The Distinction Between Orthodox &
by Dr. Franz Pieper
The Divinely ordained external form of the Church is its orthodoxy. Heterodox church bodies have their existence only by God's permission.
If a man has become a Christian, and if God does not take him immediately from earth into heaven, he should then not want to stay alone by himself but seek the outward fellowship of other Christians. That is God's will. Consider the time of the Apostles. Wherever these men preached, those who had come to faith by the preaching of the Apostles entered into an outward fellowship with one another. And these communions which developed in the various localities, the Holy Scriptures called churches or congregations. Paul speaks in 1 Cor. 16:19 of the "churches in Asia"; 2 Cor. 8:1 of the "churches in Macedonia"; 1 Cor. 1:2 of the "church of God at Corinth"; Acts 8:1 of the "church at Jerusalem"; yes, in Rom. 16:5 of a "church in the house" of Priscilla and Aquilla. These are the so-called local congregations.
These are not something alongside, or outside, of the universal Christian Church, but they, together with the individual believing souls who are cut off from all outward fellowship with others, make up the universal Christian Church. These local congregations are founded by Christ. And to every local church, Christ has given all spiritual treasures and rights, as we see plainly, for example, in Matt. 18:17-20: "Tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them." Here the universal Christian Church is not meant, for you cannot call it together, but the local congregation, as Christ expressly says: "Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them."
Every Christian should, if he has the opportunity, join such a local congregation. With respect to the local congregation, Heb. l0:25 says expressly: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is." Regarding fellowship in the local congregation, Acts 2:42 speaks with praise: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship." And verse 44: "And all that believed were together." That Christian sins most grievously who does not join a Christian congregation when he has the opportunity, for such affiliation is Gods will. He who refuses to join a Christian fellowship, although he could, resists Gods will. After intensive and continued instruction he must finally be told: It is all a lie when you say that you have faith. Yes, the failure to join a Christian congregation can under certain circumstances just as clearly reveal unbelief as when a man is a drunkard, an adulterer, or the like.
Accordingly, it is Gods will that a Christian should join a Christian congregation. But if we now look at the congregations which call themselves Christian, we see that they do not all agree in confession of faith. The question confronts the Christian, which visible church should he join? Or, if he already is a member of a church, as is often the case, should he remain in this fellowship or look for another one? A Christian should and will govern himself in all things according to Gods Word. In order to answer this question, we set up, in accordance with Gods Word, the general proposition:
"The Divinely ordained external form of the Church is its orthodoxy. Heterodox church bodies have their existence only by Gods permission."
God desires to have only an orthodox Church, or, in other words, it is Gods will that all Christians should belong only to an orthodox church. This truth is flatly denied nowadays. This accounts for the fact that even Lutherans speak of sectarian churches as "sister congregations." They say, that as God desires to save people out of all nations, so He also desires to have various churches with various faiths. False reasoning is also employed for the purpose of calling the truth of our Thesis into question. They argue: If there are true children of God in heterodox churches, as you yourself concede, then it cannot be true that only the orthodoxy of the Church is pleasing to God. The Holy Scriptures, however, everywhere testify to the truth of our Thesis. Let us here present just a few basic reasons.
That God desires only an orthodox Church is manifest already from the fact that God has given us the Holy Scriptures, and in them has revealed all articles of Christian doctrine. Now, as surely as God has revealed all doctrines in order that they be accepted in faith, yes, under threat of His wrath has forbidden us to add or subtract anything from them, so surely God wants the Church to be orthodox and that alone; For an orthodox Church is one that believes and confesses all the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture. The correctness of our Thesis is further proved by all passages of Scripture in which it is said that all Christians, no matter of what nation, should have only one set of beliefs, the one revealed in Gods Word. In the well-known words of 1 Cor. 1:10, we read: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." There are many differences among Christians in those things which belong to natural life, in culture, manner of living, etc. Christians may also establish different external forms of church liturgy. But in one thing, among Christians, whether they are white or black, educated or not, there should be no difference but the most complete uniformity, namely, in beliefs, in doctrine. This Eph. 4:3-6 also proves: "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Accordingly, as certainly as all Christians should have only the one creed as revealed in Scripture, just as certainly God also wants the Church to be orthodox, and that alone. In Eph. 4:11-14, the Apostle says that Christ gave some to be Apostles, some to be prophets, etc. For what purpose? That all might come to the unity of the one faith in, and confession of, the Son of God.
That God wants the Church to be orthodox in its external form, is evident also from the commission to the Divinely ordained office of the ministry. For every command of God in Scripture to preach the Word refers only to the preaching of the pure Word. When Christ the Lord says: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), He expressly adds, "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:20.) In Jer. 23:28, the Lord speaks to the preachers: "He that hath My Word, let him speak My Word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord." The praise of a true preacher according to Scripture is therefore this, that he preaches Gods Word purely, that is, without admixture of his own thoughts. In 2 Cor. 2:17, St. Paul confesses of himself: "For we are not as many which corrupt the Word of God." But those preachers who depart from Gods Word, who mix the truth with error, are threatened in Scripture with Gods wrath. We read in Jer. 23:31-32: "Behold I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, and do tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord."
That God wants the Church to be orthodox is evident also from the description which Scripture gives us of Christians. Christ says of them: "My sheep hear My Voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." (John 10:27.) According to the Scriptures, it belongs to the make-up of a Christian that he obeys only the voice of Christ, by faith adheres solely to Gods Word. Insofar as the Christians depart from the Word of Christ, they follow another, and deny Christ. In praise of the Jerusalem congregation, it is said: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine." (Acts 2:42.)
Furthermore, all Christians are expressly warned to guard themselves carefully against false prophets. "Beware of false prophets," Christ exhorts them in Matt. 7:15. And St. John impresses upon them, 2 John 10: "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrinenamely, the doctrine of Christ, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed," that is, as a brother in the faith. Yes, the orthodoxy of the Church is such a serious thing with God that in the Old Testament, when He employed bodily punishments in the Church, He commanded His believers to stone the false prophets who led the people away from the Lords commands, even when that false prophet was the nearest relative. Thus we read in that noteworthy passage of Deut. 13:6ff.: "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou has not known, thou nor thy fathers; namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; thou shalt not consent unto him; nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die."
Thus God had ordained it in the Old Testament. In the New Testament this bodily punishment is expressly done away with. But with this law in the Old Testament, God has shown what a most serious thing the orthodoxy of the Church is to Him. In the New Testament, Paul expresses something similar when, in Galatians 1:9, he pronounces the curse upon all who stubbornly falsify Gods Word.
That God desires to have only an orthodox Church is evident also from the names which are given the Church in the Holy Scriptures. In I Tim. 3:15, it is called "the house of God," a spiritual house that God has built for Himself, and in which God alone is Master. As otherwise in an orderly house, the masters word prevails, so also in the Church, Gods house, Gods Word alone should rule, rule in everything that it says. The preachers must therefore preach the Word of God alone. He that sets Gods Word aside deposes God from being Master of the house. The preachers, as stewards in Gods spiritual house, must demonstrate their faithfulness by not preaching their own wisdom, but the pure Word of God. Therefore, we read in I Pet. 4:11: "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God."
The Church, moreover, is called Gods and Christs kingdom, (John 18:36). As in the domain of an earthly king his word rules, so also in the spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of Christ, Christs Word alone should rule. For Christ has made His Word the law in His kingdom. He says in John 8:31-32: "If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." In Isaiah 8:20 we read the well-known words: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them!"
Furthermore, the Church is called the Bride of Christ. She should therefore cleave to Him alone. This is done, first and foremost, in this way that she gives heed alone to the Word of Christ, in faith adheres alone to His Word, and permits nothing to separate her from that Word. Insofar as the Church listens to the word of another, she becomes unfaithful to Christ. Hence, the Israelitic Church, insofar as she fell away from God, is often called an adulteress. Therefore the Church is also exhorted in Psalm 45, verses 10 and 11: "Hearken, 0 daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy fathers house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for He is thy Lord; and worship thou Him." And St. Paul warns the Corinthians, 2 Cor. 11:2-3, against false doctrines by reminding them how the Church, as the Bride of Christ, should not allow herself to be led away from Gods Word, and in that way be defiled. In brief, wherever you look in the Scripture and whatever side of the Church you may consider, this truth always confronts us: God wants the Church to be orthodox in its external form. This truth must really become a living part of us. Then we have the right foundation for judging orthodox and heterodox church bodies.
Luther always comes back to this, that in the Church only the true doctrine should be proclaimed, that is, that the Church should therefore be orthodox. On I Peter 4:11 he writes: "If any man speak, let him speak it as the Word of God: that is a very necessary doctrine in the Church. And if it had been maintained until now, the world would not have been filled with Antichrists lies and deception.... For in Christendom, affairs are not so conducted as in earthly government and in those things which concern external matters and goods. In the latter men rule as they understand it and as their reason teaches. They have the right to establish law and order and, in accordance with them, command, punish, receive, and give. But in the Church we are dealing with a spiritual government where consciences are bound by God. And what is spoken, taught, commanded, or done there, must be carried out in such a way that you know that it is valid and stands in Gods sight; yes, that it proceeds and moves before Him, so that you can say: God Himself has said and done that. For in this house where He lives and rules, He should and will, also as the rightful Master, say and do everything Himself, even though He uses the mouth and hand of men to accomplish it. Therefore, first and above all things, both preachers and hearers must here see to it that in matters of doctrine there be clear and sure proof that such teaching really is the true Word of God, revealed from heaven to the holy patriarchs, prophets, and Apostles, confirmed by Christ Himself and commanded by Him to be taught. For it cannot by any means be tolerated that the doctrine is handled as each individual pleases, or to suit his own fancy and to harmonize it with his human reason and understanding, or to toy and juggle with Scripture and Gods Word, so that it is explained, directed, stretched, and patched at will for the sake of pleasing the people or for the sake of peace and unity. For in that case there would be no sure and abiding foundation on which the consciences could rest." In the Church only Gods Word should be proclaimed. Insofar as mans word is proclaimed, the Church is no Church at all.
Luther writes concerning the above-mentioned passage, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God": "If anyone wants to speak, let him keep his own words to himself; let them count for something in the earthly government and in the home. Here in the Church he should speak nothing but the Word of the mighty Master of the house: otherwise it is not the true Church. Therefore the rule must be: God speaks. It has to be that way on this earth. If a prince wants to rule, then his voice must be heard in his country and home. Now if that is the case in this miserable life, so much the more should we let the Word of God be heard in the Church and in eternal life. All subjects and governments must be obedient to the word of their lord. This we call administration. Therefore a preacher is Gods steward by virtue of His command and office, and dare say nothing else than what God says and commands. And though one does much babbling outside of Gods Word; still the Church is not in the chatter, no matter if they should become mad and absurd. They only cry church, church, you must hear the Pope and the bishops." (Sermon on the 1st Pentecost Day, XII, 1413 ff.) Insofar as in the Church not Gods Word but mans word is proclaimed, the church is no longer Gods house, but the devils. It is a terrible defilement of the house of God where Gods Word is not preached in its purity in the Church; and God will severely punish such defilement of His house.
Luther, in the above mentioned reference, writes further: "For this cause we must look to Christ and hear Him, how He describes the true Christian Church against their false hue and cry. For you should and must rather believe Christ and the Apostles, so that you speak Gods Word, and do as St. Peter and Christ the Lord here declare: Whoever holds to My Word, there is My dwelling. There is the Master Builder: My Word must remain in it, or it shall not be My house. Our papists want to do it better; let them therefore remain in the danger. Christ says: We will make our abode with him, and there the Holy Ghost operates. It must be a people that loves Me and keeps My commandments. That, in brief, is what He wants . On the other hand, under earthly government the Christian hears something different, how men should punish the evildoers and protect the good, and of stewardship. But here in the Christian Church it should therefore be a house in which only Gods Word is proclaimed." Under earthly government it is indeed different. The citizens of different kingdoms can obey the most widely differing laws. But every citizen is guided by the country in which he lives. If he finds himself in America, he complies with American law; is he in China, then he lives according to Chinese law. It is not thus in the Church. As there is only one Church, one kingdom of Christ on the whole earth, so there is for all citizens of this kingdom, whether they are Americans or Chinese, only one law, the Word of Christ, as it is revealed in the Scriptures. Therefore, Luther also says that it is vain for them to cry "church, church," if Gods Word is, nevertheless, not even preached among them.
When Luther discusses this subject, he can never exhaust it to his own satisfaction. Yet another passage may therefore be presented: "From this you can now answer those criers and spewers who have nothing in their big mouths but church, church. Now tell me, dear Pope, what is the Church? Answer: The Pope and his Cardinals. Why listen here, you self-deceived and foolish man, where is it written in Gods Word that Father Pope and Brother Cardinal are the true Church of God? Or do you say this perhaps because the fine-feathered parrot and the black jackdaw have babbled this? Christ tells you and me something far different, namely, that is My Church where My Word is preached and maintained pure and unadulterated. Therefore St. Paul warns that we should flee and avoid those who want to lead us away from Gods Word. For whoever defiles Gods temple, which we are, him shall God in turn destroy, I Cor. 3:17. Now St. Peter also says, I Peter 4:11: Watch yourself, if you desire to preach, then you should preach nothing but Gods Word, otherwise you will defile Gods Church." (Taken from the same quotation.)
But now there actually exist many heterodox churches, that is, such church bodies which do not in all parts remain with the truth which God has revealed. That there would be such church bodies is foretold in Scripture. This fact should therefore not seem strange to us. St. Paul says to the elders of Ephesus, Acts 20:29-30: "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." And these men who will speak false doctrine will succeed in gaining a following. In I Cor. 11:19 the Apostle actually says: "There must be also heresies," that is, parties which will spread false doctrine, "among you."
Now we ask: What is Gods will concerning these heterodox church bodies? Especially in our time, as already indicated, it is generally said that it is according to Gods will, that there are different churches with different faiths. The different confessions, it is said, are the necessary consequences of this, that God leads persons and nations of differing abilities into the Church. Therefore the different tendencies in the Church, they say, have equal rights. It is said of us that we demand too much when we maintain that all Christians should have the same faith. This view is as wrong as it is widespread. As surely as God has revealed only one doctrine in the Holy Scriptures, and as surely as He commands all Christians to accept this one doctrine, and forbids every departure from it, so surely it is not pleasing to God that there are heterodox church bodies. That such church bodies exist is not desired by God, but only permitted. Gods providence (rule of the world) has no more to do with the existence of heterodox church bodies than with every other sin. And this does not contradict the truth, that there are still dear children of God in heterodox churches. God, so to speak, just makes the best He can out of the heterodox church bodies. Also in these church bodies children are born to Him, insofar as in them parts of His Word are still preached. But God does not want them to exist as heterodox church bodies, or insofar as they depart from His Word. This we must firmly maintain on the basis of Gods Word. We must remember what these heterodox church bodies, as such, are, namely, churches which have inscribed false doctrine on their banner, and have established a separate communion. The Reformed, as an example, have founded a separate church body by writing on their banner false doctrine concerning Baptism and the Lords Supper; namely, that Baptism is not the washing of regeneration, and that in the Lords Supper the true body and the true blood of Christ are not present. That such a church body exists is only by Gods permission.
But then, why does God permit heterodox church bodies to arise? The Word of God answers that. Not as though God wants to have heterodox bodies together with orthodox bodies for the sake of variety in the garden of His Church, but in order that the Christians keep their distance from heterodox church bodies. I Cor. 11:19, indeed, says: "There must be also heresies among you." But he does not add: God wants it that way in the Church, and now you have free choice to belong to any kind of group; but rather: "That they which are approved may be made manifest among you." Thus, God permits the formation of sects also for this purpose, to test His own, whether they are sincere and honest about His Word, whether they will hold fast to His Word also then, when, under very deceptive circumstances, they are perhaps tempted to depart from His Word, and cling to error. We find proof for this in Deut. 13:3. This passage says in respect to a false prophet, even when he comes with signs and wonders: "Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Thus, these are times of trial for the Christians when God permits false prophets to come. God then tests the obedience of His Christians. For it is not Gods will that the Christians should join with false prophets, but that they should keep away from them, follow the voice of their Shepherd alone, and reveal themselves as the lambs of Christ, as Luther says in his writing against Hans Wurst: "When it happens that people disagree in doctrine, it has this effect, that it separates them and reveals who the true Christians are, namely, those who keep the Word of God in all its purity and excellence." (Erlanger Ed. 26, 28.)
The same author writes: "These are not the words of an angry judge, but they are fatherly words. As though He wanted to say: I have given you My Word that you accept it with a good and peaceful heart, and hold to it; but I will send false apostles and will try you out, whether in all seriousness you will love Me and My Word." (W.I, 2299.)
Dr. Franz August Otto Pieper was a Professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri from 1878-1931. During the years 1887-1931 he was President of the same. From 1899-1911 Dr. Pieper was also President of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod.
He most widely used work today is Christian Dogmatics, a 3-volume work (4 with index) covering all areas of Christian Doctrine from the Orthodox Lutheran viewpoint.
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