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What Luther Says

Harrison On 'The Presence of The Church'

We haven't written a new post in our continuing series on C.F.W. Walther's The Church & The Office of The Ministry in awhile, and I don't want to get ahead of myself here, but this "Editor's Note" from the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison is definitely worth sharing.

Walther's "Thesis V" says...

Although the true Church in the proper sense of the word is in its essence invisible, nevertheless its existence can be (definitely) recognizable, namely, by the marks of the pure preaching of God's Word and the administration of the Sacraments according to Christ's institution.

Now, aside from the criticisms of some (like Lohe) in response to what Walther wrote in this particular section, I found Harrison's subsequent statement to introduce this Thesis quite beautiful.

My sainted teacher, the Rev. Dr. Kurt Marquart, used to put it this way: We cannot infallibly know the "who" of the Church (because faith is unseen), but we can know the "where." As Ignatius of Antioch put it: "Where there is Christ, there is the Church." The presence of the Church is not determined by a priesthood sanctioned by the papacy. The presence of the Church is not guaranteed by the morality of church members. The presence of the Church is not guaranteed by an Office of the Ministry passed from minister to minister in succession. The presence of the Church is not guaranteed by a voters' assembly. The presence of the Church is not guaranteed by the size of the congregation. The presence of the Church is not determined by the activity of individual members.

The presence of the Church is determined and guaranteed by Christ in His Word and Sacraments. Christ creates and sustains faith by these means. Where they are present and distributed, there is the Office of the Ministry and believers who receive these means of grace. This teaching is enormously comforting because in this life we are associated with Christians who are purely poor sinners just like ourselves. They fail. We fail. Pastors fail. Some fail horribly. We are often loveless. "Our righteous deeds are as filthy rags," as Isaiah says (see 64:6). Our congregations are often beset by controversy and conflict. Why? We are sinners, just like the apostles at the time of Jesus and just like the congregations in Galatia, Ephesus, and Corinth. The beautiful and comforting teaching of the New Testament is this: the Church lives where Jesus is in His blessed Word and Sacraments. There faith is created. There is the Church.

[*emphasis mine]

As Walther states in the first "Proof" to support this particular Thesis...

Hence, wherever this seed is sown, we indeed do not see the Church, but there we have an infallible mark that the Church, a little flock of true believers and saints in Christ Jesus, a little community of the children of God, is there.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, the presence of the Church is determined by the presence of Jesus Christ where His Word is properly preached and where His Sacraments are rightly administered.

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, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 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. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that aren't that big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. 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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