The Church of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession has such an Abject Appearance
Is there hope for Lutheranism? CFW Walther certainly thought so, even though its appearance is not impressive nor may it be numerically strong it will remain. We would do well in the 21st Century to follow Walther’s wise preaching and place our hope in Christ and His Word, for His Word is the unmistakable mark of the Church.
With what does Christ comfort the disciples amid their fearful thoughts concerning the dwelling, or church of Christ in the future? With nothing else but the fact that the Holy Ghost would see to it that His Word would be with them and would through them remain in the world until the end of days. He means to say that with His Word also He and His habitation, or church, would remain with them. Thus Christ declares that His Word is the certain, unmistakable mark of the Church.
It cannot be otherwise. Since the dwelling, or church of Christ, as we have just heard from Christ’s lips,(John 14:23-31) are those who love Him and keep His Word, therefore - since no one can see love - the Church can have no other sure unmistakable mark besides His Word.
Where the Word of God is not found, but is blasphemed as a word of man, there, not the church of Christ, but the assembly of His enemies is to be found. However, where Christ’s Word is essentially present, that is, where it is still recognized as God’s Word, but is falsified according to the principles of reason, there the false church exists. Here indeed, because of the everpresent powerful Word, true members of the Church are still to be found; but they are held in bondage and oppressed by the false teachers. Where finally the Word of Christ is kept true and unadulterated, and where they who love Christ and keep His Word have the supremacy, there also His real true Church is to be found. May this be your guiding star and your comfort in this your new fatherland, this land of innumerable sects. Let the rationalistic churches boast of their advance of liberty, enlightenment, and progress, and thereby highly praise Christ as a paragon of virtue. Since they neither have nor keep Christ’s Word, but reject it, they are nothing but followers of Satan.
Furthermore, let the papal church boast of its works and its unity under its one visible head, the Pope. Let the churches of fanatic enthusiasts boast of their great holiness and zeal. Let the unionistic churches boast of their love and peaceableness. Although these all essentially have Christ’s Word in that they still declare it to be God’s Word, yet they do not cling to Christ’s clear Word in all respects, but depart from and falsify it, some in this, others in that teaching. Thus they are all false churches in which undoubtedly there are still some members who are of the true church, but who are held in soul-destructive captivity.
Finally, however, even though the true Evangelical Lutheran Church which abides by the pure teaching of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession has such an abject appearance, even though it be reproached in all the world as a peace-disturbing sect; it still is and remains Christ’s true Church, because it alone has the full, certain, and unmistakeable mark: it keeps Christ’s Word.
True, in our Lutheran Church, and, I am sorry to say, also in our congregation, there are members who find it distasteful to cling so strictly to Christ’s Word in doctrine and life, and who consequently either secretly or openly are hostile to those who treat Christ’s Word with devoted seriousness. And it is certain that if it finally would come to this - which may God prevent until theLast Day - that in our Church and congregation those people would attend the supremacy who want to make the straight septre of Christ’s Word crooked, and who would dull the two-edged sword, then though our congregation and Church may evermore call themselves Lutheran, yet they would no longer be that, but a false church which does not have the distinguishing mark, namely, adherence to Christ’s Word. But as long as our Church and congregation adhere to Christ’s unadulterated Word, at least in the pupits and seats of learning; as long as it still has the deciding voice in our assemblies; as long as they have the upper hand who have a solemn earnestness about keeping the Word of Christ, so long also our Church and congregation are and will remain the true church of Jesus Christ, for they bear her unmistakable marks.
CFW Walther, The Word of His Grace: Occasional and Festival Sermons. Trans. and ed. by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod Translation Committee. Graphic Publishing Company, Inc., Lake Mills, Iowa. 1978. pp. 241-242.