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We Have No Power, but the Power of the Word

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The quotation below is from CFW Walther’s address to the 1848 Synodical Convention, it may be accessed in full here. The conclusion is below. Walther demonstrates that a Synod can unconditionally demand that its congregations be subject to the Word of God and that within a Synod there very well may be “sacred struggles for God's Word, for His honor and kingdom.” Yet in the end the Church will prevail; by the Word.

However, we can hope for entirely different results if the only unconditional demand we make of our congregations is subjection to the Word, a demand to which we are also subject. That hope is further established if we grant our congregations autonomy and stand beside them in an advisory capacity. We must not worry that if we follow this course of action the worldly elements of a political democracy will intrude upon the church, that an enslaving democracy, a papacy will develop, or that we who are servants of Christ will become the slaves of men. How can this kind of democracy be an ungodly democracy when the people use their God-given rights? How can such a democracy be a papacy when priestly Christians do not tolerate human laws that God has neither commanded nor forbidden, but unconditionally obey only the preacher of the Word as Christ Himself speaks through him when he proclaims Christ's Word? No, a democracy is disgraceful when people prescribe exactly what the preacher of God's Word may or may not proclaim; when people choose for themselves to contradict God's Word and in any way hinder the performance of the ministerial office according to the Word. A democracy is disgraceful when people claim for themselves to make ordinances in the church and exclude the pastor from this power and demand that he submit to their ordinances. The preacher who fears men or desires to please men does not serve Christ. Such a preacher is a slave of men and diverges from God's Word and says what his listeners want to hear.

However, where the preacher is given only the power of the Word - the full power - and where the congregation hears Christ' s Word preached and receives it as God's Word, then the preacher stands in the right relationship to his congregation; not as a hired hand but as one sent by God; not as a slave to men but as a servant of Christ who teaches, admonishes, and corrects in Christ's stead. This complies with the apostolic admonition, "Obey your teachers and follow them, for they are caring for your souls and must give an accounting; in order that they work joyfully, not sadly, for that would not help you" [Heb. 13: 17}, The more a congregation sees that its spiritual leader wants it to submit only to Christ and His Word, and the more it realizes that its pastor does not desire to rule it - yes, that he even zealously guards the congregation's freedom - the more willing the congregation will become to listen to the pastor's beneficial proposals, even in those areas which God has left open. Thus, the people will gladly follow the pastor as their father in Christ for their own welfare and not because a taskmaster is commanding them.

Our synodical organization can also exert such a beneficial influence if it attempts to work with the Word of God and only the Word of God. There will certainly be struggles, but they will not be those disheartening conflicts which require obedience to human rules. Rather, they will be sacred struggles for God's Word, for His honor and kingdom. The more congregations realize that we desire the power of God's Word which sanctifies all believers, and no other power, the more open they will be to our advice. Those who do not want the Word will separate from us; those who love the Word will find refuge in our fellowship. If people accept our resolutions, they will do so not because they are strange, externally imposed burdens but because they are seen as beneficial gifts of brotherly love. They will defend and preserve these resolutions as their own property.

It is true that we have no power but the power of the Word, but we should still perform our work joyfully. Therefore, my esteemed brothers, let us exercise this power correctly. Let us be intent above all else and in every matter on proclaiming the pure teaching of our Evangelical Lutheran Church among us. Let us make this pure teaching familiar to all our congregations and preserve it from falsification, treating it as a precious possession. Let us not compromise one iota of what the Word requires. Let us make the Word the controlling power in our congregations on this point let us be firm and unbending. If we do this, we do not have to be concerned about the success of our work. Even if the work appears to be fruitless, it cannot be, for the Word does not return void, but accomplishes the thing to which the Lord sends it. The church was established by the Word, without any other power, and has been preserved to this very hour by the Word alone, in spite of Satan's fury and madness. Throughout her history all of the great actions of the church have been accomplished by the Word. Through the Word alone the church will stand, even in these confusing times. The church will stand until the end of time, and even the gates of hell will not prevail against it. "For all flesh is like grass, and all human beauty is like the flower. The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the Lord's Word remains forever." [Is. 40 :6-8; 1 Peter 1: 24] Amen.

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