Homiletics 2 File 7 Professor Carl Fickenscher II Question by: David >> DAVID: Okay. What are some of the other biggies of Walther's theses? >> PROF. FICKENSCHER: Well, actually Walther himself identifies Thesis 9 as the central thesis in the entire series. Turn to Thesis 9. It's on Page 2 in the summary, in the front, and then of course he develops it later on in the book. He says this: "In the fifth place, the word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the law are directed not to the word and sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God, in order that they may win their way into a state of grace. In other words, when they are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace." Now, that is a huge thesis. In fact, as we unpack that thesis, it, in a very real way, identifies the distinction between Lutheran theology and other Christian theology, and that is, the centrality of the means of grace as the way God delivers to us what Christ Jesus earned for us on the cross. Walther would say this is a huge thesis, I think, for two reasons. First, that one right there, and we'll talk about that more in a moment, because it's so theologically significant. But secondly, I think Walther also identifies this as a very important thesis because of his own personal experience. He tells the story, as he develops this thesis, about how, when he was a young man, he went to college and fell in with a group of very, very conscientious young Christians. Walther himself had grown up in a Christian home nominally, but his father was heavily influenced by rationalism. He was a pastor and heavily influenced by rationalism. So that Walther often wondered whether he was a believer or not, in his years growing up. When he went to college, he found a number of young men who were just as devoted to the scriptures as he, very eager to grow in their faith, and together they experienced a real what would seem to be a real growth in their faith until they were joined by a man, an older man, who had graduated from one of the seminaries but because he was not a rationalist in a day when rationalism dominated the church of Germany, he was unlikely to ever get a call to serve a congregation. And so he essentially took this young group of men under his wing and became their pastor, informally. Now, this man said to them, "You may think that you're Christians, that you are believers, but you're really not, because you haven't yet struggled enough to become believers, to be welcomed into a state of grace by God." And so he began to prescribe for them a number of things that they were to do to struggle with God, to prepare themselves, so that at some point in the future they could really embrace and trust that Christ was their savior. Now, Walther again, a very conscientious young man, like Luther was so troubled by this that he began to doubt whether he was a believer at all. He and his friends started to read more and more books that emphasized the importance of works and minimized faith. In fact, Walther even says, "When we'd get to a part of a book that talked about faith and God's grace, we would set it aside and say, 'This isn't for me yet.'" They considered the books that were the most demanding, that laid before them more things that they were to do, a list of things to follow each week, to be the finest books, and books that talked about faith, not really relevant for them. However, as will always be the result of this kind of view, false view of the Christian faith, it eventually drives the truly conscientious to despair, and this is where Walther found himself. Despairing that he had ever been a believer and now quite sure that there was no chance of salvation for him ever. In his despair, he wrote a letter to a pastor he had heard about as a real a real carer for souls, and he laid out on paper the dilemma that he was experiencing. He had said to himself that if he heard back and received back from this pastor one more prescription, something else that he was to do, that that would be the end. He would give up on faith forever. But he did receive a letter back from this pastor, and as he opened it and began to read of the gracious work of Christ on his behalf, it really opened up an entire new world, a whole new vista for him to see the gospel in its truth and purity, to realize that Christ had done everything for him already and that no longer was it demanded of him to do anything else to prepare for a relationship with God or anything of the kind. And by the way, the pastor to whom he wrote and the pastor who wrote back to him, was a pastor by the name of Martin Stephan, and if you've done any study yet in early Lutheran Lutheran Church in America history, you'll find Martin Stephan to be a very important and prominent name in that history. I won't spoil that story for you now, but check it out. It has an interesting final result. At any rate, Stephan was very important to Walther at this point in showing him he did have a gracious savior in Christ Jesus and that he didn't have to struggle with God and wrestle and pray and ask again and again and again for God to come to him before he could be saved. I remember myself an experience in my first congregation that was really very similar for one of my dear members. I had a young lady named Kim who went off to college as a freshman. She had been Lutheran all her life, baptized as an infant, a member of my congregation all the years that I had been there and many years before that as well. But at Christmastime after her first semester in college, she came home and she called and said, "Pastor, can I come see you?" I said, "Sure. Come on over." So she came to my office and we sat down and chatted, and she said, "Pastor, I don't think I'm a Christian anymore." I said, "What do you mean, Kim? Tell me about it." She had gotten into a group of, again, very well meaning, very conscientious young Christian people at her college who were asking her when she had accepted Christ, when did she decide for Jesus. And she said, "I don't know. I guess I've been a believer all my life." And they said, "Oh, no, no. No. You have to make a declaration for Christ, a decision for Christ." She said, "Well, as long as I can remember, I've been a believer. I was even baptized when I was a couple of weeks old." And of course they minimized that completely. Now, Kim really was despairing that she had not done the necessary things the praying, the struggling, the wrestling to be assured that God was gracious to her. Now, in Kim's case, we talked through it in a with some wonderful results, and let's talk about the the way that Walther really intends for us to respond to that kind of situation. Notice the dichotomy that he sets up in Thesis No. 9. It really is, on the one hand, a matter of seeking your assurance of salvation in anything that is in yourself. Your own praying, your own struggling, your own feelings that God has received you into grace. To look inside myself and find, yes, I know I'm going to heaven because I feel or I see something in myself, whether it is a personal inward assurance, whether it is something I did for example, when I walked down the aisle in church one day and accepted Jesus up at the altar or anything else inside myself, on the one hand. Or, on the other hand, the means of grace. Walther says it is a mistake to direct sinners not to the word and sacraments but to their own prayers and wrestlings. Walther says the proper approach is to direct the troubled sinner to the word and the sacraments. This, of course, is where I wanted to direct Kim. I said to Kim, "Remember you were baptized when you were a little baby. What happened when you were baptized?" And she kind of said, "Well, I think Jesus forgave me my sins." I said, "You bet he did. When you were baptized. Jesus took you in his arms. He made you his child. He created faith in your heart. He forgave you all your sins. He gave you eternal life. And when you were baptized on whatever date that was, you were given all of this, once and for all." Luther, you know, understood this beautifully. Luther, when he was especially troubled, when he was especially concerned that he'd been very sinful or that he just was not capable of whatever task was before him that day, he would say again and again throughout his life, "But I have been baptized." Every one of us for me, May 22nd, 1955 every one of us has a date on which God did all of these things for us, and nothing can ever change May 22nd, 1955 for me, Kim for her date, Luther for his. This is where we can always direct troubled sinners: "But God did all of this for you when you were baptized." And you see the beautiful difference. Because if our assurance of salvation is ever dependent upon ourselves, then we always wonder, "Was I really sincere? Did I really do enough? Am I really seeing things accurately when I look inside myself and try to find my faith?" On the other hand, when it is God solely at work, we can always be certain that God does his work completely. Never halfway. Always fully. If God made me his child and gave me eternal life in baptism on May 22nd, 1955, then I have that forever and nothing can change it. In the very same way, the other means of grace also work. The Lord's supper. Yes, we receive the true body and blood of Christ Jesus and, with it, the forgiveness of all of our sins. Every one of us can look back to last Sunday, when we received the body and blood of Christ, and say, "Yes, I know that God is gracious to me. Yes, I know he has given me internal life because there I received the very body of Christ, the blood of Christ, broken and shed on the cross for my salvation." Likewise, in the absolution, think about what happens. When you, someday as a pastor, will stand before your congregation and say, "Upon this your confession and by virtue of my office as a called and ordained servant of the word announce the grace of God into all of you and in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins," then you know what just happened to them? They were forgiven. Because God has authorized you to speak, and as Jesus says in John 20, as our catechism reminds us, it is as certain as if Christ our Lord spoke those words. What God says always is. Just as God said, "Let there be light" and there was light, when God's spokesman someday it will be you speaks to the congregation and says, "You are forgiven," then you are forgiven and you can always go back to last Sunday, when your pastor announced to you your sins were forgiven to say, "Yes, I certainly do have the assurance of eternal life." This obviously is to be our goal also in preaching. The word that you proclaim Sunday after Sunday should announce to your people what they have: "In Christ Jesus, you have eternal life. You are forgiven. You stand with a gracious God watching over you and caring for you every moment." These are the things that should be part and parcel of every one of our sermons. By the way, Walther essentially comes back to this point in another way, in Thesis No. 13. In the ninth place, Walther says Thesis No. 13 the word of God is not rightly divided when one makes an appeal to a believer in a manner as if a person could make himself or an appeal to believe in a manner as if a person could make himself believe or at least help toward that end, instead of preaching faith into a person's heart by laying the gospel promises before him. This is very much the same idea in a slightly different form. Here, Walther is very explicit that we can never make a decision for Christ. You perhaps remember what St. Paul says in Ephesians 2:1 is: "You were all dead in your trespasses and sins." Never could someone who is spiritually dead decide to believe but, in fact, Christ has made us alive by the gospel itself. What Walther means here is that we don't tell a person, "Now come out and believe the promise of Christ" as much as we say this: "Here is what Christ has done for you." Now, in other theological understandings among my Baptist friends, for example, they would see the gospel as essentially announcing what Jesus has done on the cross and laying that wonderful blessing out here in front for you to come and take. But you see how a person could always fall back into the same situation that Kim found herself in, if that were the correct understanding. You would always be wondering, "Did I really have a sincere heart when I came forward to the altar?" You might say symbolically when I came forward and took that promise that was laid before me. "Or was I really caught up in the moment? Can I really be sure that my faith was right?" What Walther says is that we do not simply lay a promise there for them to come and receive, but by laying the gospel promises before them, we actually preach faith into the heart. The actual declaration, "Jesus has given you eternal life, he has taken away your sin," is the means by which the Holy Spirit causes that faith to happen in the hearts of the hearers, quite apart from their making any decision. Laying the gospel promises before them actually preaches the faith into the heart. It completes the task, rather than leaving it for them to come and receive. You see the important distinction, once again, in Thesis 9 and in Thesis 13. Walther says we never look for our assurance of salvation in ourselves, in the decision we made for Christ, in any prayers or strugglings or wrestlings we made with God, in any feelings that he with might have. We always look instead to the gospel promises that were announced to us, preaching absolution, that are given to us personally, tactilely, in baptism and the Lord's supper.