The Distinction Between Orthodox &
by Dr. Franz Pieper
We should, therefore, regard membership in the orthodox Church not only as our duty, but also as the greatest privilege and highest honor, even when tile orthodox Church outwardly bears a very humble form.
This thesis is a simple conclusion from the foregoing. If God has commanded fellowship with the orthodox Church and that is the case, as we have seen then this fellowship is our duty, a duty under all circumstances, and a duty for every Christian. God has, under no circumstances, given us a dispensation from the First Commandment, and has said to no Christian: You, for yourself, may cultivate church fellowship with false teachers, as though they were your brethren in the faith. Rather, God simply says: "Avoid them," that is, avoid all who "cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned." Rom. 16:17. Accordingly, whoever has church fellowship with the heterodox is disobedient to God.
But we should look upon fellowship with the orthodox Church not merely as a duty, in the sense that it would be a bitter must for us; simply because a true Christian, who has learned to know God as his dear and gracious Father, is happy when he knows that in a certain matter he is doing God's will. When he does what God commands him, the Christian walks as in a paradise, as Luther says. Thus, as we have learned, only in the orthodox Church is God given the honor which He demands, and only there are sinners rightly served, so that they reach the final goal set for man, salvation. Therefore, we should look upon membership in the orthodox Church as a most glorious privilege, as a great proof of God's grace, for which we can never sufficiently thank God. For we ourselves have not provided this treasure for ourselves, but it is the grace of God which has led us into this Church. Therefore we must, if we only reflect a bit, daily thank God on our knees, that we are members of the Church of the Reformation. Think of those Christians who are found within the heterodox Church. Compare our condition with theirs. Note how the souls of those who sincerely seek their salvation are hindered and tortured there, for example, by the false doctrine concerning the identification marks of a Christian, and by the false doctrine which makes the grace of God uncertain for sinners.
But now, even when a soul has found peace in the fact, that God, through His special grace, prevented error from getting a foothold and saw to it that the truth which was still preached in the heterodox Church was impressed upon the heart, there still remains something which must not be underestimated. Heterodox churches are such who cause divisions and offenses in Christendom. (Rom. 16:17.) Such Christians who are found in the heterodox churches support, without intending to do so, those evil works so strongly condemned in God's Word. The heterodox churches, as such, are in a state of rebellion against God, because they will not follow certain parts of God's Word. Now, those Christians who are in them strengthen, though unknowingly, this rebellion against God.
Finally: heterodox churches are in a continuous state of warfare against the orthodox Church, against that Church which, in conformity with the will of God, confesses all parts of the truth. Heterodox people revile and persecute those who abide by God's Word. Surely, an evil work! For Christ says that He will regard that which is inflicted upon those who confess Him as being done to Him. Now, those Christians who are in heterodox churches take part in this evil work and persecute Christ in His confessors of the truth. It is, for example, very terrible that the Lutheran Church, because it has the true doctrine of Baptism and Lord's Supper, is decried as "Catholic." This attack against the true Church is no small matter. The Apostle, too, at one time before his conversion persecuted the confessors of the truth in ignorance, as he himself admits. But when he came to the knowledge of the truth, this grieved him very much; yes, it plagued him until his death. He says: "I am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." I Cor. 15:9. Therefore, we truly have every reason to thank God daily, to thank Him on our knees, for leading us into the orthodox Church, and for preserving us from the heterodox Church. We must regard it as the greatest favor of God, next to having come to faith in Christ at all when we find ourselves in the orthodox Church.
In the discussion, this also was said: That we are in the orthodox Church by grace and not by merit, everyone should easily understand. What has anyone done about being born of Lutheran parents, educated in Lutheran schools, and acquiring a knowledge of the truth? That this is grace, everyone will understand; but that it is the highest gift of grace, all will perhaps not see. That one enjoys good health, and the like, is, of course, also a gift of God's grace; but what is all grace in earthly things, compared to the grace, that we, as members of the true Christian Church, are virtually overwhelmed with spiritual treasures, and thus rightly provided for in respect to the soul? False Christians, of course, ridicule us when we glorify our membership in the orthodox Church as the greatest gift of grace; our reason often does the same; but the time will come when people will not laugh about this.
Indeed, even the orthodox Church is not in every respect a Pure Church. There are also godless people mixed in with it. Also in it there are hypocrites, people who use the expression "pure doctrine" only with their mouth and only outwardly act as Christians, but in their heart are far from God. These are also in the orthodox Church an abomination to God and to the Church, and when they become manifest, a disgrace for the Church.
Also the upright members of the orthodox Church are and remain poor sinners, who must daily pray the Lord's Prayer, especially the Fifth Petition. But in spite of this, the orthodox Church is clothed with a glory by which it distinguishes itself above all other churches. It has God's Word, pure and unmixed. In the face of all error, it firmly clings to the truth which God has revealed to man in the Holy Scriptures. It continues in the Word of Christ in every point, as Christ requires of the Church. It can, to the glory of God, boast of itself, that the words of Christ are being fulfilled in it: "If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed." John 8:31. It is free from the ugly spots which disfigure the heterodox Church before God: it is free of false doctrine. It is therefore taking the word in the spiritual sense the precious one among the visible church bodies. To belong to it, we should regard as the highest honor again taking the word in the spiritual sense. Is such talk offensive to you? If so, you do not realize how glorious the true doctrine, and how detestable false doctrine is to God!
To be sure, the orthodox Church outwardly often bears a very humble form. And this can, even for Christians, when they are not on their guard against their flesh, become an inducement to be ashamed of their Lutheran Church and to hanker after sectarian churches, standing there in outward splendor. But, we ask, what is the reason? Why does the Lutheran Church outwardly often appear so decidedly in the form of a servant? Is it not just because of its faithfulness to God's Word? Is it not the circumstance, that the orthodox Church primarily in its doctrine is serious about God's Word; that it, because of God's command, does not remain silent in the presence of error, but condemns it; that it does not deal traitorously with the Divine truth, does not look upon truth and error as having equal rights? Is it not, furthermore, also a fact that the orthodox Church takes the Word of God seriously in regard to this life, that it impresses upon the poor, as upon the rich, that all who claim the Name of Christ have the duty to depart from iniquity, and that whoever conforms to the world will also be lost with the world? Yes, that is the practice of the orthodox Lutheran Church, and therefore it must often bear a servant's form. Would it not be disgraceful if we would be ashamed of this Church because of its outward lowliness, which under these circumstances is an honor for it? Would it not be disgraceful if we would rather want to hold to heterodox churches, because outwardly they are more attractive and of greater value in the eyes of the world? By what means have the heterodox churches, for the most part, purchased this outward greatness and honor before the world? By their unfaithfulness to God's Word. They deny the truth by not insisting on the exclusive validity of Divine truth, but honoring all kinds of opinions. They flirt with the wisdom of this world, and its godless manner of life.
Some time ago, a respected Presbyterian preacher in St. Louis confessed that if he in his congregation would try to have God's Word rule as it does with us, in four weeks his whole congregation would scatter. The sects owe their outward size mostly to this, that they play church instead of actually conducting themselves as God's Church. Neither do they rightly bear witness of the Law of God to man, nor do they act as true witnesses of God's grace. But, this is what the Lutheran Church does. By God's grace, it is a faithful, incorruptible witness of God here on earth. Let us, therefore, not be ashamed of the external lowliness of the Lutheran Church, otherwise we are ashamed of Christ Himself, and of His holy Gospel! Christ the Lord also walked about on earth in the lowly form of a poor man. And yet, at that time all were supposed to follow Him. We condemn the scribes and Pharisees, and all those in Israel who did not want to follow Christ because of His outward lowly appearance. Now, let us be careful not to commit the same sin! What Christ taught, that the Lutheran Church teaches; and as He in the days of His flesh bore a servant's form, so also the Lutheran Church. Thus, we dare not let the servant's form of the orthodox Church keep us from joining it with joyful confession. Otherwise, we deny Christ in denying it.
Let us learn more and more to look upon the Lutheran Church with the right kind of spiritual eyes: it is the most beautiful and glorious Church; for it is adorned with God's pure Word. This adornment is so precious, that even though an orthodox congregation were to consist of very poor people, let us say, nothing but woodchoppers and met in a barn (as the Lord Christ also lay here on earth in a barn, on hay and straw), every Christian should much, much rather prefer to affiliate himself with this outwardly so insignificant congregation, rather than with a heterodox congregation, even if its members were all bank presidents and assembled in a church built of pure marble. Let us be sure that our flesh, and the talk of others does not darken the glory of the orthodox Church, or crowd it out of our sight.
Also within the Lutheran Church one meets people who, although they still belong to it, nevertheless look upon their Church as a kind of second rate Church, because they have a great respect for the outward prestige of the sectarian churches. The Lutherans in the General Synod, and in part, also those in the Council, consider themselves honored when they are treated by sectarian churches as a "denomination" of equal rank. Whether the sects recognize us or not, we should not think of ourselves as a second rate Church, nor allow ourselves to be pushed into a corner as outcasts who must first apologize for taking the liberty of existing alongside of sectarian church bodies. We should and must remain conscious of this for God desires it of us , that we alone, as the orthodox Church, have an express charter from God for our existence.
The sectarian church bodies exist only by God's permission. Therefore, our whole heart should belong to our orthodox Church. We should be glad to belong to it as a member, even under the most humble outward conditions; gladly serve it as preachers and teachers, and, with joyful spirit and restless zeal, work for its extension. We should most earnestly strive, and daily pray, that our descendants may be the heirs of the Church of the Reformation.
Luther confesses of himself, and of the whole church body named after him: "No man can deny this, that we have the ministry and God's Word pure and rich, that we use and teach it diligently, without any addition of our own new human doctrine, just as Christ commanded, and as the Apostles and all Christendom have done. We invent nothing new but rather hold to and remain with the old Word of God, as the old Church had it. Therefore, with it we are the true old Church, a one-of-the-same-kind Church, which teaches and believes the one Word of God. Therefore the papists again blaspheme Christ Himself, the Apostles, and all Christendom, when they call us Modernists and heretics. For they find nothing about us except only the same old things of the Ancient Church, and that we are like it and one Church with it." (Against Hans Wurst, 1541. E.A. 26,14.)
Luther states further: "The impurity of doctrine which is not God's Word, or is without it, is such a poisonous evil thing that even if St. Peter, yes, an angel from heaven would preach it, it would still be accursed, Gal. 1:8. Therefore false teachers and Anabaptists or fake masters of the Sacraments cannot be or remain in the Church, as Psalm I says, for they not only undermine the life, which the Church must bear, especially where this goes on under cover, but also the doctrine is undermined, which must openly be bright and shine, so that the life can be regulated according to it." (E.A. 26,37.)
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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