From the Preface:
The title-page of this treatise declares that it was written 'to repel the
attacks of Pastor Grabau of Buffalo, N.Y.' However, the scope of Walther's
effort extended beyond Pastor Grabau and the Buffalo Synod.
The earliest Lutheran organizations in America were not called 'synods' but
'ministeria.' To their conventions laymen might be brought along by their
pastors, but they had no determining voice in the deliberations of their
church-body. (Like in) the great national Lutheran churches of Europe...the
rights of layman to direct their own church affairs, except in a few isolated
instances, were ignored by common consent or openly denied.
Pastor Grabau's ideal 'Church' had so much in common with the existing
Lutheran church-bodies at that time that an attack upon his organization was
really a challenge to all the Lutheran ministeria in America and all the
national Lutheran churches of Europe. They were all hierarchically oriented
and ingrained. What Walther attempted by his treatise was something unheard of
since Luther and the early days of the Reformation. It was throwing down the
gauntlet to every type of arrogant Lutheran clericalism throughout the world.
Walther regarded the denial of the personal right of self-decision in
religious matters to the humblest believer in Christ and of his supreme
authority in the Church as wicked arrogance. He championed the rights of the
Christian with his treatise on the Church and the Ministry.
The draft of the treatise was submitted in 1851 to the Fifth Convention of
the Missouri Synod at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and discussed in eight sessions.
Unanimously the convention voted its enthusiastic approval of Walther's effort
and ordered its publication. During a visit at Erlangen that same year Walther
engaged the well-known firm of Andreas Deichert for this work, and from their
presses the first edition of the treatise was issued in 1852.
Theses on the Church
The Church, in the proper sense of the term, is the communion of saints,
that is, the sum total of all those who have been called by the Holy Spirit
through the Gospel from out of the lost and condemned human race, who truly
believe in Christ, and who have been sanctified by this faith and incorporated
To the Church in the proper sense of the term belongs no godless person, no
hypocrite, no one who has not been regenerated, no heretic.
The Church, in the proper sense of the term, is invisible.
This true Church of believers and saints it is to which Christ has given
the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Therefore this Church is the real and sole
holder and bearer of the spiritual, divine, and heavenly blessings, rights,
powers, offices, etc., which Christ has gained and which are available in His
Although the true Church, in the proper sense of the term, is invisible as
to its essence, yet its presence is perceivable, its marks being the pure
preaching of the Word of God and the administration of the holy Sacraments in
accordance with their institution by Christ.
In an improper sense the term "Church," according to Holy
Scripture, is applied also to the visible sum total of all who have been
called, that is, to all who profess allegiance to the Word of God that is
preached and make use of the holy Sacraments. This Church (the universal
[catholic] Church) is made up of good and evil persons. Particular divisions
of it, namely, the congregations found here and there, in which the Word of
God is preached and the holy Sacraments are administered, are called churches
(particular churches), for the reason, namely, that in these visible groups
the invisible, true Church of the believers, saints, and children of God is
concealed, and because no elect persons are to be looked for outside of the
group of those who have been called.
Even as the visible communions in which the Word and the Sacraments still
exist in their essence bear, according to God's Word, the name of CHURCHES
because of the true invisible Church of the true believers contained in them,
so likewise they, because of the true, invisible Church concealed in them,
though there be but two or three, possess the POWER which Christ has
given to His entire Church.
While God gathers for Himself a holy Church of the elect in places where
the Word of God is not preached in entire purity and the holy Sacraments are
not administered altogether in accordance with their institution by Jesus
Christ, -- provided the Word of God and the Sacraments are not utterly denied
but essentially remain in those places, -- still every one is obliged, for the
sake of his salvation, to flee from all false teachers and to avoid all
heterodox churches, or sects and, on the other hand, to profess allegiance,
and adhere, to orthodox congregations and their orthodox preachers wherever he
A. Also in erring, heretical congregations there are children of God; also
in them the true Church becomes manifest by means of the remnants of the pure
Word of God and the Sacraments that still remain in them.
B. Every one is obliged, for the sake of his salvation, to flee all false
prophets and to avoid fellowship with heterodox churches, or sects.
C. Every Christian is obliged, for the sake of his salvation, to profess
allegiance, and adhere, to orthodox congregations and their orthodox preachers
wherever he finds such.
The only indispensable requisite for obtaining salvation is fellowship with
the invisible Church, to which all those glorious promises that concern the
Church were originally given.
Theses on the Ministry
The holy ministry, or the pastoral office, is an office distinct from the
priestly office, which belongs to all believers.
The ministry, or the pastoral office, is not a human ordinance, but an
office established by God Himself.
The ministry of preaching is not an arbitrary office, but its character is
such that the Church has been commanded to establish it and is ordinarily
bound to it till the end of days.
The ministry of preaching is not a peculiar order, set up over and against
the common estate of Christians, and holier than the latter, like the
priesthood of the Levites, but it is an office of service.
The ministry of preaching has the authority to preach the Gospel and to
administer the Sacraments and the authority of a spiritual tribunal.
The ministry of preaching is conferred by God through the congregation, as
holder of all church power, or of the keys, and by its call, as prescribed by
God. The ordination of those called, with the laying on of hands, is not by
divine institution but is an apostolic church ordinance and merely a public,
solemn confirmation of the call.
The holy ministry is the authority conferred by God through the
congregation, as holder of the priesthood and of all church power, to
administer in public office the common rights of the spiritual priesthood in
behalf of all.
The ministry is the highest office in the Church, from which, as its stem,
all other offices of the Church issue.
Reverence and unconditional obedience is due to the ministry of preaching
when the preacher is ministering the Word of God. However, the preacher may
not dominate over the Church; he has, accordingly, no right to make new laws,
to arrange indifferent matters and ceremonies arbitrarily, and to impose and
execute excommunication ALONE, without a previous verdict of the entire
According to divine right the function of passing judgment on doctrine
belongs indeed to the ministry of preaching. However, also the laymen have
this right, and for this reason they also have a seat and vote with the
preachers in church courts and councils.