The Distinction Between Orthodox &
by Dr. Franz Pieper
Likewise, only in the orthodox Church is God given the honor which He requires; and, only in it are souls rightly cared for. Fellowship with heterodox churches militates against God's honor, and is a constant danger for the soul.
God's Word revealed in Scripture is God's honor. As God in His Word has revealed Himself to us human beings, so He wants to be honored and worshiped by us human beings. As men take their stand toward God's Word, so they take their stand towards God. This we dare not forget. We mortal beings have God here on earth only in His Word. When by God's grace we have arrived in yonder life, we will see God face to face. Whoever seeks God here on earth, must seek Him in His Word; whoever wants to keep company with God, must keep company with God's Word; whoever claims that he loves God, must prove his love by loving God's Word, as Christ our Lord expressly says: "If a man love Me, he will keep My words." John 14:23. Therefore, we also say: Whoever would honor God, must honor Him in His Word. And what does this include? He must accept all of God's Word as inviolable truth. He must accept God's Words as they read and not take the liberty to explain things away, or misconstrue them, because the clearly expressed sense of a passage is against his reason. Neither does he have the right to make a selection of the doctrines revealed in God's Word and accept some, but reject others. God's honor demands that we accept and keep all His Words.
Let us now apply this to the difference between orthodox and heterodox churches. In the orthodox Church all of God's Word is respected as truth to be kept unbroken, all Words of God are accepted, as they read, without any pet personal interpretation; all doctrines revealed in the Holy Scriptures are believed and confessed. Thus in the orthodox Church God is honored in all His Words; to Him alone is given that honor which He demands. In the heterodox churches, on the other hand, all of God's Word, revealed by God in the Holy Scriptures, is, as a matter of fact, not accepted. God's Word is tampered with, in order to gain a sense that is pleasing to man's reason. Of those doctrines revealed in Scripture, some are denied altogether, others are twisted; doctrines are also set forth as divine which are not at all contained in God's Word. Thus, in heterodox church bodies God's honor is diminished, yes, disgraced.
But right here the leaders of heterodox church bodies assure us, that they place God's honor above everything and seek to honor God in all things. Let us firmly maintain this over against them, that God is honored or despised to the same degree that His Word is honored or despised. They must demonstrate that they honor God in all things by letting God's Word as it reads be the deciding factor in all doctrines. If they assent to God's Word in all doctrines, good! Then, indeed, they truly honor God; then they also cease to be heterodox. But if they continue to misconstrue God's Word, to twist God's Word, and cast it away, then they, in spite of their assurances to the contrary, should not be allowed to talk us into believing that they honor God. That is the case even with the honor of an earthly king. His subjects must demonstrate that they honor him by submitting to the laws which he issues. If they pay no attention to his decrees, and at the same time with fine talk act like loyal subjects in the presence of the king, then that is hypocrisy. Now Christ is King in His Church, in His spiritual kingdom. He has made His revealed Word, the Holy Scriptures, the law of His kingdom. He requires of His spiritual subjects, that they accept all of His Word. Now when you explain away His Word and in part reject it, then you are in rebellion against Christ as the sole Ruler in His kingdom. And if, in this connection, you act very humble and pious, then that is either great ignorance or pure hypocrisy.
Let us by no means forget that God is either honored or else despised by man's attitude toward His Word. We are only too easily inclined to lose sight of this truth. We rather put at the head of the list certain outward, striking marks among those works by which we are to demonstrate our Christianity. The works of charity towards the needy and forsaken are regarded above others as signs of genuine piety. Of course, these works also must be found in a Christian's life. He that does not do them, although God calls upon him to do these particular works, too, will some day hear from the mouth of Christ the words: "I was hungry and ye gave Me no meat," etc. "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire." Matt. 25. But the first and foremost work whereby a person is to give proof of his Christianity is, and remains, surely this, that he from the heart respects God's majestic Word, believes it, submits to it, does not deny any of it, but confesses it wholly and fully. The Lord says: "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My Word." Is. 66:2. "If a man love Me, he will keep My Words." John 14:23. To accept God's Word in humble faith is obedience to the First Commandment. As surely as the First Table of the holy Ten Commandments precedes the Second, so surely the trusting acceptance of His Word is also the first part of God-pleasing piety. This first part of piety is also the basis for all other good works. Without a sincere reverence for God's Word, all external works, even if they appear to others to be ever so impressive, are of no value before God. Let us not forget what Luther so often says: False doctrine, the departure from God's Word, is a sin against the First Commandment. To the extent that a person departs from God's Word, to that extent he separates himself from the authority of God, follows after other gods, and profanes God's name.
The objection, indeed, is raised that the heterodox church bodies mean no evil. Of course, the Christians in these churches intend no evil: it is due to their ignorance, that they do not confess the whole Word of God. But the founders and leaders of sects have evil intent; and the devil, the originator of all false doctrine, wants to rob God of His honor, and souls of their salvation. But, if you say: In the heterodox churches they are only indifferent to God's Word, then we should answer: Indifference to God's Word is disrespect for God. A Christian should not be indifferent to God's Word; rather, God's Word should rate higher in his estimation than everything in the world. Christ says: "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." Matt. 5:19. We must say with Luther: "I feel that every Word of God makes the world too narrow for me." That is rightly honoring God!
Luther writes concerning this matter: "God says: Their worship is idolatrous and false who use My name only with their mouth. Indeed I hear My Name, says He. They call Me Creator of heaven and earth, but altogether in violation of the Second Commandment. For they do not in sincerity thus call Me Creator; yes, what is more, they corrupt the worship with commandments of men. 'They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.' Is. 58:2. But I will not be worshiped with such service and teaching which men have chosen. But in fear before Me you shall serve Me, that is, that you accept My Word in faith, as it is written in the last chapter of Isaiah, v. 2: 'To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My Word'; such people shall serve Me. Likewise Isaiah in chap. 8, v.13: 'Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And He shall be for a sanctuary." (St. L. Ausg. II, 721 to 1 Mos. 31, 33-55.) And (1,1538): "However, let none ever fear God except alone in His Word, as it is written in Exodus 20:3,4: 'Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.' Where God reveals Himself in His Word, there serve Him, there show Him honor; then you are truly God-fearing, as you should be. Therefore we tread upon, reject, Pope, factions, and sects, we are not afraid of them; neither do we honor those who establish a worship of God of their own invention, outside of and against God's Word, those who condemn the true religion and correct teaching, and call it heresy. Therefore they fear where there is no cause to fear; and where there is cause for fear, they do not fear at all."
Let us, additionally, show by the contents of several doctrines how by falsifying them God's honor is diminished. God's Word teaches that Christ has redeemed all people and that God would have all men to be saved. To honor God rightly, we must accordingly believe that God desires the death of not a single sinner, but that according to God's will each sinner should, by faith in Christ, obtain eternal life. See, therefore, how God is dishonored, and what a false picture is drawn of Him by the false teaching which claims that God has redeemed, and wants to save only a part of mankind through Christ. No, we should think thus of God: As the light of the sun is universal and shines on all people, so also in Christ the Divine sun of grace is risen upon all people, without exception, giving them light unto spiritual and eternal life.
Furthermore, God's Word teaches that those who obtain salvation are converted and saved alone by God's grace in Christ, so that no human being can glory in himself above others, but each one must confess: "That I now am converted, that Thou alone hast done." But the synergists, that is, certain false teachers, claim that a man by his own efforts, by his good conduct, etc., brings it about that he, in preference to others, is converted. They thereby do not allow God alone the glory for their conversion and salvation, but ascribe this glory partly to themselves.
The Reformed, and all Reformed sects, deny the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper. Through this they detract from God's honor. Apart from the fact that such do not accord Christ the honor of believing His Word, consider how gloriously the love of Christ beams on us poor sinners when we in accordance with His Word firmly hold that He even gives us as a seal His body and blood for the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins! Whoever vitally understands this will, in his heart, really sings praises to God. Whoever, on the other hand, regards the Lord's Supper as a mere memorial feast in which there is nothing else present than bread and wine, no such praise of God will be found in his heart.
Furthermore, also this is a difference between the orthodox and the heterodox Church, that only in the orthodox Church are souls rightly cared for, while fellowship with the heterodox churches is a constant danger for souls.
No doctrine in Holy Scripture is given us by God without a purpose, but with each doctrine God has our salvation in mind, namely, that we should come to faith in Christ, be kept in faith, and thus by the power of God through faith be preserved unto salvation. Thus we read in John 20:31, at the end of John's Gospel and what applies to this Gospel applies to all of Scripture : "These (things) are written, that ye might believe," etc. Whoever, therefore, cuts off a part of Bible doctrine, cuts off a part of that which should bring him to faith and keep him in it. We read, furthermore, in 2 Tim. 3:16: "All Scripture is given by inspiration or God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." And in Romans 15:4: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime (namely all Scriptures of the Old Testament) were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." Thus, all doctrines revealed in Scripture relate to our salvation. They serve this purpose, that they correctly reveal God's will regarding us human beings, so that we might in faith know God as a gracious God, that in temptation we might have rich comfort, that patience might remain with us in affliction, and that we might firmly cling to the hope of eternal life. Whoever, now, detracts from the doctrines revealed in the Scriptures or falsifies them, takes away from the saving doctrine, detracts from the comfort so necessary for us poor sinners and intended for us by God.
Let us make this clear by considering several examples. Whoever falsifies that doctrine, that only by grace for Christ's sake through faith in Christ we have forgiveness of sin and eternal life; whoever, then, ascribes the obtaining of God's grace in whole or in part to our works or our better conduct, makes it impossible for us to be sure of God's grace and our salvation. For he who has an awakened conscience, and knows a little about himself, must confess with Paul that in him, that is, in his flesh, dwelleth no good thing. Now, if grace and salvation rest, even only partly, on our own worthiness, then we can never become sure of them, but must spend all our life in doubt and uncertainty.
The doctrine of the free grace of God in Christ, however, is denied not only by the Pope, but is also corrupted by all the sects. How soul-destroying the doctrine of work-righteousness is, as it is promoted by the papacy, we can see in Luther. In spite of his honorable and strict life, he sank ever deeper into doubt concerning God's grace. And he would have been ruined altogether in body and soul if he had not, by God's grace, come to the realization that the forgiveness of sins does not rest on our works, but altogether on God's mercy in Christ. With this knowledge the certainty of grace entered into his heart.
But most of the time, the sects teach in such a way, that the grace-hungry souls can have no sure comfort. The almost universal practice of sectarian preachers is to offer the comfort of the Gospel only then when sinners have first ceased from sin and changed their ways. Whereas, a true Christian knows, that there can be no change in a person as long as he does not believe the grace of God.
A person who has come to the knowledge of his sin needs much comfort. For that reason, God has opened many different channels of comfort in the Means of Grace which He ordained. Not only through the preaching of the Gospel does He grant us forgiveness of sins, but also through holy Baptism, and through the holy Supper, He bestows upon and seals for each sinner in particular the forgiveness of sins. Even as it is written, that we are baptized "for the forgiveness of sins," and that in the Lord's Supper Christ gives us His sacrificial body and shed blood as a seal that we through the suffering and death of Christ have forgiveness of sins. Yes, Christ the Lord has, in addition, also ordained Absolution in the words: "Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them," so that a poor sinner, when he hears the Absolution out of a fellow human being's mouth, can be certain his sins are forgiven before God in heaven. But now the sects not only deny these Means of Grace, they also declare it to be misleading and productive of carnal security if one tries to become certain of the forgiveness of sins through Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution. So they stop up the channels through which Christ wants rich comfort to flow to His people.
It is, of course, true: if someone on the basis of the preached Gospel, yes, on the basis of only one passage (for example, "God so loved the world," etc., "The blood of Jesus Christ," etc.) believes in the forgiveness of sins, he really has forgiveness of sins and, in general, all the spiritual gifts merited by Christ, and can die saved. His faith which is based on only one Gospel passage has a divine foundation. For that reason also, many within the sectarian churches are saved, although they are prevented by sectarian doctrine from making the right use of their Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution. They should, however, make use of that which Christ has richly supplied His own. Thus, in the heterodox churches the rich comfort meant for them by Christ is spoiled, and therefore such churches are not the right dwelling place for them. Souls are not rightly cared for among the sects.
There is, of course, a great difference between those who grow up in heterodox churches and out of ignorance remain in them they can with their unrecognized sins be saved , and those who from childhood on have learned the truth, but join a heterodox church in order to please others, for the sake of convenience, or perhaps even on account of some rebuke administered to them in the orthodox Church. These commit a wilful sin, which becomes a hindrance to their salvation. That even in the heterodox churches people can be saved cannot benefit us who know that a Christian should not be found in heterodox churches.
The harm of union between orthodox and heterodox churches can be made clear by an example. Three neighboring farmers each have a brook; the one brook has clear, pure water; the second has cloudy, muddy water; and the third has stagnant, impure water. The proposal is made to combine the three brooks in order to form a bigger, more impressive-looking stream. "No," says the owner of the pure water, "I want to keep my clear water; if you wish clear water, then get it from me; I'll still have enough." Thus the orthodox Church ought also to refuse union with the heterodox Church, in order that the water of life may not be mixed with any deadly ingredients.
The danger of staying in a heterodox church becomes clearly evident also when considered from still another viewpoint. For a Christian, it is necessary above all that the Word of God remain for him immovably and incontestably certain. Therefore David prays, Ps. 119:38: "Stablish Thy Word unto Thy servant." When a sinner is in temptation and peril of death, when the waters of Belial roar about him, and the Foe accuses and assails him with the charge: "You are a disgraceful sinner and therefore damned," then there is only one means of deliverance. At such a time, words such as these must be impressed upon him: "The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin." 1 John 1:7. ''This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acception, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." 1 Tim. 1:15. If a sinner accepts these words as they read and regards them as sure and certain words, then he is confident in the midst of death, and his heart becomes peaceful in the mightiest storm of temptation. But in heterodox churches the Word of God is constantly made uncertain for the Christian. That is to say, in order to justify their false doctrines, these churches must constantly pervert God's Word, they must disregard God's Word as it reads, they must continually practice all kinds of tricks with the Word of God. Several examples should make this clear.
Those who claim that Baptism is not a Means of Grace, no washing of regeneration, must continually deny these words of Scripture, Gal. 3:27: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." Also, Acts 2:38: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Again, Titus 3:5: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."
Whoever denies the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper must pervert the words of institution where Christ the Lord, speaking of that which He gives His Christians to eat, says: "This is My body," and, speaking of that which He gives to them to drink, says: "This is My blood." Likewise, the Words in 1 Cor. 10:16: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?"
Whoever does not make conversion and salvation dependent solely on the grace of God, but also on the conduct of man, he must actually cross out hundreds of Bible passages. He must strike all passages which testify to the spiritual death, the thoroughly corrupted nature of man, its enmity against God, etc.: Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13f.; Gen. 8:21; John 3:5; Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14. Furthermore, he must cross out all those passages which ascribe faith to the grace and work of God alone: Eph 1:19-20; Phil. 1:29; Col. 1:3-5. Moreover, he must strike all those passages which declare that we are righteous alone through faith, Rom. 3:28,24; 1 Cor. 4:7; and that we are kept by the power of God unto salvation, 1 Pet. 1:5; Phil. 1:6.
Thus in heterodox churches, in order to defend false doctrine, Gods Word must continually be denied. It is rightly said: "It costs nine lies to maintain one lie." Whoever allows himself such liberties with the Word of God, let him beware, lest the devil also make this clear Word doubtful for him in the hour of death: "The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin." 1 John 1:7. Therefore, staying in heterodox churches is a very dangerous thing for the soul. You must avoid them, so that you may retain a firm and certain Word of God. As those two hundred, who in their simplicity went with Absalom, had to share the danger of the rebels, so also the Christians among the heterodox must share the danger for the soul which false doctrine brings to it.
Furthermore, consider this: All doctrines of the Bible are connected with one another; they form a unit. One error draws others in after it. Zwingli's first error was the denial of the presence of Christ's body and blood in the Lord's Supper. In order to support this error, he had to invent a false doctrine of Christ's Person, of heaven, of the right hand of God, etc. If one error is firmly held, the whole Word of God logically falls, and it is alone by God's grace if then not all Divine truths are torn out of the heart by the devil.
Luther tellingly answers the objection of the Zwinglians, that they erred in only one point, and that, therefore, fellowship should not be denied them: "'A little leaven leaventh the whole lump.' Gal. 5:9. This is a warning which St. Paul regards as important, and which we, too, especially in our day, should rightly regard as important. For the factions, which claim that Christ's body and blood are not present in the Lord's Supper, censure us, and slanderously say of us that we are quarrelsome, hard-hearted, and unfriendly, that for the sake of the single article concerning the Sacrament, we offend against Christian love and break up the unity of the churches. They believe, therefore, we should not regard this article so high and great (which, they say, is of little consequence, and that, of course, you cannot be sure about it, since the Apostles have not sufficiently expounded it, as indeed necessity required). For such a cause, they say, we should not let the whole sum of Christian doctrine and general unity of so many Christian congregations be disrupted, especially since they are otherwise really agreed with us in all other articles of Christian doctrine, which are more necessary and of greater importance. With this argument of theirs, which really is impressive and sounds good in the ears of the general run of the people, they not only cause their followers to become our bitter enemies, but they thereby also persuade many good people to think that we will not make common cause with them out of sheer stubbornness, or else because of some special ill will on our part. But these are all vain and clever tricks, and deceit of the devil, whereby he seeks nothing else than to overturn and destroy not only this article, but all Christian doctrine." (Commentary on Galatians 5:9.)
These are precious words, which should also be taken to heart in our day. It appears strange to many, that we cling so firmly to the pure doctrine; people call this obstinacy, or love for fighting on our part; but our conscience is bound in the Word of God. First, we maintain: The chief part of faithfulness to God is the simple, humble abiding in His Word. Then: Every departure from God's Word, every error, is dangerous to the soul. There is a fearful, diabolical power in error; for every error is the devil's work, and through fellowship with error a person puts himself under the influence of the devil. Here human reason is helpless. The papacy is an example. Although you can already by the light of reason recognize its errors, reason nevertheless does not offer any security against being mislead into it. Yes, it is evident, also sophisticated, intelligent people are ensnared and taken captive by the papacy; nor can they free themselves from its bewitching spell. Whoever is not rescued from it by God's strong hand will nevermore get out. Let us therefore beware, lest by practicing fellowship with the heterodox we put ourselves carelessly into danger, and thus lose our salvation.
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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