to bequeath to them a fellowship, a church, in which the perfectly pure, the only, and the certain Word of God is the foundation of faith and the means of grace faithfully maintained. Only through the Word of God, only by God’s grace manifest in that Word, will they have the desire and strength to withstand the poisonous darts of indifference and satanic error and compromise. Only then can they be steeled to confess Christ Jesus, and “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Before God, we dare not cheat the next immediate generation by shirking our responsibility to faithfully and prayerfully instruct our children in the Word!
In his last sermon in Wittenberg in January of 1546, (He died in February 1546), Luther counseled that without faithful preachers and teachers, the devil would destroy the church. He urged prayers for “pure teachers,” and further said, “Therefore earnestly pray God to let us keep the Word, for matters will take a terrible turn in the future” (WLS, Vol. II, p.869, para. 2713).
The Lord said, “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). Now, we are not speaking of technology or other modern approaches to sharing the gospel. We are speaking of Scripture, of walking in the truth, in the way of godliness, in the way that Enoch trod (Genesis 5:22, 24). We are not speaking of walking in the old way because it is old, but because it is right.
The devil, the world, and our flesh will fight us every step of our faith walk. God help us by His Spirit to keep the narrow way unto salvation. Pray for the Church that it will stay faithful to Scripture and the heritage of faith. Confess the faith without compromise and pray that future generations will have a church that is without reservation faithful to the Word, preachers to proclaim it, and that they will continue in it.
If you care about your legacy, let it be that you told “the generation to come, the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done” (Psalm 78:4).