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What Luther Says

Church & Office: Preface -- Matthew C. Harrison

Since I received so many new books for Christmas, I thought it might be a good idea to go back and actually read the books that I got last year (or within the last few months) first.

One such book is C.F.W. Walther's The Church & The Office of The Ministry. It's a classic work of Lutheran literature that was recently released as "A Study Edition" edited by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison and I got it last year for Christmas.

It's an intimidating book just by looking at it though! Not the kind of thing you'd probably expect most laymen to be familiar with let alone have the stomach to read. Plus, it's rich with our church's history and theological buzz words (including some cool sounding German words too), and it's a full 495 pages if you count the Index.

Still, just because something's "hard" or "difficult" doesn't mean we should just ignore it, right? Besides, that would be to our great detriment I'm sure.

Anyway, I think it's time I started working my way through it. So, here are some items of interest (things I either underlined and/or wrote comments about in the margins) from the Preface written by Rev. Harrison...

*- Did you notice that subheading on the Title Page? I live in Buffalo, NY. Was born and raised here. So, naturally, this caught my eye: "From the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States as a Witness of Its Faith, Set Forth as a Defense against the Accusations of Herr Pastor Grabau in Buffalo, New York" What is that about? What is the local connection to the history of our Synod? I'm certainly intrigued!

*- "Walther's The Church and The Office of The Ministry is precisely and meticulously arranged. He made use of precise terminology, as did the writers of the Book of Concord, Martin Luther, and the great orthodox theologians who appear so frequently and copiously in the following pages. Precision in matters of Christian doctrine is a hallmark of confessional Lutheranism, all for the sake of the Gospel. For these reasons, we have highlighted standard terminology as well as interesting or unusual expressions."

*- I've quickly learned that some of the contemporary challenges we face today center around certain decisions and liberties taken with translating Walther's original work. Specifically, as it relates to a proper translation and understanding of Kirche und Amt. Writing about the previous edition of this body of work, Harrison states: "In some cases, Mueller decided more or less justifiably to render Kirche as 'congregation' instead of as 'church.' I have chosen to use 'church' because my goal is to put Walther's own text before the reader's eyes as precisely as possible, though in English. This allows the reader to judge the meaning of the word in context."

*- A couple of paragraphs later, Harrison adds: "This matter becomes significant when, in the American context with its self-governing and largely autonomous congregations, the understanding of what it means to be a church is pulled strongly toward the local congregation and away from being a broader fellowship, such as a synod or even the universal Church. We see this disconnect most clearly when we consider Walther's rendering and application of texts compared with Mueller's choice to translate Kirche as 'congregation.' As Luther and the authors of the Lutheran confessional documents used it, Gemeine (updated as Gemeinde) usually means something broader than a single congregation." Later on he also points out how "Mueller hyper-congregationalizes Walther's original."

*- Continuing to write about the last edition translated by J.T. Mueller: "Thus he mitigated the essential element of the preaching office as an office [Amt], tilting his translation heavily (albeit unintentionally) toward the view that the Office of the Ministry is less office and more function."

*- All of that made me especially pleased to read the following: "Typographically, the print edition of the Mueller translation did not provide the emphasis of specific words and phrases found in the German print editions. This revision restores Walther's emphasized texts in bold font. Occasionally Walther made use of a heavier bold font as a form of double emphasis. In this edition, it appears as a sans serif bold font. In addition, every effort has been made to restore words, phrases, and occasional footnotes omitted in Mueller's translation." Friends, this is incredibly useful in helping us to understand Walther's true meaning of the text.

*- I've only come across the name Wilhelm Lohe a couple of times in my early Lutheran studies so far, and so I found this to be eyebrow-raising for sure: "This letter also demonstrates Walther's contention that Lohe held a less than quia view of the Lutheran Confessions and that our great and beloved co-founder of the Missouri Synod -- despite his glorious strengths -- specifically and knowingly rejected Luther's view of the Office of the Ministry at key points."

*- This was an interesting comment I thought: "In other places, Mueller removed references to private confession or made changes in texts he evidently regarded as too Roman Catholic. This tends to mitigate the conviction of Luther and Walther that the orthodox Lutheran Church is the catholic church gone right."

*- Along those same lines, Harrison's Preface ends with: "As I perused the Catechism of the Catholic Church for contemporary documentation of positions of the Roman Catholic Church which Walther addresses and which are the object of Lutheran polemic, I noted numerous points of remarkable convergence of Lutheran and Roman Catholic doctrine on the Office of the Ministry. While we must reject what is false, we can also joyously note what is right -- no matter who says it. It would be worthwhile to evaluate The Church and The Office of The Ministry from the perspective of Lutheran-Catholic or Lutheran-Anglican dialogue, or broader ecumenical perspective. Through such study, we might realize that Walther's (and Luther's) doctrine of the church and the Office of the Ministry are not sectarian, but catholic and Christian."

Now, I know that this type of Book Review (where we take a book like this and break it down section by section) has a tendency to become rather academic, but I hope that's not the case, and that you find these observations of a humble Lutheran layman both edifying and educational.

In a Lutheran Layman's terms, this is an important document for the LCMS Church and for those believers who are a part of it.

It was important back then and it's still important today.

Please take the time to prayerfully consider its contents as they relate to God's Word.

[NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with Lutheran doctrine -- in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word -- so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.


  1. Makes me want to get a few more books to read!

  2. That's my problem though -- I'm reading too many different books at the same time (which is why I haven't finished this series yet)!


Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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