The Evangelical Lutheran Church the True Visible Church of God on Earth
Walther and the Church
From the Preface:
The American Luther [Dr. C.F.W. Walther] wrote three monumental works: Church and Ministry, The Proper Form of a Lutheran Free Church, and The Evangelical Lutheran Church the True Visible Church of God on Earth. These also may be called "first principles." From them, and by means of them, the whole of the subsequent movement of "Missouri" was worked out. And many men in many lands have gratefully acknowledged their deep indebtedness to Dr. Walther. This last work was heard and published by resolution of the Synod at St. Louis in 1866.
The one holy Christian Church on earth, or the Church in the proper sense of the word, outside of which there is no salvation, is, according to God's Word, the total of all that truly believe in Christ and are sanctified through this faith.
Though the one holy Christian Church, as a spiritual temple, cannot be seen but only believed, yet there are infallible outward marks by which its presence is known; which marks are the pure preaching of God's Word and the unadulterated administration of the holy Sacraments.
Scripture in an improper sense calls churches also all visible congregations which have hypocrites and wicked among the believers but preach the Gospel right and administer the Sacraments according to the Gospel.
Scripture calls churches even the visible congregations guilty of a partial lapse from the true doctrine, as long as they hold God's Word essentially.
Communions still holding God's Word essentially but erring obstinately in fundamentals, IN SO FAR as they do so, are, according to God's Word, not churches but schisms or sects, i. e., heretical communions.
Communions destroying the unity of the Church for non-fundamental errors or personalities or ceremonies or wicked life, according to God's Word are schismatic or separatistic communions.
Communions calling themselves Christian but not accepting God's Word as God's Word and therefore denying the Triune God, according to God's Word are no churches but synagogues of Satan and temples of idols.
Though church-writers sometimes call communions holding God's Word essentially true, i. e., real, churches over against non-churches, yet over against erring churches, or sects, a true visible Church in the absolute sense is that only in which God's Word is preached right and the holy Sacraments are administered in accordance with the Gospel.
Though according to the divine promises it is not possible for the one holy Christian Church ever to perish, it is yet possible, and at times it has really happened, that there did not exist a true VISIBLE Church in the absolute sense, in which through an uncorrupted public ministry the preaching of the pure Word of God and the administration of the unadulterated Sacraments held sway.
The Ev. Lutheran Church is the total of all unreservedly confessing agreement with the pure Word of God, of the teaching brought again to light through Luther's reformation and delivered summarily in writing to Kaiser and Reich at Augsburg in 1530 and repeated and expanded in the other so-called Lutheran symbols.
The Ev. Lutheran Church is not the one holy Christian Church outside of which there is no salvation, though it has never separated from the same but acknowledges it alone.
If the Ev. Lutheran Church has the marks of pure Gospel-preaching and unadulterated administration of the holy Sacraments, then it is the true visible Church of God on earth.
The Ev. Lutheran Church recognizes the written Word of the apostles and prophets as the only and perfect source, rule, norm, and judge of all teaching, a. not reason, b. not tradition, c. not new revelations.
The Ev. Lutheran Church holds fast to the clearness of Scripture. (There are no "views" and "open questions.")
The Ev. Lutheran Church acknowledges no HUMAN interpreter of Scripture whose interpretation must be received as infallible and binding on account of his office; 1. not an individual, 2. not an order, 3. not a particular or general council, 4. not a whole Church (nicht eine ganze Kirche).
The Ev. Lutheran Church accepts God's Word as it interprets itself.
A. The Ev. Lutheran Church lets the original text alone decide.
B. The Ev. Lutheran Church, in the interpretation of the words and sentences, holds fast to the usage of language.
C. The Ev. Lutheran Church acknowledges only the literal sense as the true sense.
D. The Ev. Lutheran Church holds the literal sense has but one sense.
E. The Ev. Lutheran Church, in interpreting, is guided by the context and the intention. Otherwise the Scripture is garbled.
F. The Ev. Lutheran Church acknowledges the literal sense may be the improper sense as well as the proper; but it does not depart from the proper sense unless forced by Scripture itself either the circumstances of the text itself or a parallel passage or the analogy of faith.
G. The Ev. Lutheran Church interprets the dark passages by the clear ones.
H. The Ev. Lutheran Church takes the articles of faith from the texts constituting the seat of doctrine and judges all obiter dicta accordingly.
I. The Ev. Lutheran Church rejects out of hand every interpretation not in harmony with the analogy of faith, Rom. 12:7.
The Ev. Lutheran Church accepts the whole written Word of God (as God's Word), deems nothing in it superfluous or of little worth but everything needful and important, and also accepts all teaching deduced of necessity from the word of Scripture.
The Ev. Lutheran Church gives to each teaching of God's Word the place and importance it has in God's Word itself.
A. It makes the teaching concerning Christ, or justification, the foundation and marrow and guiding star of all teaching.
B. The Ev. Lutheran Church distinguishes sharply between the Law and the Gospel.
C. The Ev. Lutheran Church distinguishes sharply between the fundamental and the non-fundamental articles of doctrine contained in Scripture.
D. The Ev. Lutheran Church distinguishes sharply between what God's Word commands and what it leaves free. (Things indifferent [adiaphora], church government.)
E. The Ev. Lutheran Church distinguishes as sharply as cautiously between the Old and the New Testament.
The Ev. Lutheran Church accepts no teaching as an article of faith which is not contained in God's Word and is therefore not absolutely sure and certain.
The Ev. Lutheran Church prizes the gift of interpreting Scripture as given by God to individuals, 1 Cor. 12:4, 7, 8, 10, 30; 14:32; 1 Thess. 5:20.
A. The Ev. Lutheran Church is sure that the teaching contained in its Symbols is the pure God's truth because it agrees with the written Word of God in all points.
B. The Ev. Lutheran Church requires its members and especially its teachers unreservedly to confess and vow fidelity to its symbols.
C. The Ev. Lutheran Church rejects all fraternal and churchly fellowship with those who reject its Confessions in whole or in part.
The Ev. Lutheran Church administers the holy Sacraments after the institution of Christ.
True Ev. Lutheran churches are those only in which the teaching of the Ev. Lutheran Church, as laid down in its Symbols, is not only acknowledged officially but is also in vogue in the public preaching, Jer. 8:8; Matt. 10:32 f.
The Ev. Lutheran Church holds fellowship in confession and charity with all at one with it in faith, Eph. 4:3.
The Ev. Lutheran Church has thus all the essential marks of the true visible Church of God on earth as they are found in no other known communion, and therefore it needs no reformation in doctrine.