The Distinction Between Orthodox &
by Dr. Franz Pieper
The reasons which have been advanced for joining heterodox church bodies, and for remaining in them, partly sound very pious; but they are, considered in the light of God's Word, altogether invalid, and originate in our blind, conceited, self-willed, and presumptuous flesh.
The reasons which should be named here were already partly covered in the discussion on the first five theses. Let us yet briefly refer only to a few of them. The reasons partly sound very pious, but considered in the light of God's Word, they are altogether invalid. At times their origin, namely, that they come from the flesh, is written plainly on their face. So, for example, when it is argued that a man out of consideration for his business must belong to a heterodox church. To this we simply say: That is turning one's faith into a business. In other words, we subordinate the question: "What must I do to be saved?" to that other one: "What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" Others say: Faith does not matter at all, the most important things, finally, are the deeds. That is an altogether heathenish statement. Faith matters so much, that, "He that believeth on Him (Christ) is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." John 3:18. And as for works which are well-pleasing to God, and through which faith should manifest itself, the chief work among them is this, that you firmly cling to the whole Word of God and confess it, and thus adhere to the orthodox Church.
This reason, however, sounds more honorable: "My relatives, yes, members of my family belong to a heterodox church, so I do not want to cause disturbance and disorder in my family by my lone membership in the orthodox Lutheran Church. I love my own too much for that." If you earnestly love your relatives, then in all love and patience bring the testimony of Bible truth to them, that they may in all things give honor to the Word of God, and depart from error. You should not go over to them, but they should come over to you that is God's will. If you do not succeed, then you must forego the good fortune of being united with your loved ones in one and the same Church. True it is: it hurts, not to be able to have church fellowship with those near and dear to you. But, Christ the Lord has already taken such a case into consideration, and has definitely settled it. He says, Matt. 10:37-38: "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me is not worthy of Me." And Matt. 19:29: "And everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life." Therefore, at such a time, and in such a situation, consider this: the Lord, your God, is testing you whether you love Him, whether you love Him more than all others, who is the Savior of your soul and who shed His blood for you.
You may say: "I want to remain in the heterodox church in order to accomplish good in it, namely, to prevent it from losing the truth altogether." If you happen to be in a heterodox church, then first of all, bear witness to the truth clearly and definitely. If they listen to you, good. Under certain circumstances, you can wait a little, to see whether the truth is accepted. But as soon as it is clear that they will not accept the truth, you must separate yourself from that group which holds to the error. If you, nevertheless, remain in it, then you are no longer reinforcing the truth, but rather, the error. It is blindness if you suppose that you are still a witness bearer for the truth, when you continue in fellowship with openly known errorists. It is an absolute contradiction to be both a witness-bearer for the truth, and an associate of false teachers. As Luther says: You "cannot remain in the same stall with others who propagate false doctrine or are attached to it or always speak good words to the devil and his crowd." (XVI I, 1477.)
Again, it is said: If you distinguish so exactly between orthodox and heterodox churches, and want no fellowship with the heterodox, then the Church will be disturbed constantly, and it will suffer more harm than it can receive benefit therefrom. Such words come from the conceited flesh. Surely Christ the Lord knows best what will harm or benefit His Church. He says with respect to the false believers: "From such turn away." 2 Tim. 3:5. "Avoid them." Rom. 16:17. This do, if you want to be a Christian, according to the Lord's Word, and do not presume to rule the Church with your blind thoughts. Besides, this objection is based on an altogether wrong conception of the Church. The Church is the communion of believers, of those who in faith cling to Christ as their Savior. The Church is benefited when only that is preached which works faith, and maintains it, namely, the pure truth revealed in Scripture, and when everything is kept away that hinders faith in Christ, that is, false doctrine. Indeed, if the Church were not the spiritual kingdom of those believing in Christ, but rather an earthly organization, an arrangement to provide a living for pastors, superintendents, and other ecclesiastics, or a society for the support of the civil state, then you would have to anxiously avoid everything that might disturb the outward peace of the Church; then outward peace would have to be bought also by tolerating false doctrine. But now, the Christian Church is an institution of Christ for the preaching of His pure word to save souls.
Another says: "I can very well take care of my soul, also in those church bodies which proclaim error in addition to the truth. Whatever is said there against God's Word, I will not accept." So speaks the presumptuous flesh. He who is really concerned about his soul will not speak that way. Do not trust yourself too much! Error is not such a harmless thing. Your heart is a breeding ground for all sins, also for every doctrinal error. This is proved already by your objection. The objection itself already reveals that you no longer have the right abhorrence for false doctrine. You are already half gone astray. Besides, you absolutely cannot take care of your own soul. That God must do. He wants to do it, and He will do it. He will protect you, so that you will not "dash your foot against a stone," also in spiritual matters. That He has promised. But this He has promised to do, and He does this, when you walk in God's Ways. That is, when you abide in God's Word, when you avoid the fellowship of errorists, as God has commanded.
If, therefore, we judge on the basis of God's Word, and not according to our own thoughts, then it is certain, that by avoiding all church fellowship with errorists, we walk according to God's will and thereby serve the best interests of the Church in general, and also of our own soul in particular. May God always give us enlightened, spiritual eyes of our understanding, that we may at all times actively recognize the difference between orthodox and heterodox churches, and give us the right, holy love for the truth, that we may at all times act in accordance with this knowledge.
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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