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What Luther Says

Church & Office: Preface To The First Edition (1852) -- C.F.W. Walther

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 first.

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

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, especially since I'm finding that so much of what we're dealing with today as a church body has already happened and been dealt with in the past by our church fathers (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

In other words, not only is this book an excellent historical document, but it's also a powerful confessional resource that we can refer to for guidance when it comes to "church politics" today, IMHO.

Anyway, I finally started working my way through it. Last time, we looked at the newest Preface written by Rev. Harrison. Today, we'll look at the remaining Prefaces from earlier editions (5 total).

So, here are some items of interest (things I either underlined and/or wrote comments about in the margins) from each Preface...


*- It's noted how Walther visited Erlangen and met up with some Professors there. I found it fascinating that he made a point to mention how they "all speak as if with one voice" and are in agreement "with us" in the teaching of the Church (Kirche) and ecclesiastical authority (Kirchengewalt), yet they all deny that the preaching office (Predigtamt) is established by God, because they run it much more out of an ethical (traditional) necessity and of a merely implied will of God. I found it fascinating since this appears to be the prevailing wisdom today as well (at least, at my church where I'm a member it is).

*- I love how direct Walther is: "Rather, we are persuaded that present differences among the Lutherans concerning the doctrines of the church and the office (Amt) and whatever is immediately connected with them stems from the fact that the doctrine set forth in the public confessions of our church and in the private writings of its orthodox teachers has been disregarded and abandoned."

*- Wanna read proof that history repeats itself (Ecclesiastes 1:9) since the same thing is happening today? "And since currently in our church so many raise their voice in order to resolve the controversy concerning the doctrines of the church and the office, but no one, as far as we know, has thought of letting the church of our fathers also express its opinion..."

*- Unfortunately, my hometown and current residence of Buffalo, NY has the dubious distinction of having played and infamous role in he development and history of Christ's Church as it exists in the form of the LCMS! Why? Because a Pastor Grabau settled in Buffalo, founded the Buffalo Synod, and served as Pastor her for nearly 40 years. Here's what Walther said about him in his Preface: "Pastor (Johannes Andreas August) Grabau of Buffalo, New York, has grievously slandered our synod before the whole church on account of our strongly held doctrines of the church and the office and several other teachings closely connected with them, as well as our practice based thereon." Yikes!

*- Here's one interesting statement and footnote I'd like to get some input from some of you on to make sure I clearly understand what is being said. Walther: "To avoid misunderstanding, we declare expressly that in this monograph we are not so much dealing with how the church should be constituted as rather about its essence (Wesen) and the principles according to which its manifestations (Erscheinungen) are to be judged and on which its constitution (Verfassung) is to rest." In response, Harrison comments as a footnote: "An extremely important point to note. The book is not meant as a constitution for the Lutheran Church, but rather as a theological guide for judging the constitutions of various Lutheran churches as they appear."

*- This next section is a bit lengthy, but oh so good: "We are willing to admit that the conditions in which we live here in America decidedly influenced us to identify animatedly the doctrines of the church and the office set forth in this book so that we adhere to them as a precious jewel and confess them before the whole world. Nevertheless, we must definitely repudiate the charge made against us that we twisted and shaped the holy, pure doctrine of our church to favor our conditions. Since we do not live here under inherited ecclesiastical conditions, but rather must first lay the foundation for it and are able to lay it unhindered by anything already existing, these circumstances have in fact compelled us most earnestly to search for the principles on which, according to God's Word and the Confessions of our church, the constitution (Verfassung) of a truly Lutheran fellowship (Gemeinschaft) rests and according to which it must be formed."

*- As is always the case with those of the Lutheran faith it seems (which I absolutely love since becoming a Lutheran myself!), is the constant emphasis that this is not something "new" as much as it is a return to something "old" (Jude 1:3). For instance: "The less we concerned ourselves with the question 'What may we retain without sinning?' but rather with the question 'How shall (the community) be constituted according to God's Word and the principles set forth and proved in our church's Confessions?' the more urgent was our need to reach clarity and certainty of faith (Glaubensgewifsheir) concerning the principles of the doctrine of the church, the office (Amt), the Office of the Keys, church polity (Kirchenordnung), and the like. We did not pattern the doctrine of our church after the conditions prevailing here, but rather ordered these conditions according to the doctrine of our church. ... We chose the form of theses in order to present to our readers in brief and pithy words the chief points that are of primary importance here."

*- On our podcast, we tend to spend the first few minutes describing the Lutheran faith for people who are being exposed to it for the first time. That's why I liked this point that was made that relates to that: "We gladly let ourselves be called by his name, not because we believe in him, but because we have recognized that the doctrine that he preached is not his doctrine, but rather the pure Word of the eternal God. We also hope to have sufficiently proved that Luther by no means, as is so often asserted today, abandoned the doctrines of the church and the office (Amt) that he taught in his earlier years after having been convinced by many experiences of something better."

*- Finally, I love how Walther says that "the translator was concerned above all with supplying a faithful translation that could be least accused of departing from the original in any way to favor his own opinion." Take that Eugene Peterson!

As for the remaining Prefaces included in this edition? Well, they are all very short and only a couple of comments are worth noting here.

It is still a matter of the fundamental questions "What is the Church?" and "Who on earth was originally and immediately entrusted by Christ with all sacred goods and rights?" Walther answered these questions.
*- F. Pieper, Preface To The Fourth Edition (1894)

There is no doubt that the church Dr. Walther founded in America was within the framework of Scripture and sound theology.
*- J.T. Mueller, Translator's Preface

Now, I know that this type of Book Review (where we take a doctrinally rich book like this and break it down section by section) has a tendency to become rather academic and perhaps even tedious, 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 and point us to Christ and a proper understanding of His Church and The Office of The Ministry that He established for us.

[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 our Confessions and 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. Finally, you might discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog definitely fall into that category since I was a Lutheran-In-Name-Only at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. I decided to leave those published posts up only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time and help. Grace and peace to you and yours!]


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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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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